What is Enlightenment?

According to Immanual Kant enlightenment is defined as “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” Kant argues that a large majority of the population cannot experience enlightenment because of laziness and cowardice. “Have courage to use your reason” is the quote that is used which best describes what Kant was saying the challenges are. Kant is very critical of man saying that it is extremely difficult for them to reach enlightenment. What’s interesting is that he is saying all of this during his time, which would lead to an interesting discussion trying to determine if Kant thinks anyone can achieve enlightenment in today’s culture?

What is Enlightenment

Kant writes that the motto of enlightenment is “Have the courage to use your own reason!”.  He also states the main detractors to this statement are mans tendencies towards “laziness and cowardice”.  Man has a tendency to fall back on what is easiest, and trying to find enlightenment is certainly not easy.  Instead it is easier to “have a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, a physician who decides my diet, and so forth”.  Why would man try to do any of those things for himself if he has people to do it for him?  Why would he go out of his way when the answers are presented to him?  With this strategy man will become stuck, will never “release from his self-incurred tutelage” as Kant states.  Kant writes that only requirement for enlightenment is freedom but he also writes “Everywhere there is restriction on freedom.”  When constantly being told what to do by superiors it becomes easy for man to go back to the “laziness and cowardice”.  To reach enlightenment man must break away from the pack and see the truth.

A man who saw the truth was Frederick II, considered a major advocate for enlightenment absolutism.  In his writing he said “The sovereign is the representative of his State.  He and his people for a single body.”  These were his own ideas, writing “That is my idea of the duties of sovereigns” at the end of his “Essay on Forms of Government”.  In that short sentence Frederick II took Kant’s motto on enlightenment and put it in his own words.  He looked past the laziness and cowardice of man and found, what he thought was, the truth.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment is the release of individual’s opinions and expressions, or as Immanuel Kant puts it, “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.”  Kant states that since most of the population has submitted themselves to “guardians [that] have first made their domestic cattle dumb…” most of the population’s competence is therefore laden with “laziness and cowardice”.  If the masses are given freedom, “enlightenment is almost sure to follow”, in addition to the independent thinkers within an  society.  However, a citizen must still obey the government, and must pay taxes, as being a scholar is “not contrary to his duty as a citizen.”

Frederick II is a great example of an enlightened despot, stating he “must be thoroughly acquainted with its resources, the character of the people.  He also states that a ruler must not “waste the money of the people, the taxes which they have paid, in luxury, pomp, or debauchery.”  The aspects of these duties are largely due to his stance that sovereigns must be civil servants to the people.



What is Enlightenment?

According to Kant, enlightenment can be attained when man releases his “self-incurred tutelage”. Kant defines tutelage as laziness and cowardice, which man must free himself of. He also believes that tutelage is “almost [man’s] nature”, so man must break away from his natural instincts. He thinks that man must have the courage to use his own reason, and be able to abandon his cowardice. There are some principles that are imposed by government that prevent enlightenment. Principles such as these include things such as laws and formulas. In order to encourage enlightenment, a government must be able to treat men with dignity. Society and the public also plays a part in the enlightenment of a man. Society facilitates prejudices that may inhibit a man’s ability to become an enlightened individual, but public acceptance of a man’s right to reason can contribute to enlightenment. Many factors play a part in a man’s route to enlightenment, including society, government, and most importantly, a man himself. When independent thinkers spread word of their own enlightenment, others will be inspired to do the same.  Enlightenment is achieved when man’s inclination for “playing it safe” is abandoned and when he has the courage to venture out into what is uncertain and unsafe.

Frederick II is further evidence that leadership and government influences the enlightenment of man. A proponent of absolutist enlightenment, Frederick II believed that a ruler should be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of his own country, be strong, be hardworking, and be honest. He should avoid wasting the money of his people on debauchery and self-indulgent acts. According to Frederick II, a ruler shall reach enlightenment when he recognizes the needs of his people, and furthermore allow his citizens to achieve enlightenment.

Enlightenment: Freedom from Self-Incurred Tutelage

Enlightenment is man’s ability to courageously use his own reason as the guiding force of his understanding without the interference of another. However, Immanuel Kant observes that the majority of the population is restrained from this ability to think rationally and freely as a result of laziness and cowardice. Kant believes that man remains captive by his own self-incurred tutelage and escaping this tutelage is incredibly difficult; only a handful of individuals have successfully broken free. In Kant’s opinion, freedom is the key to achieving enlightenment. He states, “the public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men.” Kant emphasizes that opportunity for enlightenment must be attainable, namely, freedom must be present; restraint stifles human nature.

Frederick II is an example of an enlightened monarch chiefly because he sought the best for his domain. He also is representative of the age of enlightenment because he permitted freedom of the press. Scholars could freely advocate and even publish their critiques of active laws. In Frederick’s mind, success of an administration is dependent on the actions and character of the sovereign. He viewed himself connected to and representative of his state. Thus, Frederick devoted himself to his state so that progress toward general enlightenment could be achieved.

What is Enlightenment?

According to Immanuel Kant, “Enlightenment is a man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage”, which is ones inability to make use of his knowledge without instruction from others. The motto of Enlightenment is “Have courage to use your own reason”.  The main reasons why mankind is unable to trust in their own reason and must have assurance from an outside source in order to validate their thoughts are laziness and cowardice. Once a person is mature and is able to freely form their own thoughts and opinions, they are enlightened, so long as they have the ability to to express those thoughts without distraction. Those that are enlightened use reason in their thought and are able to enlighten others.