Being called enlightened alludes to the belief that someone is more knowledgeable about a topic than the majority of the community. This process is brought about when one begins to think for himself, therefore looking beyond how society sees things in order to create new thoughts and assumptions about how something is and what it might be/become. Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher, defined Enlightenment as “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage”. In this statement he expresses Enlightenment as thinking outside of the box in order to broaden ones mind and break away from the societal norms that they had been learning under since their birth. We understand that the process of enlightenment is necessary to progress in the global environment; I contend that Enlightenment has been an ongoing process that has been in motion since the dawn of man. How else (besides lucky discoveries) did people invent things without thinking “how can I make this tool better?”, and, at the root of it, isn’t that question the base of Enlightenment? Therefore, I believe, at its most basic point Enlightenment is the drive for a society to break out of its shell in search for methods that make the population’s lives easier by discovering new and improved tools and processes of getting things done.
Kant defines enlightenment as “man’s release from self-incurred tutelage” with tutelage being “man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another.” More than anything, enlightenment is a state of mind. It requires the privilege to think freely and the mental acuity to take advantage of this acuity. Enlightenment comes solely from within and cannot be attained through the assistance of periphery sources. While it necessitates the ability to think critically and analytically for oneself, enlightenment only occurs when one makes full and total use of this ability. Once enlightenment is achieved, the enlightened individual experiences an objective awareness of his surroundings. He experiences a greater understanding of the natural or artificial constraints that had once restricted him, which can be a powerful asset.
Enlightenment is the abandonment of tutelage; the active seeking out of knowledge, freedom of thought, and the answers to earthly, religious, and spiritual queries. It is a process, not a state of being; to be truly and fully enlightened is a state of being that is unattainable. Enlightenment is particularly important in the presence of monarchs and despots who may restrict certain freedoms of their subjects. It is essential that the subjects of a monarchy question and argue in favor of freedom of thought, and not blindly obey in the face of an unjust and unenlightened tyrant. Kant argues that many people are unable or unwilling to seek enlightenment due to their self-incurred tutelage. He says that “a man may postpone enlightenment in what he ought to know, but to renounce it for posterity is to injure and trample on the rights of mankind.”
Enlightenment is the ability to think for yourself instead of being guided by a ruler. It takes courage to step out from complacence and into enlightenment. According to Kant, certain political ramifications are necessary to achieve this. Public use of reason must not be restricted while private use of reason must be restricted. Therefore the people should question why they do what they do, but not necessarily change it. In fact, if changing it would overthrow the government, that is not enlightenment. Overthrowing the current rule leads right back into the chaos of anarchy. However, by thinking for themselves, then suggesting changes in a civil manner, people can better themselves and society thus achieving enlightenment. Kant insists that the leader must say, “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, but obey!” I believe there is a very fine line between having order and suppressing thought. As long as Kant only wishes to prevent riots, his belief that people must obey is justified. If to obey means to never question the monarch, that cannot be enlightenment. Frederick II ruled Prussia to his people’s and his own enlightenment by encouraging religious tolerance and open thought in general. He lead by example. His enlightenment allowed and even encouraged others to achieve the same. The enlightenment of the people is partly dependent on the on the government.
In short, enlightenment is achieved through the liberation of the imagination. It occurs when one abandons their pre-conceived notions of established truth and distances oneself from foreign influence to attempt to produce entirely original, progressive ideas. In order to do this Kant claims you must, “…have courage to use your own reason”, and be unafraid of failure. Enlightenment is an individualistic movement—It cannot be obtained by relying on others, and according to Kant, one must free themselves of previous impressions and political barriers. Our imaginations are shaped through derived images, thoughts, and memories that we have absorbed and perceived throughout our lives, and enlightenment is a product of transcendence of these aspects that are now deemed as limitations. Pure enlightenment is a difficult concept to grasp and imagine, and Kant believes only a minority will achieve it.
One could argue that Frederick II had an enlightened view on his role as king. Frederick II takes the stance that the king is the servant to the state, and not vice-versa. Many kings throughout history have succumbed to the indulgences that compliment the responsibility, and for his time period, Frederick II had a progressive attitude towards his position in society.
“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” In Kant’s understanding of enlightenment, tutelage is utilized as a kind of instruction or authority imposed on man. This tutelage then becomes the primary enforcer of man’s thoughts and actions with respect to the world around him. Kant uses the term self-incurred to illustrate the ways in which men voluntarily succumb to tutelage and therefore surrender their individuality out of mere laziness, for it is far easier and secure to leave decisions and actions to others. Enlightenment, according to Kant, is the opposite of this self-inflicted tutelage. To Kant, to free oneself from the chains of society and collective thinking, to emerge into a world of individual thought and free-thinking is to enter a world of enlightenment. Although Kant indulges in the idea of enlightenment for mankind, he acknowledges that such a change is somewhat dangerous and threatening. It becomes difficult and strenuous to think for oneself, and because man follows direction from others, a step toward enlightenment is perceived as that much more perilous. As Kant states, “This danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone. But an example of this failure makes them timid and ordinarily frightens them away from all further trials.” It is difficult for an individual to separate himself from the collective group of which his knowledge and experiences are derived. Kant notes that only few men are capable of achieving enlightenment.