What is Enlightenment?
Immanuel Kant, 1784
Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) was a German philosopher from the Prussian city of Königsberg
(now Kaliningrad, Russia).
He is one of the most influential thinkers of modern Europe and of
the late Enlightenment.
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability
to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when
its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another.
! [dare to know]
"Have courage to use your own
understanding!"--that is the motto of enlightenment.
Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has
released them from alien guidance (
), nonetheless gladly remain in
lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It
is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my
conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I
need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The
guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it
that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity
as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb,
and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the
go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens
them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling
a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men
timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.
Thus, it is difficult for any individual man to work himself out of the immaturity that has all but
become his nature. He has even become fond of this state and for the time being is actually
incapable of using his own understanding, for no one has ever allowed him to attempt it. Rules
and formulas, those mechanical aids to the rational use, or rather misuse, of his natural gifts, are
the shackles of a permanent immaturity. Whoever threw them off would still make only an
uncertain leap over the smallest ditch, since he is unaccustomed to this kind of free movement.
Consequently, only a few have succeeded, by cultivating their own minds, in freeing themselves
from immaturity and pursuing a secure course.
But that the public should enlighten itself is more likely; indeed, if it is only allowed freedom,