11 Kant - IMMANUEL KANT, An Answer to the Question: What is...

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IMMANUEL KANT, An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784) Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a prominent German thinker, focusing on epistemology, the study of how we know things. His most famous book is the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), analyzing the limits of reason itself. One of his aims was to find common ground between Baconian empiricists and Cartesian rationalists. Kant’s essay “What is Enlightenment?” was published in the Berlin Monthly newspaper in December 1784 as part of an ongoing debate about new forms of thought in Europe and their relationship to traditional structures of power and custom . 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. Sapere aude ! [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
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This note was uploaded on 05/03/2010 for the course IHUM 69 taught by Professor Morris during the Spring '10 term at Stanford.

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11 Kant - IMMANUEL KANT, An Answer to the Question: What is...

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