German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, published his paper titled An Answer to the Question: What is
Enlightenment? as a reply to a question posed by a Prussian government official a year earlier. His piece discusses what enlightenment is, how one is to reach this level of emancipation and whether or not we live in an enlightened age.
Kant begins with defining enlightenment as "the human being's emergence from his self-incurred minority" and further explains 'self-incurred minority' as the failure to make use of one's own understanding and instead relying on another's direction. He then states that it is due to cowardice and laziness that people have yet to be 'free' after nature has already emancipated one from another's direction.
Kant then discusses the difficult process of extracting oneself from this state, explaining that people feel 'comfortable' in their state of immaturity or nonage since they are not required to think or act for themselves but through another (person/institution). After discussing the reasons behind remaining in this state, Kant considers the requirements for enlightenment, the most important being freedom. He further differentiates between two types of use of reason: public, which shall remain uninhibited, and private, which may be restricted without threatening one's enlightenment.
Furthermore, Kant briefly discusses the relationship between emancipation and religion. He explains that religion should not be bound to a permanent oath because this restriction could "keep all further enlightenment away from the human race forever".
Finally, Kant answers the question 'Are we living in an enlightened age' by stating that "No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment". He explains that there is still much to be done in order to reach an enlightened age, but there is indication that doors have opened towards religious truth and freedom, hence 'age of enlightenment'.
1. In Kant's paper, he says "Thus it is difficult for any single individual to extricate himself from the minority that has become almost nature to him. He has grown fond of it..." Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Do you believe that one's oppression becomes intrinsic? Or is Kant ignoring fundamental structures/institutions that maintain such hierarchy?
2. Kant answers the question of whether we live in an enlightened age by saying, "No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment". What did Kant mean by this statement? Do you think we have reached enlightenment or are there improvements/developments that still need to occur?
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