Emmanuel Kant

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What is Enlightenment? by Immanuel Kant and The Elimination of Irrational Thought

In his essay ‘What is Enlightenment?’ Immanuel Kant discusses the nature of Enlightenment and how it can be brought to the general public. According to Kant, “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” By this, Kant means that Enlightenment is when one man is able to make use of his understanding without guidance from another man. Kant sees an Age of Enlightenment as a time when the human society can be liberated from their nature of discharge, which is a need for someone to be their director. However, Kant also states that we have a natural need for tutelage when we are young, and that it is perfectly all right. In addition, after nature discharges us of this need, we should activate our rational ability.

Enlightenment according to Kant is the progress of a society through free activity of rational thought and intellectual assessment. In an Enlightened Age, the public would be able to manage their given freedoms with competence. However, Kant claims that we do not live in an ‘Enlightened Age’; rather, we live in an ‘Age of Enlightenment.’ By this statement, he means that an Enlightened Age would be an age where we have overcome all self-incurred tutelage. An Age of Enlightenment is the current age, where we have not overcome all self-incurred tutelage, but where we have begun to activate our own powers of reason and have begun to make progress through critique.

Also in his essay, Kant distinguishes between the public and private use of reason. He states that ‘the public use of one’s reason must always be free and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men.’ In saying this, the author views public usage of reason as for the purpose of progress. Kant regards the private use of reason as ‘that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him.’ In other words, the philosopher explains the private use of...
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