The Progress of Scientific Investigation and Human Enlightenment
Nature and Person
Ave Maria University
The pursuit of human enlightenment has been the object of learned men in every age and in every culture. Though the methods of such men have varied in time and space, those who have achieved any notable plateaus of illumination have done so through systematic and unbiased reasoning. This organization of rational progression has been called many things, though for the sake of uniformity within this composition, it shall be given the label “scientific investigation.” The steps used in a scientific investigation are ordered to follow a universally logical and coherent process, which can be applied not only to the sciences but also to logic, philosophy, mathematics, and all other pursuits that require a solid cognitive basis. To be worthy of the status attributed to scientific investigation, the execution of such methods must include clarity of mind, openness to refutation, patience, and review, though the exact phases of different applications may vary. Two perspectives on the role of scientific investigation in human enlightenment that hold evidence of truth but present seemingly conflicting theses are those of Immanuel Kant and John Henry Newman. These great thinkers respectively maintain the opposing positions that the achievement of enlightenment is possible if one is allowed to utilize reason to explore a subject freely and publically and, conversely, that enlightenment can only be attained through careful analysis and a limitation of deference to human involvement. The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant stated in his essay, An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?, “nothing is required for this enlightenment…except freedom…namely, the freedom to use reason publically in all matters (Kant).” The initial freedom of which Kant speaks is, no doubt, the ability of Man to engage his senses, intellect, and will towards the attainment of truth through a proven method, such as scientific investigation. The freedom of public reasoning pertains to the ability to express openly any insight, doubt, or confusion on a topic that is under examination. While this lack of restrictions on public cognition can be illuminating not only to the one presenting it but also to those being consulted, this must be done with caution so as not to cause further confusion or doubt. The spread of uncertainly to matters that have been previously examined through a scientific method of inquiry and whose bases in solid logic and reason have been proven would be a regression of understanding. Kant gives the example of a pastor whose duty it is to instruct and guide his flock in accordance with the symbol of the church he serves, although he may have reservations about the interpretation of that symbol or the execution of certain religious and church matters (Kant). It would be acceptable and, arguably, the duty of the cleric to bring such issues to the attention of others, so long as it was done in a manner that facilitates the search for truth, rather than one that simply publicizes his dissatisfaction with certain aspects of his office or the material he is bound to impart on his congregation (Kant). An issue that correlates with this particular example is the claim of illegitimate restrictions of knowledge from one generation - or in this case, religious authority - to the next. Religious institutions have faced some of the most vehement accusations of illicit spiritual and intellectual restraint because of their reluctance to allow for unguided exploration of other religions, or even certain disciples of science and philosophy. Yet according to Kant, such accusations are invalid insofar as the restrictions have been put in place to eliminate backtracking over issues which have been methodically explained, and insofar as the conclusion of such questions are imparted to those searching...
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