what is enlightenment according to an enlightenment philosopher, or, a premise for intellectual toil

December 13, 2010

Enlightenment is the human being’s emancipation from its self-incurred immaturity (“immaturity is a translation of Unmündigkeit ((…)) Mund means “mouth”, and a primary connotation of the term is not to be able to speak (and decide) for oneself). Immaturity is the inability to make use of one’s intellect without the direction of another. This immaturity is self-incurred when its cause does not lie in a lack of intellect, but rather in a lack of resolve and courage ((…))

It is not necessary that I think if I can just pay; others will take such irksome business upon themselves for me. The guardians who have kindly assumed supervisory responsibility have ensured that the largest part of humanity (including the entirety of the fairer sex) understands progress toward maturity to not only be arduous, but also dangerous ((…))

Statutes and formulae, those mechanical tools of a rational use, or rather misuse, of his natural endowments, are the shackles of a perpetual state of immaturity. And whoever would throw them off would nonetheless make only an uncertain leap over even the narrowest ditch, because he is not used to such freedom of movement ((…))

It is much more likely that an entire public should enlighten itself; indeed it is nearly unavoidable if one allows it the freedom to do so. For there will always be some independent thinkers even among the appointed guardians of the great masses who, after they themselves have thrown off the yoke of immaturity, will spread the spirit of rational appreciation of one’s own worth and the calling of every human being to think for himself. What is particularly noteworthy here is that the public that has previously been placed under this yoke may compel its guardians themselves to remain under this yoke, if it is incited to such action by some of its guardians who are incapable of any enlightenment. So harmful is it to instill prejudices, for they ultimately avenge themselves on their originators or on those whose predecessors invented them ((…))

Nothing but freedom is required for (()) enlightenment. And indeed it is the most harmless sort of freedom that may be properly called freedom, namely: to make public use of one’s reason in all matters.


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