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What Is Enlightenment?

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    What Is Enlightenment? Immanuel Kant ... Enlightenment is man s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man s inability to make use of his
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5 4:03 PM
      What Is Enlightenment?

      Immanuel Kant

      Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage.
      Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without
      direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its
      cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and
      courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude!
      1 "Have courage to use your own reason!"--that is the motto of

      Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a portion of
      mankind, after nature has long since discharged them from external
      direction (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless remains under
      lifelong tutelage, and why it is so easy for others to set
      themselves up as their guardians. It is so easy not to be of age. If
      I have a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a
      conscience for me, a physician who decides my diet, and so forth, I
      need not trouble myself. I need not think, if I can only pay--others
      will readily undertake the irksome work for me.

      That the step to competence is held to be very dangerous by the far
      greater portion of mankind (and by the entire fair sex)--quite apart
      from its being arduous--is seen to by those guardians who have so
      kindly assumed superintendence over them. After the guardians have
      first made their domestic cattle dumb and have made sure that these
      placid creatures will not dare take a single step without the
      harness of the cart to which they are tethered, the guardians then
      show them the danger which threatens if they try to go alone.
      Actually, however, this danger is not so great, for by falling a few
      times they would finally learn to walk alone. But an example of this
      failure makes them timid and ordinarily frightens them away from all
      further trials.

      For any single individual to work himself out of the life under
      tutelage which has become almost his nature is very difficult. He
      has come to be fond of this state, and he is for the present really
      incapable of making use of his reason, or no one has ever let him
      try it out. Statutes and formulas, those mechanical tools of the
      rational employment or rather misemployment of his natural gifts,
      are the fetters of an everlasting tutelage. Whoever throws them off
      makes only an uncertain leap over the narrowest ditch because he is
      not accustomed to that kind of free motion. Therefore, there are few
      who have succeeded by their own exercise of mind both in freeing
      themselves from incompetence and in achieving a steady pace.

      But that the public should enlighten itself is more possible,
      indeed, if only freedom is granted, enlightenment is almost sure to
      follow. For there will always be some independent thinkers, even
      among the established guardians of the great masses, who, after
      throwing off the yoke of tutelage from their own shoulders, will
      disseminate the spirit of the rational appreciation of both their
      own worth and every man's vocation for thinking for himself. But be
      it noted that the public, which has first been brought under this
      yoke by their guardians, forces the guardians themselves to remain
      bound when it is incited to do so by some of the guardians who are
      themselves capable of some enlightenment--so harmful is it to
      implant prejudices, for they later take vengeance on their
      cultivators or on their descendants. Thus the public can only slowly
      attain enlightenment. Perhaps a fall of personal despotism or of
      avaricious or tyrannical oppression may be accomplished by
      revolution, but never a true reform in ways of thinking. Rather, new
      prejudices will serve as well as old ones to harness the great
      unthinking masses.

      For this enlightenment, however, nothing is required but freedom,
      and indeed the most harmless among all the things to which this term
      can properly be applied. It is the freedom to make public use of
      one's reason at every point.2 But I hear on all sides, "Do not
      argue!" The officer says: "Do not argue but drill!" The tax
      collector: "Do not argue but pay!" The cleric: "Do not argue but
      believe!" Only one prince in the world says, "Argue as much as you
      will, and about what you will, but obey!" Everywhere there is
      restriction on freedom.

      Which restriction is an obstacle to enlightenment, and which is not
      an obstacle but a promoter of it? I answer: The public use of one's
      reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about
      enlightenment among men. The private use of reason, on the other
      hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly
      hindering the progress on enlightenment. By the public use of one's
      reason I understand the use which a person makes of it as a scholar
      before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may
      make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted
      to him. Many affairs which are conducted in the interest of the
      community require a certain mechanism through which some members of
      the community must passively conduct themselves with an artificial
      unanimity, so that the government may direct them to public ends, or
      at least prevent them from destroying those ends. Here argument is
      certainly not allowed-one must obey. But so far as a part of the
      mechanism regards himself at the same time as a member of the whole
      community or of a society of world citizens, and thus in the role of
      a scholar who addresses the public (in the proper sense of the word)
      through his writings, he certainly can argue without hurting the
      affairs for which he is in part responsible as a passive member.
      Thus it would be ruinous for an officer in service to debate about
      the suitability or utility of a command given to him by his
      superior; he must obey. But the right to make remarks on errors in
      the military service and to lay them before the public for judgment
      cannot equitably be refused him as a scholar. The citizen cannot
      refuse to pay the taxes imposed on him; indeed, an impudent
      complaint at those levied on him can be punished as a scandal (as it
      could occasion general refractoriness). But the same person
      nevertheless does not act contrary to his duty as a citizen when, as
      a scholar, he publicly expresses his thoughts on the
      inappropriateness or even the injustice of those levies. Similarly a
      clergyman is obligated to make his sermon to his pupils in catechism
      and his congregation conform to the symbol of the church which he
      serves, for he has been accepted on this condition. But as a scholar
      he has complete freedom, even the calling, to communicate to the
      public all his carefully tested and well meaning thoughts on that
      which is erroneous in the symbol and to make suggestions for the
      better organization of the religious body and church. In doing this
      there is nothing that could be laid as a burden on his conscience.
      For what he teaches a consequence of his office as a representative
      of the church, this he considers something about which he has no
      freedom to teach according to his own lights; it is something which
      he is appointed to propound at the dictation of and in the name of
      another. He will say, "Our church teaches this or that; those are
      the proofs which it adduces." He thus extracts all practical uses
      for his congregation from statutes to which he himself would not
      subscribe with full conviction but to the enunciation of which he
      can very well pledge himself because it is not impossible that truth
      lies hidden in them, and, in any case, there is at least nothing in
      them contradictory to inner religion. For if he believed he had
      found such in them, he could not conscientiously discharge the
      duties of his office; he would have to give it up. The use,
      therefore, which an appointed teacher makes of his reason before his
      congregation is merely private, because this congregation is only a
      domestic one (even if it be a large gathering); with respect to it,
      as a priest, he is not free, nor can he be free, because he carries
      out the orders of another. But as a scholar, whose writings speak to
      his public, the world, the clergyman in the public use of his reason
      enjoys an unlimited freedom to use his own reason and to speak in
      his own person. That the guardians of the people (in spiritual
      things) should themselves be incompetent is an absurdity which
      amounts to the eternalization of absurdities.

      But would not a society of clergymen, perhaps a church conference or
      a venerable classis ( as they call themselves among the Dutch), be
      justified in obligating itself by oath to a certain unchangeable
      symbol in order to enjoy an unceasing guardianship over each of its
      members and thereby over the people as a whole, and even to make it
      eternal? I answer that this is altogether impossible. Such a
      contract, made to shut off all further enlightenment from the human
      race, is absolutely null and void even if confirmed by the supreme
      power, by parliaments, and by the most ceremonious of peace
      treaties. An age cannot bind itself and ordain to put the succeeding
      one into such a condition that it cannot extend its (at best very
      occasional) knowledge, purify itself of errors, and progress in
      general enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature,
      the proper destination of which lies precisely in this progress; and
      the descendants would be fully justified in rejecting those decrees
      as having been made in an unwarranted and malicious manner.

      The touchstone of everything that can be concluded as a law for a
      people lies in the question whether the people could have imposed
      such a law on itself. Now such a religious compact might be possible
      for a short and definitely limited time, as it were, in expectation
      of a better. One might let every citizen, and especially the
      clergyman, in the role of scholar, make his comments freely and
      publicly, i.e., through writing, on the erroneous aspects of the
      present institution. The newly introduced order might last until
      insight into the nature of these things had become so general and
      widely approved that through uniting their voices (even if not
      unanimously) they could bring a proposal to the throne to take those
      congregations under protection which had united into a changed
      religious organization according to their better ideas, without,
      however, hindering others who wish to remain in the order. But to
      unite in a permanent religious institution which is not to be
      subject to doubt before the public even in the lifetime of one man,
      and thereby to make a period of time fruitless in the progress of
      mankind toward improvement, thus working to the disadvantage of
      posterity--that is absolutely forbidden. For himself (and only for a
      short time) a man may postpone enlightenment in what he ought to
      know, but to renounce it for himself and even more to renounce it
      for posterity is to injure and trample on the rights of mankind.

      And what a people may not decree for itself can even less be decreed
      for them by a monarch, for his lawgiving authority rests on his
      uniting the general public will in his own. If he only sees to it
      that all true or alleged improvement stands together with civil
      order, he can leave it to his subjects to do what they find
      necessary for their spiritual welfare. This is not his concern,
      though it is incumbent on him to prevent one of them from violently
      hindering another in determining and promoting this welfare to the
      best of his ability. To meddle in these matters lowers his own
      majesty, since by the writings in which his subjects seek to present
      their views he may evaluate his own governance. He can do this when,
      with deepest understanding, he lays upon himself the reproach,
      Caesar non est supra grammaticos. Far more does he injure his own
      majesty when he degrades his supreme power by supporting the
      ecclesiastical despotism of some tyrants in his state over his other

      If we are asked, "Do we now live in an enlightened age?" the answer
      is, "No," but we do live in an age of enlightenment.3 As things now
      stand, much is lacking which prevents men from being, or easily
      becoming, capable of correctly using their own reason in religious
      matters with assurance and free from outside direction. But, on the
      other hand, we have clear indications that the field has now been
      opened wherein men may freely deal with these things and that the
      obstacles to general enlightenment or the release from self-imposed
      tutelage are gradually being reduced. In this respect, this is the
      age of enlightenment, or the century of Frederick.

      A prince who does not find it unworthy of himself to say that he
      holds it to be his duty to prescribe nothing to men in religious
      matters but to give them complete freedom while renouncing the
      haughty name of tolerance, is himself enlightened and deserves to be
      esteemed by the grateful world and posterity as the first, at least
      from the side of government, who divested the human race of its
      tutelage and left each man free to make use of his reason in matters
      of conscience. Under him venerable ecclesiastics are allowed, in the
      role of scholars, and without infringing on their official duties,
      freely to submit for public testing their judgments and views which
      here and there diverge from the established symbol. And an even
      greater freedom is enjoyed by those who are restricted by no
      official duties. This spirit of freedom spreads beyond this land,
      even to those in which it must struggle with external obstacles
      erected by a government which misunderstands its own interest. For
      an example gives evidence to such a government that in freedom there
      is not the least cause for concern about public peace and the
      stability of the community. Men work themselves gradually out of
      barbarity if only intentional artifices are not made to hold them in

      I have placed the main point of enlightenment--the escape of men
      from their self-incurred tutelage--chiefly in matters of religion
      because our rulers have no interest in playing the guardian with
      respect to the arts and sciences and also because religious
      incompetence is not only the most harmful but also the most
      degrading of all. But the manner of thinking of the head of a state
      who favors religious enlightenment goes further, and he sees that
      there is no danger to his lawgiving in allowing his subjects to make
      public use of their reason and to publish their thoughts on a better
      formulation of his legislation and even their open-minded criticisms
      of the laws already made. Of this we have a shining example wherein
      no monarch is superior to him whom we honor.

      But only one who is himself enlightened, is not afraid of shadows,
      and has a numerous and well-disciplined army to assure public peace,
      can say: "Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, only
      obey!" A republic could not dare say such a thing. Here is shown a
      strange and unexpected trend in human affairs in which almost
      everything, looked at in the large, is paradoxical. A greater degree
      of civil freedom appears advantageous to the freedom of mind of the
      people, and yet it places inescapable limitations upon it; a lower
      degree of civil freedom, on the contrary, provides the mind with
      room for each man to extend himself to his full capacity. As nature
      has uncovered from under this hard shell the seed for which she most
      tenderly cares--the propensity and vocation to free thinking-- this
      gradually works back upon the character of the people, who thereby
      gradually become capable of managing freedom; finally, it affects
      the principles of government, which finds it to its advantage to
      treat men, who are now more than machines, in accordance with their

      I. Kant

      Konigsberg, Prussia

      September 30, 1784

      1["Dare to know!" (Horace Ars poetica). This was the motto adopted
      in 1736 by the Society of the F
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