Emmanuel Kant In his essay ‘What is Enlightenment?’
After 1770 Kant never surrendered the views that sensibility andunderstanding are distinct powers of cognition, that space and time aresubjective forms of human sensibility, and that moral judgments arebased on pure understanding (or reason) alone. But his embrace ofPlatonism in the Inaugural Dissertation was short-lived. He soon deniedthat our understanding is capable of insight into an intelligibleworld, which cleared the path toward his mature position in theCritique of Pure Reason (1781), according to which the understanding(like sensibility) supplies forms that structure our experience of thesensible world, to which human knowledge is limited, while theintelligible (or noumenal) world is strictly unknowable to us. Kantspent a decade working on the Critique of Pure Reason and publishednothing else of significance between 1770 and 1781. But its publicationmarked the beginning of another burst of activity that produced Kant'smost important and enduring works. Because early reviews of theCritique of Pure Reason were few and (in Kant's judgment)uncomprehending, he tried to clarify its main points in the muchshorter Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to ComeForward as a Science (1783). Among the major books that rapidlyfollowed are the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), Kant'smain work on the fundamental principle of morality; the MetaphysicalFoundations of Natural Science (1786), his main work on naturalphilosophy in what scholars call his critical period (1781–1798); thesecond and substantially revised edition of the Critique of Pure Reason(1787); the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), a fuller discussion oftopics in moral philosophy that builds on (and in some ways revises)the Groundwork; and the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), whichdeals with aesthetics and teleology. Kant also published a number ofimportant essays in this period, including Idea for a Universal HistoryWith a Cosmopolitan Aim (1784) and Conjectural Beginning of HumanHistory (1786), his main contributions to the philosophy of history; AnAnswer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784), which broachessome of the key ideas of his later political essays; and What Does itMean to Orient Oneself in Thinking? (1786), Kant's intervention in thepantheism controversy that raged in German intellectual circles afterF. H. Jacobi (1743–1819) accused the recently deceased G. E. Lessing(1729–1781) of Spinozism.
Kant On Enlightenment Essay - Kant On Enlightenment Essay
Kant's brief essay "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" (henceforth "WE") can be traced in large part to the connection it makes between two ideas central to the self-understanding of European modernity. The first is the idea of autonomy implicit in its famous definition of enlightenment: " is the inability to make use of one's own understanding without direction from another . . . Have courage to make use of your understanding! is thus the motto of enlightenment." Kant's rallying cry to independence of thought resonates with the view that individual autonomy is a central component of modern self-identity. The second is the defense of freedom in the public use of reason: "For this enlightenment, however, nothing is required but and indeed the least harmful of anything that could even be called freedom: namely freedom to make of one's reason " With this emphatic endorsement of freedom of expression as a precondition of enlightenment, Kant appears to situate the project of enlightenment squarely in the tradition of liberal political thought. [End Page 51]
Enlightenment is about thinking for oneself rather than letting othersthink for you, according to What is Enlightenment? (8:35). In thisessay, Kant also expresses the Enlightenment faith in the inevitabilityof progress. A few independent thinkers will gradually inspire abroader cultural movement, which ultimately will lead to greaterfreedom of action and governmental reform. A culture of enlightenmentis “almost inevitable” if only there is “freedom to make public use ofone's reason in all matters” (8:36).