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WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT?


Guest Maha_Pavitar
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Guest Maha_Pavitar

Pyareo, I know this is a long read (about 6 pages in a legal-sized booklet) but do take time and read it..a favourite essay of mine..

"But only one sho 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!"

"What is Enlightenment?"

by KANT

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity

is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another.

This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but

lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The

motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own

understanding!

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even

when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance (naturaliter

maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same

reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians.

It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in

place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge

my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think,

so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me.

The guardians who have kindly taken upon themselves the work of supervision will

soon see to it that by far the largest part of mankind (including the entire

fair sex) should consider the step forward to maturity not only as difficult but

also as highly dangerous. Having first infatuated their domesticated animals,

and carefully prevented the docile creatures from daring to take a single step

without the leading-strings to which they are tied, they next show them the

danger which threatens them if they try to walk unaided. Now this danger is not

in fact so very great, for they would certainly learn to walk eventually after a

few falls. But an example of this kind is intimidating, and usually frightens

them off from further attempts.

Thus it is difficult for each separate individual to work his way out of the

immaturity which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown fond

of it and is really incapable for the time being of using his own understanding,

because he was never allowed to make the attempt. Dogmas and formulas, those

mechanical instruments for rational use (or rather misuse) of his natural

endowments, are the ball and chain of his permanent immaturity. And if anyone

did throw them off, he would still be uncertain about jumping over even the

narrowest of trenches, for he would be unaccustomed to free movement of this

kind. Thus only a few, by cultivating the;r own minds, have succeeded in freeing

themselves from immaturity and in continuing boldly on their way.

There is more chance of an entire public enlightening itself. This is indeed

almost inevitable, if only the public concerned is left in freedom. For there

will always be a few who think for themselves, even among those appointed as

guardians of the common mass. Such guardians, once they have themselves thrown

off the yoke of immaturity, will disseminate the spirit of rational respect for

personal value and for the duty of all men to think for themselves. The

remarkable thing about this is that if the public, which was previously put

under this yoke by the guardians, is suitably stirred up by some of the latter

who are incapable of enlightenment, it may subsequently compel the guardians

themselves to remain under the yoke. For it is very harmful to propagate

prejudices, because they finally avenge themselves on the very people who first

encouraged them (or whose predecessors did so). Thus a public can only achieve

enlightenment slowly. A revolution may well put an end to autocratic despotism

and to rapacious or power-seeking oppression, but it will never produce a true

reform in ways of thinking. Instead, new prejudices, like the ones they

replaced, will serve as a leash to control the great unthinking mass.

For enlightenment of this kind, all that is needed is freedom. And the freedom

in question is the most innocuous form of allÑfreedom to make public use of

one's reason in all matters. But I hear on all sides the cry: Don't argue! The

officer says: Don't argue, get on parade! The tax-official: Don't argue, pay!

The clergyman: Don't argue, believe! (Only one ruler in the world says: Argue as

much as you like and about whatever you like, but obey!). . All this means

restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which sort of restriction prevents

enlightenment, and which, instead of hindering it, can actually promote it ? I

reply: The public use of man's reason must always be free, and it alone can

bring about enlightenment among men; the private use of reason may quite often

be very narrowly restricted, however, without undue hindrance to the progress of

enlightenment. But by the public use of one's own reason I mean that use which

anyone may make of it as a man of learning addressing the entire reading public.

What I term the private use of reason is that which a person may make of it in a

particular civil post or office with which he is entrusted.

Now in some affairs which affect the interests of the commonwealth, we require a

certain mechanism whereby some members of the commonwealth must behave purely

passively, so that they may, by an artificial common agreement, be employed by

the government for public ends (or at least deterred from vitiating them). It

is, of course,impermissible to argue in such cases; obedience is imperative. But

in so far as this or that individual who acts as part of the machine also

considers himself as a member of a complete commonwealth or even of cosmopolitan

society, and thence as a man of learning who may through his writings address a

public in the truest sense of the word, he may 'indeed argue without harming the

affairs in which he is employed for some of the time in a passive capacity. Thus

it would be very harmful if an officer receiving an order from his superiors

were to quibble openly, while on duty, about the appropriateness or usefulness

of the order in question. He must simply obey. But he cannot reasonably be

banned from making observations as a man of learning on the errors in the

military service, and from submitting these to his public for judgement. The

citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes imposed upon him; presumptuous criticisms

of such taxes, where someone is called upon to pay them, may be punished as an

outrage which could lead to general insubordination. Nonetheless, the same

citizen does not contravene his civil obligations if, as a learned individual,

he publicly voices his thoughts on the impropriety or even injustice of such

fiscal measures. In the same way, a clergyman is bound to instruct his pupils

and his congregation in accordance with the doctrines of the church he serves,

for he was employed by it on that condition. But as a scholar, he is completely

free as well as obliged to impart to the public all his carefully considered,

well-intentioned thoughts on the mistaken aspects of those doctrines, and to

offer suggestions for a better arrangement of religious and ecclesiastical

affairs. And there is nothing in this which need trouble the conscience. I;or

what he teaches in pursuit of his duties as an active servant of the church is

presented by him as something which he is not empowered to teach at his own

discretion, but which he is employed to expound in a prescribed manner and in

someone else's name. He will say: Our church teaches this or that, and these are

the arguments it uses. He then extracts as much practical value as possible for

his congregation from precepts to which he would not himself subscribe with full

conviction, but which he can nevertheless undertake to expound, since it is not

in fact wholly impossible that they may contain truth. At all events, nothing

opposed to the essence of religion is present in such doctrines. For if the

clergyman thought he could find anything of this sort in them, he would not be

able to carry out his official duties in good conscience, and would have to

resign. Thus the use which someone employed as a teacher makes of his reason in

the presence of his congregation is purely private, since a congregation,

however large it is, is never any more than a domestic gathering. In view of

this, he is not and cannot be free as a priest, sinà he is acting on a

commission imposed from outside. Conversely, as a scholar addressing the real

public (i.e. the world at large) through his writings, the clergyman making

public use of his reason enjoys unlimited freedom to use his own reason and to

speak in his own person. For to maintain that the guardians of the people in

spiritual matters should themselves be immature, is an absurdity which amounts

to making absurdities permanent.

But should not a society of clergymen, for example an ecclesiastical synod or a

venerable presbytery (as the Dutch call it), be entitled to commit itself by

oath to a certain unalterable set of doctrines, in order to secure for all time

a constant guardianship over each of its members, and through them over the

people ? I reply that this is quite impossible. A contract of this

kind,concluded with a view to preventing all further enlightenment of mankind

for ever, is absolutely null and void, even if it is ratified by the supreme

power, by Imperial Diets and the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot

enter into an alliance on oath to put the next age in a position where it would

be impossible for it to extend and correct its knowledge, particularly on such

important matters, or to make any progress whatsoever in enlightenment. This

would be a crime against human nature, whose original destiny lies precisely in

such progress. Later generations are thus perfectly entitled to dismiss these

agreements as unauthorised and criminal. To test whether any particular measure

can be agreed upon as a law for a people, we need only ask whether a people

could well impose such a law upon itself. This might well be possible for a

specified short period as a means of introducing a certain order, pending, as it

were, a better solution. This would also mean that each citizen, particularly

the clergyman, would be given a free hand as a scholar to comment publicly, i.e.

in his writings, on the inadequacies of current institutions. Meanwhile, the

newly established order would continue to exist, until public insight into the

nature of such matters had progressed and proved itself to the point where, by

general consent (if not unanimously), a proposal could be submitted to the

crown. This would seek to protect the congregations who had, for instance,

agreed to alter their religious establishment in accordance with their own

notions of what higher insight is, but it would not try to obstruct those who

wanted to let things remain as before. But it is absolutely impermissible to

agree, even for a single lifetime, to a permanent religious constitution which

no-one might publicly question. For this would virtually nullify a phase in

man's upward progress, thus making it fruitless and even detrimental to

subsequent generations. A man may for his own person, and even then only for a

limited period, postpone enlightening himself in matters he ought to know about.

But to renounce such enlightenment completely, whether for his own person or

even more so for later generations, means violating and trampling underfoot the

sacred rights of mankind. But something which a people may not even impose upon

itself can still less be imposed upon it by a monarch; for his legislative

authority depends precisely upon his uniting the collective will of the people

in his own. So long as he sees to it that all true or imagined improvements are

compatible with the civil order, he can otherwise leave his subjects to do

whatever they find necessary for their salvation, which is none of his business.

But it is his business to stop anyone forcibly hindering others from working as

best they can to define and promote their salvation. It indeed detracts from his

majesty if he interferes in these affairs by subjecting the writings in which

his subjects attempt to clarify their religious ideas to governmental

supervision. This applies if he does so acting upon his own exalted opinionsÑ in

which case he exposes himself to the reproach: Caesar non est supra

GrammaticosÑbut much more so if he demeans his high authority so far as to

support the spiritual despotism of a few tyrants within his state against the

rest of his subjects.

If it is now asked whether we at present live in an enlightened age, the answer

is: No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment. As things are at present, we

still have a long way to go before men as a whole can be in a position (or can

ever be put into a position) of using their own understanding confidently and

well in religious matters, without outside guidance. But we do have distinct

indications that the way is now being cleared for them to work freely in this

direction, and that the obstacles to universal enlightenment, to man's emergence

from his self-incurred immaturity, are gradually becoming fewer. In this respect

our age is the age of enlightenment, the century of Frederick.

A prince who does not regard it as beneath him to say that he considers it his

duty, in religious matters, not to prescribe anything to his people, but to

allow them complete freedom, a prince who thus even declines to accept the

presumptuous title of tolerant, is himself enlightened. He deserves to be

praised by a grateful present and posterity as the man who first liberated

mankind from immaturity (as far as government is concerned), and who left all

men free to use their own reason in all matters of conscience. Under his rule,

ecclesiastical dignitaries, notwithstanding their official duties, may in their

capacity as scholars freely and publicly submit to the judgement of the world

their verdicts and opinions, even if these deviate here Ind there from orthodox

doctrine. This applies even more to all others who are not restricted by any

official duties. This spirit of freedom is also spreading abroad, even where it

has to struggle with outward obstacles imposed by governments which

misunderstand their own function. For such governments an now witness a shining

example of how freedom may exist without in the least jeopardising public

concord and the unity of the commonwealth. Men will of their own accord

gradually work their way out of barbarism so long as artificial measures are not

deliberately adopted to keep them in it.

I have portrayed matters of religion as the focal point of enlightenment, i.e.

of man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. This is firstly because

our rulers have no interest in assuming the role of guardians over their

subjects so fir as the arts and sciences are concerned, and secondly, because

religious immaturity is the most pernicious and dishonourable variety of all.

But the attitude of mind of a head of state who favours freedom in the arts and

sciences extends even further, for he realises that there is no danger even to

his legislation if he allows his subjects to make public use of their own reason

and to put before the public their thoughts on better ways of drawing up laws,

even if this entails forthright criticism of the current legislation. We have

before us a brilliant example of this kind, in which no monarch has yet

surpassed the one to whom we now pay tribute.

But only a ruler who is himself enlightened and has no far of phantoms, yet who

likewise has at hand a well-disciplined and numerous army to guarantee public

security, may say what no republic would dare to say: Argue as much as you like

and about whatever you like, but obey! This reveals to us a strange and

unexpected pattern in human affairs (such as we shall always find if we consider

them in the widest sense, in which nearly everything is paradoxical). A high

degree of civil freedom seems advantageous to a people's intellectual freedom,

yet it also sets up insuperable barriers to it. Conversely, a lesser degree of

civil freedom gives intellectual freedom enough room to expand to its fullest

extent. Thus once the germ on which nature has lavished most careÑman's

inclination and vocation to think freely--has developed within this hard shell,

it gradually reacts upon the mentality of the people, who thus gradually become

increasingly able to act freely Eventually, it even influences the principles of

governments, which find that they can themselves profit by treating man, who is

more than a machine, in a manner appropriate to his dignity.

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