What is enlightenment? Immanuel Kant attempts to clarify the meaning of enlightenment while composing the essay, “What is Enlightenment?”. This document was written in response to political and social changes brought about by King Frederick of Prussia. The goal of Kant’s essay was to discuss what the nature of enlightenment was. It also taught one how enlightenment can be brought about in the general public.
Kant explains that, “enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage” (Kant 85). Tutelage is man’s incompetence to have direction for oneself. In other words, enlightenment is the progress of a society through the free activity of rational thought and scholarly critique. Kant feels that if we are going to liberate ourselves from tutelage then we must be able to use our freedom whenever we want. One can try to revolt but it’s most definitely going to fail. One can try to over-throw and then become the tutor themselves. This revolution will not lead to enlightenment, but rather lead to ongoing tutelage.
One prince said that the coming about of enlightenment will only arrive if you, “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, but obey!” (Kant 87). In short, this means you can argue but you can’t revolt. Kant seemed to take this into account when qualifying what will bring about enlightenment. Kant states, “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 of enlightenment. By the public use of one’s reason I understand the use of which a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him” (Kant 87). In other words, there are two types of reasoning: public and private. If one can produce an argument and present it to the
public with the intentions of making progress, they are using public use of reasoning. Rational workers in a specific occupation use the private use of reasoning. If one has a specific job they use reason to complete their task. This is done privately because the public need not know. In private use one must obey or the completion of the task is impossible.
Kant uses many examples of the difference between the public and private use of reasoning. If soldiers refused to follow commands then there would be no military. So, one solider may follow commands in which he disagrees with, but will later critique what he believes. This means that he will follow the commands as his private use of reasoning and then will speak out his complaints as his public use of reasoning. Another example used by Kant is how a citizen must pay taxes as his duty or his private use of reasoning. As a public use of reason he expresses his thoughts on the overpaying and inappropriateness of the levies. Kant’s main example has to do with clergymen and changing the symbol of the church as well as better organization. As a priest, one can not denounce the symbol of the church with his fellow clergymen. On the other hand, the priest can be a scholar and articulate his views in order to make progress within the church. Overall, Kant tries to enlighten us that it will never become impossible for the clergyman to fulfill his duties of office, this being the private use of reason. At the same time he can fulfill his responsibilities to the public to make progress, this being public use of reasoning. Kant states, “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 (Kant 88). This implies that if it becomes contradictory to you, then it is impossible to fulfill both sides of reason.
Kant feels that we do not live in an enlightened age, but rather an age of enlightenment. Kant says, “As things now stand, much is lacking which prevents men form being, or