Emmanuel Kant’s philosophy helped people become free thinkers, giving them the ability to make decisions on their own. In turn this transformed people from being immature, to being mature and independent. He argues that once people are mature and able to think for themselves, that’s when society starts to advance and become more stable.
The Age of Enlightenment was a philosophical and intellectual movement that was created in Europe during the 18th century. It included a variety of different ideas, but reason was the main source of legitimacy and authority. The Enlightenment period also greatly advanced society with liberty, equality, fraternity, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the source of everything that is progressive about the modern world.
Kant describes enlightenment as man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Kant’s definition of immaturity is that you are unable to think on your own, or digest other people’s opinions to make informed decisions. It is very immature in Kant’s terms to not be able to use your personal judgement and understanding of things or problems. People become immature because he or she constantly lets others make decisions for them. This leads to dependence for help from others, so much so that it starts to become difficult to think on your own. Kant uses an analogy of the influence of government on its own people. Animals were bound to carts and not trained to cross a boundary without their carts, by making the animals aware of the dangers that lie ahead. In turn, this made the cattle afraid to check for themselves, and not question they had been told. Just like the government provides its people with a certain set of standard beliefs and ideas, an immature person would instinctively agree with the government without personally thinking about these ideas. Not only is this manipulative and controlling, but it also aids in furthering immaturity.
Everybody wants to reach maturity alone, but it is easier for multiple people to do it together. This is because once a person starts to rely on someone for guidance, it becomes increasingly more difficult to break out of the pattern of seeking help. Taking responsibility for your own thinking will highlight what you are doing wrong so it can be corrected, while becoming more mature all in once process. There are many ways to become enlightened and mature. Public spheres are a hub of philosophical thinking and education, filled with all types of different people. Cafes, bars, schools, and book stores are all places where people could publically converse and discuss philosophy or anything they would like. This constant flow of knowledge and information let people who are immature and unable to think for themselves to be given the chance to think independently and form their own conclusions. This led to more widespread philosophy, knowledge, and maturity. Salons were also a very popular attraction for people during the Enlightenment era. Art exhibits were a great way to broaden your horizons. Art means something different to everybody, so a lot of people viewing the same piece of work might have had a variety of different opinions about it. The sharing of these ideas and opinions opens people’s minds to different ways of thinking, forcing people to think on their own. Kant mentions in his essay that for someone to leave behind their immaturity, they must be fearless and vigorous to reach their goals and become an independent thinker.
Freedom is also a major part of Kant’s argument. He believed that if society was given freedom for itself, people would inevitable become enlightened. This seems farfetched and almost impossible, but he believes that enlightenment can reach everyone if it were to be introduced slowly and gently to the public sphere. Public use of freedom is essential for enlightenment to happen. Once people are able and willing to express themselves in a public space, it enables people with similar or different opinions to converse and debate on their personal philosophies. Not only does this start to change immature people into mature people, but it spreads knowledge and information to other people. It was because of this wide range spread of information, that the scientific revolution came shortly after the enlightenment era.
Kant also points out the difference between freedom at a public or private level. In order to obtain enlightenment, you must use public freedom, but freedom at an individual level is not useful at all. Public freedom lets knowledge and ideas be spread among the public, while being able to question and challenge other people’s views and opinions. Enabling mature free individual thinking.
Kant differentiates a lot between acting on one’s opinions and expressing one’s opinions. A contemporary situation used here could be with the clergyman at the church. The clergyman is appointed on the one condition that he teach the principles of the church to new worshippers or followers. However, the clergyman is able to point out constructive criticism and pitch his own ideas to be reviewed by seniors, and possibly added to the church’s code. Kant exclaims that you cannot achieve enlightenment without following the rules and laws, but he or she should also have the courage to criticize those rules and laws to have them changed for the better. Kant makes it very clear that any society that does not obey and respect laws, it will never achieve enlightenment.
While Kant was alive during the 1700-1800s, he was under the rule of a monarchy. He didn’t agree with a monarch leader, especially in a democratic environment. He believed that revolutions were counterproductive to enlightenment, he believed that new ideas are constantly imposed on the immature population, slowly making them mature. The most unique trait of democracy is freedom. Freedom only occurs when people become mature and start thinking for themselves. When people are able to think for themselves, things like democracy are great for deciding things like current government, a new leader, or removing the old leader.
Many philosophers assume that everybody has the ability to be rational, but this is just not true. Most people are unable to put their personalities aside to create principles that apply to all. Kant assumed everyone could be rational because the majority of Enlightenment thinkers were from Europe. Since most enlightenment thinkers were from Europe, this led them to believe that their answers were rational, but they were not. Kant also took time to reflect on these principles to see if they reflected the culture that these ideas originated from. Kant’s theory caused him to receive a lot of criticism and disagreements from other philosophers, but what they could not devalue was the immense historical significance that it held.
Hundreds of years have passed, yet Kant’s theories continue to influence and guide people today. The concept of freedom has stuck to society like glue. In today’s society almost everybody is a mature free thinker, and it is quite evident in our society today. Democracy is essential to freedom, and freedom is essential for democracy. This goes to show how important Immanuel Kant’s theories are to the world, and how they helped us understand what Enlightenment and freedom truly is.