Emmanuel Kant’sphilosophy helped people become free thinkers, giving them the ability to makedecisions on their own. In turn, this transformed people from being immature,to be mature and independent. He argues that once people are mature and able tothink for themselves, that’s when society starts to advance and become morestructured.
The Age ofEnlightenment was a philosophical and intellectual movement that was created inEurope during the 18th century (“The Age of Enlightenment”). It included avariety of different ideas, but reason was the main source of legitimacy andauthority. The Enlightenment period also greatly advanced society with liberty,equality, fraternity, and the pursuit of happiness (Kant). It is the source ofeverything that is progressive about the modern world. Kant describesenlightenment as man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity (Kant). Kant’sdefinition of immaturity is that you are unable to think on your own, or digestother people’s opinions to make informed decisions (Kant). It is very immaturein Kant’s terms to not be able to use your personal judgment and understandingof things or problems.
People become immature because he or she constantly letothers make decisions for them (Kant). This leads to dependence on help fromothers, 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. Animalswere bound to carts and trained not to cross a boundary without their carts, bymaking the animals aware of the dangers that lie ahead (Kant). In turn, thismade the cattle afraid to check for themselves, and not question they had beentold. Just like the government provides its people with a certain set ofstandard beliefs and ideas, an immature person would instinctively agree withthe government without personally thinking about these ideas.
Not only is thismanipulative and dangerous, but it also aids in furthering immaturity (Kant).Everybody wants toreach 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, itbecomes increasingly more difficult to break out of the pattern of seekinghelp. Taking responsibility for your own thinking will highlight what you aredoing wrong so it can be corrected while becoming more mature all in the sameprocess. There are many ways to become enlightened and mature according toKant.
Public spheres are a hub of philosophical thinking and education, filledwith all types of different people. Cafes, bars, schools, and bookstores areall places where people could publically converse and discuss philosophy oranything they would like (Kant). This constant flow of knowledge andinformation let people who are immature and unable to think for themselves tobe given the chance to think independently and form their own conclusions. Thisled to more widespread philosophy, knowledge, and maturity. Salons were also avery popular attraction for people during the Enlightenment era. Art exhibitswere a great way to broaden your horizons.
Art means something different toeverybody, so a lot of people viewing the same piece of work might have had avariety of different opinions about it. The sharing of these ideas and opinionsopens people’s minds to different ways of thinking, forcing people to think ontheir own. Kant mentions in his essay that for someone to leave behind theirimmaturity, they must be fearless and vigorous to reach their goals and becomean independent thinker (Kant). Freedom is also amajor part of Kant’s argument. He believed that if society was given freedomfor itself, people would inevitably become enlightened (Kant).
This seemsfarfetched and almost impossible, but he believes that enlightenment can reacheveryone if it were to be introduced slowly and gently to the public sphere(Kant). Public use of freedom is essential for enlightenment to happen. Oncepeople are able and willing to express themselves in a public space, it allowsfor people with similar or different opinions to compare and debate on theirpersonal philosophies. Not only does this start to transform immature peopleinto mature people, but it spreads knowledge and information to others as well.It was because of this wide range spread of information, that the ScientificRevolution came shortly after the enlightenment era (Gay, pg. 12).
Kant alsopoints out the difference between freedom at a public or private level. Inorder to obtain enlightenment, you must use public freedom, but freedom at anindividual level is not useful at all. Public freedom lets knowledge and ideasbe spread among the public while being able to question and challenge otherpeople’s views and opinions. Enabling mature free individual thinking (Kant).Kantdifferentiates a lot between acting on one’s opinions and expressing one’sopinions. A contemporary situation used here could be with the clergyman at thechurch.
The clergyman is appointed on the one condition that he teaches theprinciples of the church to new worshippers or followers. However, theclergyman is able to point out constructive criticism and pitch his own ideasto be reviewed by seniors, and possibly added to the church’s code. Kantexclaims that you cannot achieve enlightenment without following the rules andlaws, but he or she should also have the courage to criticize those rules andlaws to have them changed for the better (Kant). Kant makes it very clear thatany society that does not obey and respect laws, will never achieveenlightenment (Kant). While Kant wasalive during the 1700-1800s, he was under the rule of a monarchy. He didn’tagree with a monarch leader, especially in a democratic environment.
Hebelieved that revolutions were counterproductive to enlightenment, he believedthat new ideas are constantly imposed on the immature population, slowly makingthem mature (Kant). The unique trait of democracy is freedom. Freedom onlyoccurs when people become mature and start thinking for themselves. When peopleare able to think for themselves, things like democracy are great for decidingthings like current government, a new leader, or removing the old leader(Munck). Many philosophersassume that everybody has the ability to be rational, but this is just nottrue. Most people are unable to put their personalities aside to createprinciples that apply to all (Kant).
Kant assumed everyone could be rationalbecause the majority of Enlightenment thinkers were from Europe, an alreadyvery developed and advanced nation. Since most Enlightenment thinkers were fromEurope, this led them to believe that their answers were rational, but theywere not. Kant also took time to reflect on these principles to see if theyreflected the culture that these ideas originated from (Kant). Kant’s theorycaused him to receive a lot of criticism and disagreements from otherphilosophers, but what they could not devalue was the historical significance thatit held.
Hundreds of yearshave 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 oursociety today.
Democracy is essential to freedom, and freedom is essential fordemocracy. This goes to show how important Immanuel Kant’s theories are to theworld, and how they helped us understand what Enlightenment and freedom trulyis.