What is enlightenment?


Immanuel Kant. PD-US.


Kant’s famous 1784 essay asked the question: What is Enlightenment? His answer still has something of value for us today. He argued that the courage to think for ones self provides the impetus for a progressive society. This cannot happen without social and political conditions which support individual freedoms, but even with that, it requires ongoing courage to question various authorities and the societal pressure to conform.

Kant particularly emphasized that church and state must forsake blind paternalism and be open to constructive criticism. He cautioned that authority must ultimately be followed to avoid anarchy, but encourages those in authority to leave the requisite room for appropriate critical argumentation.

Kant wrote during the reign of Frederick II of Prussia, and went out of his way to encourage and praise his ruler for taking the kind of steps necessary for the improvement of his own kingdom. He urged slow steps rather than a revolutionary set of changes to improve society through the encouragement of the freedom of thought and expression.

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