"It is so easy not to be of
age. If I have a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a
conscience for me, a physician who decides my diet, and so forth, I need
not trouble myself. I need not think, if I can only pay - others will
easily undertake the irksome work for me."
Immanuel's Kant's "What is
Enlightenment" was one of his popular essays, written when he was
sixty, and it comes at the end of the eighteenth century--what is
sometimes regarded as the end of the Enlightenment. In many ways it
functions as a good summary of the period's attitudes towards knowledge,
the divine, authority, tradition, the individual, education, and the
state. Not, of course, the attitudes of all or even most, but the
attitudes of a certain intellectual and cultural elite are reflected
For Kant, reliance upon any authority,
other than the human mind, is to be kept an intellectual child, dependent
on the paternalism of civil, religious, or academic authorities. In Kant's
view an unthinking acceptance of what the state or church leadership tells
you can only lead to oppression and a cattle-like state for the masses.
Thus, political freedom is absolutely necessary for mental and emotional
enlightenment. Public doubt must be possible for both the state and the
church. Therefore, the monarch should not meddle in matters of the
- How does Kant contrast the role of a
soldier or clergy from the scholar? Why does he see it as an important
- Why does Kant make a distinction between
"an enlightened age" and "an age of
enlightenment"? What's the difference?
- Is Kant right that the government should
stay out of religion? Why or why not?
- Can authority ever be trusted without
question? Under what conditions?
- What does Kant trust in? What does he
not trust in?
- How does Kant see the individual in
relation to the divine, to the state, to education?
- Kant uses the term Aufklärung not
Erleuchtung. What is the
difference in the two ideas?
- Read over the passage by Roger Lundin
below. What might it suggest about Kant's view of authority and
originality? What makes the older view different?
"Descartes and [other Enlightenment figures] began the slow
transformation of Western culture from the model of authority (from the
Latin auctor, meaning 'author' or 'originator') to that of
originality. Before Descartes, originality had meant the creative
appropriation of the thought of one's immediate predecessors; after him,
it involved the adoption of an unprecedented point of view. Descartes's
break with the past had established a compelling pattern for the future;
it legitimated the desire at the heart of modernity: the urge to become
one's own origin, author, and father" (13).
[Lundin, Roger. et al. The Promise of
Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.]