what is enlightenment

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    Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity
    is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another.
    This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding,
    but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere
    Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!” —
    that is the motto of enlightenment.
    Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men,
    long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes),
    nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for
    others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I
    have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a
    physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I
    need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work
    for me.
    The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men
    have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire
    fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention
    difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully
    made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the gocart
    to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger
    that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not
    actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn
    to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them
    out of all further attempts.
    Thus, it is difficult for any individual man to work himself out of the immaturity
    that has all but become his nature. He has even become fond of this state and
    for the time being is actually incapable of using his own understanding, for no
    one has ever allowed him to attempt it. Rules and formulas, those mechanical
    aids to the rational use, or rather misuse, of his natural gifts, are the shackles of a
    permanent immaturity. Whoever threw them off would still make only an uncertain
    leap over the smallest ditch, since he is unaccustomed to this kind of free
    movement. Consequently, only a few have succeeded, by cultivating their own
    minds, in freeing themselves from immaturity and pursuing a secure course.
    But that the public should enlighten itself is more likely; indeed, if it is only
    allowed freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable. For even among the entrenched
    guardians of the great masses a few will always think for themselves, a
    few who, after having themselves thrown off the yoke of immaturity, will spread
    the spirit of a rational appreciation for both their own worth and for each person’s
    calling to think for himself. But it should be particularly noted that if a
    public that was first placed in this yoke by the guardians is suitably aroused by
    some of those who are altogether incapable of enlightenment, it may force the
    guardians themselves to remain under the yoke — so pernicious is it to instill
    prejudices, for they finally take revenge upon their originators, or on their descendants.
    Thus a public can only attain enlightenment slowly. Perhaps a revolution
    can overthrow autocratic despotism and profiteering or power-grabbing
    oppression, but it can never truly reform a manner of thinking; instead, new
    prejudices, just like the old ones they replace, will serve as a leash for the great
    unthinking mass.
    Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom; and the
    freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason
    publicly in all matters. But on all sides I hear: “Do not argue!” The officer says,
    “Do not argue, drill!” The tax man says, “Do not argue, pay!” The pastor says, “Do
    not argue, believe!” (Only one ruler in the World says, “Argue as much as you
    want and about what you want, but obey!”) In this we have examples of pervasive
    restrictions on freedom. But which restriction hinders enlightenment and which
    does not, but instead actually advances it? I reply: The public use of one’s reason
    must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among mankind;
    the private use of reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted,
    without otherwise hindering the progress of enlightenment. By the public use of
    one’s own reason I understand the use that anyone as a scholar makes of reason
    before the entire literate world. I call the private use of reason that which a
    person may make in a civic post or office that has been entrusted to him. Now in
    many affairs conducted in the interests of a community, a certain mechanism is
    required by means of which some of its members must conduct themselves in an
    entirely passive manner so that through an artificial unanimity the government
    may guide them toward public ends, or at least prevent them from destroying
    such ends. Here one certainly must not argue, instead one must obey. However,
    insofar as this part of the machine also regards himself as a member of the community
    as a whole, or even of the world community, and as a consequence addresses
    the public in the role of a scholar, in the proper sense of that term, he can
    most certainly argue, without thereby harming the affairs for which as a passive
    member he is partly responsible. Thus it would be disastrous if an officer on duty
    who was given a command by his superior were to question the appropriateness
    or utility of the order. He must obey. But as a scholar he cannot be justly constrained
    from making comments about errors in military service, or from placing
    them before the public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes
    imposed on him; indeed, impertinent criticism of such levies, when they should
    be paid by him, can be punished as a scandal (since it can lead to widespread
    insubordination). But the same person does not act contrary to civic duty when,
    as a scholar, he publicly expresses his thoughts regarding the impropriety or even
    injustice of such taxes. Likewise a pastor is bound to instruct his catecumens and
    congregation in accordance with the symbol of the church he serves, for he was
    appointed on that condition. But as a scholar he has complete freedom, indeed
    even the calling, to impart to the public all of his carefully considered and wellintentioned
    thoughts concerning mistaken aspects of that symbol, as well as his
    suggestions for the better arrangement of religious and church matters. Nothing
    in this can weigh on his conscience. What he teaches in consequence of his office
    as a servant of the church he sets out as something with regard to which he has
    no discretion to teach in accord with his own lights; rather, he offers it under the
    direction and in the name of another. He will say, “Our church teaches this or
    that and these are the demonstrations it uses.” He thereby extracts for his congregation
    all practical uses from precepts to which he would not himself subscribe
    with complete conviction, but whose presentation he can nonetheless
    undertake, since it is not entirely impossible that truth lies hidden in them, and,
    in any case, nothing contrary to the very nature of religion is to be found in them.
    If he believed he could find anything of the latter sort in them, he could not in
    good conscience serve in his position; he would have to resign. Thus an appointed
    teacher’s use of his reason for the sake of his congregation is merely
    private, because, however large the congregation is, this use is always only domestic;
    in this regard, as a priest, he is not free and cannot be such because he is
    acting under instructions from someone else. By contrast, the cleric — as a
    scholar who speaks through his writings to the public as such, i.e., the world —
    enjoys in this public use of reason an unrestricted freedom to use his own rational
    capacities and to speak his own mind. For that the (spiritual) guardians of
    a people should themselves be immature is an absurdity that would insure the
    perpetuation of absurdities.
    But would a society of pastors, perhaps a church assembly or venerable
    presbytery (as those among the Dutch call themselves), not be justified in binding
    itself by oath to a certain unalterable symbol in order to secure a constant guardianship
    over each of its members and through them over the people, and this for
    all time: I say that this is wholly impossible. Such a contract, whose intention is
    to preclude forever all further enlightenment of the human race, is absolutely null
    and void, even if it should be ratified by the supreme power, by parliaments, and
    by the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot bind itself, and thus conspire,
    to place a succeeding one in a condition whereby it would be impossible for the
    later age to expand its knowledge (particularly where it is so very important), to
    rid itself of errors, and generally to increase its enlightenment. That would be a
    crime against human nature, whose essential destiny lies precisely in such progress;
    subsequent generations are thus completely justified in dismissing such
    agreements as unauthorized and criminal. The criterion of everything that can be
    agreed upon as a law by a people lies in this question: Can a people impose such a
    law on itself? Now it might be possible, in anticipation of a better state of affairs,
    to introduce a provisional order for a specific, short time, all the while giving all
    citizens, especially clergy, in their role as scholars, the freedom to comment
    publicly, i.e., in writing, on the present institution’s shortcomings. The provisional
    order might last until insight into the nature of these matters had become
    so widespread and obvious that the combined (if not unanimous) voices of the
    populace could propose to the crown that it take under its protection those
    congregations that, in accord with their newly gained insight, had organized
    themselves under altered religious institutions, but without interfering with those
    wishing to allow matters to remain as before. However, it is absolutely forbidden
    that they unite into a religious organization that nobody may for the duration of a
    man’s lifetime publicly question, for so do-ing would deny, render fruitless, and
    make detrimental to succeeding generations an era in man’s progress toward
    improvement. A man may put off enlightenment with regard to what he ought to
    know, though only for a short time and for his own person; but to renounce it for
    himself, or, even more, for subsequent generations, is to violate and trample
    man’s divine rights underfoot. And what a people may not decree for itself may
    still less be imposed on it by a monarch, for his lawgiving authority rests on his
    unification of the people’s collective will in his own. If he only sees to it that all
    genuine or purported improvement is consonant with civil order, he can allow his
    subjects to do what they find necessary to their spiritual well-being, which is not
    his affair. However, he must prevent anyone from forcibly interfering with another’s
    working as best he can to determine and promote his well-being. It detracts
    from his own majesty when he interferes in these matters, since the writings
    in which his subjects attempt to clarify their insights lend value to his
    conception of governance. This holds whether he acts from his own highest
    insight — whereby he calls upon himself the reproach, “Caesar non eat supra
    grammaticos.”‘ — as well as, indeed even more, when he despoils his highest
    authority by supporting the spiritual despotism of some tyrants in his state over
    his other subjects.
    If it is now asked, “Do we presently live in an enlightened age?” the answer is,
    “No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment.” As matters now stand, a great
    deal is still lacking in order for men as a whole to be, or even to put themselves
    into a position to be able without external guidance to apply understanding
    confidently to religious issues. But we do have clear indications that the way is
    now being opened for men to proceed freely in this direction and that the obstacles
    to general enlightenment — to their release from their self-imposed immaturity
    — are gradually diminishing. In this regard, this age is the age of enlightenment,
    the century of Frederick.
    A prince who does not find it beneath him to say that he takes it to be his duty
    to prescribe nothing, but rather to allow men complete freedom in religious
    matters — who thereby renounces the arrogant title of tolerance — is himself
    enlightened and deserves to be praised by a grateful present and by posterity as
    the first, at least where the government is concerned, to release the human race
    from immaturity and to leave everyone free to use his own reason in all matters
    of conscience. Under his rule, venerable pastors, in their role as scholars and
    without prejudice to their official duties, may freely and openly set out for the
    world’s scrutiny their judgments and views, even where these occasionally differ
    from the accepted symbol. Still greater freedom is afforded to those who are not
    restricted by an official post. This spirit of freedom is expanding even where it
    must struggle against the external obstacles of governments that misunderstand
    their own function. Such governments are illuminated by the example that the
    existence of freedom need not give cause for the least concern regarding public
    order and harmony in the commonwealth. If only they refrain from inventing
    artifices to keep themselves in it, men will gradually raise themselves from barbarism.

    I have focused on religious matters in setting out my main point concerning
    enlightenment, i.e., man’s emergence from self-imposed immaturity, first because
    our rulers have no interest in assuming the role of their subjects’ guardians
    with respect to the arts and sciences, and secondly because that form of immaturity
    is both the most pernicious and disgraceful of all. But the manner of thinking
    of a head of state who favors religious enlightenment goes even further, for he
    realizes that there is no danger to his legislation in allowing his subjects to use
    reason publicly and to set before the world their thoughts concerning better
    formulations of his laws, even if this involves frank criticism of legislation currently
    in effect. We have before us a shining example, with respect to which no
    monarch surpasses the one whom we honor.
    But only a ruler who is himself enlightened and has no dread of shadows, yet
    who likewise has a well-disciplined, numerous army to guarantee public peace,
    can say what no republic may dare, namely: “Argue as much as you want and
    about what you want, but obey!” Here as elsewhere, when things are considered
    in broad perspective, a strange, unexpected pattern in human affairs reveals
    itself, one in which almost everything is paradoxical. A greater degree of civil
    freedom seems advantageous to a people’s spiritual freedom; yet the former
    established impassable boundaries for the latter; conversely, a lesser degree of
    civil freedom provides enough room for all fully to expand their abilities. Thus,
    once nature has removed the hard shell from this kernel for which she has most
    fondly cared, namely, the inclination to and vocation for free thinking, the kernel
    gradually reacts on a people’s mentality (whereby they become increasingly able
    to act freely), and it finally even influences the principles of government, which
    finds that it can profit by treating men, who are now more than machines, in
    accord with their dignity.
    I. Kant
    Konigsberg in Prussia, 30 September 1784
    src: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/kant.html

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