Primary Source Analysis Essay On Immanuel Kant's Argumentative Essay Examples

Type of paper: Argumentative Essay

Topic: Enlightenment, Voltaire, Democracy, Immanuel Kant, Kant, Freedom, People, Human

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/12/07

‘Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?’

My thesis is the following: Enlightenment is not just the era and not just knowledge. Enlightenment is an epoch which gave the people a chance to be enlightened, as well as to get out of control and management of other people and to be guided by their own minds. Enlightenment changed the attitude of humanity to their inherent reasonable ability - the power (ability) of judgment. Before the Enlightenment humanity did not understand and did not use properly inherent reasonable ability, which is the ability to judge, think and act reasonably and independently.
Answering the question of the priest Zoellner ‘What is Enlightenment?’, the famous Berlin philosopher Moses Mendelssohn about a month before the article of Kant on Enlightenment published an article ‘On the question of what it means to be enlightened?’. In the article, he introduces the three central concepts: enlightenment, culture, education, and argues that enlightenment and culture are different types of education. Enlightenment is the theoretical education as opposed to culture as a practical education. With an emphasis on theory, Mendelssohn acted in the spirit of the conventional educational concepts, identifying the spread of education science and knowledge in general. Kant gave a radically different solution. Article 'An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?' starts in the best tradition of Kantian philosophy with a definition: ‘Enlightenment is a way out of human immaturity, in which he is due to own fault.’ Each concept requires clarification here. However, what is clear from this definition is that enlightenment is not so much the era of social life as the state of the own personality. Categories used in this definition are ‘minority’, ‘wine’ have emphasized personal coloring. This means that every person in the personal development has to go through this state.
Kant believes that before the Enlightenment humanity did not understand and did not use properly the inherent reasonable ability, namely, did not use this ability: according to him, humanity has previously been unable to use their intellect without guidance from someone else, which Kant defines as a state of minority.
The cause of humanity’s stay in this state of minority, according to Kant, is the man himself, because he abides in it not because of a lack of reason. According to Kant, people are in a state of minority due to their own fault, because of a lack of determination and courage to use it (reason) without the guidance; people ‘willing to remain to be minors for a lifetime’ because of their own ‘laziness and cowardice.’
The Age of Enlightenment, in the opinion of Kant, marked the transition from the minority to adulthood state that was carried out due to the fact that the Enlightenment formed a new culture based on a reasonable ability to judge or rather, on the ability to use own reasons without the guidance of others. Exactly this ability to judge, according to Kant, is a necessary component of a new man – an adult man, guided by an appeal ‘Sapere aude!’ (‘Have the courage to use your own reason’), called by Kant as the motto of the Enlightenment.
It is obvious that that the causes of un-enlightenment Kant connected with people in their personal properties. Enlightenment is the domain of the personal responsibility - such is the basic concept of Kant. In order to remain in un-enlightenment, people invent many different techniques: ‘If I have a book, thinking instead of me, if I have a pastor, whose conscience can replace my conscience and if I have a doctor prescribing me a certain way of life, etc., then have nothing to trouble about. I don’t need to think, if I am able to pay.’
Precisely because of the reluctance of some people to move into a state of enlightenment there are other people who arrogate to themselves the right to be their guardians. Guardians tend their ‘flock’ to not be able to take a step without help, and then point to the threat to them from walking alone.
Thus, a personal problem becomes public as guardians are easily combined in the organizations that support the ‘infancy’ of people. Enlightenment of each individual is now difficult, because every individual is difficult to get out of the immaturity which has become almost the natural state for him. Individual enlightenment is possible, however, only for individuals who have determination and courage. That's why only a few people managed to move out of the immaturity by improving their spirit.
Hence the main problem for Kant is in the question ‘what is the social mechanism that would lead to state of personal enlightenment?’ And the answer to this question by Kant is simple: ‘The public will enlighten itself, if only to provide it with freedom.’ Then, even among caregivers, there will be people capable for the enlightenment. People must fight for their rights, for example, by the revolution. This belief was spread by the representatives of the French Enlightenment, but Kant says that no revolution can be real reform in thinking. The enlightenment requires ‘just freedom, and, moreover, the most harmless, namely freedom in all cases to publicly use own minds.’ Kant believes that the only condition for the implementation of the goals of enlightenment, aimed at the transforming of the way of thinking, is freedom: in his words, ‘for such enlightenment it is required nothing, but freedom.’
Under the freedom Kant understands the freedom of judgment, the freedom of ‘independent use of mind’ and calls it as the main task of providing a new enlightened society. With this understanding of freedom as the freedom of judgment as such, Kant considers the restrictions on freedom of judgment as the restriction of freedom in general, that is, a lack of freedom, and declares it as a major crime to society and humanity.
In this regard, Kant focuses on the religious sphere of human society - the sphere, which, in his opinion, is an example of the blatant lack of freedom in the possibility of independent judgment. According to him, the sphere of religious dogmatism is not only the most harmful, but also the most shameful minority, because for a reasonable person it is totally unacceptable ‘to agree with some permanent, not subjected to the public questioned religious attitudes.’
In this regard, Kant recommends to an enlightened monarch, seeking to create an enlightened society and willing to implement the will of enlightened people, to avoid such a dogmatic policy, namely to provide a complete freedom of the religious affairs. According to him, only ‘the emperor, who finds himself unworthy to say that it is his duty not to tell people in religious matters, but to give them full freedom here should be considered enlightened.’
Particular interest refers to the arguments of Kant on the need of a restriction of freedom. In his opinion, not all freedom is useful for enlightenment and not every restriction of freedom prevents it, but rather some restriction not only does not prevent, but even helps it.
The issue on restriction of freedom arises in Kant in connection with the following thoughts. First, he drew attention to the problematic coexistence of the civil and spiritual freedom. Kant concludes that the more it is given of civil liberty in state, the less there is a spiritual freedom. Conversely, the less the state gives the civil liberty, the greater the spiritual freedom is.
Secondly, Kant holds the distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private use of reason’ and provides them with the varying degrees of freedom. Under the public use of reason, Kant understands the arguments about various issues of ‘off-duty’ character. As a public use of reason he calls an expression of the spiritual freedom and that it is a subject to a requirement of freedom. Under the private use of reason, Kant understands the reasoning, concerning the matters of ‘official’ character, and believes that the degree of its freedom should be limited for the reasons of compliance with the order. Thus, in his opinion, ‘public use of the reason must always be free but its private use can often be very limited’ as it relates to ‘the use of mind on a specific civil office or service, where it is not allowed to talk, and is prescribed to be obeyed.’


Essay ‘An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?’ can not be understood in a break from the general historical-philosophical views of Kant presented in his works ‘Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’ and ‘Perpetual Peace.’ According to Kant, the historical process is a process of implementation of the potentials inherent to the human nature, the main of which is the mind.
Considering the Enlightenment described in the context of the philosophy of history, Kant defines it as a turning point, which is one of the brightest stages of the development process of the mind in the course of the human history. Prior to the Enlightenment, mankind has not used its ability to free thinking, ‘was unable to use its intellect without guidance from someone else,’ it was immersed in a state of minority. Enlightenment also became a key point of the mankind's transition from minority to the implementation of the ability of judgment, embedded in the intelligent people.
As part of Kant's essay, it was created the concept of the public and private use of reason. Under the public use of reason, Kant suggests such its application, which is carried out to educate others through the books, public speeches, and other means. Private use is carried by man when he functions as a social unit, performing some work or service.
According to Kant, private thinking should be limited by the public interest: it should not interfere with the performance of the human social functions. From this it follows the principle of ‘thinking as you want, but do your job well.’ However, outside of the social activities, people can and should think freely, speaking as a scientist who can criticize his own work in the community - service work, church.

Works Sited

Kant, I. "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" The Literary Link. N.p., 30 Sept. 1784. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <>.

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