kant.jpg (12691 bytes) What is Enlightenment?
German Philosopher Immanuel Kant

  The excerpts below are taken from a 1784 essay by German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant, like many of his contemporaries, values the essential beliefs that compose the Enlightenment era.

Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his own understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! "Have courage to use your own reason!" -- that is the motto of enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a portion of mankind nevertheless remains under lifelong tutelage, and why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. 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 readily undertake the irksome work for me.

The step to competence is held to be very dangerous and is seen by those guardians who have so kindly assumed superintendence over them. After the guardians have first made their domestic cattle dumb and have made sure that these placid creatures will not dare take a single step without the harness of the cart by which they are confined, the guardians then show them the danger which threatens if they try to go alone.

Actually, however, this danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone. But an example of this failure makes them timid and ordinarily frightens them away from all further trials.

For any single individual to work himself out of the life under tutelage which has become almost his nature is very difficult. He has come to be fond of this state, and he is for the present really incapable of making use of his reason, for no one has ever let him try it out. Statutes and formulas, those mechanical tools of the rational employment, or rather misemployment, of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting tutelage. Whoever throws them off makes only an uncertain leap over the narrowest ditch because he is not accustomed to that sort of free motion. Therefore there are only those who have succeeded by their own exercise of mind both in freeing themselves from incompetence and in achieving a steady pace.

For this enlightenment, however, nothing is required but freedom, and indeed the most harmless among all the things to which that term can properly be applied. It is the freedom to make public use of one's reason at every point. But I hear on all sides, "Do not argue!" The officer says: "Do not argue, but drill!" The tax-collector: "Do not argue, but pay!" The cleric: "Do not argue, but believe!" Only one prince in the world says: "Argue as much as you will and about what you will, but obey!"

Everywhere there is restriction on freedom. But what sort of restriction is an obstacle to enlightenment, and what sort is not an obstacle but a promoter of it? I answer: The public use of one's reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men.

I have placed the main point of enlightenment -- the escape of men from their self-incurred tutelage -- chiefly in matters of religion because our rulers have no interest in playing the guardian with respect to the arts and sciences and also because religious incompetence is not only the most harmful but also the most degrading of all. But the manner of thinking of the head of a state who favours religious enlightenment goes farther, and he sees that there is no danger to his sovereignty in allowing his subjects to make public use of their reason and to publish their thoughts on a better formulation of his legislation and even their open-minded criticisms of the laws already made. Of this we have a shining example wherein no monarch is superior to him whom we honour.

But only one who is himself enlightened, is not afraid of shadows, and has a numerous and well-disciplined army to assure public peace can say: "Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, only obey!" A republic could not dare say such a thing. As nature has uncovered from under this hard shell the seed for which she most tenderly cares -- the propensity and vocation to free thinking -- this gradually works back upon the character of the people, who thereby gradually become capable of managing freedom; finally, it affects the principles of government, which finds it to its advantage to treat men, who are now more than machines, in accordance with their dignity.

Questions: (answer on a separate sheet)

1. What role do you think Age of Monarchies play in the birth of the Enlightenment? How are the two connected? Explain.

2. What is the importance and significance of courage to the Enlightenment?

3. How is reason fostered? How does mankind develop his or her ability to reason?

4. Copy then complete the chart below: This tests your ability to reason!


Before the Enlightenment

After the Enlightenment

Ability of Man


Scope of Governent


5. In a advertisement for Nike, Michael Jordan says, "I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Explain the shared beliefs of Jordan and Kant.