(never have i struggled to write a paper, especially one only requiring 800 words. as the title alludes, i conclude it is my lack of philosophical enlightenment that i remain alluded. if you read this and conclude that i know not what i speak, i applaud and offer you an award for seeing through the muck.)
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. “ (“What Is Enlightenment?” Immanuel Kant)
Immanuel Kant explains Enlightenment as a way for the individual to achieve freedom through the courage to think for self : “Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remain immature for life.” (Kant, 1784)
Whilst Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx are enlightened thinkers, it is Rousseau who best aligns with Kant’s ideal Enlightenment figure. Rousseau does not believe that Enlightenment can be obtained if held by the chains of society – man’s separation from ‘nature’ incurs vast inequality. Rousseau insists that man must remain removed from any social structure in order to live free and equal from fellow-man:
“I conceive two species of inequality among men; one which I call natural, or physical inequality, because it is established by nature, and consists in the difference of age, health, bodily strength, and the qualities of the mind, or of the soul; the other which may be termed moral, or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of convention, and is established, or at least authorized, by the common consent of mankind. This species of inequality consists in the different privileges, which some men enjoy, to the prejudice of others, such as that of being richer, more honoured, more powerful, and even that of exacting obedience from them.”
(“A Discourse Upon The Origin And The Foundation Of The Inequality Among
Mankind” J.J. Rousseau)
It is this belief that inequality, as reinforced by society, a society controlled by one class over another, prevents the individual from achieving personal liberty. It is the ability to think without influence of another, with maturity, that Kant champions as the way to Enlightenment. Kant exemplifies the Enlightened man through his ability to reason the conceits of religion:
“I have portrayed matters of religion as the focal point of enlightenment, i.e. of man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. This is firstly because our rulers have no interest in assuming the role of guardians over their subjects so fir as the arts and sciences are concerned, and secondly, because religious immaturity is the most pernicious and dishonourable variety of all.” (“What is Enlightenment?” I. Kant)
This focus on theology helps support Rousseau’s role as an Enlightenment figure. In Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”, he cautions, if not mocks, the learned man who explores religion and then writes of his own belief for the masses:
If they read you, you will not leave them in any perplexity about the question we are dealing with today. And unless they are more foolish than we are, they will lift their hands to heaven and will say in the bitterness of their hearts, “Almighty God, You who hold the minds of men in your hands, deliver us from the enlightenment and the fatal arts of our fathers, and give us back ignorance, innocence, and poverty, the only goods which can make our happiness and which are precious in Your sight.” (“Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.” J.J. Rousseu)
This may seem in direct contradiction to Kant, but rather it reinforces the idea that the individual must have “courage to use it (knowledge) without guidance from another”. Kant recognizes, as Rousseau does, that the Age of Enlightenment does not mean Enlightened men. Quite opposite if one refuses to question the rules established by authority, be it clergy or prince.
“The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!” (“What is Enlightenment?” I. Kant) Rousseau was beyond courageous when he offered his criticism on the Age of Enlightenment. He called out his peers with objection, believing that no man may find Enlightenment in an age that embraced property. Even the thinking man became chained by a society obsessed with status if he viewed his worth through their eyes. Rousseau continued to write and live in opposition to his peers – to think as a solitary man of nature.
As I write this paper, I still grapple with choosing Rousseau over Marx as the figure of Enlightenment. With each paragraph presented above, in my mind a counter argument has been posed as to why Marx would also fit within these conceits. I leave this paper dissatisfied – both men certainly fit the role of an Enlightened figure. Rousseau, though, unlike Marx, who studied under Hegel, truly formulated his own vision, a contrarian to the times. It is this courageous, individualist thinking which seems to best address Kant’s Enlightenment cry, “Sapere aude!”