I came upon this essay quite by chance, one boring day, as I was idly exploring the concept of enlightenment via my favourite research instrument, Google. It popped out of the digital universe and has stayed with me ever since.
Although I find Kant’s references to Frederick II of Prussia somewhat disturbing, I like his view of courage and freedom as essential to enlightenment which is rooted in independent thinking.
The essay was written in the northern town of Königsberg, once also known as Królewiec. Kant wrote it 5 years before the French Revolution. I wonder if… But maybe not. One way or another, perhaps it should come with a warning, “potentially hazardous”.
I’ll whet your appetite with the opening paragraphs…
“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his 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, after nature has long since discharged them from external direction (naturaliter maiorennes), 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 easily undertake the irksome work for me.”
And here is the link to the full piece.