“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves - regret for the past and fear of the future.” ~ Fulton Oursle

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On the Enlightenment

Immanuel Kant

John Locke

"Mankind's final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error."
- Immanuel Kant

An analysis of the enlightenment via English Philosopher John Locke and German Philosopher Immanuel Kant- originally for my European Expansion History Class. I highly suggest each individual develop their own enlightenment by reason and empirical thought. It is only through reason and cultivation of the mind that one can become a virtuous person and educate those around you by example.

I hope everyone has a wonderful day filled with positive energy and good things!

The Enlightenment was a much needed breath of fresh air for the eighteenth century. It was a mass cultural and intellectual movement motivated by the concept of reason. The Enlightenment was a radical revolution promoting knowledge, science, and personal responsibility to create a virtuous society. It was a movement against superstitious motivated thought and behavior that encouraged people to look for facts before making unsupported assumptions. The enlightenment was a break away from the corruption of the church and state movements. The movement was by all accounts, according to Philosopher Immanuel Kant, in one of his famous quotes, "Mankind's final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error." Thus the enlightenment sparked a positive movement within society, allowing everyone in every class of social stature to comprehend and most of all, make a positive contribution.

The enlightenment gave rise to some of the world’s most renowned philosophers and thinkers. One of the most renowned was Doctor John Locke, who in response to a friend’s concern for his son’s education, responded to him in a manuscript entitled Some Thoughts Concerning Education. Here Locke advised some of the best concepts that truly capture the spirit of the Enlightenment. He believed that education of children was extremely important and needed to be executed from early childhood so that children would develop good habits in behavior. If a child was taught good ethics and morals from the beginning, they would surely develop good values and would become valuable and productive members of society.

Locke believed that children should be addressed as competent and rational creatures, and that only addressing them in this manor would allow a rational mind set to manifest. His logic in the natural disposition of children and how it should be handled was superior than most anything that had been thought of before this time. He believes that if they were addressed as rational creatures from the beginnings of life, they would naturally respond in a rational manner. Locke did not believe in the rash or physical harm to children as punishment. He rather believed in a logical set up of rules by the parent in which the child would follow, keeping in mind that a set of too many rules for a child to remember was unreasonable due to their young minded disposition and the limited memory of such. Locke believed that if one “burdened him with many rules, one of these two things would necessarily follow, that either he must be very often punished, which will be of ill consequence, making punishment too frequent and familiar; or else you must let the transgressions of some of your rules go unpunished, whereby they will of course grow contemptible, and your authority become cheap to him. Make few laws, but see that they be well observed, when once made.” Thus by establishing reasonable rules, an individual could expect reasonable results from the child, who would later grow into a reasonable adult.

Locke believed that it was in virtue that education should be aimed. He believed that children should be thought by early example on how to be moral and virtuous individuals, noting that “virtues and vices can by no words be so plainly set before their understandings as the actions of other men will show them, when you direct their observation, and bid them view this or that good or bad quality in their practice. And the beauty of unseemliness of many things, in good and ill breeding, will better learnt, and make deeper impressions on them, in the examples of others, from any rules or instructions can be given about them…” He states that educating by example will have a far more profound and lasting effect on a blooming mind.

Locke believed that it is in our own actions that children, as well as adults, learn the most. He notes that our actions “more by self love than reason or refection, it is no wonder that in children they should be are very apt to deviate from the just measures of right and wrong, which are in the mind the result of just measures of right and wrong.” He goes on to say that we should ourselves make examples to children of how to be virtuous people within our own actions. That is not only we who teach the children how to become individuals of virtue, but that the children then have the ability to extend those very teachings to others, passing the virtue on through even more example when demonstrated by the child. Locke makes an example in regard to sharing, “as to having and possessing of things, teach them to part with what they have, easily and freely to their friends; and let them find by experience, the most liberal has always the most plenty, with esteem and commendation to book, and they will quickly learn to practice it. “ Lock suggests that this will make siblings kinder to each other and as a result, kinder to others, more so than “twenty rules about good manners” ever would and reiterates that “such freeness be always repaid, and with interest, and let him sensibly perceive that the kindness he shows to others is no ill husbandry for himself; but that it brings return of kindness, both for those that receive it, and those who look on.” This concept alone is enlightening, as it is a most rational and reasonable set of ideals where the course of actions that could greatly benefit society as a whole, once demonstrated would produce a chain reaction.

Locke knew that to create a virtuous society, it was up to the family at the individual level to create educated little minds that would thus grow up into virtuous adults and better society as a whole, leading by example. Another phenomenal spokesmen of the Enlightenment was German Philosopher Immanuel Kant, who like Locke, knew the importance of one’s thoughts and actions and how when applied correctly could lead to a virtuous and enlightened society. Kant spent much of his life teaching and writing about the balance of self interest and benevolence. He felt that human beings were different than any other creature in the animal kingdom because they “possessed an interior moral sense that can be refined, a knowledge that could be translated into behavior. “ He believed it was our duty as human beings to engage in our rational mind, and if an individual were not engaging in his rational mind, that it was a disservice to the individual themselves and society as a whole.

Kant believed that true enlightenment was only possible with the cultivation of one’s own mind. An individual has to step beyond one’s own boundaries and limitation that society has taught us, and that laziness, cowardice and contentment of letting others think for us was a dangerous handicap that did not allow the individual to tap into their own reason. Kant argues that most individuals of this time were never really allowed to tap into their own source of reason and that they relied too heavily on “guardians” such as pastors, doctors, and authority figures. Kant compares society to docile cattle being herded by the said guardians, stating that “these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leadstrings to which they have fascended them. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at least learn to walk. However, examples of such failure intimidate and generally discourage further attempts.” Kant believes that only the free use of one’s own reason can bring about true enlightenment and one should step away from the spoken words of such guardians, and learn to question their ideas, and motives.

Kant believed that it is mans duty to implement his gift of reason and that it is his or her duty to question the nature of things, whether they are concepts or ideas. Only the questioning of the things that are already in place can lead to new ideas and improvement on society as a whole. An individual who is more educated has the capacity to not only improve him or herself, but bring society into the age of enlightenment. A continuation of the stagnation of human nature is dangerous as it only leads a few select guardians to think, reason, and make educated decisions for the masses. Old ideals may be the only ideals known, until another utilizes their reason to bring about a new and possibly improved ideal.

Kant goes on to say that to truly reach enlightenment, man must be able to question and criticize the institution that is already in place, whether it be government or religion. It is mans duty to obey the laws that govern him, but it is also his duty to be able to freely question those laws that govern him, both religious laws and political laws. Kant also believed that it would be ideal if rulers and monarchs to allow its citizens to engage in creative and free thinking, without it being viewed as a type of insubordination or a direct threat to the monarch. He believed if a ruler was first enlightened with rational thoughts and ideals, they would be confident enough to allow the public to think for themselves. This would allow the public to be a part of the ideal as well as the monarch or ruler, creating an enlightened government. If free thought is only applied by a few, there are less options available to mankind. It is only in this that stagnation can be lifted and civilization can move forward. It is only in the application of reason that mankind is truly free. Free to formulate thoughts and progress forward into the future with new thoughts and ideals.

Between Locke and Kant, both writers of the enlightenment movement agree on one thing: education. The educated mind leads to a more productive and moral society and ends stagnation of the human condition. Education opens the mind of an individual by learning to watch those around with virtuous qualities. It is with these qualities, when paired with using ones reason, can make a positive impact on society as a whole. Educating young children and adults by virtuous example and allowing them to use their reasoning is the only way that society can become enlightened and move forward onto bigger and better ideals and philosophies. It is only with the application of reason and education that society can escape from the mental prison that they have been held captive in for centuries.

 Jacob, Margaret. The Enlightenment: A Brief History With Documents. Locke, John. Some Thoughts Concerning Education (Los Angeles: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001), 81.                       
2 Jacob, “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”, 84

3 Ibid, 87
4 Ibid, 87
5 Ibid , 87
5 Ibid , 87
6 Jacob, “What is Enlightenment?”,202

7 Ibid, 203
8 Ibid, 203


Jacob, Margaret. The Enlightenment: A Brief History With Documents. SomeThoughts Concerning Education (Los Angeles: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001)

Jacob, Margaret. The Enlightenment: A Brief History With Documents. What is Enlightenment. (Los Angeles: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001)

By Jennifer Brochu

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