How man himself is a source

Knowledge culture and communication
3. Education: forms of communication, media, content
3.1. What is education?
3.1.1. Enlightenment as an epoch term


  Source: Immanuel Kant, answering the question: What is Enlightenment? 1784 

In an article in the “Berlinische Monatsschrift” in 1783 it was complained that no one had tried to answer this important question. This first provoked Moses Mendelssohn to respond and subsequently triggered a fundamental debate. Kant's classic answer has remained formative for understanding the Age of Enlightenment to this day.

“Enlightenment is the way people come out of their self-inflicted immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's mind without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-inflicted if the cause of it is not a lack of understanding, but a lack of resolution and courage to use it without guidance from someone else. Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding! is the motto of the Enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of people, after having long since cleared nature from outside guidance (naturaliter majorennes), still like to remain immature throughout their lives; and why it is so easy for others to pose as their guardians. It is so convenient to be a minor. If I have a book that has reason for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, a doctor who assesses the diet for me, etc., then I don't need to make an effort myself. I don't need to think if I can only pay; others will take over the annoying business for me. That the vast majority of people (including the whole fair sex) consider the step to maturity, besides the fact that it is difficult, also very dangerous: those guardians who have kindly taken over the supervision of them take care of that. After they had first made their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevented these quiet creatures from taking a step beyond the walking cart in which they locked them up, they later showed them the danger that threatened them if they tried to do it alone walk. Now this danger is not that great, because by falling a few times they would at last learn to walk; but one example of this kind makes you shy and generally discourages all further attempts.

It is therefore difficult for every single person to work their way out of the immaturity that has almost become nature for them. He has even grown fond of it and is really unable to use his own understanding for the time being because he was never allowed to try it. Statutes and formulas, these mechanical tools of a sensible use, or rather the abuse of one's natural gifts, are the shackles of an everlasting immaturity. Whoever throws it off would still jump over the narrowest ditch, because he is not used to such free movement. Therefore, there are only a few who have succeeded in wriggling themselves out of immaturity by working their own minds and still walking safely.

But it is more possible for an audience to enlighten itself; yes, it is almost inevitable, if you only give him freedom. Because there will always be some self-thinking people, even among the appointed guardians of the great crowd, who, after having thrown off the yoke of immaturity themselves, have the spirit of a reasonable appraisal of the own worth and the profession of each person to think for themselves will spread. What is special here is that the public, which they have previously brought under this yoke, will afterwards themselves force them to remain under it if it has been incited to do so by some of their guardians, who are themselves incapable of any enlightenment; It is so harmful to plant prejudices because they ultimately take revenge on those who, or their predecessors, were their authors. As a result, it is slow for an audience to enlighten. A revolution will perhaps bring about a fall from personal despotism and profit-seeking or domineering oppression, but never true reform of the way of thinking; but new prejudices, as well as the old ones, will serve as the guiding line of the thoughtless great heap.

For this enlightenment, however, nothing is required but freedom; and indeed the most harmless of all that may only be called freedom, namely that of making public use of one's reason in all respects. But now I hear calls from all sides: don't argue! The officer says: don't argue, just drill! The Finance Council: don't argue, pay! The clergyman: don't argue, believe! (Only one gentleman in the world says: argue as much as you want and about what you want; but obey!) Here there is restriction of freedom everywhere. But what restriction is it hindering the clarification? which ones are not, but which are actually beneficial for you? - I will answer; the public use of reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring about enlightenment among people; the private use of these, however, may often be very narrowly restricted, without particularly hindering the progress of the Enlightenment. But by the public use of one's own reason I mean that which someone, as a scholar, makes of it in front of the whole audience of the world of readers. I call private use that which he is allowed to make of his reason in a certain civil post or office entrusted to him. Now, for some business that is in the interest of the common being, a certain mechanism is necessary, by means of which some members of the common being merely have to behave passively, in order to be directed by an artificial unanimity of the government for public purposes or at least to avoid destruction to be held for these purposes. It is of course not allowed to argue here; but one must obey. But insofar as this part of the machine sees itself at the same time as a member of a whole common being, even of cosmopolitan society, and consequently in the quality of a scholar who addresses an audience in the proper understanding through writings, he can certainly reason without thereby affecting business to which he is partly attached as a passive link. [...] "

Immanuel Kant, answering the question: What is Enlightenment? in: Berlin Monthly Bulletin, December 1784, 481-494,
quoted from: Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment? Selected small writings, ed. by Horst D. Brandt. Hamburg 1999, 20-22.


© 2003 by Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger • mail: [email protected]