It’s not the age of the world in which we lived that brought us enlightenment; as if to say that it is the time period which gave us enlightenment, or the ability to be enlightened. On the contrary it was men’s idea’s which were shared with each other without the oppression of some form of overpowering body that gave men the freedom to distribute their thoughts freely. The room for enhanced free thought made way for a higher form of thinking being recognized as enlightenment through reason and rationality. Reason and rationality became methods of thinking apart from government influence which became the precursor to an age, or period of significant enlightenment. This period of enlightenment became the predecessor to the U.S. Constitution and declaration for self-governance. Since we can think for ourselves, then we should be able to govern ourselves.
What is Enlightenment? I believe Eighteenth century German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant may be a reliable source for a sound definition of enlightenment. Immanuel Kant wrote, “Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused it is not caused by lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another” (2). This answer from Kant is short but profound. All men possess intelligence. According to Kant our intelligence is in a constant state of suppression. The subjection to this suppression is a choice on our behalf. For us to remain under this suppression; means we choose to remain ignorant. By remaining ignorant we are in a state of intellectual immaturity, therefore this immaturity is as Kant states, “self-caused immaturity.” In Kant’s philosophy; men are enlightened when they reach intellectual maturity. To reach maturity men must put their intellect into practice by expressing their reason. Kant categorizes reasoning in two forms, public reason and private reason. The private use of reason is when man’s reason is restricted as a consequence of the role he plays in society. In this case man’s reason must be in agreement with the reason circumscribed to him. For example a Soldier practices private reason because his reason must be subjected to the ends he is appointed to meet without question. Though the Soldier may have conflict with a reason he is compelled to respect; he is obligated to submit to the reason given as a commandment. This type of role in society prohibits free reason from being practiced, therefore hindering enlightenment. When reason is being used by a reasonable human being for the sake of mere reason and not by obligation to obey a particular law, or perform a hypothetical imperative; then the reason becomes public reason. Public reason requires freedom because public reason cannot be prohibited from action or speech, and reason exercised through practice brings enlightenment. To prohibit ones speech is to prohibit ones thought, becoming a form of tyranny over free, or public reason. It may seem now as if private reason forbids public reason from being applied, and in essence it may. However; private and public reason may coincide with each other if public reason is allowed to be expressed with no restraint. All men express their private reason in their life through obedience to duty or laws. It is when man has the liberty to express public reason, which may challenge the private reason set by a body of higher authority that enlightenment is achieved through the open public reasoning of humans, as a result of their courage and volition to express their views. Such is the case with the American enlightenment; it is not that time gave men a higher form or sense of intelligence, but instead intelligence has always been a natural aptitude of man as a result of being made in God’s image. It is that man decided to exercise their desire to express their reason over bodies of authority, such as church and state dictating or influencing the way people think and act. It is this type of determination which Immanuel Kant spoke of, that broke the self-caused immaturity in order to gain intellectual maturity, which brought enlightenment in an age when men decided to break away from their traditions that held them back from the right to pursuit happiness in a liberated land free from totalitarian rule.
- S. Swheber. In the Shadow of a Bomb. Princeton University Press. 2000. (2). Print http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s6787.pdf