An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’ (Beantwortung der Frage: ‘Was ist Aufklärung?’ 1784, and available in Penguin Great Ideas Series, No.68, translated by H.B. Nisbet)


by Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804)

A prototype for bloggers philosophizing in their pyjamas, Kant’s influential essay responded to a question posed to ‘the public’ in a Berlin journal.

Its first sentence answers: ‘Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.’ Kant defines maturity as thinking for oneself, and his adjective refers to the fact that most people are too lazy or cowardly to do so. He moves onto the political conditions required for intellectual freedom, including the limits imposed by professional duty and Church orthodoxy. He praises Frederick the Great for creating conditions of free conscience, but also for the military strength securing this freedom.

Related recommendation: Schopenhauer’s ‘On Thinking for Yourself’ (1851)

Origin: Prussia

Themes: Independent Thinking

Genres: Polemical or Political , Spiritual or Philosophical Meditation

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