The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement which dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, mainly centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy. The thinkers Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant were some of the major figures of this movement . But to understand it, we need to go back in time.
Since the beginning of Philosophy, the philosophers have questioned how the ideal forms are related to the real forms. And based on this idea, Plato theorized the world in two parts: the ideal world, that is reached by reason; and the sensible world, that is reached by our senses.
In the 16th century, René Descartes (1596-1650) wrote “The Discourse on the Method”, beginning the Skepticism, resumed on his aphorism “I think, therefore I am”, meaning that we could doubt of everything, including existence. So, according to him, we can only get knowledge by reason.
In the beginning of the 17th, John Locke (1632-1704) said that we get knowledge by experience, not only by reason. But David Hume (1711-1776) contested him saying that experience give us habit only. This was the time of Empiricism.
Later, in the middle of 18th century, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), with his writings named “The Critique of Pure Reason”, “The Critique of Practical Reason” and “The Critique of Judgement”, tried to steer a course between the Rationalism/Skepticism of Descartes and the Empiricism of John Locke and David Hume.
Kant, like Plato, said that we have the world divided in two sides: the Phenomenal and Noumenal sides.
The Phenomenal side is that showed by our senses, that we know, that we measure; and the Noumenal side is that we feel, that we have intuition, where our faith is. The first side could be compared with the sensible world and the second with the ideal world according to Plato. And according to Kant, both can coexist.
Kant lived in an age that people was enthusiastic with the ideas of Rationalism/Skepticism and Empiricism - the Enlightenment. So, he tried to “Answer the Question: What is Enlightenment?”, published in Königsberg, Prussia, in 30 September 1784, theme of this assignment.
2. The Enlightenment according to Kant
In the first paragraph of the writing “What is Enlightenment?” , Kant says:
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity”, defining “immaturity” as the “inability to use one understanding without guidance from another”, that is caused by “laziness and cowardice” and because “it is convenient to be immature”; and uses the quote of Horace: “Sapere Aude!” or “Dare to know!” For him, “it is difficult for any single individual to work himself out of immaturity as has become almost his own nature”.
So, for those who were worried about the Enlightenment of the common citizens, like the aristocrats, the clergy and the peasants, Kant said that “a public can only slowly attain Enlightenment”. And added that “the touchstone of everything that can be concluded as a law for a people lies in the question whether the people could have imposed such a law on itself”.
3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”
The “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”, by Rousseau, was awarded by the Academy of Dijon in the year 1750 on this question: “Has the restoration of the sciences and the arts contributed to refining moral practices?” .
According to Rousseau, the arts and sciences are dangerous because they create needs and lead people to dependence. The society perverted people and the state is a way to the rich convince the poor to defend the rich’s property. So, the rich can compare themselves to the poor and enjoy having possessions that others do not have.
For him: “The sciences and the arts thus owe their birth to our vices; we would have fewer doubts about their advantages if they owed their birth to our virtues” .
4.Comparison between Kant and Rousseau
For Rousseau, the society is bad for human beings because it promotes inequalities . On the other hand, Kant thinks that we can live with the idiosyncrasies of the society, obey its laws, and make the world better for us. Acting like this, we would be enlightened.