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Kant on Enlightenment

Kant on Enlightenment

Briefly outline the developments from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, as given in course notes.
Summarise the main points that Kant made in his essay �What is Enlightenment?� How did
Hamann criticise Kant? Do you think Hamann�s criticism is fair? Briefly justify your answer.


*Notes on the Renaissance and the Enlightenment
*�What is Enlightenment?� by I. Kant
*Criticism of Kant

All these readings have been uploaded to the order.


Developments from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment
The beginning of the Renaissance period dates to the 14th century in Florence Italy as
an attempt to return to the ancient world when Rome dominated. Among the greatest
developments during this period was the architecture that was artistic and full of architectural
wonders predominantly in Rome. The emergence of among the greatest artists that the world
has known occurred during this period such as Michel Angelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da
Vinci (Evans & Marr, 2006). The perception or art during this period changed especially
relating to the way the human body was artistically depicted. The human body was pictured as
being flattering and in a more positive view and its beauty emphasized compared to the
medieval times. Due to the Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures influence, the human body’s
nudity was depicted in a positive note in art (Belshek, 2006). This beautiful and noble
depiction of the human body led to the development of the humanism movement. Humanists
believed that humans were special and at the centre of everything. They believed humans
were in charge and responsible for their destiny (West, 2010).
Plato, a celebrated scientist and thinker at the time who was also a humanist believed
and emphasized on the power of human reasoning and believed that humans, using their
reasoning abilities could unveil critical truths. This is different from the medieval people who
emphasized the importance of faith and acquiring knowledge from the Bible (West, 2010).
The belief in human reasoning resulted into the scientific revolution during this period. With
the emergence of Thomas Aquinas’ book Summa Theologica and the increased confidence of
the human abilities people changed their perception about the once infallible ideas of
Aristotle. They conducted scientific observations, investigations, and experiments, and
experimental methods were developed by Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton developed the
laws of motion and gravity that are used up to date (Fitzpatrick, 2004).

A strong belief in the human abilities and power of reasoning persisted and grew, and
it spread from the scholars to the larger society hence the period of enlightenment. During this
period, there was a strong belief that human beings using their reasoning powers could
understand the universe, nature, and human nature (Fleischacker, 2013). There was increasing
application of science and reasoning (the optimistic idea) that resulted to a better
understanding of the universe with the most important development being the compilation of
the encyclopedia mostly done by Denis Diderot (Zafirovski, 2010).
Main Points that Kant Made in His Essay

According to Kant, a person becomes enlightened when he/she grows out of an
immaturity that is usually self-imposed. Immaturity according to him is the inability of an
individual to use his/her understanding without being guided by another person. For Kant,
immaturity is self-imposed due to the fear of using one’s understanding without being helped
by someone else (Goldman, 2011). Laziness and being cowardly maintain immaturity and due
to such qualities other people become guardians or authority figures on certain people. These
authority figures warn the subjects of the dangers that exist if they do not seek their help and
tell the people below them that achieving maturity is dangerous and difficult hence frighten
and deter people from pursuing maturity. He laments that often, people find it difficult to free
themselves from immaturity and become content with this state. He argues that rules,
regulations, and formulas keep people stuck in the state of immaturity, and a person who
attempts to go against the rules would be walking towards maturity as he/she is not
accustomed to such free movement (Morgan, 2002).
According to Kant, very few people have managed to come out of the state of
immaturity and they have done this through the cultivation of their minds. For him, freedom
(to use reason publicly) is the only remedy for enlightenment that is the use of reason by a

scholar before the literate world. It is only the public use of freedom that can generate
enlightenment since private reason is often restricted to the point where it does not hamper the
process of enlightenment (Tampio, 2012). Therefore, freedom is required for enlightenment
and people should express their thoughts freely. Through the spread of information and ideas
people can become their own guardians as they will possess the components required to be a
guardian. By allowing the freedom to think, ideas can be spread that will push others to think
for themselves (Tampio, 2012).

Criticism of Kant

According to Hamann by arguing that people should develop freedom of thought Kant
was at the same interfering with the freedom of people to think by influencing their thought
process. Hamann argues that in some instances people may not want to think for themselves
and hence accept the rules and regulation set by the guardians and the authority out of choice
(Beech, 2010). Hamann feels that by Kant arguing that people should freely and publicly use
their ability to he is limiting the people’s choice to do what they want that is follow rules.
Therefore, Kant was objecting the use of the Aristocratic bible and other books as rules for
living and thinking. However, he was at the same time setting himself up in the position of
this books by interfering with the people’s thought process and restrict them to his idea hence
maintenance of immaturity (Goldman, 2011).
Hamann’s criticism is not fair because from Kant’s argument; he did not tell people to
follow his thought process, but encouraged them to use their freedom of thinking and their
reasoning ability. Therefore, for example, if someone chose to follow the rules that exist, let
that person follow them after critically thinking about the rules and not just blindly. Kant
encourages people to think before making a choice to do something not restricts people
(Beech, 2010)



Beech, T. J. (2010). Hamann’s Prophetic Mission: A Genetic Study of Three Late Works
Against the Enlightenment. London, United Kingdom: MHRA.
Belshek, J. A. (2006). New Castle University. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from New Castle
Evans, R. J., & Marr, A. (Eds.). (2006). Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the
Enlightenment. Burlington, VT, United States of America: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
Fitzpatrick, M. (Ed.). (2004). Enlightenment World. New York, NY, United States of
America: Psychology Press.
Fleischacker, S. (2013). What is Enlightenment? Abingdon, Oxon, United States of America:
Goldman, A. (2011). Kant and the Subject of Critique: On the Regulative Role of the
Psychological Idea. Bloomington, Indiana, United States of America: Indiana
University Press.
Morgan, D. (2002). Kant Trouble: Obscurities of the Enlightened. New York, NY, United
States of America: Routledge.
Tampio, N. (2012). Kantian Courage:Advancing the Enlightenment in Contemporary
Political Theory: Advancing the Enlightenment in Contemporary Political Theory.
United States of America: Fordham Univ Press.
West, D. (2010). Continental Philosophy: An Introduction (2nd ed.). Malden, MA, United
States of America: Polity.
Zafirovski, M. (2010). The Enlightenment and Its Effects on Modern Society. Denton, Texas,
United States of America: Springer Science & Business Media.

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