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Immanuel Kant, a Prussian (now German) physicist and scholar, is considered to be a massive thinker from the Age of Enlightenment (an era of intellectual movement across Europe ranging from 17th to the 19th century) along with many other figures like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume. These two people mentioned later are said to have influenced Kant greatly. Kant is mainly known for his three works or critiques: the Critique of Pure Reason, of Practical Reason and of the Power of Judgement.
A different, shorter work of his, grabs equal attention from readers till this date. Kant wrote a short essay-like text called “Was ist Aufklärung?” transcribed as “What is Enlightenment?”.
Kant tries his best to weave into words, his knowledge of or what he considers, an enlightened human being. He says, “Enlightenment is one’s emergence from their own nonage”, and considers the courage to use one’s own understanding as a form of enlightenment.
According to Kant, having a pastor to provide you with something to believe in or even a book that will think for you, makes you a coward and a person not capable of thinking. He also states, “the public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among people.” The main context here is ‘reason’, and it being private and public. Kant makes us realize that if society is a full-fledged machine, every individual is a little cog in the wheels that actually helps it function. And every individual must be allowed to publicly state his reasons and knowledge. Private use of reason, according to Kant, is heavily institutionalized and the individual can not circulate that to the public without abiding by the norms of the institution. He basically pledges the people to think for themselves and circulate reasons and help eradicate indoctrination in this world.
To questions regarding “Are we living in an enlightened age?”, he replies,”No, but we do live in the age of enlightenment.” which has a completely different meaning.