Using The Enlightenment Documents, Discuss The Meaning Of Enlightenment – Essay Example

Enlightenment means the freedom to think and act for oneself. Rousseau’s view that enlightenment can be achieved in a just government makes the mostsense out of the three views on the subject. Kant asserts that societal restrictions keep individual enlightenment from blossoming in most of the population. By following societal norms like taking advice from a doctor or paying taxes are forms of suppressing enlightenment.1 Kant feels the government, societal classes, or the military all discourage a person to think for themselves.2 Right or wrong, an individual’s thoughts should be explored to the fullest under this theory. These views tend to lean toward anarchy. Montesquieu feels that neither anarchy or a strict government encourages enlightenment, asking if enlightenment would be “better in mediums than extremes?“3 Montesquieu expresses a government with a ruler, but not a tyrant, encourages enlightenment.4 Rousseau feels that enlightenment can be found in a good just government.5 Enlightenment is true expression and thought which comes when an individual thinks and acts on an inner morality, not just what the masses feel or express. Rousseau wrote this view in 1762, way before the experiment called democracy had become successful. If Rousseau would have lived he would have seen this prediction about enlightenment come true through democratic countries today. Enlightenment can be achieved in the United States, for example without uprising against the government. However Kant was correct asserting “laziness and cowardice” keep most individual from thinking for themselves.6 Thus even in the United States, Americans are not enlightened by choice instead of governmental, societal, or military factors. This proves enlightenment means the freedom to think and act for oneself despite outside factors. Individuals that achieve enlightenment must work towards that enlightenment no matter the circumstances. Enlightenment is unique to each individual.
Brians, Paul, Reading About the World, Vol. 1, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishing,, Accessed 8 September 2009.
Halsall, Paul, “Immanuel Kant: What is Enlightenment?, 1784”, Modern History Sourcebook,, Accessed 8 September 2009.
Halsall, Paul, “Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws, 1748”, Modern History Sourcebook,, Accessed 8 September 2009.