What is Enlightenment?
“What is Enlightenment” is an essay or a question answered by philosophers of the past. Back in 1784, Immanuel Kant provided an essay on his views on the meaning of “enlightenment”. For him, enlightenment serves as the “exit door” from the present state of immaturity in the world. For one to become mature and enlightened, he/she must take the lead in doing something that hasn’t been done in the past with personal reason and conviction and at times when it is required to do so. Kant labels people who are not able to make things happen as lazy or coward. For Kant, enlightenment is a concept if being able to dare oneself to do things with his/her own reason or conviction. Enlightenment should be considered a moral task for each person to have confidence in oneself in using reason and making decisions.
It was through Kant’s version of the “meaning of enlightenment” that another philosopher named Michel Foucault was inspired to publish his thoughts on the subject. In 1984, Foucault’s interpretation of “enlightenment” focused more on the modern application of using personal reason in doing things. For Foucault, enlightenment involves people using their own reason without any influence from any authority figure. Rather than focusing on the concept of enlightenment as an epoch in history, Foucault’s interpretations involve modern reality. For him, enlightenment is a choice voluntarily taken by each person in the society. Whether it’s a feeling or a way of thinking, this choice should relate to what’s going on at the present time. Knowing what one is capable of and knowing one’s own attitude is important in taking the step to make a stand or a conviction on present conditions. Taking into consideration all knowledge and experience gained from the past up to the present, enlightenment may be achieved by those who make the choice of using his/her own reason.
For many people, Foucault’s interpretation on the meaning of enlightenment reflects a more moderate view when compared with Kant’s views. Enlightenment through Foucault’s eyes is more connected to what is happening in the real world in modern times.