The Power of Enlightenment

In his famous essay “What is Enlightenment?” Immanuel Kant explains this concept by saying directly that “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage” (or, perhaps, “immaturity”).  He continues by decrying “man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!”- that is the motto of enlightenment.”  Our last two classes have addressed a series of thinkers whose ideas were, indeed, “enlightened” and whose arguments challenged and changed the world forever.  In this Blog post, therefore, I want to have you bring to light a particular “enlightened” premise that really intrigued you of late, whether from Luther, Copernicus, Galileo, Rousseau, Locke, Adam Smith, or Kant himself.  This time around, I’m particularly intrigued by what, exactly, you see as a truly “enlightened” idea.  So, outlining your chosen concept, what made it so revolutionary in its own day and age?  And why does this premise still have profound intellectual currency in our own era?  Finally, for this response, I’m really curious about your personal thoughts and opinions on the matter – why, exactly, are you so struck by this particular example of/from Enlightenment thought?  Why does it speak to you through the void of hundreds of years of time?

18 thoughts on “The Power of Enlightenment

  1. There are many great “enlightened” Ideas brought up by the various thinkers of the Enlightenment Era. The one that challenged and changed the world forever but also stuck out the most for me was by John Locke. Locke wrote, “Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another.” What made this so revolutionary for its own day and age is because it was a time where people were starting to think outside the box more, and not conform to authority. People have found out that they are never truly free, but they can change that. For this enlightenment thought i am struck by the fact that Locke said that there is a fine line between Law and Tyranny. There really is no in between. That once law ends and is no more, tyranny steps in and causes harm to others. This can be problematic to many because laws are what keep people safe from harm and if it were to ever end people would no longer be safe. This idea speaks to me through the void of hundreds of years of time because I can see this is still true today. If law ever were to end in our present day society, tyranny would step in and cause mass chaos.

  2. A particular “enlightened” premise that intrigued me the most would have to be Galileo’s theory that the Earth and all the rest of the planets revolved around the Sun. I’m extremely interested in this enlightened idea made by Galileo because he decided to go against the church’s original thoughts that every planet revolved around the Earth which was discovered to be false. Although Galileo made many great discoveries the church decided to review his writings and condemned them as errors stating “That you, Galileo, have upon account of those things which you have written and confessed, subjected yourself to a strong suspicion of heresy in this Holy Office”. Galileo was risking his life over an idea that he believed in so instead of being executed for acts of heresy, he decided to stand up to the church and state that he was wrong in his discoveries and believes the Earth is the center of the universe. Galileo was still tried by the holy office and found to be suspect of heresy and wound up being under house arrest for the rest of his life. I believe this is so revolutionary in our own day and age because this was the start of the public questioning the church and their society and having a “voice of the people” which is clearly present in our current day and age known as the “power of the people”. I’m struck by this particular enlightenment thought because many people didn’t dare go against the church which shows the amount of courage that Galileo possesses. Although he recanted his thoughts, he is still seen as a revolutionary figure towards our society today.

  3. The one thing that stuck out I’m my head as “enlightened” was most definitely the theory that Galileo came up with. His theory of the plants and how they revolved around the sun was very interesting. He, unlike other individuals in this time, decided to follow his gut and go against the church’s ideas. This idea was completely revolutionary because he challenged the idea that the church said the earth was what the planets were revolving around, and instead stated that the planets revolved around the sun. His theory was powerful and informative. This particular part of enlightenment intrigued me because it is something I have a good wealth of knowledge on this topic. It speaks to me because before we sent someone to space, we might have not really have know one-hundred percent about the atmosphere, and how it revolves and works.

  4. Out of all the readings that we have done, I would have to choose Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideas. This is due to the fact that he was a very influential man who made excellent points that I found agreeable. Rousseau’s explanation paralleled John Locke’s view on social contracts. I agree with Rousseau that the social contract was between all members of society and that it replaced natural rights for the basis of human claims. Rousseau’s concept states that man was born to be free, but everywhere he goes he will be a slave. He then goes on to talk about how man will believe that he is the master until he finally realizes he is more of a slave then anyone else. Rousseau’s point is true based on the fact that all of man becomes slave to his own obligations in a lifetime. However, the strongest man is not always strong enough to be the master. If someone wants to be the master, they then need to transform their strength into an obedience that falls under duty. They do not need to be afraid of themselves. Thus, once this step is taken then man can become his own leader. This worked back then because the community spirit that united citizens allowed their individuality to be expressed, which lead to their accomplishments. Today, people may react differently because when the social contract is entered there will be restraints on behavior. Since we are giving up our freedom we soon are able to possess the right to think properly. Society today would look at this theory with seriousness due to the fact that we live in a time where human rights are very important. Rousseau would have proposed that the reason that we would have rejected his ideas would be that we lost the community spirit that makes people want to be together. If people do not want to be together the community as a whole would fail.

  5. One of the most “enlightening” occurrences of this time period, from my perspective, was Copernicus’ revival of the Heliocentric Model of planetary motion. The heliocentric model had been proposed before by Aristarchus in 3rd century BC, but it received little attention until it was once again proposed by Copernicus. He made his observations in private or with a small group, however, so his accreditation of the model is nearly useless. History deems him the owner of the Heliocentric model, however, so the credit must fall with him. This view drastically changed the way people looked at the universe they inhabited, even if only to question the validity of the new claim. Arguably, Copernicus set the stage for the next generation of scientists to build off of his model. Whether or not Copernicus first theorized the model is irrelevant because he was the first to make the model historically public, and that stepping stone formed the shoulders that Galileo and later Kepler stood upon to make their more accurate observations of the universe. That is also what makes it so important to me. We live in a day and age where we take for granted the current knowledge of the universe we live in. Thanks to the work of hundreds of years of science before us, we are now able to take advantage of modern technology. Copernicus lived on the edge of what we describe as the European Dark Ages, which ended thanks to enlightened thinkers such as himself. Questioning the world that they lived in, the people who were brave enough to stand against the church are the ones that brought humankind out of a state of intellectual repression. For that, Copernicus’ contribution to the advancement of science, no matter how small, shaped the course of history and is incredibly important thereof.

  6. Galileo revolutionarily paved the way for our society today, even though he was extremely controversial during his time. His ideas proved the church wrong, and although he was correct, Galileo was tried and punished. His theory of a solar system that doesn’t revolve around Earth, but instead a solar system that revolves around the sun, changed everything that was known about space at the time. He caused some people to question their faith in religion at this time. They thought, if “God” didn’t design humans at the center of the universe, then maybe we aren’t the “center of the universe” as we have always thought, and maybe there isn’t a god after all. It is for this reason Galileo’s work during the enlightenment period speaks to me.

  7. As Jean Jacques Rousseau says, “you can never corrupt people, but can fool them and that is the only time that the people appear to will something bad.” During this time period, religion and blind faith was a must and anyone who was against that idea was a dead man. However, Rousseau challenged that idea. He believed reason and knowledge could better mankind, which was why he was such a threat in his own day and age. This concept goes well with our era because the government hides so much from us. They always only tell us half of the story, which means they could possibly be fooling us. We might be doing things we think are right but are actually bad since so much of the story is taken away. After all, the government does monitor everything we watch on the news and such. This is exactly why I favor Rousseau’s belief. What he is saying is a hundred percent true and is something anyone can be capable of: Fooling people into doing something bad.

  8. I was really enlightened by Martin Luther posting his “95 theses” on the door of the church, starting uproar of conversation throughout the town. He did not expect this type of response from the people and he felt that he should clarify and explain his theses. It was so revolutionary because people began to realize if you can question the church, then you can pretty much question anything. The church even split into two. Unfortunately, this will lead to many problems that become revolutions that might have been otherwise avoided, but people should have a say and an opinion. Creating this “95 theses” may have struck bigger issues, but it was a huge jump for how we live today. We are lucky to live in the United States of America because of our freedom. Of course, posting something on the wall would not be as effective as it was back then; we have other ways of being able to change things. Technology has given us the ability to talk to anyone around the world whenever we please, so if people like what you have to say they are more than likely going to spread your thoughts throughout the world. We live in a time period where everyone is entitled to their opinions and can change the things we do not like with the proper time and effort. Many movements have occurred that changed what people did not like and I think we are lucky to live where if we do not like something; chances are other people disagree too, and you can do something about it.

  9. Copernicus for a long time was afraid to speak of his findings regarding “the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies”. To report that earth was not the center of the universe would have a devastating impact on the role of the church and how its followers perceived it. For though it is nowhere in the bible mentioned that the earth is the center of the universe, it is implied in that God put all of his work and attention into it. Therefore, it it were to be said that no longer was the earth the center of the universe, that would be equate to saying that no longer was earth at the center of God’s mind. Man needs to feel important, and if man is to be felt abandoned by their god, especially in an age where society was ruled by the church, the consequences would be devastating.
    This is exactly what makes Copernicus’ theory all the more enlightened. Not only was it a major scientific breakthrough that would change the way the world and universe were thought of, even change science itself, but it went against completely what was the common convention. Copernicus had “courage to use your own reason” and saw that what was commonly accepted was wrong. Instead of thinking that he was wrong, because his findings were so contradictory to the accepted truth, he instead suggested a new truth, a truth which turned out to be correct.
    This idea speaks through the void of hundreds of years of time because it is what all of modern astronomy is based upon. Though he may not have had the math and orbits correct, simply knowing that the sun is the center of our universe and that all planets orbit around it was enough.

  10. I see Galileo’s idea about the Earth not being the center of the universe as a truly “enlightened” idea. He believed that the sun was being revolved around by everything, not the Earth. This is a truly enlightening theory that Galileo proposed because it insinuates that humans are not the center of everything. Learning about enlightenment in previous years I have learned that it is not when you have everything you wanted, but rather learned to be happy with what you don’t have and the simple things in life. To me Galileo’s idea falls similar to this statement. He proposed that not being the center of the universe does not take away the importance of anyone or the purpose of why we were put on this Earth. It is when you can learn that not everything revolves around you and that there are bigger things going on in the world that what you are dealing with, that is when true “enlightenment” is found.

  11. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a controversial philosophy of childhood education that emphasized teaching reason and skill through experience. (This isn’t particularly something we discussed in class, but it’s a bit of outside knowledge that I think is relevant to the world and our class) Education is becoming increasingly competitive, and testing is prioritized. Because of this, education is more about memorization than real world knowledge; test scores are more important than actually learning and applying that information. Rousseau’s “child-centered learning” focused on developing logic, critical thinking, and practical skills through scenarios and experience. While his theory is flawed, and incredibly sexist, it’s interesting to reflect on in today’s context as well as in addition to the other texts we’ve read recently – because as the cliche goes, knowledge is power.

  12. I personally find Martin Luther and his 95 theses to be enlightening in many different ways. In a way enlightenment is simply a spark of new ideas and thinking that eventually causes a change. Luther and his 95 these are especially enlightening because of the time period in which he brought about this new idea of reforming the church. In the era the church ran everything and to create a new form of thinking when it came to the church and the entire rule of religion over the people was a risky task for Luther to take on. It is because of this that i find Luther and his new idea the best representation of enlightenment we have covered so far. The reformation of the church and the revolutions caused by the questions sparked within the populous are monumental. It is a huge representation of the types of changes that can follow one moment of an individual presenting an enlightened idea. It is important to note that all Luther wanted was to have a fair form of religion and no more corruption; he simply wanted a change and he sought out to work towards just that. For today’s purposes it shows us just how much power one person and their idea can have when presented to the population. When the enlightened idea questions an important part of society it would be the equivalent of someone truly questioning the way our monetary system or military tactics work today. Challenging the types of things that everyone doesn’t really understand but relies on is the beginning of a change in the systems. I think Luther and his concepts presented in the 95 theses stand out to me so much simply because even today, so many years later, I can read his theses or learn about his life and be enlightened in a different way. The 95 theses are still causing some type of change today. By learning of all that followed this simple action of posting a few opinions of the church on a cathedral door it gives anyone in today’s day in age hope for enlightened ideas to occur now. It shows people of this era that change is possible and no one should just sit in a corrupt state and allow someone with too much power to control everything in a society. There are always relations between issues. In Martin Luther’s time it was the corrupt church using promises of forgiveness to gather money from the people, so then what is it for us today and who will question it? History will inevitably repeat itself in some way so why not allow that to be through continued change? If one of the only prevalent things through the ages is enlightenment then there will always be hope for a better society in the future. It is why we must listen to the ideas of people today. It is why people should have their voices heard.

  13. One of the more significant theories in the enlightenment was Copernicus’s heliocentric model of the universe This powerful movement of ideological revolution had a very big impact on society both in the past and modern day. He set the standard for scientists of all the nations and very well created the base of our theoretical view on the solar system as it exists today. Religion held a high merit during Copernicus’s time which made creating such a theory so prominent. His intentions were to broaden the minds of the population not to create an age of idealism. What speaks to me about this idea is its perseverance throughout time, and how it managed to still be unchallenged until this day and age. Even if this idea were to be diminished by another source of information that went completely against what Copernicus said, it would still hold value in the scientific world.

  14. I am choosing to do Martin Luther’s 95 theses because I feel it is one of, if not the, most important form of enlightenment. Martin Luther is one of the first people to go against the church and say, “hey, maybe you’re wrong about…” In his time this is unheard of because the church was seen as an all-knowing power. This has lead to people to discover new truths that may have not been acknowledged if Martin Luther had not publicized his 95 theses. I also find it as a very strong reasoning and way to look to higher power and speak freely against their ideas, because they may not always be right. People have to be free to think what they do or else theories may never be tested and progress cannot be made. This is a huge stepping-stone in history because it leads to people having their own ideas and not being afraid to step up and question authority.

  15. Nicolaus Copernicus’s idea of a heliocentric universe was a truly revolutionary thought. Before his book was published everyone believe the church when they said the universe revolves around the earth because that’s how god created it. Even with people telling him he was wrong, Copernicus knew the idea of a geocentric universe was wrong so he kept studying his idea. His thoughts and findings paved the way for later scientists to prove again the sun was the center of the universe. If Galilei would have never received a copy of his book, he may have not believed this idea so strongly and would have never gotten punished for his ideas that went against the church. His idea still impacts us today because without him starting the revolutionary idea our view of the universe could have been stalled for many years. This idea personally speaks to me because without his findings and ideas who knows what our beliefs about the universe would be today. It could have taken hundreds of years for the same findings to be brought to the surface and that could have changed the course of the scientific findings we have today.

  16. The Enlighten Age caused a new idea of change to spread across the country. Emmanuel Kant’s idea caused me to think and question humans and their want of action. His definition of enlightenment stuck out to me the most because it comments of our nature. It makes me think of how can passive people that stay in the background want change and what causes them to actually act Though it is a common thought to act and not to be afraid to question, it is still very uncommon. This idea of Kant is significant especially in his age because usually the citizens didn’t question those in power; they went along with the ideas of those in charge. He is using the power of words to try and spark something new; to create action. Kant’s words can still be applied to today’s society because you can’t just speak about change and wanting something new to occur. Someone most have the courage to walk out and act. Kant words can be used as a comment on us as humans and citizens; he shows the power of action and how influential it can be but how he also exposes how unlikely it is to happen.

  17. I am in the firm belief that Galileo and Copernicus were the most “enlightened” out of the group of thinkers we’ve studied specifically because their ideas not only challenged the largest political force in the history of the world, the catholic church, but because they were completely out of this world, and quite literally. Government was no sole standard back in the days of Enlightenment, unlike in contemporary society in which Democracy is the gold standard when compared to a Monarchy or a Peoples’ Republic, and therefore could be subject to constant change and revolution. To challenge the church would be like to challenge democracy today; complete cold war, and that’s what Galileo and Copernicus were willing to do. Thinkers like Rousseau and Locke may have challenged the monarchical system of government and the way it, to them, enslaved the people, but they simply replaced one human idea with another human idea. To replace a human idea with something you claim is completely natural and ingrained in the universe is something on a different playing field.

  18. I believe that Enlightenment means to give an idea that no one has heard before, and bring it to others attention so that they are able to reflect and see how they feel about the subject. One Enlightenment idea that really stood out to me was by Immanuel Kant. He brings forward the idea that we can truly never know what is “out there.” Our knowledge comes by what we see and what our minds present to us. I believe that is so true, because you can have a bias already made up about a certain culture, religion, or place, but you will never truly know what that certain thing is like until you experience today. This idea is revolutionary because this enlightenment idea will forever be a part of life regardless of what century or time period it is. This idea has been a part of life before Kant present it to the world. I feel its revolutionary during this day and age because it is 1784, because Kant lived a particularly boring life. He lived in Russia, and there were rulers at the time. I believe that many people didn’t travel much and had ideas about other places. Kant gave the idea of exploration to people. I was so struck by this idea because when I was little I always wanted to go to NY city, because they had fashion week, and in my mind only rich people could go in time square, and that where actress and actors resided (some do). So, I believe that you would have to be a really important person just to be in that vicinity of time square and you had to be rich to eat there too. I went to NY for the first time in my sophomore year of HS. It was somewhat of what I imaged, but when me and my school was walking in time square I didn’t realize it until I looked at my friend and said “this looks like time square” and she said it was. I noticed that anyone could walk in time square and there was restaurants in time square that were not that crazy expensive. I learned that in order to truly understand a place you have to become acquainted with it, and be in that place.

Comments are closed.