or: What is Enlightenment?

Sapere Aude is Latin for the command 'dare to know,' which is the sentence Immanuel Kant uses as a departure point for his essay "What is Enlightenment?" Kant commands us to "have the courage to use our own understanding!" He elucidates the difference between personal understanding and understanding entrenched within a hierarchical system by using a preacher in relationship to the Church.

A preacher may have very specific and personal ideas about God and his relationship with God, yet within the format of a church sermon, only so much of those personal ideas can come out (which is not to say that his ideas do not play a role in the content of the sermon, rather that they must be embedded within the dogma and politics of his Church), while over dinner with a close friend he may express his feelings more freely, indicating specific notions and explicating implied intentions.

A fitting modern example of the preacher and his Church is that of Tom Cruise's character in Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire in the events leading up to the priceless 'Who's coming with me?' monologue. In front of his computer, Jerry has no trouble expressing his innermost feelings and ideals to create a personal treatise; by trying to communicate those ideals to the folk in his workplace--where protocol is business and business, livelihood--he opens himself up to rejection from a structure that decries being shaken and a situation that indulges in the status quo.

For Kant then, because our "experience can only be used to indicate the content we intend," enlightenment is based upon humanity existing in such a situation that we are not only able to dare knowing, but where that audacity is the intention of our existence.

When the status quo is to dare to know, the age of enlightenment will be at hand.


This material is copyrighted ©2004

Perpetual Peace and Other Essays Immanuel Kant trans. Ted Humphrey
"What is Enlightenment?"
Indianapolis : Hackett Pub. Co., 1983

This phrase is from Horace's Epistula II, line 40:

Dimidium facti qui coepit habet: sapere aude

"He who has begun is half done: dare to know!"

Sapere aude was the motto of the Society of the Friends of Truth, a major mover and shaker in the German Enlightenment, hence Kant's declaring it the "motto of the enlightenment" in his essay, "An Answer to the question: What is Enlightenment?", which first appeared in the Berlinische Monatsschrift in December, 1784.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.