Enlightenment is one of the most controversial subjects to this day. When thinking of Enlightenment I always think back to Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave.” My teacher I.B. Theory of Knowledge class found it his civic duty to bring it up every class session. The thought of becoming enlightened being a process of learning the truths of the world and how those truths once learned and understood cannot be forgotten. We are all in a “cave” of sorts, just waiting to be exposed to the brightness of an education of the world, this meaning and story truly rooting my own definition, whether that be personal beliefs or that instilled by my teacher, making the understanding of “thinking for oneself” humorous in itself. I believe that Enlightenment is so complex that it does not have one simple definition. Not only is Enlightenment the ability to think for oneself and the process of becoming education, but it is also the ability to accept the truths of the world regardless of the consequences. Enlightenment however having its basis on education also has a spiritual meaning. Acceptance can only be done with the understanding of oneself as well as the others around you. Equiano’s passage is one that I feel coincides with that of my definition of Enlightenment in the simplest of terms, the first few lines of the excerpt exemplifying that.
“They had been implanted in me with great care, and made an impression on my mind, which time could not erase, and which all the adversity and variety of furtune I have since experienced” (Equiano)
Equaino’s understanding that enlightenment comes from becoming educated and the acceptance of those truths, however he differs from that of my definition in the reasoning that Enlightenment means looking back on certain events and things with a new outlook, while he still sees them with the same feelings of that time. The author that most closely comes to that of my understanding is Kant,
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance” (Kant).
Kant’s understanding of how man must understand himself and have not only that ability, but also the ability to think for one’s self. An idea so simple, yet I feel it truly is the root underlying the basis of Enlightenment.
The question, can human beings actually achieve enlightenment, made me laugh. I feel that actually “achieving” enlightenment is the same as saying someone is perfect. Sure, you can be educated, you can know yourself and possibly think you think for yourself, but no one can actually say every idea that they have is one that originated with them. You adapted onto someone else’s idea, these ideas of the necessity of social and intuitional beliefs, education and political freedoms. You became “enlightened” in the basic senses of the word, but to say one can actually achieve enlightenment is a fantasy. Achieving enlightenment is a goal, one that we can only hope to achieve, but never in our lifetime could this actually happen. We can say we think for ourselves, but do we really? Do we actually throw off those “chains…” (Mettrie 32) that Mettrie is referring to? As much as I would love to say that we do, I do not believe that anyone will ever be able to fully “throw them off.” “I’ll have come to the truth by sheer chance and not through a perception of my intellect (Descartes 22). Descartes, though I am paraphrasing with this line, the ability to think for oneself will always be there, but with other factors in place that ability will never reach the achievement of full enlightenment with so many other factors and knowledge in the world.