After being in this course for almost two months now, I finally feel like I’ve got a pretty good idea of what enlightenment is. The tricky part though is that I still cannot just define it with one word, or even one sentence. There are so many factors in the process of being enlightened, but I have narrowed them down to two categories: being educated and thinking for yourself.
The first category of being educated was clearly explained in my mind when I read Mettrie. He explains that “men are basically only animals and upright machines. They all have that wonderful instinct which education transforms into intelligence.” (Mettrie, 29). The human brain is so fantastic because it is capable of being altered and in some way widened with seemingly endless amounts of information. During the age of enlightenment, being able to prove theories was a big part of the movement as a whole. Man had to learn how to go through the steps of the scientific method in order to prove a point about something, and this was something very new to do in the world. This made people expand their minds and begin to question several things in their world, which also resulted in a little bit of enlightenment in their lives.
Mettrie ultimately concludes that man and soul are one entity. The separation of the two, as suggested by Descartes, is not accurate, because the mind and the body directly affect one another. I, too, have to disagree with Descartes, because I think of becoming more knowledgable as expanding your brain, which in turn strengthens your mentality in some ways.
The second category of my definition of enlightenment is the main one in my opinion: thinking for yourself. Kant states it extremely directly with the opening line of his essay What is Enlightenment?. He writes “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage.” (Kant). I also believe that the previous quote from Mettrie applies to this category as well, because intelligence to think for yourself definitely broadens an aspect of your knowledge.
This is way easier said than done, though. The whole world gets in the way of this second category being an achievable possibility for man. What you are taught from day one of your existence eventually snowballs into this vast, skewed, and overbearing amount of regulations on how to live your life. To explain this further, here is a quote from Guggenheim that Lessig uses to prove his point that society traps man into a hole that he cannot and/or should not get out of:
” ‘Suddenly the world that you’re trying to create is completely generic and void of the elements that you would normally create….And that is wrong.’ ” ([Guggenheim] Lessig, 4).
I completely agree that this is wrong. Man is encouraged to NOT emerge from his self-imposed nonage instead of reaching for something outside of it. But, as these readings have told us, it is very difficult and confusing to figure out how exactly to go about emerging yourself. One difficult, yet intelligent, way of approaching this is to follow what Descartes writes, “To conquer that habit, therefore, I had better switch right around and pretend (for a while) that these former opinions of mine are utterly false and imaginary” (Descartes, 3). He suggests that you need to be ‘out of your body’ in a way, and just clean off the slate in your head of everything that you know and basically start from scratch. Is this truly possible for anyone though? I really don’t think so. It is probably doable to a certain extent, so when choosing a method to achieve enlightenment, I would most likely start with this one proposed by Descartes.
Even though it is not attainable in my eyes, it is ok that enlightenment cannot be fully achieved. It’s good to have something so enriching to constantly strive for, and these readings have given readers various pathways to get closer and closer to an enlightened state.