Descartes would have us believe that the body is merely a conduit through which the soul would have us experience things, and that we must question whether or not we’ve experienced them at all. And in the existence of the soul, it proves that there must be a creator that has granted it consciousness. “However, I have for many years been sure that there is an all-powerful God who made me to be the sort of creature that I am…Some people would deny the existence of such a powerful God rather than believe that everything else is uncertain,” (Descartes, 2).
La Mettrie would agree with Descartes insomuch as that the human body is a machine and houses the soul, but would take it a step further, stating that “the soul’s various states are always correlated with the body’s,” (7). To take it even deeper, the two being intertwined would be to say that what is good for the one is implicitly good for the other. The well-being of the mind or soul directly relates to the vessel it is linked with. So does “enlightenment” relate more to the body or the mind?
The logical answer, following these great thinkers, is undeniably both. The betterment of one’s physical living betters the soul, and dispatching the wretchedness of the soul makes for a better quality of life. So is freedom of information and greater amount of knowledge the meaning of “enlightenment” that would improve the life of the soul?
Locke would argue not. “Virtue is harder to be got than a knowledge of the world; and if lost in a young man, is seldom recover’d,” (Part IV, Section 70). He would have us believe that the betterment of life is to be got through a sheltered upbringing and much more valuable than a wide array of experience. But this directly subvert’s Kant’s very definition of enlightenment, “man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage.” So which is it?
What makes us human, and not robots, is not the idea that our bodies are machines that affect our minds, or that we do have a creator; robots may say the same. It is our ability to judge and think for ourselves, the very option to come up with these theories. We are human because we are free to know more than we do at present. We think of bigger concepts than just what we are presented with, and hunger and thirst after the knowledge we need to answer the questions we have. “Words, languages, laws, science and arts came, and through them the rough diamond of our minds was at last polished,” (La Mettrie, 10). We are able to create, and more than observe, analyze abstract concepts. Whether or not we fully understand them, we can reason them to a point of finding our own grasp of them, which gives us the ability to believe.
What is enlightenment? It is the ability to learn from others, then to take that knowledge, follow it for ourselves and reach our own conclusions, be they the same or different from those that came before. Enlightenment is reasoning for oneself, and then posting to a wordpress blog about the existential meaning of abstract concepts in order to find a deeper meaning in them, until they actually mean something to us. It is giving form to our dreams, and understanding why we have them.
Descartes, “Meditations on First Philosophy in which are demonstrated the existence of God and the distinction between the human soul and body” : http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdfbits/dm1.pdf
Kant, “What is Enlightenment?” : http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html
La Mettrie, “Man-Machine”: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/mettmanm.pdf
Locke, “Some Thoughts on Education”: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1692locke-education.asp