I think that human beings can achieve enlightenment. René Decartes said in his Fourth Meditation, “As well as knowing that I exist, at least as a thinking thing, I have in my mind an idea of corporeal nature.” I agree with how Decartes describes that humans have souls and bodies in which those souls reside, more simply, humans exists in dualism – the metaphysical and the physical existence. To achieve enlightenment, I think, you have to have a mental self, as opposed to a physical self, in order to become enlightened in the way that Immanuel Kant describes, “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage.”
So, I disagree with Julien Offray la Mettrie who said in Man a Machine, “Our only way to discover the true nature of man is a posteriori, i.e. on the basis of empirical evidence, trying isolate the soul, as it were disentangling it from the body’s organs.” La Mettrie only thinks of the human as what can be seen, he doesn’t believe that the mind is separate from the body. In la Mettrie’s mind humans cannot become enlightened. Because I agree with Kant on the method of enlightenment I cannot agree with la Mettrie about man as only a machine.
As for a method to achieving enlightenment I do not agree with Decartes’ idea of personal self-fulfillment. Kant’s method of achieving enlightenment is that we much shed our nonage, meaning that we must set aside all things we think to be true in order to question them all to find out what is actual.
While I do agree with Decartes that enlightenment is a personal and individualistic definition, I also think that there is importance in having institutional support to benefit intellectual property. When there is institutional support more people are willing to shed their nonage because they know that any original thoughts that come out of such will be protected as their own. John Milton is a proponent of inscribing author and/or printer’s names on texts but argues that it is not the duty of the government to decide what citizens get to read. Milton said, “And as for regulating the Presse, let no man think to have the honour of advising ye better then your selves have done in that Order publisht next before this, that no book be Printed, unlesse the Printers and the Authors name, or at least the Printers be register’d. Those which otherwise come forth, if they be found mischievous and libellous, the fire and the executioner will be the timeliest and the most effectuall remedy.” I agree with Milton that texts should be regulated by author and printer but that the public should be allowed to decide what ideas are “infectious.” o While thinking about Kant’s idea of shedding nonage to become enlightened, it is important to also think about Milton’s suggestions about the freedom of press. When there is freedom of press more people are willing to attempt enlightenment and possibly create original ideas. Even more important is that the public has access to any documents regarding these ideas.
Enlightenment occurs individually but there are sociopolitical factors that influence the readiness of humans to become enlightenment by shedding their nonage.