October 22, 2013
In order to answer the question of whether or not we can achieve enlightenment, we must first examine a number of perspectives on enlightenment and use them to discover and form our own answer to the question. But, before we can answer the latter question, we must decide what the definition of enlightenment actually is. I believe it to be a combination of several factors, mainly dealing with finding out the truth about our lives by getting an education. The idea of enlightenment can be as much a personal thing as it spiritual and political idea. The term enlightenment can be applied to a number of ideas. In this essay, I will be using the works of Renee Descartes and La Mettrie to further my understanding of the concept of enlightenment.
The enlightenment period deals mainly with our understanding of our place in the universe, but it also deals with other questions. We can see this notion through the writings of Descartes when quotes Archimedes. “Archimedes said that if he had one ﬁrm and immovable point he could lift the world with a long enough lever.” (Meditations: Second Meditation Pg. 4) I think this is a good way to begin our understanding of the concept of enlightenment as I have several examples of firm points that will serve us well when trying to further understand the concept of enlightenment. The first point that I will make comes from the man that I just quoted, Renee Descartes.
Descartes states that, “my understanding of what a thing is, what truth is, and what thought is, derives purely from my own nature, which means that it is innate.” Descartes’ notion that truth in understanding something is an innate quality, as in it comes from our own interpretation, can create some tricky ideas for someone trying to comprehend the concept of enlightenment. I would like to take us back Kant to fortify what Descartes is saying here. Kant tells us that “It is more nearly possible, however, for the public to enlighten itself; indeed, if it is only given freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable.” This is suggesting that the more freedom that people have as individuals, the more likely it is that they will discover the truth. I found that this quote from Kant can help us to further understand how enlightenment functions as a means of taking responsibility to educate ourselves and find the truth. Whether you become educated by independent means, or by the means of an educational institution, these two believe that discovering the truth is one of the most important things.
But, in regards to truth, you also have to consider age groups. I believe that it takes a person of a certain age to be able to have the cognitive skills necessary to deduct real truth out of information. Whether that is from a religious, philosophical, or political standpoint, age plays a major factor in achieving enlightenment. To further grasp what I’m trying to say here, take this quote from Strausburger’s Children and Adolescents. “Children are different from adults, children are different from each other, and adolescents are different from children.” (Children and Adolescents. Pg. 3) Strausburger is trying to say that children understand the world in a different way than adults. So, in this respect, we cannot expect children to have the cognitive skills/development to get real truth out of a given set of information. I believe that this point gives way to the notion that the concept of enlightenment is personal.
As far as La Mettrie is concerned, he’s all about reason. Mettrie is more of a cold, calculated force than a child of the enlightenment, but I guess that’s exactly what makes him one. Mettrie says that “experience and observation should be our only guides.” (To understanding the world) From this perspective, I’m inclined to agree with him in the respect that personal experiences do shape the way we perceive the world around us. No matter how much we try to fight it, we will always be inclined to go with our gut feeling when trying to figure something out, even if at times it goes against all logical reason. La Mettrie helped me to find a balance with trying to understand the concept of enlightenment. That is, while we should put stock in the opinions and findings of others, we should still rely on ourselves to solve some of the puzzle. That is why I think enlightenment should be defined as a hybrid between personal and philosophical findings. Obviously, you cannot understand the world without the help of others, but you should not leave it completely up to them to decide what life, and in turn, the world around it, mean to you.