I believe human beings cannot become fully enlightened. From my understanding on what I have grown up understanding is enlightenment is becoming absolutely certain on something. A society as a whole nor an individual can become absolutely enlightened. To become enlightened is that you have full realization on a specific thing without doubt. Personally, I believe no one but God can have this knowledge but it is possible for humans to try. Human beings as a whole simply do not have the brain capacity to become completely enlightened. Even though we have a basic idea of what enlightenment is, no one truly knows for absolute certain something they cannot fully achieve. I believe that Equiano would side more with Descartes, due to his strong opinions on race so he would focus more on how our minds are not defined by our bodies. He wrote his entire account on how slavery was so dehumanizing so seeing us as all having our own individual minds which are all different in our distinct opinions and feelings yet equal would appeal to him. William Blake however could see this in a way that leans more towards La Mattrie. In his introductory poem to Songs of Innocence and Experience, he emphasizes on all the sensual experiences the children go through in his vivid descriptions. Therefore, I would say that he would side more with La Mattrie’s view of the mind and body being connected as one so that an individual is able to fully understand the poems that Blake wrote.
Rene Descartes’ view on enlightenment from his works called “The Meditations” was that he saw enlightenment as being a journey we go through in our life. In his first Meditation he calls into question everything into doubt that reasonably, can be doubted. “I had to raze everything to the ground and begin again from the original foundations, if I wanted to establish anything firm and lasting in the sciences (Meditation 1.)” Since he grew up in a world learning false opinions, he had to reevaluate what he knew to be true and reconsider what actually had truth to it as opposed to what was false. In the fourth meditation he reviewed everything he knew about God and his position when it came to truth and becoming enlightened. He knew that God was completely perfect and would not create anything that wasn’t perfect so the idea stumped him. In this Meditation he states that, “Then, I know by my own experience that I have some ability to judge, an ability which I have no doubt received from God just as I have received all the other qualities. Furthermore, since it is impossible that God wishes to deceive me, it is also certain that he has not given me an ability of such a sort that I could ever go wrong when I use it properly (Meditation 4.)” He concludes that since God was perfect and could not create evil that he gave humans the ability of genuine freewill. Since this will was created in God’s own image, it is also perfect. Since we are free to deceive ourselves with our own will, this is where error comes forth. Basically, true enlightenment on a subject comes when you can truly prove something without error for 100% certainty. If we can ever be certain on a subject however is debatable because we are only sure of ourselves and only our own senses.
Julien Offray de La Mettrie’s view on enlightenment in his piece “Man a Machine” was that each human being is a machine, like every other part of the natural world, driven by instinct and experience. Since he was a Hedonist he believed that the enlightenment came from achieving pleasure, that is was the ultimate form of good. La Mettrie was completely obsessed with the body. He studied it immensely and from this he construed that a metaphysical essence was nothing but a mechanism. He believed that the body and the soul were the same while Descartes saw them as being completely separate. In the portion of the piece we read we saw in just how many ways the soul and body are actually intertwined. An example of this he gives when we fall asleep. He states that, “The muscles can’t support the weight of the head, while the soul can’t support the burden of thought. When it is asleep, the soul is as if it didn’t exist. (Man a Machine 6.)” La Mettire’s entire work and theory is that enlightenment is all about outward stimulation and it’s connection to the soul while Decartes’ whole theory originates from the idea of an inward, more spiritual journey.
Julien Offray de La Mettrie: