If the Enlightenment is about “Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment” (Kant) as Kant puts it, then knowledge and personal experience are king. A bit rough around the edges, but quite simple at the same time. Kant speaks of how a general understanding of mankind will lead to an enlightened life. I can get behind this idea, for the most part, but I’m not completely sold that general knowledge is power.
If the Enlightenment is about “Never trouble your self about those faults in them, which you know age will cure: and therefore want of well-fashion’d civility in the carriage, whilst civility is not wanting in the mind, (for there you must take care to plant it early) should be the parents’ least care, whilst they are young” (Locke) then educations and guidance are king. Locke speaks of how education (guided knowledge) bring people into enlightenment through shaping the individual with guiding hands while they learn through their own experiences. I can get behind Locke’s main argument of education leads to enlightenment and that one cannot expect to know without being taught in one way or another.
If the Enlightenment is about “To doubt such things I would have to liken myself to brain-damaged madmen who are convinced they are kings when really they are paupers, or say they are dressed in purple when they are naked, or that they are pumpkins, or made of glass” (Descartes) then things in which we can personal persevere and justify than that is enlightenment. Descartes through his meditations speaks of how we can only justify that we are real and to doubt that is insanity and that through this justification, other ideas and subjects can be justified. I cannot say that Descartes is right or wrong, I can only know that I have read of a man presumed to be Descartes and that his ideals seems to abide by my code. Funny Descartes-ish humor, Descartes’s ideal of “I think there for I am” is sound and logical which is important to ideals of the enlightenment era.
If the Enlightenment is about “There are people who think that some part of them is made of glass and who have to be advised to sleep on straw (‘so that you won’t break’!), so that the straw can be set alight, causing them to be afraid of being burnt, which causes the supposedly glass limb to return to being a usable affair of ﬂesh and bone” (La Mettrie) then our own minds cannot be trusted to reach enlightenment, but we must rely on our fellow man to keep us on such a path. La Mettrie seems to believe that through society and humanity, you can find enlightenment. I believe that for the most part, I trust in the people I surround myself with to keep me on the path of sanity. This idea is a bit off, if society is off based on your personal opinions.
The four of these enlightenment idealists come together, for better or worst, to provide a glimpse of what enlightenment means to them during the era. Without Kant, we wouldn’t think about how society can lead us to be anti-society based on ideals that may or may not have been given to you by society or your own personal society. Without Locke, we wouldn’t look into education as the source of our enlightenment because we need guiding factors to keep us learning productively, but there must always be time for dancing. Without Descartes, the enlightenment ideal of the self is all you know wouldn’t be available and the value of our own self experience would mean we could never justify ourselves. Without La Mettrie, the mind would be nothing more than mechanical processes that will one day extinguish the body by using up all the forces within it
One thing that everyone has in common is knowledge and reason. Through these (guided by education, self perspective, society, or any other factor) will always lead to enlightenment. Sapere aude, and dare to think.