In “What is Enlightenment?” Kant argues that it’s very difficult for individuals to emerge from their “nonage” and to think for themselves. He says,
Thus it is very difficult for the individual to work himself out of the nonage which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown to like it, and is at first really incapable of using his own understanding because he has never been permitted to try it. Dogmas and formulas, these mechanical tools designed for reasonable use–or rather abuse–of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting nonage. The man who casts them off would make an uncertain leap over the narrowest ditch, because he is not used to such free movement. That is why there are only a few men who walk firmly, and who have emerged from nonage by cultivating their own minds.
The idea here seems to be that many people are trapped by the teachings and ideologies of others. They pray to the god that their church tells them to. They obey the monarch they’re told to. The believe what they’re told to believe about science, literature, and everything else. He says people come over time to like being told what to think and that they don’t even realize they’re being controlled.
I take it as more or less certain that no one in the class, including me, has really ever had an original thought. Before class on Thursday, I want you to take a few minutes to reflect on the possibility that you’re trapped in an ideological “Matrix.” Choose one belief that you hold strongly — religious, political, aesthetic, ethical — and think about all the influences that you’ve had over the course of your life. This could be something as simple as your taste in music or something as controversial as your opinion about the death penalty. Write a 400-500 word blog post in which you describe 1) a belief you hold, 2) everything that might have influenced your belief, and 3) other influences that might steer someone else toward a different set of beliefs. Post this to the course blog no later than midnight before class.
For this assignment, you shouldn’t write an argument or try to persuade other people to share your view. In fact, you shouldn’t even try to convince yourself. Instead, you should think about all the ways your life has affected your worldview, then try to imagine what it might be like to be a different sort of person. Your essay should spend just as much time on item 3 as it does on item 2.
Remember that you’re sharing this online! Don’t write about anything that’s too personal, don’t get into anything inappropriate (i.e., don’t confess to using illegal drugs or anything like that), don’t name other people, and make sure you pick a topic you’re comfortable discussing in class.