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Sunday, March 14, 2010

three enlightenment articles and their contemporary political relevance


Three articles written during the breakthrough Enlightenment Period have political insights that helped clear the ground for the lasting impact of the Age of Reason in contemporary times.
Immanuel Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?” is among his most influential works which explains the reason for the absence of Enlightenment in society. This lack, Kant asserts, is actually caused by the missing courage of the citizen to think. After elaborating why, Kant puts forth the requirements that an individual must fulfill in order to achieve Enlightenment. Because of its urgency for people to think in a rational way, this essay became controversial, serving as a critique not only of the church but also of the state in the late 1800’s.
John Locke’s “Of Paternal, Political, and Despotical Power, Considered Together” is an excerpt from his masterpiece Second Treatise of Civil Government. To begin with, this British philosopher and politician believed many things ranging from human nature and political power, but what these are and where do they come from had been interpreted in an entirely new fashion in his essay. For him, human beliefs were distinguished by tolerance and thinking. Owing to this determination, all individuals by nature were deemed independent and equal. In other words, humans are naturally free, lacking the need to ask approval from anybody else. They are all of equal worth, treating one another with mutual respect. Humans leave their nature when they are granted permission to participate in a community or society.
Lastly, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s “A Dissertation on the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind” in his work On the Origin of Inequality discusses the emergence and existence of inequality in society. While man is different from animals through pity and necessity for self-preservation, his natural inclination for survival and self-actualization makes him monstrous for desiring to dominate others. The essay argues that inequality is generated by man’s selfish and self-actualizing nature.
Truly, these works by these major Enlightenment philosophers are ahead of their time for highlighting the ideas that thinking is a revolutionizing thing, that we are all born equal and independent until socialization creates our bondage and inequality, and that our thirst for power drives us to render others less of our equal. These three insights appear as truthful up to this time, making them all classical for capturing modern ideas of power within the reach of humankind.

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