Immanuel Kant: “What Is Enlightenment?”

(1784)

Forming a synopsis of Immanuel Kant's self-styled “Copernican revolution in philosophy,” the essay “What Is Enlightenment?” (1784) delineates the central ideas through which the German philosopher defined the direction of early-modern philosophy. The essay was written at the culmination of the Enlightenment (ca. 1650–ca. 1800), a cultural movement marked by an emphasis on the power of reason and science to discover ultimate truth and skepticism toward the institutions and traditions of the past. Kant (1724–1804) was a critic both of pure rationalism, which insisted that knowledge came only by reasoning logically from indubitable axioms, and of pure empiricism, which contended that knowledge came only through the experience of the five senses. Here Kant attempts to apply his media via (middle way) between rationalism and empiricism toward the major religious, political, and social questions confronting Western culture at the close of the eighteenth century....

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Frederick the Great of Prussia (Library of Congress)

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