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Posts Tagged ‘What Is Enlightenment?’

I used the beginning paragraph from an Immanuel Kant essay as an intro when I first wrote the blogpost about the painting below, Dare to Know. Recent events sent me back to the 1784 essay, What is Enlightenment?, from which they were taken. I found that the rest of the essay was equally as compelling as that first paragraph, describing how the vast majority of people are willing to relinquish the choices in their lives to others. It seems to say that people are  basically fearful of taking responsibility for much of anything and will gladly sacrifice the freedom to think and decide for themselves to anyone willing to tell them what to do, even when it is not in their best interest. This essay urges people to step forward into the light, to question things, to think independently, and accept responsibility. That is how enlightenment can be found.

It seems to me that this describes the current divide in this nation and throughout the world. There are those willing to blindly believe that those in positions of trust, such as our leaders or clergy or captains of industry, will act responsibly, doing what is best for the vast majority of the population without self interest. They choose the path of least resistance, believing hollow promises that require little from them.

And then there are those who question, those who seek truth and clarity, those who demand that trust be earned. They want take responsibility for the decisions in their lives, even those that are difficult and require sacrifice. They desire accountability for themselves and for those others who claim to know what is best for them. 

While it is not always an easy path, that willingness to dare to know may well lead to enlightenment, as Kant indicates. Myself, I prefer that path.

Here is the original blogpost:

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“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude!- ‘Have courage to use your own reason!’- that is the motto of enlightenment.”

― Immanuel Kant,  What Is Enlightenment?

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Sapere Aude!  From the Latin for Dare to Know.

I came across the passage above from the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant and felt immediately that it was a great match for this new painting. In fact I am calling this piece, 11′ by 15″ on paper,  Dare to Know (Sapere Aude!)

The Red Tree here is removed away from the influence and shading of the other trees and houses in the foreground, out of darkness and into the light. There is a light about the Red Tree and a sense of freedom in the openness of the space around it. It is free to examine the world, free to seek the knowledge it craves, and free to simply think for itself.

It’s a great idea, this concept of enlightenment and one that we definitely could use today. Too many of us form our own base of knowledge by relying on the thoughts and opinions of others, often without giving much consideration as to their truthfulness, motives, or origins. Or we shade our base of knowledge with our own desires for  how reality should appear, holding onto false beliefs that suit us even when they obviously contradict reality.

In short, there is no enlightenment based on falsehoods, no way to spin darkness into light. Enlightenment comes in stepping away from the darkness of lies and deceptions to see the world as it is, with clarity. It means stripping away our own self defenses and admitting our own shortcomings, prejudices, and predispositions.

It may not always be what one hoped for but it is an honest reality. And maybe that is enlightenment, the willingness to face all truths with honesty.

To dare to know.

Sapere Aude!

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