[Enlightenment is] “ the emergence of man from his self-imposed infancy. Infancy is the inability to use one’s reason without the guidance of another. It is self-imposed, when it depends on a deficiency, not of reason, but of the resolve and courage to use it without external guidance. Thus the watchword of enlightenment is: Sapere aude! Have the courage to use one’s own reason!’” (Immanuel Kant, 1784).
Leaving critiques of absolute autonomy aside, has there ever been a person who used their reason without the guidance of another? How is using one’s reason without the assistance of external guidance even possible? What kind of irrationality could possibly account for the popularity of this concept of Enlightenment?
I agree that Kant was on to something about “having the courage to use your own understanding”. After all it is sometimes necessary to question authority (is this not, after all, what Luther did?). Unfortunately, he was not talking about an understanding formed, and guided by, the rule of faith. For all of his many keen insights and observations, Immanuel Kant made claims for men that were far too grand – and frankly, ridiculous.
If I question my spiritual inheritance in Christ – and even turn away – it is not because I used my own understanding apart from other influences. It is because I choose to turn away from one Person and to trust another. If I don’t realize that this is happening I only reveal that I shun adulthood, embrace childishness, and dwell in darkness.
It is important to learn to “think for one’s self”. At the same time, if “[man’s infancy] is the inability to use one’s reason without the guidance of another”, we never become adults who can become like little children.