Sapere aude! Braveheart or Blackheart?

03 Mar

[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.


Posted by on March 3, 2010 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Sapere aude! Braveheart or Blackheart?

  1. Brent

    December 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm


    What does this mean:

    “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11

    I agree with some of the things you say here, but I am not sure how you understand Kant in relationship to the rationalism you decry. Do you connect his notion of “using your own understanding” to his rejection of classical metaphysics? How do you think Lutheran theology shaped Kant’s view here? In what ways is he rejecting his Lutheran heritage?

  2. infanttheology

    December 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm


    Child-like, not childish. Not saying its super easy to pin down the differences. I’d like to think my views are both child-like and true-man-like.

    Kant had some good things to say, but I would also suggest that he was, in several ways, naive. If he saw legitimate problems with the categories of classical metaphysics, he elevated his other categories that came with their own problems.

    “In what ways is he rejecting his Lutheran heritage?”

    As I said:

    Unfortunately, he was not talking about an understanding formed, and guided by, the rule of faith.

    Nuff said. I’d say that the evidence suggests that Kant was not even a true believer.


  3. Brent

    December 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Do you see philosophy and theology as two distinct sciences? Are they complimentary? To ask as Tertullian put it, “Does Athens have anything to do with Jerusalem?”

  4. Nathan

    December 20, 2011 at 10:02 pm


    Yes, they are complementary. Athens does have something to do with Jerusalem. But Athens ultimately submits to Jerusalem.



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