The title is the same question answered by Immanuel Kant’s
Was ist Aufklarung in 1784. It was basically a reflection of a great thinker on his own present. At that time, present was conceived in three forms; 1) as an “era of the world distinct from the others through some inherent characteristics, ” 2) a sign of a forthcoming event, 3) “a point of transition toward the dawning of a new world.” And Kant departed from this conception. He saw the present as an “exit” or “way out” from the state of “immaturity” described as letting the others direct or lead in an area where one is unable to make use of his/her reason when it is called for. For example in Kant’s article, when a book does the understanding for a person, that person is in a state of “immaturity.” Lazinesss and cowardice are the reasons cited by Kant for this “immaturity.” So he proposed a motto or instruction for Enlightenment
– Aude sapere
, “dare to know,” or “have courage to use your own reason.” For Kant, he characterized Enlightenment as both a task and obligation, individually and collectively. He also distinguished the private use of reason
and public use of reason. On one hand, when one is a “cog in a machine” or plays a role in society, he make a private use of reason in determined circumstances and ends in view. When one, on the other hand, uses reasoning as a reasonable being and for reasoning’s sake, it is a public use of reason that must be free.
(1984) summarized what Kant’s description of enlightenment as; “ the moment when humanity is going to put its own reason to use, without subjecting itself to any authority; now it is precisely at this moment that the critique is necessary, since its role is that of defining the conditions under which the use of reason is legitimate in order to determine what can be known, what must be done, and what may be hoped….. Enlightenment is the age of the critique
.” This, for Foucault, characterizes the “attitude of modernity.” Although modernity has been referred to as an epoch in history, sandwiched between premodernity
, Foucault would like to picture it as an attitude rather than an epoch of history. By attitude, he meant “a mode of relating to contemporary reality; a voluntary choice made by certain people; in the end, a way of thinking and feeling; a way too of acting and behaving that at one and the same time marks a relation of belonging and presents itself as a task. A bit, no doubt, like what the Greeks called an "ethos
Going back to Kant’s description of Enlightenment as an “exit” or “way out,” it is like we are inside a theater or cinema surrounded by darkness, distracted and absorbed by the reality flashed on screen different from what we know of it; but a little red sign flickers that invites us to a way out in case of fire. This fire represents the changes and ruptures of routines. Truly, it feels good to be staying forever inside a cinema. It entertains us and makes us forget our problems for a time being. Or we are just afraid to confront our own shadows that cause us prefer to hide in the darkness? Kant reminded us that the enlightened is not afraid of shadows. Being afraid of the shadows seems natural, but in reality it can be critically interrogated. To do this, it takes a philosophical attitude
which Foucault propounded, a critique of who we are, an analysis of our limits imposed on us and an experiment or project of transcendental possibilities.