Dare to Be Wise

“Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority. Minority is inability to make use of one’s own understanding without direction from another. This minority is self-incurred when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! [dare to be wise] . . .

It is because of laziness and cowardice that so great a part of humankind, after nature has long since emancipated them from other people’s direction, nevertheless gladly remains minors for life, and that it becomes so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor! If I have a book that understands for me, a spiritual advisor who has a conscience for me, a doctor who decides upon a regimen for me, and so forth, I need not trouble myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay; others will readily undertake the irksome business for me.”

—Immanuel Kant. Practical Philosophy. (trans. Mary J. Gregor)

It is worth seeking out Kant’s answer to the question, “What is Enlightenment?” which appeared in the December 1784 issue of Berlinische Monatsschrift. It also brings to mind Primo Levi’s warning that “our personality . . . it is in much more danger than our life.”

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