Many people argue that America is not in an enlightened age. They say that American citizens don’t think about their decisions, but that they make the decisions that their parents or pastors want them to make. I disagree with this claim. I believe, based on the people that I have surrounded myself with, that America is most certainly in an enlightened age, but there is no way to know for certain that every person thinks for himself. It is for this reason that I am unable to argue for America’s enlightenment, but instead I will challenge the logic that these naysayers use as well as question Kant’s claims about enlightenment.
A person that believes that America isn’t in an enlightened age would argue that the internet, books and the news are the only sources of information that we need. This is incorrect because a lot of the knowledge that we gain comes from our parents and sometimes the church. It would be completely unreasonable to discount the information a parent or the church gives you because contrary to what some people believe, it is valuable. If a person were to vote similar to how their parents or pastor votes we can’t assume that they haven’t thought about the decision that they are making. It just means that they have come to a conclusion similar to that of another person. Kant never states what a person is supposed to conclude, but only that he/she uses reason to make a conclusion. It’s wrong to assume that a person voting similar to their parent isn’t enlightened because it is possible that the person used reason to come to the same conclusion as their parent. This raises a difficult question about enlightenment and knowing when in fact we as a society are enlightened.
Kant never explicitly states what an enlightened person looks like and he never says how we will know when our conclusions haven’t been influenced by another person. Is it possible to know if you are truly enlightened? If so, then how? For example, if one person finds that a presidential candidate is bad for America and tells other people and those people then go and vote against that candidate are they not enlightened because they didn’t come to the conclusion themselves? I would say that the people that took the person’s information, challenged it with reason and found it to be sound are enlightened. Again the issue isn’t the conclusion that a person comes to, but how the person came to it. It is perfectly logical for a person to give their conclusion to another person especially if it would benefit society as a whole. I believe Kant’s intention was for people to think about the information that they are being given and decide for themselves it is beneficial.
Just as I was unable to argue in favor of America’s enlightened age, others are unable to argue the converse. Because Kant never explicitly describes an enlightened person we can’t know who is or isn’t enlightened. What we do know is that based on Kant’s conditions for enlightenment, America most certainly has the potential to be enlightened. This is because America has provided us with numerous tools and instruments to share information and conclusions with each other and these are necessary for the enlightened age.
Kant, Immanuel. Modern Political Thought: What is Enlightenment? Indianapolis: Hackett Company, 2008. Print.