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Enlightment and the freedom of thought

The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment) is the era in Western philosophy,
intellectual, scientific and cultural life, centered upon the 18th century, in which reason was advocated
as the primary source for legitimacy and authority. The "Enlightenment" was not a single movement
or school of thought, for these philosophies were often mutually contradictory or divergent. The
Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of values. At its core was a critical questioning
of traditional institutions, customs, and morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science.
Freedom of thought (also called the freedom of conscience or ideas) is the freedom of an
individual to hold or consider a fact, viewpoint, or thought, independent of others' viewpoints.
Freedom of thought' is the derivative of and thus is closely linked to other liberties: freedom of
religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression. It is a very important concept in the western
world but nearly all democratic constitutions protect these freedoms.
At present, in the most civilized countries, freedom of speech is taken as a matter of course and
seems a perfectly simple thing. We are so accustomed to it that we look on it as a natural right. But
this right has been acquired only in quite recent times. It has taken centuries to persuade the most
enlightened peoples that liberty to publish one’s opinions and to discuss all questions is a good and not
a bad thing. Human societies (there are some brilliant exceptions) have been generally opposed to
freedom of thought, or, in other words, to new ideas, and it is easy to see why.
If you ask somebody how he knows something, he may say, “I have it on good authority,” or,
“I read it in a book,” or, “It is a matter of common knowledge,” or, “I learned it at school.” Any of
these replies means that he has accepted information from others, trusting in their knowledge, without
verifying their statements or thinking the matter out for himself.
Kant created a new perspective in philosophy which had widespread influences on philosophy.
"Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?" is the title of an essay in which the
philosopher Immanuel Kant replied to the question posed by the Reverend Johann Friedrich Zöllner,
who was also an official in the Prussian government. Zöllner's question was addressed to a broad
intellectual public and a number of leading intellectuals replied with essays, but Kant's essay is the
most famous and has had the most impact. Kant's opening paragraph of the essay is a much-cited
definition of a lack of Enlightenment as people's inability to think for themselves due not to their lack
of intellect, but lack of courage. "Have courage to use your own understanding!” Kant wrote.
Kant's essay also addressed the causes of a lack of enlightenment and the preconditions
necessary to make it possible for people to enlighten themselves. He held it necessary that all church
and state paternalism be abolished and people be given the freedom to use their own intellect. Kant
focused on religious issues, saying that "our rulers" had less interest in telling citizens what to think in
regard to artistic and scientific issues.
Kant answers the question quite succinctly in the first sentence of the essay: “Enlightenment is
man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” He argues that the immaturity is self-inflicted
not from a lack of understanding, but from the lack of courage to use one’s reason, intellect, and
wisdom without the guidance of another. Our fear of thinking for ourselves. He exclaims that the
motto of enlightenment is “Sapere aude”! – Dare to know!
Orientation in thinking links very much with direction of thought: on what basis does our
thought path determine the way we act?
This is split into two conceptions, theoretical and practical thinking. Theoretical thinking is the
laws of thought, it is subjective (so an assumption) but must be established to prevent us from falling
into chaos, a key example of this is the idea of an intelligible first cause and development of our moral
attitudes. Practical thinking is the application of theoretical thinking to your thoughts, with which we
can ensure the basis of moral laws through the concepts of freedom, highest good and happiness.
“On Liberty” is a philosophical work by British philosopher John Stuart Mill. Perhaps the most
memorable point made by Mill in this work, and his basis for liberty, is that " over himself, over his
own body and mind, the individual is sovereign". Mill is compelled to make this assertion in
opposition to what he calls the "tyranny of the majority", wherein through control of etiquette and
morality, society is an unelected power that can do horrific things. Mill's work could be considered a
reaction to this social control by the majority and his advocacy of individual decision-making over the
self. The famous Harm Principle, or the principle of liberty, is also articulated in this work: people can
do anything they like as long as it does not harm others.
Mill opens his essay with a discussion about the "struggle between authority and liberty"
describing the tyranny of government, which, in his view, needs to be controlled by the liberty of the
citizens. Without such limit to authority, the government has (or is) a "dangerous weapon". He divides
this control of authority into two mechanisms: necessary rights belonging to citizens, and the
"establishment of constitutional checks by which the consent of the community, or of a body of some
sort, supposed to represent its interests, was made a necessary condition to some of the more important
acts of the governing power". As such, Mill suggests that mankind will be happy to be ruled "by a
master" if his rule is guaranteed against tyranny. Mill speaks in the aforementioned section in terms of
monarchy. However, mankind soon developed into democracy where "there was no fear of
tyrannizing over self". "This may seem axiomatic", he says, but "the people who exercise the power
are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised". Further, this can only be by the
majority, and if the majority wish to criminalise a section of society that happens to be a minority —
whether a race, gender, faith, or the like — this may easily be done despite any wishes of the minority
to the contrary. This, in his terms, is the "tyranny of the majority".
Mill divides human liberty when in private into its components or manifestations:
• The freedom to think as one wishes, and to feel as one does. This includes the freedom to
opinion, and includes the freedom to publish opinions known as the freedom of speech,
• The freedom to pursue tastes and pursuits, even if they are deemed "immoral," and only so long
as they do not cause harm,
• The "freedom to unite" or meet with others, often known as the freedom of assembly.
Without all of these freedoms, in Mill's view, one cannot be considered to be truly free.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes
freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in
public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Free thought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis
of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced byauthority, tradition, or any dogma.
It is a common saying that thought is free. A man can never be hindered from thinking
whatever he chooses so long as he conceals what he thinks. The working of his mind is limited only
by the bounds of his experience and the power of his imagination. But this natural liberty of private
thinking is of little value. It is unsatisfactory and even painful to the thinker himself, if he is not
permitted to communicate his thoughts to others. Moreover it is extremely difficult to hide thoughts
that have any power over the mind.