Kant represents the high point of the intellectual and cultural movement which we refer to as the Enlightenment. He was a self-conscious advocate of this very self-concious movement, and provided the clearest definition of the heart of Enlightenment thought in an essay titled "What is Enlightenment?" The motto of Enlightenment, says Kant, is "Sapere Aude!" - dare to understand! The movement is all about being bold enough to use and rely on your own understanding without external guidance.
We could talk about this in terms of starting point and direction. For Kant, the starting point is simple: oneself. Adopting this starting point is inevitable for Kant - as far as he is concerned, there is simply no other to choose - but it is also essential to his entire project. If we begin anywhere other than with ourselves, we are already denying ourselves enlightenment. Only if I am the starting point can I be truly free; only in a world in which my own reason is an appropriate beginning to thought about life, the universe and everything can I trust my reason to guide me.
As far as direction goes, Kant favours practical reason. In the snappily-titled essay "What does it mean to orient oneself in thinking?", Kant outlines the necessity of restraining speculation and training our reason to be guided by practical usage. Nevertheless, he is clear that reason is king - "only do not dispute that prerogative of reason which makes it the highest good on earth". Reason, oriented towards practical living rather than metaphysical speculation, is the direction of Kant's thought. The further reason departs from experience, the more likely it is to end in dead-end speculations about things that cannot be known. Reason that restrains itself will be able to venture forth from the starting point of autonomy in the direction of good living.
Now try to forget Kant for a moment. What passage of Scripture might pop into your mind if we mentioned the word "enlightenment"? 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 occurs to me. Have a read of it. There is a radical difference of vision here, relative to Kant. For the Apostle, enlightenment comes from above, and he is essentially a passive recipient. God shines in a person's heart - that is the source of enlightenment. The starting point is God, and the direction is toward Jesus and his glory. (Read the end of 2 Corinthians 3 for a description of this journey!)
The point is this: if the most important thing a human being could possibly know - namely, how to relate to God - cannot be found within the framework that starts from the autonomous human being and proceeds in the direction of practical reason, what use is that framework?
To be worked out in more practice tomorrow...