Rene Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy

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As proposed by Immanual Kant, the Enlightenment consisted of having “the courage to use your own understanding,” and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Descartes’ Meditations, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote collectively provide instances that both affirm and subvert Kant’s proposition. Paradise Lost’s Lucifer embodies Kant’s idea of intellectual independence—fighting against God’s authority in order to make his own decisions and arrive at his own conclusions. In Meditations, Descartes argues against intellectual conformity yet attempts to impose his own on others. In Don Quixote our knight errant questions self-imposed nonage with his own form of self-imposition. Together, these works exemplify the diversity of ideas that resulted from the courageous decisions of people to use their own understanding.

In Paradise Lost, Lucifer believes that the Son’s exaltation above him by The Father is unjust and illegitimate, and Lucifer refuses to surrender his personal freedom to Him. As one-third of the angels join his rebellion, Lucifer criticizes the loyal angels: “I see that most through sloth had rather serve” (V.166). Lucifer believes that the loyalist angels suffer from a self-imposed nonage, not thinking for themselves but rather submitting...

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