ENG 272 Discussion Questions
Directions: Choose one (1) prompt from each of the four (4) sections below and write a 175-350 word (1/2 page to 1 page) response. All responses should be typed, double-spaced. Please use this document to record your responses.
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1. What is enlightenment? Offer your own definition. Reference at least two other enlightenment thinkers in your response. Feel free to agree or disagree with them.
2. “Critical thinking is a legacy of The Enlightenment.” What is critical thinking? How does enlightenment thinking promote critical thought? Reference at least two enlightenment thinkers in your response.
3. “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” What does Kant mean by this? What is tutelage? According to Kant, why do men allow it? How do enlightenment ideas release man from it?
4. Diderot asserts that “an enlightened father, and a master who has discernment and experience, must observe their student; . . . they must disentangle his penchants, his inclinations, his taste, his character, and know what he is good for, and what role, so to speak, he must play in the concert of society.” What is Diderot saying about an enlightened education? Do you agree? Why or why not?
Section 2: Kant and Descartes
1. According to Kant, why is it important that “The public use of one’s reason must always be free”?
2. According to Kant, what are the main differences between the priest and the scholar?
3. What is Kant’s belief toward freedom of religion? Is it important that traditional teachings be subject to critical thought?
4. For Kant, true freedom means having freedom of thought. Explain what you think Kant means by this.
5. Descartes suggests that enlightenment thinking begins by ”entirely rejecting” any of the opinions you hold which may have slipped into your beliefs “without being introduced there by reason.” Is reason the surest means to objective truth? Is there such a thing as objective truth?
Section 3: Wollstonecraft and Paine
1. In “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” Mary Wollstonecraft writes that men “do to-day, what they did yesterday merely because they did it yesterday.” In other words, we follow custom and tradition simply because it is custom and tradition. Wollstonecraft was referring the archaic view these men had of women—that they should be second-class citizens because it had always been that way. Do we tend to cling to custom and tradition simply because it is custom and tradition? Are old ways the best ways? Consider how the enlightenment thinkers might respond to these questions.
2. Wollstonecraft, in referencing why men still hold outdated views toward women, writes “that they both acquire manners before morals, and a knowledge of life before they have, from reflection, any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature. The consequence is natural . . . they become prey to prejudices, and . . . they blindly submit to authority.” This statement applies not only to attitudes toward women, but attitudes toward authority, the workings of nature, morality, and others. Speak to this. Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
3. Separation of church and state is a main theme in Paine’s Age of Reason. Discuss Paine’s reasoning, especially as it pertains to the authority (or claimed) authority of the church.
4. Create your own prompt regarding either Wollstonecraft or Paine and address it. If you choose this option, you will be assessed on the quality of your prompt as well as the thoroughness of the response.
Section 4: Your choice, your voice
1. Select a teaching from any work in this unit and argue against it. Direct your criticism at one (1) specific passage from one (1) text. Summarize and explain the teaching as you understand it, and then critique the logic, style, and/or substance of the teaching and offer a counter-point. Demonstrate to your reader why your position is better than the text’s. Be sure to quote directly from the work you are addressing.
Respond to one of the above prompts that you have not previously addressed. Copy and paste the prompt before your response. (If you have time, this would be a good idea).