There Are Two Ways To Live — One Is Meaningless

Immanuel Kant, Enlightenment and what makes life worth living

Maarten van Doorn
8 min readJul 1, 2018


The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) is one of the most important philosophers in the history of mankind.

Apart from the intrinsic and extrinsic value of being a good philosopher, what makes a philosopher important?

Well, what makes any historical figure ‘important’?

Arguably, someone has been weighty when he or she had a significant influence.

Hence, when a philosopher wrote texts of which we now say that they shaped his or her era, we might say that he mattered much.

Kant, for instance, lived in the historical period that we refer to as the “Age of Enlightenment”.

And, as it happens, his essay An Answer To The Question: What is Enlightenment (1784) is one of the foundational texts of this crucial period in Western history.

In it, Kant — normally known for cold, rational argumentation — surprises his readers with a heartfelt account of what he feels makes life worth living.

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

Enlightenment as historical period

To understand Kant’s passionate plea, we need to understand its context.

What, again, was the Enlightenment?

The Age of Enlightenment comes after the Scientific Revolution that starts with the Copernican Revolution (1543) and ends with the Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), giving rise to ‘modern science’.

Building on this, the Enlightenment, as an historical period, induced a very noteworthy change in ideas of what matters:

“In the Enlightenment, freedom, democracy and reason became the primary values of society. It started from the standpoint that [people’s] minds should be freed from ignorance, from superstition and from the arbitrary powers of the State, to allow mankind to achieve progress and perfection. The period was marked by a further decline in the influence of the…



Maarten van Doorn

PhD philosophy. Essays about why we believe what we do, how societies come to a public understanding about truth, and how we might do better (crazy times)