Enlightenment? (I. Immanuel Kant)


This is the first of many posts I will write-up throughout this year as I study to achieve a BA degree in Philosophy at KU Leuven’s Institute, In Belgium… This course is taught by a gifted teacher Stephen Howard a member of the intellectual community at CREMP ( Centre for Research in Continental Philosophy) in the UK.

{Below are my answers to the reading questions from the first week… I will type them up as a way of reviewing, both the seminar and the lecture of this great course}

001/ Why is it easier for an entire public to enlighten itself than an individual to do so? By what process can a public enlighten itself?

Immanuel Kant starts this text by suggesting that a large portion of men are even after reaching maturity quick to succumb to bad habits (such as laziness and cowardice), and rather than using his own understanding seeks guidance, or dependence from others. In paragraph two Kant gives one of these men a voice which resonates today, “I need not think so as long as, I can pay?”This quote shows Kant portraying man as a “docile creature” […] which one observes as being a precursor to what Michel Foucault, 186 years later described as “docile bodies” in Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of The Prison (1975) this may be a departure from the question, yet because capital is both a kind of prison, and punishment it has an obvious relation to the concept of freedom, or lack of? Which is a question on Kant’s text, that allows me to answer the first question more directly: It is easier for an entire public to enlighten itself because as Kant saw clearly it is an inevitably if the public is left in Freedom. This is most strongly expressed in section 8 of the reader; after discussing the unarguable doctrines of religious guidance/ and rules. He clearly states his distaste for the latter, and “to test whether any particular measure can be agreed upon as a law for a people, we need only ask whether a people could well impose such a law upon itself”. To answer the last part of the question what process can be used for enlightening themselves? The answer is by exercising their public use of reason.
(Kant sees the process of Enlightenment being innately slow)

002/ What does Kant mean by the “Public” and “Private” use of reason?

Kant’s distinction resides in how reason can be used he describes two types: 1) the public use of reason, and 2) the public use of reason, and 2) the private use of reason. Looking at Kant’s language he says that the public use of reason can be understood as the potential or manner for addressing as a learned man: the entire reading public. On the other hand the private use of reason is that reason which a person may make of it in a civil post … Kant one of the most important thinkers of all time describes this difference by giving examples of civil posts. This demonstrates that the private use of reason is attached to the individual’s rights in his position. For example, Kant’s examples are an officer arguing over orders from one of his superiors, or a refusing to pay their taxes. The public use of reason therefore is that reason used by a public, in public, for a public. But, one has more questions did Kant associate public reason with democracy as being somehow actuated by the French Revolutionary thought? Also, my other question I want to ask is if there are these two types of reason. Considering the Latin etymology of reason “ratio” (to measure/measurement). Does this meaning not draw us into a further questioning of what Kant means by the freedom of public? If there are two reasons does that not suggest that there is a minimum of two interpretations of freedom in Kant’s thoughts on enlightenment?

003/ What is the difference between an Enlightened age and the age of the Enlightenment?

The difference would initially reside in if the ruling powers, a governing body or the monarch of the age: either limits or enables freedom of its public. Kant himself suggests that in the 17th century they were not living in the age of the Enlightenment, but changes are happening that suggest to him that it will come soon. To stress this I would draw attention to Kant’s focusing in on religious constitution as a direct challenge to the process of man’s enlightenment. Here one wants to add historical information to distinguish the difference between being in or out of the Enlightenment. The French revolution began in 1789 more or less at the same date of kant’s text. This suggests that Kant would have been more than aware of these cultural/social/political changes conspiring in the revolution.

004/ According to Kant, What constraints should an enlightened society impose on its citizens? Should these be temporary or not?

One sees this as the most difficult question to answer substantially. However if we reference the text again we may find ways to answer. Right at the end of the text Kant writes,

“Thus once the germ on which nature has lavished most care – man’s inclination
and vocation to think freely – has developed within this hard shell, it gradually reacts
upon the mentality of the people, who thus come gradually become increasingly to act
freely. Eventually it even influences the principles of governments, which find that they
can themselves profit by treating man, who is more than a machine, in a manner
appropriate to his dignity[ Immanuel Kant,trans. H.B Nisbet, Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784), in History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy II Primary Texts, Fall 2017, Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven, (2017). pp.4]”

In this quote one from Kant, one intuitively interprets the last line as persuading those who exercise power to consider the private use of reason of the citizen, “a manner appropriate to his dignity”. However this does stop short of fully explaining the constraints the enlightened society should place on itself? In a enlightened society civil freedom is agreed and guaranteed by the state. This is obviously paradoxical too much lenience gives intellectual freedom but may lead to obstacles for concepts such as liberty, freedom, and equality. Too little gives intellectual freedom enough room to expand to its fullest extent? Early in the text Kant shows favour toward the temporary testing of new rules and legislation.

005/ What is Kant’s view of Frederick the great? What message might the text be seeking to send to Frederick?

Again, the manner in which Kant writes about the king largely remains respectful, but at the same time you can see the philosopher make direct attempts at persuading Frederick to commit to the enlightenment as a superior ideology. On page three, in paragraph nine: Kant’s words read almost as a warning. Telling the king, not to interfere in his subject’s attempts to express religious ideas. If he does so, then he becomes no more than a despot. The Latin phrase kant uses is interesting it translates as follows, “Ceaser is not above the grammarians”. Therefore, I think kant was compelling or urging Frederick the Great to exercise his own private use of reason.

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