Thursday, April 12, 2007

Defending Kant - Against DeKantstruction

As a response to the stimulating post Idealism-Repression: Desire Idealism? it might be helpful to construct rather than deKantstruct “An Answer to the Question: “What Is Enlightenment?”.

Kant is clearly advancing a political agenda, formulating a manifesto, almost in the shape of a speech-act, to actually WILL the spread of freedom into existence. He is addressing the State, the monarch, the power apparatus while simultaneously hedging his bets as a crown-appointed professor.

He is accusing the guardians, meaning the representatives of power, the priests, the administrators, the scholars, the officers for their lack of courage, rather than the masses, the peasants, the common man. The ruling class are the cowards, “the few” rather than “the many”. In other words, those who could “use their own understanding” don’t, and those who cannot naturally don’t.

It is difficult for each separate individual to work his way out of the immaturity which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown fond of it and is really incapable for the time being of using his own understanding, because he was never allowed to make the attempt.

Pedantic footnote: NB: “incapable” rather than “unable”. And “for the time being”.

An absolute monarchy as in Kant’s Prussia with a probable 95% illiteracy rate gave only the very few any “Enlightenment” prospects, as Kant knew, Thus a public can only achieve enlightenment slowly.

Only freedom (of expression – and education) will promote change. Here Kant, the political activist, speaks truth to power,

For enlightenment of this kind, all that is needed is freedom. And the freedom in question is the most innocuous form of all: The freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters. But I hear on all sides the cry: Don't argue!

If we are equating “self-incurred tutelage” with “desiring one’s own repression” we are not doing justice to Kant’s essay, but rather blurring and confusing the lines between two domains: the political and the psychological.

When Kant writes, Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. the original German word for “inability” is “Unvermögen” which translates more precisely into “powerlessness”.

“Desiring one’s own repression” presupposes autonomy and agency. And the masses had neither. Kant understood that.

If it is now asked whether we at present live in an enlightened age, the answer is: No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment. As things are at present, we still have a long way to go before men as a whole can be in a position (or can ever be put into a position) of using their own understanding confidently and well in religious matters, without outside guidance. But we do have distinct indications that the way is now being cleared for them to work freely in this direction, and that the obstacles to universal enlightenment, to man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity, are gradually becoming fewer. In this respect our age is the age of enlightenment, the century of Frederick.

More to come.


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