Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Real Enlightenment Underground

(Neda, Iranian student, killed in Tehran street, Iran, June 20, 2009)

But should not a society of clergymen, for example an ecclesiastical synod or a venerable presbytery (as the Dutch call it), be entitled to commit itself by oath to a certain unalterable set of doctrines, in order to secure for all time a constant guardianship over each of its members, and through them over the people ?

I reply that this is quite impossible.

A contract of this kind,concluded with a view to preventing all further enlightenment of mankind for ever, is absolutely null and void, even if it is ratified by the supreme power, by Imperial Diets and the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot enter into an alliance on oath to put the next age in a position where it would be impossible for it to extend and correct its knowledge, particularly on such important matters, or to make any progress whatsoever in enlightenment.

This would be a crime against human nature, whose original destiny lies precisely in such progress.

Later generations are thus perfectly entitled to dismiss these
agreements as unauthorized and criminal. 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. This might well be possible for a specified short period as a means of introducing a certain order, pending, as it were, a better solution. This would also mean that each citizen, particularly the clergyman, would be given a free hand as a scholar to comment publicly, i.e. in his writings, on the inadequacies of current institutions.

Meanwhile, the newly established order would continue to exist, until public insight into the nature of such matters had progressed and proved itself to the point where, by general consent (if not unanimously), a proposal could be submitted to the crown. This would seek to protect the congregations who had, for instance, agreed to alter their religious establishment in accordance with their own notions of what higher insight is, but it would not try to obstruct those who wanted to let things remain as before.

But it is absolutely impermissible to agree, even for a single lifetime, to a permanent religious constitution which no-one might publicly question. For this would virtually nullify a phase in man's upward progress, thus making it fruitless and even detrimental to subsequent generations. A man may for his own person, and even then only for a limited period, postpone enlightening himself in matters he ought to know about.

But to renounce such enlightenment completely, whether for his own person or even more so for later generations, means violating and trampling underfoot the sacred rights of mankind.

From: IMMANUEL KANT, An Answer to the Question: "What is Enlightenment?" Konigsberg in Prussia, 30th September, 1784.

Update 21 June 2009 11:49 am: Above post being picked up as "Quote Of The Day" - via email from me - by Andrew Sullivan's blog "The Daily Dish" at The Atlantic Magazine.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orla offers no attempt explain how the Kant applies to the current situation in Iran, most likely because Orla has no specific idea or knowledge of the actual situation in Iran.

Orla offers Kant as a propagandist and reduces Enlightenment ideals to propaganda fodder.

Unless a very detailed analysis accompanied the quote, showing how Kant's ideas were or were not being negotiated "on the ground" in Iran, the quote merely serves to promote a "clash of civilizations" spin to current events in Iran, and I don't see how that's the slightest bit helpful or illuminating.


11:21 AM  
Blogger Christoffer said...

Orla Schantz is so stupid, and tasteless, he is not able to write anything himself which is worthwhile reading. This is why he makes a citation without any context other than a distasteful image.

8:15 AM  

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