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Lecture Notes - What is Enlightenment?

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Political Science
POLS 3040
Michelle Mawhinney

Immanuel Kant's "What Is Enlightenment?"  "Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity." page 41, paragraph 35  "Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another." page 41  "This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another." - page 41  The motto of enlightenment: "Have courage to use your own understanding!" - page 41  Laziness and cowardice are why so many people fail to reach maturity, gladly living out their lives as immature - page 41 o Furthermore, it is why it is easy for others to become "guardians" of these other lazy people - page 41 o "If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all." - page 41  Kant asserts that men become dependent on these guardians and it appears that the guardians prefer it as such (page 41) o The guardians warn their dependents of the dangers of life without them, thus, elevating the very positions of the guardians as necessary o This fear makes it "difficult for any individual man to work himself out of the immaturity that has all but become his nature." - page 41  If we have freedom, "enlightenment is almost inevitable", it is all that is necessary for enlightenment- page 42  Every so often, an odd ball will think for themselves  "a public can only attain enlightenment slowly"  "a revolution can overthrow autocratic despotism and profiteering or power-grabbing oppression, but it can never truly reform a manner of thinking…" - page 42  "The public use of one's reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among mankind" - page 42  Main point: "man's emergence from self-imposed immaturity, first because our rulers have no interest in assuming the role of their subjects' guardians with respect to the arts and sciences, and secondly because that form of immaturity is both the most pernicious and disgraceful of all."  The act of enlightenment, therefore, was the act of rejecting this easy form of life and asserting the primacy of your individual reason to reject the conventions of the social guardians who Kant asserted herded society like docile, dumb livestock  Kant argued that obstacles to individual enlightenment went beyond self-imposed obstacles. o Freedom was the essential ingredient for enlightenment. o Society, however, imposed restrictions on freedom through laws and religion that constrained free thought through law, convention or threat. o Knowledge was also a requirement but access to it was often very restricted and guarded in late eighteenth century Europe but attempts were being made to bring knowledge to the masses. o An age of enlightenment was a time when obstacles to enlightenment were being removed or eroded, Kant believed that late eighteenth century Europe was in such an age. o As a society allowed more freedom, it became more enlightened. o An enlightened age, therefore, was an age when obstacles had been removed and individuals and society were enlightened and free to pursue self-determination and self-rationalization Foucault: "What Is Enlightenment?"  "Enlightenment is thus not merely the process by which individuals would see their own personal freedom of thought guaranteed." -page 37  As with any course in political theory, the texts tell you about the period in history - cultural, political context, and philosophical debates that were happening at the time o Problems they try to solve, i.e. why do certain dilemmas arise as a problem? o Kant is dealing with what it is to be a human being, what provides us with our meaning - would have been nonsensical questions in the pre-modern period o These questions have a historical context, not random  Immanuel Kant asks: how do we determine the truth, the surety of human morals, what's the basis of right moral action? - wouldn't have made sense in pre-modern period o Kant is responding to what he saw as a threat, a crisis at the time - threat of skepticism in theories of knowledge o There were theories floating around at this time that brought into question the very possibility of knowledge o There were also challenges to traditional justifications for moral action, religious belief, etc. o These challenges begin to emerge in the centuries prior to Kant, by the time he's writing they got the upper hand o It was also historical conditions, seeing to call into question all kinds of certainties o More specifically, Kant is engaging with two competing, warring, philosophical approaches or schools that had actually formed into identifiable schools by the 17th century o The first side or approach was what came to be known as the modern rationalist approach  Rationalist approach of morality, knowledge, etc. : innate (Plato - cosmos rational order, objective truths, values themselves have an objective existence, because this universe is rational, human reason at least theoretically can access it) o In 17th century modern rationalists based the certainty of these universals not so much on our cognition per se, but on sciences techniques such as mathematics  Mathematics in particular seen as model for accessing truth o Rationalists presuppose rational, logical order to the universe, possibility that we can have certainty in knowledge o Other approach or school came a bit later, responded to rationalists: empiricism (Locke, Hume) o Contrary to what rationalists believe, knowledge not based on innate principals, can't use mathematical models, instead all knowledge is based in experience o Anything we know o This is its more extreme forms at least among those empiricists, this casted doubt on the certainty of knowledge itself in any field of inquiry o These schools are an outcome of these broader developments that created the need or possibility for the first time of asking these kinds of questions: is there an objective basis for moral action? What is this objective basis?  Wouldn’t' have been a question before, had theories of moral law, social hierarchy in place providing this certainty o Questions could be asked about whether knowledge was possible, was opened up by broader cultural trends, movements, developments o Most importantly, for the first time we have doubt being cast, questions being asked about what the purpose of human existence is, why are we important? o Related to this, why am I important? What's my significance as a person? How do I fit into the order of things?  Distinctly modern questions  Questions wouldn't have arisen, if they did, no threat, existential dilemma, angst or worry about how you fit into things and what the meaning of your life was  Prior to modern period, Europe medieval period, authoritarian organic society, your place was determined by your place in the whole - place within the hierarchy  Even the lowest servant in this system had his or her place - had some kind of value even if it wasn't the nicest, it had a meaning within the greater whole  Human beings in general derive their meaning and their significant in the greater order of things  Greater order of things for christen Europe (medieval Europe) was god's creation  Moral truths were also part of this greater order, were seen as part of larger, objectively existing reality, again created and determined by god  All aspects therefore of human existence and human society were explained and justified by this greater order  Political authority part of this overall plan  Authority of church central to plan  Meaning and value in whole of creation, everything in creation has its purpose and its reality, everything being determined by god  Image adopted goes back to ancient times, took on Christian interpretation, metaphor, great chain of being: hierarchy of all of god's creations, how's it differ from platonic hierarchy (good on top), Aristotelian hierarchy is everything has its goal or purpose, interlocking great chain of being each section of chain has meaning, significance  Great chain of being also used metaphorically, always analogies being drawn between one link or section and another link or section  Divine right of kinds did this, king is like father, fathers have authority over their wives or children, kind has authority  You don't question reality  Reason is not sufficient to know the whole of reality  But we can know that it's there, how? This is where religious faith comes in  Hence the necessity of the church  Hierarchical organization based on principals of authority, deference, interconnection, a great deal of certainty about how the order of things are supposed to sit together  These ideas were contested  For various reasons this whole system is questioned morally, philosophically, in terms of religion, and practical realities  Shift away from medieval period to modern period  This breakdown occurs to the point where the very grounding for the things that make us human  What makes humans human in this great chain of being? Humans have reason, we have moral choice, we have religious faith  The grounding for these beliefs is called into question  Related to this, the basis for human societies themselves: why should people live in communities together?  Hobbes and Locke - for the first time, society has to be explained, political obligation has to be explained on new grounds, what would have been previously taken for granted as the political basis  Significance of what Kant is doing is understand when we understand this larger context  When we read Kant, there are clues as to what was actually happening, what phenomena most important and why?  He's telling us something about this context in terms of the questions with which he was concerned  Solutions he posed were made possible by the context he was writing in  They weren't solutions he would have just came up
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