The question is what is enlightenment? Asked during the “age of enlightenment” in Europe – and what we read is an attempted answer

The question is what is enlightenment? Asked during the “age of enlightenment” in Europe – and what we read is an attempted answer. Do consider we are not given a single answer/or it has many parts (individual, civil, historical, progressive views). We consider this text for various reasons: 1) historically we are viewing the 18th century and considering an early, liberal statement of critical agency by a leading philosopher of the time period; 2) this work also offers some social/political theory to give a little bit of framework of government/citizen relations; 3) Kant, the writer, reminds us of the challenges ahead in this course – he theorized/speculated (in other works) “anthropologically” about the capability differences (in regard to “reason”) between “races” (“white, black, asian, redskin”), as well as speculated about the ability/agency of women – he is a part of a colonial Europe after all. This echoes his warning that the process of enlightenment (thinking/debating) is not the same as being enlightened (as if a finished, competed knowledge/insight is reached).

Kant’s work will also be used to help introduce the notion of critical thinking (thinking for self -Socrates’s theme) vs. mere knowledge or facts or even expertise (and also remind us that we, thinkers, establish, reinforce, or uphold knowledge and facts anyway). Also, sets up the framework of “civil society” or “the public” (often viewed as the public space, or social space, where we construe our free place for individuality, decision, and choice) in relation to state authority and social coordination (which is concerned with enforcement of law, organizing communities and their relations, and efficiency concerns). A major “liberal” theme is found here in figuring the ” proper balance” between individual rights (protected space/s) and political concerns (rightful interference/directing), and consented law and government, as well as raising the prospect that all of this is open to (public) debate and (“progressive”) re-balancing.

Watch in the reading the key “public/private” freedom distinction – it needs to be clearly worked out to indicate how it would be framed in our current language/debates – with the challenge being that gov enforcement/restriction on civil freedoms is seen as justified when the safety and good of the community is threatened (note current corona virus crisis, and the increased enforcement/restrictions and thus, too, decreased individual freedom). So, we can also ask, can restrictions be placed on the practice or use of rights (including use of free speech), if that practice threatens the rights, even lives, of others?

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