Kantian Enlightenment

Never actually attempted Kant yet, despite lots of secondary references.

I happen to be reading “Prince of Princes – The Life of Potemkin” by Simon Sebag Montefiore. A bit of Russian history – after a little Russian literary fiction – given today’s interest in historical borders of Ukraine, Poland et al. Not to mention Austro-Hungary, Prussia and the Ottomans. Famously the Russian court of (German) Catherine the Great favoured enlightened culture of French fashion – Gallomania – over neighbouring Germanic influences, and she was particularly involved with the likes of Voltaire, D’Alembert, Diderot and Montesquieu.

The significance I hadn’t noticed was the dates. The mid-to-late 1700’s whilst the Russian court was focussed on the French philosophes, Immanuel Kant was beavering away in Konigsberg, Prussia (Kaliningrad, Russia-ish today) developing his own enlightenment in the midst of all this.

Someone posted this modern rendition of his 1784 paper:

It’s very good. Notice it’s about the process of people – individually and collectively – becoming enlightened, not “The Enlightenment” as a thing per se. This quote:

“The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among mankind; the private use of reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted, without otherwise hindering the progress of enlightenment.”

It’s about usage. Publicly you may – must – communicate thought freely, but your own actions, decisions to act on such thoughts expressed, are bound by rules of society. In fact, all the way through he majors on public order. Those maintaining order may be criticised and questioned, but their current authority needs to be “obeyed”. Of course he’s talking in a time when rules are set by priests and princes (and empresses), but nevertheless:

“Argue as much as you want and about what you want, but obey!” Here as elsewhere, when things are considered in broad perspective, a strange, unexpected pattern in human affairs reveals itself, one in which almost everything is paradoxical. A greater degree of civil freedom seems advantageous to a people’s spiritual freedom; yet the former established impassable boundaries for the latter; conversely, a lesser degree of civil freedom provides enough room for all fully to expand their abilities.

Thus, once nature has removed the hard shell from this kernel for which she has most fondly cared, namely, the inclination to and vocation for free thinking, the kernel gradually reacts on a people’s mentality (whereby they become increasingly able to act freely), and it finally even influences the principles of government, which finds that it can profit by treating men, who are now more than machines, in accord with their dignity.

The principles of governance – of individuals within collective systems  – aka Cybernetics.

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