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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rousseau on Inequalities in Society: An Instance of Kantian Enlightenment?

Kant defines enlightenment as “man's emergence from his inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another.”[1] By making public use, Kant means “that use which anyone may make of it as a man of learning addressing the entire reading public."[2] By sufficient freedom, Kant has in mind that the ideas that threaten the power of the guardians or institutional/societal rules are not barred.  

For example, an enlightened Roman Catholic priest would publish ideas questioning and even criticizing Church dogma when he is acting as a scholar, even though he would fulfill his duty in his conduct as a priest by defending those very teachings. A priest could thus go public as a heretic as long as he does so on his own time as a scholar and member of society, and an enlightened bishop would tolerate the scholar’s freedom to think and publish outside the box.
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Rousseau would object to Kant’s prescription for how to become enlightened and Kant would object in turn to Rousseau's preference for the state of nature over society and the associated expansion of reasoning. Does Rousseau fit Kant's concept of enlightenment even though Kant would object to some of Rousseau's ideas? 

To read the entire essay, including whether Kant would have to admit that his notion of enlightenment applies to Rousseau, please click on "Rousseau as Enlightened?"


1. Immanuel Kant, AnAnswer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (World ebook Library).
2. Ibid.