What is Enlightenment?  book cover
1st Edition

What is Enlightenment?

ISBN 9780415497817
Published April 3, 2013 by Routledge
256 Pages

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Book Description

"Have the courage to use your own understanding! - that is the motto of enlightenment." - Immanuel Kant

The Enlightenment is one of the most important and contested periods in the history of philosophy. The problems it addressed, such as the proper extent of individual freedom and the challenging of tradition, resonate as much today as when they were first debated. Of all philosophers, it is arguably Kant who took such questions most seriously, addressing them above all in his celebrated short essay, An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?

In this engaging and lucid book, Samuel Fleischacker first explains and assesses Kant’s philosophy of Enlightenment. He then considers critics of Kant’s views - from Burke and Hegel to Horkheimer and Adorno - and figures he regards as having extended Kant’s notion of enlightenment, such as Feuerbach, Marx, Habermas, Foucault, and Rawls.

Throughout, he demonstrates how Kant holds two distinct theories of enlightenment. On the one hand, Kant proposes a ‘minimal’ view, where to be enlightened is simply to engage in critical public discussion, allowing diversity of opinion to flourish. On the other, he argues that Kant elsewhere calls for a ‘maximal’ view of enlightenment, where, for example, an enlightened person cannot believe in a traditional religion. With great skill Fleischacker shows how these two views are taken in a multitude of directions by both critics and advocates of Kant’s philosophy.

Arguing that Kant’s minimal enlightenment is a precondition for a healthy proliferation of cultures, religious faiths and political movements, What is Enlightenment? is a fascinating introduction to a key aspect of Kant’s thought and a compelling analysis of philosophical thinking about the Enlightenment. Including helpful chapter summaries and guides to further reading, it is ideal for anyone studying Kant or the philosophy of the Enlightenment, as well as those in related disciplines such as politics, history and religious studies.

Table of Contents

Introduction  Part 1: Kant’s Enlightenment  1. The Official Story  2. A Different Side of Kant  Part 2: Kant’s Critics  3. From Hamann to Burke  4. Hegel  Part 3: Maximalist theories of Enlightenment  5. From Strauss to Marx  Part 4: Twentieth century critics of Enlightenment  6. Forerunners  7. Horkheimer/Adorno; Foucault  8. Difference Critics  Part 5: Minimalist theories of Enlightenment  9. Foucault, Habermas, Rawls  Part 6: Kantian Enlightenment Today  10. Assessing Foucault, Habermas, and Rawls  11. In Defense of Kantian Enlightenment.  Index

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Samuel Fleischacker is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois-Chicago, USA.


‘The book has much to recommend it. It ranges widely and discusses a variety of thinkers, both familiar and somewhat less familiar. It is attentive to discussions of the concept of enlightenment that Kant provided in texts other than the now-familiar essay from 1784 (e.g., his 1786 contribution to the Pantheism Dispute "What is Orientation in Thinking?") and examines the implications of Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.’ - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"First-rate scholarship and fascinating reading. Fleischacker’s account of both Kant’s conception of enlightenment and its complex and variegated legacy should be mandatory reading for philosophers and historians interested in enlightenment ideals or their critique." - Marcia Baron, Indiana University, USA, and University of St. Andrews, UK

"There is no shortage of critics for whom the Enlightenment condemns itself by its hubris, its cultural arrogance, and its imperialist tendencies. But does the appeal to the ideal of becoming enlightened involve dictating what will be believed by those who achieve this ideal? Or is it merely a matter of how those who are enlightened hold the beliefs they do (thereby preserving humility and securing greater allowance for pluralism)? Samuel Fleischacker, in an argument that distinguishes itself in equal measure by its learning and its lucidity, shows that Kant was torn between these two conceptions, and so were his philosophical successors. What results is a terrifically enhanced appreciation of the complexity and richness of the Kantian legacy." - Ronald Beiner, University of Toronto, Canada

"A rich introduction to post-Kantian philosophy. It would be an excellent selection for courses in the history of ideas, as well as for courses specifically focused on Kant and his critics." - Lara Denis, Agnes Scott College, USA

"Fleischacker brings out not only the contemporary value of Kant's work but also some of its limits and ambiguities, especially with respect to a distinction between "minimal" and "maximal" conceptions of Enlightenment, political liberalism, and freedom of expression. This is a volume that should be of interest to a very wide range of scholars, and of use to readers at all levels." - Karl Ameriks, University of Notre Dame, USA

"Crystal-clear yet cutting-edge, this new analysis is particularly strong on the subtleties of Kant's concept of Enlightenment, proceeding to shed fresh light on Foucault, Habermas and Rawls. This book accomplishes a double feat: helping students to orient their reading of Kant, while challenging teachers and scholars to reorient theirs." - Fania Oz-Salzberger, University of Haifa, Israel

'... a considered and timely discussion of matters of current interest that addresses not just students of political and social philosophy, but a broad audience, which it fully deserves to reach.' - Katerina Deligiorgi, History of Political Thought