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What Is Enlightenment?: Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions

EDITED BY James Schmidt
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: 1
Pages: 500
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  • Book Info
    What Is Enlightenment?
    Book Description:

    This collection contains the first English translations of a group of important eighteenth-century German essays that address the question, "What is Enlightenment?" The book also includes newly translated and newly written interpretive essays by leading historians and philosophers, which examine the origins of eighteenth-century debate on Enlightenment and explore its significance for the present. In recent years, critics from across the political and philosophical spectrum have condemned the Enlightenment for its complicity with any number of present-day social and cultural maladies. It has rarely been noticed, however, that at the end of the Enlightenment, German thinkers had already begun a scrutiny of their age so wide-ranging that there are few subsequent criticisms that had not been considered by the close of the eighteenth century. Among the concerns these essays address are the importance of freedom of expression, the relationship between faith and reason, and the responsibility of the Enlightenment for revolutions. Included are translations of works by such well-known figures as Immanuel Kant, Moses Mendelssohn, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Johann Georg Hamann, as well as essays by thinkers whose work is virtually unknown to American readers. These eighteenth-century texts are set against interpretive essays by such major twentieth-century figures as Max Horkheimer, Jürgen Habermas, and Michel Foucault.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91689-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: What Is Enlightenment? A Question, Its Context, and Some Consequences
    (pp. 1-44)
    James Schmidt

    The Enlightenment has been blamed for many things. It has been held responsible for the French Revolution, for totalitarianism, and for the view that nature is simply an object to be dominated, manipulated, and exploited. It has also been implicated in one way or another in European imperialism and the most aggressive aspects of capitalism. While some have insisted that its skepticism about “absolute values” infects our culture with a “nihilistic sluggishness,” others have suggested that liberal societies should divest themselves of the Enlightenment’s obsession with “philosophical foundations.”¹ It is said that its passion for rights and liberties unleashed a...


    • 1. The Question and Some Answers

      • What Is to Be Done Toward the Enlightenment of the Citizenry? (1783)
        (pp. 49-52)
        J. K. W. Möhsen

        Our intent is to enlighten ourselves and our fellow citizens. The enlightenment of as great a city as Berlin has it difficulties, but once they have been overcome, light will spread not only into the provinces, but throughout the entire land, and how fortunate would we not be if only a few sparks, fanned here, came in time to spread a light over all of Germany, our common fatherland.

        In order to achieve our goal, let it be proposed

        1. that it be determined precisely: What is enlightenment?

        2. that we determine the deficiencies and infirmities in the direction of...

      • On the Question: What Is Enlightenment? (1784)
        (pp. 53-57)
        Moses Mendelssohn

        The wordsenlightenment, culture,andeducationare newcomers to our language.¹ They currently belong only to literary discourse. The masses scarcely understand them. Does this prove that these things are also new to us? I believe not. One says of a certain people that they have no specific word for “virtue,” or none for “superstition,” and yet one may justly attribute a not insignificant measure of both to them.

        Linguistic usage, which seems to want to create a distinction between these synonymous words, still has not had the time to establish their boundaries. Education, culture, and enlightenment are modifications of...

      • An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment? (1784)
        (pp. 58-64)
        Immanuel Kant

        Enlightenment is mankind’s exit from its self-incurred Immaturity.¹ Immaturity is the inability to make use of one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.Self-incurredis this inability if its cause lies not in the lack of understanding but rather in the lack of the resolution and the courage to use it without the guidance of another.Sapere aude!Have the courage to use yourownunderstanding! is thus the motto of enlightenment.²

        Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a great part of mankind, long after nature has set them free from the guidance of others(naturaliter majorennes),...

      • Thoughts on Enlightenment (1784)
        (pp. 65-77)
        Karl Leonhard Reinhold

        I think that enlightenment means, in general, the making of rational men out of men who are capable of rationality. The sum total of all the institutions [Anstalten] and means that lead to this great end gives the wordenlightenmentits broadest sphere of meaning.

        Man brings with himself into the world the possibility, grounded in his physical disposition, of becoming rational. This is his capacity for reason in the broadest sense. Every sense impression, every pleasant and painful sensation, and, in general, everything that brings forth an idea in the soul, furnishing it with the material of reason and...

      • A Couple of Gold Nuggets, from the ... Wastepaper, or Six Answers to Six Questions (1789)
        (pp. 78-84)
        Christoph Martin Wieland

        It is known all too well that even good books sometimes become maculature.¹ A chance sheet of maculature, from a book unknown to me, has occasioned this essay, and thus in calling it “maculature” I do not want to demean the honor and worth of the book or its author. The book may be an entirely good, or at least a well-meaning, book. I cannot judge it, since I have read nothing of it except a single sheet of maculature, which served as the wrapper for a small brochure sent to me from Leipzig several days ago. In the current,...

    • 2. The Public Use of Reason

      • On Freedom of Thought and of the Press: For Princes, Ministers, and Writers (1784)
        (pp. 87-96)
        Ernst Ferdinand Klein

        Complaints about the misuse of freedom of the press, on the one hand, and about its restriction, on the other, have been increasing for some time, so that observations about this matter probably could not come at a better time than now. One would have to reach back rather far if one wanted to derive what must be said about this from its first principles. A writer who undertook this might win the admiration of many readers for his acuteness, but they could still find ways in which each could save his own particular opinions. As far as I am...

      • On Freedom of the Press and Its Limits: For Consideration by Rulers, Censors, and Writers (1787)
        (pp. 97-113)
        Carl Friedrich Bahrdt

        What is enlightenment? An enlightened man? Enlightened times?

        Enlightenment can be found as little in the greatness of the powers of understanding as in the amount of knowledge accumulated. For I have seen geniuses, theologians, lawyers, scientists, and historians with enormous masses of knowledge—right among the fools and fanatics [Schwärmern]. And if it is the foundation of happiness, enlightenment must be the goal of all men, as indeed the Founder of Christianity considered it.

        If a man had learned a system of knowledge by heart (e.g., law) would he then be called an enlightened jurist? And why not? Whoever...

      • Publicity (1792)
        (pp. 114-118)
        Friedrich Karl von Moser

        The torrent of publicity, in the good and bad senses, can no longer be stopped. It has been allowed to go too far. It should have been dammed up long ago and diverted onto another course. No one took the embers seriously because they were covered with ashes. The inner fire was disregarded because no one saw flames, or everyone thought they could be extinguished easily. All the lamentations, all the settlements of terms¹ and committee resolutions with their demands, promises, and threats, come much, much too late. Given the entire constitution of the disharmonious system of the empire, given...

      • Reclamation of the Freedom of Thought from the Princes of Europe, Who Have Oppressed It Until Now (1793)
        (pp. 119-142)
        Johann Gottlieb Fichte

        There are learned gentlemen who suppose they can convince us not to have a low opinion of their own profundity when they dismiss as a “declamation” everything written with a certain amount of liveliness.² Should the present pages accidentally come into the hands of one of these profound gentlemen, I admit in advance that they were not intended to exhaust such a rich subject. They were only intended to place, with some fervor, a few of the relevant ideas before the uninformed public, which has at least some influence on public opinion through its critical position and its strong voice....

    • 3. Faith and Enlightenment

      • Letter to Christian Jacob Kraus (18 December 1784)
        (pp. 145-153)
        Johann Georg Hamann

        Because my stiff old bones are hardly capable any longer of peripatetic philosophy, and my moments for labyrinthine strolls do not always occurbeforemeals but also occasionally between coursesab ovis ad poma,² I must now take refuge in a macaronic quill,³ in order to convey my thanks to you for the enclosedBerlinsche Christmonath⁴ in the cant style, which the comic historian of comic literature⁵ has rendered as “Kantian style”per e,⁶ like anasmus cum puncto.

        To the “Sapere aude!” there belongs also from the very same source the “Noli admirari!”⁸Clarissime Domine Politice!You know how...

      • Metacritique on the Purism of Reason (1784)
        (pp. 154-167)
        Johann Georg Hamann

        A great philosopher has asserted that “all general ideas are nothing but particular ones, annexed to a certain term, which gives them a more extensive signification, and makes them recall upon occasion other individuals, which are similar to them.”² Hume³ declares this assertion of the Eleatic, mystic, and enthusiast Bishop of Cloyne to be one of thegreatestandmost valuable discoveriesthat has been made of late years in the republic of letters.

        It seems to me first that the new skepticism owes infinitely more to the old idealism than this chance, fleeting, and particular occasion would give us...

      • On Enlightenment: Is It and Could It Be Dangerous to the State, to Religion, or Dangerous in General? A Word to Be Heeded by Princes, Statesmen, and Clergy (1788)
        (pp. 168-188)
        Andreas Riem

        I have read so much about this important issue and have heard even more; but I freely confess that I do not completely approve of either the writings or the arguments. Let critics and the public judge to what extent my own deserve approval.

        Most of those who wrote about enlightenment have not determined, or have incorrectly determined, the concepts this word comprises. What conclusions were to be expected, given that these concepts were not established? And how manifold and various must be the resulting judgments when everyone could substitute his own concepts.

        And still nothing is so clear and...

    • 4. The Politics of Enlightenment

      • Something Lessing Said: A Commentary on Journeys of the Popes (1782)
        (pp. 191-211)
        Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi

        This I heard Lessing say: the statements of Febronius and his followers were a shameless flattery of the princes; for all their arguments against the privileges of the pope were either groundless or applied with double and triple force to the princes themselves.² Everyone was capable of grasping this; and the fact that no one among the many whose urgent business it would be to point this out has yet said so publicly, with all the incisiveness and precision such a subject permitted and deserved, was odd enough and an extremely bad sign.

        Someone finally said it, and loudly enough...

      • True and False Political Enlightenment (1792)
        (pp. 212-216)
        Friedrich Karl von Moser

        Written by the emperor of Japan to theWandsbeker Bothm;Asmus, fifth part, p.95:

        I would like to have an enlightenment, through which father and son, man and wife, lord and servant, etc., would become truer and more honest in themselves and for each other, and all my subjects would become better subjects and I would become a better ruler. And I am very curious to find out how far the European enlighteners have succeeded in these matters, and how they set about it.¹

        There is anintellectual[geistische] power that progresses in equal proportion to the oppression of a...

      • On the Influence of Enlightenment on Revolutions (1794)
        (pp. 217-224)
        Johann Heinrich Tieftrunk

        We now live in a century of enlightenment. Should this be said to be an honor or a disgrace for our century? We also live in a century of revolutions. Is it enlightenment which currently undermines the peace of states? Men from all social ranks stand opposed to scholars [Gelehrten]. It is said that through enlightenment they have misled the sentiments of the people into discontent. They have spread principles among them which are dangerous for the peace of states. They have disparaged the religion of the people, and in this way have caused anarchy and a general corruption of...

      • Does Enlightenment Cause Revolutions? (1795)
        (pp. 225-232)
        Johann Adam Bergk

        Complaints that enlightenment brings about revolutions are so vehement and so common that it does not seem useless to undertake an investigation of their truth and legitimacy. Some writers absolve the enlightenment of these accusations and believe that they must defend its innocence. Others, on the contrary, attack it more and more angrily, and scream and rage against every use of reason which is characterized by autonomy and independence in knowledge, belief, and opinion. One will see from the outcome which of the two parties is right or if both are wrong in their assertions.

        The first thing we must...


    • The Berlin Wednesday Society
      (pp. 235-252)
      Günter Birtsch

      The Society of Friends of Enlightenment, which existed in Berlin between 1783 and 1798 and was commonly known by the name “Wednesday Society,”¹ was founded at the high point of the “society movement” of the Enlightenment.² Organized as a circle of friends, it belonged to a common type of enlightened learned societies and had a special significance because of the official status and intellectual influence of the majority of its members. In his autobiography, the important Prussian jurist Ernst Ferdinand Klein characterized not the Royal Academy of Sciences (of which he was also a member) but rather the Wednesday Society...

    • The Subversive Kant: The Vocabulary of “Public” and “Publicity”
      (pp. 253-269)
      John Christian Laursen

      Immanuel Kant is often thought of as a timid philosopher who never dared to defy the political authorities. It is a fact of his career that he apparently meekly submitted to a rebuke from the civil authorities in 1793 and promised never to write on religious matters again. Most of his political works were written in the form of light occasional pieces; none was written as a revolutionary manifesto.

      This essay argues, however, that Kant’s writings on politics were indeed subversive. There was a thread of common vocabulary that tied many of them together. That vocabulary, in Kant’s day, was...

    • On Enlightenment for the Common Man
      (pp. 270-290)
      Jonathan B. Knudsen

      In early 1789, months before the meeting of the Estates General in Paris, Christian Daniel Erhard launched a new journal,Amalthea,with a lengthy polemic on the state of enlightenment.¹ His use of the term “enlightenment” was not uncommon: enlightenment, he wrote, concerns the abolition of prevailing prejudices and errors among individuals and entire peoples.² Erhard’s article acquired a certain originality, however, when he differentiated between “true” and “false” and “unlimited” and “limited” enlightenment, in order to examine why enlightenment “collides with the self-interest, craving for power, and arrogance of certain classes.”³ He concluded that these defects were to be...

    • Modern Culture Comes of Age: Hamann versus Kant on the Root Metaphor of Enlightenment
      (pp. 291-305)
      Garrett Green

      When Immanuel Kant announced his famous definition of enlightenment in 1784, he enshrined a metaphor that had long been a favorite self-definition of European modernity and was destined—in large part as a result of Kant’s essay—to become the quasi-official criterion of what it means to be modern. Kant definesAufklärung,as virtually every textbook tells us, as “man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity” and goes on to explain immaturity as “the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.”¹ At the heart of Kant’s definition is a metaphor—or, as we shall see, a combination...

    • Jacobi’s Critique of the Enlightenment
      (pp. 306-316)
      Dale E. Snow

      If Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi is remembered at all today, it is probably as the instigator of the pantheism controversy, in the context of which he presented the first formulation of an exceedingly fruitful criticism of Kant: that one cannot get into theCritique of Pure Reasonwithout the concept of the thing in itself, and one cannot remain in theCritiquewith it.¹ Richard Kroner calls this discovery “the starting point of German idealism,”² and I have discussed the implications of this claim elsewhere.³ However, it will be my thesis in this essay that Jacobi is both misunderstood and diminished...

    • Early Romanticism and the Aufklärung
      (pp. 317-329)
      Frederick C. Beiser

      It is a commonplace of intellectual history to regard the birth of German romanticism at the end of the eighteenth century as the death of the Aufklärung.¹ Supposedly, romanticism was the reaction against the Aufklärung, its self-conscious opposition and antithesis. Hence the growing popularity of romanticism in the early 1800s spelled the end of the Aufklärung, which accordingly should be relegated to the eighteenth century.

      If we carefully examine the secondary literature, we find that at least three reasons are given why romanticism broke with the Aufklärung. First, it attempted to replace the rationalism of the Aufklärung with aestheticism.


    • Progress: Ideas, Skepticism, and Critique—The Heritage of the Enlightenment
      (pp. 330-342)
      Rudolph Vierhaus

      A return to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment movement and to the French Revolution requires no particular justification, for it is suggested by the very theme of “Progress: Ideas, Skepticism, and Critique.” Still one must be warned from the start of potential misinterpretations. An incontrovertible relationship most certainly existed between the French Revolution and the European Enlightenment; yet the Revolution cannot be understood as the result of the Enlightenment, and the Enlightenment cannot be understood as the legacy or burden of the Revolution. Both views are true only in a very limited sense. Even linking the idea of progress to the Enlightenment...


    • What Is Enlightenment?
      (pp. 345-358)
      Rüdiger Bittner

      “Enlightenment,” in the first instance, is something people do. What results from these doipgs is called enlightenment as well. And a historical epoch for which these doings are said to be characteristic also bears this name. Only the first of these three is the topic of discussion here.

      This is in line with the usage of the authors collected in this volume. For the most part they did not investigate the characteristic marks of their own age. They wanted to know what a person does who is doing enlightenment. Admittedly, to use the term in this way allows judgments that...

    • Reason Against Itself: Some Remarks on Enlightenment
      (pp. 359-367)
      Max Horkheimer

      The collapse of a large part of the intellectual foundation of our civilization is to a certain extent the result of technical and scientific progress. Yet this progress is itself an outcome of the fight for the principles which are now in jeopardy, for instance, those of the individual and his happiness. Progress has a tendency to destroy the very ideas it is supposed to realize and unfold. Endangered by the process of technical civilization is the ability of independent thinking itself.

      Reason today seems to suffer from a kind of disease. This is true in the life of the...

    • What Is Enlightened Thinking?
      (pp. 368-381)
      Georg Picht

      “Enlightenment,” according to the famous statement by Kant, “is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” Enlightened thinking has always understood itself accordingly as thinking that, in the process of emancipation from guidance [Bevormundung] by theology and church, has achieved consciousness of itself and its freedom, hence consciousness of its own maturity [Mündigkeit]. Out of this historical process, which finds its first high point in Europe with the Renaissance and then in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries finds the course on which we are still moving today, there emerged that new form of culture, society, and the state that we are...

    • What Is Critique?
      (pp. 382-398)
      Michel Foucault

      I would like to express my deep gratitude to you for inviting me to this meeting of the society. If I am not mistaken, I spoke here almost ten years ago on the subject “What Is an Author?”¹

      I do not have a title for the question on which I would like to speak today. M. Gouhier was kind enough to say that this was because of my stay in Japan.² To tell the truth, that is an amiable mitigation of the truth. Indeed, until the last few days, I could hardly find a title; or rather I had been...

    • The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices
      (pp. 399-425)
      Jürgen Habermas

      “The One and the Many,” unity and plurality, designates the theme that has governed metaphysics from its inception. Metaphysics believes it can trace everything back to one. Since Plato, it has presented itself in its definitive forms as the doctrine of universal unity; theory is directed toward the one as the origin and ground of everything. Prior to Plotinus, this one was called the idea of the good or of the first mover; after him, it was calledsummum ens, the unconditioned, or absolute spirit. During the last decade this theme has taken on renewed relevance. One side bemoans the...

    • The Battle of Reason with the Imagination
      (pp. 426-452)
      Hartmut Böhme and Gernot Böhme

      Just as the fool was driven from his social position,¹ so the Enlightenment also banishes fantasy from philosophy. Although the imagination had always been met with caution, and in philosophy precautions had been taken from the start against its deceptions, even into the seventeenth century it still had its ancestral place among the faculties of knowledge. It lost this position with Kant—once and for all, one might say, if one views the philosophy of the romantics as an intermezzo. Of course, it experienced a rebirth in the manifold relations to the not-yet-conscious in Bloch.

      In return for being disqualified...

    • The Failure of Kant’s Imagination
      (pp. 453-470)
      Jane Kneller

      In a well-known account of the role of transcendental imagination in Kant’s philosophy, Martin Heidegger practically accused Kant of intellectual cowardice. That is, Heidegger argued that Kant’s refusal in the second edition of theCritique of Pure Reasonto grant that the imagination was a fundamental faculty was a result of Kant’s having originally identified the transcendental imagination with the “common root” of sensibility and understanding, and of his subsequently being unwilling to grant such basic status to a faculty whose obscure nature frightened him: “He saw the unknown,” Heidegger says, and “he had to draw back.”¹

      In what has...

    • The Gender of Enlightenment
      (pp. 471-487)
      Robin May Schott

      Enlightenment is one of the most debated themes of contemporary intellectual discourse. The eighteenth-century claim that progress is possible through the use of reason and the advancement and spread of knowledge is summed up in Kant’s dictum, “Have courage to use your own reason!”¹ This view has been reiterated and updated by contemporary defenders of enlightenment such as Jürgen Habermas. In Habermas’s view, the Enlightenment tradition is the only possible source of rational judgment in the face of the irrationality, prejudice, blind obedience to authority, and violence that characterized the darkest days of German history under Hitler. It is only...

    • Autonomy, Individuality, and Self-Determination
      (pp. 488-516)
      Lewis Hinchman

      The quest for autonomy has been a pervasive, though scarcely uncontested, motif in much of twentieth-century moral philosophy. And most of the philosophers who have defended some version of autonomy have acknowledged the affinities between their own inquiries and those of certain Enlightenment thinkers, above all Kant.¹ However, as one compares recent work on autonomy to Kant’s remarks about it, important differences emerge. Kant had presumed, in hisGroundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, the literal meaning of autonomy: obedience to a self-imposed law. He treated it as a constraint, a rule of moral conduct that is “objective” in the...

    • Enlightened Cosmopolitanism: The Political Perspective of the Kantian “Sublime”
      (pp. 517-532)
      Kevin Paul Geiman

      One of the aims of the Enlightenment was to introduce clarity into thought and morality into practice. In so doing, it also called for anovus ordo sæculorum, a “new world order” that would facilitate that aim. Now if enlightenment is the emergence of humankind from its self-incurred immaturity on the basis of the courage to use its own understanding, the implication is that this same humankind should have the courage to call for the political order that makes maturity and understanding possible. Already in Kant’s essay on enlightenment one begins to make out a politics proper for the life...

    (pp. 533-536)
    (pp. 537-554)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 555-565)