KANTIAN RATIONALITY IN THE PROJECT
OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT
ABSTRACTS OF THE CONFERENCE
Do Children Have Common Sense? Morality, Pedagogy, and Common Human Reason
Kant uses examples that are intended to appeal to common sense at various stages in his moral writings. Some of these examples – and the common sense ideas they are meant to illicit – are addressed at adult audiences, while some are addressed at children, typically in the context of attempts at moral education. The aim of this paper is to compare these two types of examples and the common sense ideas associated with them in order to see if this can yield insight into how Kant thinks common moral sense develops, and how it functions at various stages of moral development.
Sociability and Education in Kant and Hessen
(Immanuel Kant baltic Federal University)
Sociability is a concept that reflects not only an individual’s ability to enter into social communication, but also the dependence of the very structure of social interaction on the degree of awareness and realization of individual freedom in society. Kant’s ethics is arguably the key stage in the account of this idea. However, it was not until a later era that a comprehensive notion was formed according to which the realization of individual freedom is a significant factor of social development. The Russian Neo-Kantian Sergey Hessen (1887-1950), building upon Kant’s ideas, tackles the problem of the social identification of the individual. He develops a model of sociability where education forms free individuals exercising their freedom through the development of culture. I reconstruct Hessen’s model and show that he proposed, proceeding from Rickert’s axiology, a solution to how education can improve the implementation of the ideals of freedom and equality within the framework of Kant’s individualistic treatment of society. In his pedagogical philosophy, Hessen identifies stages in the development of the human being (anomie—heteronomy—autonomy) during which the individual renounces arbitrariness, and stresses the crucial significance of secondary school in the process of developing an awareness of freedom as duty and of society as the sphere of its realization. In his teaching on social law, Hessen strips the state of its law-making function, distributing this function to society as a whole. This enables free individuals to accept the need for universal subjection to the law that is the same for all in conditions of equality, whereby Hessen proposes a new social structure: individuals create collective entities, each of which forms its own legal order, while the state coordinates these legal orders to prevent conflict and contradictions among them.
Sapere Aude! On thinking for oneself
(Queen’s University, Kingston, CA
& Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, Kaliningrad)
Kant describes the injunction to think for oneself as “the motto of the Enlightenment” and it is perhaps the only Enlightenment doctrine that has proved immune to the scepticism of contemporary philosophers of education, for who would deny that we should encourage children and students to think for themselves? It is not easy, however, to give a compelling philosophical account of what it is to think for oneself, as attempts to do so can quickly become enmired in epistemological complexities. In this paper, I argue that, by drawing on our everyday conceptions of “independence of mind”, we can make sense of this notion without committing ourselves to an implausible epistemic individualism. Indeed, I maintain that we can extol the importance of thinking for oneself while embracing the idea that our epistemic situation is thoroughly Neurathian, that we are highly epistemically dependent, and that the actualisation and exercise of our powers of reason depends upon a Bildungsprozess — on education in the broadest sense—in which we are initiated into language and culture, into styles of thinking and reasoning and traditions of inquiry. Yet, notwithstanding (or perhaps because of) that, the Kantian injunction, with its emphasis on autonomy and self-determination, retains its power as an ideal of education. I conclude by articulating some consequences for philosophy of education, and for the practice of education itself.
Kant on Virtue Acquisition
In the Introduction to his Pedagogy, Kant famously writes that man is the “only creature that must be educated”. When human beings come into this world they lack many of the capacities that those who brought them into the world are happy to possess. The capacity that I will be interested in my paper concerns the capacity to determine one’s actions in accordance with a representation of the moral law, which, in the case of a human being, is the capacity for virtue. My question is: Which role does moral education play in our account of this capacity? One way, and certainly the most widespread way to understand the idea of moral education is the idea that its role is to enable a subject that lacks this capacity to acquire this capacity. However, as I will argue, Kant does not think so. Kant’s reflections on the role that moral education plays in human life are not supposed to answer the question of how an individual human being comes to be in possession of a capacity that it does not yet have prior to moral education.
The capacity for virtue, according to Kant, cannot be grounded in any capacity that the subject possesses prior to it or in any activity that precedes it because it is the ground of intelligibility of any of them. Kant expresses this by saying that the concept of the human is a “concept of reason”. I take this to mean that the fundamental concept of the human is to describe a form of life through which reason recognizes itself as something that is actualized in the natural world. As a concept of reason it describes a form of life that is an end in itself. Hence one cannot apply the concept of the human to anything in the natural without recognizing the actuality of reason in her existence and thereby her existence as an end in itself.
Kant concludes from this that the role of moral education cannot be to equip a subject with a capacity that it lacks. Rather, its role is to enable the transition of that which, at the beginning, is a receptivity for the moral law that is manifested in any human being’s “natural” representation of it, into an active capacity that is grounded in an act of practical self-recognition in which one recognizes oneself as the bearer of a form of life that is an end in itself. Virtue, in its fundamental instance, consists in an act of practical self-recognition through a concept of reason – the concept of the human that it thereby determines – for which any human being, as such, is receptive.
This is why Kant characterizes virtue acquisition both as an act of resolution as well as a matter of education: As an act of practical self-recognition it consists in the resolution to think oneself through the concept of a form of life that is an end in itself and thereby to ground a virtuous life. For such a self-recognition to be possible, i.e. the cognition that one manifests a form of life that is an end in itself, this form of life must be actual and thereby be recognizable for me in the life of others. This is why virtue, qua act of resolution, is dependent upon education as an activity in which the actuality of virtue is revealed to me. This gives education a distinctive task: Its role is not to enable the possession of a capacity that the student would lack otherwise but to enable a form of practical self-recognition whose truth depends on it.
Kant’s Ethics and (Cultural) Pluralism
(University of Bristol, UK)
Kant famously claims that in his ethics he systematizes and vindicates the common rational cognition of duty, a cognition available to all rational agents qua their common human reason. This raises the question as to whether there is such a thing as a reason, or rational insights, common to all. This question has not received the attention it deserves from Kant scholars, even though Kant’s assumption of a common human reason is central for his ethics, anthropology and notion of progress. Moreover, Kant’s assumption is by no means idiosyncratic. It represents a widely shared, egalitarian enlightenment view that greatly shaped our understanding of Enlightenment’s socio-cultural project. Yet, this view is far from uncontentious.
I will suggest that the most fruitful way to approach the question as to whether there is a common human reason is by working out what the most fundamental commitments of Kant’s ethics (and also of his theoretical philosophy) are and think about the different ways in which these commitments can be expressed in relatively widely shared intuitions, norms and practices, the law, group identities, etc. I will tentatively conclude that Kant’s most fundamental ethical commitment, the Fact of Reason, is indeed common, but only if we give it a deflationary reading that makes it potentially compatible with other normative theories than Kant’s own.
The Negative Wisdom of Political Enlightenment
(Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University)
Kant uses the concept of wisdom in his political philosophy in two meanings: first, the “wisdom of nature”, which stands in close relation to the concept of providence, and secondly, the “political wisdom”, which consists in the implementation of a “moral politics”. “Wisdom of nature” explains the dialectical complexity of developing human natural predispositions in social interaction. At the beginning of the critical period, Kant seems to have understood this idea well enough in order to be sure of the reliability of progress. However, the late Kant is full of doubts: he asserts that the traditional institutions of home and public education are not enough to ensure moral progress, while the substantial improvement of these institutions by us human beings is problematic, due to the frailty of human nature and the “fortuitousness” of the required circumstances. Kant sees only way out of this situation: the gradual elimination of war from politics, in order to free the financial resources necessary for the development of education and culture. He calls this strategy a “negative wisdom”, and its implementation depends most of all again on state policy. Thus, we arrive at the concept of “political wisdom” and the problem of the moral enlightenment of ruling elites. I aim to discuss the relation between the two mentioned concepts of wisdom in Kant and the idea of cosmopolitan education. I also dwell more detailed on the concept of “political wisdom”, which has in Kant ethical and anthropological roots.
Enlightenment as Perfection, Perfection as Enlightenment?
Kant on Thinking for Oneself and Perfecting Oneself
(Swarthmore College, PA)
Kant’s views about the nature and value of enlightenment have been discussed very much since 1784, and without ever losing any of their relevance and importance. I will discuss a topic which has not been discussed quite that extensively: Kant’s conception of enlightenment as it relates to the idea of perfection (“Vollkommenheit”) in particular. Is the project of enlightenment also a project of perfection (and vice versa), and if yes, in what sense and to what degree? My aim is twofold here: to present a sketch of Kant’s views but also to do so in the light of contemporary, systematic questions and ideas concerning the idea of perfection.
Why, how and when is The Fact of Reason a Fact?
(University of St Andrews)
Kant’s famous ’sole fact of pure reason’, first mooted in the Critique of Practical Reason, raises more problems than it is meant to solve. First of all, in why does Kant call the ‘fact of reason’ a ‘fact’? Secondly, how does it arise, and what does it consist in? Thirdly, does it equally apply to all human beings? In this paper, I shall try to provide answers to these three questions. I hope that this will provide a better understanding of Kant’s doctrine and help us assess its philosophical viability.
How to Teach People to Reason Better
(Florida State University)
Sometimes people reason badly because they don’t know the right ways to reason. It’s tough to learn physics because our minds aren’t naturally equipped with Newton’s laws. Critical thinking courses tend to assume that the minds of bad reasoners aren’t equipped with good rules of thought, and so they need to be taught new rules for thinking about the world (e.g., logic, probability, informal fallacies). But for well over 100 years, psychologists have shown that it’s really difficult for people to learn new ways to think. Students can apply new rules of thought in the classroom, but these skills usually fail to transfer to the non-classroom world.
Perhaps the trick to teaching people to think better is to start with the Kantian idea that their minds already come equipped with good rules of thought. It’s just that our minds are also equipped with lots of bad rules of thought. To apply this Kantian idea, we need to identify the good rules our students already know, and teach them to consistently apply the good rules they know rather than the bad rules they know. My goal in this talk is to report on my efforts to apply this Kantian idea. In a study I’ve completed with Paul Conway (Psychology, U. of Portsmouth), compared to control students, students who took my critical thinking class were thinking better about causation, regression, sunk costs and opportunity costs 16 months after my class was over.