I’m not afraid of the journey,

We have to see it, we have to taste it,

The twists and turns deep inside,

Everything is ok there,

The wind will carry us.

Where is Kant?

Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority. Minority is inability to make use of one’s own understanding without direction from another. This minority is self-incurred when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! [dare to be wise] Have courage to make use of your own understanding! is thus the motto of enlightenment.

In 1784, Kant faced a problem. The freedoms and ideals loved by the current majesty of the Prussian state, Fredrich the Great, were about to be overturned. His Majesty’s health was quickly declining, and his son, Fredrich William II, was staunchly against enlightenment ideas, favouring mysticism and a strong Protestant faith instead. Seeing the coming deterioration of freedom in front of his eyes, the man in his sixtieth year composed a short essay on enlightenment seeking to walk the tightrope between deference and defiance, obedience and deviance, mutiny and mutuality. The grinder (a dangerous moniker for the times to come) as he was called at the time attempted to find his middle path to enlightenment in this essay.

Kant’s strategy emerges as a “mediating” one: by pluralizing the inner structure of reason-into theoretical, practical, imaginative, but also pragmatic-technical dimensions—he sought to make sense of the pluralizing of social and cultural positions he saw emerging around him. His goal was to show that his philosophic system could cope with the challenges arising from both facets of the polarization process.

This paradoxical trap Kant found himself in and recognized in his writings was created with the intention to alleviate the pressure from the coming administration while also holding on to the central thing that gave him so much influence in the first place.

But only one who, himself enlightened, is not afraid of phantoms, but at the same time has a well-disciplined and numerous army ready to guarantee public peace, can say what a free state may not dare to say: Argue as much as you will and about what you will; only obey! Here a strange, unexpected course is revealed in human affairs, as happens elsewhere too if it is considered in the large, where almost everything is paradoxical. A greater degree of civil freedom seems advantageous to a people’s freedom of spirit and nevertheless puts up insurmountable barriers to it; a lesser degree of the former, on the other hand, provides a space for the latter to expand to its full capacity.

Although clear to many at the time that things were moving in the wrong direction, few were clear on what the right direction was (we never seem to know do we?). Large disagreements between people were common. A journal at the time categorized responses to the question: What is enlightenment? Into twenty-one sections. It was starting to turn into a Hobbesian (war of all against all) mess. Kant himself had quite a clear idea of enlightenment, as he was the father of German enlightenment, and if not the father than the prime mover. In Kant’s balancing act he denoted a difference between two uses of reason, a ‘public’ reason that remains absolutely free from the state to address society as a whole and a ‘private’ reason that was to be completely obedient and restricted as it was in service to either the state or some other similar figure of authority. It is not a coincidence that the public reason that he formulated would leave all the actions of arts and sciences untouched by the meddling of government. These were Kant’s prime interests and would allow many of his Colleagues to speak and write freely in the (Geheime) Berliner Mittwochsgesellschaft (“[Secret] Berlin Wednesday Society”).

Everywhere there are restrictions on freedom. But what sort of restriction hinders enlightenment, and what sort does not hinder but instead promotes it? – I reply: The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among human beings; the private use of one’s reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted without this particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. But by the public use of one’s own reason I understand that use which someone makes of it as a scholar before the entire public of the world of readers. What I call the private use of reason is that which one may make of it in a certain civil post or office with which he is entrusted. Now, for many affairs conducted in the interest of a commonwealth a certain mechanism is necessary, by means of which some members of the commonwealth must behave merely passively, so as to be directed by the government, through an artful unanimity, to public ends (or at least prevented from destroying such ends). Here it is, certainly, impermissible to argue; instead, one must obey.

Kant’s freedom of speech more resembles a freedom of the press rather than the type of freedom of speech practiced in North America and on most of the internet. Kant also means by a public reason, truly a reasoning made to the public and not a sort of drivel. Kant had high standards for what was considered reasoning and as a part of an elite group would possibly not count most twitter posts as included as such a use of public reason.

The reason I framed the conversation in the times Kant is writing in is because it relates to our own times. Donald Trump, Doug Ford, and other similar figures (Marine LePen had she won the election in France) are in this parable Fredrich William II. What is both strange and counter to this parable is that they decry themselves as victims being suppressed by the press whilst suppressing the press. I suppose this what Kant meant when he said, “human affairs, […] where almost everything is paradoxical.”

It isn’t just them, everyone today seems victim to news suppression. Even those who have near monopoly on the news cry out as either victims of being the targets of misrepresentation (slander/libel). Or they cry at being drowned out in the endless waves of fake news never to be heard as the true and official voice of reason.

It needs to be said again, Kant was interested in public reason. He focused on posing arguments for one’s beliefs and ideas and not merely slandering the name of every group under the sun. As always, it seems there is a very small presence of arguments to be found in a lot of modern movements (good or bad) especially those that claim the right to freedom of speech. What more seems the true source (Not only in that it clearly runs counter to reasonable open discussion) of this ‘free speech’ movement (that seems to move even further into irrationality with each passing day) that again paradoxically often aligns itself with neo-fascists who don’t dare to be wise but instead conform to the phantasm of the Reagent, the Reich, and the Race (who admittingly have something in common with some of Kant’s political writings. Kant’s views on the three Rs are anything but enlightened and betray both the time and laziness with which he confronted these ideas.

It is because of laziness and cowardice that so great a part of humankind, after nature has long since emancipated them from other people’s direction (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remains minors for life, and that it becomes so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor!

The movement which covers itself in the thin veneer of reason is in actuality its enemy. Through the domination and control of the public spaces for its nefarious purposes does the movement succeed. The freedom to speak is a mere pretense for the domination of space in this context. Where and what they do as they speak should be the focus of the anti-movement instead of speech. Those who fear the journey ahead and where the wind will take us often cling to that of the past in irrationality. Such is the laziness and cowardice integral in the essence of minors.

Why the Final Frontier?

Not only is space one of the things that Kant believes is a necessary assumption in the pursuit of the sciences (a synthetic a priori) but it is also incredibly central to the manner in which we go about our sociopolitical lives. Backlash against progressive attitudes often has at the center of them, intense battles over spaces. This is because space is defined by our attitudes, they bring context to culturally acceptable behaviours and displays. This is easily displayed in the adage: “There is a time and a place.” Space isn’t just about a place but time as well.

In crime and punishment, Foucault writes about how punishment for crimes turned the focus away from the physical punishment of prisoners. The domination of their bodies became secondary. What became more popular is the domination of the prisoner’s spirit. Their very soul. The minds of the prisoner must be regimented into actions that suit the ‘people’. This was and is done by severely controlling the space of the prisoner; Scheduling of behaviours, limiting available reading materials, and the constant watch of the guard, all must become regular fixtures of the prisoner’s space. This defines the very opposite of Sapere Aude. The entire point is to destroy the understanding of the prisoner and replace it with that of the guard until there is nothing left but the guard in the shell of the prisoner. This might be fine for the use of prisons you might say, but what about schools? Or your neighbourhood street? Playground? Office? Foucault’s use of Mill’s panopticon can be used for all walks of life for the entirety of society.

The battle for space has overturned our modern lives without us realizing it. The speech written about by Kant is pretty much free, but Kant made a fatal mistake. Speech and the courage to be wise is or can be controlled through spaces. Yet it actually seems he wasn’t completely ignorant at the power and importance of spaces.

[…] Greater degree of civil freedom seems advantageous to a people’s freedom of spirit and nevertheless puts up insurmountable barriers to it; a lesser degree of the former, on the other hand, provides a space for the latter to expand to its full capacity.

The problem with Kant’s use of the term is only to display that more civil liberties run counter in some strange way to the freedom that civilians experience. Kant delivers here the idea that the only way to freedom in its full capacity is actually is a barrier to ultimate freedom. His solution? Take away freedom and we will have more of it! Such is par for the course of Statism.

What truly looms over the face of reason is the space to think. The contextuality that defines our lives as thinking beings. These horrifyingly seem more and more impossible to transcend. Mostly, because they were impossible to transcend in the first place.

The space that defined Kant, his views of the process of reason, the things he willingly published and wrote belonged to a context he never really escaped. Neither does anyone really escape their own context. This text’s way of framing is ultimately dependent on the space of the author and their understanding of Kant’s space through the flawed translations of primary documents through the eyes of yet another person’s space. In fact, even the understanding of their own time is met largely through the eyes of others. The language games used by people have differed over-time and distances small. Never mind the gap that exists between this text and Kant’s texts. Yet this doesn’t satisfy me, and it shouldn’t satisfy you.

Isolated Minds, Isolating Bodies

Nigerian sign language is one of the newest languages and has highly interested linguists because of the wealth of information it adds to our understanding of language formation. Deaf people have the capability for language acquisition but can’t get the sufficient data from normal societies because speech dominates. Since only small parts of the population is deaf it means that only a small part of the population is ever interested in trying to convey meaning them. Integration is extremely hard before sign language because there was no way to communicate. Without language acquisition in the early years, the brain atrophies and the ability is lost forever. Once this ability is lost, the mind loses its wonderful ability to conceive of an unbounded set of ideas. What many believe was the source of the cognitive revolution. Hence the horrible phrase ‘deaf and dumb’.

Deaf people were just assumed to be incapable of language because of this inability to engage with the world. As nobody understood enough to attempt to communicate with them on any deep level, they were isolated from the rest of humanity conceptually. This only led to a material effect in wider society, such people thought of as worthless, and thus these ideas further isolated them. Now becoming isolated in both body and mind, this severely limited further what could be understood. How could one dare to be wise in a situation in which the isolated space in front of them had stolen their wisdom despite their courage and will?

The solution was the invention of their own language with the help of those who cared and understood. In just three generations, Nigerian Sign language became just as complex and descriptive as any other natural language. Each generation reinvents the language given to them by their predecessors. Once given the space to flourish, we bloom. We bloom into a wonderful, wise flower that will continue to bloom given the good soil from which it sprang. Seek out the space for enlightenment and the rest follows. What’s needed isn’t just the public arguments described by Kant, but enlightened and rich public space that don’t seek to isolate people but bring them together. Only with that battle in one’s favour can a reason in context bloom its wonderful flowers. Only then can we all dare to be wise.

Thus when nature has unwrapped, from under this hard shell, the seed for which she cares most tenderly, namely the propensity and calling to think freely, the latter gradually works back upon the mentality of the people (which thereby gradually becomes capable of freedom in acting) and eventually even upon the principles of government, which finds it profitable to itself to treat the human being, who is now more than a machine, in keeping with his dignity.


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Who am I? A ghost in the machine. Or maybe not even a ghost in a machine because on here I have no machinery, I am the symbols in your head. Your ghost gives me life.


  1. Great article! Coincidently I read Kant’s What is Enlightenment yesterday and came to it from a book that is an attack on Foucault*! It’s really a small world;-)

    Kant also wrote: “From the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing will ever grow.”

    He was aware of his own paradoxes but we can sift through them. There are no perfect answers but you have raised a set of excellent points and questions.

    One of the greatest challenges of our time is how mass media strangles complexity. obviously contextualizing contemporary politics through Kant would be helpful but unless or until pigs fly mainstream media is not about to have a discussion about Kantian ethics and if Foucault gets mentioned it’s always through a prism of disdain and Anglo-Saxon superiority.

    Excellent article! Thank you for writing it!

    *It’s an interesting book but ends up scoring on its own goal by being a perfect example of Foucauldian narrative constructions based on selective truths in turn based on the usual suspects of class, orientation, culture etc

    Liked by 1 person

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