<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Discussion3

Discussion Agenda #3:  Kant’s essays “What is Enlightenment,” “Idea for a Universal History,” “An Old Question raised again.”

I have two goals for this discussion:

  1. Political theorists usually begin by focusing on the politics (the surface level), but we shall undertake a deeper examination of the philosophical principles that support the political imagination.  Thus, we will focus on epistemology, morality, and agency (freedom).

  2. My second goal is to identify some “fragments” of these documents that are drawn not from past but future time” (“An Old Question….”).  That is, I want to prepare you for the differing responses to Kant that we have not considered yet.  In particular, I am intent on persuading you that there is no clean break between Kant and the seven different responses to his tradition that we will encounter.


From this session onward, we will be look at many of the following themes that are addressed in Kant’s essays.  Because they are fragmentary evidence of what is yet to come, you should internalize them thoroughly:

  1. What is the human condition?  Consider the interplay between nature and freedom.
  2. What leads man to do the right thing?
  3. Is human progress possible?  Under what terms?
  4. Can one speak of a human teleology?  Where would it come from?

Responses to these questions will lead you directly to politics.

Some key terms in interpreting these essays:  the Idea (Vorstellung); a priori principles; duty; natural right


Next Week:  We will make a dramatic leap into 20th century philosophical totalitarianism by considering two works from the Italian fascist philosopher, Giovanni Gentile.  The challenge will be to conceptualize his transition from Enlightenment thinking, especially Kant.  Note: there will be at least one additional reading on the Syllabus, probably a brief reference to the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.