Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism

What is Enlightenment? [A]

Professor Kevin Mooney

Kant’s famous response to the question “Was ist Aufklärung?” stressed the absolute authority of reason in matters of human and societal progress: “Sapere aude!” has become the motto of the Enlightenment, and Kant's essay is still read as the classical statement of its aspirations and values. But what Enlightenment? By 1784 Kant’s apotheosis of reason already seems utopian and slightly out of tune. It failed to include shrewd anti-rationalists such as Rousseau or shut out principled despots such as Robespierre. This course will plot the ambiguous role of reason in Enlightenment narratives from Kant to Bruno Latour. What does it mean now to ask “What is Enlightenment?” What Enlightenment project? At what price reason? After two centuries of critical intervention, how shall we read Kant today: As locus classicus or locus delicti?; or, as both judge and scene of the crime?


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