Monday, June 22, 2009

Controlling enlightenment

"But should not a society of clergymen, for example an ecclesiastical synod or a venerable presbytery (as the Dutch call it), be entitled to commit itself by oath to a certain unalterable set of doctrines, in order to secure for all time a constant guardianship over each of its members, and through them over the people?

I reply that this is quite impossible.

A contract of this kind,concluded with a view to preventing all further enlightenment of mankind for ever, is absolutely null and void, even if it is ratified by the supreme power, by Imperial Diets and the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot enter into an alliance on oath to put the next age in a position where it would be impossible for it to extend and correct its knowledge, particularly on such important matters, or to make any progress whatsoever in enlightenment.

This would be a crime against human nature, whose original destiny lies precisely in such progress.

Later generations are thus perfectly entitled to dismiss these agreements as unauthorized and criminal.

..... it is absolutely impermissible to agree, even for a single lifetime, to a permanent religious constitution which no-one might publicly question. For this would virtually nullify a phase in man's upward progress, thus making it fruitless and even detrimental to subsequent generations. A man may for his own person, and even then only for a limited period, postpone enlightening himself in matters he ought to know about.

But to renounce such enlightenment completely, whether for his own person or even more so for later generations, means violating and trampling underfoot the sacred rights of mankind."

- Immanuel Kant, An Answer to the Question: "What is Enlightenment?" Konigsberg in Prussia, 30th September, 1784

H/T Andrew Sullivan

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