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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Kant’s Message To Those Who Oppose The Enlightenment

Moses Mendelssohn; Immanuel Kant
In October 1786, Immanuel Kant made his contribution to the Pantheism controversy, a philosophical and religious dispute which raged between 1785–1789 and had an effect throughout Europe, with an essay, “What does it mean to orient oneself in thinking?

The dispute was primarily between Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi and Moses Mendelssohn over the philosophical and religious significance of the Spinozism of the German dramatist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. When Mendelssohn suddenly died in January 1786, his friends appealed to Kant to join the controversy and oppose Jacobi. Kant, in his essay, does seem to take Mendelssohn’s side of the dispute. Even though Kant and Mendelssohn disagreed over many issues, they knew each other for 20 years and had deep respect for one another’s work.

In the essay’s final paragraph, Kant brings out the political dimension of the Pantheism controversy. He saw a troubled time ahead for those who believe in freedom of thought and rational inquiry and urges all philosophers to remain loyal to the values of the Enlightenment. He says that Jacobi and his friends must not abandon the cause of reason.

Here’s the final paragraph of Kant’s essay:
“Friends of the human race and of what is holiest to it! Accept what appears to you most worthy of belief after careful and sincere examination, whether of facts or rational grounds; only do not dispute that prerogative of reason which makes it the highest good on earth, the prerogative of
 being the final touchstone of truth. Failing here, you will become unworthy of this freedom, and you will surely forfeit it too; and besides that you will bring the same misfortune down on the heads of other, innocent parties who would otherwise have been well disposed and would have used their freedom lawfully and hence in a way which is conducive to what is best for the world!”

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