Thursday, February 2, 2012

Week 3: Carlos Franco Reading Response

“Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View”

“All culture, art, which adorns mankind, and the finest social order are fruits of unsociableness...”

Kant sketches out his theory of the progressive evolution of societies throughout history. Based on a  “theological theory of nature”, he sees man as  holden to the precepts of end and purposefulness that he ascribes to it (nature). Those same precepts he applies both to the microcosm of the individuals and to that of societies; the highest end they may, and should aspire to, achieve is that of a “universal  civic society”, and by consequence a commonwealth of states. This may be reached by assuring the education, or ‘enlightenment’ (through ‘reason’, which is built through generations), of each of its constituents (both individuals and the states).

To accomplish this end (and also serving as a conceptual hook with which to defend the idea of free will and the rights of the individual in his theory) Kant inserts the concept of a dialectical progression of history. Man, through a history of strife and antagonism (him being an animal driven by a natural will to compete), must reason himself into sociability as it is the most practical solution to the problem that arises when confronted by the will and ends of other men ( reference: Hobbes concept of the ‘social contract’).

“Thanks be to nature, then, for the incompatibility, for heartless competitive vanity, for the insatiable desire to possess and rule! Without them, all the excellent natural capacities of humanity would forever sleep, underdeveloped. Man wishes concord; but Nature...she wills discord.”

He also projects this dialectical progression into the world stage arguing for the necessity of the states (after going through their own internal process of “maturation”) to form a common bond, a ‘league of nations’ that can assure the security of the state, and by consequence the rights and well being of its constituents.

With this argument, and his focus on the role of Reason and Enlightenment in the history of men and societies, Kant sets the ground for later writers such as Schiller and Hegel and the development of German Idealism, which would later serve as the ground for a counter-argument atop which Marx would develop his theory of Historical Materialism.

“...our world rulers at present have no money left over for public education and for anything that concerns the best in the world, since all they have is already committed to future wars...”

In his essay preoccupations like the  ‘league of nations’ and the reference to the effects of ‘war debt’ seem more contemporary than anything else, which begs the question:

How do geometrical projections (such as linearity, or circularity) of history hold up two centuries later? Does an idea of  progress still have value? Progress of who and for whom?

Has there really been any progress, or are we still fumbling around contemporary notions of states and nations in a similar manner?

 In that context, what is the now in history? If the form determines the context, are we still in Kant’s theoretical now?

How does his romantic view of progress inform our concept of the now?

How did Kant’s argument serve as a legitimizing discourse for modern imperialism and colonization?

"An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightement"

“Sapere Aude!”

Kant struggles with the concepts of freedom in the context of his theory on the dialectical progress of history and the role of the church and state in relation to the individual’s right to reason. In his mind enlightenment equals the courage required for the embracement of freedom of thought and speech; immaturity he ascribes to those that ‘dare not’ and which still depend on the cemented ideas of previous generations.

“He must obey.”

Addicted to the impulse to categorize every concept that comes to his mind, Kant  distinguishes between two manners in which the use of reason could take part: "public" (scholars), which he says need to be immune from censorship, and the second "private", which he relates with civic responsibilities (such as a soldier taking orders) and which he considers, if necessary, able to fall under censorship and restriction. Nice way to defend his own skin.

It’s always entertaining seeing Kant, in his eternal inclination to make philosophy look ever more scientific, assert a general concept (ideal in this case) and then borderline on contradictions by feeding this urge for compartmentalization: the scholar must be able to speak his mind out, the soldier must obey orders but can question them as a scholar, and we must pay our taxes. This logic also leads him to defend the position of the monarchy (Frederick II) justifying the need for man to be guided by a supreme ruler... as long as he is enlightened and assures the freedom of the state’s constituents... right.

“...”Do we presently live in an enlightened age?” the answer is, “No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment.”

This constant playing between affirming the necessity of each person’s right to freedom, a dialectical  progression of history in which we must constantly question ideas and structures of previous generations, and the assertion that man must be guided by a supreme leader and subdue his own free will in determined conditions, leads to a load of precarious conceptual juggling, which fortunately Kant is master of, but at the same time, as is the case of any good philosophy from the 18th and 19th century, tries to make too much sense of itself.


Will we ever reach a level of enlightenment where we won’t need a ‘leader’ to discipline us? Is the only possible state one of fear?

Is Kant right on setting limits for freedom and the use of reason so it doesn’t interfere with our civic duty? To who do way owe our moral direction? The collective or the individual?

Does the state truly represent the collective and individuals, as Kant asserts?

How does the argument of freedom in the use of reason relate to the idea of freedom of speech? How does this apply to contemporary media and what are the implications in our culture and recent history?

“The Way of the World”

“ MIRA.  I wonder there is not an act of parliament to save the credit
of the nation and prohibit the exportation of fools.”

The thing that I found interesting about the play is seeing all these urbanite characters overtly conscious of their social positions; 18th century hipsters riding the milk cow, dandies conspiring themselves into social conformity. The play takes footing in a society thats going from a transient aristocracy into a burgeoning culture. A lot of the drama seems to revolve around the microcosmos of social logics that these people create around themselves, and to which they are subdued in order to maintain their own social position and ‘dignity’. Another thing that jumps out is Mirabell’s and Milamant’s pre-nuptial agreement, and the interest in most of the characters to determine their relations through economic conditions, also the manner in which some of the female characters pan out through the play, exerting what some would consider a libertine attitude for the times.


How can we relate this play to Kant’s vision of the nature of man?

Are any of these archetype of characters still visible today? If so what is the implication for our social relations and our ideas of the now? Does this imply a circularity in history?

All this talk of german idealism, history, progress, and archetypes leads me to one visual reference: Neo Rauch, Schöpfer (Creator) oil on canvas 210 x 250cm . Enjoy

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