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"The people will be led"

The freedom of philosophy
Forfatter: Immanuel Kant
Forlag: Oversatt fra tysk av Øystein Skar
Pax Forlag (Norge)
PHILOSOPHY / Is freedom of speech a matter for scholars? Are Trump and QAnon entitled to free speech? There is much to suggest that Kant would answer no to this question.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

At a time when the big technology companies and political correctness are increasingly lowering the ceiling for what it is safe to say in public if you want to keep your friends, see Pax Forlag appears to have hit the plank. They are currently publishing the book of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant The dispute of the faculties (The dispute between the faculties) from 1798, where he defends freedom of expression on a principled basis. In Norwegian, the title has become The freedom of philosophy, and it is apt enough, for Kant believes that philosophy is in a special position in society, as it has unlimited freedom to express itself in public.

Freedom of expression as a scholar

Kant himself had problems with censorship in Prussia in the 1790s, and the king ordered him not to speak publicly about religion after he wrote Religion within the bounds of reason from 1793 had argued that religion had to be subject to reason, and that a literal belief Christianity was the same as superstition. Kant promised to keep his mouth shut, like the obedient citizen he was, but when the king died in 1797, Kant felt exempt from the promise and countered.

The bosses of Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft might have applauded.

Kant's argument i The freedom of philosophy is that since philosophy is committed only to truth and reason, and man's freedom and dignity lie in its sense, a free and sensible critique of society will be for the good of humanity. The other "faculties" – law, theology and medicine – are not only committed to reason alone, but also to the Bible, the law book and the established medicine, which are not necessarily sensible. They therefore have a lower rank and must find themselves being corrected by philosophy.

At the same time, Kant introduces some important restrictions on freedom of expression – as the bosses do Big Tech (Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft) might have applauded. Now Kant is considered a central figure within Liberal social theory, and perhaps these restrictions are an integral part of the liberal view of society that usually does not appear. But it shows when people revolt, such as during the storming of Capitol Hill in early January this year. Then the road is short to censorship of social media.

Objections and doubts

Is this something Kant anticipated? Maybe. In any case, he says that "the public use of human reason" must be free at all times, but with public use of our own reason he understands "the use made of it as a scholar by the readership of the readership world." Freedom of speech is thus a matter for the scholars, it is a matter for the "reader world". So we are talking about a public that includes very few people. This undemocratic tendency of Kant is confirmed by his emphasis on obedience as a central bourgeois virtue. To practice freedom of speechone is in fact a good basis for creating obedience. In the preface, Kant praises the Prussian government for being so enlightened that it will publish his book, and for freeing the "spirit of man from its shackles" at all, and precisely through its "freedom of thought" the government " suitable for producing an even greater will to obedience ».

Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant

The logic is fair enough: Since man is a fundamentally sensible being, he will obey the state the more sensible the state is, and the purpose of using freedom of speech is precisely to make the state more sensible. So far so good. But does Kant not bite his tail here? What about those who want to blow up this whole construction? Are Trump, Steve Bannon and QAnon entitled to freedom of expression? There is much to suggest that Kant would answer no to that question. Or in his own words:

“For example, preachers and officials in the field of law would provoke rebellion against the government if they gave in to the desire to present to the people their objections and doubts about the spiritual or secular law. The faculties, on the other hand, direct such objections and doubts only to each other, as scholars, something which the people – even though they have knowledge of what the faculties do – do not take any notice of purely practical. The people imprint on themselves that rational speculation is not their business and therefore feel obliged to adhere only to what is made public through government officials. "

Yes, keep us well from "preachers" who make their objections and their doubts about the legitimacy of the law to the people! Far better then that the philosophers have the control. The public, or the "bourgeois common arena", must not, after all, become a "court of the people", for the people "have no competence for any judgment in matters of learning". If this were to happen anyway, then a state of "illegal conflict" would occur, in which "a seed of rebellion and factions would be sown, while the government would be endangered."

Long-term effect

In the famous scripture Answer to the question: What is enlightenment? from 1784, which is printed last in The freedom of philosophy, gives Kant a short and easy-to-understand presentation of his views on publicity and freedom of expression. He begins by formulating the often quoted language of "enlightenment", namely: "Sapere Aude! Have the courage to make use of your own sense! ». But towards the end of the scripture comes a more apt clarification: "Reason as much as you want, and about what you want: But obey!" Perhaps, in continuation of this, we could formulate the language of choice of the modern liberal order: "… But obey the liberal order!"

Literary Christianity was the same as superstition.

Law and order is at least important to Kant. Philosopher Lars Fr. H. Svendsen points out in the concise and instructive preface that Kant takes the opposite view of the English philosopher John Locke, who in the 1600th century had claimed that citizens have the right to rebel. Svendsen quotes from Kant's writing About the saying: It may be correct in theory, but not enough in practice: "All insurrection against the supreme legislature, all incitement to translate the dissatisfaction of subjects into action, all insurrection which breaks out in rebellion is the most serious and most punishable crime in the community."

Kant is therefore not a Mr. Nice Guy. But despite his pessimistic view of most people – “the people will you give»- he sees hope in the long-term effect of freedom of expression. Free thinking is a germ that eventually "acts back on the people's state of mind" so that it "gradually masters the freedom to act". But perhaps we should add that this freedom has its limits. Yes, the lack of freedom of expression has its obvious costs, but neither does freedom of expression – or rather: the liberal ideology of freedom of expression – come for free. In a way, Kant reminds us of that.


See also about freedom of expression: Why promote political satire?

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Lars Holm-Hansen
Philosopher and publishing manager at the publishing house Eksistenz.

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