POSTPONED DUE TO COVID-19: Lecture and Workshop Prof. Omri Boehm (The New School)
Time & Location
About the Event
The Abstract of the Lecture
It is common to understand Kant’s notion of enlightenment as having the courage to “think for oneself.” While not contesting this definition, I reject the assumption that selbst denken in Kant consists in refusing the guidance of another over our thinking. Paradoxically though it may seem, following another’s guidance—in the strong sense of following without understanding—emerges in Kant as a necessary condition for thinking for oneself. In this light, the relation between enlightenment (thinking for oneself) and religion (prophecy/revelation) must be reconsidered. Far from depending on the rejection of prophets’ authority—as it is in Spinoza’s enlightenment concept—Kantian enlightenment is impossible without it.
The paper begins by considering Maimonides’ theory of prophecy. I argue that not Moses is Maimonides’ paradigmatic prophet (as often is assumed) but Abraham. Hence that prophecy does not consist in giving divine Law, as often is assumed, but in breaking the law and/or the norm and presenting a hitherto incomprehensible—hence: radically new—model of thinking.
I then move to comment on Spinoza’s rejection of prophecy and prophets, in the Theological-Political Treatise, as those who deliver divine knowledge to others who “cannot themselves” acquire it. Interpreting Spinoza’s account of Spirit (or רוח), I argue that his rejection of prophecy consists in denying the possibility of the new as such – including, therefore, the possibility of thinking a new thought.
Finally, I return to reading Kant’s 1784 enlightenment essay together with his account of genius and Geist. This third Critique doctrine provides Kant’s mature account of what enlightenment is. On this account, thinking for oneself is only possible in relation to the radically new models of thought presented by a genius’ Geist. In this sense, Kant defends a Maimonidean account of prophecy that had been undermined by Spinoza’s attack on Spirit (רוח) as necessary for enlightenment thinking for oneself.
I conclude by connecting these reflections to Kant’s understanding of enlightenment’s relation to the Revolution, as the institution of a radically new order, or law.
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