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Idealistic Studies


published on January 29, 2019

J. Colin McQuillan

Kant on Scholarship and the Public Use of Reason

In “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?,” Kant defines the public use of reason as “that use which someone makes of it as a scholar before the entire public of the world of readers.” Commentators rarely note Kant’s reference to “scholarship” in this passage and, when they do, they often disagree about its meaning and significance. This paper addresses those disagreements by exploring discussions of scholarship in Kant’s logic lectures as well as in later works like The Conflict of the Faculties. These sources suggest that Kant defends a rigorous conception of scholarship, which may not be consistent with liberal and egalitarian interpretations of the public use of reason. The paper concludes that Kant’s account of the public use of reason provides only a limited defense of freedoms of speech and of the press, which is neither as liberal nor as egalitarian as other commentators have suggested.

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