“An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment”

Common Reading 2019

Immanuel Kant's “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?”

The year was 1784. The American Revolution was (recent) history; the French Revolution was still to come. The era often called “The Enlightenment” was drawing to a close, along with the 18th century, although its legacy remains with us.

“Enlightenment” was not, however, a term with which philosophers and scientists of the 18th century described the time in which they lived—that is, not before 1784, when a short essay written by Immanuel Kant appeared in a monthly magazine published in Berlin. “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” was Kant’s response to a challenge issued in the same publication the year before: to explain the meaning of enlightenment.

Kant’s essay has been selected as the Florida College Common Reading for 2019. It raises questions about human nature, reason, and autonomy; it reflects political questions that were critical to the transformation of Western governance in the wake of the American Revolution; it challenges modern readers to examine their assumptions about freedoms we may take for granted, including freedom of speech and religious freedom.

For several years now, students, faculty, staff, and administrators at Florida College have had the opportunity to read and discuss a significant work, a “common reading.” That reading is selected to foster meaningful discussions across the campus, within a variety of classes, and in a public forum led by faculty members representing a range of disciplines. By reading Kant’s essay this summer, you can prepare for those discussions this fall. The essay (in a translation by H. B. Nisbet) is available in an inexpensive paperback from Amazon or Barnes and Noble; it is available at no expense online at sites listed below.

columbia.edu – translated by Mary C. Smith

stmarys-ca.edu (PDF) – translated by Ted Humphrey

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