Tijdschrift voor filosofie vol:69 issue:3 pages:447-474
Kant’s famous essay Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? has developed into the representative text of philosophical Enlightenment in the course of the past two hundred years. Yet most interpretations tend to assign a univocal meaning to Kant’s text that is incompatible with its apparent polysemy. While taking the latter into account, this article wishes to closely investigate Kant’s essay and offer a plausible interpretation if its meaning.
On the basis of this reading, it becomes apparent that we should understand Kant’s historical-philosophical interpretation of the Enlightenment in a normative sense. As a result, the emphasis in the text shifts from a historical-philosophical promise of a totally “Enlightened Age” to a precarious, risky “Age of Enlightenment” which Kant claims to live in. There is ample textual evidence that Kant, who was aware of the risky nature of the moment, wanted to intervene with this essay by cherishing the hope for a possibility of a bit more actual Enlightenment.