In 1784 Kant asked a question: What is Enlightenment? His answer was that it was having the courage to use one’s own reason: Sapere Aude – dare to be wise. In order for this to happen, he said, we must be free to publicly air our views about injustices we perceive, while privately obeying the laws of the state. So as a citizen I must pay my taxes, as a scholar I can (must!) at the same time argue that is it immoral of the Tory government to give tax cuts to the rich while at the same time making devastating cuts to public services. Note, as Foucault does, in his 1974 essay of the same name, that this is a twist on the usual interpretation of freedom of conscience, which is the ” the right to think as one pleases so long as one obeys as one must”. Kant is not interested in giving us a right to think as we please in private, rather he imposes upon us, as intellectuals, a duty to speak up publicly when the State is unfair, or allows injustice. I am not always a fan of Kant, but this seems right: if I see injustice and have a public voice then I should use that voice to fight for what is right.
I remembered this earlier this week when I read Giroux* talking about “the responsibility of teachers as public intellectuals”. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
* Giroux, Henri. (2011) On Critical Pedagogy p73
Portrait of Immanuel Kant by unspecified (/History/Carnegie/kant/portrait.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons