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Kant: sensus communis and the public use of reason

Učník, L. (2002) Kant: sensus communis and the public use of reason. In: Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) 2002, December 2002, University of Melbourne, Melbourne


In this paper I revisit Kant's argument about the use of public reasoning. Kant insists that we must have a public space where we can learn how to think for ourselves. In order to be able to pass well-rounded judgments on matters concerning us all, we require knowledge about the thoughts of others. As he argues, prohibiting free expression of thought in public curtails "freedom of thought." How can we think freely if we cannot compare our thoughts with those of others?

Do we, in fact, in the current political climate, definable as 'Bush-ism', encourage the ability to think for ourselves, while comparing our thoughts with others in a consistent way? In other words, do we actually know what the rhetoric of 'axis of evil', 'pre-emptive strikes', 'war on terror', or 'weapons of mass destruction' mean? As Kant stressed throughout his writings, to think for oneself is paramount to rejecting heteronomy. After 11 September 2001, when Bush called for support in his war on terror, the option given was simple: either you are with us or you are against us. An 'all or nothing' choice. The enlarged mentality of Kant's sensus communis is sadly missing in this kind of politics.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
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