Alum Returns to Discuss Kant, Dog-Whistle Politics & the History of Concepts

January 31, 2018

Thursday, Feb. 8 2018, 4:15 p.m

Michael Olson
Prof. Michael Olson ’03, Macquarie University, Sydney, returns to campus at 4:15 Feb. 8, 2018 in Steiner Hall, Room 106, to discuss “Kant, Dog-Whistle Politics, and the History of Concepts.”

According to Kant’s famous definition, enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from its self-incurred immaturity (Unmündigkeit). 

The close link between thinking for oneself and the achievement of full maturity reflective of the dignity of our species is well known to everyone familiar with the marketing materials of modern universities. 

The bond between dignity and moral or intellectual maturity has a complicated history, however: the language of Kant’s famous essay “What is Enlightenment?" echoes arguments from the same period that sought to justify the exclusion of Jews from Prussian civil society.

After reviewing political and theological discussions on immaturity and maturation in eighteenth-century Germany, he asks what we should make of the historical connotations of Kant’s definition of enlightenment today. As the connotations of our words change, do we simply leave historical meaning behind? As philosophical language evolves, does it slough off its previous meanings or does it carry implicitly them along?

Olson's visit is sponsored by Grinnell College's Department of Philosophy.

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