February 19, 2007

Paradigm Cases

I'm ashamed to say I don't know enough about the history of the philosophy to judge whether this comment (on this thread) is accurate, but I find the general claim about what counts as Enlightenment very interesting. Is Rousseau Enlightenment by definition because of his influence on Kant -- did Kant effectively name the Enlightenment by pointing at himself, Rousseau, and some others and saying "The Enlightenment is stuff like this"? Or do we have some good reason to say that "The Enlightenment" refers or came to refer to some tenets that Rousseau rejected, so Rousseau isn't enlightenment or is marginally so?

I think the latter is possible, but we would need a very good reason to define Rousseau out of the Enlightenment if he was one of the original paradigm cases. This reminds me of some old debates I used to have about free jazz -- in which some people would claim that early (Atlantic-era) Ornette Coleman wasn't really 'free jazz' because it relied too much on chords, while I thought that if 'free jazz' meant anything it referred to the movement started by the performers of "Free" and Free Jazz. This in turn is related to some thoughts about ordinary concepts that I've been mulling over in the shower -- which is to say, they're too informed to post even here.

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 19, 2007 03:47 PM

Yes, better keep those excessively informed thoughts to yourself. ;-)

Posted by: Anders Weinstein at February 20, 2007 02:13 PM

Right, unformed.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 20, 2007 08:32 PM

Matt, the comment is not accurate. Kant's essay was a submission to a contest with the theme "On The Question: What Is Enlightenment?" (Moses Mendelssohn also submitted an essay). The term "lumieres" appears in the *Encyclopedie* in roughly a cognate sense; however, it probably isn't wrong to think that *Aufklaerung* is properly construed some kind of reader-response concept contemporary with Kant. But it's certainly not a concept original to him, and it would be historically wrong to take his selection of examples as a "dubbing" (Hegel's section on Enlightenment in the *Phenomenology* does not have much to do with Kant's essay, for example; it was just "in the air").

As for Rousseau, he was a huge 18th-C publishing success: Kant's interest in him is no more singular than if someone today were to find something important in Wittgenstein, or Nietzsche. If it was an "Age of Enlightenment", Rousseau was epochal; if anything the direction of fit for capturing the *Zeitgeist* might have run from him to Voltaire, not the other way around. It's only today, since some see him as a forerunner of illiberal strains of thought, that one would want to separate him out from the more tractable encyclopedists.

Posted by: Jeff Rubard at February 20, 2007 09:55 PM

Jeff, thanks for the insight on that.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 20, 2007 10:02 PM

Manet was not an Impressionist; Moses never entered the Promised Land. Nevertheless a intellectual history of Impressionism that omitted Manet or of the Israelite kings and prophets that excluded Moses would be considered unserious. Especially if the reason were the political anti-correctness of some of their nominal descendants - like saying that we should retroactively read Manet out because without Manet we wouldn't have the 20th century crimes of Eric Fischl or Phillip Pearlstein.

(It should be clear that I'm using "political correctness" in the original pejorative sense of requiring ideological conformity, and not in the later sense of "Liberal/left thoughts I don't like.")

Posted by: Ben at February 21, 2007 06:07 PM