Burlamaqui and Reason

English: Engraved portrait of Jean-Jacques Bur...

English: Engraved portrait of Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui (1694-1748), a Swiss jurist and philosopher. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reason does not play a major role in Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui’s notion of natural rights because he sees goodness in terms of God. Burlamaqui states that a natural right is a right that belongs “originally and essentially to man” (Williams 89). It is inherent to a man’s nature because it is a process “by which he experiences the condition of being human, independently of any particular act on his part” (Williams 89). In general, Burlamaqui views natural law as “a law that God imposes on all men” (Williams 99). In particular, he states that “it is beyond doubt (and everybody is in agreement about this) that the efficient cause of the laws of nature, and of the obligation that they engender, is the will of the Supreme Being” (Williams 99). For Burlamaqui, God is the “supreme rule of conduct in everything connected with society,” and, as a result, his views about natural and acquired rights are inseparably linked to religious morality (Williams 99).Burlamaqui states that the goodness of an individual is connected to his belief and devotion to God. This argument implies that individuals not guided by God and religion cannot be good, and, therefore, are the opposite of good, i.e. evil.


These assumptions guide Burlamaqui’s views on Reason. His idea of Reason is something equivalent to his notion of God. He suggests that reason only allows people to work toward the happiness of mankind, and that other people “must” encourage the use of reason in society (Williams 88). Burlamaqui defines reason as man using his abilities to achieve excellence, excellence that is guided by morality and a devotion to God (DeNinno). In other words, he sees Reason “as a foundational principle” (Heller Burlamaqui 2).


Though Burlamaqui says that argues for the natural rights of all men, his argument is actually not an argument for the natural rights of all men. Burlamaqui’s argument for the natural rights of all men excludes those men who do not share a devotion to God. He links Reason with equality by stating that “creatures of the same rank… have a general equal common rights so that they can live together, and share the same advantages. We are thus obligated to regard ourselves as being naturally equal” (Williams 99). According to his reasoning, people who are not devoted to God are essentially outside of the social order, and, therefore, not equal to others. Burlamaqui does not consider these people as “creatures of the same rank,” and he does not regard them as “being naturally equal” (Williams 99).Therefore, Burlamaqui’s argument for the natural rights of all men is actually an argument for the natural rights of only a particular group of men.

Immanuel Kant, who wrote his essays forty years after Burlamaqui, viewed reason in a very different way. Instead of equating Reason with God or God’s will, Kant uses the word reason to refer to man’s ability to reason and to think. Kant argues in favor of developing citizens’ reasoning and thinking skills so that they can harness each individual’s “truth-finding power” (Heller Burlamaqui 2). In other words, Kant views reason and reasoning as an internal mechanism that needs to be practiced and developed because of its ability to reach and find truth.


Mendelssohn and the Movement for Popular Philosophy

Moses Mendelssohn from new encyclopedia

Moses Mendelssohn from new encyclopedia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In The Enlightenment Outram writes, “[f]or the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), ‘Enlightenment’ referred to an as yet uncompleted process of education in the use of reason, which should be open to all.” Mendelssohn [she goes on] “therefore supported the movement for ‘popular philosophy’ which sought to spread Enlightenment ideas among the lower classes” (1). Does her interpretation accord with yours? Did you gather this argument from the essay? Explain.

I agree with Outram’s interpretation of Mendelssohn’s essay. Mendelssohn stated that an individual’s duties and rights are determined by his status and vocation, and, as a result, each individual requires “different theoretical insights and different skills to attain them – a different degree of enlightenment” (54 – 55). Rather than being critical of social and intellectual guardianship within societies, like Kant, Mendelssohn is critical of the state as a body that creates tensions between the essential destiny of man as man and the essential destiny of man as citizen. In particular, he points out that, while the enlightenment of man as a man is universal, the enlightenment of man as a citizen fluctuates according to the status and vocation of that individual (Mendelssohn 55). Furthermore, the enlightenment of a nation depends on the amount of knowledge that the nation possesses, the importance of the nation’s knowledge in relationship to the destiny of man and the destiny of citizen, the dissemination of knowledge throughout different states, and its accordance with the people’s vocations (Mendelssohn 55). For Mendelssohn, the goal of the enlightenment of man as citizen is to enlighten man as man; therefore, the most important measure and goal “of these efforts,” i.e. the enlightenment of a nation, is the destiny and enlightenment of man as man (55).

Mendelssohn understands the process of enlightenment as a modification “of social life, the effects of the industry and efforts of men to better their social conditions” (53). The concept of enlightenment is intertwined with the concepts of culture and education: “a language attains enlightenment through the sciences and attains culture through social intercourse, poetry, and eloquence” (Mendelssohn 54). Enlightenment is attained through rational and scientific thinking and culture is attained through literary and poetic thinking. Furthermore, for Mendelssohn, the process of enlightenment is ongoing in that it is “yet uncompleted process of education in the use of reason, which should be open to all” (Outram 1).

While Mendelssohn appears to be in favor of “the movement for ‘popular philosophy’ which sought to spread Enlightenment ideas among the lower classes” (Outram 1), he is careful to note that “the misuse of enlightenment weakens the moral sentiment and leads to hard-heartedness, egoism, irreligion, and anarchy. Misuse of culture produces luxury, hypocrisy, weakness, superstition, and slavery” (56). Here, Mendelssohn points out that while rational and scientific thinking facilitates enlightenment, rational and scientific thinking is also the kind of thinking that leads to egotism and narcissism. In this sense, Mendelssohn is foreshadowing Max Horkheimer’s and Theodor Adorno’s criticism of the Enlightenment. Horkheimer and Adorno viewed the Enlightenment from the perspective of the immediate aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, and saw the Enlightenment and its arguments for total freedom as an argument for ultimate totalitarianism. “The Enlightenment relies on ‘rationality,’ reasoning which is free from superstition, mythology, fear and revelation, which is often based on mathematical ‘truth,’ which calibrates ends to means,” and it is this kind of reasoning which led mankind “to sink into a new kind of barbarism” instead of “entering into a truly human condition” (Outram 6). Despite his warnings about the dangers of extreme enlightenment views, Mendelssohn’s emphasis on culture and the importance of literary and poetic influences on rational thought makes me view his position as one that “supports the movement for ‘popular philosophy’ which sought to spread Enlightenment ideas among the lower classes” (Outram 1).

Outram, D. The Enlightenment. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University. 2005. Print.

Heller, D. “Teaching Paper on Kant and Mendelssohn.” (2012). 1-3.

Heller, D. “Mendelssohn 2.” 3 September 2012. Mendelssohn 2 Forum. 6 September 2012.

Kant, Immanuel. “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784). Trans. James Schmidt. 58-64.

Mendelssohn, Moses. “On the Question: What is Englitenment?” (1784). Trans. James Schmidt. 53-57.

Kant’s Guardians and their Contemporary Counterparts

Immanuel Kant's shoes

Immanuel Kant’s shoes (Photo credit: KAPOOKA BABY)

Guardians are representatives of social structure who try to keep individualism down in order to preserve the status quo. They are people who “take up the oversight of mankind” by setting themselves up as guardians for immature individuals in order to ensure that society at large views further steps toward maturity as difficult and dangerous (Kant 58). Kant argues that guardians make immature individuals stupid domestic animals by instilling fear and incompetence into the people’s hearts and minds (58). They use rules and formulas as tools for facilitating “an everlasting immaturity” (59). Guardians convince others that they are incapable of proceeding on their own. While dangers are not that great, the fears that guardians propagate make immature individuals timid and frightened. As a result, people become “placid creatures” who do not dare “to take one step out” beyond the cart to which they are tied (Kant 58 – 59). Fear makes it difficult for them to escape their immaturities, and this timid state becomes their natural state of existence (Kant 59).

Kant uses pastors and doctors as examples of guardians: a pastor acts on the behalf of an individual’s conscience by supplementing his conscience for the individual’s conscience, and a doctor tells the individual what he should and should not eat (Kant 58). Using this definition that guardians are people who contribute to the intellectual immaturity of the masses, other examples of guardians would be monarchs, nobles, and aristocrats. On a smaller level, guardians can also refer to family patriarchs who make decisions for the women and children, though Kant does not address these groups of society in particular.

Today’s counterparts of Kant’s guardians hold similar positions. Society still has doctors who make diet recommendations; pastors who make religious recommendations; attorneys who make legal recommendations; congressmen who write laws; and presidents who govern. In America, these guardians have a lot less influence than the guardians of Kant’s society. Kant views guardians as individuals who are hired by others to take care of certain affairs. In general, Kant is not very optimistic of the entire Enlightenment process. In particular, he points out that “a public can achieve enlightenment only gradually. A revolution may perhaps bring about the fall of an autocratic despotism… but it can never bring about the true reform of a way of thinking” (59). Instead, new prejudices will replace the old, “as the leading strings of the faultless masses” (Kant 59). Therefore, the free public use of reason is the only way that enlightenment among men can be achieved. Though Kant’s attitude toward guardians is laced with contempt, he admits their importance. He sees no way around having leaders and rulers, and instead hopes that these leaders give the masses freedom of thought so that they could achieve individual growth and maturity.

Kant, Immanuel. “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784). Trans. James Schmidt. 58-64.

Kant and the Question of Religious Freedom

English: Statue of Immanuel Kant in Kaliningra...

English: Statue of Immanuel Kant in Kaliningrad, Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where does Kant stand on the question of religious freedom? Give specific examples from his essay as you discuss this point.

Kant uses the clergyman has an extensive example for public and private use of freedom. He points out that in his capacity as a clergyman, he is required to lecture to his congregation according to what his church tells him to. However as a scholar, the clergyman should communicate to the public all his well-intentioned thoughts on the imperfections of the church that he serves. Kant imagines that the clergyman will say: “our church teaches this or that; these are the arguments that it employs” (60). Using the rules, the clergyman then points out all the practical uses of his lecture “to which he himself may not subscribe with complete conviction” (60). Kant justifies this hypocritical act by stating that “it is not entirely possible that truth may lie concealed within them [the rules], and, at least in any case there is nothing in them that this in contradiction to what is intrinsic to religion” (60). However, Kant does point out that if the clergyman “believed he found such a contradiction in them, he could not in conscience conduct his office; he would have to resign” (60-61). Therefore, for Kant, the line between what we would call hypocritical actions and actions according to public and private uses of freedom is very thin. Kant appears to stand on the side of religious freedom, depending on the definition of freedom. He requires that the clergyman resigns if he finds himself contradicting himself, but he does give the clergyman the right to criticize the church in his capacity as a scholar, a right that many clergyman in the modern world seem to lack.

Kant, Immanuel. “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784). Trans. James Schmidt. 58-64.

Kant’s Public and Private Uses of Reason

English: Immanuel Kant Deutsch: Immanuel Kant

English: Immanuel Kant Deutsch: Immanuel Kant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is the difference as Kant explains it between the public and private use of reason? Does Mendelssohn largely agree with Kant on this matter of the two uses of reason or not?

The public sphere is a place where people are free from obligation of their calling, and subjects are free to write or speak critically (Kant 59, Outram 2). The private sphere is a place where people have an actual duty to restrain the expression of wayward political judgment, in the interest of upholding the ruler’s will and lessening the likelihood of the outbreak of chaos (Kant 59, Outram 2). As Kant explains it, a clergyman is bound to lecture to his congregation according to the symbol of the church which he serves. But as a scholar, “he has the complete freedom to communicate to the public all of his carefully tested and well-intentioned thoughts on the imperfections of that symbol and his proposals for better arrangement of religious and ecclesiastical affairs” (Kant 60). In fact, Kant goes as far as to point out that it is indeed the clergyman’s calling to communicate his thoughts on the imperfections of the church. Kant divides actions/thoughts into either public or private categories. He does not see these categories as contradictions, and points out that if these uses are carefully separated then the clergyman should have “nothing to burden his conscience” (Kant 60). Kant sees the clergyman as an agent of his church and therefore requires him to teach something he does not agree with “as a consequence of his office” (60-61). Therefore, Kant views the clergyman’s use of his reason before his congregation as a private use of reason and his use of his freedom as a scholar who speaks to his own public through his writing as a public use of his reason (61).

Mendelssohn does not agree with Kant on this matter of the two uses of reason. He notes that “the destiny of man as a measure and goal of all our striving and efforts” and argues that the more status and duties in civil life correspond “throughout all the states, with their vocations…the more culture the nation possesses” (Mendelssohn 54). In other words, Mendelssohn does not segregate use of reason into two spheres and instead requires man to reconcile them into one way of being. As a result, he points out, “if the unessential destiny of man comes into conflict with the essential or nonessential destiny of the citizen, rules must be established according to which exceptions are made in cases of collisions decided” (Mendelssohn 55).

Kant, Immanuel. “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784). Trans. James Schmidt. 58-64.

Mendelssohn, Moses. “On the Question: What is Englitenment?” (1784). Trans. James Schmidt. 53-57.

Dorinda Outram, The Enlightenment, 2nd ed., Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780521546812