Kantian Journal

2017 Vol. 36. №1

Kant, Nietzsche, and the Enlightenment: A comparative analysis

Abstract

This article provides a comparative analysis of I. Kant’s and F. Nietzsche’s critical approaches, which is carried out in the context of the thinkers’ attitudes to the problem of the Enlightenment. In spite of a rather peculiar understanding of the Enlightenment, which differed significantly from that of their contemporaries, Kant and Nietzsche have remarkably similar ideas. The author reconstructs the essence and purpose of the Enlightenment, as well as the difficulties faced by philosophers on the way to enlightenment. Another focus is the functional status of the ‘guardian’ and the new interpretation of the ideas of maturity and freedom in Nietzsche’s understanding of the Enlightenment. This becomes possible after Nietzsche’s renunciation of Romanticism and experience of the death of God. Nietzsche extends Kant’s list of possible problems in achieving enlightenment — egoism, guardianship, sloth, and cowardice. For Nietzsche, the central problem is the dominant role of reason in the Enlightenment. Nevertheless, reason is not denied but rather it is limited and supplemented with the integrating power of myth, which is considered by Nietzsche not as a prejudice but as the origin of thought correlating with life. Moreover, confidence in culture disappears. The ‘warped wood’ is replaced by the ‘rope over an abyss’ and the immature majority by masses. Inasmuch a person should never be treated as a means, the thinkers avoid the gap between enlightenment and the current process of realisation of the Enlightenment by a person. Similarly to Kant’s idea that enlightenment eludes realisation becoming a benchmark or a regulative idea, Nietzsche’s works do not distinguish between the source and the end and persons overcoming themselves become the only meaning of existence.

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