Kantian Journal

2018 Vol. 37. №1

Was heißt Fortschritt im Wissen? Gnoseoto­pi­sche Überlegungen zur Auf­klä­rung und ihren Folgen

Abstract

This article focuses on the question of what “progress in knowledge” (Fortschritt im Wissen) since the Enlightenment could mean. The answer is rooted in a shift in perspective in our understanding of the Enlightenment, and in an awareness of the gnoseotope at the center of this perspectival shift. Given the fact that human knowledge has always been considered li­mited, the axiom called gnoseotope (from Greek gnōsis: cognition, know­ledge and topos: place, area, field) can be defined as the area of re­latively secure knowledge, which is subject to both quantitative (cumulative) and qualitative (paradigmatic) histo­rical changes. Considering the further fact that human ignorance has been acknowledged since Antiquity and taken for granted for millennia of human history, the awareness of this ignorance becomes parti­cularly problematic during the Enlightenment when irreducible yet systematically repressed elements of human ignorance were integrated into the epistemology of 18th-century rationalism. This article discusses the development in the shift from ignorance as a given to ignorance as a systematically reflected part of the conditions of human knowledge from a historical point of view through the examples of Christian Wolff, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, and Johann Georg Sulzer. The argument does not focus on the ‘completion’ of the rationalist system of 18th-century philosophy, but rather on the subversive quality of the introduction of subrational elements into that system, resul­ting in the ultimate breakdown of the system and in the expansion of the horizon of the Enlightenment gnoseotope. In this sense, the Enlightenment can be seen as expanding from from an age (“Enlightenment” with an upper-case “E”) to a method (“enlightenment” with a lower-case “e”). The article concludes with recent debates (as initiated by Ulrich Beck, Rainer Specht, and contemporary natural scientists) about the effects that a gnoseotopical perspective has on globalization and ecological politics, and more broadly with reflections on the current need for core Enlightenment ideas in their full complexity.

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