Rethinking the Enlightenment, or thinking the Enlightenment for the first time

Jean-Louis Fabiani


In his famous comment on Kant’s Was ist Aufklärung?, Foucault considers that the debate ‘for’ or ‘against’ the Enlightenment has no meaning as such, and calls for a new space of inquiry that would take into account our own determination, as subjects, by the Enlightenment, making it the object of a new history, still to be written. Although this short text has been quoted over and over, it is still a sort of empty programme that does not overcome the antinomies of modern rationality. I would like to draw on one of Foucault’s most suggestive remarks, albeit in some ways enigmatic: ‘[m]any things in our experience convince us that the historic-al event of the Enlightenment did not make us mature adults, and we have not reached that stage yet.’ Starting from this statement, I would like to delineate the possibilities of a New Enlightenment, that would not be the first one made better, or rendered adequate to its original project (as an extended rationality or as a reflexive normativity, for instance), but that would take really seriously the potential reflexivity encrypted in the Aufklärung, redefining the legitimate use of reason and the fair distribution of knowledge in a ‘post-rationalist’ age. In order to contribute to the collective reflection, I will use my own ongoing research on two different, but not unrelated topics: the question of the public as it appears in the new ‘cultural public sphere’ and the sociological analysis of the rationalisation process.


Sociology of the environment; ecology; climate change in Europe

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