Progress and enlightenment + Tutelage and personal responsibility

An Introduction
I really don’t know if I’ve done the right thing here …  I’ve gone and done a rather back to front reading of Foucault’s ’The courage of Truth: Self-Government and the government of others ’ series of lectures.
As you might have noticed from a previous post I’ve read the second book first. I liked it so much I fossicked around for the first book to read. So now, having read the second book (which contains the later series of lectures delivered by Foucault in the early 1980s) I’m on to the first book (which comprises the earlier lectures in the series).
For some of my notes and observations on book 2 see my earlier blog post on ‘Truth, Frankness, Care of Self and Courage‘ .
Perhaps I’m proceeding not exactly in the way the author intended provide the order, but hey illuminating either way.
In the first lecture that is presented I was immediately interested in Foucault’s discussion of the German word ‘Aufklärung’. AS ever given Foucault’s interest in the History of Knowledge and the construction of understanding about Power he provides some very useful background content. Specifically Foucault provided some historical and theoretical background to Kant’s response to the question ‘What is Enlightenment’. Was ist Aufklärung?  Foucault began by describing the differences in a pair of articles written by German/Prussian philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who wrote on reason and morals etc. in the late 19th Century (for a nice summary of the precepts in play here see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which has a particularly succinct explanation of the importance of this period of Enlightenment).
Anyway basically Kant is reaching for structural answers as to whats at the heart of any progress of modern civilisation and of the individual. He’s coming to terms with this question at a point in history where developments in sciences moved at pace and were increasingly informing our understandings of the world and challenging some of the authorities previously relied upon. The increasing degradation of hard links between philosophy and theology, knowledge underpinned by faith and reason, those long time friends science and religion.
Progress and enlightenment
So what is it about this term Aufklärung that interests both Kant and Foucault?  Enlightenment in their discussions was centred on progress/improvements/maturity of the human condition (either individual or general human progresses in experience, knowledge).  In Kant’s words  – “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.”
So then how then do we describe this ‘emergence’, this ‘improvement’ or this ‘progress’. Foucault introduces some structural understandings of progress as events and signs as being the correlations and causes of progress.
However for ‘progress’ of the human condition to be considered permanent there must be recorded events and signs indicating movement.
These collected events and signs indicating movement must be:
  1. memorable (“events that have happened”as being past signs),
  2. demonstrable (current signs “events that are happening”),
  3. prognostic (events that will happening,”it will always be thus”)
So progress and enlightenment of the human condition must be describe-able across those areas – historical, contemporaneous, predictable.
Foucault highlights a variation in Kant’s earliest responses to his responses to this question during the French Revolution. Or rather simply a variation in the case studies/exemplar that Kant provides in the pivotal years around the French Revolution. Originally the case study provided was that of the current Prussian King, Frederick the Great,  the successful reformist as the initial theoretical model/ case study of providing structural advancement in governance of civilisation.

Foucault describes the culture of power under Frederick the Great thusly:
“… in this total freedom for conducting religious discussion, accompanied by the constitution of a strong and ‘well-disciplined” army ensuring public peace we have …that adjustment between… a government of self which will develop in the form of the universal (as public discussion, public reasoning, and the public use of understanding, and, on the other hand, the obedience to which all those who are part of a  given society, state, or administration will be constrained” (p.38)
This king provided an insightful model for Kant between freedom of speech and personal autonomy, and social control and order, allowing freedom of speech but ensuring through armed strength the inviolability of authority.
So Kant’s response is to create two elements that provide for him the continuity of  towards progress:
1) “A freely chosen constitution
– that is, what is best is a system of governance that allows autonomy of each individual.
AND
2) A chosen constitution which avoids war/conflict
 – That this autonomy/government avoids offensive conflict.
Initially it is these two elements that will provide the continuity of a movement towards progress.  With the advent of the French Revolution there is a subtle reframing of those thoughts away from offering a Prince (i.e.as previously modelled by Frederick the Great) as that exemplar.
Kant, (so says Foucault), now shifts his view to the French Revolution as providing an improvement on the demonstration of ‘Enlightenment’, perhaps trying to trying to get that right “distribution in the interplay between obedience and private use, universality and public use.” (Foucault, p.38) Kant’s ‘Enlightenment’ concept is no longer centered on a movement, an individual or a seat of power:
“no matter if a revolution of a gifted people, which we have seen carried out in our time succeeds or fails, no matter whether it piles up misery and atrocities …[to the point] where a sensible man, who could hope to see it through successfully at a second attempt, would nonetheless decide never to make the experiment at such a price”,
this success of failure, or repeatability is considered not important to why the French Revolution offered the example of ‘Enlightenment in Kant’s eyes.
So no matter the gifted individuals involved, the outcome of whether the constitution achieving individual autonomy, all the while avoiding conflict — indeed these elements are not in themselves material to the progress of the human condition. What Kant is alluding to (and Foucault highlighting) here is that there is no set of events or signs that progress these areas on their own are impervious to retreat, return, devolution, or regression. Reliance on a Kings’ good governance, or populist uprising to install a constitution achieving improvements to the self autonomy of all subject/citizens without conflict is impermanent, and as such not ‘enlightenment’.
What IS more material to the progress of man is a “sympathy for aspiration which borders on enthusiasm” (Foucault quoting Kant p.18). A willingness to improve the lot of mankind, through a constitutional autonomy, preferably eschewing violent conflict. Sounds pretty involved and nearly unattainable to me.
So to return to Kant defining what this progress and Enlightenment is: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” This self incurred immaturity is the ceding of personal responsibility of personal autonomy to others, and is made of independent thought, support and compassion for aspirational action towards the improvement of mankind.
Tutelage and personal responsibility
So on to this ‘self incurred immaturity’. The german term (Unmündig) for what Kant called this ‘immaturity’ Foucault provided the translation as ‘tutelage’. Elsewhere (other texts) the German word is described as being similar to ‘under the age of legal adulthood’ (so child like),  ‘dependent’ or ‘unfree’.
This dependency is described as an/the “inability to make use of your understanding without direction from another”.  This inability to make ‘use’ of our understanding has as its cause not “a lack” in or of understanding”, rather “a lack of resolution or courage to make use with out direction from another” ( Kant, as quoted by Foucault p. 26)
There are three (not exhaustive but rather illuminating examples that Kant provides (that Foucault repeats) regarding mindless reliance/obedience to the dogma of authority:
1. If I had a book that I depend on, use as a complete substitute for my own understanding of the world (reason) …
2. If I had a spiritual director that I follow implicitly instead of following my own moral conscience (morals) …
3. If I had a medical doctor that I follow for diet (replacing what an individual may ‘know, decide and plan” for their own life (physical wellbeing)
—  “then I need not take the trouble myself” p. 32
Kant says to avoid mitigated tutelage we must fight our own innate ‘cowardice’ and ‘laziness’ p.33 and fear.
There is of course that spectre of Free Will vs Nature: Man is in tutelage because of laziness and cowardice, and thus are unable to remove themselves from tutelage because they are lazy and cowards. A use of Tutelage described (by both Kant and Foucault) as a childish crutch, indeed more as training wheels left on after one learns to ride i.e. even if the wheels were to be removed still the rider would fall to the ground/fail to walk/ride such is the dependence. p.32
Its possible then to argue that on many topics there is a spectrum of tutelage: of full immersion tutelage (full thumb in mouth), of consciousness without action, of leaving tutelage or attempting to, of exercising critical activity and engagement in independent syntheses. p.32
Indeed I believe there is a point where Kant speaks of ‘Enlightenment’ as a leaving of tutelage, not a destination, but simply the leaving of dependency.
So then our ability to use our understandings, or will be able to make of this freedom once provided of our own reason and direction is characteristic of the relationship between self-government and the government of others (by, for)  (Foucault, p.32)
Foucault then makes a distinction between a voluntary giving up of rights against an external imposition, a forced deprivation, or removal of legitimate exercise of human will juxtaposed against the human flaw, a shortcoming, or a form of weakness of will.
On the flip side of this one might then talk about the governing of others.
Where the governing of others, (the tutelage of another one might say) is taken up by another — whether that be through intellect or capability or ability — that because one person is unable to conduct themselves that others have obligingly come forward to act on their behalf.
OR
One could say where less innocently and naively that the governing of others is initiated cunningly, shrewdly, a person has convincingly taken upon themselves to guide the direction of others for their own satisfaction
Where there are individuals who renounce this tutelage, they cannot remove another’s tutelage because by doing so they are taking on the role of authority in another’s tutelage only (replacing one piece of dogmatic authority with another)
Plenty more to think about there. Only up to the second lecture … so no doubt plenty more to blather about.
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2 responses to “Progress and enlightenment + Tutelage and personal responsibility

  1. Hey Liam thanks for deciphering some of Kant and Foucault. It’s interesting that the republic in the French Revolution led to a strong nationalistic trend in Europe with an authoritative nature ie Germany, Japan.

    When we look at history it also gives no clues as to what the future holds ie
    Are we out of a global economic crisis or is the worst to come? Will China continue to grow until it becomes a superpower ? Will the United States lose its hegemony ? Is the upsurge in monotheistic fundamentalism . Are we heading towards ecological disaster or techno paradise ? The point I’m making is the path we end up taking is hard to know for sure. In a decade we will look back and see some obvious
    outcomes. I guess In a deterministic sense there is a lot left to a natural progression.
    It’s like a washing machine spinning to a centre……I know that there are times when the idea of rationalism in politics seems absurd.
    Thanks for the post

  2. Good point on the historical changes to politics of power … the possibility of the rise in political power of the French revolution also claim some influence in the rise to political power of Marxism and the Russian revolution.

    I wouldn’t say that history offers no clues … historical events do provide data as to broad historical trends … which obviously isn’t enough to predict future events exactly. I’d argue political extremism does have its causes in social and economic conditions but mostly you are right I suppose.

    Being able to see through the cultural age in which you live is a fine thing but not too many minds have been able to do this … and the whole hindsight bias thing comes into play. Thats why I like the idea of the History of ideas concept that Foucault is talking about in this lecture series that something like Frank and Fearless Truth-telling ‘parrhesia’ as being seen variously through history: a ‘duty’, a ‘right’ or an ‘ego driven sin’

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