Michel Foucault's What Is Enlightenment

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Michel Foucault traces the notion of progress through the period of the Enlightenment in his work What is Enlightenment, taking it to be the period that we most commonly and sincerely identify, to use Kant’s phrase, as the period of “man’s emergence from his self incurred immaturity”[1]. It is through Kant’s essay of the same title that Foucault analyses the processes that Kant recognized as necessary to this ‘emergence’- a process involving “modification of the pre-existing relation linking will, authority, and the use of reason”[2] that came upon through assuming the motto of “dare to know”[1]. But Foucault slices through the simple language of Kant’s essay to reveal the notorious ambiguities that lie hidden beneath simple exhortations, revealing through questioning the use of simple phrases in the text of Kant’s essay like ‘mankind’ or ‘public and private use of reason’ to reveal an inherent contradiction in Kant’s solution, which Foucault calls the “Contract of rational despotism with free reason”[2] which is- “the public and free use of autonomous reason will be the best guarantee of obedience, on condition, however, that the political principle that must be obeyed itself be in conformity with universal reason”[2]. Bur this conformism can take different forms in different places and historical periods, an example of which is provided by Foucault’s book Madness and Civilization, which traces the attitudes to insanity at the same time as the Enlightenment. After

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