19.04 – Defending the Enlightenment

19.04 - Defending the Enlightenment


15 februari 2019 tot 17 februari 2019    
17:30 - 13:30


Oude Abdij Drongen (Gent)
Drongenplein 26-27, Gent, 9031


Few ideas are considered less trendy, or more foolish, than the idea of Enlightenment.  For contemporary critics, the Enlightenment is viewed as blindly optimistic, technocratic, hyper-rational and Eurocentric.  This course will examine such criticisms and separate the deepest ideals of the Enlightenment from its caricatures.

This course is a must for everyone who seeks to understand what Enlightenment is and what it can teach us national and international developments towards new forms of authocracy, (religious) fundamentalism, nationalism and “alternative facts”.

With Susan Neiman we have the best possible guide towards a further understanding of Enlightenment in its current endangered condition. She authored numerous books and articles on the subject and is widely considered to be one of the worlds leading intellectuals.


Dr. Susan Neiman

“Enlightenment is humankind’s emergence from its self-imposed immaturity.  Immaturity is the incapacity to use your own reason without others‘ guidance…the self-appointed guardians of humankind ensure that most human beings view maturity as very dangerous.”

( Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”)

For whom

This course is for everyone who want to understand what Enlightenment is. A background in philosophy is not necessary. We recommend everyone to thoroughly read the prescribed literature.

Content of the course

Friday, Introductory Lecture and Discussion, 2 hours
Saturday, Seminar: (1 hour) discussion of the critiques of Enlightenment
(1 hour) discussion of Enlightenment conception of happiness
(1 hour) discussion of Enlightenment conception of reason
(1 hour) discussion of Enlightenment conception of religion
(1 hour) discussion of Enlightenment conception of hope/progress
Sunday, Seminar: 2-3 hour discussion; return to the critiques, discuss whether we have developed the tools to answer them, and what Enlightenment ideas need to be revised in order to meet those critiques.


Total duration of the course is 11 hours. Further information about the course is to be found here: https://www.centre-erasme.nl/praktische-info/

Prescribed literature

Immanuel Kant, “Was heisst Aufklärung?”
Michel Foucault, „What is Enlightenment?“
Bruno Latour, (2004) “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern”. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 30, No. 2, Winter 2004, pp. 225-248
Jean Amery, “Aufklärung als philosophia perennis” in Die ZEIT, Nr 22/1977
Susan Neiman, “Why Grow Up?”, Penguin Books, 2016 ( introduction and chapter one)
Susan Neiman, “Moral Clarity”, Vintage publishing, 2011


While examining how much postmodern critique of the Enlightenment may have furthered our current post-truth political world, the main goal of this course is to defend a robust conception of the Enlightenment against such critiques. We will also discuss how far traditional Enlightenment views need to be revised in light of those critiques.

Apply for this course