Sunday, April 28, 2024

Dr Oliver Hartwich: A birthday toast to a long-dead philosopher

I may have been the only New Zealander to raise a glass on Monday to the 300th birthday of Immanuel Kant.

In our age of unreason, conspiracy theories and disinformation, we would do well to rediscover this Enlightenment philosopher. He developed ideas that were radically novel in his time, and that remain relevant and insightful today.

Kant’s emphasis on reason is more important than ever. When conspiracy theories spread like wildfire on social media, we need the tools of critical thinking to separate truth from fiction and propaganda.

As Putin’s war on Ukraine enters its third year, Kant’s vision for a peaceful world order based on international law and cooperation is equally relevant.

Meanwhile, authoritarian ideas are challenging liberal democracy worldwide. Kant’s emphasis on the rule of law, separation of powers and equal rights remind us of the foundations of freedom.

Kant’s philosophy is not just abstract theory. It has practical implications for politics in New Zealand today.

As the new Government seeks to reform education, housing and regulation, a Kantian lens would ask how these policies expand freedom and opportunity for New Zealanders.

Debates over the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi remain heated. Kant’s insistence on the state securing equal rights for all citizens could also inform those debates.

Of course, applying 18th century ideas from East Prussia to 21st century New Zealand is not straightforward. Kant cannot solve our problems for us. But the power of reason, in which he put much faith, can help us navigate our uncertain world.

Yet Kant, for all his genius, was not a saint. Despite his wonderful ideas about freedom and the universality of human rights, he failed to fully live by them. Recent research has revealed a highly problematic, racist side to Kant’s thought. In that, sadly, he was a product of his time.

This should be a humbling thought for us. If even an intellectual giant like Kant could not see how he violated his own principles, we should pause to examine our own views. None of us are immune to the biases of our era.

Still, the enduring relevance of Kant’s philosophy is to challenge us: “Dare to know!”. Have the courage to use reason.

So here in New Zealand and around the globe, let us toast to Kant, flaws and all. Not just for his historical significance, but for his lasting challenge to think freely and act rightly.

Dr Oliver Hartwich is the Executive Director of The New Zealand Initiative think tank. This article was first published HERE.

1 comment:

Murray said...

Logically REASON must trump any decision possibly based on "feelings" or "emotion".
So any comment of "I think..." must be digested as largely irrelevant.
Pertinent FACTS must always underscore solutions .
communication is vital, and can only prove worthy, if free of
bias or nserion of spurious input, such as equality, diversity, inclusion,
Only one way forward - REALITY in totality.