‘Nothing is required for this Enlightenment,’ Kant wrote in 1784, ‘except freedom … the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters.’
A philosophy blog could do worse than adopt such a motto: for Kant, the ‘Enlightenment’ was, after all, not a new set of dogmas to replace the old, but a dawning courage to trust one’s own reason. ‘I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me,’ Kant derisively continued, confident that public reason could replace the old, impeding authorities and lead to the further progress of humanity, its ‘essential destiny.’
When the creation of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy was announced—building on the foundation of the ‘Science, Epistemology, and Ethics Research’ (SEER) lab—the express intent was not only to support scholarly work within the university’s confines but also to ‘to promote public engagement and philosophical reflection on scientific issues.’ The internet has provided us with a new medium for this task at a critical time.
Whatever lack of humility is evident in identifying with Kant’s vision of ‘Enlightenment’ here will hopefully be offset by the sincerity of the undertaking. While there are innumerable organizations, think tanks, and public relations firms dedicated to providing ready-made answers (at a price), our concern is with that oldest of philosophical methods, the Socratic elenchus, the questioning—the interrogation that hopefully spurs ‘Enlightenment’ as Kant saw it.
Joseph Rotman himself, in his remarks at the Institute’s opening ceremony, emphasized the importance of philosophical questioning over technical problem-solving in his business success, and noted the absence of an honest dialogue in the public sphere on science and the ethical issues raised by scientific research. It is not that scientist themselves are unwilling, or unable; quite the contrary. Often they are best situated for the pursuit. What Dr. Rotman correctly diagnosed was that certain kinds of institutions—that provided bridges between separate academic disciplines, that had a public and disinterested mission—were lacking. Our hope is that Rotman Institute can be part of a larger, collaborative corrective.
This graduate student-run blog is a small part of the larger Rotman Institute. We aim for a casual and accessible tone in which to discuss the issues that comprise the Institute’s central concern: the ethics and epistemology of contemporary science—that is, the relation between normativity and knowledge.
The Institute’s informal motto is ‘Engaging Science’: I like it because it evokes, to me, the French sense of ‘engagé’, a person who is socially or politically active and committed to justice and truth. Scientists and philosophers can be wonderful allies in this quest. Let’s begin: after all, one does not simply stumble into Aufklarung.