Kant on “Paradoxical Thinking”

Various  commitments have conspired to delay the next installment of my discussion of the history of the notion of “counter-enlightenment.”  But in the course of my reading, I came across a quote from Kant’s lectures on anthropology that casts a somewhat different light on the idea of “daring to know.”  So, I thought I’d share it:

Paradoxical cognitions are the ones that make errors suspect; these cognitions appear strange. Hence, if one judges him, one can learn something new from an author who is paradoxical, because he deviates from the old path and chooses a new one. However, according to reason, such an author is a daredevil, and he exposes himself both to winning and to losing. If he succeeds, he gains the advantage therefrom, if he fails he still deserves credit for that reason, because he had this much daring to take a risk. Someone else, who is not so daring, holds to common opinion in order not to fail.The French are very fond of daring in thinking, as they take a risk and thereby leave themselves open to praise or blame. That is a narrow-minded person who, in an unfinished book containing errors, does not nevertheless see the idea of genius which dared, after all, to say such a thing. One must read such authors who are paradoxical because one finds much that is new in them. [Akademie Ausgabe 25:484-485; trans. by Felicitas Munzel, Lectures on Anthropology (Cambridge 2012) p. 59].

I hope to be back to tracking down later nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century uses of Gegenaufklärung shortly.

About James Schmidt

Professor of History, Philosophy, and Political Science Boston University
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2 Responses to Kant on “Paradoxical Thinking”

  1. zjb says:

    a lovely little post. i was wondering if you might please share bibliographical detail for long passages such as these.

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