Kant@300: “Kant and the Non-European: Critique, Justice and Freedom”

Lecture Series
Duration: September 2024 until April 2025

On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Königsberg philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB) and the Center for Critical Humanities for the Liberal Arts (CHLA) of the American University of Beirut are organizing a series of lectures/panel discussions on key Kantian concepts, their legacies and circulations.

The purpose of our event series is two-fold: (1) we investigate the legacy and contemporary relevance of Kantian key-concepts such as critique, enlightenment, justice, reason and freedom today in Europe, the MENA region and beyond; (2) we explore the question of circulation, translation and reconceptualization of Kantian and cognate philosophical concepts within the MENA region.

Kant is widely considered to be the key figure of modern continental philosophy, giving rise to the notion of subjectivity and departing from a medieval worldview of non-scientific metaphysics based on theology. Kant’s famous “Copernican turn” and his claim on objective validity of subjective cognition still inform the philosophical discourse of the 21st century. Kant coined the concept of critique and made it the key term of his critical philosophy, conceiving critique as a positive activity of inquiry and reasoning. 

We are interested in more recent accounts of Kant’s limited, i.e. Eurocentric, notion of universality and how historical and epistemic limitations of his age are ingrained in his notions of anthropology, history and teleological progress. At the same time, we discuss the radical potentials of some of his key concepts (e.g. sensus communis, public use of reason, aim of nature, radical evil), which resist their full historicization within the context of Enlightenment thought and early German Idealism.

Overall, this series of lectures and panels also attempts to bring the Kantian legacy of continental philosophy in conversation with modern Arabic intellectual history. Of particular interest is the Nahda, the period and project of cultural effervescence from the beginning of the nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century. Depending on one’s interpretation, it represents the beginning of a still "unfinished" Arab drive for enlightenment and emancipation, or it marks the colonial end of an independent cultural development. Either way, the Nahda represents a kind of Archimedean point for Arab modernity on which truth claims about the Arab past and future have been balanced ever since.