The Public Use of Reason: Towards a Philosophical Understanding of Knowledge Sharing
The free access to knowledge and its condition of possibility, i.e. freedom of press, are among the most relevant claims of the Age of Enlightenment. Nevertheless, only in the thinking of Immanuel Kant these claims are explicitly assumed in a metaphysical perspective. Thus, the need of sharing knowledge, and in general the need of freedom in the communication of thinking, is not merely held as self evident or just empirically given: on the contrary, Kant asks about its transcendental meaning, and attempts to deduce this meaning a priori from the essence of human being itself. However, this task is not systematically developed, but rather exposed en passant in different passages of his work, where, facing phenomena such as the amazing expansion of book trade, the increasing diffusion of journals and newspapers, the growing role of "public opinion" and the fierce fighting for freedom of press, Kant tries to demonstrate their critical significance – and therefore also the threat they may represent – for the use of reason and thus for the manifestation of human nature as such. In this perspective, he elaborates the concept of the "public use of reason", which will represent the (more or less unspoken) canon for the present understanding of the modern society as a knowledge-based society. The paper analyses Kant's thought on these topics, with particular reference to the problem of the sharing of knowledge and the subsequent meaning of knowing. It focuses on some relevant repercussions and misunderstandings on 19th century culture. Finally, according to some Hannah Arendt's insights, it considers the specious transformation of these critical concepts in present day society as characterised by mass culture.
Keywords: Kant, Knowledge Sharing, Communication, Freedom of Press, Role of the Intellectual, Mass Culture
Dr Maurizio Borghi
Research Fellow, Institute of Quantitative Methods Bocconi University, Milan, ASK - Art, Science and Knowledge Research Lab. of Bocconi University