Diderot, Kant and “Enlightenment dialogue”

“Diderot therefore exemplifies another major enlightenment preoccupation: curiosity. All periods exhibit curiosity about some issues. But the Enlightenment, unlike earlier periods, valued curiosity itself. In late antiquity, Saint Augustine had deemed curiosity a vice. But Immanuel Kant’s famous essay “What Is Enlightenment?” (1784) challenged people to follow their own understanding wherever it might lead. “The motto of enlightenment,” Kant declared, “is…Sapere aude! [Dare to know!] Have courage to use your own understanding!” Perhaps no one lived out this creed more boldly than Diderot. He and his fellow Enlightenment philosophers valued the companionable exchange of ideas in spontaneous conversation as the highest form of discourse. This is one reason Diderot chose the rambling philosophical dialogue as his trademark genre, Enlightenment dialogue is not just an exchange of views, but a collaborative project in which participants open them selves to each other’s points of view. Implicit in this free-ranging, exploratory form is the assumption—not shared universally by intellectuals of preceding periods—that innovation is at least potentially a good thing.”

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