Comparing Kant and Mill

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Comparing Kant and Mill

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Kant and Mill both articulate thoughts that praise the use of reason as the ultimate good, that which leads to enlightenment (in Kant’s terms) and a general understanding and certainty, as Mill would put it. The two political philosophers, while both striving to reach the same goal, ultimately achieve their goals in a different sense, and even demonstrate a slight discrepancy in what they ultimately mean to attain. Mill’s path toward certainty and understanding is dependent on dissenting opinion, and is asymptotic to truth; one never achieves the complete enlightenment that Kant describes so vividly as the individual’s end on a linear path of reason.

Kant’s description of enlightenment describes the escape from one’s “self-imposed immaturity.” This immaturity, according to Kant, is “self imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in a lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another.” (Kant 41). Kant is clearly attempting to break the chains of laziness and cowardice that hold a man back, preventing him from ultimate understanding. For Kant, a man becomes truly enlightened when his thoughts are his own, and his individual use of reason leads to the correct decisions. The public use of reason allows for these individuals to escape from the restrictions that the private sphere holds, restrictions which allow their own jobs to be completed as a benefit for the public. For Kant, the public use of reason is man’s assumption of the role of a scholar, one who places ideas “before the public for its judgment.” (Kant 43). It seems as though Kant’s use of rationality, however, involves simply speaking one’s mind and putting forth a certain set of op...

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...that all its consequences must be beneficial. The loss of so important an aid to the intelligent and living apprehension of a truth, as is afforded by the necessity of explaining it to, or defending it against, opponents, though not sufficient to outweigh, is no trifling drawback from, the benefit of its universal recognition.” (Mill 630).

For Mill, absolute “enlightenment” would be a contradiction, because for us to understand what truth is, we must understand why the dissenters from that truth are wrong. Mill’s discussion of the improvement of the human race is dependent on these dissenters, while Kant’s discussion is entirely dependent on an individual breaking his chains and thinking for himself. While both men use reason to achieve their goals, they use reason in a very different sense, a sense which exposes the similarity, yet disparity between those goals.
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