Sapere aude  

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Sapere aude is a Latin phrase meaning "dare to know". Originally used by Horace, it is a common motto for universities and other institutions, after becoming closely associated with The Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant in his seminal essay, What is Enlightenment?. Kant claimed it was the motto for the entire period, and used it to explore his theories of reason in the public sphere. Later, Michel Foucault took up Kant's formulation in an attempt for a place for the individual in his post-structuralist philosophy and come to terms with the problematic legacy of the Enlightenment.


Horace's use

The original use seems to be in Epistle II of Horace's Epistularum liber primus : Dimidium facti qui coepit habet: sapere aude ("He who has begun is half done: dare to know!").

Kant's use

Immanuel Kant's essay describes the Enlightenment as "man's release from his self-incurred tutelage", with Sapere Aude being charged to those who would follow this program of individual liberty and knowledge (which Kant explicitly defines as Reason). In its Enlightenment context, this phrase is an exhortation and a blatantly political device, claiming that the mass of "domestic cattle" have been bred by unfaithful stewards not to question what they're told. Kant, skillfully praising and manipulating Frederick II of Prussia's vanity to Enlightenment ideas, split reason into public and private uses. Public uses are the discussions of politics and policy in the public sphere, while the private uses are the acts those who use the reason would commit. Kant sums his argument with the phrases, "Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, only obey!" It is the courage of the people to follow Sapere Aude that will break the shackles of despotism, and reveal through public discourse, for the benefit both of the population and the state, better methods of governance, or legitimate complaints.

Foucault's use

Foucault, in his response to Kant, also entitled "What is Enlightenment?", rejects much of the hopeful political content of a people ruled by Sapere Aude. Instead, Foucault looks at the critical tools of using ones own reason, and how disputing Kant's other arguments only serves to reinforce the value of Sapere Aude (Foucault uses the term critical ontology as a synonym for his concept) with a sort of faithful betrayal.

Foucault too, however, roots his vision of Sapere Aude in a definite practice. Instead of a [term missing- request clarification] , it becomes an individual "attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are". This attitude uses reason as a tool, to start a historical criticism of "the limits that are imposed on us" to be exercised in "an experiment with the possibility of going beyond" those limits, the limit-experience that is both an individual act, and one that breaks apart the concept of the individual all together.

See also

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