Sapere Aude!

Today in 1707 and 1724, Henry Fielding and Immanuel Kant were born, respectively. I trust you are holding the appropriate celebrations. I, to honor the former, shall embrace the mixed quality of my moral character by robbing a charity to start another charity. In recognition of the latter, I shall calculate the exact value of the mathematical sublime.

In truth, I am thinking less about Fielding than Kant today, as I near the deadline for turning in my dissertation proposal. In speaking to two of my panel members who occupy quite opposite sides of the spectrum with respect to the beast, I was directed, broadly speaking, to make a choice between being the tip of the sword or its pommel. Do you want to run first into a new disciplinary future, though at the risk of being parried or broken off entirely? Or do you wish to write a reliable but fairly blunt instrument that distantly trails the leading edge?

One of them told me, as I dithered between these positions, to "write the dissertation you want to write." So I come back to Kant, who famously described Enlightenment thus:
Enlightenment is man's emergence from self-imposed immaturity for which he himself was responsible. Immaturity and dependence are the inability to use one's own intellect without the direction of another. One is responsible for this immaturity and dependence, if its cause is not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of determination and courage to think without the direction of another. Sapere Aude! Dare to know! is therefore the slogan of the Enlightenment.
~ from "What is Enlightenment" (1784)
I begin to understand that while you get the most formal direction during your dissertation--after all, you have a dissertation director--it is also the first real step towards maturity.

Why then, do I want to curl up with a stuffed animal and watch cartoons all day?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As somebody who has had to face paralysis as the result of "self-imposed immaturity for which he himself was responsible" I agree that you must, must write the dissertation that you want to write. I am writing the dissertation that I want to write, but it took me three months to decide that I wanted the caramel covered popcorn not the caramel covered popcorn with salted peanuts and chocolate sprinkles. As it is, even when you *are* writing the dissertation that you want to write, you are faced with unbelievable and what seem unsurmountable writing and reading blocks which make you want to curl up with a (in my case) live animal and watch Law & Order. So SAPERE AUDE! AND CONGRATULATIONS! [We should have some kind of 18c prospectus - first chapter reunion with the soon-to-be post-orals ladies when all of these deadlines are dead. May 18th, here I come!