online: 1 september 2002
modified: 23, 24, 26 october 2003, 10 june 2005

1 september 2002 a new enlightenment?

When, in 1784, Immanuel Kant was asked the question 'What is Enlightenment?' this was the first part of his answer:

Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another.... "Have courage to use your own reason!"- that is the motto of enlightenment.

When I came across this statement my first thought was that, since 1784, many people have become sufficiently educated to understand and to reason for themselves - and so the Enlightenment has been achieved...

...but when I read the essay* which follows this quotation I realise that Immanuel Kant is thinking of many kinds of 'tutelege' or 'guardianship' which still persist - for instance the prevalence of priests, doctors, lawyers, and many other professionals who will do for money the thinking that he suggests we can and should do for ourselves.

In my many attempts to widen the processes of designing (to fit the scale of modern design problems) I have been led, more and more, to think that the problems of our time cannot be solved by specialisation alone - not even by the 'integrative' or 'creative' specialisations of designing and design research.

New processes, and a new culture, seem to me to be necessary.

What I am calling 'creative democracy', and more recently 'afternature', are the latest aspects of this widening - my search for ways to solve the problems of our time by opening them 'to everyone'.

Coming across this remark of Immanuel Kant (and after editing out some of his eighteenth century language) I am astonished to find that his vision of 'enlightenment' is still so apposite to the situation now.

I wait, perhaps in disappointment and impatience, for those who design, and those who do design research, to share their knowledge in ways that would enable all of us (as people not as specialists) to play a part in the designing of industrial life and in the extension of the nature of which we and our productions are a creative part, no less.

This is indeed an enormous change and I find it difficult to see how to proceed. Hence this website...

...but I am sure that the internet is one such way to all this - as is the new tradition of 'open source' software in which designing is extended and improved by enabling users to take part in it, publicly**.

Yes, the eighteenth-century Enlightenment is still happening, so it seems...

...or can it be that a new enlightenment is in prospect, something more extensive and imaginative ...and including interaction, self-awareness and darkness?

* The complete essay is from:
© Paul Halsall, Aug 1997, Modern History Sourcebook

** For an inspiring and informed description of the Open Source movement see John Naughton's book A Brief History of the Future: the origins of the internet, Phoenix Paperbacks/Orion Books, London 2000, particularly on pages 204-206.

digital diary dates


(c) 2002 john chris jones

You may transmit this text to anyone for any non-commercial purpose if you include the copyright line and this notice and if you respect the copyright of quotations.

If you wish to reproduce any of this text commercially please send a copyright permission request to jcj at