22nd April 2020
Speech on the Occasion of the 296th Anniversary of Immanuel Kant
Dear Friends of Kant,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to address all the English speaking friends of the philosopher Immanuel Kant. As Chairman of the international society FREUNDE KANTS UND KÖNIGSBERGS, it has been a great honour to be able to say a few words each year, on the philosopher's birthday, in the presence of a crowd of Friends of Kant at the foot of his grave.
Today, April 22nd, 2020, for the first time such an address has become impossible as we all have to stay at home to protect our health. That is why I am sending you this video message. So let us imagine that today we are standing together at Kant's grave in his hometown of Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, to honour the memory of the great humanist and pacifist.
What could Kant tell us about the present situation ? Let me quote an excerpt from his essay « Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History » (1786):
Quote : « Thinking people are subject to a malaise … of which the unthinking are ignorant, namely discontent with that providence by which the course of the world as a whole is governed. They feel this sentiment when they contemplate the evils which so greatly oppress the human race, with no hope (as it seems) of any improvement. Yet it is of the utmost importance that we should be content with providence, even if the path it has laid out for us on earth is an arduous one. We should be content with it partly in order that we may take courage even in the midst of hardships, and partly in order that we should not blame all such evils on fate and fail to notice that we may ourselves be entirely responsible for them, thereby losing the chance to remedy them by improving ourselves. » Unquote
I would like to attempt a translation of this 18th century text into modern language: Although our world is full of pain and misery, we must not despair, but accept the course of things, and even be satisfied with it. Why? Kant gives two reasons for this : First, so that we don’t lose our courage. Second, so that instead of putting the blame for all evil on fate, we think about how we can positively influence the world by improving ourselves.
How can we interpret this message ? Am I guilty of the Covid-19 pandemic ? As a socio-political thinking being, I could answer that the world order in which I operate has made it possible for the coronavirus to spread globally. Have I indirectly contributed to the circulation of the disease?
Regardless of the answer to these questions, Kant’s approach would not tolerate resignation in the face of the current crisis. Rather, we should ask ourselves: What can I do to improve this complex situation myself? This is exactly what we are currently observing around us: even if we have to keep a physical distance between us, it is deep within ourselves that we are moving closer together. Countless people help others, even if they don't know them. Communications are re-established or created from scratch through the phone or the internet with acquaintances lost to sight, even with people whom we would have simply ignored before. More and more people are realizing how important it is for our world that all peoples live in peace and help each other. May this positive aspect of the pandemic crisis have a lasting effect !
A great many challenges still lie ahead of us. Let us hope that we will overcome them together. We look forward to celebrating Immanuel Kant's birthday on April 22, 2021 in his hometown again. We hope that Friends of Kant from many countries will take part and that international participation in the celebration of Kant's birthday will increase from year to year. The 300th anniversary of the Königsberg philosopher’s birth on April 22, 2024 will be an event of global significance. Let us hope that we can celebrate it in a world that comes steadily closer toward perpetual peace according to Kant’s work of the same title published in 1795 in Königsberg.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Stay safe and well!
Best wishes from
FRIENDS OF KANT AND KÖNIGSBERG