Hamann on Kant and Enlightenment Philosophy

The great pretension of modern philosophy is shucking the whole tradition—from the early Greeks all the way up through (and especially!) medieval Christianity—and starting afresh, on truly “scientific” grounds. Hamann, a philosopher writing at the same time as Immanuel Kant, at the height of the Enlightenment, exposes this pretension, noting the ways in which the tradition is (necessarily) smuggled into Kant’s philosophy:

. . .in general Hamann accuses the tradition of modern philosophy, beginning with Descartes, of blatant hypocrisy: it claims to be laying a new foundation for the sciences, but it does so disingenuously, building with the materials of the philosophies that preceded it. And herein, Hamann suggests (with his crass use of the word Gemächte, which refers to genitalia), one can see the embarrassing pudenda of “pure reason” and of the Critique in general: the dark, shameful parts, i.e., the unacknowledged dependence upon tradition, which Kant has covered up. Thus, once again we see the importance of shame as a topos of Hamann’s authorship: at almost every turn he is embarrassing the Aufklärer about what they would rather hide, exposing their secret reliance upon the contingencies of history and tradition even as they speak of reason’s virginal purity, necessity, and universality. This is why he cannot help but view the Enlightenment as an extravagant charade: the Aufklärer parade reason like a shrine through the streets, even as they attempt to cover up its secret poverty, limitations, and nakedness. (John R. Betz, After Enlightenment: Hamann as Post-Secular Visionary, 240.)