The Driving Ideas of the German Enlightenment

Organisers: Tinca Prunea-Bretonnet and Alessandro Nannini

Enlightenment has been labelled in various ways: the ‘century of philosophy’, the ‘century of taste’, the ‘age of criticism’, etc. Undoubtedly, the breakup of the traditional orders of knowledge and the new demands for rationality spawned a remarkable number of ideas and disciplines, either completely new (e.g. the idea of aesthetics or of phenomenology) or profoundly revised (e.g. the idea of ‘critique’ in Kant’s system) in the light of novel discursive and social interpretations of the world. An illuminating guide through the complex conceptual geography of this era is undoubtedly Norbert Hinske’s ground-breaking essay “Die tragenden Grundideen der deutschen Aufklärung”[1]. Hinske identifies three types of basic ideas (Grundideen) that characterize and drive the philosophy of the German Enlightenment: 1. programmatic ideas (Programmideen), expressing the goals of the Aufklärung, such as ‘thinking for oneself’ (Sebstdenken) and ‘perfectibility’; 2. combat-ideas (Kampfideen), such as ‘confused representations’, ‘prejudice’, and ‘enthusiasm’ (Schwärmerei), against which German enlightened thinkers fight; 3. foundational ideas (Basisideen), expressing the fundamental anthropological convictions which ground their thought, such as the ‘determination’ or ‘destination of the human being’ (Bestimmung des Menschen) and ‘universal human reason’ (allgemeine Menschenvernunft).

This conference aims to build on Norbert Hinske’s typology and promote a critical discussion of his theses, including but not limited to the following topics:

– discuss/develop/revise/reject one or more of the basic ideas Hinske advances;

– advance and analyze other ideas as decisive for the philosophy of the Enlightenment, with or without reference to Hinske’s theses;

– challenge Hinske’s interpretation of the German Enlightenment in this essay (e.g.  the unifying pattern of a small number of fundamental ideas; the specificity of the German Enlightenment; Kant’s Mündigkeit as belonging to the same programmatic idea as Eklektik and Selbstdenken).

[1] Norbert Hinske, “Die tragenden Grundideen der deutschen Aufklärung”, in: Aufklärung und Haskalah in jüdischer und nichtjüdischer Sicht, ed. Karlfried Gründer and Natan Rotenstreich, Heidelberg: Schneider, 1990; as well as in: Die Philosophie der deutschen Aufklärung. Texte und Darstellung, ed. R. Ciafardone, Ditzingen: Reclam, 1998 – expanded).


All times are Bucharest times (UTC/GMT +2 hours)

Venue: British Studies (7-13 Pitar Mos, Sala de Consiliu, 1st floor)

Thursday, 10 November 2022

10:00 – 10:15 Opening Remarks

Chair: Tinca Prunea-Bretonnet

10:15 – 11:15 Sebastiano Ghisu (University of Sassari), The foundational idea of “universal human reason” and its consequences. A critique of Hinske’s essay as an alternative explanation of the Aufklärung

11:15 – 12:15 Christian Leduc (University of Montreal), Systematicity in the German Enlightenment

12:15 – 12:40 Coffee Break

12:40 – 13:40 Matthieu Haumesser (CPGE Paris), The Enlightenment of Concepts: Clarity and Distinctness in Kant’s Philosophy

13:40 – 15:00 Lunch Break

Chair: Alessandro Nannini

15:00 – 16:00 Tinca Prunea-Bretonnet (University of Bucharest/Romanian Academy), Eclectic Philosophy and Selbstdenken from Thomasius to the Berlin Academy

16:00 – 17:00 Andrew Beddow (University of Chicago), Kant and Luther on the Freedom of a Christian

17:00 – 17:30 Coffee Break

17:30 – 18:30 Anna Tomaszewska (University of Krakow), “Schwärmerei” in the German Enlightenment: Religious and Philosophical


Friday, 11 November 2022

Chair: Sorana Corneanu

9:30 – 10:30 Alessandro Nannini (University of Bucharest), Self-Perfecting as Self-Healing. Philosophical Therapies at the Origins of the German Enlightenment

10:30 – 11:30 Michael Walschots (Martin-Luther University), Moral Necessity and Impossibility from Leibniz to Kant

11:30 – 12:00 Coffee Break

12:00 – 13:00 Alin Paul Varciu (Western University), Kant on Maturity and Perfectibility

13:00 – 14:30 Lunch Break

Chair: Alexandra Bacalu

14:30 – 15:30 Charlotte Morel (PSL/ENS Paris), Perfectionnement et perfectibilité: une idée directrice des Lumières allemandes en débat avec Rousseau?

15:30 – 16:30 Ted Kinnaman (George Mason University), Hamann’s Critique of Kant

16:30 – 17:00 Coffee Break

17:00 – 18:00 Udo Thiel (University of Graz), TBA – Cassirer and Hinske on the German Enlightenment

18:00 – Closing Remarks

For any queries, please write to

The conference is organized within the research project “Between Truth and Freedom: Enlightenment Answers to ‘Thinking for Oneself’” (funded by UEFISCDI; code PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2020-2579).

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