About the name

Immanuel Kant said that the rallying cry of the enlightenment is “sapere aude!” — this comes from the philosopher Horace’s book Epistles.  Translated, it variably means “dare to discern” or “dare to be wise.”  The saying is often used as a slogan for universities or other educational institutions, where the motto is thought to inspire people to imagine, to wonder, to think, to contemplate, and, well… you know, be scholarly.

There’s a small problem with this, and that is that Kant missed a few parts of Horace’s quote.  What was actually written was “sapere aude, incipe!”  Inicipe means “begin” — and it’s rather telling that the mottos of universities leave that portion out.  Michel Foucault critiques Kant’s use of the term, as Kant suggests that there’s times that the best way to ‘sapere aude’ is, instead, to follow orders, to be obedient, to listen to authority, and not to challenge it too much.

A good number of universities use “sapere aude” as mottos frequently.  These are instructions that reflect the Enlightenment ideal that Kant wrote about, and that Foucault critiqued.  We’ll add our critique in here: there’s still something missing.

In terms of Kant’s Enlightenment motto, he still missed part of the quote.  What Horace wrote was “dimidium facti qui coepit habet: sapere aude, incipe.”  Translated, this means “He who has begun is half done, dare to know, begin!”

Kant’s motto would be half finished in terms of the original quote.  To use ‘sapere aude’ or a variant as a motto, like so many universities do is to use an unfinished thought.

We absolutely need to know–we need to know that another world is possible, that a better world is waiting, and so on–but we also need to begin.

This is where incipe comes from. We dare to wonder. We dare to begin.

You’ve dared to imagine. Now let’s begin.