Immanuel Kant
Monday, May 10, 2010

Kant-The First Critique

Back in the dim dark days of the early 1960s, when I was a student in a Catholic high school, I got the idea that I was interested in a set of The Great Books of the Western World. So I sent in a card that I’d found in some magazine. I think I expected a brochure or a catalog or something, and that I would eventually throw the material away. Well, this was the 1960s and the door to door salesman was still around. So one came to the house, and talked to my parents and me. He said there was a reading plan for the set, and that after 15 minutes a day for 10 years you would be ready to read the most difficult book in the world: The Critique of Pure Reason.

My parents didn’t get the set. I had to wait for almost 30 years, until 1988. I was getting ready to go to CU and Pile Higher and Deeper, and I saw a set at a used book shop for $300. So I got the set as a father’s day present.

There used to be a Hart publishing company. They did educational books, and they published A. S. Neill, the founder of Summerhill. They did a series of Funbooks. There was one for science, one for chemistry, and one for history. They had stories, games, puzzles, and jokes in them. One of them went like this:

All of this is by way of introducing Kant and the first of his three critiques.

Kant, along with Hegel, has a reputation for obscurity. Indeed, it is generally said that Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are the German philosophers that one reads for pleasure. I haven’t read enough Schopenhauer to say much about him, but Nietzsche is eminently readable and enjoyable even if you don’t agree with him. Kant’s reputation for obscurity is well deserved, and you may wish to search for introductory texts before tackling the Critique.

At this point, almost three weeks into a very slow reading of the Critique, I have to admit that for the most part I find it utterly incomprehensible.

In speaking of the transcendental aesthetic Kant refers not to a theory of beauty but to our sense of time and space. As near as I can determine this means that we know space through intuitive experience. Try to picture space. Close your eyes and imagine what pure space, unadorned with stars, looks like. That image, if you saw any, is how we know space. Space is all-pervasive, in that sense it is absolute. The notion of the Big Bang is alien to the Kantian concept of space. Try to picture the Big Bang. You’ll most likely imagine a field with a point that grows, and explodes violently. That image is wrong though. There is no field in which the point exists, the point is everything, and all of space and time exists within that point.

Kant, in discussing the antinomy of pure reason refers to these cosmological questions in the box below. Kant is notorious for his attacks on the proofs of the existence of God. These aren’t part of the assigned reading, but for what it’s worth Kant seems to be aiming at showing that God cannot be proved by pure reason alone. Each proof basically assumes the truth of the previous proof, but Kant is at pains to show that the first proof, the ontological proof, is in error, therefore the cosmological proof and the physico-theological proof are in error.

I still have some more to go in my reading of Kant, but I doubt if I’ll blog about it. Next up will be the John Locke who inspired the character on Lost. I’ll be doing one of his treatises on government.