Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Your thoughts on Kant?

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

Over in Introductions, there is a new person who is taking a lot of flak because, at the sage age of 22, he (she?) thinks he might be a Kantian.

When I was first reading and learning about Kant in a philosophy class, I admit to being confused. He said all the right words: individualism, reason, etc. So much sounded right, but I knew there was something terribly wrong with it all. Anyone who has read the little bugger knows that it is hard going. No one in the whole history of philosophy worked as hard to perpetrate this much gobbledygook upon the world. The situation wasn't helped by reading the commentators, or listening to the lectures and discussions. In my own defense, I was 18 when I was first introduced to this devil. Kant almost killed my budding love affair with ideas. Only Ayn Rand and Objectivism helped.

So why does it all sound so right to so many people? Personally, I think it is because his is the philosophy, in one variation or another, we all absorb with mother's milk. (And I know we don't really do anything of the sort. It's only a metaphor, so don't waste your breath explaining to me that it is Kantian at base.) Kant's philosophy, and especially his ethics, is at the base of virtually every popular notion that people have accepted, be it in the form of religion, or secular humanitarianism (religion without god), or Marxist dialectics, or what-have-you. It is all pervasive, whether implicitly or explicitly.

(I've heard professional philosophers say that Objectivists are beating a dead horse where Kant is concerned. They say that they have "moved beyond" Kant's theories. "None so blind...," eh?)

I am curious about your own experiences with Kant. When did you first become aware of him? Have you actually read his work? (And if you have, well bless your heart!) What has been your experience in class?


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Somewhat along this topic, I know ARBookstore offers an audio tape which supposedly explains Kant's 'gimmick', explaining if you know this gimmick, you can understand and refute him fairly easily.

I myself have not heard the tape. I have always been curious what the 'gimmick' is supposed to be - anyone know?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've read some Kant. (That pink textbook entitled "Kant and the 19th Century", I forget the author, but it's a part of a series of history of philosophy books.)

His writing is unintelligible. I mean, seriously, there are clauses that stretch on for pages, sometimes with 20-30 commas in a single sentence, subject and predicate separated by dozens of lines. It's aweful. His ideas start out with saying that the mind and body are split and then proceed from there. His primary main objective is to ground christian ethics in "rational" (i.e., "rationalistic/platonic") reasoning.

After struggling with Kant a bit, I picked up "Beyond Good and Evil" by Neitzsche. That's a funny read if you've been studying Kant. Neitzsche hated Kant with a bitter passion (that's probably why Rand liked him) and his educated-yet-syphillis-ridden mania makes for some GREAT ranting. About 50% of BG&E is just various jibes at the Kantians. (I believe Kant was dead by the time the book was written, but Kantianism was in full effect. I think Freddy N. would've killed the old SOB if he'd had the chance.)

Since Kant starts out by splitting entities from their attributes (a la Plato,) he comes up with the notion of "pure" reason. See, our rational faculties aren't "pure" because they operate by some means. Our eyes percieve light by some means, rather than by no means in particular, and so it's not pure. Thus, as Ayn put it, we are blind because we have eyes, deaf because we have ears, and incapable of thinking because we have minds.

His system is remarkably consistent, but flawed from the very root, and the vines tangle around the ground to obfuscate his errors. As philosophers go, I believe that he was the most evil in history.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

His writing is unintelligible.  I mean, seriously, there are clauses that stretch on for pages, sometimes with 20-30 commas in a single sentence, subject and predicate separated by dozens of lines.  It's aweful. 

That's what I remember about Kant too--the ubersentences that made it nearly impossible to decipher a meaning. :) I only read a little of his work, in a philosophy of religion class a number of years ago.

But lately I've been thinking of reading some more, after finishing my Rand and getting in some Peikoff. Since she devotes so much time to tearing his ideas apart, I think it would be good to investigate first-hand.

Or at least see if I can slog through it well enough to do so :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For anyone interested in reading Kant I would suggest picking up Critique of Pure Reason written by him. I personally have the version in which the translators are Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, but I have no means of comparison. However, it is the edition that one of my philosophy professors (a good one at that) recommends.

It is in the Critique of Pure Reason that he sets the metaphysical and epistemological base for his philosophy. He has two other main works, Critique of Practical Reason and unfortunately I forget the name of the third.

I have not read all of Critique of Pure Reason, but what I have read was painful. Check out my essays in the essays section on the main site, I have a few essays that include some information about Kant for those of you that are interested. Keep in mind though that I in no way endorse Kant. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've read most of the Groundwork, but that's it. I need to get around to reading more. Unfortunately, what I've read didn't do much for my motivation to continue.

I listened to the tape on Kant's gimmick a long time ago, and didn't get a whole lot out of it. That might have been because I hadn't read any Kant at the time, but I also recall it being a fairly disorganized lecture. I believe the gist of it is that Kant's basic "gimmick" is to conflate the "what" and the "how", i.e. the object of thought and the form/method of thought.

I got more out of Andy Bernstein's discussion of his epistemology & ethics in "Four Giants of Philosophy". But again, I'd need to read Kant first-hand and verify that Bernstein's interpretation is the right one before I could endorse it. (That said, it's an excellent tape set overall, very much worth the money.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

thanks again guys. i've got all this written down, and i will try ayn rand's book first (i just finished the fountainhead so it should keep in the same order of thought).

someone, if anyone, is interested on kind of filling me in on all of this, they can i/m me at amorparatodavida .

that way i'll be a little more indepth in my answers about things :rolleyes:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To those who are considering reading Kant: The Critque isn't for novices! (Hell, it isn't for professionals either. Isaac's description of Kant's style is generous; the man worked harder to be obtuse than any other writer I've ever read in any field. (In school, I met a German philosophy student who preferred the English translation because it was even worse in German!)

Go to Guttenberg, burg?, berg, and read the first paragraph of The Critique. If you survive that, then check the book out from the library. DO NOT waste your money buying the gook . . . er, book. If you want to know more about him, but can't abide reading his drivel, read the more scholarly commentators. And have a handful of aspirin and a valium on hand, just in case.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, Oldsalt is right. Kant is certainly not for beginners. His writing is some of the most ridiculous nonsense that has ever been written, and it is really hard to decipher. I was able to get through many parts of it because of one of my philosophy professors who helped me out with it.

I think only Hegel comes even close to reaching the level of philosophical nonsense that Kant does.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Books to check out:

Kant and the Ninteenth Century

Beyond Good and Evil (Funny if you've read Kant, in a philosophical nerdy kinda way. FN makes a lot of jokes that make fun of Kant's philosophy, but probably wouldn't be as funny if you aren't familiar with it.)

Philosophy: Who Needs It? Ayn Rand's take on philosophy in general, how to approach it, why you need it, etc.

Isaac Z. Schlueter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh my. A few pages of that and my head hurts. All I can make out is "Dogmatism", Pure Reason, lots of words that don't make sense and way too many commas. I think I picked the wrong week to stop drinking coffee. Has anyone theorized that Kant was just a raving lunatic. I know this is a translation but its just all over the place.

Well back to it.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Before you can understand Kant, you have to get into the habit of something called "conceptual analysis". Supposing you want to decipher the First Section of "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals".


First sentence:

There is no possibility of thinking of anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be regarded as good without qualification, except a good will.
"There is no possibility of thinking of anything at all in the world, or even out of it"

concept: conceivable

"which can be regarded as good without qualification"

concept: inherently good


"No conceivable thing is inherently good except a good will"

Let this proposition sink in.

He's not just claiming that good-will is inherently good. He's claiming that it's the only inherently good thing that we can conceive of.

This is a package-deal. He's making two claims in the same sentence. If either of them are wrong, then the package-deal can be rejected.

"Good" presupposes "good to whom", "good for what", and "good by some standard". Therefore, nothing is inherently good. The package-deal can be rejected.

Also, "good-will" is NOT an essential characteristic of good.


Second sentence:

Intelligence, wit, judgement, and whatever talents of the mind one might want to name are doubtless in many respects good and desirable, as are such qualities of temperament as courage, resolution, perseverance.

"Intelligence, wit, judgement, and whatever talents of the mind one might want to name"

concept: mental abilities

"doubtless in many respects good and desirable"

concept: useful

"such qualities of temperament as courage, resolution, perseverance"

concept: virtuous attitudes


"Mental abilities and virtuous attitudes are useful"

In other words, they're *only* useful. They're not good in themselves like good-will supposedly is.

Kant is trying to prove that only a good-will is inherently good by ruling out the cases that aren't. The second sentence is one of the cases that aren't. But proof by complete enumeration hinges upon *complete* enumeration, which Kant doesn't do. Kant only covers three or four cases within the paragraph, and the next paragraph goes onto something else.


With a little practice, you can this too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If anyone is interested in learning about Kant, I strongly recommend beginning with a secondary source. (The same goes for Aristotle, BTW, who is also very hard to read.) A shorter discussion is better than a long one to start with, so I think the place to go is a good history of philosophy. The best and most accessible one I know of (on Kant at least) is W.T. Jones's _A History of Western Philosophy_. The chapters on Kant are in the 4th volume and are quite readable. (It might be helpful to read the chapters on Hume first.)


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I believe the last person is correct. You have to see his Critical philosophy as a reaction to Hume's skeptical arguments.

In his review of Kant's biography, Simon Blackburn gives a pretty good short summary of what Kant was trying to do in the first Critique (http://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/~swb24/reviews/Kant.htm):

"Kant would have remained a fairly minor figure in the history of philosophy had it not been for one decade of thought, and one of publication. In 1770, upon becoming Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, he delivered his Inaugural Dissertation ‘On the Form and Principles of the Sensible World’. Here, for the first time, some famous doctrines of the “critical philosophy” come into view. Kant insists on a number of sharp divisions. He separates concepts and intuition, or intellect and sensation. He separates “things in themselves” from “things as they are for us”, or in other words, distinguishes the noumenal from the phenomenal. He sees space and time as the forms of our sensibility, imposed on the noumenal world as a condition of our experience of it [note, "as a condition of our experience" is the key point, often overlooked by people who assimilate Kant to Descartes, Leibniz and other Rationalists]. But he also leaves room for a genuine “metaphysics” or science of the world as it is in itself, knowable through pure principles of the understanding.

There was a fatal flaw lurking in all this. The key to metaphysics would need to be causation: it is because it causes the world as we apprehend it that the noumenal is a possible object of knowledge. But thirty years previously, Hume had already blocked the road to any purely rational knowledge of what causes what. In Prussia, Hertz and Hamann soon brought Hume’s critique of speculative reasoning about causation to Kant’s attention: causation itself had to be seen as the work of the mind, or a form of sensibility. Kant was later to say that it was Hume who ‘first interrupted my dogmatic slumbers’. It took a decade for him to come to terms with the problem Hume had left him.

The result was eight hundred and fifty six pages: The Critique of Pure Reason, published in 1781, when Kant was fifty seven years old. The central doctrine of the Critique is the interdependence of intellectual cognition and experience: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind”. It takes both conceptual ability and its application in experience to generate intelligible thought. It follows that the pure metaphysics he had previously imagined, reasoning beyond the limits of experience, could have been nothing but illusion.

On the other hand a priori or armchair reasoning is possible, but not about the world as it is in itself. It concerns only the world as it appears to us. When we attempt to reason beyond this, wanting to know about the nature of the soul, or the world as a whole, or the existence of God, reason falls into contradiction, and its exercise is doomed to failure. As its name implies, the Critique is fundamentally a sceptical work, and this is how it was seen by its contemporaries. Kant became famous as the Alleszermalmer or all-crushing skeptic [ed. Blackburn means skeptic about any supernatural knowledge] and critic of rational theology and metaphysics. Indeed, contemporary opinion tended to assimilate Kant not only to Hume, but even more to the notorious idealist Berkeley, a charge with some justice to it, but one that particularly outraged Kant himself.

As Kuehn describes, in the contemporary world Kant is more commonly seen as an opponent of skepticism, more interested in the scope of our knowledge rather than its limits. Such are the revolutions of philosophical interpretation. But although this positive side is certainly there, it is only part of the picture, since for Kant himself the point of the critical philosophy lay elsewhere entirely, namely in its religious and moral implications. So throughout the seventeen-eighties, Kant wrote the works on moral and religious themes that stand alongside the Critique as his great legacy to philosophy. The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals appeared in 1784; by 1790 there were two more Critiques, as well as one book expounding his system in a more accessible form (The Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics) and the strange Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science."

The obscurity of the text is unfortunate. It was the result of 12 years of thinking, but it was produced hastily because his publisher demanded copy within 4 months. The Prolegomena mentioned above is widely available on the net and much more accessible, so is Kant’s essay, "What is Enlightenment?". A good, short, and accessible introduction in English to Kant's system as a whole is Roger Scruton's http://www.oup.co.uk/isbn/0-19-280199-6. In the other thread, Objectivism and Aristotle, I posted links to good contemporary scholars of Kant's approach to ethics.

The fairest assessment of Kant's philosophy from a self-described Objectivist perspective I've found is here: http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com/objectivity/walsh1/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...