Kant Can’t…

Kant, like many philosophers, is notoriously difficult to read. Some people blame his proclivity for pedantic exuberance. That’s not totally inaccurate, but for me, the specific cause of the difficulty in my reading of Kant is that he is so wrong, more specifically, so incapable and comprised. It reminds me that, in British English, Kant and “Can’t” are homophones.

Reading Kant, I’m left scratching my head, wondering what’s wrong with this guy. This is not an argumentum ad hominem. I’m not arguing against his personality or style. Something just seems wrong with everything he’s writing, not that there aren’t points of brilliance along the way, rays of light. The whole Kantian critical enterprise always seemed to miss the mark to me, in the same way that the vast majority of works in the genre of ‘philosophy’ seem to miss the mark. They’re full of ressentiment. They’re reactive not active. This is why I stick with existentialist thinkers who more actively practice the way of wisdom. Nietzsche of course!

Consider Deleuze’s Nietzschean reading of Kantian critique in Nietzsche and Philosophy.

In Kant, critique was not able to discover the truly active instance which would have been capable of carrying it through. It is exhausted by compromise: it never makes us overcome the reactive forces which are expressed in man, self-consciousness, reason, morality and religion. It even has the opposite effect—it turns these forces into something a little more “our own”. [Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), p. 89]

With so much compromise, Kant can’t really grasp the aim of philosophical inquiry. He fails to actively engage existence, and accordingly, he fails to actively engage non-philosophers. He basically thinks philosophy is his own and not for everybody. For instance, he confusedly approves of the idea that philosophers should go get their ideas somewhere and then bring them back to popularize them for regular people.

This descending to popular concepts is certainly very commendable, provided the ascent to the principles of pure reason has first taken place and has been carried through to complete satisfaction. That would mean that the doctrine of morals is first grounded on metaphysics and afterwards, when it has been firmly established, is provided with access by means of popularity. [Kant, Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 63.]

There are no “firmly established” concepts. If philosophers could find them, they would have done so by now. Along these vague lines, Kant doesn’t know where these concepts would be. He can’t decide if the firmly established concepts attained by philosophers are above (“ascent”) or below (“grounded”). A less reactive orientation could give up the idea that philosophy is a specialized subject with its own special concepts, and let philosophy become an active mode of thinking through topics amid multifarious contexts of unknowing. The ability of non-professionals to practice philosophy is simply a matter of time spent actively practicing a way of thinking that oscillates between affirmative and skeptical modes. The point then is not about Kant’s compromise but about the latent philosophical power of everybody (cf. Karl Jaspers, Philosophy is for Everyman). Maybe Kant can’t, but actually existing persons can.

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12 responses to “Kant Can’t…

    • Sam Mickey

      We’ll never have done with the reading and re-reading of Kant, not as long as the archive of civilization remains. Malabou’s approach to Kant reminds me of Ricoeur’s description of himself as “a post-Hegelian Kantian.” There should be a study of the French Kant. Selections from Deleuze, Foucault, Ricoeur, Malabou… but also a consideration of the two times Kant skipped his daily walk, reading Rousseau and hearing about a battle in the French Revolution.

  • learningtomakeadifference

    I’d like to think that Kant’s moral philosophy is a bit of an open door to ordinary people – an overly laborious and intellectualized version of a common sense of empathy/sympathy: do not do unto others what you would not do to yourself or your loved ones or something along these lines. I read somewhere that Kant was so dissociated from
    His own bodily existence that it took him some
    Tome to realize that he had gone blind in one eye.

  • Michael James

    I enjoy how much you prompt everyone to leave the door open to non-specialists. The latent thetic power of everybody for coping and engaging with-in reality.

    I agree with the utility of giving up the idea that philosophy is a privileged kind of reasoning with its own special concepts. Theory as praxis indeed requires mutation into an active style of thinking “through topics, amid multifarious contexts of unknowing”.

    A try to practice my own “feral philosophy” in the wild that “actively practices” thinking that oscillates between affirmative decision activation and rigorously skeptical modes of inquiry.

    This was a nice reminder.

  • Michael James

    Reblogged this on synthetic zero and commented:
    This. The latent thetic power of everybody for coping and engaging with-in reality.

    I agree with the utility of giving up the idea that philosophy is a privileged kind of reasoning with its own special concepts. Theory as praxis indeed requires mutation into active styles of thinking “through topics, amid multifarious contexts of unknowing”.

    I try to practice my own “feral philosophy” in the wild world that attempts to actively practice thinking that oscillates between affirmative decision activation and rigorously skeptical modes of inquiry.

    This was a nice reminder.

  • Matthew David Segall

    Poor Kant. He was already so hard on himself, he hardly needs us to remind him of his sins! I think he got better with each critique, particularly in the 3rd where he stumbles into some important insights about beauty and organism, and he even started to remember the body and the chora/ether in his Opus Postumum.

    According to Richard Lubbock, “[Whitehead] once remarked to a friend that Immanuel Kant had written his books in the wrong order: he should have started with his aesthetic Critique of Judgment. Whitehead follows his own advice. He founds his world on aesthetics, and treats physics as superstructure.” http://www3.sympatico.ca/rlubbock/ANW.html

    Or as Whitehead himself puts it: “The philosophy of organism aspires to construct a critique of pure feeling, in the philosophical position in which Kant puts his Critique of Pure Reason. This should also supersede the remaining Critiques required in the Kantian philosophy. Thus in the organic philosophy Kant’s ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’ becomes a distorted fragment of what should have been his main topic” (PR, 113).

    • Sam Mickey

      That Kant doesn’t need to be reminded of his sins is part of the problem. He’s so moralizing. He does need to be reminded of the ressentiment driving his philosophy. The idea of aesthetics as proto-philosophia sounds right to me, but the fact that the third critique has all the feels doesn’t help Kant much. In Deleuze’s point about Kantian critique “exhausted in compromise,” he doesn’t let the third critique off the hook. He’s talking about Kant’s whole critical project. Maybe the third critique is even more exhausted in compromise, as Kant searches for some paste to fill in the gaping abyss opened up in the first critique. The three critiques are three compromises. A critique of pure humor is missing. The idea of having a “main topic” is a joke, one that Nietzsche gets, and the laughter echoes throughout poststructuralism, feminism, postcolonial theory, and so many other places. Kant can’t get it, and although I think with Whitehead on so many points, I’m not sure if his sense of feeling is hilarious and cheeky enough. Does he ever make fun of his white head?

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