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.