July 16, 2007


Caption: Lily is completely Kantian

This is official Immanuel Kant Week on Goat Rope. El Cabrero has long been a fan of this somewhat obscure Prussian philosopher who lived between 1724 and 1804. He was famous for his contributions to moral philosophy, enlightened political theory, and epistemology or the theory of knowledge.

He didn't get out much, being pretty much a fixture of Konigsberg, where he lived a life of such regularity that it was said you could set your watch by the time of his daily walks.

Although I can't claim to have made it all the way through his major work, The Critique of Pure Reason, I'm pretty convinced by its main argument. Basically, it's this: we don't see the world as it is but as we are. The mind is not a passive blank slate or tabula rasa on which sensory experience makes its mark.

Instead, it actively organizes our perceptions into mental categories like space, time or causality. Although our knowledge can be fairly secure within that sphere, we can really only know the world of phenomena or appearances, not the numina or things in themselves.

He also believed that we couldn't know metaphysical things like whether God or immortality exist through pure reason alone, since we could make equally convincing arguments on both sides of any issue. He postulated that such beliefs could be inferred instead through practical reason such as the moral sense.

The part of Kant that I'm going to brood about this week is his philosophy of history and human destiny, which he lays out in a pretty clear (for him) essay called "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View."

About which more next time.

LABOR RALLY IN HUNTINGTON, WV. I didn't make it to this one, but it sounds like fun. Hundreds of union members rallied in Huntington Saturday against so-called "right to work" (for less) legislation. The rally was called when state Republicans announced that a speaker from the National Right to Work Committee would speak there July 14. The speaking engagement was cancelled but the rally proceeded.

Labor organizers stressed that the target was right to work (for less) rather than the party itself.

Recently the issue, long dormant here, was raised again with the favorable publicity in the right wing press given to the book Unleashing Capitalism, which among other things supports right to work (for less), opposes minimum wage, and is opposed on principle to government regulation of things like worker and coal mine safety.

If the right wing wants to stir up a hornet's nest trying to make this happen, an event that seems unlikely now, this could be fun.

ANYTIME. This is old news by now (from Saturday), but for what it's worth, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said U.S. troops could leave that country "anytime they want."

LAST WEEK I WANTED A GIANT SLOTH BUT THIS WEEK, it's a wooly mammoth. They found one in Siberia that's pretty fresh and we're getting close to being able to do that stuff now...



Thinkulous said...

I barely remembered my Kant from college (shame on me, a philosophy major). It's so funny that I'm much more interested now than I was then. College is wasted on the young.

The "pure" vs. "practical" distinction makes me think of Plato's ideal world, which we couldn't connect with, but upon which all is modeled. Accurate comparison?

El Cabrero said...

I'm with you on college. the older I get, the more things I think are wasted on the young...one of which is youth.

I think by pure reason he mean things we could know a priori or before or independent of experience and practical reason was more things we could infer rather than arrive at by a priori reasoning.

There is a kind of Plato connection since both thought math was a priori. I think the critique was about seeing what other stuff we could know just from reason that wasn't tautological, which he thought math to be.

Juanuchis said...

Oh, please don't do this to me El Cabrero.

You are going to force me to sing "The Philosopher's Song" all week.

Thinkulous, you were a philosophy major? I don't feel bad. I was a Spanish and Classical Philately, um, Philology (Latin) major. "What on earth do you do with that?" "Um, get a totally unrelated job with the federal government."

Anonymous said...

dadddd---when i saw the title of your headline---i thought you were talkin about us...first thing that came to mind was "i just kant stand it...

El Cabrero said...

juanuchis--I'm told that he was very rarely stable.

Anonymous--that would be Ewic getting his hair washed!

Thinkulous said...

Yes, Juanuchis, we definitely have cornered the useless majors market!

Cabrero, believe it or not, I think I understood your explanation. You should be a philosophy prof... On second thought, maybe you should stick with the goat farm.

El Cabrero said...

Thanks! It does take a certain amount of philosophy (usually of the stoic variety) to put up with goats.