Finding Ground in Kant

I’m currently taking a class on Kant’s ethics. We are now working through The Critique of Practical Reason. I am lost, and I feel most of my class mates are as well. Kant’s way of writing is so strange, it’s hard to even make sense of the sentences. When you read most philosophers, you take each point as they come, usually coming to a climax point, and then a winding down of objections or thoughts, etc. Kant seems to have a more “splattering” style of writing. His ideas do not come to us linearly, he jumps from one idea to the other, making us jump through hoops to get to the meaning. His concepts are laid out like a web, and our diagram of connections would be a mass of lines connecting these concepts to the text, to the point where individual lines become almost impossible to perceive. With other philosophers, you read the text and interpret it. With Kant, it seems as though you must have an interpretation before you read the text if you’re going to have a chance. That is, the text itself does not give us an interpretation.

Here’s an example excerpt to make my point:

This Analytic shows that pure reason can be practical – that is, can of itself, indepently of anything empirical, determine the will – and it does so by a fact in which pure reason in us proves itself actually practical, namely autonomy in the principle of morality by which reason determines the will to deeds. At the same time it shows that this fact is inseparably connected with, and indeed identical with, consciousness of freedom of the will, whereby the will of a rational being that, as belonging to the sensible world cognizes itself as, like other efficient causes, necessarily subject to laws of causality, yet in the practical sphere is also conscious of itself on another side, namely as a being in itself, conscious of its existence as determinable in an intelligible order of things – conscious of this or not, indeed, by a special intuition of itself but according to certain dynamic laws that can determine its causality in the sensible world; for it has been sufficiently proved elsewhere that freedom, if it is attributed to us, transfers into an intelligible order of things. CPR 5:42

Look at all the concepts Kant wields in these two sentences. We connect practical, pure reason, determination, autonomy, freedom, “consciousness of freedom of the will”, cognizes itself, a being in itself, practical sphere, intelligible order of things, conscious, intuition, and freedom. The mapping of these two sentences alone is a monumental task. Kant has no mercy when it comes to his ideas. All the concepts he wields and connects do not rely on intuition, they are specific and distinct ideas. It is like learning a new language in every sense. It doesn’t help that he at times seems to confuse his own concepts, using the word here to mean something in one place and seemingly changing it slightly to fit in another. He gives us definitions at the begging of CPR but doesn’t always stick to those definitions. Kant Connects concepts completely foreign to us. Even in the first sentence of the excerpt we see him connect practical and determination of the will, which is connected to “autonomy in the principle of morality”, and our intuitions are not help to map these connections. It is esoteric and insular. It is Kant in his element.

I have to write a paper soon on CPR soon. This paper needs to solve and apparent problem in CPR. Even I understand enough to find a problem, I fear my understanding will be wrong. Even though CPR seems confused, there is a right and wrong way to talk about CPR. I have a feeling I will drown in concepts. So the question i need to answer is this: How do I find my ground in Kant? How can I situate myself to the text in order to understand his philosophy? What can I do?

~ by Barky on September 27, 2011.

One Response to “Finding Ground in Kant”

  1. I have nothing to aid your plight aside from solidarity and empathy.

    “There are no shallows in philosophy, no knee-deep, shoreline waters. It is abysmal from horizon to horizon.” – Kelly Jolley

    To stretch the analogy way too far, some texts mark different abysmal depths in the philosophical ocean. My opinion is that Kant marks the equivalent of the Mariana Trench.

    Keep swimming, brother.

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