I Kant


No really. I can’t understand him. I can’t stand him. I can’t Kant.

The thing is, I think that was his goal.

I’ve been reading passages from Kant’s philosophical works on aesthetics for one of my classes. When I say “I’ve been reading,” I really mean that I’ve been staring at the pages and hoping that things will start to make sense. They don’t. They didn’t make sense when they were written, and they don’t make any sense now.

Essentially, he takes twenty words to say what could be said in three. His average sentence is about the length of a normal paragraph. His paragraphs are atrociously long. He seems to contradict himself three times per sentence. He uses obscenely long words just to show off. The only people who can understand what he’s trying to say are the kids who sat around and memorized the dictionary in their spare time between chess meets.

The average human cannot.

Here is the great irony of higher education: when you arrive, you will receive a certain set of rules regarding how to write. These rules are to be concise, to use clear word choices, to make sure your pronouns and antecedents aren’t arguing, and to say what needs to be said in the most straightforward and logical manner humanly possible. Do this, and you will succeed in college and in life, they say, waving red pens in the air like deranged orchestra conductors.

Then, after a year or two, you realize that the writers who made their marks on history, philosophy, literature, the world, broke all of these rules. For their whole careers. Kant, for example, didn’t bother to be clear, concise, or overtly logical. But yet, I’m still required to read his works for class. He’s still kind of a big deal. I can’t figure out how he got to be a big deal in the first place. How on earth did anyone know what he was saying?

How come he can break the rules, but I can’t? How come people will probably still be reading his work hundreds of years from now, but will have forgotten about my little blog, even though I do my best to make sure my blog is both readable and funny? How come he gets all this recognition for putting in very confusing terms what he was probably overthinking anyway? Why did any publisher in his right mind look at page one of Kant’s work and think it might have cultural significance? Did he just read the first sentence and think, Huh, I can’t understand it – he must be trying to say something important; let’s publish it!

Why? Why oh why oh why?

All I know is that I’ve had it. Thank goodness we can move on to other subjects in class once we’re done with Kant. Because I can’t take him anymore. I just Kant. 



3 responses »

  1. I wish I could answer your question. I can tell you what I tell my students when I teach one of Kant’s followers, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I tell them that we study Emerson because his ideas influenced many in his day and even more in ours through his advocacy of a philosophy called Transcendentalism, the precursor of the modern New Age, which isn’t new at all. Furthermore, I tell my students NOT to emulate Emerson’s style or his ideas because they’re both fundamentally flawed. But…. in spite of it all…. he’s important, pivotal in fact, because of his influence.

  2. The Dadster Ripostes:

    Yet one of the greatest of all philosophical expressions of all, Kant’s Categorical Imperative (der kategorische Imperativ), remains strangely lovely after centuries!

    „Handle nur nach derjenigen Maxime, durch die du zugleich wollen kannst, dass sie ein allgemeines Gesetz werde.

    Or as the Dadster learned it in German from his very German professor of philosophy:

    ,,Handle so, dass die Maxime deines Willens die Grundlage eines allgemein gueltigen Gestezts fassen koennte!” (Sorry—no Umlauts on the Dadster’s PC.)

    In other words, behave in such a manner that the dictates of your will are worthy to form the basis for a universally applicable law!

    God says it more simply: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”

    If we but followed this commandment, the rest would fall in place with no effort!


    The Dadster

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