I Kant Reach


Posted on January 1, 1970 by Blake Leath

The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) wrote about so many things...transcendental deduction, self-consciousness, transcendental synthesis, a priori concepts (knowing without experiencing), subjective deduction, thought itself, intuition, the transcendental unity of apperception, principles, the logic of illusion, appearance and reality, phenomena and noumena, pure reason and metaphysics, cosmology, theology, the soul, the categorical imperative, the antimony of freedom, the self, practical reason, autonomy of the will, morality, the role of law, beauty and design and taste, objectivity and contemplation, imagination and freedom, harmony, common sense, form, purpose, teleology, and the divine.

Humbling, no?  What did we do today?  Not this, I'm somewhat certain.

But arguably guiding his many pursuits was one overarching, prevailing framework: his sense of duty.  He utterly and completely devoted himself to a life of scholarship and lived, as we clearly see and know from any accounting of his life, within his head.

His eccentricities were many.  Roger Scruton, a Kantian scholar once wrote, "It is true that Kant's life was, if not mechanical, at least highly disciplined.  His manservant had instructions to wake him each morning at five and tolerate no malingering.  He would work until seven at his desk, dressed in nightcap and robe, changing back into these garments at once when he had returned from his morning lectures.  He remained in his study until one, when he took his single meal of the day, following it, irrespective of the weather, by a walk.  He took this exercise alone, from the eccentric conviction that conversation, since it causes a man to breathe through the mouth, should not take place in the open air.  He was averse to noise, twice changing lodging in order to avoid the sound of other people.  His aversion to music other than military marches was notorious, as was his total indifference to the visual arts -- he possessed only one engraving, a portrait of Rousseau, given to him by a friend."

Ironically -- and most tragically -- Kant died senile.  Isn't that the way it always goes?  Our greatest gift, whether our mind, our physicality, or our relationships seem to be the final tax required to exit this world.  (Just look at NFL runningback Earl Campbell or pugilist Muhammad Ali...Campbell can barely walk and Ali can barely speak.  The strength, speed, and agility of the former and the sassy, quotable comebacks of the latter...gone.)

120 years after Kant's death, his grave was robbed and his sarcophagus left empty.

On the wall of the great castle overlooking the city of
Königsberg (Kant's hometown), a bronze tablet bears the words from the conclusion of one of his many great works, Critique of Practical Reason.  "Two things fill the heart with ever renewed and increasing awe and reverence, the more often and the more steadily we meditate upon them: the starry firmament above and the moral law within."

Indeed, it was likely the pull between Kant's sense of interior morality and external aspirations to fully explore and understand as many otherworldly nooks and crannies as possible that informed his existence, drove his curiousity, and defined his reach.

Despite his many shortcomings and the various clouds spanning the horizon of his life, we should all be so fortunate as to reach as wide, high, and deep.  And to do so while we are still able.