The Eyes in Kant’s Head

Hat tip to Anita Leirfall – who, we discovered quite randomly, lived just a few doors away from where Sylvia and I lived in Oslo – quite randomly posting a link to a 2021 edition of BBC Radio 4 “In Our Time” on Kant.

Where I couldn’t help but see myself in Mark’s words:

“crippled by academic over-systematisation
and a deadeningly leaden style”

Because of his “notoriously difficult” reputation, I’ve been avoiding Kant for over two decades, despite many intriguing second-hand readings dating as far back as my initial dalliances with Pirsigian philosophers. And since for the past couple of years I’ve been transitioning to the “stop reading and just write something” mode, I’d resigned myself to never having to tackle him, even though I’ve had the sneaking suspicion his ideas probably tally pretty well with mine own. Possibly arrogantly believing I had already made the necessary “Copernican Turn” in my own thinking.

It’s actually an IOT edition I’ve heard before – I listen to practically all of them the day they’re broadcast – but clearly I wasn’t paying attention first time around. See resignation and arrogance 😉

Well, well.

I’ve still not read Kant, but I have properly listened to that podcast.

Right from the off, the simple, clear introduction by John Callanan, I’m hooked. Bang goes another month’s writing whilst I catch-up.

Suffice to say for now, following directly on from my previous “Ways of Knowing” post (which Eddo’s not responded to yet) we get an enormous irony. An irony I realise I probably already had a subconscious impression of, as a fortunately well-travelled person myself, which contributed to my continued ignorance of him. That is: how can a person without experience – never being curious about gaining empirical evidence of the world beyond his home town, for his entire life – critique “pure reason” – to distinguish those parts of knowledge reasonably reasoned (in the mind) and their integration with those necessarily experienced (by participation in the world).

Well some things can be reasoned a priori. Understanding how to integrate these with those that can’t is indeed the trick. Obviously, I’m even more convinced I will find his ideas supporting mine.

And talking of that previous dialogue with Eddo, I discover

“(The fool on the hill) sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head see the world spinning round”

Comes straight from Kant.

I may be some time!


(Only a single passing reference to Kant in McGilchrist?)

(James’ “blooming, buzzing confusion” – too much empirical data.
A much used quote around these parts.
Devil in the details, angels in the abstractions.
Less is more.

(All his language familiar through second-hand readings.
Analytic / Synthetic, “Ding an sich” and so on

(The non-empirically-grounded weirdness of causation.)

(More subtle “detached” ideas on “objectivity” in science, and “political” pressures. Essentially pragmatic.)

(Post Note: I’ve not been ignorant of Kant, just not previously felt the urge to read his Magnum Opus. Here a previous encounter – “Kantian Enlightenment”. And following the comment thread below – I’ve made a passing reference to my continuing with Kant in the closing para of this recent Parmenides post.)


6 thoughts on “The Eyes in Kant’s Head”

  1. Of course, Lawrence Oates never returned after stetting out into that that pale, frigid wilderness. I wish you better luck. The Critique of Pure Reason is the Ring Cycle of philosophy, though just the libretto, sadly. Occasionally, though, he will reward you with pure music: “The light dove, in free flight cutting through the air the resistance of which it feels, could get the idea that it could do even better in airless space. Likewise, Plato abandoned the world of the senses because it posed so many hindrances for the understanding, and dared to go beyond it on the wings of the ideas, in the empty space of pure understanding.” My great mentor, Ernest Gellner, though him the greatest philosopher. He was probably right. But, damn, but he’s hard work. I still bear the scars.

  2. Oates >> libretto. Excellent. You should write Mark.

    That “dove in space” metaphor is that your man Gellner?

    Whoever it is, it is very close to the “edge of madness” dialogue Eddo and I (and a couple of others) are having elsewhere. As I say, it’s ultimately pragmatic, but you have to go the edge of the living world, practically into the vacuum, to understand it and bring the evidence back into the real world. Someone has to do it. It’s dangerous.

    Icarus anyone?

  3. The Dove metaphor is Kant himself, one of the few poetic flickers in the Critique of Pure Reason. But it is still a wonderful one for how reason flails when it loses empirical anchoring. That way, certainly, a sort of madness lies. But I agree, how do we know unless we test those limits?

    I don’t want to be too negative, though. It’s a long while since I read him, but there’s a lot of pleasure to be had from his insights. You know those moments of satori, the brief yes-I-get-it-now-it-all-fits episodes. They’re in there.

  4. Oh wow! If that’s Kant himself – then I’m even more convinced. I’m going in!
    (PS – searching for the quote text I see it’s much quoted, but clearly not by anyone I’d noticed before.)

    Funny you mention satori – never had you as a zen buddhist 🙂
    Funny because I was just re-reading and annotating something I wrote back in 2005, about my first 4 or 5 years on this journey. Satori got a mention there.

  5. Getting to the end, I just think, “Oh fuck, more reading”. But your recommendation of B2BnB was worth the time (sartori/epiphany – either will do – ‘competence without comprehension. I’m sure a systems thinker will get why). So Pirsig is getting promoted to the to-read-soon box. Obviously lots to say, but since I’m currently on holiday I’ll confine it to the laugh-out-loud moment upon realising the philosophical heritage of Trigger’s broom. I’m on a train. I got stares.

  6. Wow – I didn’t expect you to read that link, maybe just check the “Satori” reference out of curiosity 🙂

    Need to be careful with Pirsig – the edge of self-help mysticism – but amazing how many “thinkers” cite him as influential on their own thought journeys.
    I really thought I’d left “childhood things” behind 🙂

    Have a good holiday / journey. (Travel, Travail, Trapalium – just sayin’) 🙂

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