When you look at a giant philosophical tome, such as here in front of me, The Critique of Pure Reason, you begin to question the idea behind a book like this. I’m not speaking of the eternally vague proposition ‘What is philosophy?’ but a more pressing problem immanent to all human existence: What possesses a human to engage in the life sapping task of the cold, calculated and rational exposition of ontological knowledge, that we find in Immanuel Kant?

Reading through this tome you feel what Deleuze refers to as a ‘completely stifling philosophy’ with ‘an excessive atmosphere’,

but if one holds up, all this northern fog which lands on top of us starts to dissipate, and underneath there is an amazing architecture. When I said to you that a great philosopher is nevertheless someone who invents concepts, in Kant’s case, in this fog, there functions a sort of thinking machine, a sort of creation of concepts that is absolutely frightening.1

Indeed, in my own struggle through this text, this depressing fog has come to paint my own world view as a bleak and frightening existence. And isn’t the standard functionalist model of the human mind in cognitive science an equally terrifying construct to behold? The mind, conditioned by empirical concepts in the spontaneous understanding is also conditioned socially (or by the subject through Reason) which is grounded in freedom for Kant.

The underlying tension here is in this element of freedom; where in the multitude of divisions in the Doctrine of Elements (this first book itself divided into the Transcendental Analytic and the Transcendental Dialectic, the latter being an attempt at reconciling the potential life threatening immanent conclusions from the former) there is itself an immanent tension revolving around the problems of freedom inherent to the systematic format of the CPR. Isn’t Kant challenging this model that seems to be growing in his first Critique, what he is struggling with in his own life and implicit to his own thought as an enlightenment thinker? Thus the birth of the ‘monster’ that is the synthetic a priori judgement, his own affirmation of freedom in the face of a terrifying entity (the object cause of tension): an act of freedom that is concept formation, or the creative act.

An interesting article by Eugene Thacker2 explores the idea of a depressed Kant propagating a system of knowledge to stand upon and see past a dark world to the light of Reason. Even on his deathbed, Kant’s final word is said to be ‘enough’. In the same way we see the struggle of the artist to capture the concept of his heart into a structured and limiting style of a medium, just as philosophy is one such medium. What all great art, in this way, attempts to grasp at is unity. A unity of idea and medium, soul and matter, finitude and eternity. In Hegel’s aesthetics we see art as a conscious act of Freedom with the piece of art as a display of self-consciousness. At the core of self-conscious activity is the object of death or human finitude. What all humans seek as self-conscious beings is the One ontological entity of all possible, cosmic experience through an act of creation or externalization. What the artist of philosophy creates is a struggle. What in any attempt to read a text is the same motive for composing such a treatise: the unity of the Being with beings and the discovery of Truth. The unity of Being (the framework of conditions for consciousness) and beings (any material arrangement of matter) is found in a struggle with art. The book is a material for use in the revealing of empirical concepts through the employment of the pure concepts of the understanding. The master of composing a philosophical tome tunes to the nuanced struggle of reason to attempt the composition of the one concept of Being. Kant’s endeavor is a struggle of Logic as a material representative of this transcendental knowledge of pure concepts.

In his lectures on the Critique, Heidegger puts forth the piece as a laying the ground, or a method for Truth, not containing Truth what-so-ever.3 What this reveals is his (Kant’s) own implied principles as a priori, or necessary in that they become buried and not-seen: the principle of Logos, or the capacity of reason to reveal any and all possible unities of Being and beings and thus the One framework of all possible experience. Where a poet feels the nuanced pull of Love, with His primacy of unity and singularity composes a piece directly embodying that moment of sublimity. When I say all great art attempts at the Truth of Being, I mean that they all reveal this same phenomena but in different media or perspectives, and most importantly as material renderings which lay the ground for the possibility to comport toward this Oneness. This immanence of the concept that is manifested through an arrangement of matter is the Oneness itself.

Authenticity as illusion: insofar as when one seeks an ultimate Truth of reality, there will never be a release from the fundamental tension or struggle in the artist: the Platonic tradition has no end. This is the ultimate tension exploited for the restraint against Freedom throughout history. Instead we should move toward the concept of the multiplicity of truths. Propositions are unique to their conditions of revealing:

what is revealed is the spontaneity of the understanding as grounded in the irreducibility of Time: the affection of self by self. Each moment of experience is open-ended and contains the grounding of the conditions of the possibilities of all experience in general [CPR B197/A158].4

This ‘reality of the virtual’ is where knowledge is the meeting point of the possible with actuality made concrete in the synthetic a priori judgement; the solution is already contained in the formation of the problem. The only truth is toward an affirmation of the distortion of the subjective position, or lack there-in (Kant’s grounding of objectivity into the subjective categories of human cognition).

The fundamental tension is the struggle against death: the essence of human existence and for Hegel, through the master/slave dialectic, the foundation of self-consciousness. What the object of death represents to the subject is his/her own finitude. The fundamental role of the sensibility in any cognition of the experiential world has its ground in intuition. Access to the noumenal world of things-in-themselves involves, for Kant, an intuition only to be had by God and the very structure of the world as it is for us humans is through the finite mode of intuition which gives the phenomenal world of appearances. This world of appearance is then given as from the extant world itself, whereas the world for God is given in himself through infinite intuition. The foundations for a properly modern mode of scientific comportment is thus founded in the human, all too human mode of finitude. Again, Deleuze on Kant:

There is no longer the essence behind the appearance, there is the sense or non-sense of what appears. Grant me at least that even if what I say remains just a matter of words, it’s a radically new atmosphere of thought, to the point where I can say that in this respect we are all Kantians.5

Insofar as the world of appearance is given to us from outside and is a matter of sense-making we are subjected to the discourse of the Other in making cognitions in the experiential world of social substance. The lack inherent to the big Other is found in the semblances of fear, death and desire that keeps us attached to its vacuous pull. Language is a semblance of the representation of the struggles against death and finitude: language functions only because there is some unsayable Thing it cannot express. What the Thing represents is death and the many forms of everyday life are struggles to overcome this: there is no action without death (no being without non-being; no object without subject or ‘I think’) and its subsequent overcoming. The key is to represent the Thing in its pure form or through an authentic experience and personal overcoming and release where hitherto we are trapped in a self-perpetuating tension with no possible release. The result is a blurring of the distinction hitherto seen as the mundane, ordinary life toward a becoming of the very condition for all possibilities: the immanent structure of Oneness. Each moment encompasses both tension and release, subject and object and together they become the unification of being and non-being representing a third entity of the One and completing the holy trinity. This is the comportment of being toward revealing the direct immanence of the moment, or the immediate phenomenological view of the world as it appears: appearance qua appearance. No mediation of representation as provided in the self-sufficient, spontaneous understanding.

What the Kantian understanding traps us in is the medium of representation grounded in the noumenal realm of things-in-themselves. Kant lays out his understanding ‘in service to’ an intuition as contrasted with the causa sui of God. What this amounts to is an ontological difference where no mediation is possible between the two but the human, finite domain of understanding nonetheless functions through the positing of this dichotomy with God. Indeed, there is a greater emphasis of the role of imagination as the CPR progresses beyond the Transcendental Aesthetic as a third mode mediating between intuition and the understanding and also the reduction of its role in the revision of the first edition toward the second. What Kant could not think is the role of fantasy or fiction in the very approach to the experience of the ontic world, but nonetheless creates the very conditions for this realization and subsequently reacts against in his self-conscious revisions toward a ‘mere epistemological’ account of knowledge.

Language does not represent the Thing directly but captures the experience immanent to a past moment or present, so is a re-presentation of the Thing. Insofar as all experience is a representation and activity a semblance of tension, which masks the Thing, there lies the implicit notion of the One which directs the act toward a universal notion. The creative act is a desire to represent the One, or recapture the moment of release in a material form immediately rather than mediately through representation. This form recreates the universal tension as (1) object with the immanent property of release, the conditions for release are met when (2) the subject beholds the object and recreates the artist’s idea, a perspectival shift occurs (3) in the reflection of this recognition as object: the subject views his very comportment toward the artwork and this represents the ideal form. What the artist tries to engender in this perspectival shift for the subject is an aesthetic of the everyday in its immediacy. Here art is not restricted to a canvas but becomes a lens to view the beauty in all reality, a universal beauty in every waking moment. This inspires in the subject a passion to make his life a work of art. He is inspired as a subject now immersed in this world of beauty and desires to become a direct reflection of it.

Works Cited:

  1. Deleuze, Gilles: Synthesis and Time. Les Cours De Gilles Deleuze, 1978. <http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=66&groupe=Kant&langue=2&gt;
  2. Thacker, Eugene: Kant’s Depression. 3:AM Magazine, 2015. <http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/kants-depression/&gt;
  3. Heidegger, Martin: Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Indiana University Press, 1997.
  4. Kant, Immanuel: The Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  5. Deleuze, Gilles: Synthesis and Time. Les Cours De Gilles Deleuze, 1978. <http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=66&groupe=Kant&langue=2&gt;

3 thoughts on “What Kant Means Today

  1. Pingback: What Kant Means Today – The Philosophical Hack

  2. That is an excellent and simply well phrased explanation of the current state of things using Kant.

    I found myself trying to counter every sentence you said and could only come up with one which was not merely trying to be obstinate and contrary:

    I do understand you are speaking from/to a certain context (Kant, etc). But I have come to a similar conclusion that you out so well. Yet I say that the traditional ideal, the traditional philosophical meaning, is already the incorrectly formulated, or as I like to say, based in a certain orientation upon things. Not contradicting what you have said to elequently, and in fact concurring with your essay, I would say that the thing in-itself Is the talk about it. Indeed there is an in-itself thing we can know that does not reduce to mere intuition or experience etc… it is that thing we talk about. “Chair”. There it is, the thing in itself known as the chair. And we proceed to talk about it; there it still is, residing in the contour of the discussion itself, in the knowing. The separation is Based in a Kantina orientation; hence, Kant is not wrong nor requiring of a elaborate reconciliation with the object, necessarily. Rather, how the object is viewed is the culprit. It is not wrong. Just different.

    Thanks so


  3. Hello northofnorthstar,

    You wrote,” —— and the very structure of the world as it is for us humans is through the finite mode of intuition which gives the phenomenal world of appearances.”

    Is this “human phenomenal world of appearances” also the fish’s phenomenal world of appearances” ?


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