Kant leads the way to Spinoza and Leibniz!

FRIDAY, APRIL 12, 2019

Recalling what Wittgenstein said:
Kierkegaard translations to the side, we'll pretty much always have Kant. But as with Kierkegaard, so too here:

Everybody knows his name. But nobody knows what he said!

Fortunately, a definitive study has finally emerged. The key part goes like this:
When Kant emerged from his silence in 1781, the result was the Critique of Pure Reason. Although now uniformly recognized as one of the greatest works in the history of philosophy, this Critique was largely ignored upon its initial publication. The book was long, over 800 pages in the original German edition, and written in a convoluted style. It received few reviews, and these granted it no significance. Kant's former student, Johann Gottfried Herder criticized it for placing reason as an entity worthy of criticism instead of considering the process of reasoning within the context of language and one's entire personality. Similar to Christian Garve and Johann Georg Heinrich Feder, he rejected Kant's position that space and time possessed a form that could be analyzed. Additionally, Garve and Feder also faulted Kant's Critique for not explaining differences in perception of sensations. Its density made it, as Herder said in a letter to Johann Georg Hamann, a "tough nut to crack", obscured by "all this heavy gossamer."...Recognizing the need to clarify the original treatise, Kant wrote the Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics in 1783 as a summary of its main views. Shortly thereafter, Kant's friend Johann Friedrich Schultz (1739–1805) (professor of mathematics) published Erläuterungen über des Herrn Professor Kant Critik der reinen Vernunft (Königsberg, 1784), which was a brief but very accurate commentary on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.
We were only 19 years old when we took the course on Kant during our junior year in college. Despite our youth, we noted many of these very same flaws in The Critique of Pure Reason, especially the parts about it being too long and much too hard to read.

True story:

Back in 1998, the scholars at the now-defunct Capital Style magazine asked us to write a cover report about our college years.

If we'd had any famous roommates, they said we we could throw in some anecdotes. "Just don't overdo it," they skillfully said.

We summarized each of our college years. Junior year ended like this:
CAPITAL STYLE (12/98): I had one other brush with greatness junior year. It involved Roger Rosenblatt, who now does commentaries on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Roger was the student adviser at Dunster House and, despite all that time I'd spent studying with [INITIAL WITHHELD], I was having big problems with Kant. Something I couldn't quite explain had kept me from reading The Critique of Pure Reason. And since The Critique of Pure Reason was the sole assigned text in the course on Kant I was taking that semester, and since the semester by now was technically over, my inexplicable failure to read this one book had begun to present as a problem.

Roger said I should go to the Student Health Services, see one of the psychologists there, and explain the problem. I should just tell them that Roger had sent me.

I did. I explained my situation to the psychologist, and he said, "Well, what am I supposed to do about that?" I didn't have the slightest idea. I thought he and Roger had worked it all out.

I went on to fail Kant—or did Kant fail me?—and I had to take a summer school course on Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.
Regarding that summer school course, we've often said, paying homage to Jonson's famous remark concerning Shakespeare's Latin and Greek, that we learned little Leibniz and less Spinoza. Something seemed to be telling us that we shouldn't be reading those texts!

The Kant course was taught fall semester. That spring, we took the undergraduate Wittgenstein course.

The later Wittgenstein almost seemed to be saying that we shouldn't be reading those texts. Could this whole canon be out of order? Could that be what Wittgenstein said?

When the underlinin' ended: As we noted yesterday, the underlining in our copy of the Critique of Pure Reason continues through page 164. We forgot to mention that the actual text of the Critique doesn't start until page 42 in that particular edition.

One of the last passages we marked for special attention is found on page 157. In a different translation which we can copy on-line, here's what Kant is said to be saying at that particular juncture:
KANT: The manifold content given in a sensuous intuition comes necessarily under the original synthetical unity of apperception, because thereby alone is the unity of intuition possible (§ 13). But that act of the understanding, by which the manifold content of given representations (whether intuitions or conceptions) is brought under one apperception, is the logical function of judgments (§ 15). All the manifold, therefore, in so far as it is given in one empirical intuition, is determined in relation to one of the logical functions of judgement, by means of which it is brought into union in one consciousness. Now the categories are nothing else than these functions of judgement so far as the manifold in a given intuition is determined in relation to them (§ 9). Consequently, the manifold in a given intuition is necessarily subject to the categories of the understanding.
Are you starting to see things our way?

Please understand! We're not saying that Kant was wrong in anything he said in that passage. We're asking a totally different question. We're asking if this whole canon could possibly be out of order.

Final point: Hong and Hong had nothing to so with that on-line translation of Kant.


  1. Even in 1969, serious students would be ashamed to complain about the length of an assigned textbook.

    Somerby gives not one thought to how much extra tuition he cost his family by having to take that summer school class.

    Professors don't mind students with questions, who struggle or don't understand material. They despise lazy, entitled shits like Somerby, who mock what they find less than easy without effort. Somerby didn't belong in any classroom after graduation because he clearly has no respect for learning or knowledge.

    Does he not realize the ugly side of himself that he is posting here? He is as naked as Trump.

  2. In terms of the influence of these 18th & 19th century philosophers on other fields of thought, it is interesting that Somerby has singled out the Catholic nativists and doesn't mention the protestant empiricists. This is the nature vs nurture dichotomy that was very important to debates in many fields, including education, psychology, biology and public policy. The Catholics were on the nature side and the largely British and Scottish empiricists were on the nurture side. These views were important to Darwin and evolution, which revolutionized explanation in biology. Yet Somerby has no interest in this stuff. This is why I think he just didn't belong in college and someone should have let him take a different path.

    Many stand up comedians are high school dropouts. A few are college dropouts. Very few finish college. In part, the lifestyle of performing at night while trying to do anything during the day makes it difficult to study. It is possible that Somerby may have been burning the candle at both ends. But if so, why blame philosophy?

  3. Somerby is questioning the canon - the works we take as essential to whatever (we think) philosophy is or should be up to. He says they're not (necessarily) wrong about what they are saying, but maybe we are wrong to give them center stage in our philosophical canon. My sense so far is that he is questioning the priority given to theory over practice: becoming knowledgable about the world (having a theory) versus becoming wise about how to live (transforming ourselves). Wittgenstein (early, not later) advised passing over in silence that which cannot be spoken. But many ancients (e.g. Plato) thought that speech could be used to bring us to the point of seeing what cannot be said, strictly speaking. In any case, I would take bets that Somerby is laying track in this direction: arguing the need to bring philosophy back down to earth, as it were. Or at least, to challenge us to say why it is that Kant (for example) should matter to us, apart from specialists in the history of ideas.


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