Kant (book review) Paul Guyer

The Routledge Philosophers


071018 this is a much later addition (6 years): i have not revisited this book, just read the review again. it is hard to believe it is (only) six years but then i have read many thinkers and thought many thoughts since, and though this might be thought simple, this book is sort of my introduction to ‘thinking for myself’, that is, though i had read some philosophy before i had incorporated it as received knowledge, had not thought about the thought, had not tried to critically place or contrast, had not allowed myself to listen in to the history of philosophical conversations, and this book [book:Kant|154071] changed all that. part of my previous critical timidity was reasonable doubt i knew enough or had read enough and that thinkers while not beyond me- i have always been unreasonably confident of my intellect- were talking, thinking, referring, to an entire realm of understanding i did not know. this book did not suddenly educate me all but brought me to understand that this is a process and curiosity and joy of thought that requires no particular knowledge to at least begin... so kant has remained in my background, in secure enlightenment openness, and has led me towards mostly ‘continental’ thinkers as they elaborate and critique everything of ‘a priori synthetic judgement’... so he may be difficult to read but not to read of, to the extent that matters, and the ideas and the joy of thought are immortal...


270512 first review: there is a history behind my reading this book that goes back a few years. there is a history behind my appreciation of kant that goes back about 27 years to undergraduate university...


i was possibly too young to really love kant back then, but i remember my survey course text. i do not even remember if i actually read it then, if i went to those classes. i was a mixed up kid. i do remember whenever i did read it, reaching the radical skepticism suggested by hume, feeling suddenly lost, depressed, convinced that my faith in science was misplaced. the idea was that when we see one billiard ball striking another and that one moves, we are seeing transfer of momentum. but where is this 'momentum'? how can we say it moves this? i was so convinced by this argument, i was ready to give up. then i read kant, read about intuitions, sensibilities, categories- about phenomena and noumena- and was so happy. everything i have read in philosophy since, has been in some way trying to recoup that intellectual joy of understanding...


i was ready to be disappointed with [book:Kant|154071], i tried reading his critiques but they never worked for me. i had over the years become fascinated by so-called continental philosophers, and though kant was a big name it was more descartes and hegel they refer to. then, about two years ago, i decided to educate myself about some of the history of philosophy.i have always read asynchronously- as if the ideas were independent of society and culture of the time, as if i could step outside time, as if i could judge them this way. so i had not really read much more than survey, the ancients, the moderns, leading up to the contemporary. everyone seems to refer to older texts which refer to even older texts... it seemed i would have to read too many. then i decided kant would be far enough past because he seemed to deliberately try and sum up everything previous...


so i bought [book:Kant|154071]. somehow i always found others to read. last year i had read about 231 pages when for some reason i stopped. i had so many other books i wanted to read, even other philosophers. when i decided to read him this time, after struggling through heidegger, i decided to start from the beginning again. this was a good idea. this time i seemed to understand. this time i was rightly amazed. this time i could see why he could be thought 'the' enlightenment philosopher. this time i love kant...


why? after recounting some bio, this book directly enters kant's natural philosophy- his 'copernican revolution'-the pure forms of sensible intuition, contributions of understanding, metaphysical deduction, transcendental deduction, principles of empirical judement, refuting idealism...leading through all this preparatory thought to his critique of metaphysics...


if it is true any philosopher, like any author, has one true obsession and everything else is built on that- i would nominate kant's as the idea of synthetic a priori judgement, of transcendental idealism, that we apprehend the world through a priori understandings- such as the successive impression of order and contiguity we call causal- that are facts of our minds in receiving the world, and before anything in the world itself. it is a fact of our being human, being rational beings. this is lynchpin for everything else. ideas of pure reason, metaphysics of self, world, god, toward the idea of systematic knowledge of the world...


and kant goes on, in part two of this book focusing on freedom. there is the famous categorical imperative and how it is derived and argued for according to universal law, natural law, humanity as an end in itself. kant tries to connect freedom to possibilities of radical evil, if we are to allow true good. kant contrasts the determinacy of the natural world to the moral necessity of freedom for the human world, insisting on necessary postulate of god and immortality of the soul, on the idea of sufficient reason, of intelligence organizing the world and humans, of the rise of republican states and the doctrine of human rights...


and kant goes on even more. he rationally examines all our duties, how in the end it is the categorical imperative to never make another a means rather than end, that buttress all his ideas of duties. and how these duties extend from common respect for all others, not some religious or group identity. we have duties to ourselves, to others, duties inherent and acquired. this is not argued by each of us having a soul or some other religious obligation, this is argued, this is thought, that we are human and all humans have duties to all humans...


even when i disagree with him, think him dated, i must admit kant might not have known all the answers but he certainly knew many questions. and the idea of ultimate comprehensibility of the universe, the idea of scientific knowledge, the idea of all kant's ideas has regulated and inspired the western world-view for centuries. so maybe it is all kant i love, and only incidentally this book. but then this is the first book that i have read and understood kant. no jargon, no difficult ideas in difficult language, and all, all, all of it holds together.


i almost feel like trying the critiques again...

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