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Kant Couldn’t
by Peter Cresswell


The all-wise and ever-virtuous Fred Seddon appears every so often in these parts to tell us how wonderful is our sweet Uncle Kant, and how we’ve all got the poor fellow all wrong, and how – like Tony Soprano - he’s not really evil scum at all but just a regular guy who’s been misunderstood; the sort of home-loving guy we really should have around to tea and toast of an afternoon.

So just for the hell of it, I thought I’d offer up what I understand to be the main things Old Kant-Lips was saying, and then Fred can tell me (clearly and in plain English) how I’ve got it all wrong, and where, and that Kant is really Ayn Rand’s spiritual mentor and that he just couldn’t mean what I’ve taken him to mean. And then he can bill me.

Accordingly, here (clearly and in blunt English) is what I understand to be a summary of the Kant’s[1] main themes:

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) - and from this particular beginning everything else follows, so listen closely. What we apprehend or experience in our primitive human way depends, as night follows day[2]: a) on what there is to apprehend, and b) with what we use to apprehend the ‘what.’ In other words, what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch is only what we appear to be seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling etc.: what in fact we experience is only stuff presented to us in the only way our sensory apparatus is able to present it. No more, no less. Further, our apparatus is ‘contingent’ rather than ‘necessary’ – that is, we could have different apparatus, in which case what is presented and how it is presented to us could be different. And that’s important.

From this profound insight six things at least follow (or at least, according to Uncle Immanuel they do):

1. Anything our apparatus of experience is unable to deliver to us, we will be unable to experience. There might be something else ‘out there,’ but we’ll simply never know it; in fact, since our apparatus is only ‘contingent’ anyway, there’s every likelihood that there is something else that we  can’t experience … but we’ll just never know.

2. Although there most likely is  something else ‘out there,’ we have no way of knowing what it is, or what it would be like – the nature of our apparatus (or any apparatus) just ain’t up to the job of telling us anything about it – the independent being or beings or stuff or whatever it is ‘out there’ must fall outside any categories of thought or apprehension available to us.

3. The whole world we know, experience and live in is ‘only’ a ‘world of experience.’ It is ‘our reality,’ but it is not reality. The things we experience are really only ‘epistemological objects’ - ‘things-as-they-appear-to-us’ rather than ‘things-as-they-are’ - and there is just no other way of seeing things or thinking about them.  The human mind has, as a consequence, a built-in ‘tendency towards illusion’ that tells us for example that there are ‘epistemological objects’ such as works of art, great food, people we love, 600 children in a school gym in Breslan ... however, when boiled down we find that these are all just an ‘illusion of realism’  from which confusion only the wonderful gift of Grand Old Daddy Kant’s critical philosophy can deliver us. (All hail the old Kant.)

4. The ‘epistemological objects’ that appear to us obviously did not begin in that form - they got there by means of our sensory apparatus. But although we experience them as having duration, location, extension and causation, Big Daddy Immanuelly jest knows that ain’t the way ‘things-as-they-is’ really is. No, no. Dem t’ings don’t do dat – we do! Experiences of things appearing in time, or in space; the phenomenon of entities; our experience that ‘this caused that’ … all these are just illusions effected by the structure of our mind. It is our mind in which these four ‘categories’ exist, not in ‘reality’ itself – time, space, causation and the experience of material objects are all simply illusions caused by the ‘categories’ of our human form of perception (except you can’t say ‘caused’). Got that?

5. So, we ‘know’ then that in the illusion of the world as we experience it we ‘see’ material objects in space and time exerting more or less causal influence upon each other, and for which we might feel more or less love or desire. But this is just the ‘illusion of reality.’ However, in that other part of reality that we can’t ever experience or know anything about (remember the other part?) we know (since all these things are just our own categories of perception anyway): a) that causality does not obtain; b) that there are no material objects; c) that there is no space; and d) there is no time. Any attempt to say anything determinate about this other realm is doomed to failure – except to say that there is another realm. And some other stuff. In short, there are no categories of the human mind available to even imagine this realm, and no words to describe it – so don’t try.[3]

6. Having said that however, this realm might well contain such things as God (whatever she might be); or the soul (whatever that might be); and some other stuff (whatever you like, really); so don’t try arguing for example that God don’t exist or the devil ain’t done got your immortal soul because the glory of God (whatever that might be) and the sublimity of the soul (whatever the hell that might be) is beyond our poor mortal comprehension in any case. So there.

This is all called reason, by the way. Or ‘Reason,’ as you will. (Or ‘Pure Reason’ if you’re a real all-out, go-hard, gung-ho fan of The Man.)

The effect of these arguments in toto is, as you've no doubt already noticed , to cut off permanently a whole schmear of beliefs, ideas, notions and fields of inquiry from ‘reason,’ and to ring-fence many others – and all by use of the most sublime ‘logic’! To use reason to limit reason - what could be more ingenious! As his contemporary and admirer Moses Mendelssohn called him, Uncle Kunt[4] is “The All-Pulveriser” since he crunches up and destroys ‘intellectual garbage’ on a heroic scale.  (All hail the Great Kant!)

In particular - what could be more cunning! - he manages to ring-fence arguments about theology! Some centuries before, when confronted with rational attacks on theology, Thomas Aquinas had acted to open the door to reason while keeping the main room of the house for theology. Now, with the arguments and examples of the Enlightenment threatening to effect upon theology a permanent and long-overdue eviction, Kant acts to close the door on reason completely. Thus far, and no further, he says to the brave knights of reason – and in doing so he locks away ‘faith’[5] in a fortress, while condemning reason to the slums.

So that’s our Great Uncle Kant. In my estimation, concrete boots is too good for the evil scum. But, Uncle Fred, what have I misunderstood here?





[1] This is a typo.
[2] Yes Virginia, this is irony.
[3] Actually, there is at least an enjoyable post-script to this nonsense. Arthur Schopenhauer (after whom the Dudley Moore character ‘Arthur’ was named) argued that the ‘other realm’ can indeed be accessed, but only in one of two ways. One is through music. The other is through orgasm. True story. (Alas, poor Arthur S.: unlike Dud, he died a virgin . No wonder he was so all-fired miserable.)
[4] Yes Virginia, this is another typo.
[5] No Virginia, no-one except apparently Kant – and our Mr Seddon – knows exactly what ‘faith’ means to Kant, or is able to say so in less than four-thousand words.
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