Friday, November 13, 2015

Purity in Kant

This is going around, in response to something Marco Rubio said suggesting that maybe more people should go into welding and fewer into philosophy:

Kant, who was hugely influential, is the very model of an armchair philosopher. I've never been a fan exactly, but he tackled big questions, with his "critical method."

As with so many things Kantian, it's hard to say exactly what the "critical method" was, but it recently occurred to me that there was a strong similarity of program in his ethics and his aesthetics, a similarity I hadn't thought about before.

In ethics he pushes hard on the idea that you can only be sure that you're really being moral when you do the right thing when it's against your own interest and desire. So if you hand money to a beggar, and you feel good about it, and it doesn't really inconvenience you, then you haven't done a verifiably good deed!

In aesthetics he pushes hard on the idea that you're only having a true aesthetic appreciation when you admire an artwork for its form alone, absent any natural admiration of the content. So if you like a nude statue partly because it arouses a hint of eros in your mind, you're on the wrong track, buddy!

You can see the push toward purity, of a kind. Purity from earthly considerations or motives.

Then today I was thinking there was something similar going on in his Critique of Pure Reason. There's that word "pure" right in the title. But I puzzled a bit because it's not desire that plays the role of a corrupting influence in his epistemology. Certainly it turns out that it's actually impossible to really know anything about reality - the underlying reality that's out there somewhere beyond the sensory manifold, unfiltered by our mental categories.

But it strikes me that the underlying push is still the same - it is to remove the holy grail of knowledge from our earthly grasp - away from the flesh - away from our puny mortal minds - and into rarefied imaginary territory.

I write all this without quotes.
No doubt I have simplified.
His castle is circled with moats,
And many have vanished inside.

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