This is the thirty-second in a series on The Harvard Classics; the rest of the posts are available here. Volume XXXII: Literary and Philisophical Essays
Of a contemporary author, Thomas de Quincy wrote, “he has not read Plato in his youth (which most likely was only his misfortune), but neither has he read Kant in his manhood (which is his fault).” Well I did read Plato in my (relative) youth. And I read Kant shortly thereafter. Not that I have anything particular to show for it. For the amount of time I spent with the Critique of Pure Reason, it is criminal how little I have retained.
Many hours of reading and discussing Kant (now more than a decade ago) has left me with only a vague desire to act only according with the maxim whereby I can, at the same time, will that it should be a universal law. That and an uneasiness about ever reading another of Kant’s sentences. But do not let my experience dissuade you, dear reader, from diving into the great Königsberger’s work.
Taking into account the categorical imperative, I cannot help but recommend as a starting place Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. (That’s either mildly witty or I am even less familiar with Kant than I thought.)
The introductory note to the Groundwork in the Harvard Classics says, “Kant is often difficult and obscure, and became more so as he grew older; but the present treatise can be followed, in its main lines, by any intelligent person who is interested enough in the fundamental problems of human life and conduct to give it serious and concentrated attention.”
You are an intelligent person who is interested in the fundamental problems of human life, aren’t you? Splendid! You’ll do just fine. And in case you feel lost after the first page or so, I have created a table from the first five paragraphs or so of Kant’s preface:
By the way, I spent an inordinate amount of time on that table, so you had better read this week’s blasted reading!
Also, I’ve noticed an error in the table but didn’t save the text version, so there is no way I am going to edit it. The bottom right square should conclude “METAPHYSICS of MORALS or MORALITY,” not “METAPHYSICS of NATURE.”
Beer of the week: Stone IPA – This beer is slightly hazy, with a nice sticky head. It is very light orange in color. The flavor is dominated by juicy hops, but it does not seem as aggressively hopped as one might expect for a beer that was on the forefront of the craze for hoppy West Coast IPAs. Also, in the 12 oz. package, Stone’s bottles have transparent labels rather than painted. More cost efficient, but less fun.
Reading of the week: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant – There is no place to start quite like a preface. And despite my protestations, this essay really is readable. Lest anybody become (unnecessarily) confused, please note that the Harvard Classics edition translates the title as Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. I went with the title with which I am more familiar, and this week’s reading is a different translation from the Harvard translation.
Question for the week: Is there any subject that you have studied closely but now almost entirely forget?
Kant went searching after the truth behind a commonly held notion and found nothing. “This,” he writes “is indeed by itself a sufficient reason for writing a book.” He is serious on this point, but the humor of it is not lost on him. He has nothing concrete to say on the point, no grand revelation nor eternal law to propound, and that is remarkable in itself. Philosophy is just like that sometimes and there is nothing wrong at laughing at that fact.
Philosophy is full to over-flowing with esotericisms, contradictions, and, if viewed from the right angle, downright silliness. Yet, many approach it with great reverence. To many, philosophy is cold and serious business. For that reason, it is very refreshing to get a look at the lighter side of philosophy, and even more so when the lighter side is pointed out by a philosopher as eminent (and often dry and serious) as Immanuel Kant.
But just when one is happy to have a laugh at the “profound scholars” for “[rejecting] by a majority of votes” any course of study that is practical and reasonable, Kant makes one more quip: “the present treatise will fully satisfy the reader; for the main part he will not understand, another part he will not believe, and the rest he will laugh at.” Suddenly, the reader can no longer be sure that the joke is not on himself.
Beer of the Week: OB Golden Lager – As the Korean beer market slowly becomes more interested in the quality of the beer rather than simply the price, the big brewers keep making moves to keep up with the beer drinking public. OB Golden Lager has an edge in the eyes of the informed beer drinker because it is made with 100% malted barley and imported German hops. Using German hops and only malt are steps in the right direction, now if only they would use more of both. Unlike Kant, OB can make no claim to leaving the consumer “fully satisfied.” Although the beer isn’t bad, it is watery and uninspired. The most notable thing about the beer is that the soda-like head dissipated in record time; I couldn’t even snap a photo before it was all gone.
Reading of the week: the Preface to Dreams of a Spirit-Seer by Immanuel Kant – Kant explains, while having a dig at philosophers in general as well as the Church (just for good measure,) why he has undertaken to write a treatise on a subject where no firm truth can be had, namely, the world of spirits.
Question of the week: Why are questions about the soul and other subjects regarding “the land of shadows” so interesting even though no definite answers can be reached? And why is it so tempting to make positive statements about such subjects?