Kant and Warning Labels

If I were crafting a warning label for Kant's works,* it would not read as this one does:
This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.
First of all, any parents who are reading Kant's critiques with their children deserve our robust congratulations and are in no need of further guidance.

Secondly, the thing you really need to be warned about with Kant is that he doesn't use words like anyone else you know. You're going to encounter a lot of words that you think you recognize from a lifetime of reading, yet when Kant uses them all together they are not going to make any sense. This is because he made up his own language. Even in German, the problem is serious according to friends fluent in that tongue; in translation, it is severe. Assume that any word over two or three syllables is a technical term that means something specific for Kant that it never means for anyone else, and that you need to find out just what that meaning is to understand what he's trying to tell you.

Those are my first and second thoughts. Open Culture comes up with its own:
First, we must point out Wilder Publications’ strange certainty that a hypothetical Kant of today would express his ideas in tolerant and liberal language. The supposition has the effect of patronizing the dead philosopher and of absolving him of any responsibility for his blind spots and prejudices, assuming that he meant well but was simply a blinkered and unfortunate “product” of his time.

But who’s to say that Kant didn’t damn well mean his comments that offend our sensibilities today, and wouldn’t still mean them now were he somehow resurrected and forced to update his major works?


Secondly, who is this edition for?
Homeschoolers, apparently. The assumption that parents will be reading this with their children suggests to me that homeschooling may be a much better form of education than anything else going.

* (I want credit for avoiding in the headline all the horrible puns suggested by this story: "I Kant Believe This Publisher's Gall" and the like.)


HMS Defiant said...

Kant's Critique was a wonderful read. I still remember reading it on the train from DC to URI. He'd be burned at the stake today for making his assumptions and his statements about race and he was simply discussing the differences between English, French, German, etc.

David Foster said...

There's something I believe is missing in Kant's theory of the Categorical Imperative, which requires that one act according to a rule which could be made universal without undercutting the purpose of your action....this is basically a more sophisticated version of the common parent's question "What would happen in *everyone* acted like that?"

What is missing from this formulation is the test, "What if NOT everyone adopted this rule?"...for example, the rule that "everyone should be an absolute pacifist" passes the Categorical Imperative, but does not pass my proposed extension....it is "brittle," in that one nation or even one large group of people can destroy the objective by not following it.

Grim said...

The reason Kant misses that is that he believes that reason is the same for everyone. Formally, in his ethics, everyone legislates his or her own rules and nobody else's rules are in any way binding on you. That turns out to be tenable only because Kant thinks that -- insofar as we are acting according to pure practical reason -- we will all legislate the same rules. The structure of reason will guarantee it.

He doesn't come out and say this in the Groundwork, which is what everyone reads, but he does in his later work, the Metaphysics of Morals. (See 6:207.) There he also contemplates the need for a state to enforce some of the dictates of reason because of the reality that people will violate some of them sometimes.

He doesn't think we should enforce all of them, though. He divides the work according to the dictates of reason we'd have a right to use coercive force to enforce (he calls this "The Doctrine of Right") and the ones we wouldn't ("The Doctrine of Virtue"). 'Right' is where people are trespassing on you, rather than failing to do things that they ought to do but that you have no right to demand of them. So, 'right' covers theft or seducing your wife or assault or murder; as opposed to not giving you enough charity or not electing to avoid immoral sexual practices they might enjoy. If people fail to do those things, they're not being virtuous nor obeying the dictates of reason, but you can't legislate for yourself a moral law that would allow you to stop them without coming into problems with the CI (so Kant thought).

Ymar Sakar said...

People learn more if they started thinking in a different language, vs reading translated copies of such works.

It is the parallax effect of double language processing that allows breakthroughs in human comprehension to occur. Kant probably had issues with his native Deutsch, and just started chaining words together to form new words. People can do the same thing in English as well, but it is of more benefit to the writer than the reader.