My wife is reading a biography of Immanuel Kant. She enjoys reading all kinds of biographies, but philosophy has never been an interest of hers.
So she wanted a thumbnail summary of Kant’s thought.
Well, what I know is that, unlike Hegel, who was an absolute idealist, Kant was a critical idealist. They both wrote incredibly boring books
But for the person who doesn’t follow philosophy, an idealist is a dreamer, someone who can’t quite accept the world as it is. Hegel and Kant didn’t accept reality as it presents itself. But they weren’t what we think of as idealistic.
I never could make heads or tails out of Hegel. This doesn’t bother me much. William James said Hegel wrote so badly that James couldn’t understand him either. As best I can figure Hegel was a sort of German Hindu, who thought the world that presents itself to our senses is an illusion. Underlying this illusion was a pantheistic spirit, his approximation of God. The many things that we experience were really just one all-encompassing thing–and that thing was a divine mind unfolding in stages.
So he was an absolute idealist in the sense that he didn’t believe in matter. The absolute was a mind or idea.
Kant actually believed in matter. He believed that there were “things in themselves”, but we couldn’t ever get at those things, because we are trapped in our minds. While Hegel seemed to think the world that presents itself to us is an illusion, Kant thought the world is appearance. We can know what appears to us, but not what is actually there.
Kant did not believe that our minds produced what we experience as empirical reality. He did not think we could turn inward and get at reality by looking at our own minds. Our minds are something we experience as objects just like the rest of our experience. Our minds are appearance just like the rest of the world.
The world out there exists, but our minds give it it’s form. Kant did not seem to believe in the reality of space. Space was just a category our minds use to order the things that appear to us. The same with time. Time was a category in our minds rather than an actual dimension out there.
We cannot experience the world as it is, only as our minds perceive it. So he was an idealist too, but a critical one.
Hollywood has gotten into this idea that reality is mind-produced. Robin William’s afterlife in What Dreams May Come is like that. Then there is the Matrix. It is certainly true that we produce cyber realities in computer games that approximate reality. But fiction writers have always been doing something like that. The thing is that writers, artists, game creators and such use the real world to formulate fictional worlds.
I did not think anyone, except maybe that Nazi, Heidegger, could be more boring than Hegel and Kant. That was until somebody got me to try to read some French postmodernists.
There seems to me to be just no common sense in these people. Why worry about this question of the relation of subject and object? The world that presents itself to me is complex and full of a multitude of fascinating things and people. The past is rich and colorful to those of us interested in history. Science gives more layers of beauty and potential.
But to think that it is all just an illusion or appearance undermines the fact that our minds seem designed to explore the world. Our minds seem oriented toward reality. Why dig up ancient Hazor, or land the Curiosity on Mars, if everything is really just mental projections?
Yeah, you can’t always be sure that what you perceive is real. You do sometimes dream or have hallucinations. It is kind of humorous that you can’t be sure. But what are you going to do? Suspend your belief in reality until some writer of boring, obfuscating books figures it out?