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Thursday, May 19

May 20, 2016

Why We Think: Today we talked about Immanuel Kant and some of his most influential ideas.

  1. He was the first significant philosopher to be a professional academic. Today we take that for granted; but remember that most of the guys we’ve been talking about have been priests, scientists, authors, mathematicians — NOT full-time teachers.
  2. He was the guy who single-handedly shifted the focus of philosophy from Britain and France to Germany. (Prussia, technically, but still.) That’s where it would stay for the whole 19th century.
  3. He was also the guy who did, in his way, something we’ve been talking about all semester: tried to combine the two dominant strains in philosophical thought. That is, the rational (knowledge gained through reason) and empirical (knowledge gained through the senses).
  4. He did this by dividing the world in two: the phenomenal world (the world of measurable, quantifiable phenomena — the things we experience with our senses), and the noumenal world (the world beyond the senses, the world we can’t experience). Those things that we can’t experience with the senses (and that would include God) belong to the noumenal world: we can neither prove nor disprove their existence, according to Kant.


Kant’s concept of the noumenal and phenomenal world did several things:

1. It suggested that there are limits to what we can know. That is, his idea of epistemology was that we can’t know everything.

2. It was idealistic, in the sense that philosophical idealism means the belief that reality exists primarily in the mind. Plato was an idealist. And there’s a lot of overlap between rationalists and idealists.

**Realists, by contrast, believe that reality is primarily physical. Put another way, philosophical realists believe that objects have a mind-independent reality. That chair is more than just a set of perceptions to a realist — it actually exists, and our perceptions can help us verify its existence.

3. It differed from the ideas of most rationalists, and even hardcore empiricists like Berkeley, because while it suggested that the phenomenal world was filled with our perceptions of objects, he allowed for a noumenal world in which the objects’ essence existed. (He didn’t just deny that such a place existed, like Berkeley.)

Kant’s ideas not only were hugely influential, even though he was a notoriously dense and difficult writer. They also set the stage for a century of philosophical domination by Germany — something that would pave the way for two world wars.

Here is your homework for Thursday (you can simply answer this on an index card):

                                                            A Kantian Problem

You hear a knock at your door. When you answer it, you find your best friend, who is disheveled and clearly panicked. He tumbles into the room and begs you to hide him. When you ask why, he stutters that he is being chased by an axe murderer, who is following close behind, and you agree to let him hide in your basement.

Barely five minutes later, there is another knock at the door. You open it to find an angry-looking man holding an axe. He asks you if your friend is there, and says, angrily, that he is looking for your friend so that he can murder him with the axe. He fixes you with a scarifying stare, and asks you, again, if your friend is there.

How should you answer him?


Siren: Slowly but surely, the May issue is coming together. Plan on printing/distributing Monday.

Daily Prompt:

Survey: Combined – Screenwriting/CNF: Final pitch. Work day afterwards. We gave out a schedule for the last three weeks of the semester. What-if essays due tomorrow.

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