Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason (1999, Cambridge University Press) 4 stars

Review of 'Critique of Pure Reason' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

Let me be completely straightforward here: this is not a review. Any attempt on my part to produce such a thing on none other than the great Critique would be a mix of hubris and dishonesty. What is this then?

Well, since reviewing this is out of question, this will be a kind of fairy-tale telling of my experience reading this monumental work. For let’s face it: just the prospect of having it all read is such a daunting task that if someone were to ask you if you would rather do this or go slay a dragon, you would probably happily choose the latter.

But jokes aside, truth is that Kant’s writing tends to be as clear as Victorian London’s famous smog. This is so much so that this opaqueness of his is almost a common trope among philosophers. So, for the purpose of my tale, what this means is that tackling it head on, especially on this Critique, looked then more like a challenge to be overcome than an opportunity for a philosophical promenade on Kant’s ideas. So what inspired me to overcome my fears? What was the tale behind this accomplishment?

Well, it all started when I found myself a philosophy student at college, and Kant was always popping up in the course’s syllabuses in the many classes I took on the subject of modern philosophy. However, since the philosophical canon is so vast, and there’s so little time to read all of it, that if it is true that I had until now many opportunities to read Kant, it is also true that almost all of those readings were mainly fragmentary, of selected texts focusing on particular subjects, never the whole of one of the critiques.

That meant that I kind of dodged my way throughout most of college without having neither the inclination nor the obligation to read Kant in depth, least of all this Critique. What I knew about it was mostly encyclopedic common places based on what I had learned in class and the things I read here and there on secondary sources. But this was about to change.

What happened was that I was finally presented with an opportunity to enroll in a class completely dedicated to reading Kant’s first critique. This class was a seminar, so the work was to be divided in parts, and each student would be assigned a bit of the critique to present to the rest of the group. So now I was faced with a choice: I could, if I so wished, to remain a fragmentary reader of Kant, going happily about my college life without ever thinking much of it; or I could make the most of the opportunity and give the whole reading a try. Naively, I chose the latter (I’m not much of a dragon slayer anyway).

And this was how I got into reading this book in the first place. Now that I have finished it, and with that perfect accuracy that only hindsight offers, I’m pretty glad I chose to do so. Imagining philosophy as country, Kant would be one of its most important cities, and this work this city’s most splendid cathedral. And since I was more of a philosophical tourist reading it, I now at least have this selfie to show off my intellectual prowess while I bask on the superficial joy of having accomplished such a colossal task.

Now, if you were to ask me for details about what I have learned and what insights I got from this work, I would definitely start spewing some trivialities that in the end would just amount to an incoherent blabber about Kant’s epistemological ideas. But I’m not worried. Why not? Because perhaps my tourist eye allowed me to fall in love with things I noticed here and there, and since this is such a complicated work, covering a lot of ground and with many layers of interpretation, I’m now more willing to return there and appreciate once again its beauties, but now with a different regard—and, who knows, maybe I can now move there and really get to know in depth this awesome cathedral. Until then I at least have this: been there, done that. For now this will have to do.