On Studying Kant

Claire Messud:

A good friend of mine, a philosopher and a Kant scholar, has devoted the past twenty years to interpreting passages of Kant’s Critique of Judgment. It is but one of the briefer texts in Kant’s monumental work; and yet, in order properly and thoroughly to understand it, she has committed all of her adult life thus far, and considers her labor far from complete.

For almost all of us, such serious focus on Kant’s thought is impossible. For most of us, if we apprehend even “a so-called philosophical hue,” we consider ourselves in pretty good shape. It’s like the dizzying enormousness of the cosmos in reverse: if, in order properly to understand a paragraph of Kant, one would need to engage in a lifetime of study, what are we to make of the entire breadth of his oeuvre – the Observable Universe of his oeuvre, if you will? And what, beyond that, are we to make of the fact that Kant’s published writings represent already a careful ordering and editing and articulation into intelligible language of his philosophy, of his conscious thought? And beyond that, given that his thought arose in part from his experience, experience all but entirely lost to us – made up of countless minutes and hours and days and years of life upon this planet, of Kant’s individual and particular life – how are we to conceive of the unknowable vastness that was Kant?

Kant’s Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write, p. 74