Friday, March 23, 2012

Elements of Transcendentalism, First Part: On the perils of hubris

The subject of tonight's blog post is hubris.

Specifically, when I set out on this little episode, the idea was to try to read around 60 pages a week.  Given the faster reading skills I was finally forced to develop during graduate school, this didn't seem such a daunting task.  

Alas, a bout of a bad cold, combined with the distractions of a North Carolina spring, doing most of my reading on the bus and then forgetting the book at work for a week, and the general density of Kant have all made this a much harder task than I'd anticipated, and I didn't anticipate it being easy.

But to go a bit further into the subject of hubris -- the whole motivation for this was my intellectual curiosity carrying me into areas where my formal education has treaded only lightly, and Ginger was kind enough to try to go down this road with me a ways.  Frankly, I'm sick of trying to fill in my gaps of knowledge with Wikipedia articles, so trying to work through some critical source texts seemed like a good idea.

The problem with this, of course, as previously addressed, is that Kant isn't starting on virgin soil.  Much of what I'm getting from him in his focus on analytic versus synthetic judgements and a priori knowledge vs. a posteriori knowledge appears to be Kant joining a conversation in the middle, largely, as I understand it, in response to David Hume.  And here I am back with Wikipedia trying to figure out what's going on.

So to go away from context and back to text for the moment, my understanding is that the transcendental aesthetic is broken down something like this: the aesthetic has to do with what we perceive sensually, that which we can observe.  This notion of transcendentalism keeps throwing me off, because my main understanding of the word is as used by Thoreau and Emerson, and outside of that I'm not familiar with any common use of the word.  Even the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines transcendentalism as "an American literary, political, and philosophical movement of the early nineteenth century, centered around Ralph Waldo Emerson."  So what the heck is Kant talking about?  My best shot at getting it is that the transcendental aspect of aesthetics has to do with the part of sensuous experience which is available to cognition, or maybe to be more precise, that which can be synthetic.  To Kant, this apparently is limited to space and time, although I don't really follow him there.  

Which gets back, once more, to the point about hubris.  The notion is that I can just pick up Kant, read his primary work, and from that extract Kant's contemporary relevance.  This aspect of the transcendental aesthetic, as one of what Kant refers to as elements of transcendentalism, doesn't appear to have gained as much traction as other aspects of what Kant is talking about.  I think what this means is that I'm going to need to do is read this thing, then read a number of secondary sources about it, so this project grows a bit.

And now my bus stop is coming up....

No comments:

Post a Comment