That’s all very well in theory …

Kant’s essay on theory and practice established the view presented a few posts ago as to their essential unity. The asymptotic nature of theory might seem a weakness, but if we don’t keep trying, we capitulate to philistinism; moreover, if theory were set in stone, it could not reflect its lively object — instead impaling the butterfly, embalming its own fantastic errors — so it is all to the good that it’s a perennial work-in-progress: the metaphysical instinct to suspect such fleet-footedness as just shifty is a zombie survival from the middle ages. (Realism.) In fact (Kant’s Copernican Revolution), theory is parasitic on reality, not the contrary, and we are the parasite. Like many German authors, Kant suffers in translation, but the original texts can be quite hard going too, so he suffers even more. That is perhaps largely because of the difficulty and novelty of the content. A very few subjects are doomed to seem dry as dust. Heine made an honourable attempt to mediate German philosophy for French readers, who have very little tolerance for stodge, but lost much of the substance. I will update this post when I find a link to this text in English; however it is available in several good anthologies of Kant’s writings such as Lewis White Beck’s. And this particular essay, published in 1793 in the Berlinische Monatsschrift, was aimed at a broad audience, that is, it isn’t technical.


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