Friday, December 22, 2006

Pure Reason on the Meaning of Life

How should we understand the meaning of life?

How can we move toward this, if we don't know what our true nature is? Every time we talk about things like freedom, or whether time had a beginning, we fall into contradictions. Kant says that if we try to prove things about our true nature, as opposed to how we appear to ourselves, we fall into something he calls paralogisms. It means there are fallacies in reasoning involved in every attempt to prove what our real nature is. Everything we experience is through interpretation. We even our experience of our selves, and therefore we never know our true nature, only how we appear to ourselves. Kant's particular account of reason, that we must rely on it: it is our sole confidant and means of knowing. He also tells us how limited our reasoning is, which creates a collision. We must use our reason, but it's extremely limited regarding the things of metaphysics.

The history of Western Philosophy Post-Kant involves philosophers saying things like, "Kant couldn't be right, but yet he says important things..." The question was asked, what was the standpoint from which Kant spoke? After all, Kant said that we interpret everything, even our encounters with ourselves. Kant is not exception. Where does he stand when he tells us we are merely interpreting these things? Kant's pronouncements appear to be self-defeating. Pure reason has already failed us. But now practical reason has failed us too! We are only interpreting that we interpret everything. If interpretations are no good, then Kant's interpretation of our nature is no good.

Kant says that we have to ask certain questions. For example, questions about the meaning of life. He has a notion of the "I", in which this word does not connect us with our inner selves. It's a concept we use. He makes a distinction between (a) the concept of I, (b) our experience of ourselves in categories of subject or object, but underlying all this, he says, there must be our (c) true selves. By the way, he seems to add, it is in the nature of our reason that we cannot know our true selves. Yet we have to ask this question. We cannot be sure of the source of the question. We don't know who "I" is.

Then Kant says something which seems like it comes from nowhere. All of our knowing arises from something he calls the power of imagination. It's a blind but indespensible part of the human soul in which we are scarcely aware. We are supposed to use our reason. But all use of our reason arises from a blind but indespensible imagination. This is something that is the power, the energy, that drives our being. This is a mystery in Kant. I've been thinking about this.

There's an old development that lives on in philosophy. It has to do with the relationship of power on the one hand, and structure or form on the other. One group says that anything, even the energy of the universe, could be altogether understood rationally. But there's another view that says at least some realities, and usually a good candidate is the self, cannot be known altogether rationally. The self somehow goes beneath our rational comprehension. Kant talks about imagination in suggestive and problematic ways. What are we supposed to say about an energy deeper than our reason and drives our understanding--but we cannot use our reason to get down to it and find out its nature. So how does Kant know that there even is such an energy? Is this energy non-rational? Can we become one with it?

At least one thing is important: the search for this deepest energy will continue on.

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