“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. I have not to search for them and conjecture them as though they were veiled in darkness or were in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and enlarges my connection therein to an unbounded extent with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems, and moreover into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance.
The second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity, but which is traceable only by the understanding, and with which I discern that I am not in a merely contingent but in a universal and necessary connection, as I am also thereby with all those visible worlds. The former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates as it were my importance as an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with vital power, one knows not how, must again give back the matter of which it was formed to the planet it inhabits (a mere speck in the universe). The second, on the contrary, infinitely elevates my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the whole sensible world, at least so far as may be inferred from the destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination not restricted to conditions and limits of this life, but reaching into the infinite.”
The first paragraphs of the conclusion to Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
On their Philosophy Bites podcast, David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton asked an impressive array of scientists and philosophers the question “Who’s Your Favorite Philosopher?”. All of the brief responses are worth hearing, though one of my favorites comes from Susan Nieman, protégé of John Rawls and lecturer at the Einstein Forum, who riffs:
If I could only pick one, I’d pick Kant — and I’d pick him because I think he’s actually the bravest of any philosopher.
Kant’s most important insight was that there’s a huge gap between the way the world is and the way the world ought to be, and both of those have equal value. One needs to keep both of them constantly in mind.
It’s an extremely hard stance to take. It’s very modern. It means a certain amount of living on the edge. It means a certain amount of permanent frustration.
People tend to go in one direction or the other. Either they say, ‘well, the way the world is, is all there is, and any ideal is just an illusion that you ought to grow out of.’ Or they project some kind of illusion — this is where you get Stalinism and other ideologies — the way the world ought to be is the way the world is.
Living with both is extremely hard, and it means that you know you’ll never realize entirely the ideals you believe in, but I think it’s only way of being both honest and hopeful at the same time.
I apologize for the extended hiatus. Your regularly scheduled programming resumes now.