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Sunday, October 27, 2002
Books

You can hate but not ignore Kant
R. K. Gupta

The Living Thoughts of Kant
by Julian Benda. Rupa, Delhi. Pages 228. Rs 150.

THE present work is part of a series aimed at presenting living thoughts of various leading thinkers of the world. Julian Benda (1867-1956), the author of this work, was a French novelist and philosopher. His other works include The Yoke of Pity, The Youth of an Intellectual and A Regulator in His Century.

The author maintains that almost the whole of Kantís work is still living, either in the sense that it has become part and parcel of our philosophical thinking, or in the sense of there being staunch opposition to it. "The basic theses of the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Judgement are still eminently living in the sense that, explicitly or not, they are a vital element in all modern philosophic writing which relates either to the study of cognition or to speculation in aesthetics or biology." (p. 44) On the other hand, Kantís ethical theses, "which fifty years ago seemed definitely accepted by mankind, and for that very reason deprived of vital quality inasmuch as life implies activity, are the object of an opposition which is more organised and resolute than ever before and that from this point of view they have acquired a tremendous renewal of vitality." (p. 45) One should have no difficulty in agreeing with the author that much of what Kant said is still alive. This can be easily seen from the fact that, after him, hardly has anyone been able to do his philosophical work without taking into consideration what he has had to say. But, unlike the authorís contention, much of what he said has had both strong supporters and strong opponents.

 


The author maintains that Kant has been primarily concerned with four problems in his philosophy, and in respect of all of which he has expressed ideas that have "marked decisive turning points in the history of human thought." (p. 7) These problems are: mechanics of knowing; ethics; religion; and the nature of aesthetic feeling and the direction of biological evolution." (p. 7) The first chapter in the book contains a brief account of Kantís life, and the authorís extremely lucid introduction to his major works bearing on these problems. These works are: Critique of Pure Reason; Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals; Critique of Practical Reason; Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone; and Critique of Judgement. The remaining chapters contain an excellent anthology from these works relating to the said problems.

The book has a large number of printing mistakes.