Hiking Kant into the 21st century

Even professionals dread Kant.  His style, especially in translation, is notoriously turgid, but the primary difficult with him is the same as with any writer pushing the edge of what language can do.  Another way to put that would be, pushing the limits of what humans can understand about the world and themselves.  Indeed, Kants most useful idea is that understanding and the world are at once the same and inextricably separate.  And this is the idea which we can take into the backcountry.

Understanding and the world are the same because, as individuals, the shape of our minds and the nature of our experience determines what we can see, what we can know, what we can experience.  Historically, this is the beginning of that horribly generic term “relativism”.  The struggle with Kant is to not allow routine to flatten this idea into sameness.  Just because we cannot see beyond our experience does not mean that things (in themselves, to use his phrase) do not exist beyond that experience.  It takes discipline and profound humility to keep the inherent limits of both individual understanding and human communication at the forefront of ones daily mind.

A prosaic example, and the one I find most difficult to verbalize, is reading and moving through terrain.  Ones experience creates possibility the first time you look into a basin: where humans might have built trails, which animals are around and how they might use the area, how the geology, climate, and flora will dictate lanes of travel.  The sheer size of any basin makes definitive understanding impossible, but (move on to Hegel) the best case in wild navigation is not found in maximal understanding of the world (which is impossible) but in maximal understanding of the self.  Sensory experience turns inward and knowledge of the self and instinctual apprehension of the terrain meld, facilitating both animal-like decision making and acceptance of pace minimally influenced by effort.


2 responses to “Hiking Kant into the 21st century”

  1. Appreciate your commitment to exploring the mind/landscape connection. What else is there, ya know?

    Wondering if you’ve encountered the ideas of David Abram and his book, The Spell of the Sensuous? A must-read (if you haven’t already!) He offers some compelling ideas and language that resonate with what you’re getting at here.

  2. Nathaniel McHaffie Avatar
    Nathaniel McHaffie

    Juxtaposition of your final sentence and the blog’s epigraph by Abbey keeps rattling around in my mind:

    “a non-human world”
    “pace minimally influenced by effort”
    Pace emerging from the confluence of place & walking

    “the naked self”
    “acceptance of pace”
    Preparation/precondition for merger “with a non-human world”

    If meditation makes zen practitioners “accident prone” to awakening . . . “reading and moving through terrain,” perhaps makes you accident prone for Abbey’s merger and survival?

    I’ll be chewing this one for a while, many thanks.

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