Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Abbey's Anti-Kantian Movement

Madison Kraemer
Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
3 September 2014
Abbey's Anti-Kantian Movement
           In the book Desert Solitaire, written by Edward Abbey, the narrator which is Abbey sets forth to Utah to experience the wilderness. He wants to escape the real world, live in the wild, and work as a Park Ranger. Abbey has a vast amount of knowledge about the wild and all that lives within it. In the chapter “The First Morning”, Edward Abbey writes, “I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities, anti-Kantian, even the categories of scientific description,” (Abbey 6). Through this quote, Abbey is interpreting his wants to clear the natural human behavior of placing value to all non-human aspects, and look at something for what it really is, an anti-Kantian movement.
          A philosopher named Immanuel Kant believed that animals, plants, and all non-human things only achieve their value from humans. An example of his belief is found in The Critique of Pure Reason, “A plant, and animal, the regular order of nature--probably also the disposition of the whole universe--give manifest evidence that they are possible only by means of and according to ideas; that, indeed, no one creature, under the individual conditions of its existence, perfectly harmonizes with the idea of the most perfect of its kind--just as little as man with the idea of humanity, which nevertheless he bears in his soul as the archetypal standard of his actions; […],” (Kant). In other words, Kant is stating that all non-humans aspects do not have value and only humans can give value to non-humans. Furthermore, Kant believes that all and only human beings make such moral claims, because it is only humans who can respond to these claims.
On the other hand, Edward Abbey believes that while humans are different in a variety of ways from each other and other animals, these differences do not provide enough evidence for denying non-human's moral consideration. Abbeys purpose for living in the wilderness of Utah is because he wants to live amongst the animals, insects, trees, and rocks so he can rid the behavior of placing human values to non-human things.  He is man that expresses his strong feelings and opinions about the great outdoors because he is worried about the state of the environments future. Abbey’s quote “anti-Kantian” means that he believes, regardless if you are human or not, everything should have a moral status. He wants to experience every aspect of the wilderness he possibly can and view the different creatures around him for what they truly are, not what humans or scientists describe them to be.
In the chapter “The Serpents of Paradise”, Abbey discovers a gopher snake that is lying underneath his doorstep. Abbey observes this snake and decides to not only let it continue to live by his trailer, but allow the snake to come into his own home. He builds a personal relationship with this snake and observes every little thing about the snake; “We are compatible. From my point of view, friends,” (Abbey 19). Abbey knows how dangerous this snake can be since it attracts rattlesnakes, but he decides to not listen to the facts and focus more on the reptile itself. He builds a close connection with the snake so he can really understand and interpret the way the snake lives and interacts with not only himself, but with the other creatures in the environment. The relationship between Abbey and the gopher snake symbolizes the first real attempt Abbey has on changing the moral status between man and animal.
As the book goes on, Abbey interacts with many different types of creatures and forms of life. Abbey wants people to look at nature for what it really is and not what we think it is about. He wants to change National Parks so people can interact and understand the environment in a different way than it is portrayed.  He wants people to view the world, and all that lives within it, as beautiful simply because of  of human connection. Abbey believes that nature’s everlasting, and all people should look at the world and the things that surround us for what it truly is, not what we have learned or have been told. Abbey portrays that our agenda should change because we need to reverse our path and reconnect with that something we have lost.
Works Cited
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire; a Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print.
Kant, Immanuel, and J. M. D. Meiklejohn. Critique of Pure Reason. London: G. Bell, 1884. Print.



  1. Hey I just want to say this is a pretty well organized essay that flows well and gets the point across. I found your argument to be "Abbey is interpreting his wants to clear the natural human behavior of placing value to all non-human aspects, and look at something for what it really is, an anti-Kantian movement." The next few paragraphs you write are all helping to prove your point, with little 'fluff'. I think a little more contextual evidence is necessary in the third paragraph to aid your argument in that section but there is very little I would cut out. I might re-word such areas as the storytelling in your fourth paragraph, but I understand why it is put there. Overall it is a good, concise essay that relays your take on the prompt and proves your point. Good job!

  2. Your first paragraph is muddled. Between wordiness, mechanical problems and the lack of a clear argument I'm not sure what I should take away from it. Certainly most of it could be cut. In your second paragraph, I think you picked a good passage from Kant (how did you find it? Is there a missing citation?), and I *think* you have a good grasp of it, but some of the wasted space from the previous paragraph could have allowed for a more detailed explanation here.

    In your third paragraph, I don't think you're quite saying what you mean to say. Kant doesn't believe that animals have no moral status, necessarily - rather, because morality is a human thing, people give them moral value. I think what you're trying to get at is that Abbey thinks that animals/nature have inherent value, in themselves, other than whatever value people ascribe to them. That isn't quite getting across, though - your argument seems vague and generic, but I suspect that's because you aren't being clear & detailed enough in your analysis of how Kant & Abbey differ.

    Is Abbey really being anti-Kantian by befriending a snake? How different is that than having a pet dog, to whom we ascribe human characteristics and values? I'm not clear on exactly on how Abbey's relationship with the snake is at this point anti-Kantian. This needed more detail. (Also, the gopher snake is there to hunt rattlesnakes - you got confused on why the snake is there).

    You get even vaguer at the end - your conclusion is rather generic.

    Overall: At the beginning I thought you had a pretty good handle on Kant, but you get less clear as you go. Where and how is Abbey showing us his anti-Kantian ideas or values? The example of having a pet gopher snake doesn't take us very far- maybe continuing with the encounter he has with the pair of gopher snakes would have been helpful.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.