Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Abbey's Anti-Kantian Perspective

Jessi Duffner
Adam Johns
Seminar in Composition
03 September 2014
Abbey’s Anti-Kantian Perspective
Who is Immanuel Kant? Coming into this reading I had no idea who Immanuel Kant was. Therefore, I am confused by Abbey’s referral to “anti-Kantian” in the text. As my curiosity begins to increase, I decide to conduct a little research on Kant. Finding my way to Wikipedia first, as any other college student would, I discover a wide array of facts that stun me. Immanuel Kant is described as a widely known figure in the world of philosophy, yet I have never heard of him. I now decided to take my research to more reliable sources in order to find more answers. I mainly want to unravel the basics of Kant’s theories.
Summarizing the theories of a philosopher is easier said than done, but I will try my best. I have come to realize that Kant believes we can never fully understand anything because there is a limit to our knowledge. Our desire to complexly understand a specific object is interrupted by our previous knowledge. What we already know floods our minds and prevents us from truly understanding the said object in its entirety. As Kant states in The Critique of Pure Reason:
“That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt. For how is it possible that the faculty of cognition should be awakened into exercise otherwise than by means of objects which affect our senses, and partly of themselves produce representations, partly rouse our powers of understanding into activity, to compare to connect, or to separate these, and so to convert the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects, which is called experience?” (Kant 31).
Kant seems to believe that the way we view objects is simply an interpretation of previously gained knowledge. We are unable to interpret objects which we are completely unfamiliar with. Along with this, Kant appears to be stating that we naturally compare and connect objects to one another. This too affects our attempt to completely understand an object.
What does Edward Abbey mean by “Anti-Kantian”? Now that I have a basic understanding of Kant, I must use this knowledge to interpret Abbey’s use of “anti-Kantian” in the text. To begin I start with the beginning of the word, anti-. The prefix anti-, as we all know, is used to describe opposition to the thing or theory described in the second half of the world. In this instance, the second half of the word is Kantian. I am now obligated to flip the entire theory of Kant upside-down in order to grasp Abbey’s concept.
            As quoted in the prompt, Edward Abbey says, “I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of 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 7). Abbey wants to look at these objects with a blank slate and be able to fully understand them. He believes he can defy Kant’s theory and set aside “humanly ascribed qualities” when trying to understand a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture…etc. Although Kant’s theory makes sense, Abbey strikes me as a man who might actually be able to defy Kant’s theory. This leads us to Abbeys larger agenda.
Now what is Abbey’s larger agenda? As I mentioned in my Tuesday blog post, Abbey finds flashlights to be quite useless. He views them as more of a distraction than an aid. His mind does not operate like that of other human beings. He wants to prove that a human can be anti-Kantian. I believe his living alone among nature will aid him in proving Kant’s theory wrong. He may soon begin to think on a less human-like level and take everything as it is, instead of comparing and connecting. Abbey will hopefully be able to accomplish this because of his lack of human interaction and his separation from the conventional world. Only further reading will be able to answer this question. So for now I intend to keep this “anti-Kantian” topic in the back of my mind as I continue to read and interpret Abbey’s larger agenda.

Works Cited

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wildrness. New York: Ballantine, 1968. Print.

"Immanuel Kant." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 Sept. 2014.

Kant, Immanuel. "Two New Translations of the Critique of Pure Reason." Trans. J.M.D. Meiklejohn. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 9.4 (2001): 31-32. Penn State University Hazelton. Web. 02 Sept. 2014. <>.


  1. I don't have much to add to what I and others said in class. Your grasp of Kant is pretty good, and your basic viewpoint on what Kant means to Abbey is fine. Where you fall short is in execution - too much wordiness in the first few paragraphs coupled with limited examples from Abbey means that your argument isn't very convincing or developed, although your basic approach is perfectly fine.

  2. Jessi
    I felt that your essay had good flow to it. However there were a lot of parts of the essay which did not connect to the actual prompt itself. A lot of the points you made were interesting, however they were not expanded upon in enough detail. You could have expanded upon the points you made in your conclusion and put more emphasis on how Abbey would be able defy Kant's theory. Overall I felt that you had unique points, they just needed to be focused upon and connected with the actual prompt.


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