Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Week 1 prompt: anti-Kantian

Brooke Kihle

Dr. Adam Johns

English Composition 0200

3 September 2014

Week 1: Anti-Kantian

“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 displays his internal goal of losing his previous instinctual way of thinking, which is to already have an inclination of objects, animals, ideas before you truly observe them.  We know Abbey believes that he thinks this way now and that he no longer wants to think ‘like a human’ from Kantian or actually Abbeys usage of “anti-Kantian”; which comes from Immanuel Kant’s theory of metaphysics.
Immanuel Kant is a famous philosopher in the 18th century. He most famous writing, The Critique of Pure Reason explains this theory of metaphysics,
But it quickly discovers that, in this way, its labours must remain ever incomplete, because new questions never cease to present themselves; and thus it finds itself compelled to have recourse to principles which transcend the region of experience, while they are regarded by common sense without distrust. It thus falls into confusion and contradictions, from which it conjectures the presence of latent errors, which, however, it is unable to discover, because the principles it employs, transcending the limits of experience, cannot be tested by that criterion” (Kant preface).
Kant questions what humans can know. He believes that human knowledge cannot extend previous information and is in fact restricted to only what the mind has already had access to. He further details that we view non-human things through human values and compare and contrast objects such. This creates a viewpoint based off of human value and therefore any object perceived is through human ideals. Essentially Kant discourages the idea of pure innovation and originality, nothing can come from nothing. Abbey wishes to be anti-Kantian in the sense that he wants to view everything with no prior intentions, with no prior theories and thus completely understand such object.
Abbey states he wants to view animals and nature “devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities” and believes he can do such. This is one solution in furthering himself from “human-like” thinking and to achieve being anti-Kantian. One example of Abbeys path to transformation is in the chapter “The Serpents of Paradise”, when Abbey observes a gopher snake he first becomes ‘friends’ with the snake inviting it into his home and becoming hurt when it disappears. However we see Abbey’s transformation into anti-Kantian when another gopher snake appears with a mate. This time Abbey strictly observes the snakes “like a living caduceus they wind and unwind about each other in undulant, graceful, perpetual motion, moving slowly across a dome of sandstone” (Abbey 20). He lets go of his previous image of the snake and views this one with a blank slate. He purely takes note of each action and draws conclusions based on the events occurring right then and there. This is clearly anti-Kantian thinking and therefore proves that Abbey can in fact be anti-Kantian.
Another example is Abbey completely separating himself from human contact through his job as a park ranger. This severance from human lifestyle further distances him from living and therefore thinking like a human. Since Abbey is ‘one with nature’ he can focus on being anti-Kantian and see nature as it is. Through time and dedication all prior instinctual human viewpoints will be eradicated and replaced with a clean open-mindedness.   Abbeys strong passion to become anti-Kantian and his restrictive lifestyle foreshadow that he will be successful.
Through Abbey’s multiple attempts at changing his mindset he displays to the reader a strong desire to become anti-Kantian. Replacing prior knowledge with pure observations of animals like the gopher snake as well as removing himself from his previous lifestyle surrounded with human characteristics are just some examples Abbey will achieve his goal. He gives the reader an atmosphere of strong determination and true passion for nature that supports the belief that Abbey can be anti-Kantian.
Works Cited:
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: The First Morning & A Season in the Wilderness.  New York: Touchstone, 1990. 
Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason: Transcendental Aesthetic. Jonathan Bennett, 2007
Rohlf, Michael, "Immanuel Kant", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)



  1. From reading your essay, I found that your argument was "Abbey no longer wants to think like a human". I think the argument is strong and you had great evidence to support it. Your description of Kant and his beliefs were really good, and the detail that you provided showed the views that Abbey disagreed on. In the fourth and fifth paragraph, the examples you used, the gopher snake and his isolation as a park ranger, were great examples that supported your argument. In all honesty, I would not cut anything out of your essay, you did very little story telling and had great analysis on your quotes. Overall, I believe it was a great essay that had your argument flow through the entire paper!

  2. Your argument could be clear in the first paragraph, but your overall approach *is* quite clear.

    You choose a good quotation. Really grasping Kant is obviously a topic far beyond this course, but you're doing well with limited time & resources. You don't, however, do a very good job of explaining how your overall understanding of Kant (4th paragraph) emerges from your quotation (3rd paragraph). Ideally you would have had a more focused quotation and spent more effort interpreting it - here, you have an interpretation but you don't explain it. This isn't as good as it could be, because you leave too many gaps for the reader to fill in.

    Your example of the snakes is good, although obviously you were helped out by being in class and then writing the essay, rather than the other way around.

    Why do you think that Abbey's job takes him away from human ways of thinking? I don't follow that. On the one hand, he is out in the desert some. On the other hand, most of his job is doing things like cleaning up campgrounds, putting toilet paper in the outhouses, etc. - not exactly inhuman activities. That doesn't mean you're wrong, but it means that you're not explaining yourself.

    Overall, your primary issue is that you don't explain your thinking. Why do you interpret the quote the way you do? Why do you think that Abbey's job helps him think inhumanely? These are pivotal moments in your essay that can't just go without an explanation.


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