Thursday, September 03, 2015

The unhappy Kant

I'm sure I've read before that he was considered good dinner table company, but according to this interesting article, Kant did suffer from depression:
That Kant suffered from depression may come as a surprise, especially given the ambition of his philosophical books and the enthusiasm of his wide-ranging intellectual interests (his lecture courses cover everything from philosophical logic to anthropology to chemistry to predictions about the end of the world). But in 1798, in a letter to a colleague on the topic of “the art of prolonging human life,” Kant commented on his own struggle with depression. The comments are rare for Kant, both in the sense of being personal and in the way they serve as a confession of weakness. In typical fashion, Kant first defines depression as “the weakness of abandoning oneself despondently to general morbid feelings that have no definite object (and so making no attempt to master them by reason).” A thought without an object is a troubling thing in Kant’s philosophy; it can lead to endless train of fickle thoughts without any ground, similar to the speculative debates in Kant’s time over the existence of God, the origin of the universe, or the existence of a soul. Reason becomes employed for no reason – or at least, for no good reason. At issue for Kant is not just the employment of reason over faith or imagination, but the instrumental use of reason – reason mastering itself, including its own limitations. This was as much the case for everyday thought as it was for philosophical thinking: “The opposite of the mind’s self-mastery… is fainthearted brooding about the ills that could befall one, and that one would not be able to withstand if they should come.”
And as for my nearly forgotten plan to write a movie in which the apparently virginal, intellectual, reserved deep thinker was actually a proto James Bond by night:  well, I may have to be careful with casting:
A little later on, Kant offers this strange confession: “I myself have a natural disposition to hypochrondria because of my flat and narrow chest, which leaves little room for the movement of the heart and lungs; and in my earlier years this disposition made me almost weary of life.”

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