Kant today in justice class

Kant is one of my favorite thinkers to teach. Kant’s major ideas come out in three volumes, all of which he published after he was 60 years old after a long and arduous teaching schedule.

From the Manchester University course materials site, we have a lovely discussion of Kant as a teacher who believed in his student’s autonomy:

Kant noted on numerous occasions that his pedagogical intentions were to teach not beliefs, but rather how to think. In reflecting back to the Kant of the ‘60s, Herder wrote that Kant “encouraged and pleasantly compelled his hearers to think for themselves”; and Borowski wrote:

Equipped with all the knowledge necessary for the discipline in which he was to lecture, he appeared in his lecture hall with the most unassuming modesty — always reminding us that he would not teach philosophy, but rather how to philosophize, etc. [..] To think for oneself — to investigate for oneself — to stand on one’s own feet — were expressions he uttered constantly. [1804, 84, 188]

Mit allen Kenntnissen für das Fach, in welchem er dozieren sollte, ausgerüstet, mit der anspruchslosesten Bescheidenheit erschien er in seinem Hörsaale, — erinnerte immer daran, daß er lehren würde nicht Philosophie, sondern philosophieren u. s. […] Selbst denken — selbst forschen, — auf seinen eigenen Füßen stehen, — waren Ausdrücke, die unablässig wieder vorkamen.

That said, for his legacy to the rest of us, Kant left some real difficulties for teaching. He is a sophisticated and nuanced writer, and my German isn’t up translating for myself with any real competency. And for the Justice class, we use Michael Sandel’s Justice Reader, where he does an exemplary service in excerpting Rawls, for example, and even Aristotle, both of whom are very difficult to grasp reading in part. But Kant is just impossible to cut down even in the hands of a gifted educator like Sandel, and what we have a hard going and very partial.

Kant’s moral philosophy appears in three works: Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and the Metaphysics of Morals (1797)
Grounding Presents moral philosophy as falling under the province of a single supreme principle of pure reason, rather than what Kant refers to as empirical reasoning. TheCritique of Pure reason investigates the grounds for justifying such a supreme, a priori principle, Kant’s the categorical imperative. Both works are products of high-levels of abstractions, and they are simply not easy. The Metaphysics of Morals , OTOH, treats the various problems of moral judgment and of choice in more relateable situations, one topic at a time, using cases.

For those of you out there who, like me, struggle with ageism, think your life is over, or that people are washed up once they are over 40, think of this: Kant published Groundwork when he was 61 years old.