Was Kant the First “Woke” Philosopher?
As promised, I leaped at the opportunity to get people talking about how awful Immanuel Kant is, and my piece asking Was Kant the First ‘Woke’ Philosopher?” just went up at Discourse.
I lay out the basic intellectual history of the winding course from the Critique of Pure Reason to Critical Race Theory, but my wider theme was the inverted meaning of “wokeness” or “awakening.”
Kant is certainly the first woke philosopher in one sense: He wrote that it was the radical skepticism of David Hume that ‘woke me from my dogmatic slumber’ and inspired his philosophical inquiries.
But the “dogmatism” he was referring to was his confidence, up to that point, that the things we see around us are actually real, that the evidence obtained by direct observation is valid. His “awakening” consisted of accepting an abstract philosophical argument as more important than observation, of trusting theory over evidence.
That’s a pretty upside-down conception of awakening, but it turns out to be more than just a coincidence of stylistic expression, because this is exactly the sense in which today’s woke consider themselves awakened.
I then found this gem of an example.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is the current bogeyman (or woman) of the “progressive” left, so she just got the full hidden-knowledge treatment: a series of three whole articles (so far) in the New York Timesdeconstructing her choices in shoes and outfits to find hidden messages about race, class, and gender. To you and me, and no doubt to Sen. Sinema, her choice to wear a sleeveless dress might merely reflect her personal taste. But no, in the Plato’s Cave of woke politics, “race absolutely matters to her style choices” because “a dress is never just a dress. It is always strategy.”
Maybe this is important knowledge hidden from everyone else. Much more likely, it’s invented out of thin air to vilify a politician who didn’t vote the right way.
I go on to examine Kant’s supposed “Copernican Revolution” (and how it’s the epistemological opposite of what Copernicus did), tie it to Marx’s theory of the “base” and the “superstructure,” and bring it forward to the present day. Read the whole thing.
For more on the underlying philosophical issues, check out a fun piece I wrote on that a few years ago. It’s quite a feat to write a “fun” article about Kantian epistemology, so I’m very proud of this one.
In tracing the line from Kant to wokeness, my article spends more time on the early part, from Kant through Marx, and relatively less on the later path through the Postmodernists. But last night, I did a livestream for The Atlas Society with philosophy professor Stephen Hicks, who is an expert on the Postmodernists, so we went into a more depth about their role and what they stood for. You can see it here.
Or you can watch the really short version here.
I liked Stephen’s conclusion that the best news is that people are actually discussing and debating Kant’s legacy. I added that if people came to question Kant’s whole approach—and Stephen pointed out that for philosophers, “question” means “reject”—that would do a lot more good than just getting rid of Critical Race Theory.