Thursday, June 28, 2012
Idea, by Kant's definition, does me a confusing service. I am tempted to think his definition an expression of how 'idea' in debate, or discussion, or disagreement should be politely understood. And perhaps there are pills, or products of a distillery, or never listening to others, that could make Kant's definition more palatable. More likely though, I am searching for something in the word 'idea' that gives it a purity around which minds could gather in a peaceable, or rational way. After all, 'idea' does nothing. It sits there, always flustered, in that part of the mind less preoccupied by heart rate or whether a pins and needles in the big toe is the beginning of the end. And certainly, it is 'idea' as product, that informs action. I might gallop cheerfully toward the hungry Lion. And if I do, the answer from those who see such an action as foolish, is generally encapsulated by that disputed word 'education.' I can hear, "Poor chap just didn't know any better."
There was a time, perhaps back when hierarchy was better established, when a mind could sit in well fed isolation, or tenure, and conclude as Hegel did, that 'idea' would, by moving a zigzag through time, advance toward perfection. Which meant that whatever its condition, all was right with the world. I have heard this mentioned in various ways by the currant crop of nut cases in charge of us. They mostly prefer terms of the superlative such as, 'greatest,' then hastily subsume it within the phrase "under god." And how easy it is to think of such dead ends as refuges for the cowardly. Yet there is no doubt in my mind that we are thoroughly stymied by what I guess is the advantage of immediacy. We are not like Trees, that grow slow and patient then fall on the off chance a person might be listening. We are petulant, prone to 'idea' when it grants us the advantage of a moment. And this, I'd argue is more easily done within an 'idea' of the far distance as taking care of itself. Worth remembering, Hegel himself, preferred to call his great work on 'idea,' an understanding of 'spirit,' or 'animating principle.' Like many of his class, he was for a while a big fan of that Job Creator in Chief, and man of action, Napoleon Bonaparte.