Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Hannah Arendt:
Crucial for our enterprise is Kant's distinction between Vernunft and Verstand, "reason" and "intellect" (not "understanding," which I think is a mistranslation; Kant used the German Verstand to translate the Latin intellectus, and Verstand, though it is the noun of verstehen, hence "understanding" in current translations, has none of the connotations that are inherent in the German das Verstehen). Kant drew this distinction between the two mental faculties after he had discovered the "scandal of reason," that is, the fact that our mind is not capable of certain and verifiable knowledge regarding matters and questions that it nevertheless cannot help thinking about, and for him such matters, that is, those with which mere thought is concerned, were restricted to what we now often call the "ultimate questions" of God, freedom, and immortality. But quite apart from the existential interest men once took in these questions, and although Kant still believed that no "honest soul ever lived that could bear to think that everything is ended with death," he was also quite aware that "the urgent need" of reason is both different from and "more than mere quest and desire for knowledge." Hence, the distinguishing of the two faculties, reason and intellect, coincides with a distinction between two altogether different mental activities, thinking and knowing, and two altogether different concerns, meaning, in the first category, and cognition, in the second. Kant, though he had insisted on this distinction, was still so strongly bound by the enormous weight of the tradition of metaphysics that heheld fast to its traditional subject matter, that is, to those topics which could be proved to be unknowable, and while he justified reason's need to think beyond the limits of what can be known, he remained unaware of the fact that man's need to reflect encompasses nearly everything that happens to him, things he knows as well as things he can never know. He remained less than fully aware of the extent to which he had liberated reason, the ability to think, by justifying it in terms of the ultimate questions. He stated defensively that he had "found it necessary to deny knowledge. . . to make room for faith," but he had not made room for faith; he had made room for thought, and he had not "denied knowledge" but separated knowledge from thinking.

. . . The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning. And truth and meaning are not the same (The Life of the Mind 14-15).

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