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Roberto R. Aramayo. Immanuel Kant.

Madrid: Edaf, 2001. 224 pp. 9.02 [euro].

MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, books on philosophical subjects are dry, difficult to read, and usually a chore, for students especially, but for academics as well. So, when we pick up a book on Socrates, Jean Paul Sartre, or Jacques Derrida for example, we show others that we are among the few willing to brave dense prose, esoteric language, and late night headaches. It is almost a badge of honor among readers. There is no more glistening trophy than that carried by readers of Immanuel Kant. His dense, often off-putting prose is legendary. For this very reason we have seen the proliferation of Cliff Notes, Monarch Notes, and books such as Philosophy for Dummies, and even Kant in Ninety Minutes. What one hopes to learn about Kant in ninety minutes must be scant, but then again, such materials are not meant for the serious scholar. For the serious scholar, there is very little to look forward to but endless hours of wrestling with difficult prose, in the hopes of one day gaining some new insight into what this "dusty" author is willing to divulge of his intellect or what we can learn from personal correspondence, diaries and the like. Now, Immanuel Kant, truly meant for the Spanish readers among us, holds within its pages the clarity that we have come to expect from Cliff Notes and the like.

The taking apart of, or rather putting back together of Kant's most important ideals, the Categorical Imperative among them, as well as the inclusion of a brief history of Kant's life, the influence Jean-Jacques Rousseau had on the philosopher and notes on Kant's work and insights gleaned from his correspondences with others, offers an understanding of Immanuel Kant that is not seen in many books on the subject. Indeed, Roberto Aramayo's mastery of his subject can hardly be questioned. To that apparent end, Aramayo has published a quite accessible tome. Within the Spanish text of its pages are some remarkably telling details of Kant's life as well as a lucid and insightful look into the influences in Kant's early academic career. The explanations of many ideological hallmarks of one of the great philosophers of modern times are clear and readily understandable by the layperson or novice. The examinations of Kant's themes are exceptionally clear and concise, the defense of Kantian philosophy is vigorous, although the same skepticism expressed by some of Kant's contemporaries such as Baruch Spinoza and Arthur Schopenhauer is still viable here.

Indeed, a look at the make-up of the philosophical arguments contained in the work yields only the same objections that have been made of Kant's work in the past, a loose translation into English yields this passage: "In Schopenhauer's eyes, Kantian morality is supported by clandestine theological premises, and in this sense, Kant is akin to a magician, whose knowledge of theoretical prestidigitation wishes to surprise the audience by apparently 'finding' something previously hidden" (1) (62). The problem is that there is nothing new here.

As I understand Aramayo's argument, the link to utopia here is simple and clear cut. The main portion of Aramayo's book, titled: "A Moral Utopia As Freedom from Chance," refers to the difference between happiness (depending on chance), and moral happiness, dependent on being satisfied with oneself, leads us to the conclusion that once free from the search for happiness, which depends on random chance as much or more than it does on our own actions, we can pursue happiness within ourselves, which relies on learning what our own moral imperatives should be, which will in turn lead one to a 'moral utopia.'

As I read it, the position advanced, as Kant himself did, is that a moral utopia can obtain when one adjusts his or her moral position so that it is not dependent upon chance, but rather on the aspects of one's life that one can control, i.e., one should aspire to moral actions, or put into practice such actions, such that there is no expectation of reward, only the realization that reward is somewhere to be had, even if only the 'satisfaction with oneself' that Kant pins his own theories on. The flavorings of Stoicism abound here.

The problem here is that serious objections to this particular point of view have already been advanced by Spinoza and Schopenhauer, and these in Kant's own time. Simply a modern advocacy of an old doctrine, the ideas have always been intriguing here; and while deftly navigating the old views and adequately defending Kant's views on the nature of morality and moral conduct, it falls to Aramayo to answer the objections already set forth in the Literature, as well as, in this author's view, to anticipate any objections that could possibly be raised in our own time, whatever form they may take.

Particularly missing are refutations, or at the very least an acknowledgement of, the themes and objections expressed by modern sociobiology. These last are not answered although they pose a serious threat to the concept of the Nature of Humankind, and subsequently, the bedrock on which Kant's views are supported.

Still and all, the book is a good, quick read, a very enlightening introduction to a most difficult topic, and is accessible to the student and layperson alike. Historical allusions abound from to Maximilian Robespierre to Odysseus; the use of more literary than philosophical examples is at once entertaining and engaging. One simply has a difficult time putting down Immanuel Kant.


(1.) Author's translation from the Spanish. The original Spanish text is "Ante los ojos de Schopenhauer, la moral kantiana se sustenta sobre unos clandestinos presupuestos teologicos y, en este sentido, Kant seria como un ilusionista cuyo dominio en el arte de la prestidigitacion teorica pretende sorprender al publico aparentando encontrar una cosa que ha ocultado anteriormente."

Joel Mendez

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

City University of New York
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Author:Mendez, Joel
Publication:Utopian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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