Bioethics Blogs

Thinking to the limits of language… and then onwards

I read last summer Immanuel Kant’s enormous work, Critique of Pure Reason. It struck me that one of the “methods” he uses could be described as: thinking to the limits of language.

How is such thinking done?

Like this, for example: I see a cloud in the sky and think that the cloud is up there (I indicate “where” with a pointing gesture). Thereafter, I think more abstractly that the same can be said about the part of space that the cloud fills. That part of space is also up there (I point again).

– But where is space itself, as a whole?

Here it is tempting to make a sweeping gesture and say, “Space is everywhere; it surrounds me.” But precisely that I cannot do, say or think. Because then I would treat space as if it were somewhere. I would treat space as if it existed, in space.

My thinking took me to a limit of language, which it is tempting to transgress. So far, so good. But then it struck me that Kant also has a definite interpretation of his method.

He interprets the limit he acknowledged as if it were fundamental and primary: as if it were a source that enables our seeing of clouds and other things (here and there). Space itself does not exist (in space): space is the possibility of seeing things (here and there). This possibility is subjective, “within us,” Kant says; but that cannot be meant in the ordinary spatial sense.

Kant thus interprets limits of language as sources.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.