I first met Immanuel Kant in my freshman-year World Studies class; we were studying the Enlightenment philosophies that led up to the French Revolution. I wanted to read more about these philosophies, but was a bit reluctant to do so because I was a freshman and freshmen, like all adolescents stuck in the early phase of the Identity vs. Role Confusion crisis, never want to do anything. But I was interested enough nonetheless, so I scanned over the articles about these philosophies on the SEP.
Kant's philosophy was one of these articles. My interest was piqued immediately by his receding hairline, and eyes which pierced through both the phenomenal world and my soul. Just kidding—it was actually piqued by this quote:
I really don't know why, but before seeing this, I fell into the same set of misconceptions that a lot of people have about philosophy: middle-age; middle-class; meaningless, jargon-filled platitudes written on sheets of scented paper. Not particularly bad—just a bit pompous.
At first cursory glance, I scanned over it. Then, after I actually processed it, I paused my steady scrolling and reread what Kant wrote. A thought was planted in my head, there: "If philosophy was really just this, just a collection of people applauding themselves for their own ingenuity—how could one philosopher be so frank and humble as to lower themselves and credit another philosopher with so much?"
"How could he so openly acknowledge previous mistakes?" After all, my narrow-minded freshman brain assumed that all philosophers must have thought of themselves as infallible.
Like most people who are proven wrong, I tried to justify my belief by thinking that the contradiction to my belief, which was Immanuel Kant, was only an exception. I guess it worked for a few days, but gradually, as I learned to understand more about philosophy, I accepted the fact that I was wrong.
It was these images and more that convinced me: Plato and Xenophon, eagerly learning from Socrates; Diogenes, throwing away his water cup after seeing a child drink with his hands; Kierkegaard, referring to his teacher, Poul Møller, as the "inspiration of my [his] youth".
I've since erased every remnant of these unwarranted, incorrect beliefs, and this is all thanks to Kant. His attitude changed my perception of philosophy from a group of the bourgeoisie, living in self-imposed echo chambers, to an open, gently ebbing dialogue.
Confession: I still don't fully understand a lot of Kant's ideas. But I think that's what continues to make him, along with other philosophers like him, so intriguing to me—as I evolve on my intellectual journey, I think I'll begin to understand more and more of his brilliant ideas. I’m fifteen and have time to mess with my own head through philosophy, so I’m terribly excited to learn more about him as I grow.
So, thank you, Immanuel Kant, for sparking my passion for philosophy. I think you've woken me from a dogmatic slumber. Happy birthday.