The Kantian Approach

Have you ever tried to talk a 19-year-old into taking an online history class over the summer?

Even I wasn’t convinced by my argument. Sean’s mother asked me to speak with him and as I looked at his puckered cherubic face over Zoom, I felt bad. He’s been attending college online for over a year on WebEx, Teams, whatever until his eyes bleed. 

He presented his half-hearted counter argument, to which I responded with a question. Now this is a smart kid; he has an answer to everything which sounds good, but without much drilling down is, as in this case, somewhat hollow. This response was the equivalent of: “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear….etc.” I nixed that and we got to the truth. The truth was he needed a break from sitting in his home office day in, day out and taking some heavy classes. This semester was: Linguistics, Psychology of Language, Philosophy of Ethics, and Developmental Psychology.

What does Kant have to do with all this? Well, he came up in the Philosophy class which was taught by a fresh-faced young woman from Scandinavia. Sounds good right? The syllabus for this class was beyond depressing. I was told that no one ever participated and never put their cameras on. Can you blame them? Here’s a sampling of the cheery topics: famine, casual sex, euthanasia, killing and eating puppies, abortion, sex and lies, casual sex again, rape, prostitution, addiction. All in the context of Utilitarianism, Hedonism, Cultural Relativism, Aristotelian Ethics, deductive reasoning, and last but not least the Kantian approach.

Now all we need is a safe word and we have a party!

There was a group project — something about marijuana and jail sentences — and it needed to be framed within these theories. Sean ended up being the group leader pretty much by default amid the semi-comatose. While assigning sections of the presentation (yea, a live presentation) he asked the quietest, least motivated, and seemingly most withdrawn student in the group, and she replied: “The Kantian Approach.” The hardest one. Full of Teutonic gravitas.

I found this all rather amusing. For some reason the Kantian Approach sounded like a chess move to me like the Luzhin Defence or the Queen’s Gambit. I was thinking about Kant’s Categorical Imperative (look it up!) and was wondering what would that chess move be? You lay your king down, walk away and hope the noise in your head subsides?

I could go on. There was a truly bizarre conversation on a class module about how lying to get sex may be regarded as a form of rape. Okay. I’m just wondering who will be left walking around, not in jail, after they round up 99.9% of the population.

I could hear Sean silently screaming, “Get me out of this!” This history class includes: the Enlightenment (okay), the surge of nationalism (yuck), imperialism (uh oh), World War I (double uh oh), totalitarianism, and to top off the summer: World War II.

We released him from this sentence. Instead Sean is working as a barista at a chic café in our uber-burbia. He’s delighted by the job.

After a day of work and loads of caffeine, Sean said to me, “Don’t ever give me cocaine!”

Duly noted.

Clare

3 thoughts on “The Kantian Approach

  1. Hey Clare! I just read your new essay, and I love it! I was literally talking about how much I hate history classes yesterday. Good thing you got him out of there, your advice never fails!!

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