Eva Brann, who has been teaching at St. John’s College, Annapolis, for sixty years, wrote these essays largely as clarifying incitements to students who were reading, or ought to have been reading, the works discussed. In her words:
The first essay looks at the “Pre-Socratics” Heraclitus and Parmenides. They appear to be in radical opposition, but they are really doing the same, new thing: seeing the world as an intelligible whole. Both observe external nature, construing it in their minds—so, from the outside in. The final essay again describes two ways of world-construing from the outside in—one by penetrating the surface of reality, the other by spinning a web of complexity over it.
The five essays in between focus on works by Kant and display the world as constituted from the human inside out. An appreciative review of the Critique of Pure Reason shows how Kant brilliantly justifies a science of nature by making nature itself the construct of our understanding. But he leads us to the abyss of more idealism; externality and realism escape him. The explication of his one absolute moral commandment similarly defines his morality entirely in terms divorced from objective good and concentrated on internal integrity. Finally, his huge unpublished legacy agonizes about bringing a god, first conceived as an inner need, into external existence.
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Eva Brann is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal. Her other books include Doublethink / Doubletalk, Then & Now, Un-Willing, The Logos of Heraclitus, Feeling Our Feelings, Homage to Americans, Open Secrets / Inward Prospects, The Music of the Republic, and Homeric Moments (all published by Paul Dry Books).