Diverse crowd at Kant talk

Peter Gilgen of Cornell University discussed the noted philosopher.

The Daily Pennsylvanian
January 31, 2003

Peter Gilgen

Last night, Immanuel Kant himself spoke at the Kelly Writers House -- or at least that's how it seemed.

With the noticeable German accent and novel ideas one would expect of the great philosopher himself, Cornell Professor Peter Gilgen spoke to a crowd of students and professors competing for space to hear his speech on Kantian philosophy entitled, "In the Wilderness of Thinking: Kant's 'Sign of History.'"

Gilgen's speech was part of a series -- "theorizing" -- offered at the Writers House this year.

The talk focused on a variety of topics but dealt mainly with the historical and political aspects and implications of some of Kant's well-known works.

Also a part of his discussion was an interpretation of Kant's idea of the university -- a topic Penn professors and students were all too eager to hear.

Gilgen, a professor of Germanic studies at Cornell, was enthusiastic about discussing Kant and seemed to revel in the complexity of the material he discussed, linking one topic to another in an excited monologue soaked up by the attentive crowd.

And a diverse crowd it was, with enthusiasts of history and philosophy alike, eager to hear the scholar speak about Kant's work.

Luke Fleming, a graduate student studying anthropology, was yet another testament to the far reaching influence of both Kant and philosophy in general. Gilgen rewarded Fleming's interest in history and anthropology with a discussion of "material signs of rational progress embodied in the world."

"It was kind of cool," a satisfied Fleming said at the close of Gilgen's speech.

Gilgen also addressed Kant's writings regarding progress after failure, especially in philosophy.

"The ruins of philosophy... are the marks of an inauguration of philosophy that never quite managed to provide a secure foundation."

His discussion of Kant's concept of the university delved particularly deep, especially his comments on how "Kant perceives, in the historical institution of the university, the expression of a felt need on the part of the founding government."

His exploration of philosophy's relation to German politics also brought an interesting aspect to Kant's writings.

Samuel Willcocks, a Ph.D. student in Germanic languages and literature, said he appreciated the intelligent speaker and challenging subject matter.

"It's a ride" Willcocks said. "It's exhilarating to hear someone who really does know [the material] back to front and upside-down."