ROSTOV on DON, Russia -- Immanuel Kant, 18th Century philosopher, author of the Critique of Pure Reason, giant of the Age of Enlightenment, bon vivant, man about town, judge of good whiskey, he of the fecund synthesis, intellectual godfather of Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer and luminaries of thought too numerous to list, yes that Immanuel Kant, has in 250 years' time sparked many an argument. And just the other day he got a man shot. Kid you not.
There's no word yet precisely which of Kant's ideas caused a row between two men in Southwestern Russia, but whatever it was, there they were, the two of them, in a supermarket, bickering to beat all about noumena, phenomena and whatchamacallena, when damned if one fella didn't draw down and shoot the other somewhere between self-checkout and the categorical imperative aisle. Fortunately for all concerned, the assailant's gun was loaded with rubber bullets. Even so, authorities, scholars and balding historians are calling it the ghastliest philosophical crime to hit the continent since Martin Heidegger stabbed Edmund Husserl in the metaphor.
As you may know, Kant, a German, was born in the Prussian city of Königsberg, which is now the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. So Russians like to claim Kant in much the same way that Brits like to claim Rudolf Hess, which is to say they don't, but why let facts get in the way of a good story? In my hypothetical view of contemporary Russia, nothing will trigger assault with a simulated deadly weapon quicker than an argument about Kant in a grocery store.
It's a good thing Americans don't care much about post-Renaissance philosophy. Imagine the havoc Samuel Johnson could evoke at an NRA convention, with members gunning each other down just to refute Bishop Berkeley! As fate would have it, the great mass of Americans care less about philosophy than they do about firearm safety. Sadly, the rest of the world is not America, which sucks for the rest of the world where the absence of a Second Amendment has left non-Americans to take non-lethal potshots at one another across the rationalism/empiricism chasm.
Since the time of the incident in Rostov on Don, a rash of near violence has erupted throughout the un-American world with adherents to one or another dogma digging in for what some are calling the Philosophical Spring.
In Banff, Canada's third largest duchy, angry eliminative materialists took to the streets last weekend demanding equal representation of their ideas on the CBC, which earlier this month aired a multi-part series under the provocative title Reductionism: Enemy of Good Government. No shots were fired during an hours-long fracas but several sidewalk tables were symbolically overturned and at least one protester pushed rudely past vexed onlookers without apologizing.
In Copenhagen, hundreds of neurotic Danes divided more or less equally into angry factions -- Kierkegaardian radicals squaring off with Martensen traditionalists hurling epithets and angry looks. Thousands of residents fled in fear and trembling.
Semioticians in Brussels signified something.
In Paris, where old philosophers go to stop bathing, hordes of motley Cartesians occupied most of the Rive Gauche with their headquarters at a Latin Quarter patisserie. The less numerous but much better organized forces of Blaise Pascal gathered at the Île de la Cité to cast aspersions at the methodology of doubt.
And meanwhile, in Australia...
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