Publisher now puts warning labels on Kant?s Critiques

You know society is broken when works by German philosopher Immanuel Kant have to carry warning labels in case members of Generation Snowflake are triggered.

Think I’m joking…I’m not.

Most times when I hear someone on a tear about the dangers of ?political correctness? I roll? my eyes and move on. So many such complaints involve ire at being held to standards of basic human decency, say, or having to share resources, opportunities, or public spaces. But there are many exceptions, when the so-called ?PC? impulse to broaden inclusivity and soften offense produces monsters of condescending paternalism. Take the above omnibus edition of ?Kant?s Critiques? printed by Wilder Publications in 2008. The publisher, with either kind but painfully obtuse motives, or with an eye toward pre-empting some kind of legal blowback, has seen fit to include a disclaimer at the bottom of the title page:

This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.? ?

Where to begin? First, we must point out Wilder Publications’ strange certainty that a hypothetical Kant of today would express his ideas in tolerant and liberal language. The supposition has the effect of patronizing the dead philosopher and of absolving him of any responsibility for his blind spots and prejudices, assuming that he meant well but was simply a blinkered and unfortunate ?product? of his time.

But who?s to say that Kant didn?t damn well mean his comments that offend our sensibilities today, and wouldn?t still mean them now were he somehow resurrected and forced to update his major works? Moreover, why assume that all current readers of Kant do not share his more repugnant views? Secondly, who is this edition?for? Philosopher Brian Leiter,?who brought this to our attention, humorously titles it ?Kant?s 3 Critiques?rated PG-13.? One would hope that any young person precocious enough to read Kant would have the ability to recognize historical context and to approach critically statements that sound unethical, bigoted, or scientifically dated to her modern ears. One would hope parents buying Kant for their kids could do the same without chiding from publishers.


An informed historical approach allows us to see how books are not simply ?products of their time? but are situated in networks of knowledge and ideology that shaped their authors? assumptions and continue to shape our own?ideologies that persist into the present and cannot and should not be papered over or easily explained away with skittish warning labels and didactic lectures about how much things have changed. In a great many ways of course, they have. And in some significant others, they simply haven’t. To pretend otherwise for the sake of the children is disingenuous and does a grave disservice to both author and reader.

This is why books like those by Enid Blyton and others are routinely expunged from history as though they never existed. They don’t fit with a modern society so some book-burning control freak has decided to remove them completely lest we succumb to the radical and evil thoughts contained in such books.

The answer to works that you don’t agree with is not to ban them or remove them, it is to thoroughly prove they were wrong in your books and writings.

Society is gravely ill once we start revisiting what people wrote hundreds of years ago and second-guessing them.


-Open Culture