< SWITCH ME >

Mobility is the magic formula. Berlin-Paris – the time others spend in a commuter train. London-New York – a stone's throw across the pond. Job offer in Moscow – just the next metropolis to the east, Beijing the next but one. From Sciences Po to LSE, Cambridge, UK to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Development work in Uganda is on every CV. This is them: the young, prospective European elite, those who are living Europe. Except that it's not.

The European elite was born in Kaliningrad. It went to school in Kaliningrad, it studied in Kaliningrad. It worked in Kaliningrad. It died in Kaliningrad. It never left Kaliningrad. Actually, it did, once. Before graduating from Kaliningrad University, it worked as a tutor in Judschen near Gumbinnen, in Groß-Ahrnsdorf near Mohrungen, in Capustigall near Kaliningrad.

Immanuel_Kant_painted_portrait
Portrait source: Wikipedia (copyright-free)
Can you summarise everything in three books?

Back then, Kaliningrad was the Royal Capital and Residency of Prussia, the German city of Königsberg. And the European elite we are talking about lived (and did not leave) there from 1724 until 1804, and answers to the name of Immanuel Kant.

Don't go to them. Make them come to you.

That is not to say that Königsberg was a provincial place. Kant passed away in one of the largest German cities – 60,000 inhabitants, twice as big as Munich, and more than one third of the size of Berlin (then 170,000). Königsberg was a cosmopolitan place. Königsberg University – where, after several attempts, Kant became professor of logic and metaphysics (in 1770, at the age of 46), and rector (in 1786 and 1788) – was a prestigious educational institution.

Still, so were the universities of Erlangen and Jena, which offered him a chair in 1769 and 1770. And the University of Halle, perhaps the LSE of those times, and especially the then Minister of Culture, who tried to entice him away from Königsberg in 1778. Kant, however, preferred to stay where he was. And as he stayed and grew, Königsberg grew with him, becoming one of the philosophical centres of Europe.

So, study like Kant: Be stubborn. Decline Harvard and McKinsey. Do it your way, and in the place that you're in – at least if it's a good one.

Live small. Think big. 

It is not clear whether Kant also studied theology, but his range of other subjects is impressive enough: philosophy, classical natural sciences, physics and mathematics. In 1755, when the Lisbon earthquake upset not only the Portuguese harbour city, but the whole of intellectual Europe, he coupled cutting-edge philosophical reflection on the existence of God in light of such a catastrophe with research on seismic wave propagation, and was one of the few to attribute significant water turbulence in German lakes to the jolt of the earth on the other side of Europe. He notably did so without actually leaving Königsberg. In his Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels, he developed the theory that the planets originate from a primeval nebula – a theory that is still broadly valid today.

Kant wrote three books, tackling absolutely everything. He obviously wrote more than three books, but in those three, he basically did it all, solved life. He solved what we can know: epistemology, the conditions of perceiving and understanding, the senses versus the mind. He solved what we are allowed to do: morals and ethics. He solved what we can hope for: God or no God, transcendence. Although there was no fourth book, he also, implicitly, solved what mankind is. So, studying like Kant, what are you up for?

Get up early. Get some structure. Get some discipline.

One of the best-known examples of Kant's philosophical heritage is the categorical, imperative answer to the question: what are we allowed to do? Always act according to principles that you would promote - on the basis of reason - as principles for all mankind. Also: don't (only) use people. Kant doesn't tell you what to do or what not to do. Kant tells you how to find out.

And this can be tough, especially for those studying like Kant. Forget little lies or euphemisms in assessment centres. You cannot want everyone to cheat their prospective employers. Even if your lie can save a life – drop it. Rational structure is more important than a randomly rescued individual.

What is your motivation in acting morally? Do you do it because it's useful? Well, you're worthless and immoral no matter how moral your actions may be. Do you do it because you enjoy being moral? You're still immoral, subservient to your inclinations, a prisoner of your sensual incarcaration. There is no such thing as motivation here. You simply must. You are bound to do your duty. As a being which is qualified for reason and ratio, you abide by their callings, and thus you are free. This is obviously particularly difficult, if you also happen to like what you must do, and if your duty happens to be beneficial at the same time. Watch out! Those are the true pitfalls for a proper student of Kant.

How does such a man live? He gets up at 4:45 a.m. He goes to bed at 10 p.m. He is never late. When he leaves a friend's house, people set their clocks. When he is cheated, he writes himself a reminder to forget the person (as allegedly happened with his house servant). Are you ready for an enormous stick up your arse?

Actually, don't live like this. At least not too much, and not too early.

This is partly a myth. It was only when Kant had got beyond his forties that physical restrictions forced him to live according to a strict schedule. The fact that he left his friend's house at 7 p.m. sharp, was apparently due to his friend's obsessive time routine, not his own. As a student, Kant was a keen card player and used to win money at billiards. Charming and well-dressed as he was, mentors worried he would not have time for his studies due to his manifold social obligations. Kant recommended that Herder should read fewer books. No need for too enormous a stick up your arse.

Do I need a speaking name like his?

The stick up the arse is the key here. It is indeed an interesting fact that in the English-speaking community, the name Kant is pronounced in a highly artificial way, resulting in something like: Study Like Count, Caynt, Cornt, Cœnt, rather than the sound that the letters and German pronunciation call for. This is further proof of how odd the image of the hard-working, stubborn, brittle Königsbergian is. Break the ice. Do not study like Count or Can't. Face it: study like Cunt.

NEXT ISSUE
IN -972 DAYS