I thought I’d note some apparent historical descriptions of the more eccentric side of Kant:
1. Kant was a raconteur; that is, he had a reputation for personally telling stories and anecdotes, often holding the attention of all his company at dinner parties. Often, Kant’s knowledge of anecdotes sprang from his wider knowledge of the world.
From knowing Kant’s theoretical philosophy, there is certainly an enviable quality of having an ecclectic diversity of interests. Kant was familiar with English literature (Shakespeare), Enlightenment non-philosophical writings such as the poetic and eloquently written Voltaire. Kant was unique in combining to seemingly seperate traditions and forging them into what we now understand as ‘aesthetics’; Kant was familiar with the art-focused tradition of scottish philosophers as well as the official use of the word ‘aesthetics’ (pertaining to experience) as key to human psychological nature as harking to his intellectual descendent Baumgarten.
2. Kant had eccentric beliefs about health and wellness. Kant wrapped himself up very tightly in his bed, and his manservant Lampe had an almost maternal relationship with him. Kant had pseudoscientific beliefs about pollutants in the air during cold weather (it would be anachronistic to refer to ‘germs’ for his understanding), and the importance of sleeping properly. Kant believed in the importance of regular and consistent sleeping patterns for reasons us moderns would perhaps disagree with. Kant believed that sleep brought us closer to death, insofar as having more time in bed led to having less time alive. This might seem to sound correct by normal sensibility, but Kant had very little scientific backing for this belief; Kant thought that having less sleep would mean one would have a longer life, while having too much sleep would give us a shorter life. The grounds of his promotion of ‘equilibrium’ are alien to today’s notion of good sleep health. Kant also believed strongly in breathing through one’s nose instead of one’s mouth, and constantly covered his mouth when out in bitter cold.
3. Kant’s interest in order, which can be attributed to his English merchant friend Joseph Green, is a significant psychological component that one may speculate as having influence in his everyday life. Kant believed in the importance of regularity in a daily routine, regularity for Kant was important as a symbol of moral character and the cultivation of a virtuous person. If we enforce a nature of regularity, we may find it difficult initially if it is alien to us, but eventually the psychological conditioning of routine eventually makes our cultivation project for moral betterness a less difficult task.
This latterly point has particular resonance to Kant’s notion of cultus and the ritual nature of religion. Perhaps the ritual nature of everyday life and routine has something important to be said for it as well. The importance of order in relation to his friendship with Green is stressed often for Kant’s insight to his moral philosophy. I think the notion of order spreads further to the notion of the categories and (I contend), systematicity itself.
It is interesting to consider the kinds of eccentric quirks that are part of philosopher’s lives. My tutor told me once that Sidgwick (the all too often forgotten utilitarian) was interested in seances and ghost-hunting in his personal life. For many, even the most theoretical of thoughts have resonances to our personal traits and character; a boring philosophy speaks of a boring mind. That said, I’ve known many philosophers who are respectable intellectuals who seem very distant and boring. Or, likewise, the interesting and even likeable ones can also have the most unsightly views. Some philosophers outside of their ‘main’ or most popularised work have often attracted great interest in other ways. Spinoza attracted early members of the Royal Society to visit him and engage in scientific discussions during their visit to the Netherlands; Russell, perhaps most shockingly was a non-monogamous person and allowed his various partners to take on other lovers. There is also a tragic story of a homosexual logician who was murdered in suspicious and unsavoury circumstances where the utter scandal and full detail was only encapsulated by saying conservatively that ‘he had a personal life’.