029: Little Wanderer Found A Caprice

Found Caprice

I stumbled upon a caprice in A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros. The book illuminates how many great thinkers and philosophers utilized walking for their thought process and for enriching their lives.

“A student who regularly attended [Kant’s] lectures had always had a button missing from his jacket. One day he turned up with a new button, which bothered the professor terribly, he could not prevent his gaze from straying back to the new button on the youngster’s coat. Legend has it that Kant asked the student to remove the new button, adding that is it more important to learn a thing than it is to know, after learning it, where to classify it. He always dressed in the same way. He displayed no caprice or oddity”(155).

A Philosophy of walking – Frederic Gros

Meandering Return

Here, the sentence that stands out the most is what Kant mentions to the student at this moment: “It is more important to learn a thing than it is to know, after learning it, where to classify it”. I might be hung up on it more than I should be, in relation to the student’s new button. I have questions like, was it the same button only new? Or was the button entirely different? Does that matter? And yes, I can agree, it is more important to “learn a thing” entirely, while classification, namely, where it belongs, or where it fits into a larger schema is secondary, but why is this mentioned in the moment of asking the student to “remove the new button”?

Of course, this is hearsay, and I am assuming a lot to be true about this “legend”, but what was it that Kant was in the process of learning and not yet ready to classify? Or, was it the student who was still learning, and not yet ready to classify their knowledge of buttons?

I am not sure, either way. This “legend” is what illuminated what the author wanted to point out, that Kant dressed similarly every day, he did not change his look, hence how he dressed without “oddity” or “caprice”, so perhaps the example here is merely acting as a signifier of Kant’s unwillingness to cloud his world with classifications, and instead, he prioritizes sameness and predictability in dress as a commitment to learning overall?

Or, he might have been completely obsessed with things remaining the same, and was against classification of things not fully comprehended because it could get messy. Either way, this “legend” serves to illustrate that Kant was set in his ways, and walking was one of those habits he was also very strict about, so all in all it suggests that a life of commitments to one’s perceived absolute pinnacle of being has its own unique qualities, even if the dress is drab.

Scenic route in the Redwood National Forest in California, USA. Highway lined with evergreen trees.
Scenic route in the Redwood National Forest in California, USA

Overall, the book was enlightening, suggesting that walking for the sake of walking, unplugged and paying attention, can be the space within to think, create, and meander.

Since finishing A Philosophy of Walking I am now trapesing through another book about walking, The Walker: Finding and Losing Yourself in the Modern City by Mathew Beaumont. I will follow up soon with some notes.

If you would like to read about some more Found Caprice’s, please check out my previous posts:

Have you stumbled upon a Caprice lately? If so, I would love to hear about it, or see a photo. Let me know. I am always interested in finding a Caprice, whether in words or in objects.

Thanks for reading. Be well.

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