No One Born on June 8? Context Matters


At the university where I teach there is a convenient website called “Inside Story,” intended for the edification of Biola University Employees. The page is updated daily. There are regular features—Announcements, Community News, a Schedule of Events, the Cafeteria Menu, etc. In one column there is a daily list titled “Happy Birthday!” Today (June 8, 2013) the following cryptic announcement jumped out at me: “No one has a birthday today.”

That is the Inside Story! You have it on Biola’s authority. Anyone born on June 8 will simply have to pick another day to have been born.

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First Lines: On Not Knowing the Answers to Questions Raised by Knowing


Who wrote this?

Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.

ImageImmanuel Kant, of course. Except Kant wrote in German . . . and was no more perspicuous for doing so. He meant, of course, that some of the knowledge we actually have generates additional questions which are both insistent and unanswerable.

Here, for example, is a question for Kant’s claim, a question that is itself insistent: How did Kant know such a thing? As far as I can tell, the question is unanswerable.

Note: The above quotation is the first line in the Preface to the First Edition of Kant’s frequently impenetrable book Critique of Pure Reason, in the translation by Norman Kemp Smith.

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