This is how Kant explains it:
To orient oneself means, properly: out of a given world region (in the four of which we divide the horizon) to find the other, namely, the place of rising (sunrise). If I look at the son in the heaven at this instant and know that it is noon, so I know how to find the south, west, north and east. But I need in support of this throughout the feeling of a difference in my own subject, namely, my right and left hands. I name it a feeling; because these two side show externally to the intuition [Anschauung – inner view] no marked difference. Without this capacity: in the description of a circle, without requiring any distinction of objects in it, to still distinguish the movement of the left to the right from the opposed direction, and through this to determine a difference in the position of the objects a priori, would not be something I knew how to do, if I did not set the West to the right or the left of the south point of the horizon, and so thus should complete the circle with the north and the east until I was again at the south. Thus I orient myself geographically by all objective data on the heavens, but only through a subjective base of difference (Unterschiedungsgrund); and if, in a day through some miracle all the constellations otherwise retaining the same shape and position relative to each other only took a different direction, that is, instead of eastwardly, going now westwardly, in the next starbright night no human eye would perceive the least change, and even the astronomer, if he simply relied on what he saw and not at the same time on what he felt, would be unavoidably disoriented.
Kant always had a deep appreciation of the time reversable world of Newtonian physics. The notion of the sky played backwards or the earth going backwards is a gorgeous mindfall – one can go a long way down, thinking of that. Is there a bottom? This is a subjective claim indeed, but not one often raised in philosophy. Partly because philosophers spend too little time marveling over left and right. Kant, in this essay, uses the term subjective to mean something oddly material – inhabiting a body in space and time. But, as Kant knows, that body is built, partly, of directions that seem to have nothing to do with space and time as we commonly think of them, requiring an imaginary dimension in which we can transfer from left to right and right to left. This is the issue at the heart of the dispute between Leibniz and Newton about absolute vs. relative space. Which I’m not going into, except to note how Kant is building his notions
His next move is to expand this idea – which, incidentally, involves introducing the first practical joke (if we put aside Descartes evil demon) in philosophy (and all the praying mantises go doo, da doo da doot da doot doo da doo da doo doot da doot):
This geographic concept of the process of orientation I can now expand, understanding it thusly: in a given space in general, thus purely mathematically, to orient oneself. In darkness I orient myself in a well known room when I get hold of only a few objects, whose place I have registered in my memory. But here I am obviously helped in nothing by the specific affordances (Bestimmungsvermogen) of the place according to a subjective ground of distinction: then the objects, whose places I should have to find, I don’t see at all; and if someone, playing a joke on me, had put all the same objects in the same order one with another, but to the left where all had previously been to the right, so I would in a room where otherwise the walls were all the same, not be able to find myself. But so I orient myself now through the simple feeling of a difference between my two sides, the right and the left. Just that happens, when I in the nighttime on street otherwise familiar to me, in which I can now not distinguish between houses, go and appropriately wend my way.
Am I the only one, reading this, who thinks:
“He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.”
I won’t translate all of Kant’s essay. I want to drive us to this passage – and, I assure you, I am still thinking about Wallenstein and superstition. A moment, ladies and gentlemen. Let me compose myself. I haven’t been feeling well lately. Isn’t it hot in here? Let me get out my handkerchief. Actually, touch of an old tropical distemper, plus of course the damned clap. Vixen was well worth it! The worms have the best of it. They dine off the best bits... Was this the face that launched a thousand ships...
“The course of things is approximately this. First, genius disports itself by making its bold flights, since it has dropped the thread that otherwise links it to reason. It soon entrances others through mighty speeches and great expectations, and seems to have set itself on a throne, which slow, heavy reason barely graces; whereby it still leads with the language of the same. The at that point assumed maxim of unworthiness of a too highly placed, lawgiving reason we common men call enthusiasm [Schwarmarei] these sports of benificent nature call it illumination. Because in the meantime there must arise a confusion of speech among them because, while reason can assume the dignity to command every man, here now this one, now that one follows his inspirations: thus must finally arise, out of inner inspirations through the testimonies of externally observed facts, out of traditions, that were in the beginning themselves kinds of preferences, with time becoming intrusive oracles [Urkunde], with a word the whole subjection of reason under the fact, i.e. superstition - because this at least carries with it the form of law and thus a point of rest.”
Time for a quick one...