Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Lament of Kant’s Aristotelian Teacher

Immanuel Kant is believed to have attended the lecture of Johann Adam Gregorovius (1681—1749), an Aristotelian professor, in 1740, at the Königsberg University. Gregorovius’s primary concern was to defend Aristotle’s moral philosophy against more modern attempts at ethics. In the Wöchentliche Nachrichten of 1741, Gregorovius said, among other things:
I cannot make a secret of the fact that the philosophy of Aristotle has been so maligned and ridiculed since so many new systems have appeared after the beginning of this century… that no dog would take a piece of bread from an Aristotelian, even if it had not been fed for five days… This public disregard of antiquity led me entirely to abandon Aristotle from honest conviction. Subsequently, I had to learn every new system as soon as it appeared in order to teach it to the youthful students who were only interested in the newest (splitterneue) philosophers… I had… as great an attendance and applause as any. Yet after I got tired of the constant change… I began to compare all the new doctrines with the ancient one. Yet I had to learn that the hate and disregard which those inexperienced in these matters have against Aristotle also met me. (Source: Kant: A Biography by Manfred Kuehn; Chapter 2: “Student and Private Teacher”; Page 68)  
Gregorovius was acquainted with modern philosophy but he believed that Aristotle’s philosophy was much superior.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Is Ayn Rand’s Ethics an Exact Science?

Ayn Rand believed that Aristotle’s greatest achievement was in epistemology, and not in ethics or politics. In her essay, “The Objectivist Ethics,” she says: “The greatest of all philosophers, Aristotle, did not regard ethics as an exact science; he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise”

But she has not clarified what she means by “exact science.” She has also not provided any evidence to show that her own objectivist ethics is an exact science.

Jack Wheeler, in his essay, “Rand and Aristotle: A Comparison of Objectivist Ethics and Aristotelian Ethics,” (Chapter 5; The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand; Edited by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen) comments on this issue. Here’s an excerpt:
Again, Rand’s criticism that Aristotle did not regard ethics as an “exact science” is equally odd, for this has nothing to do with “observing wise men,” but rather, as Aristotle notes: “It is the mark of an educated mind to expect that amount of exactness in each kind which the nature of the particular subject admits.” Or does Rand really wish to claim that one can have mathematical precision for ethics on a par with physics? 
What is doubly puzzling about all of this is that, upon close examination, there are extraordinary similarities between objectivist and Aristotelian ethics in both metaethical and normative categories. Thus we find the strange situation of Rand praising Aristotle above all other philosophers on the one hand and ignorantly criticizing his ethics on the other. At the same time she presents an ethical system of her own that she claims is original yet that is in many ways strikingly Aristotelian. 
I agree with Wheeler, Rand’s criticism of Aristotelian ethics is puzzling. She criticizes Aristotle for not regarding ethics as an exact science, but she does not offer any evidence to prove that an ethical system can be an exact science on a par with physics.

I think Rand had the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt in her mind when she wrote her commentary on objectivist ethics. Galt is perfect in every sense; there is not a single flaw in his philosophical and political ideas; his science is great; he has never fallen sick, he is always emotionally stable, and he never makes a single mistake in his life. He automatically knows what he must do in any situation. When Rand calls ethics an exact science, she is asserting that human beings can be (or ought to be) exactly like Galt.

But it is biologically impossible for a human being to be like Galt—nature does not allow such perfection to exist. 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Kant’s Account of Discipline of Reason

Immanuel Kant gives three requirements for the discipline of reason—reason must be negative, nonderivative, and lawlike. He says in the Critique of Pure Reason that reason requires a “wholly nonderivative and specifically negative law-giving.”

In her lecture, “Kant on Reason and Religion” (Delivered at Harvard University, April 1—3, 1996), Onora O’Neill gives the following account of Kant’s requirements for discipline of reason:
Kant’s account of the discipline of reason can be summarized in three claims. First, in calling reason a discipline, he is claiming that it is a negative constraint on the ways in which we think and act: there are no substantive axioms of reason, whose content can fully steer processes of reasoning; there are merely constraints. Reason is indeed merely formal.  
Second, the discipline of reason is nonderivative. Reason does not derive from any more fundamental standards. On the contrary, it appeals to no other premises, so can be turned on any claim or belief or proposal for action. Neither church nor state, nor other powers, can claim exemption from the scrutiny of reason for their pronouncements and assumptions. The authority of reason would be nullified by any supposition that it is subordinate to the claims of one or another happenstantial power… 
If reason has any authority, it must be its own rather than derivative.  
Although reason does not have derivative authority, authority it must have. Authority is needed to distinguish between ways of organizing thought and action that are to count as reasoned and those that are to be dismissed as unreasoned. Kant traces this nonderivative authority to the requirement that reasons be public, in the sense that they can be given or exchanged, shared or challenged. Nothing then can count as reasoned unless it is followable by others, that is, unless it is lawlike. Ways of organizing thought and action that are not lawlike will be unfollowable by at least some others, who will view them as arbitrary or incomprehensible.  
The minimal, modal requirement that reasons be followable by others, without being derivative from other standards, is Kant’s entire account of the authority of reason. Yet mere nonderivative lawlikeness has considerable implications for the organization of thought and action: in the domain of theory it amounts to the demand that reasons be intelligible to others; in the domain of action it amounts to the requirement that reasons for action be ones that others too could follow.
O’Neill also points out that “the supreme principle of practical reason is presented as a negative (formal) requirement that is underivative because it appeals to no other spurious “authorities” (that would be heteronomy) and demands adherence to lawlike maxims (i.e., to maxims that could be adopted by all).”

Thursday, 11 January 2018

On Ridpath’s “The Academic Deconstruction of Ayn Rand”

Yesterday I read John Ridpath’s 2-page review of Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (“The Academic Deconstruction of Ayn Rand,” The Intellectual Activist, January 1996 issue).

Ridpath has written a nasty review—he ignores the book’s content, and tries to discredit its author. He begins with a tirade against the academics who he says are “using current academic standards, methods, and language, and playing today’s academic game.” The aim of this game, he claims, is to “impress their peers with books upholding Ayn Rand as a ‘serious’ thinker.”

But why does he think that it is malicious to project Rand as a “serious” thinker? It seems that in his lexicon, a “serious” thinker must be a “Kantian” and “Hegelian” thinker. He offers an over-enthusiastic and under-informed rant against Immanuel Kant. Here’s an excerpt:

“The fundamental context for nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought is Kant’s severance of the mind from reality. Kant destroyed the basis of objectivity, and what predictably followed was a myriad of subjectivist options, all arguing over which consciousness (cosmic, collective, tribal, or personal) ruled and whether mystical access to realty is possible.”

After wrestling Kant in two paragraphs, Ridpath pounces on Hegel who he says developed a notoriously convoluted version of post-Kantian subjectivism. He thunders that Hegel’s philosophy is a “massive assault on the very precondition of objectivity” and “it centers on the assertion that reality and mind are the same.” He excoriates the neo-Hegelian clique in academia for being anti-Western, postmodern, deconstructionist and multicultural.

The first half of Ridpath's piece is an autopsy of academia, Kant, and Hegel—in the second half he finally turns his eye towards Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Ridpath hammers home the point that Sciabarra’s book is “preposterous in its thesis, destructive in its purpose, and tortuously numbing in its content.”

Ridpath accuses Sciabarra of being at base a neo-Hegelian and attempting to force Rand into the Hegelian mold and then presenting her to the academic world for its consideration.

But Ridpath does not offer an iota of evidence to back his assertions. In his article, he has not included a single quote from Sciabarra’s book. He has not analyzed any position that Sciabarra has taken. About his suggestion that Sciabarra is a member of a clique of neo-Hegelian academics, one can only say that it sounds curiouser and curiouser!

Ridpath’s article is condescending, illogical, and preposterous. He thinks that he can take on philosophers like Kant and Hegel, and the academic establishment (including Sciabarra) with a silly article of just 2 pages! This is overconfidence of the worst kind. Well, his review doesn't seem to have had any impact on the credibility of Sciabarra’s book. In the last two decades, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical has become quite popular—it is now regarded as a valuable resource for those who are interested in Rand’s ideas.

PS: Here’s a link to an index of online and published reviews which do justice to Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Comrade Napoleon

Friend of fatherless!
Fountain of happiness!
Lord of the swill-bucket! Oh, how my soul is on
Fire when I gaze at thy
Calm and commanding eye,
Like the sun in the sky,
Comrade Napoleon!

Thou are the giver of
All that thy creatures love,
Full belly twice a day, clean straw to roll upon;
Every beast great or small
Sleeps at peace in his stall,
Thou watchest over all,
Comrade Napoleon!

Had I a sucking-pig,
Ere he had grown as big
Even as a pint bottle or as a rolling-pin,
He should have learned to be
Faithful and true to thee,
Yes, his first squeak should be
"Comrade Napoleon!"

~ from George Orwell's Animal Farm 

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Heinrich Heine on Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant’s early biographers focused only on his philosophical works and not his personal life. This created the impression that Kant was all thought and no life. Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), a friend and distant relative of Karl Marx and himself a believer in socialism, summed up the prevailing view of Kant in these words:
The history of Immanuel Kant’s life is difficult to portray, for he had neither life nor history. He led a mechanically ordered, almost abstract bachelor existence in a quiet, remote little street in Koenigsberg, an old town on the northeastern border of Germany. I do not believe that the great clock of the cathedral there performed more dispassionately and methodically its outward routine of the day than did its fellow countryman Immanuel Kant. Getting up in the morning, drinking coffee, writing, giving lectures, eating, walking, everything had its appointed time, and the neighbors knew for certain that it was half-past three when Immanuel Kant, in his gray frock-coat, his Spanish cane in his hand, stepped out of his house and strolled to the little linden avenue called after him to this day the “Philosopher’s Path.” Eight times he walked up and down it, in every season of the year, and when the sky was overcast, or gray clouds announced a rain coming, old Lampe, his servant, was seen walking anxiously behind him with a big umbrella under his arm, like an image of providence.  
What a strange contrast between the outward life of the man and his destructive, world-crushing thoughts! Truly, if the citizens of Koenigsberg had had any premonition of the full significance of his ideas, they would have felt a far more terrifying dread at the presence of this man than at the sight of an executioner, an executioner who merely executes people. But the good folk saw in him nothing but a professor of philosophy, and as he passed by at his customary hour, they gave him a friendly greeting and perhaps set their watches by him. 
If, however, Immanuel Kant, the arch-destroyer in the realm of ideas, far surpassed Maximilian Robespierre in terrorism, yet he possessed many similarities with the latter which invite comparison of the two men. In the first place, we find in both the same stubborn, keen, unpoetic, sober integrity. We also find in both the same talent for suspicion, only that the one directs his suspicion toward ideas and calls it criticism, while the other applies it to people and entitles it republican virtue. But both represented in the highest degree the type of provincial bourgeois. Nature had destined them to weigh coffee and sugar, but Fate determined that they should weigh other things and placed on the scales of the one a king, on the scales of the other a god.  
And they gave the correct weight! 
~ Heinrich Heine in On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany (1835)

Monday, 8 January 2018

Will Ayn Rand Survive Postmodernism?

In his article, “Objectivism: An Autopsy, Part 3,” Greg Nyquist says that he sees Objectivism as an overreaction to the Soviet Union’s communist system of which Ayn Rand had a first hand experience. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, communism mutated into postmodernism which has acquired a powerful intellectual, cultural and political base in the world. As Rand did not have any first hand experience with postmodernism, her philosophy does not offer any clear solutions to the problems that the world faces today.

Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph of Nyquist’s article:
Objectivism and libertarianism having been trying to convert people to their respective creeds for over sixty years, and they have little to show for it. With the surge of the radical left (at least terms of social and cultural influence) in recent years, the right is beginning to retrench into old forms of nationalism, both civic and, sometimes, in extreme cases, even racial. As the right-left ideological paradigm shifts and new factions on the right form to challenge globalism and non-white identitarianism, it's not clear how Objectivism and Rand-inspired libertarianism are going to maintain even a small sliver of relevance.
In his article Nyquist does not offer any solution, but, I think, he has made some interesting points. It is true that communism is yesterday’s problem—today’s problem is postmodernism. Rand’s philosophy is inspiring but her ideas cannot make headway in a society that is deeply divided between the postmodernist right and the postmodernist left. The Objectivists have to rework their philosophy and develop some fresh insights if they want to remain relevant. They cannot win support for their viewpoints if they continue to hitchhike on the theories and arguments that Rand developed more than 50 years ago.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Ayn Rand, the Hedgehog; Aristotle, the Fox

Peter Saint-Andre has done an analysis of Ayn Rand’s sayings on Aristotle in his article, “Our Man in Greece: On the Use and Abuse of Aristotle in the Works of Ayn Rand.”

He claims that even though Ayn Rand has stated that the only philosophical debt that she can acknowledge is to Aristotle, she has consistently misinterpreted Aristotle's philosophy in her articles. Taking a leaf out of Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox, Saint-Andre claims that there is a fundamental difference between Rand’s approach to philosophy and that of Aristotle. Rand, he says, is like the hedgehog, while Aristotle is like the Fox.

I think Saint-Andre is being excessively harsh on Rand. She has given a fairly accurate description of Aristotle’s philosophy and his role in history in her nonfiction and even in her fiction—the three parts of Atlas Shrugged are named in honor of Aristotle's laws of logic. Her bestselling novels have made many readers aware of Aristotle’s greatness.

However, I also think that there is a lot of wisdom in this article by Saint-Andre, and in the other articles that he offers on his website. His perspectives on Rand’s ideas and various aspects of her philosophical method and life can help the followers of Rand in getting rid of their dogmatism and developing a more balanced outlook on history, philosophy and politics.

Friday, 5 January 2018

An Explanation for Kant’s Bachelorhood

Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction of Kant: Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and Other Writings, edited by Paul Patrick Frierson and Paul Guyer:
During the 1760s Kant struggled with the issue of marriage, and one finds a personal pathos throughout these writings. Kant in Observations longs for a woman with whom to make a “united pair” that would “as it were constitute a single moral person,” a woman who would both “refine” and “ennoble” him, and, most of all, a female friend who would unite beauty and nobility of soul and who “can never be valued enough.” While Kant longs for this ideal woman, though, he also recognizes a danger in his ideal. In a partly autobiographical passage, he contrasts crude sexual inclination with “extremely refined taste,” which prevents excessive lust but often at the cost of happiness since such refined taste “commonly fails to attain the great final aim of nature” and results in “brooding.” Such brooding ends in one of two bad outcomes: “postponement and… renunciation of the marital bond or… sullen regret of a choice that… does not fulfill the great expectations that had been raised.” Within a few years, Kant will have fallen into the first of these tragic outcomes. Although he will later quip, "When I needed a woman, I couldn’t feed one; when I could feed one, I didn’t need one any more (1),” the analysis in Observations seems a more likely explanation for Kant’s lifelong bachelorhood. 
(1. Quoted in Kant, Herder and the Birth of Anthropology by John Zammito; Page 121)

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Significance of Kant’s Transcendental Deduction

Immanuel Kant
In the Transcendental Deduction, Immanuel Kant’s goal is to target Humean skepticism and prove that a priori concepts (or categories) are objectively valid and are a necessary condition of our experience of the world. He offers his arguments for the Transcendental Deduction (and for the Refutation of Idealism) for the first time in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781). The transcendental arguments are also included in his two subsequent critiques: the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790).

The twelve a priori concepts (or categories) that Kant wishes to hold as objectively valid and a necessary condition of our synthetic experience of the world include: Unity, Plurality, and Totality (the Categories of Quantity); Reality, Negation, and Limitation (the Categories of Quality); Inherence and Subsistence, Causality and Dependence, and Community (the Categories of Relation), and Possibility-Impossibility, Existence-Nonexistence, Necessity-Contingency (the Categories of Modality).

In the preface to Critique of Pure Reason, Kant wrote: “I know of no investigations that would be more important for getting to the bottom of the faculty that we call understanding and at the same time for determining the rules and limits of its employment than those that I have undertaken in the second part of the Transcendental Analytic, under the title of the Deduction of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding; they have also cost me the most, but not, I hope, unrewarded effort.”

From the perspective of soundness, however, Kant’s transcendental arguments are an unrewarded effort. According to Paul Guyer, Kant’s arguments for Transcendental Deduction is formally unsound. But Guyer points out that despite the philosophical failure of Kant’s arguments, the Transcendental Deduction has played a pivotal role in effacing the influence of Cartesian rationalism and Lockean empiricism, and setting a new agenda for modern philosophy by enabling the development of philosophical movements like logical positivism and linguistic philosophy.

Here’s an excerpt from Guyer’s essay, “The Transcendental Deduction of the Categories,” (Chapter 4, The Cambridge Companion to Kant, Edited by Paul Guyer):
Formally speaking, the transcendental deduction is a failure, and at best sets the agenda for the detailed demonstration of the role of the categories in the determination of empirical relations in space and especially time in the following sections of the Critique of Pure Reason. Nevertheless, the transcendental deduction also completely transformed the agenda of modern philosophy. While he had difficulty initially spelling it out, Kant clearly perceived that there was some inescapable connection between self-knowledge and knowledge of objects, and this completely undermined the Cartesian assumptions that we could have a determinate knowledge of our inner states without any knowledge of the external world at all and that we had to discover some means of inferring from the former to the latter. And while Kant had difficultly in distinguishing between the categories as merely logical functions of judgement and as extra-logical constraints on judgement, he nevertheless clearly saw that both self-knowledge and knowledge of objects were intrinsically judgmental and necessarily involved logical structures as well as empirical inputs. This completely undermined the Lockean and Humean project of discovering the foundations of all knowledge and belief in the empirical input of sensation and reflection alone. Progress in philosophy is rarely dependent upon the formal soundness of an argument, but on the compelling force of the new vision, and from this point of the view the transcendental deduction was a total success, turning Cartesian rationalism and Lockean empiricism into mere history and setting new agendas for subsequent philosophical movements from German idealism to logical positivism and the linguistic philosophy of our own times.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Kant's 288-Word Sentence

I learned about this 288 word sentence by Immanuel Kant from Stephen Hicks
Now, if ends must first be given to us, in relation to which alone the concept of perfection (whether internal in ourselves or external in God) can be the determining ground of the will; and if an end as an object which must precede the determination of the will by a practical rule and contain the ground of the possibility of such a determination — hence as the matter of the will taken as its determining ground — is always empirical; then it can serve as the Epicurean principle of the doctrine of happiness but never as the pure rational principle of the doctrine of morals and of duty (so too, talents and their development only because they contribute to the advantages of life, or the will of God if agreement with it is taken as the object of the will without an antecedent practical principle independent of this idea, can become motives of the will only by means of the happiness we expect from them); from this it follows, first, that all the principles exhibited here are material; second, that they include all possible material principles; and, finally, the conclusion from this, that since material principles are quite unfit to be the supreme moral law (as has been proved), the formal practical principle of pure reason (in accordance with which the mere form of a possible giving of universal law through our maxims must constitute the supreme and immediate determining ground of the will) is the sole principle that can possibly be fit for categorical imperatives, that is, practical laws (which make actions duties), and in general for the principle of morality, whether in appraisals or in application to the human will in determining it. 
~ (Practical Philosophy by Immanuel Kant; Edited by Mary J. Gregor, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 173)
I wonder how many words Kant has granted to this particular passage in his original German writing—it will also be interesting to see how many words this passage has in the translations done by other Kantian scholars.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Immanuel Kant: The Life of The Party

Immanuel Kant loved to eat, but he held that eating alone is bad for a philosopher because it encourages intellectual self-gnawing which leads to a lack of vitality. He saw dinner parties as the part of the “highest ethicophysical good,” holding that a dinner party brings not only physical satisfaction but also intellectual and moral stimulation.

In the section entitled, “On the highest moral-physical good,” in the conclusion to the Part One of his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, Kant argues that good living and true humanity can be realized by having a good meal in good company. He also lays out his rules for a dinner party:

Number of guests: According to Kant, the number of guests should be such that the dinner party’s atmosphere is conducive for holding a good conversation. He recommends no fewer than three and no more than nine guests.

Flow of conversation: Kant says that extended silence should never be allowed at the dinner table. The topics on which everyone is interested must be selected for conversation, and the direction of conversation should not be changed unnecessarily because nothing good can be achieved when the guests are jumping from one topic to another.

Avoid dogmatism: Kant holds that it is the duty and responsibility of every guest to show respect for others by conversing in a respectful and benevolent manner. He prohibits the guests from being dogmatic. In Anthropology, he says: “Do not tolerate the beginning or continuation of anything dogmatic.”

A refreshing play of thoughts: Kant says that dinner parties have the potential for intellectual stimulation. The host and the guests can create a refreshing play of thoughts by picking up the important new stories of the day as the topic and having a back and forth argument and finally ending the conservation with humor.

Secrecy: Kant believes that there is some kind of a moral sanctity to any dinner party. If anything indiscreet gets said at the dinner party it should stay within the party. Most human beings, Kant says, find it prudent to conceal their political views, and it is the purpose of a dinner party to serve as an oasis of trust. A free exchange of ideas becomes possible when the host and guests respect one another’s privacy.

Choice of food: Kant says that while it is impossible to have universally valid judgements on food and drink, it is possible for a host to reach comparatively universal validity. He writes, “The host makes his decisions with the tastes of his guests in mind, so that everyone finds something to his own liking; such a procedure yields a comparatively universal validity.”

Moderate drinking: Kant supports drinking at dinner parties but only in moderation. He prefers wine to other drinks. He writes: “Drink loosens the tongue. But it also opens the heart wide, and it is a vehicle instrumental to a moral quality, that is, openheartedness.” However, some biographies claim that on occasions Kant drank so much red wine that he found it difficult to walk back to his home.

No music: Kant equates music with debauchery and is against having music at his dinner parties.

In Kant: Observations on the Feelings of the Beautiful and Sublime ad Other WritingsPatrick Frierson and Paul Guyer point out that Kant was not a dour ascetic during his younger days. Here's an excerpt from the book's Introduction:
[Immanuel Kant’s early works] show a Kant who is younger, more empirical, more playful and more romantic than the Kant who would emerge over the next several decades. In fact, starting with the Russian occupation of Königsberg in 1758 Kant attended regular dinner parties, and his elegance and wit earned him the title “the life of the party.” Kant had friends from a wide variety of social classes and regularly attended dinners and parties with military officers, bankers, merchants, noblemen and noblewomen. During this period he even warns his young student Herder “not [to] brood so much over his books, but rather follow his own example.”

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Kant’s Message To Those Who Oppose The Enlightenment

Moses Mendelssohn; Immanuel Kant
In October 1786, Immanuel Kant made his contribution to the Pantheism controversy, a philosophical and religious dispute which raged between 1785–1789 and had an effect throughout Europe, with an essay, “What does it mean to orient oneself in thinking?

The dispute was primarily between Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi and Moses Mendelssohn over the philosophical and religious significance of the Spinozism of the German dramatist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. When Mendelssohn suddenly died in January 1786, his friends appealed to Kant to join the controversy and oppose Jacobi. Kant, in his essay, does seem to take Mendelssohn’s side of the dispute. Even though Kant and Mendelssohn disagreed over many issues, they knew each other for 20 years and had deep respect for one another’s work.

In the essay’s final paragraph, Kant brings out the political dimension of the Pantheism controversy. He saw a troubled time ahead for those who believe in freedom of thought and rational inquiry and urges all philosophers to remain loyal to the values of the Enlightenment. He says that Jacobi and his friends must not abandon the cause of reason.

Here’s the final paragraph of Kant’s essay:
“Friends of the human race and of what is holiest to it! Accept what appears to you most worthy of belief after careful and sincere examination, whether of facts or rational grounds; only do not dispute that prerogative of reason which makes it the highest good on earth, the prerogative of
 being the final touchstone of truth. Failing here, you will become unworthy of this freedom, and you will surely forfeit it too; and besides that you will bring the same misfortune down on the heads of other, innocent parties who would otherwise have been well disposed and would have used their freedom lawfully and hence in a way which is conducive to what is best for the world!”

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Plotinus’s Aristotelian Path Towards Plato

A bust believed to represent Plotinus
The Enneads, the only collection of writings by Plotinus (204—270 C.E.), was edited and published by his pupil Porphyry in 270 C.E. In his preface to the work, Porphyry says that the Enneads is full of Aristotelian doctrines, in particular Metaphysics.
In style Plotinus is concise, dense with thought, terse, more lavish of ideas than of words, most often expressing himself with a fervid inspiration. He followed his own path rather than that of tradition, but in his writings both the Stoic and Peripatetic doctrines are sunk; Aristotle's Metaphysics, especially, is condensed in them, all but entire. ~ Porphyry in the preface (section 14) to the Enneads
Lloyd P. Gerson, in his book Plotinus-Arg Philosophers (The Arguments of the Philosophers),  uses Porphyry’s comments on the Enneads to make the case that while Plotinus was devoted to defending Platonism from its opponents, he has benefitted considerably from Aristotelian texts. Gerson points out that the Enneads contain at least 150 direct references to Metaphysics and it has thousands of references to other works of Aristotle.

Here’s an excerpt from Gerson’s Introduction to his book:
An additional and sometimes overlooked facet of Plotinus’ Platonism is that Plotinus leans heavily on Aristotle for an understanding of what Plato’s doctrines actually were. For one thing, Plotinus’ Plato is sharply distinguished from Socrates, following that perfectly natural distinction in Aristotle. Nothing in the Enneads is derived from or depends on what we have come to recognize as especially Socratic. More importantly, Plotinus follows Aristotle in holding that Plato had an unwritten doctrine of principles. Indeed, Plotinus appears to rely on Aristotle for understanding what that is. Some effort is expended in the Enneads in order to show that this unwritten doctrine is at least consonant with that which appears in the dialogues. Finally Plotinus will frequently accept as authoritative an interpretation of Plato by Aristotle, as interpretation which Aristotle himself thinks leads a Platonic doctrine to shipwreck. Plotinus, however, will typically attempt to show that what Aristotle thinks is a disastrous consequences of a Platonic position is in fact true and even necessary. The alternative Aristotelian position is what ought to be rejected. And yet where Plotinus judges that Aristotle is ready not in disagreement with Plato, he will quietly adopt Aristotle’s terminology, distinctions, and even his explicit conclusions.

Friday, 22 December 2017

On The Platonism in Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle are often seen as the opposite poles of philosophy. But that is not the complete truth. There is a significant amount of Platonism in Aristotle. In his book A Critical History of Greek Philosophy, W. T. Stace offers a compelling perspective on how Aristotle himself was the originator of the mistaken belief that Aristotle and Plato are opposites. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 13, “Aristotle”:
It has been said that everyone has either an Aristotelian or a Platonic type of mind. As this implies that Aristotle and Plato are opposites, it is considerably less than a half truth. No genuine understanding of Aristotle can endorse the opinion that his philosophical system was the opposite of Plato’s. It would be truer to say that Aristotle was the greatest of all Platonists, since his system is still founded upon the Idea, and is an attempt to found an idealism free from defects of Plato’s system. It is in fact a development of Platonism. What is the cause then of the popular notion that Aristotle was the opposite of Plato? Now the fact is that they were opposites in many important respects. But there was a fundamental agreement between them which lies deeper than the differences. The differences are largely superficial, the agreement is deep-seated. Hence it is the differences that are most obvious, and it was the differences, too, which were most obvious to Aristotle himself. The popular opinion arises largely from the fact that Aristotle never loses an opportunity of attacking the Platonic theory of Ideas. He is continually at pains to emphasize the difference between himself and Plato, but says nothing of the agreement. But no man is a judge of his own deeper relations to his predecessors and contemporaries. It is only in after years, when the hubbub of controversy has settled down into the silence of the past, that the historian can see the true perspective, and can penetrate the relations of each great man to the time in which he lived. Plato was the founder of idealism, and his idealism was in many respects crude and untenable. It was the special mission of Aristotle to clear away these crudities, and so develop Platonism into a tenable philosophy. And it was natural that he should emphasize the crudities, which he had to fight so hard to overcome, rather than that substratum of truth which Plato had already developed, and which therefore required no special treatment at his hands. It was the differences between himself and his predecessor which were most obvious to him, and it was inevitable that he should adopt a thoroughly polemical attitude towards his master. 
In the same chapter, Stace points out that Aristotle’s main grievance against Plato was that Plato did not love facts. Here’s an excerpt:
In the first place, Aristotle loved facts. What he wanted was always definite scientific knowledge. Plato, on the other hand, had no love of facts and no gift for physical enquiries. And what disgusted Aristotle about the system of Plato was the contempt which it poured upon the world of sense. To depreciate objects of sense, and to proclaim the knowledge of them valueless, was a fundamental characteristic of all Platonic thinking. But the world of sense is the world of facts, and Aristotle was deeply interested in facts. No matter in what branch of knowledge, any fact was received by Aristotle with enthusiasm. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

On The First Cause

W. T. Stace
W. T. Stace points out that it is necessary to understand the meaning of the word “explanation” before we try to find an explanation for the universe. Here’s an excerpt from his book, The Philosophy of Hegel: A Systematic Exposition  (Chapter 3: “Hegel”):
Philosophers have disputed whether the explanation of the universe is to be found in matter or mind, in an inscrutable first cause, or in an intelligent Creator. But the first question which ought to be settled is, what is explanation ? When we demand that the universe shall be explained, what is it that we wish to know about the universe ?  
Now an isolated fact is usually said to be explained when its cause has been discovered. And if its cause cannot be ascertained, it is said to be an unexplained fact. My cold feet are explained by the existence of a draught. But we cannot explain the universe in this way. If the universe could be said to have a cause, then either that cause is the effect of a prior cause, or it is not. Either the chain of causes extends back in an infinite series, or there is somewhere a “first cause” which is not the effect of any prior cause. If the series is infinite, then no final and ultimate explanation is to be found. If there is a first cause, then this first cause is itself an unexplained fact. If by explaining a thing we mean assigning a cause for it, then a first cause is by hypothesis unexplained and inexplicable, since we cannot assign any prior cause to it. To explain the universe by something which is itself an ultimate mystery is surely no explanation.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

W. T. Stace on The Philosophy of Hegel

"The philosophy of Hegel... is not something simply invented out of nothing by himself and flung at random into an astonished world. It is no crazy fancy of an individual's brain, no gimcrack novelty. It is not the pet theory of some erratic genius, nor is it merely one theory among many rivals. The true author of it is, not so much Hegel, as the toiling and thinking human spirit, the universal spirit of humanity getting itself uttered through this individual. It is the work of the ages. It has its roots deep in the past. It is the accumulated wisdom of the years, the last phase of the one "universal philosophy.” For the truth is, to use a phrase of Hegel’s, neither new nor old, but permanent. Yet Hegel, too, is profoundly original. But his originality is not mere novelty. It is new, but it is old too. It recognizes all past truth, absorbs it into itself, and advances. Hence its attitude to other philosophies is neither envious, nor hostile, nor destructive. It sees in every one of them some phase or aspect of truth which has to be recognized and absorbed into itself. It is for this reason a genuinely universal philosophy."

~ W. T. Stace in The Philosophy of Hegel: A Systematic Exposition (Chapter: "Greek Idealism and Hegel")

Sunday, 17 December 2017

On Garve's Review of Kant’s First Critique

In January 1782, the Göttingen Learned Notices published a review of  Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason (1781). The review was by Christian Garve but it had been extensively revised by the journal’s editor J. G. Feder.

In Garve's original review there were 312 lines—Feder left only 76 lines unchanged. He made minor changes in 69 lines and extensive changes in the rest. Feder added a new element to the review by comparing Kant with Berkeley and Hume. But this comparison was in line with Garve’s intention in the original review because Garve’s characterization of Kant’s idealism was not different from what Feder proposed in his revisions.

Kant was not satisfied with the review. He took the charge that he is an idealist like Hume and Berkeley (which is Garve’s key charge against him) very seriously. He bitterly complained that Garve had not understood him, and decided to write a detailed response, which became a new book, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (1783).

In the Prolegomena, Kant summarizes and explains the key arguments of the Critique. In the book’s appendix he offers his rebuttal of Garve’s review.

In August 1783, a journal published a short piece on the Prolegomena and called special attention to Kant’s charge that Garve had not understood him. Garve responded with an article in which he said: “If the honorable and witty man [Kant] did not live so much in the clouds, if he did not use a terminology of his own and if his sentences were shorter and simpler, he might be less exposed to this danger [of being misunderstood].”

Later on the original version of Garve’s review of the Critique was published in another journal, but Kant was still dissatisfied with it. 

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Would John Galt Think of Ellsworth Toohey?

There is a scene in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead in which Ellsworth Toohey accidentally meets Howard Roark in a deserted street. Toohey says to Roark: "Mr. Roark, we're alone here. Why don't you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”

Roark offers Toohey the ultimate put-down. He says: "But I don't think of you.”

Let’s imagine a scenario: Toohey gets transported to the fictional landscape of Atlas Shrugged, and he bumps into the novel’s hero, John Galt!

Toohey says: “Mr. Galt, we're alone here. Why don't you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”

How will Galt respond? I can’t imagine Galt saying, “But I don’t think of you,” to Toohey.

I have a feeling that Galt would be thinking of collectivist intellectuals like Toohey, because Galt is concerned with the social, political and economic situation in the country. Roark is a man with single purpose in life, architecture, but Galt is different, he is a multitasker—he is a talented scientist, and he has philosophical and political ambitions as well.

Galt does not aspire for political power but he wants to transform the character of society. He has a burning desire to create a society which is based on rational philosophical ideas.

In the area of science Galt succeeds in inventing an electric motor which produces limitless energy; in the area of politics he succeeds in stopping the motor of the world by persuading a significant number of talented industrialists, scientists and other professionals to go on strike.

If they meet in a deserted street and Toohey wants to know what Galt thinks of him, I don’t think Galt will respond in Roark’s calm and composed manner. For Galt, a collectivist intellectual like Toohey is a political and philosophical adversary. I can only visualize Galt impatiently saying to Toohey, “Get out of my way,” before marching off to wherever he is going.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Ayn Rand: The Philosopher Who Came In From The Soviet Union

Ayn Rand was a 21-year-old college graduate in 1926 when she left Russia for the United States.

I find it hard to believe that she could have written books like We The Living, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged if she were born and educated in the USA. Her thinking was markedly influenced by her experiences in communist Russia and the formal education that she had there. Her individualist mind was forged in the collectivist hellfire of communism.

The best book that I have read on Rand’s Russian education is Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Sciabarra’s description of the philosophical environment at the university where Rand was educated and the professors who may have taught her provides an insight into how Rand was inspired by the ideas of individualism and liberty while being trapped in a collectivist totalitarian environment.

Unfortunately, most Objectivist scholars tend to discourage an in-depth study of Rand’s life and her literary and philosophical method. They have their own orthodox narrative about Rand which they wish to propagate. Sciabarra’s thesis is a challenge to this orthodox narrative and therefore it is harshly criticized by prominent Objectivist scholars.

In his latest article, “Reply to the Critics of Russian Radical 2.0: The Dialectical Rand,” (The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Volume 17, Number 2, December 2017), Sciabarra answers the critics of the second edition of his book, which came out in 2013. As the subtitle indicates, a vital part of his article is focused on the issue of dialectics.

When Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was first published in 1995, it generated a lot of controversy because of its claim that Rand was a dialectical thinker. But in the Objectivist environment, the word “dialectical,” because of its association with the Marxist theory of “dialectical materialism,” is held as a philosophical abomination. Indeed, many Objectivists see the attempt to associate the word “dialectical” with Rand as a ploy to discredit her philosophy by equating it with Marxism.

But Sciabarra has (rightly) pointed out in his book that the idea of dialectics has been around since the time of Aristotle. Marx and the Marxists do not own the copyright on dialectics. Sciabarra identifies dialectics as the art of context-keeping, and he asserts that many major thinkers in history have used the dialectical method.

Why didn’t Rand acknowledge in her lifetime that her method was dialectical? In his article, Sciabarra suggests that given her Russian origin, her use of the word “dialectical” would have led some to see a connection between her philosophy and Marxism; such comparisons were odious to her and therefore she rejected any association with dialectics.

But the most interesting aspect of the article is Sciabarra’s evidence about Rand’s positive views on the dialectical method. The evidence is derived from Barbara Branden’s biographical interview of Rand conducted on 26 February 1961—a partial transcription of which (by Michael S. Berliner) is included in Robert Mayhew’s edited anthology, Essays on Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” According to Sciabarra, in Berliner’s transcription Rand’s mention of the word “dialectical” has been edited out.

Sciabarra attributes to Ayn Rand and Barbara Branden the following words in the brief alternative transcription which he offers in his article:
Ayn Rand: (talking about architect Frank Lloyd Wright): “[H]is approach to ideas was: the Truth with a capital T, and you know what that means. It’s not quite my approach. In other words, he would not be what we call “dialectical.” 
Barbara Branden: “Yes.”
From Sciabarra’s transcription (only partially reproduced here), it is possible to draw the inference that Rand knew that the dialectical method was not a monopoly of Marxist thinkers and that her own method was in essence dialectical. But she did not talk about it in public forums because she most likely wanted to avoid using a term which might create the impression that there was some connection between her method and the Marxist idea of “dialectical materialism.”

(This issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies also has an article by Roger Bissell, “Reply to the Critics of Russian Radical 2.0: Defining Issues.” Bissell provides a good analysis of the issues that lie at the core of the criticisms which have been leveled at Sciabarra’s Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.)

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Kant’s Theory of Republicanism, Man’s Rights, and Peace

Immanuel Kant believed that true peace is possible when states, which follow the “republican” principles and respect the rights of their own citizens and also the foreigners, are organized in a voluntary league which promotes peace.

In his 1793 essay, "Theory and Practice," Kant says that a “republic” is a political system which is based on the principles of freedom and equality for the citizens—in his 1795 essay, "Perpetual Peace," he says that a republic is a political system in which the citizens depend on a common legislation.

Pauline Kleingeld, sums up Kant’s view of a republic in these words: “A republic is governed by the rule of law, not the caprice of a despot. The laws of a republic are enacted by the citizens through their representatives. In a republic, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government are properly separated from each other. Finally, neither the territory of a republic nor the offices associated with its government are the personal property of the officers in function.” (“Kant’s Theory of Peace” by Pauline Kleingeld; A Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy, edited by Paul Guyer)

According to Kant, the notion of “right” originates when the concept of freedom is applied to the external relations among human beings. In "Theory and Practice," he says that “right” denotes the “restriction of the freedom of each to the condition of its being compatible with the freedom of everyone, to the extent this freedom is possible in accordance with a general law; and public right is the sum of external laws that make such a universal harmony possible.”

Here’s an excerpt from Pauline Kleingeld’s essay:

“Public right requires, first of all, a state with just laws and the power to enforce them. In the absence of a just legal system with coercive authority, that is, in the state of nature, no one’s right to external freedom can be secure against violence by others (Morals, 6:312). Kant is not here making the empirical assumption that people are in fact prone to violate the freedom of others (although he certainly believes they are); rather, he is assuming the a priori idea that people are free and that freedom implies the possible violation of the freedom of others. This possibility alone is enough to require a system of laws and their enforcement to protect rightful freedom.”

The rights of the citizens are not Kant’s only concern—he grants certain basic rights to humans everywhere on earth. He proposes the idea of “Cosmopolitan Rights” for the first time in "Perpetual Peace," and thereafter in The Metaphysics of Morals. A cosmopolitan right is that which regulates the interactions between states and foreigners: it is concerned with issues such as migration, commercial ties, or attempts at colonial settlements. In "Perpetual Peace," Kant says that in cosmopolitan right, “individuals and states who stand in an external relationship of mutual influence are regarded as citizens of a universal state of humankind.”

Kant believed that republicanism is the only constitution that can safeguard man’s rights, and therefore it is the only constitution that by its nature leads to peace. In a dictatorship the rulers are free to burden their subjects with new taxes and use the revenue to launch wars. But in a republic, they have to get the consent of citizens before they go to war and Kant is of the view that as the citizens are naturally disinclined to vote for a war, there is greater likelihood of long lasting peace between republican nations.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Immanuel Kant on Property Rights and Authority of State

In his essay, “Mine and thine? The Kantian state,”  (Chapter 12: The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy, Edited by Paul Guyer), Robert B. Pippin says that Immanuel Kant believed that private property is the primary institution in a modern bourgeois society, and that the authority of the state comes from the role that it plays in securing private property and regulating the disputes regarding property and contract.

Kant was of the view that the sovereignty of the state is absolute and people do not have the right of revolution. He limits participation in government to the active citizens (by “active citizens” Kant means the adult male property owners, and not the women, domestics, or the dependents).

In his last major work, The Metaphysics of Morals (1797), Kant offers a description of his moral and political philosophy. On the subject of a society, Kant, in his book, says that a
condition of the individuals within a people in relation to one another is called a civil condition (status civilis), and the whole of individuals in a rightful condition, in relation to its members is called a state (civitas). 
He goes on to offer a fuller definition of such a state:
A state (civitas) is a union of a multitude of human beings under laws of right. Insofar as these are a priori necessary as laws, that is insofar as they follow of themselves from concepts of external right as such (are not statuary), its form is the form of a state as such, that is, of the state in idea, as it ought to be in accordance with pure principles of right. This idea serves as a norm (norma) for every actual union into a commonwealth (hence serves as a norm for its internal constitution). 
In the book’s section titled, “Exposition of the Concept of Original Acquisition of Land,” Kant explains how people can rightfully acquire property:
All men are originally in common possession of the land of the entire earth (communio fundi originaria) and each has by nature the will to use it (lex iusti) which, because the choice of one is unavoidably opposed by nature to that of another, would do away with the use of it if this will did not also contain the principle for choice by which a particular possession for each on the common land could be determined. 
Pippin argues that Kant believed that as rational creatures, the human beings must accept that they are incapable of determining unilaterally their right to their property, because such a right cannot be deduced as a law of pure practical reason. Kant demands absolute sovereignty and rejects the right of revolution because he wants to safeguard property rights while adhering to the dictates of pure practical reason.

A revolution (or anarchy) is abhorrent to Kant. He believes that a right to revolution entail’s that men have refused to leave the state of nature. In his essay, “Perpetual Peace,” Kant writes: “Any legal constitution, even if it is only in a small measure lawful, is better than none at all.”

Kant holds that unless there is rule of law, private property cannot exist. Therefore the establishment of a common will with coercive power (which is a state) is necessary to safeguard private property, by enforcing the boundaries between the property of various property owners.

According to Pippin, in Kant’s philosophy, “mine and thine are not properly descriptive terms but more like ascriptions of normative statuses, that they are not merely assured by a legal order but can finally only be said to exist within such a legal system of recognition, enforcement, and resolution of disagreement.” I think, it is clear that in the area of property rights, Kant was a philosopher of the (classic) liberal tradition. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

Kant’s Formulas For Universal Moral Law

Immanuel Kant explains the purpose behind his best known work on moral philosophy, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in the preface: “The present groundwork is, however, nothing more than the search for and establishment of the supreme principle of morality, which already constitutes an enterprise whole in its aim and to be separated from every other moral investigation.”

In The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy (Edited by Paul Guyer), Allen W. Wood takes a look at Kant’s attempt to formulate a supreme principle of morality in Chapter 10, “The Supreme Principle of Morality.” Kant has proposed three formulas (or five formulas, depending on how you look at it) in his quest for a supreme principle of morality.

Here’s a list of the five formulas (along with relevant quotes from the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals):

First Formula
FUL (The Formula of Universal Law): “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you at the same time can will that it become a universal law…”

Second Formula
FLN (The Formula of the Law of Nature): “So act, as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature…”

Third Formula
FH (The Formula of Humanity as End in Itself): “So act that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means…”

Fourth Formula
FA (Formula of Autonomy): “... the idea of the will of every rational being as a will giving universal law…” or,

“Not to choose otherwise than so that the maxims of one’s choice are at the same time comprehended with it in the same volition as universal law…”

Fifth Formula
FRE (The Formula of the Realm of Ends): “Act in accordance with maxims of a universally legislative member for a merely possible realm of ends…”

The second formula is an intuitive variant of the first formula and the fifth formula is an intuitive variant of the fourth formula—hence we can also hold that Kant offers only three basic formulas in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.

According to Wood, Kant has presented the three (or five) formulas as a system—Kant characterizes “FLN as giving us the “form,” FH the “matter,” and FRE the “complete determination” of maxims under the moral law.”

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Kant and Aristotle

The traditional viewpoint is that Immanuel Kant is a Platonic and an anti-Aristotelian philosopher. But in Kant and Aristotle: Epistemology, Logic, and Method, Professor of History of Philosophy Marco Sgarbi is reassessing this understanding of Kant.  He argues that Kant was heavily influenced by Aristotelian doctrines and that in his works he has re-elaborated several Aristotelian ideas.

I have not read the complete book as of now—I have only finished the first two chapters (Introduction and Chapter I). Here’s a look at what is there in the two chapters:

In the Introduction Sgarbi says that with his examination of the Critique of Pure Reason he draws the inference that logic, epistemology and methodology are the key disciplines through we can gain an understanding of how and why Kant elaborated his transcendental philosophy. He suggests that the Critique of Pure Reason must be read “not as a treatise on metaphysics or on the theory of knowledge, but as a book on logic and, more specifically, on the “method” of metaphysics, which must be understood within the Aristotelian tradition.”

According to Sgarbi, Kant lived in a philosophical environment which was rich in Aristotelianism. Since the second half of the sixteenth century, Aristotelianism had been growing in Europe through the efforts of scholars in places like Padua.

The Königsberg University, where Kant got educated and later worked as a tutor, saw several philosophical upheavals between the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries. From 1715 to 1740, Aristotelianism, Eclecticism, and Wolffianism fought to extend their hegemony on philosophy. During his university years Kant received an eclectic education and he acquired a broad knowledge of diverse logical and metaphysical positions.

Sgarbi reconstructs the conditions at Königsberg which he believes gave rise to Kantian philosophy. He draws from the unpublished documents including lectures, catalogues, academic programs, and the Aristotelian-Scholastic handbooks that were officially adopted at the Königsberg University. He examines about a hundred references that Kant has made of Aristotle and Aristotelian philosophers in his works.

In the section titled Prospectus, Sgarbi clarifies that he is not interested in conducting a extrinsic comparison between Kant and Aristotle, because this, in his view, would be a mere theoretical exercise which may produce misleading results. He says, “I have tried as far as possible to reconstruct all the most important passages illustrating the transmission of ideas from Aristotle to Kant.”

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Did Zabarella’s Aristotelianism Inspire Empiricism of David Hume?

In 1940, John Herman Randall published an essay, “Development of Scientific Method in the School of Padua,” in the Journal of the History of Ideas. (Subsequently the essay was published in the book The School of Padua and the Emergence of Modern Science.)

In his essay, Randall claims that modern philosophy and science arose out of the investigative method proposed by the Aristotelian thinker Jacopo Zabarella (1533-1589) at the University of Padua.

In his book The Aristotelian Tradition and the Rise of British Empiricism: Logic and Epistemology in the British Isles, Marco Sgarbi uses Randall’s thesis to rebut the traditional view that empiricism of Hume, Locke and Berkley has its roots in the revival of Platonism. Sgarbi argues that the Paduan Aristotelianism of Zabarella had a decisive impact on British Empiricism. He says that British writers inherited, embraced, and developed Zabarella’s ideas for more than a century and they eventually gave birth to what we know as British Empiricism.

“Put simply, without the legions of forgotten British Aristotelians, there would have been no Locke, no Berkeley, no Hume,” writes Sgarbi on page 234 of his book.

To makes his case, Sgarbi examines several British writers and comes to the conclusion that from 1570 to 1689, Zabarella’s Aristotelianism had a wide diffusion in British Isles and exercised significant influence on British philosophical writing, which were predominantly empiricist in nature. Eventually the skeptical empiricism of the British writers found maturity in the empiricism of Locke, Berkley and Hume. Sgarbi says that without Aristotelian tradition, British empiricism would never have been born.

John P. McCaskey has done a review of Sgarbi’s book in which he rebuts Sgarbi’s attempt to revive Randall’s thesis. Here’s an excerpt from McCaskey's review:

“Now maybe positions central to Jacopo Zabarella really do become important and characteristic in the skeptical doctrine of British empiricism. I suspect so. But Sgarbi makes no such case. He never discusses Locke or Berkeley or Hume, or how Zabarella’s positions imply the empiricists’. Sgarbi just shows that in the century before Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding many writers mentioned induction and many claimed that knowledge must rely somehow on sense experience.”

In another article, "Jacopo Zabarella’s Real Influence on Early Modern Science," McCaskey rejects Randall’s thesis on Zabarella’s influence on modern science and philosophy. “In 1940, John Herman Randall proposed that the Scientific Revolution resulted from adoption of the investigative method of regressus championed by Jacopo Zabarella at the University of Padua. By now the proposal should have been soundly rejected or firmly established in the canon. Alas, it has been neither. An impediment has been inaccessibility of texts.”