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.”

Monday, 4 December 2017

Jacopo Zabarella On Knowledge

Giacomo (Jacopo) Zabarella, the sixteenth-century philosopher known for his Aristotelian commitments, believed that the highest form of knowledge is demonstrative knowledge which proceeds from a distinct knowledge of the cause and demonstrates the necessary connection of the effect with the cause, thereby providing distinct knowledge of the effect.

Here’s an excerpt from Zabarella’s Opera Logica:
For all scientific advance from the known to the unknown is either from a cause to an effect or from an effect to a cause. The former indeed is the demonstrative method; but the latter is the resolutive method. There is no other process that brings forth certain knowledge of a thing. For if we advance from something to something else, neither of which is the cause of the other, it is not possible for there to be an essential or necessary connection between them. Hence, no certain cognition can follow from the advance. Therefore, it follows that there is no scientific method besides the demonstrative and resolutive ones.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

The Platonic Questions in Aesthetics

Roman copy of Plato’s bust by Silanion
for the Academia in Athens (c. 370 BC)
Paul Guyer’s Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics is mainly focused on examining Immanuel Kant’s contributions to the field of aesthetics. In the book’s Introduction, Guyer offers a brief description Plato’s role as the originator of the philosophical debate on aesthetics. Plato asked the right questions concerning several issues in aesthetics—Aristotle provided the answers to these questions.

Here’s an excerpt:
Plato effectively began Western philosophy with an attack on Greek assumptions about the cognitive and practical value of the creation and experience of art, so aesthetics has been both a part of and under attack by philosophy since the outset. In the Republic, Plato questioned the claims of poets and their adherents to any important expertise, and cast doubt on the cognitive value of imitations or representations in general by characterizing them as mere copies of ordinary objects that are themselves mere copies of the genuine realities – the Forms. In the Ion and Phaedrus, he more archly cast doubt on any claims to knowledge that might be made by artists by suggesting that artistic success depends upon divine inspiration, and is therefore incomprehensible to mere mortals. In the Republic, he also questioned the practical value of art not only by questioning the cognitive claims on which its practical value might be thought to depend, but also by arguing that the expression of emotion in either the experience or especially the performance of art would be counterproductive for the education of his ideal guardians, who are to learn above all to use their reason to control their emotions, and by extension the emotions of those they are to govern. Yet while doing all of this, Plato was also aware of the spell of beauty, especially beauty in our own kind, and attempted to channel our love of earthly beauty into love of a higher kind of beauty, something not otherwise accessible to the senses, the beauties of the Forms themselves, especially, of course, the Form of the Good or Justice.  
Plato has subsequently found few takers for the whole of his critique of beauty and art; indeed, the defense of both the cognitive and the emotional as well as practical value of aesthetic experience began immediately with Aristotle, his student and successor. But the questions that Plato raised – what is the nature and value of beauty? what is the connection between art and knowledge? what is the connection between aesthetics and morality? and what is genius, the source of artistic inspiration? – have always remained at the heart of aesthetics, no less so when aesthetics be- came a recognized academic discipline early in the eighteenth century than before, and no less so now than at any other time in modernity. Indeed, after several decades in which “analytic” philosophers set these substantive issues aside in favor of supposedly more respectable as well as more tractable questions about the structure and logic of aesthetic language and discourse – just as they attempted to do for a while in other areas of philosophy as well, such as moral philosophy – precisely these ancient questions have recently returned to the forefront of debate in Anglo-American aesthetics, with all their allure and all their difficulty.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Bitcoin: How Does it Work? (Roger Ver Interview)

Ayn Rand’s Open Letter in Reply to Immanuel Kant

I recently posted an article, “Immanuel Kant’s Open Letter to Ayn Rand.” Roger Bissell has taken on the mantle of writing Ayn Rand’s enlightening reply to Kant’s letter. Here’s Bissell’s letter on behalf of Rand:

Dear Immanuel Kant,

Your kind letter reached me here in Valhalla, where my late husband Frank and my own late self have been residing for nearly 4 decades now. (Or so I gather, from the date of your missive. There are no clocks or calendars here, and time just seems to stretch out…eternally, it seems.) It is a serene existence, though populated with many fewer heroes than I would have hoped. But that’s all right, because I have my number one hero and soulmate, Frank, to keep me company!

I’m not surprised that you have found your life in Heaven to be a drab one. Doesn’t it get tiring, playing harp, singing Hosannahs, and knowing that you can never again enjoy the sensual pleasures of physical earthly existence? You did mention Aristotle being there with you, though without further details. I am somewhat surprised to learn that he is there in the theistic Paradise (Heaven). I would have thought that, being a Pagan and practically a god (at least, to me), he would have matriculated to Olympus – or perhaps to wherever the Great Library of Alexandria went to die. In any case, I’m certain that he finds it interesting to have you to talk with, he and you being the second and third greatest philosophers who ever lived. (You will understand that modesty prevents me from saying who was the greatest.)

But enough about our respective residences, and on to our relationship. 

You have thanked me for helping to “engineer a massive revival of interest" in your philosophy and popularization of your ideas, as the result of my “unsubstantiated and illogical commentary.” You make it sound as though the benefit that accrued to you was just an unintended consequence of my (supposedly) irrational criticism. Quite the contrary.

You have to realize that on the heels of the publication of Atlas Shrugged – my greatest novel (and the greatest novel ever written) – I fell into a deep depression because, although it sold and continues to sell many copies each year, it was severely panned by the critics and it attracted virtually no support from the academic philosophical establishment. This was a severe disappointment to me, but something I should have anticipated, because it is young people who are open to new ideas, not their professors, who are set in their ways and are a lost cause.

I don’t know which part of the rejection was worse: the massive distortions and misrepresentations by the literary and cultural thugs in their reviews of my work, or the deafening silence from those in academia who were sympathetic to my ideas but felt they had to remain silent in order not to be ostracized by their colleagues. In other words, deliberate malevolence vs. moral cowardice. In other words, hatred of the good for being the good vs. appeasing sacrifice of the good to the evil.

I felt I had to do something, to make an end run around this blockade of vicious criticism and craven silence. I had made a promise to myself and to one of my college professors that my ideas would one day be part of Western philosophy. I didn’t have it in me for another novel; I tried to sketch and outline ideas for it in my journal, but it went nowhere. I began work on a treatise on the philosophy I had introduced in Atlas Shrugged – Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living on Earth. That, too, ended up as a series of entries in my (posthumously published) Journals. 

So, I did the only thing left to me. I reached out to the young people. I began to do college lectures, and I began a monthly newsletter. And much as it pleased me to be able to quote passages from my novels in order to illustrate my spoken and written points, I found that I needed a real villain to contrast with my own self as the heroic rescuer of Western civilization from its destroyers: faith and force – its demons: mysticism, altruism, and collectivism.

You, of course, were that villain. That is, you were the obvious person to villain-ize. Your most path-breaking writing was so difficult to understand, that it could easily be distorted and depicted as attacks on reason and happiness just by selectively quoting superficially supporting statements, while also dropping context and failing to include your own clarifications and explanations. 

Can you blame me? I felt that I had to fight fire with fire. My enemies misrepresented my ideas in order to try to defeat me, so I misrepresented your ideas in order to create an enemy whose writing was so obscure that he would be hard to defend, and yet who was already widely credited as being the fountainhead of modern philosophy, and who could thus be blamed for all its ills, as well as for the decadence and corruption of modern culture and for 20th century collectivism and totalitarian mass murder. My enemies were so crude and blatant, while I was so subtle and clever, in many ways. 
  • When I wanted to change a definition, I did so without announcement, so as not to appear unstable or imperfect. 
  • When I wanted to erase unsavory implications of an earlier edition of a novel I’d written, I removed them and referred to them publicly as “editorial line changes.” 
  • When I wanted for one of my blatant contradictions to not be memorialized in an entry of a reference work, I had its editor remove that entry entirely. 
  • And when I wanted to create a villain, I buried his true nature within his own nearly impenetrable verbiage.
Yes, I am fully aware of your true nature, i.e., of what you were actually arguing for in your works. 
  • I know full well that you were not an altruist, no more than I was in my essay “The Ethics of Emergencies,” in which I argued for the obligation to non-sacrificially help those in need. 
  • I know full well that you were not anti-happiness, and that your arguments against eudaimonia were actually anti-hedonism and were remarkably similar to my own arguments in “The Virtue of Selfishness.” 
  • I know full well that you were not a deontologist, and that your “duty” ethic was no more intrinsicist and acontextual than was my follower Leonard Peikoff’s theory of volition. Your reasons for not being dishonest belied the supposed deontological nature of your morality every bit as much as Leonards’s “there is no why?” was belied by his argument that the choice to focus was due to a “reality orientation.” 
  • And I know full well that you were every bit as much a champion of individual liberty and rights as I was, because you argued that it was just to use force to “hinder” the freedom of another to “hinder” someone else’s free action.
I knew all of this, and much more, but I chose not to acknowledge it. My followers either don’t know – or they do know, but choose not to say so. But I don’t blame them for their lack of intellectual ambition and/or moral courage, any more than I would condemn myself for my lack of honesty in the ways illustrated above. This is war and, as I have often famously said, “Morality ends at the point of a gun.”

So now, as Paul Harvey, a famous radio commentator used to say, “You know the rest of the story.” And yes, you properly should thank me for elevating you to your present status in the philosophical world. And in return, I will thank you, for providing just the right “contrast object” for me to portray myself as the one whose ideas will change the course of the world and save it from irrational, violent destruction. 

For after all, and despite all the other ways in which I have…set aside…my moral code, I am above all a firm believer in the Trader Principle, and you and I have given value for value. We have each ended up better off than before I initiated our unilateral trade. And you may continue to thank me as you enjoy the continued attention and status you would not have had without my efforts.

Best premises,

(Miss) Ayn Rand

P.S. – You of all people must know that “Pure Randianism” is a Platonistic floating abstraction, and a gigantic strawman, to boot. But I can hardly complain, since I said the same about your ideas, knowing that people would not bother to check for themselves, beyond looking up the cherry-picked, out of context quotations that supported their biases which I taught them to have.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Kant’s Philosophy of Mathematics

Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of mathematics is a part of his broader philosophical project. His view that all mathematical cognition is synthetic and a priori is in line with his theory of pure sensibility, doctrine of transcendental idealism, and his view on appropriate and successful methods of reasoning.

In The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy (Edited by Paul Guyer), Lisa Shabel has an insightful essay on Kant’s view of mathematics (Chapter 3, “Kant’s Philosophy of Mathematics”). Here’s an excerpt:
Kant, a long-time teacher and student of mathematics, developed his theory of mathematics in the context of the actual mathematical practices of his predecessors and contemporaries, and he produced thereby a coherent and compelling account of early modern mathematics. As is well known, however, mathematical practice underwent a significant revolution in the nineteenth century, when developments in analysis, non-Euclidean geometry, and logical rigor forced mathematicians and philosophers to reassess the theories that Kant and the moderns used to account for mathematical cognition. Nevertheless, the basic theses of Kant’s view played an important role in subsequent discussions of the philosophy of mathematics. Frege defended Kant’s philosophy of geometry, which he took to be consistent with logicism about arithmetic; Brouwer and the Intuitionists embraced Kant’s idea that mathematical cognition is constructive and based on mental intuition; and Husserl’s attempt to provide a psychological foundation for arithmetic owes a debt to Kant’s characterization of mathematics as providing knowledge of the formal features of the empirical world. 

In the later twentieth century, by contrast, most philosophers accepted some version of Bertrand Russell’s withering criticism of Kant’s account, which he based on his own logicist program for mathematics. But now it is clearly time to reassess the relevance of Kant’s philosophy of mathematics to our own philosophical debates. For just a few examples, contemporary work in diagrammatic reasoning and mereotopology raise issues that engage with Kant’s philosophy of mathematics; Lakatos-style antiformalism is arguably a descendant of Kant’s constructivism; and our contemporary understanding of the relation between pure and applied mathematics, especially in the case of geometry, is illuminated by Kant’s conception of the sources of mathematical knowledge. More generally, because we persist in considering mathematics to be a sort of epistemic paradigm, our current investigations into the possibility of substantive a priori knowledge would surely benefit from reflection on Kant’s own subtle and insightful account of mathematics. 

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Immanuel Kant’s Open Letter to Ayn Rand

Dear Ayn Rand,

I am writing this letter to thank you for the work that you have done for popularizing my philosophy and making the earthlings realize the supreme importance of the work that I have accomplished in my lifetime.

Here I was, living a drab life in Heaven, feeling depressed by the thought that I am becoming irrelevant to the earthlings. Whenever I looked downwards from my perch in heaven, I saw earthlings being confused about whose work was more important— David Hume’s or mine? Why should it even be a question? Isn’t it obvious—Kant is the greatest philosopher!

But the earthlings remained confused and Hume began to boast in Hell (that’s right, he is in Hell along with most philosophers; Aristotle and I are the only two philosophers in Heaven) that he is on verge of overtaking Kant in popularity.

Hume compares himself with me… with Kant! He boasts that his philosophy will overtake Kant’s! But what else can you expect from a philosopher who during his time on earth tried to destroy “metaphysics.” I saved metaphysics from Humean attack. That is my great achievement.

Unlike most intellectuals on earth, you have the philosphical sense and knowledge to recognize the importance of my work. You took notice of my existence in the 1960s. Thanks to the attention that I got from you, the 1960s turned out to the most productive decade of my post-death life.

You called me the most evil force in the history of mankind! Listening to your rants against me was sheer music for my ears… reading your tirades against me was most soothing for my eyes. I am flattered beyond measure to know that the author of bestselling books like Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead considers me to be the most evil man in mankind’s history.

If I had been alive in the 1960s I would have written a fourth Critique on your philosophy—I would have called this work: “A Critique of Pure Randianism”. That is the least that I can do for a woman who hates me so much that she calls me the most evil man in mankind’s history!

The best thing about you is that you are consistent. You have integrity. Once you start a campaign against anyone, you to take it to the bitter end. You carried on with your tirade against me for decades. You went on and on till the end of your days on earth, and after you your followers are carrying on the good work of popularizing Kant by saying illogical things about him.

You have done for me what the mainstream media did for Donald Trump. The constant barrage of unsubstantiated and illogical reporting from the mainstream media sent Trump soaring to the stratospheric heights of the popularity charts, and he went on to win the presidential elections.

Likewise your unsubstantiated and illogical commentary on my philosophy has engineered a massive revival of interest in my philosophy. I was on verge of being forgotten but thanks to your rants I am now regarded as the most powerful philosopher in modern world.

Negative publicity works—it works much better than positive publicity. Randian philosophy is the best thing that has ever happened to Kantian philosophy.

I must tell you about the disastrous impact that your sayings have had on Hume. Since the 1960s he has been suffering from acute depression and high blood pressure. He is driven insane by the knowledge that the great Ayn Rand has focused her attack only on Kant and has mostly ignored him. Ha, as if this metaphysics-denying nincompoop is worthy of your rants! He is nothing.

Once again I thank you for the service that you have provided me.

Yours Truly,

Immanuel Kant

Monday, 27 November 2017

Is Kant Responsible for Marxism?

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had a problematic relationship with Immanuel Kant. In their book, The German Ideology,  they harshly dismiss Kant as a bourgeois moralist:
The state of affairs in Germany at the end of the last century is fully reflected in Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. While the French bourgeoisie, by means of the most colossal revolution that history has ever known, was achieving domination and conquering the Continent of Europe, while the already politically emancipated English bourgeoisie was revolutionizing industry and subjugating India politically, and all the rest of the world commercially, the impotent German burghers did not get any further than “good will”. Kant was satisfied with “good will” alone, even if it remained entirely without result, and he transferred the realization of this good will, the harmony between it and the needs and impulses of individuals, to the world beyond. Kant’s good will fully corresponds to the impotence, depression and wretchedness of the German burghers, whose petty interests were never capable of developing into the common, national interests of a class and who were, therefore, constantly exploited by the bourgeois of all other nations. These petty, local interests had as their counterpart, on the one hand, the truly local and provincial narrow-mindedness of the German burghers and, on the other hand, their cosmopolitan swollen-headedness.
Further in the book, Marx and Engels dismiss Kant as a whitewashing spokesman for the German middle class. Here’s an excerpt:
The characteristic form which French liberalism, based on real class interests, assumed in Germany we find again in Kant. Neither he, nor the German middle class, whose whitewashing spokesman he was, noticed that these theoretical ideas of the bourgeoisie had as their basis material interests and a will that was conditioned and determined by the material relations of production. Kant, therefore, separated this theoretical expression from the interests which it expressed; he made the materially motivated determinations of the will of the French bourgeois into pure self-determinations of “free will”, of the will in and for itself, of the human will, and so converted it into purely ideological conceptual determinations and moral postulates. Hence the German petty bourgeois recoiled in horror from the practice of this energetic bourgeois liberalism as soon as this practice showed itself, both in the Reign of Terror and In shameless bourgeois profit-making. 
However, in the preface to Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, Engels gives credit to Kant. He says: "We German socialists are proud that we trace our descent not only from Saint Simon, Fourier and Owen, but also from Kant, Fichte and Hegel.” But in this case, Engels is mentioning Kant because he believed that Kant is the founder of German Idealism of which Marxism is an offshoot.

Marx and Engels owed a lot to Hegel’s philosophy. Hegel was in some areas inspired by Kant but he has also criticized the Kantian system. It is worth noting that the area of Hegelian philosophy from which Marx and Engels have benefitted has very little to do with what Kant has preached. Therefore case cannot be made that Kant inspired Marx through the medium of Hegel.

Kant developed a major part of his philosophy (including his three Critiques) before or in the early years of the French Revolution, whereas Hegel’s philosophy was to a large extent a post-French Revolution enterprise. Hegel was inspired by his experience of the colossal economic and political changes that the French Revolution brought to Europe. He was primarily a philosopher of the new world which came into being after the French Revolution. Marx and Engels too were post-French Revolution thinkers and it was easier for them to empathize with the Hegelian system.

The founder of the Soviet Union, V. I. Lenin too had a strong dislike for Kant's ideas. In his book, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, he looks at Kant's works as a reactionary philosophy. He has devoted an entire section, "The Criticism of Kantianism from the Left and From the Right," in his book's Chapter Four, "The Philosophical Idealists as Comrades-In-Arms and Successors of Empirio-Criticism," to criticizing Kant and clarifying that communism has been developed after philosophy moved away from Kant's idealism.

There is no evidence to make the case that Kant was the intellectual driver of Marxism. He was a classical liberal and he would be appalled by the Marxist doctrine.  

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism

“Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism” is the longest and most thoughtful essay in Isaiah Berlin’s book, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas. Berlin introduces Maistre as an Enlightenment era philosopher, who propagated counter-Enlightenment ideas and presaged a future in which fascist regimes come to power.

A man with pessimistic view of the world, Maistre believes that men are evil by nature and a totalitarian regime is necessary to preserve order and save man from man. He holds that it is necessary for men to suffer because suffering alone can save them from falling into the bottomless abyss of anarchy and destruction of all values.

His political principles have been summarized by Berlin in these lines: “There can be no society without a State; no State without sovereignty, the ultimate court of appeal; no sovereignty without infallibility; no infallibility without God. The Pope is God’s representative on Earth, all legitimate authority is derived from him.”

But I don’t think that it is appropriate to see Maistre as a philosopher. There is nothing philosophical in his ideas. He is an outcome of bad philosophy and not the creator of bad philosophy. He lusts for political power because he believes that a ruthless totalitarian state is necessary for enforcing a moral way of life.

Today Maistre is nothing more than a historical curiosity. Berlin acknowledges that Maistre’s works are no longer regarded as important but he thinks that Maistre must be studied because he represents the “last despairing effort of feudalism and the dark ages to resist the march of progress.” The excerpts from Maistre’s works (which Berlin has included in his essay) give you the feeling of listening to a man who hankers for absolute political power.

Here’s an excerpt from Berlin’s essay: “[Maistre] taught that natural sciences were tissues of coherent falsehoods, that the desire for individual liberty was a form of original sin, and that all possession of absolute secular power, whether by monarchs or popular assemblies, was founded on blasphemous rejection of divine authority, whose sole representative was the Roman Church.”

Here’s another:

“While all around him there was talk of the human pursuit of happiness, [Maistre] underlined, again with much exaggeration and perverse delight, but with some truth, that the desire to immolate oneself, to suffer, to prostrate oneself before authority, indeed before superior power, no matter whence it comes, and the desire to dominate, to exert authority, to pursue power for its own sake – that these were forces historically at least as strong as the desire for peace, prosperity, liberty, justice, happiness, equality.”

And another:

"Thee doctrine of violence at the heart of things, the belief in the power of dark forces, the glorification of chains as alone capable of curbing man’s self-destructive instincts, and using them for his salvation, the appeal to blind faith against reason, the belief that only what is mysterious can survive, that to explain is always to explain away, the doctrine of blood and self-immolation, of the national soul and the streams owing into one vast sea, of the absurdity of liberal individualism, and above all of the subversive influence of uncontrolled critical intellectuals – surely we have heard this note since. In practice if not in theory (at times offered in a transparently false scientific guise) Maistre’s deeply pessimistic vision is the heart of the totalitarianisms, of both left and right, of our terrible century."

Five years after Maistre’s death the leaders of the Saint-Simonian School began a project to develop a reconciliation between the ideas of Maistre and Voltaire. But this seems like an illogical project. How can Voltaire, who stood for liberty, be reconciled with Maistre’s vision of a slave society? It is worth noting that Maistre regarded Voltaire as the devil incarnate.

But Berlin points out that “modern totalitarian systems do, in their acts if not in their style of rhetoric, combine the outlooks of Voltaire and Maistre; they have inherited, particularly, the qualities which the two have in common. For, polar opposites as they are, they both belong to the thought-minded tradition in classical French tradition. Their ideas may have strictly contradicted one another, but the quality of the mind is often exceedingly similar.”

This essay offers an insightful portrait of Maistre, but its title is misleading because it does not offer any new prospective on fascism. Berlin’s focus is only on Maistre’s ideas. He does not explain the relationship between Maistre’s ideas and that of the fascists.

**********

The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas
Isaiah Berlin
Pimlico, 2013 edition

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Why did Ayn Rand dump Kant for Spinoza?

Immanuel Kant initially had a favorable treatment in Ayn Rand’s We The Living (1936). But in the novel’s 1959 edition, Rand removed all references to Kant and his ideas.  In one instance, she went to the extent of replacing Kant with Spinoza.

Robert Mayhew has talked about the changes that Rand made in 1959 edition of We The Living in his book Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living. Here’s an excerpt from Mayhew’s book:
The most interesting name change comes in the passage [from We The Living] describing the young Leo. One line in the original reads:  
“When his young friends related, in whispers, the latest French stories, Leo quoted Kant and Nietzsche.”

In the ’59 edition, “Kant” is changed to “Spinoza”. Rand had a mild respect for Spinoza’s egoism; but more important, in her mature philosophical writings she makes it clear that she regards Kant as the most evil philosopher in history, a view she did not hold in Russia or when she first got to the United States. (Later in the novel, when Leo is arrested, the ’36 edition has him uttering an arguably Kantian line to Andrei: “A tendency for transcendental thinking is apt to obscure our perception of reality.” The line was cut.) 
Mayhew’s explanation is unsatisfactory. He does not answer the critical question: How did Rand decide in 1959 that Kant is the most evil philosopher in history?

Obviously Rand didn’t regard Kant as the most evil philosopher in history when she was writing We The Living in the 1930s—that is why she placed Kant and Nietzsche in the same sentence. Why did her views on Kant change so dramatically in the 1950s? Rand has said that she didn’t read Kant’s original works, but then how did she decide that he is the most evil philosopher! What is the evidence on basis of which she has passed her judgement on Kant?

In her book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, Jennifer Burns makes a striking claim—she suggests that Leonard Peikoff and Isabel Paterson filled Rand’s mind with the idea that Kant is the most evil philosopher in history.

Here’s an excerpt from Page 186 of Burns’s book:
Rand’s attack on modern philosophy was inspired by Leonard Peikoff, who for years had been telling her it was still the age of “pre-reason.” This was not a message she wanted to hear while toiling on her rationalist novel. After its publication, however, Peikoff seemed to have a point. He identified Kant as the source of all error in modern thought, an opinion Isabel Paterson had also held. To Peikoff, Kant’s argument that the means of perception structured humans’ sense of reality undermined objective reality, reason and all absolutes. Kant’s idea had opened the philosophical gates to destructive ideas like relativism and existentialism, which created the atmosphere that greeted Atlas Shrugged. Rand began to listen more seriously to Peikoff’s opinions about philosophy.
On page 112, Burns says:
As she began to educate herself about philosophy Rand turned to Paterson for a durable frame of reference. In New York Paterson had ranted against Kant, Hegel, and Marx, quoting instead Aristotle and the dictum “A is A.” 
However, Burns does not cite any source to establish that Peikoff and Paterson are the original architects of the Objectivist doctrine on Kant. When Nathaniel Branden was asked to comment on Burns’s claim, he rejected the idea that Peikoff could have anything to do with Rand’s views on Kant. Branden said: “Rand was a grand master at determining who were the good and evil people in history; she didn’t require any pipsqueak assistance.”

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

On Thinkers in Ancient Greece Who Dreamed of Anarchist Utopia

Zeno of Citium
Bust in the Farnese collection
In his book The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Isaiah Berlin offers a brief description of the how the idea of anarchist utopia was developed in Ancient Greece by thinkers like Zeno the Stoic (Zeno of Citium).

Here’s an excerpt from the Chapter II, “The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West”:
In Plato’s republic there is a rigid, unified hierarchy of three classes, based on the proposition that there are three types of human nature, each of which can be fully realized and which together form an interlocking, harmonious whole. Zeno the Stoic conceives an anarchist society in which all rational beings live in perfect peace, equality and happiness without the benefit of institutions. If men are rational, they do not need control; rational beings have no need of the State, or of money, or of law-courts, or of any organized, institutional life. In the perfect society men and women shall wear identical clothes and feed in a ‘common pasture’. Provided that they are rational, all their wishes will necessarily be rational too, and so capable of total harmonious realization. Zeno was the first Utopian anarchist, the founder of a long tradition which has had a sudden, at times violent, flowering in our time.  
The Greek world generated a good many Utopias after the city State showed the first signs of decline. Side by side with the satirical Utopias of Aristophanes there is the plan for a perfect state of Theopompus. There is the Utopia of Euhemerus, in which happy men live on islands in the Arabian sea, where there are no wild animals, no winter, no spring, but an eternal, gentle, warm summer, where fruits fall into men’s mouths from the trees, and there is no need for labor. These men live in a state of unceasing bliss on islands divided by the sea from the wicked, chaotic mainland in which men are foolish, unjust and miserable. 
Berlin says that the anarchist utopias that the ancient thinkers dreamed of resemble an earthly paradise which exists beyond the grave. The inhabitants of the utopia live in static perfection, their human nature is finally and fully realized. They are fully rational beings, and the environment in which they live is perfect and eternal.

Bitcoin The End of Money

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Hume, Kant and Rand

Hume's Central Principles is an 8-part lecture by Dr. Peter Millican. Millican is sympathetic to David Hume, but in his lecture he is not defending Hume—he is explaining the key features of the Humean philosophy.

Hume is the originator of many of the ideas for which Ayn Rand blames Immanuel Kant. In comparison to Hume, Kant seems like a rational thinker.

Kant was motivated by good intentions. He wanted to develop a philosophy that would make the Enlightenment flourish. In his articles, he speaks in favor of free society, and he supports people’s right to determine their own life. He had a pro-science attitude. He believed that scientific knowledge is possible to man. Such ideas are not there in Hume.

The primary motivation for Kant was to find a solution to the philosophical problems that Hume had created.

In the Preface to the Prolegomena, Kant writes: “no event has occurred that could have been more decisive for the fate of this science [metaphysics] than the attack made upon it by David Hume.” In the later section of the Prolegomena Kant makes the claim that he is in possession of “a complete solution of the Humean problem.” But Kant didn’t have the solution to the Humean problem.

I think that without understanding Hume, it is not possible for anyone to understand Kant. One of the reasons for which Ayn Rand’s criticism of Kant is unconvincing is that she does not take into account the context of Hume’s work while talking about Kant.

Millican does not mention Kant and Ayn Rand in this lecture. His focus is only on Hume. Overall, this is an interesting lecture. One more lecture on Hume, by Millican is available on the Oxford website: Introduction to David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature Book One.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Did Kant Deny Knowledge to Make Room for Faith?

In The Life of The Mind, Hannah Arendt examines the three principal aspects of man’s mental activity: thinking, willing, and judging.

The insights that she develops in the book are, according to her, derived from the work done by Immanuel Kant. She says that Kant is the first major philosopher to see the decisive difference between reason and intellect, truth and meaning, thinking and knowing, essences and appearances.

Arendt offers an interesting perspective on a controversial line that Kant has written in his preface to the Critique of Pure Reason: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

Here's an excerpt from chapter 8,“Science and common sense; Kant's distinction between intellect and reason; truth and meaning,” of Arendt's book:
“As we have seen, [Immanuel Kant] stated that he had "found it necessary to deny knowledge… to make room for faith,” but all he had "denied" was knowledge of things that are unknowable, and he had not made room for faith but for thought. He believed that he had built the foundations of a future "systematic metaphysic" as "a bequest to posterity,” and it is true that without Kant's unshackling of speculative thought the rise of German idealism and its metaphysical systems would hardly have been possible. But the new brand of philosophers— Fichte, Schelling, Hegel—would scarcely have pleased Kant. Liberated by Kant from the old school dogmatism and its sterile exercises, encouraged by him to indulge in speculative thinking, they actually took their cue from Descartes, went hunting for certainty, blurred once again the distinguishing line between thought and knowledge, and believed in all earnest that the results of their speculations possessed the same kind of validity as the results of cognitive processes.” 
~ Arendt in The Life of The Mind (page 63—64)
Related:

An Autopsy of The Objectivist Standpoint on Kant

Friday, 17 November 2017

What Is Enlightenment?

By Immanuel Kant (1784)

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) "Have the courage to use your own understanding," is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on--then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind--among them the entire fair sex--should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous. First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them. Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk. However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts.

Thus it is very difficult for the individual to work himself out of the nonage which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown to like it, and is at first really incapable of using his own understanding because he has never been permitted to try it. Dogmas and formulas, these mechanical tools designed for reasonable use--or rather abuse--of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting nonage. The man who casts them off would make an uncertain leap over the narrowest ditch, because he is not used to such free movement. That is why there are only a few men who walk firmly, and who have emerged from nonage by cultivating their own minds.

It is more nearly possible, however, for the public to enlighten itself; indeed, if it is only given freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable. There will always be a few independent thinkers, even among the self-appointed guardians of the multitude. Once such men have thrown off the yoke of nonage, they will spread about them the spirit of a reasonable appreciation of man's value and of his duty to think for himself. It is especially to be noted that the public which was earlier brought under the yoke by these men afterwards forces these very guardians to remain in submission, if it is so incited by some of its guardians who are themselves incapable of any enlightenment. That shows how pernicious it is to implant prejudices: they will eventually revenge themselves upon their authors or their authors' descendants. Therefore, a public can achieve enlightenment only slowly. A revolution may bring about the end of a personal despotism or of avaricious tyrannical oppression, but never a true reform of modes of thought. New prejudices will serve, in place of the old, as guide lines for the unthinking multitude.

This enlightenment requires nothing but freedom--and the most innocent of all that may be called "freedom": freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters. Now I hear the cry from all sides: "Do not argue!" The officer says: "Do not argue--drill!" The tax collector: "Do not argue--pay!" The pastor: "Do not argue--believe!" Only one ruler in the world says: "Argue as much as you please, but obey!" We find restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which restriction is harmful to enlightenment? Which restriction is innocent, and which advances enlightenment? I reply: the public use of one's reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind.

On the other hand, the private use of reason may frequently be narrowly restricted without especially hindering the progress of enlightenment. By "public use of one's reason" I mean that use which a man, as scholar, makes of it before the reading public. I call "private use" that use which a man makes of his reason in a civic post that has been entrusted to him. In some affairs affecting the interest of the community a certain [governmental] mechanism is necessary in which some members of the community remain passive. This creates an artificial unanimity which will serve the fulfillment of public objectives, or at least keep these objectives from being destroyed. Here arguing is not permitted: one must obey. Insofar as a part of this machine considers himself at the same time a member of a universal community--a world society of citizens--(let us say that he thinks of himself as a scholar rationally addressing his public through his writings) he may indeed argue, and the affairs with which he is associated in part as a passive member will not suffer. Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes levied upon him; indeed, impertinent censure of such taxes could be punished as a scandal that might cause general disobedience. Nevertheless, this man does not violate the duties of a citizen if, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his objections to the impropriety or possible injustice of such levies. A pastor, too, is bound to preach to his congregation in accord with the doctrines of the church which he serves, for he was ordained on that condition. But as a scholar he has full freedom, indeed the obligation, to communicate to his public all his carefully examined and constructive thoughts concerning errors in that doctrine and his proposals concerning improvement of religious dogma and church institutions. This is nothing that could burden his conscience. For what he teaches in pursuance of his office as representative of the church, he represents as something which he is not free to teach as he sees it. He speaks as one who is employed to speak in the name and under the orders of another. He will say: "Our church teaches this or that; these are the proofs which it employs." Thus he will benefit his congregation as much as possible by presenting doctrines to which he may not subscribe with full conviction. He can commit himself to teach them because it is not completely impossible that they may contain hidden truth. In any event, he has found nothing in the doctrines that contradicts the heart of religion. For if he believed that such contradictions existed he would not be able to administer his office with a clear conscience. He would have to resign it. Therefore the use which a scholar makes of his reason before the congregation that employs him is only a private use, for no matter how sizable, this is only a domestic audience. In view of this he, as preacher, is not free and ought not to be free, since he is carrying out the orders of others. On the other hand, as the scholar who speaks to his own public (the world) through his writings, the minister in the public use of his reason enjoys unlimited freedom to use his own reason and to speak for himself. That the spiritual guardians of the people should themselves be treated as minors is an absurdity which would result in perpetuating absurdities.

But should a society of ministers, say a Church Council, . . . have the right to commit itself by oath to a certain unalterable doctrine, in order to secure perpetual guardianship over all its members and through them over the people? I say that this is quite impossible. Such a contract, concluded to keep all further enlightenment from humanity, is simply null and void even if it should be confirmed by the sovereign power, by parliaments, and the most solemn treaties. An epoch cannot conclude a pact that will commit succeeding ages, prevent them from increasing their significant insights, purging themselves of errors, and generally progressing in enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature whose proper destiny lies precisely in such progress. Therefore, succeeding ages are fully entitled to repudiate such decisions as unauthorized and outrageous. The touchstone of all those decisions that may be made into law for a people lies in this question: Could a people impose such a law upon itself? Now it might be possible to introduce a certain order for a definite short period of time in expectation of better order. But, while this provisional order continues, each citizen (above all, each pastor acting as a scholar) should be left free to publish his criticisms of the faults of existing institutions. This should continue until public understanding of these matters has gone so far that, by uniting the voices of many (although not necessarily all) scholars, reform proposals could be brought before the sovereign to protect those congregations which had decided according to their best lights upon an altered religious order, without, however, hindering those who want to remain true to the old institutions. But to agree to a perpetual religious constitution which is not publicly questioned by anyone would be, as it were, to annihilate a period of time in the progress of man's improvement. This must be absolutely forbidden.

A man may postpone his own enlightenment, but only for a limited period of time. And to give up enlightenment altogether, either for oneself or one's descendants, is to violate and to trample upon the sacred rights of man. What a people may not decide for itself may even less be decided for it by a monarch, for his reputation as a ruler consists precisely in the way in which he unites the will of the whole people within his own. If he only sees to it that all true or supposed [religious] improvement remains in step with the civic order, he can for the rest leave his subjects alone to do what they find necessary for the salvation of their souls. Salvation is none of his business; it is his business to prevent one man from forcibly keeping another from determining and promoting his salvation to the best of his ability. Indeed, it would be prejudicial to his majesty if he meddled in these matters and supervised the writings in which his subjects seek to bring their [religious] views into the open, even when he does this from his own highest insight, because then he exposes himself to the reproach: Caesar non est supra grammaticos. 2    It is worse when he debases his sovereign power so far as to support the spiritual despotism of a few tyrants in his state over the rest of his subjects.

When we ask, Are we now living in an enlightened age? the answer is, No, but we live in an age of enlightenment. As matters now stand it is still far from true that men are already capable of using their own reason in religious matters confidently and correctly without external guidance. Still, we have some obvious indications that the field of working toward the goal [of religious truth] is now opened. What is more, the hindrances against general enlightenment or the emergence from self-imposed nonage are gradually diminishing. In this respect this is the age of the enlightenment and the century of Frederick [the Great].

A prince ought not to deem it beneath his dignity to state that he considers it his duty not to dictate anything to his subjects in religious matters, but to leave them complete freedom. If he repudiates the arrogant word "tolerant", he is himself enlightened; he deserves to be praised by a grateful world and posterity as that man who was the first to liberate mankind from dependence, at least on the government, and let everybody use his own reason in matters of conscience. Under his reign, honorable pastors, acting as scholars and regardless of the duties of their office, can freely and openly publish their ideas to the world for inspection, although they deviate here and there from accepted doctrine. This is even more true of every person not restrained by any oath of office. This spirit of freedom is spreading beyond the boundaries [of Prussia] even where it has to struggle against the external hindrances established by a government that fails to grasp its true interest. [Frederick's Prussia] is a shining example that freedom need not cause the least worry concerning public order or the unity of the community. When one does not deliberately attempt to keep men in barbarism, they will gradually work out of that condition by themselves.

I have emphasized the main point of the enlightenment--man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage--primarily in religious matters, because our rulers have no interest in playing the guardian to their subjects in the arts and sciences. Above all, nonage in religion is not only the most harmful but the most dishonorable. But the disposition of a sovereign ruler who favors freedom in the arts and sciences goes even further: he knows that there is no danger in permitting his subjects to make public use of their reason and to publish their ideas concerning a better constitution, as well as candid criticism of existing basic laws. We already have a striking example [of such freedom], and no monarch can match the one whom we venerate.

But only the man who is himself enlightened, who is not afraid of shadows, and who commands at the same time a well disciplined and numerous army as guarantor of public peace--only he can say what [the sovereign of] a free state cannot dare to say: "Argue as much as you like, and about what you like, but obey!" Thus we observe here as elsewhere in human affairs, in which almost everything is paradoxical, a surprising and unexpected course of events: a large degree of civic freedom appears to be of advantage to the intellectual freedom of the people, yet at the same time it establishes insurmountable barriers. A lesser degree of civic freedom, however, creates room to let that free spirit expand to the limits of its capacity. Nature, then, has carefully cultivated the seed within the hard core--namely the urge for and the vocation of free thought. And this free thought gradually reacts back on the modes of thought of the people, and men become more and more capable of acting in freedom. At last free thought acts even on the fundamentals of government and the state finds it agreeable to treat man, who is now more than a machine, in accord with his dignity.

Notes

1. Translated by Mary C. Smith.

2. [Caesar is not above grammarians.]

World's first human head transplant is successfully carried out

Head transplants do not belong to the realm of science fiction any longer. Telegraph reports: "The world's first human head transplant has been carried out on a corpse in China in an 18-hour operation that showed it was possible to successfully reconnect the spine, nerves and blood vessels."

I think this head transplant operation will have a decisive impact on the philosophy of mind and body? Now the philosophers will have to revise their view of human life and human mind. This is another instance where technological development is driving philosophy.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

On Duns Scotus

“Looking back on the Middle Ages, we may tend to see in the system of Duns Scotus a bridge between the two centuries, between the age of St. Thomas and the age of Ockham; but Ockham himself certainly did not see in Scotus a kindred spirit, and I think that even if Scotus’s philosophy did prepare the way for a more radical criticism his system must be regarded as the last of the great mediaeval speculative syntheses.” ~ Frederic Copleston in A History of Philosophy (Volume II)

Monday, 13 November 2017

Aquinas and Aristotelianism

Thomas Aquinas did not reintroduce Aristotle to Europe. Aristotle was known to European scholars from the time of the Roman empire. Aquinas contributed by completing the process of absorbing Greek philosophy which had begun during the Roman period—he substituted the neo-Platonism in Christian thought with Aristotelianism and a few other elements.

Here’s an excerpt from Frederic Copleston’s A History of Philosophy: Augustine to Scotus (Volume II) (Page 561):
“In a sense we can say that neo-Platonism, Augustinianism, Aristotelianism and the Moslem and Jewish philosophies came together and were fused in Thomism, not in the sense that selected elements were juxtaposed mechanically, but in the sense that a true fusion and synthesis was achieved under the regulating guidance of certain basic ideas. Thomism, in the fullest sense, is thus a synthesis of Christian theology and Greek philosophy (Aristotelianism, united with other elements, or Aristotelianism, interpreted in the light of later philosophy) in which philosophy is regarded in the light of theology and theology itself is expressed, to a conservable extent, in categories borrowed from Greek philosophy, particularly from Aristotle.”
... Thomism is a synthesis of Christian theology and Greek philosophy, which might seem to imply that Thomism in the narrower sense, that is, as denoting simply the Thomist philosophy, is a synthesis of Greek philosophy and that it is nothing else but Greek philosophy. In the first place, it seems preferable to speak of Greek philosophy rather than of Aristotelianism, for the simple reason that St. Thomas’s philosophy was a synthesis of Platonism (using the term in a wide sense, to include neo-Platonism) and of Aristotelianism, though one should not forget that the Moslem and Jewish philosophers were also important influences in the formation of his thought.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Should a Philosophical System Have a Name?

The major philosophers in history— Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Descartes, Hume, Locke, Kant and Hegel—have not given a name to their philosophy.

The trend of philosophers giving a name to their philosophical system is less than two hundred years old—it took off in the 19th century and became a widespread phenomenon in the 20th century when almost every popular philosopher and his sidekick were bestowing a name to their system.

Auguste Comte coined the name “Altruism” for his philosophy in the 1850s. C. S. Peirce used the word “Pragmatism” for the first time in the 1870s. Later on Pragmatism was developed into a philosophical system by William James and John Dewey. In the 1920s and 1930s, the philosophical system of “Logical Positivism” was developed through the efforts of philosophers like Moritz Schlick, Hans Reichenbach, Kurt Grelling, Walter Dubislav, Karl Menger, Kurt Gödel, and a few others.

In the early 20th century, there was the rise of the “Analytic Tradition” of philosophy due to the efforts of Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G. E. Moore, Gottlob Frege, and the Logical Positivist philosophers. Søren Kierkegaard, who is generally regarded as the first Existentialist philosopher did his work in the 19th century, but Existentialism became popular in the 20th century when Jean-Paul Sartre appropriated the term “Existentialism” to describe his own ideas.

The fiction writer Ayn Rand started using the term “Objectivism” in the 1960s to describe her philosophy of reason and individualism. In the 1980s, Jacques Derrida coined the term “Deconstructivism” to describe his postmodernist ideas of art and culture.

The most important quality of these 19th and 20th century philosophies, which have a unique name, is that they evoke the feeling of cultism. Auguste Comte had initially conceived Altruism as a spiritual movement—he even planned to build churches to propagate the altruist doctrine. Pragmatism under James and Dewey had a cult like atmosphere. In Logical Positivism and the Analytic Tradition the key philosophers were treated like some kind of omniscient God.

In the heydays of Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre was treated as an intellectual pope of the world whose every word must be regarded as the gospel truth. Ayn Rand’s Objectivism has been charged by several intellectuals of having a cult like environment in which the top Objectivist philosophers are deified. Jacques Derrida’s Deconstructivism has worsened the problem of cultism in the postmodernist movement.

The question that I ask in the title of this article is: "Should a Philosophical System Have a Name?"

My answer is that it is wrong to give a name to a philosophical system. A philosopher has the copyright to the books and essays he writes and the lectures that he delivers, and that is enough to safeguard the integrity of his work and his legacy. The philosophy that distills out of his works, is in essence, his way of describing man’s place in the world—it does not need a name. If a philosopher gives a name to his philosophy, he is essentially starting a cult.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

You Don’t Have The Right to be Wrong

Freedom of belief is seen as an important value in our society—it is interpreted as the right not to be coerced into believing something. This is correct. But many people believe that freedom of belief grants them a right to hold a false belief, and that they have the right to be wrong. They think that the freedom of thought necessitates the freedom to make mistakes.

In his article, “Is There a Right to be Wrong?” David Oderberg shows that there is nothing called the right to be wrong and no one has the freedom to make mistakes. He writes: “Morality itself demands that we seek and believe only the truth, since only the truth satisfies our rational nature. It is the truth that sets us free, not error. Of course knowing the truth is not always easy, especially in times such as these when diversity of opinion is prized as a great social value.”

Freedom does not mean the freedom to hold false belief because if you hold a false belief you are in essence a slave to your ignorance. Oderberg rightly says that “as the lost man wandering the desert without a map is free to explore any direction he likes but is in reality a slave to his ignorance. It is the man with a map who is truly free.”

Oderberg ends his article with these lines:
The ‘right to be wrong’ is, I conclude, a myth. There is an obligation to weigh evidence and to assess argument, and you may be blameless in your embracing of a falsehood as long as that embrace occurs despite the proper use of your intellect rather than as a consequence of its misuse. To say or imply, however, that a person has the right to embrace falsehood is to assist in the spreading of the sort of indifferentism and syncretism that is one of the hallmarks of contemporary society.
People have the right to believe in the truth, which means that they do not have the right to believe in falsehoods. The right to be wrong is a modern myth.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Aristotle and Contemporary Science

Routledge has released a new anthology Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science, edited by William M. R. Simpson, Robert C. Koons, and Nicholas J. Teh.

This book has essays by Xavi Lanao, Edward Feser, Nicholas Teh, Robert Koons, Alexander Pruss, William Simpson, Tuomas Tahko, Christopher Austin, Anna Marmodoro, David Oderberg, Janice Chik, William Jaworski, and Daniel De Haan, and a foreword by John Haldane.

The book's description says:
"Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science aims to fill this gap in the literature by bringing together essays on the relationship between Aristotelianism and science that cut across interdisciplinary boundaries. The chapters in this volume are divided into two main sections covering the philosophy of physics and the philosophy of the life sciences. Featuring original contributions from distinguished and early-career scholars, this book will be of interest to specialists in analytical metaphysics and the philosophy of science."