Saturday, 23 December 2017

Plotinus’s Aristotelian Road to Plato

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 a compendium of Aristotelian thoughts, and its focus is on Aristotle's 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 view of 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 many more references to Aristotle's other works.

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 notes that 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: "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 says 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 complained that Garve had not understood him, and decided to write a response, which came in the form of 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.

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 another 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.

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

In the Introduction to his book Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics, Paul Guyer talks about Plato’s role as the originator of the philosophical debate on aesthetics. He notes that while Plato asked the right questions concerning several issues in aesthetics, Aristotle provided the answers to those 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

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 an important component of his overall 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 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

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.]

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)

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. But it is generally believed that freedom of belief grants people the 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 says, “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." 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Aristotle’s Truly Happy Man

Frederic Copleston on Aristotle’s eudaemonistic ethic:
Aristotle’s ethic was thus eudaemonistic in character, teleological, and markedly intellectualist, since it is clear that for him contemplation meant philosophical contemplation: he was not referring to a religious phenomenon, such as the ecstasy of Plotinus. Moreover, the end (telos) of moral activity is an end to be acquired in this life: as far as the ethics of Aristotle are concerned there is no hint of any vision of God in the next life, and it is indeed questionable whether he believed in personal immortality at all. Aristotle’s truly happy man is the philosopher, not the saint. 
(Source: History of Philosophy (Volume II): Augustine to Scotus by Frederic Copleston; Chapter 29, “St. Thomas Aquinas: Moral Theory”)

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Aristotle and Common Sense

Here’s an excerpt from Edward Feser’s article, “Aristotle, Call Your Office”:
To untutored common sense, the natural world is filled with irreducibly different kinds of objects and qualities: people; dogs and cats; trees and flowers; rocks, dirt, and water; colors, odors, sounds; heat and cold; meanings and purposes. A man is a radically different sort of thing from a rose, which is in turn no less different from a stone. The warmth of the stone and the redness and fragrance of the rose are features no less real than their shapes or movements; the function of an ear or an eye and the meaning of a human thought or utterance are no less a part of objective reality than a man’s height or weight.  
Aristotle and the Scholastic tradition that built on his thought took the view that common sense was essentially correct. It needed to be systematized and refined, and when its implications were drawn out they would lead to metaphysical conclusions far beyond anything the man on the street is likely to have dreamed of, or even to understand. But a sound philosophy and science would nevertheless build on common sense rather than radically undermine it.  
The founders of modern philosophy and science overthrew Aristotelianism, and common sense along with it. On the new view of nature inaugurated by Galileo and Descartes, the material world is comprised of nothing more than colorless, odorless, soundless, meaningless, purposeless particles in motion, describable in purely mathematical terms. The differences between dirt, water, rocks, trees, dogs, cats, and human bodies are on this view superficial. 
Indeed, at bottom these are all just the same kinds of thing”arrangements within the one vast ocean of physical particles, the differences between the arrangements ultimately no deeper than the differences between waves on the same sea. Color, sound, odor, heat, and cold”understood in the qualitative way common sense understands them”are relegated to the mind, existing only in our conscious representation of the natural world, not in the world itself. Color, sound, and the rest as objective features would be redefined in quantitative terms”reflectance properties of physical surfaces, compression waves, and the like.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

On Teleology and Self-Perfection

David S. Oderberg in his essay, "The Great Unifier: Form and Unity of the Organism":
For the many philosophers who reflexively recoil at talk of teleology and final causes, the idea can be put in a different yet familiar way: organisms act for their own sustenance, maintenance, and development. Their parts all serve the overall goal of the organism’s flourishing. The organism, unless it has reason, does not set itself this goal; and even rational animals such as ourselves do not set every element of our goal of flourishing as human beings: much of what we do is no more than what happens to us or consists of the processes we inevitably undergo for our own sustenance, maintenance, and development. Yet the goal is there, however we got it and however any organism of any kind got it. Using more traditional terminology, I claim that organisms display immanent causation: causation that originates with an agent and terminates in that agent for the sake of its self-perfection . By ‘self-perfection’ I do not mean that there is some ideal type that every organism strives to reach. The idea is far more modest—namely that every organism aims, whether consciously or not, at the fulfilment of its potentialities such that it achieves a good state of being, indeed the best state it can reach given the limitations of its kind and its environment. Immanent causation is a kind of teleology, but metaphysically distinctive in what it involves. It is not just action for a purpose, but for the agent’s own purpose, where ‘own purpose’ means not merely that the agent acts for a purpose it possesses, but that it acts for a purpose it possesses such that fulfilment of the purpose contributes to the agent’s self-perfection.
This essay is published in the book, Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science (Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Science), Edited by William M.R. Simpson,‎ Robert C. Koons,‎ and Nicholas J. Teh

Monday, 30 October 2017

Elizabeth Anscombe’s Modern Moral Philosophy

In her essay, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” Elizabeth Anscombe argues that the secular approaches to moral theory, like Mill’s utilitarianism and Kantian deontology, are without any foundation. She says that utilitarianism leads the endorsement of evil deeds, while Kantian ethics, with its notion of self-legislation, is incoherent. She begins her essay with these words: “Concepts of obligation, and duty — moral obligation and moral duty, that is to say — and of what is morally right and wrong, and of the moral sense of "ought," ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible; because they are survivals, or derivatives from survivals, from an earlier conception of ethics which no longer generally survives, and are only harmful without it.”

She suggests that unless there is a divine entity, the concepts such as “morally ought,” “morally obligated,” “morally right,” cannot be justified. A moral theory, she holds, requires a legislator to legislate what is morally right. In her view the modern ethical philosophers are making a mistake when they talk about actions that are “morally right or morally wrong,” but fail to define the entity which promulgates the moral law. According to Anscombe, without the idea of divine, the concept of “morally right and morally wrong” is meaningless. She posits that the secular philosophers should use terms such as “untruthful,” “unchaste,” “unjust.”

“I should judge that Hume and our present-day ethicists had done a considerable service by showing that no content could be found in the notion "morally ought"; if it were not that the latter philosophers try to find an alternative (very fishy) content and to retain the psychological force of the term. It would be most reasonable to drop it. It has no reasonable sense outside a law conception of ethics; they are not going to maintain such a conception; and you can do ethics without it, as is shown by the example of Aristotle. It would be a great improvement if, instead of "morally wrong," one always named a genus such as "untruthful," "unchaste," "unjust." We should no longer ask whether doing something was "wrong," passing directly from some description of an action to this notion; we should ask whether, e.g., it was unjust…”

However, Anscombe is not asserting that only the religious thinkers are entitled to talk about what is morally right and what one morally ought to do. Her contention is that the “morally ought” is often used by secular philosophers in a way that makes no sense. She says that it will be better if the philosophers use the word “just.” Anscombe's “Modern Moral Philosophy” has influenced the development of virtue ethics in the past few decades. It is notable that the term "consequentialism" was first coined by her in this essay. She uses this term to describe the central errors in secular moral philosophies, such as those propounded by Mill and Sidgwick.