Wednesday, 20 September 2017

An Autopsy of The Objectivist Standpoint on Kant

Ayn Rand has called Immanuel Kant the most evil man in mankind's history. She and her Objectivist followers assert that some of the worst philosophical and political problems of our age have been inspired by Kantian ideas.

But Fred Seddon, in his article, “Kant on Faith,” shows that Rand’s position on Kant is outrageous and is the outcome of sloppy thinking and ignorance of Kant’s texts.

This sentence from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is often quoted in Objectivist literature:

“I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

In Kant's original German writing, this is how this sentence appears:

"Ich mubte also das Wissen aufheben, um zum Glauben Platz zu bekommen,..." 

Seddon says that the Objectivist philosophers have misunderstood the ideas which Kant wants to communicate by the words “knowledge” and “faith.”

Here’s a look at the line of arguments that Seddon uses in his article to clarify the meaning of the above quoted sentence from Kant:

1. The sentence occurs in the preface to the second edition of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. In the time of Kant it was generally believed that the preface is not the right place for making important philosophical points. The important points are generally made in the chapters that follow the preface.

2. Before writing that sentence Kant posits that knowledge is either scientific or “a merely random groping.” He holds that metaphysics is in the latter category, while logic, mathematics and science are in the former category as they follow the path of science. He wants metaphysics to be science rather than a “merely random groping.”

3. Kant points out that logic, mathematics, and physics are secure sciences because their domain of inquiry is limited. Rand has berated Kant for saying that the sciences are limited. But her criticism is not valid, because Kant is simply saying that science is valid only so long as it deals with the world.

4. Kant makes a distinction between general and special metaphysics, and between reason in its speculative versus reason in its practical employment. In context of this discussion, the most important distinction Kant makes is between knowledge and thought. By examining the sentences in which Kant has elucidated his view of knowledge and thought, Seddon conjectures that Kant’s intention may have been to use the word “Gedanke” (which means “thought”), but for some reason he ended up with“Glaube” (which means “faith” or “belief”).

5. Even if we accept that Kant’s original intention was to use the “Glaube” in the sentence, it is clear that there is a fundamental difference between what he means by Glaube/faith and what the Objectivists mean by “faith.”

6. For Ayn Rand “faith” is a claim to a strange kind of knowledge which is not based on evidence or proof, but that is precisely what Kant is trying to deny.

7. The German word “Glaube” has been translated in English in two ways: “belief” and “faith”. It is noteworthy that for Kant there is only one word, “Glaube”, but his translators have rendered that word into two English words: “belief” and “faith”.

8. In the later section of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant divides belief into that having to do with skill versus that having to do with morality. For instance, a doctor uses his skill when he diagnoses a patient’s diseases by observing his symptoms. An example of a moral belief will be the doctrine of the existence of God. However, Seddon points out that Kant does not mean by “God,” a substantive or constitutive concept, but rather a merely regulative one.

9. Kant does not believe in God. He places God in the service of science by positing that God orders things systematically and human beings can hope to find that system.

10. According to Kant, all knowledge is a product of both the sensory and the rational. For example, we cannot know God, even though we can think him.

11.Kant’s sentence is: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” Seddon posits that if we take into account the idea that Kant is trying to communicate, we can rewrite this sentence as: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for thought.”

12. What are the idea which Kant is trying to counter in this sentence. Seddon says that the dogmatists (the rationalists) are one of the groups that Kant names in the same page where the sentence occurs in his book. Metaphysics, Kant believed, is a playground for the rationalists because it is not based on science. But if we reject metaphysics, then we must jettison any belief in free will and hence morality

13. Kant’s aim in the Critique of Pure Reason is to save morality by critiquing pure reason. However, his conclusions undercut both the rationalists and the skeptics.


Fred Seddon’s “Kant on Faith,” is published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 7, no. 1 (Fall 2005), Page 189–202


Peter Cresswell said...

Anoop, it’s disappointing to see you seduced by Mr Seddon who, in my encounters with him, I found to be grandstanding, evasive, and thoroughly dishonest in debating. Moreover, his ‘positions’ on Kant, such as they are, seemed (and seem) to me to be more about carving out a unique place for himself in academia (look, I’m the Objectivist who loves Kant!) than they are about honest inquiry.

His position on Kant, by the way, is not just unique in Objectivism, it is unique in the field os philosophical inquiry. Moreover, it is thoroughly without any base.

You see, I and many others have debated this and related issues with him before. His pseudo-points are neither new nor important. (See for example my various responses to the dishonest jerk here, here and here, and also the many subsequent comments.

Regarding Mr Seddon’s equivocation over the word ‘Glauben,’ for example, Michelle Cohen pointed out in her comments that if Kant intended to mean what Mr Seddon *pretends* him to mean (because I am convinced he is either dumb or dishonest, and I don’t think he is totally dumb), then Kant could simply have used the German word ‘Gedanke’ instead of the word ‘Glauben’ :

But ‘Kant *did* use the German word "Glauben" which means "faith" or "belief."  He did *not* use the German word "Gedanke" which means "thought" in the sense of "conceiving of" or "imagining" that which cannot be known. Fred claims that Kant really meant to say "Gedanke," but somehow said "Glauben."  Well, as long as he said "Glauben," subsequent philosophers simply took him at his word.
‘…Essentially, he said that there is a realm beyond knowledge. Whether this realm is founded on faith or on "conceiving of what cannot be known" is really inconsequential. Once the possibility of such a realm is accepted, all hell breaks loose.’

[continued in Part 2 below.]

Peter Cresswell said...

Furthermore, as the point about Kant’s word-choice is so important to Mr Seddon’s pretended point, an honest academic would have produced some sort of philological exegesis of these words (such as comparisons of the many ways in which the word was used contemporaneously). He would have, but that wouldn’t have helped him. Wagner, for example, in his religiously-based music drama ‘Parsifal’ uses a phrase that signals the transformation that drives the whole drama : “Selig im Glauben, Selig in Liebe.” (This is appears in older translations usually as “Blessed believing, Blessed in loving,” and in most newer ones I’ve seen as “Blessed in faith …”). To give you some context, this first appears at the conclusion of the opera’s First Act, in which a poor fool has just watched a religious Eucharist performed, and the chorus sings “Selig im Glauben, Selig in Liebe,” indicating the transformation the reality-based fool needs to undergo. (He will become the leader of the faith, who at the climax leads the Eucharist himself. And by the way: the place in which this drama takes place, we are told, is “outside time and space.”)

And Kant himself is hardly equivocal on the world’s meaning. Mr Seddon himself quotes Kant as saying “[Glauben] is the holding-to-be-true out of a ground that is objectively insufficient but subjectively sufficient.” In other words, something without evidence (“objectively insufficient”) for which I nonetheless feel something (“subjectively sufficient”). This would place ‘Glauben’ therefore (for Kant, who is using the term) in a position between mere opinion (in which neither condition is sufficient), and knowledge (in which both conditions are met).

And if so we might therefore translate the fateful phrase as saying that Kant’s critical philosophy is attempting to limit knowledge in favour of ‘subjectively sufficient’ belief - which is to say that Kant is doing essentially what Objectivists have claimed him all along to be doing.

In which case, Mr Seddon is once again revealed as thoroughly dishonest.

Anonymous said...

Rand a sloppy thinker? Quelle surprise!

Sloppy is a very mild way to describe any "philosopher" who would attempt to graft an Aristotelian veneer onto to a Nietzschean foundation and frame as she did. And as Jennifer Burns describes in Goddess of the Market, Rand's system is fundamentally Nietzschean.

Anoop Verma said...

Peter, thank you for your comment. I am going through all the links that you have sent.

Ultimate Philosopher said...

an Anonymous troll wrote: "Sloppy is a very mild way to describe any "philosopher" who would attempt to graft an Aristotelian veneer onto to a Nietzschean foundation and frame as she did. And as Jennifer Burns describes in Goddess of the Market, Rand's system is fundamentally Nietzschean."

Jennifer Burns is only one scholar of Rand, and not a philosopher by training like a good number of others I could name. How much of the secondary literature on Rand have you read?