Saturday, 30 June 2018

Schopenhauer On Kant and Scholasticism

Schopenhauer’s Bust in Frankfurt
Arthur Schopenhauer makes seven references to scholasticism in his essay, “Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy” (Chapter: Appendix; The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1). He suggests that scholasticism lasted for 1400 years before Immanuel Kant. But this means that scholasticism predates Thomas Aquinas, and that the scholastic system got manifested towards the end of the Roman Empire when there was a significant rise in the power and influence of Christianity.

Here’s an excerpt from Schopenhauer’s essay, “Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy”:
That Kant's great achievements were bound to be accompanied by great errors is easy to understand on merely historical grounds. For although he effected the greatest revolution in philosophy, and did away with scholasticism, which in the above-mentioned wider sense had lasted for fourteen hundred years, in order really to begin an entirely new third world-epoch in philosophy, the immediate result of his appearance was, however, in practice only negative, not positive.
Schopenhauer points out that Kant was unable to break away from scholasticism in every region of his philosophy. As an example of the bad segments in Kantian philosophy which are reminiscent of a scholastic mindset, Schopenhauer mentions the chapter on the Transcendental Ideal in Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason.  “There now follows the chapter on the Transcendental Ideal, which at once takes us back to the rigid scholasticism of the Middle Ages.” The use of the word "rigid" is significant in this sentence because it signifies that Schopenhauer believed that scholasticism which existed since the end of the Roman Empire became more rigid during the Middle Ages. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

Locke’s Philosophy of Revelations and Miracles

Portrait of John Locke 
John Locke, in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Book 4), says that tedious labor is required to test the genuineness of a revelation. He attacks the enthusiasts who claim to have experienced divine revelations, referring to them as “men in whom melancholy has mixed with devotion, or whose conceit of themselves has raised them into an opinion of a greater familiarity with God, and a nearer admittance to his favour than is afforded to others, have often flattered themselves with a persuasion of an immediate intercourse with the Deity, and frequent communications from the Divine Spirit.” (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 5)

The enthusiasts are clearly violating Locke’s principles of religious beliefs which he has described in the earlier sections of his book. He notes that “all their confidence is mere presumption: and this light they are so dazzled with is nothing but an ignis fatuus, that leads them constantly round in this circle; It is a revelation, because they firmly believe it; and they believe it, because it is a revelation.” (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 10)

He says when we give a hearing to an enthusiast who is claiming that God has spoken to him, we must not forgo of our reason—we must only believe what is in accord with reason:
Revelation must be judged of by reason. He, therefore, that will not give himself up to all the extravagances of delusion and error must bring this guide of his light within to the trial. God when he makes the Prophet does not unmake the Man. He leaves all his Faculties in their natural State, to enable him to judge of his Inspirations, whether they be of divine Original or no. When he illuminates the Mind with supernatural Light, he does not extinguish that which is natural. If he would have us assent to the Truth of any Proposition, he either evidences that Truth by the usual Methods of natural Reason, or else makes it known to be a Truth, which he would have us assent to, by his Authority, and convinces us that it is from him, by some Marks which Reason cannot be mistaken in. Reason must be our last Judge and Guide in every Thing. I do not mean, that we must consult Reason, and examine whether a Proposition revealed from God can be made out by natural Principles, and if it cannot, that then we may reject it: But consult it we must, and by it examine, whether it be a Revelation from God or no: And if Reason finds it to be revealed from GOD, Reason then declares for it, as much as for any other Truth, and makes it one of her Dictates. Every Conceit that throughly warms our Fancies must pass for an Inspiration, if there be nothing but the Strength of our Perswasions, whereby to judge of our Perswasions: If Reason must not examine their Truth by something extrinsical to the Perswasions them selves; Inspirations and Delusions, Truth and Falshood will have the same Measure, and will not be possible to be distinguished. (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 14)
However, Locke is willing to accept the occurrence of a revelation if there is an evidence that a miracle has taken place:
We see the holy Men of old, who had Revelations from GOD, had something else besides that internal Light of assurance in their own Minds, to testify to them, that it was from GOD. They were not left to their own Perswasions alone, that those perswasions were from GOD; But had outward Signs to convince them of the Author of those Revelations. And when they were to convince others, they had a Power given them to justify the Truth of their Commission from Heaven; and by visible Signs to assert the divine Authority of the Message they were sent with. (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 15) 
Locke proceeds to offer examples of Biblical miracles that he believes have happened and must be accepted by all as truth. The idea that miracles can be taken as proof of divine revelation is problematic, but Locke has not addressed this problem.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Schopenhauer’s Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy

Arthur Schopenhauer, in his essay, “Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy” (Chapter: Appendix; The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1), makes it clear that he is indebted to Kantian philosophy. He holds Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason as the work of a great genius, and says that Kant is so far ahead that it will take time for rest of mankind to understand the importance of his work. “Thus the whole strength and importance of Kant's teaching will become evident only in the course of time, when the spirit of the age, itself gradually reformed and altered in the most important and essential respect by the influence of that teaching, furnishes living evidence of the power of that giant mind.”

However, Schopenhauer’s essay is highly polemical and is devoted to identifying the mistakes that Kant has made in his philosophy. He believes that he will make Kantian philosophy shine brightly and endure more positively by identifying and neutralizing the myriad errors that Kant himself brought into it. Schopenhauer accepts that despite the great innovation in ideas that Kant has brought to philosophy, his impact has been mostly negative. “For although he effected the greatest revolution in philosophy, and did away with scholasticism, which in the above-mentioned wider sense had lasted for fourteen hundred years, in order really to begin an entirely new third world-epoch in philosophy, the immediate result of his appearance was, however, in practice only negative, not positive.”

I will talk about Schopenhauer's detailed criticism of the important aspects of Kantian philosophy in my next blogs—in this one I will focus on his criticism of Kant’s writing style. Here's an excerpt:
Kant's exposition is often indistinct, indefinite, inadequate, and occasionally obscure. This obscurity is certainly to be excused in part by the difficulty of the subject and the depth of the ideas. Yet whoever is himself clear to the bottom, and knows quite distinctly what he thinks and wants, will never write indistinctly, never set up wavering and indefinite concepts, or pick up from foreign languages extremely difficult and complicated expressions to denote such concepts, in order to continue using such expressions afterwards, as Kant took words and formulas from earlier, even scholastic, philosophy. These he combined with one another for his own purpose, as for example, "transcendental synthetic unity of apperception," and in general "unity of synthesis," which he always uses where "union" or "combination" would be quite sufficient by itself. Moreover, such a man will not always be explaining anew what has already been explained once, as Kant does, for example, with the understanding, the categories, experience, and other main concepts. Generally, such a man will not incessantly repeat himself, and yet, in every new presentation of an idea that has already occurred a hundred times, leave it again in precisely the same obscure passages. On the contrary, he will express his meaning once distinctly, thoroughly, and exhaustively, and leave it at that. 
Schopenhauer laments that by his complicated style of writing, Kant legitimized the use of obscure language in philosophy and thereby enabled the madness of Hegel:
The public had been forced to see that what is obscure is not always without meaning; what was senseless and without meaning at once took refuge in obscure exposition and language. Fichte was the first to grasp and make vigorous use of this privilege; Schelling at least equalled him in this, and a host of hungry scribblers without intellect or honesty soon surpassed them both. But the greatest effrontery in serving up sheer nonsense, in scrabbling together senseless and maddening webs of words, such as had previously been heard only in madhouses, finally appeared in Hegel. It became the instrument of the most ponderous and general mystification that has ever existed, with a result that will seem incredible to posterity, and be a lasting monument of German stupidity.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Kant, Jacobi, and Wizenmann in Battle

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi; Immanuel Kant
It was difficult for Immanuel Kant to stay out of the Pantheism controversy as both sides of the dispute wanted to have him as an ally. Those on the side of the “party of faith,” Johann Georg Hamann, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, and Thomas Wizenmann were eager to gain Kant’s support. On the other side were Moses Mendelssohn and his supporters, trying their best to cajole Kant to fight for their cause.

With the intention of compelling Kant to join him, Jacobi declared in early 1785 that Kant was a “philosopher of faith.” Hamann tried to encourage Kant to launch an attack on Mendelssohn’s Spinozism. But after Mendelssohn’s death in January 1786, Kant came under pressure from Mendelssohn’s allies to speak out against Jacobi and avenge Mendelssohn’s death.

In May 1786, Wizenmann published a tract in which he posited that all philosophy ends in Spinozism, and therefore atheism and fatalism cannot be avoided.

In his essay “Kant, Jacobi, and Wizenmann in Battle,” (Chapter 4; The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte), Frederick C. Beiser has this to say about Wizenmann’s use of Kantian premises to make a case for religion:
Where Jacobi is vague and merely suggestive, Wizenmann is clear and bluntly argumentative. His argument is especially interesting since it begins with Kantian premises and then draws fideistic conclusions from them. In the hands of the pietists an essentially Kantian-style epistemology becomes a powerful weapon in humbling the claims of reason and uplifting those of faith. 
The main premise of Wizenmann's argument is his definition of reason, which he explicitly states at the very beginning. According to this definition, which is truly Kantian in spirit, the task of reason is to relate facts, that is, to compare and contrast them, or to infer them from one another. But it cannot create or reveal facts, which must be given to it. Appealing to Kant's criticism of the ontological argument, Wizenmann advances the general thesis that it is not possible for reason to demonstrate the existence of anything. If we are to know that something exists, then it has to be given to us in experience. Of course, it is possible to infer the existence of something, but only when the existence of something else is already known. All inferences are only hypothetical in form, Wizenmann explains, such that we can infer the existence of one thing only if another is already given. Hence Wizenmann concludes in the manner of Kant that there is a twofold source of knowledge: experience, which gives us knowledge of matters of fact; and reason, which relates these facts through inference. 
On the basis of this Kantian definition and distinction, Wizenmann builds his case for positive religion. 
Wizenmann’s tract served the purpose of making Kant aware that Jacobi and Mendelssohn were heading in the direction of irrationalism and he had to intervene. But there were several other pressures that finally goaded Kant into action—with Jacobi and Mendelssohn trying to appropriate him for their own cause, Kant ran the risk of being seen as either a philosopher of faith or a philosopher dogmatic fanatical atheism. He disagreed with both the stances.

Finally in October 1786, Kant published his first contribution to the Pantheism controversy, an essay called “What Does it Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?”  Here’s Beiser’s perspective on the stand that Kant took on the Pantheism controversy in his essay:
In this essay Kant takes a middle position between Jacobi and Mendelssohn. He accepts some of their principles but refuses to draw such drastic conclusions from them. On the one hand, he agrees with Jacobi that knowledge cannot justify faith; but he disagrees with his conclusion that reason cannot justify it. On the other hand, he concurs with Mendelssohn that it is necessary to justify faith through reason; but he does not accept the conclusion that to justify faith through reason demands knowledge.  
What allows Kant to steer a middle path between Jacobi and Mendelssohn is his denial of one of their common premises: that reason is a faculty of knowledge, a theoretical faculty whose purpose is to know things-in- themselves or the unconditioned. Resting his case upon the central thesis of the second Kritik, which would appear only fourteen months later in January 1788, Kant assumes that reason is a practical faculty: it does not describe the unconditioned, but prescribes it as an end of conduct. Reason prescribes the unconditioned in either of two senses: when it commands us to seek the final condition for a series of conditions in nature; or when it commands us categorically to perform certain actions, regardless of our interests and circumstances. In both these cases the unconditioned is not an entity that we know, but an ideal for our conduct, whether that be scientific inquiry or moral action. By thus separating reason from knowledge, Kant creates the opportunity for a rational justification of faith independent of metaphysics. 
At the very heart of Kant's essay is his concept of 'rational faith' (Vernunftglaube). This he defines as faith based solely on reason. 
The concept of “rational faith,” allows Kant to walk the middle path between Mendelssohn’s dogmatism and Jacobi’s mysticism. He also makes the point that both Mendelssohn and Jacobi are guilty of undermining reason, which he says must always remain the final criterion of truth in philosophy. He accuses Jacobi and Wizenmann of irrationalism, and concludes that only critical philosophy can uphold reason.

In February 1787, only four months after the publication of Kant’s essay, Wizenmann wrote an an open letter to Kant—in it he rebutted Kant’s charges and pointed out the deficiencies in the Kantian concept of practical faith. Jacobi too realized that Kant would never join his cause, and he wrote a very influential criticism of Kantian philosophy.

On Jacobi’s attack on Kant, Beiser says:
Jacobi sees Kant's philosophy, especially as it is consistently and systematically developed by Fichte, as the paradigm of all philosophy—and hence as the very epitome of nihilism. Jacobi's attack on philosophy has now become first and foremost an attack on Kant, and in particular on Fichte, whom Jacobi sees as nothing more than a radical Kantian.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Virtue and Moral Philosophy

In Varieties of Goodness, Georg Henrik von Wright has devoted a chapter to the discussion of the philosophy of virtues—he criticizes and departs from the traditional doctrine of virtues proposed by Aristotle and Aquinas. But in her essay, “Von Wright on Virtue,” (Chapter 7; Moral Dilemmas: and other topics in moral philosophy), Philippa Foot suggests that while von Wright is correct in thinking that the topic needs to be reopened and developed there is more to the point of view of Aristotle and Aquinas than he allows.

Explaining von Wright’s objective behind his article on virtue, Philippa Foot writes:
Kant’s dictum about logic—that it had made no real progress since Aristotle—could, he says, be applied with at least equally good justification to the ethics of virtue, and he seems to see the future development of the philosophy of the virtues in terms of radical change. So he sets out to shape a new concept of virtue and one sees how far von Wright is prepared to go in throwing over old doctrines when one realizes that he is happy with a definition which explodes two of the four cardinal virtues of ancient and medieval morality. 
She notes that von Wright seems to be preoccupied with the need to distinguish a virtue, in the sense in which the term is used today, from an art or skill. He is of the view that Aristotle got misled by the peculiarities of the Greek language and failed to see the major gulf that exists between a virtue and an art or skill.
Von Wright’s own answer to the question ‘How does a virtue differ from an art or a skill?’ is as follows. If one possesses a skill, or is master of an art, one has what he calls ‘technical goodness’ and technical goodness is a matter of being good at performing some specific activity, such as running, skiing, or singing. A virtue must be different because there is no specific activity connected with any virtue, and therefore nothing for a man of virtue to be good at
But Philippa Foot says that that von Wright’s thinking that the distinction between arts or skills and virtues depends on the denial that the latter are connected with specific activities is mistaken.
…however close the connection between certain virtues and certain activities a man does not possess the virtue by being good at the activity. The reason for this was indicated quite correctly by Aristotle when he said that in art he who errs voluntarily is preferable, whereas in the matter of wisdom, justice, etc., it is the reverse. Thus, to use Aristotle’s example, a grammarian who commits a solecism on purpose does not give any evidence of deficiency in the art of grammar, whereas no one could rebut a charge of injustice or folly by saying that he chose to act unjustly or foolishly. 
Von Wright has made the argument about considerateness—he says that virtue is a form of self-mastery, or of being considerate. A considerate man knows how to control his selfish impulses so far as these might inference with his judgments about the harm that will come to others through possible action of his. He refers to courage as a virtue most often in his discussion. But Philippa Foot shows that there exists a closer connection between the concept of courage and that of good action than von Wright allows. 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Locke’s Quest for a Demonstrative Science of Morality

Portrait of John Locke 
John Locke believed that a demonstrative science of morality can be proved—and he hoped to use the idea of existence of God and his knowledge of human nature to develop a set of universally valid and demonstrable laws of morality.

In his letter to Locke (Dated: 27 August 1692), William Molyneux requests Locke to produce a treatise of morals. Here’s an excerpt from Molyneux’s letter:
One Thing I must needs insist on to you, which is, that you would think of Obleidging the World, with a Treatise of Morals, drawn up according to the Hints you frequently give in Your Essay, Of their Being Demonstrable according to the Mathematical Method. This is Most Certainly True. But then the task must be undertaken only by so Clear and Distinct a Thinker as you are. This were an Attempt worthy you Consideration. And there is Nothing I should More ardently wish for, than to see it. And therefore, Good Sir, Let me Beg of you to turn your thoughts this way. and if so Young a Freinship as mine have any force; Let me prevail on you.
In his reply to Molyneux (Dated: 20 September 1692), Locke says:
Though by the view I had of moral ideas, whilst I was considering that subject, I thought I saw that morality might be demonstratively made out, yet whether I am able so to make it out is another question. Every one could not have demonstrated what Mr. Newton’s book hath shewn to be demonstrable: but to shew my readiness to obey your commands, I shall not decline the first leisure I can get to employ some thoughts that way; unless I find what I have said in my Essay shall have stir’d up some abler man to prevent me, and effectually to that service to the world.
But Locke was unable to produce scientific laws of morality. His failure to achieve what he said could be achieved, and his appeal to theology for explaining the duty and the motivation to act morally, is a fundamental flaw in his moral theory.