Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Camus on The Absurd Life of Sisyphus

Sisyphus by Titian, 1549
Albert Camus notes in his essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” (Chapter 4; The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus), that the Gods are wise because they understand that an eternity of fruitless labor is the most hideous punishment that can be inflicted on man.

Sisyphus lusted for happiness in his life but the Gods mete out to him the punishment of rolling a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he is close to the top. He must keep repeating the labor for eternity without any hope of success.

But even though his life is mired in ceaseless struggle, futility, and hopelessness, Sisyphus is not necessarily unhappy. Camus ends the essay with the sentence: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” He says that Sisyphus can be happy if he accepts his fate—if he accepts that the meaning of life is futile, senseless labor, and there is nothing that he can do to change the situation. Here’s an excerpt from Camus’s essay:
All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is a thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.  
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. 
According to Camus, happiness and absurdity are closely connected. Happiness can come to a human being only when he accepts that life is absurd and there is nothing that he can do to change his fate. Men do not have any choice in the matter. We have to accept life as it dawns on us—to even think of bringing about an improvement in our condition is a recipe for unhappiness. Happiness is only possible to those who accept their fate— Sisyphus is happy because he accepted his fate. There is certainly too much of pessimism and fatalism in Camus. 

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Murray Rothbard, Nathaniel Branden, and Ayn Rand

Murray Rothbard
When Murray N. Rothbard met Ayn Rand in 1958, he was a great devotee of her literature and philosophy. He thought that Atlas Shrugged was the greatest book, fiction or nonfiction, ever written. But within six months Rothbard was excommunicated from Rand’s circle by Nathaniel Branden (then Rand’s main associate and lover) who was infuriated by Rothbard’s failure to acknowledge Rand as the source of some ideas on causality and free will that he had used in his essay.

Branden offers a brief description of this episode in his book My Years With Ayn Rand—but his account is not convincing, because he does not give any clue about the nature of the ideas that he believed Rothbard had picked up from Rand. In any case, Rothbard claimed (and proved) that he had got those ideas from an Aristotelian scholar in the Middle Ages and not from Rand. I think Branden got Rothbard excommunicated over a non-issue. If the ideas were originally developed by a philosopher in the Middle Ages, then there was no need for Rothbard to acknowledge Rand as the source. Rand didn’t originate those ideas; someone else did.

Rothbard’s excommunication didn’t go as smoothly as other Objectivist excommunications of that period. He was not a pushover—instead of disappearing quietly into the sunset, he retaliated by declaring an all out intellectual war on those who had dared to excommunicate him. He went on to write several articles in which he savagely attacked Rand and Branden, and brought to light a number of inconsistencies in their philosophy of Objectivism.

In 1968, it was Branden’s turn to get excommunicated from Rand’s circle. Of course, his excommunication was much more dramatic and emotionally charged than that of Rothbard.

Rothbard’s polemical essay, “The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult,” is a devastating critique of Rand's Objectivist movement. He sees two parts in Rand’s movement — the exoteric and the esoteric. The exoteric component is attractive as it is explicitly atheist, anti-religious, and an extoller of reason, but the esoteric component is problematic as it preaches “slavish dependence on the guru in the name of independence; adoration and obedience to the leader in the name of every person’s individuality; and blind emotion and faith in the guru in the name of Reason.”

He notes that the “Rand cult was concerned not with every man’s individuality, but only with Rand’s individuality, not with everyone’s right reason but only with Rand’s reason.” He reveals that when Branden was excommunicated by Rand, a former friend sent him a letter proclaiming that the only moral thing that he could do was to commit suicide. From this Rothbard infers that Rand’s movement is not pro-individual but pro-Rand.

According to Rothbard, the structure of the Objectivist movement was strictly regimented and hierarchical. Here’s an excerpt:
And the Randian movement was strictly hierarchical. At the top of the pyramid, of course, was Rand herself, the Ultimate Decider of all questions. Branden, her designated “intellectual heir,” and the St. Paul of the movement, was Number 2. Third in rank was the top circle, the original disciples, those who had been converted before the publication of Atlas. Since they were converted by reading her previous novel, The Fountainhead, which had been published 1943, the top circle was designated in the movement as “the class of '43.” But there was an unofficial designation that was far more revealing: “the senior collective.” On the surface, this phrase was supposed to “underscore” the high individuality of each of the Randian members; in reality, however, there was an irony within the irony, since the Randian movement was indeed a “collective” in any genuine meaning of the term. Strengthening the ties within the senior collective was the fact that each and every one of them was related to each other, all being part of one Canadian Jewish family, relatives of either Nathan or Barbara Branden. There was, for example, Nathan’s sister Elaine Kalberman; his brother-in-law, Harry Kalberman; his first cousin, Dr. Allan Blumenthal, who assumed the mantle of leading Objectivist Psychotherapist after Branden’s expulsion; Barbara’s first cousin, Leonard Piekoff; and Joan Mitchell, wife of Allan Blumenthal. Alan Greenspan’s familial relation was more tenuous, being the former husband of Joan Mitchell. The only non-relative in the class of '43 was Mary Ann Rukovina, who made the top rank after being the college roommate of Joan Mitchell. 
I find it strange that most members in Rand’s inner circle were Branden’s relatives and friends. Even Leonard Peikoff who took over after Branden was shunted out was the cousin of Branden’s wife, Barbara. Why couldn’t Rand find better people than the friends and relatives of Branden to develop and propagate her philosophy?

Rothbard’s conclusion in the essay is that Objectivism is not a philosophy of reason; it is a philosophy for a cult. He says that “power not liberty or reason, was the central thrust of the Randian movement.” He warns the libertarians that the history of Objectivism shows that “it Can Happen Here, that libertarians, despite explicit devotion to reason and individuality, are not exempt from the mystical and totalitarian cultism that pervades other ideological as well as religious movements.”

It is on Branden that Rothbard unleashes much of his ire. He says that Branden was a gatekeeper to Rand and the enforcer of her ideals on her followers.

In his review of Branden’s book Judgement Day (the book was later republished as My Years with Ayn Rand), Rothbard accuses Branden of living his entire life parasitically off Rand, “first as a worshipful disciple and cult organizer, then as a neo-Randian shrink who set up shop in California with the solid initial base of the RandCult's Nathaniel Branden Institute mailing list. And now, too, he is parasitically living off Rand as a scavenger and kiss-and-tell calumniator. Talk about your "social metaphysician!”

He also accuses Branden of “spending all of his life amid an endless array of shmucks, creeps, lowlifes, and assorted villains and morons.” I wonder who these shmucks, creeps, lowlifes, and assorted villains and morons that Rothbard is alluding to are? 

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Kant On Empirical Concepts

Immanuel Kant, in his First Introduction to the Critique of Judgment, talks about the conditions of forming a set of empirical concepts which cohere with each other. It is clear that some kind of coherence is necessary to ensure that the concepts that are obtained through comparison are connectable to each other in judgement.

In his most frequently discussed text from the First Introduction, Kant notes:
One may wonder whether Linnaeus could have hoped to design a system of nature if he had had to worry that a stone which he found, and which he called granite, might differ in its inner character from any other stone even if it looked the same, so that all he could ever hope to find would be single things — isolated, as it were, for the understanding — but never a class of them that could be brought under concepts of genus and species. 
Henry E. Allison, in his essay, “Reflective Judgment and the Purposiveness of Nature,” (Chapter 1;  Kant’s Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment), offers the following analysis of the above quoted note by Kant:
This note makes “explicit the requirement that a classificatory system reflect an underlying order of nature. Thus, whereas any number of such systems might be possible, the assumption is that there is one (and only one) that, as it were, “carves nature at its joints.” And the goal or regulative idea of a systematizer such as Linnaeus is to provide the system that reflects this order (or at least comes as close as possible to doing so). Moreover, since the classification of phenomena has to be based on observed uniformities and differences, the operative assumption must once again be that outer similarities and differences correspond to inner or intrinsic ones. To use Kant’s own example, objects with the observable features of granite must also be similar in their inner character; for otherwise there would be no basis for inferring from the fact that an object has granite-like features that it will behave similarly to other objects with these features.” 
According to Kant, a hierarchical system of concepts (in which every concept is itself both a species of the concepts contained in it and a genus for the concepts falling under it) is a necessary condition for the application of logic to nature, that is, for empirical judgment. (By “logic” Kant does not mean formal logic, but rather our discursive, conceptual abilities.)

Friday, 27 July 2018

Kant and the Capacity to Judge

Béatrice Longuenesse, in her book Kant and the Capacity to Judge: Sensibility and Discursivity in the Transcendental Analytic of the "Critique of Pure Reason", cites an example given by Immanuel Kant (in Lectures on Logic, translated by Michael Young) to illustrate the rule-governedness of the apprehension that precedes the formation of concepts in which these rules are expressed discursively.

Here’s Kant’s description of the situation in Lectures of Logic:
If, for example, a savage sees a house from a distance, whose use he does not know, he admittedly has before him in his representation the very same object as someone else who knows it determinately as a dwelling established for human beings. But as to form, this cognition of one and the same object is different in the two cases. In the former it is mere intuition, in the latter it is simultaneously intuition and concept. 
Longuenesse posits that the savage cannot recognize a house as a house not only because he lacks the concept, but also because he is missing the schema (which is an essential condition for developing a concept). The savage receives the same sensory information on the house as someone familiar with the concept of a house does but he does not possess the procedure to process the information in a determinate way.

Here’s an excerpt from Longuenesse’s book (Page 119):
Kant's savage intuits a combination of sensations according to relations of contiguity in space, differences in color, light, and shadow, similar in "matter" to those intuited by "someone else" who knows that what he has before him is a house. Thus, in his intuition of the house, the "savage" is conscious of the "combination of representations with each other." He is also conscious of a relation of these representations "to (his) senses," that is, conscious of them not merely as presenting an object to him but as sensations within him, perhaps associated with feelings of pleasure or displeasure. But the system of comparisons into which the content of his intuition is channeled has nothing in common with ours. He has never seen anything similar (in the way "a spruce, a willow, and a linden" are similar) from which he could have obtained a common concept by comparing objects according to their similarities and differences, reflecting similar features and abstracting from the differences (in material, size, shape, and so on). In his apprehension there is no rule guiding him to privilege certain marks and leave aside others, so that a concept of house might apply. Should someone point to the object and call it 'house', this might suggest to him a proper name for the singular object he has in front of him, but even this is uncertain: how is he to know what is being referred to—the door, the color, the shape, the site, or what? Only the "application in a comparison," that is, the gradually dawning consciousness of a "rule of apprehension" common to the representation of various objects serving the same purpose, would pick out analogous marks and bring forth the concept of a house. This application alone will complement the intuition of Kant's savage with a discursive form similar to that acquired by the man who throughout his life passed his nights in a warm house in Königsberg. 
In the above passage, Longuenesse clearly says that “there is no rule guiding him to privilege certain marks and leave aside others, so that a concept of house might apply.” This means that according to Kant, in order to recognize a thing a human being needs not only the concept of the thing, but also the precondition for acquiring the concept of the thing, namely its schemata. 

Thursday, 26 July 2018

The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason

Immanuel Kant, in two famous letters to Marcus Herz, written early in the so-called silent decade, talks about a philosophical project that he is working on. His fundamental concern is with metaphysics (or the possibility of metaphysics) and he says that his project will be an introduction to metaphysics and to it he has given the title, “The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason.”

Here’s an excerpt from Kant’s June 7, 1771 letter:
Long experience has taught me that one cannot compel or precipitate insight by force in matters of the sort we are considering; rather, it takes quite a long time to gain insight, since one looks at one and the same concept intermittently and regards its possibility in all its relations and contexts, and furthermore, because one must above all awaken the skeptical spirit within, to examine one's conclusions against the strongest possible doubt and see whether they can stand the test. From this point of view I have, I think, made good use of the time that I have allowed myself, risking the danger of offending these scholars with my seeming impoliteness while actually motivated by respect for their judgment. You understand how important it is, for all of philosophy — yes even for the most important ends of humanity in general — to distinguish with certainty and clarity that which depends on the subjective principles of human mental powers (not only sensibility but also the understanding) and that which pertains directly to the facts. If one is not driven by a mania for systematizing, the investigations which one makes concerning one and the same fundamental principle in its widest possible applications even confirm each other. I am therefore now busy on a work which I call "The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason." It will work out in some detail the foundational principles and laws that determine the sensible world together with an outline of what is essential to the Doctrine of Taste, of Metaphysics, and of Moral Philosophy. I have this winter surveyed all the relevant materials for it and have considered, weighed, and harmonized everything, but I have only recently come up with the way to organize the whole work. 
Kant provides further details of his project in his much longer February 21, 1772 letter to Herz, revealing that it consists of two parts, theoretical and practical. Here’s an excerpt:
I had also long ago outlined, to my tolerable satisfaction, the principles of feeling, taste, and power of judgment, with their effects — the pleasant, the beautiful, and the good — and was then making plans for a work that might perhaps have the title, The Limits of Sensibility and Reason. I planned to have it consist of two parts, a theoretical and a practical. The first part would have two sections, (1) general phenomenology and (2) metaphysics, but this only with regard to its nature and method. The second part likewise would have two sections, (1) the universal principles of feeling, taste, and sensuous desire and (2) the first principles of morality.
These letters show that in the 1770s, Kant recognized the philosophical importance of taste. Of course, in 1781, the work that he had initially thought of calling “The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason,” was published as The Critique of Pure Reason

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Epicurus’s Concept of Happy Gods

The gods of Epicurus are a blissful and immortal beings who have no worldly concerns at all—they do no exert themselves for humanity’s benefit. Here’s an excerpt from D. S. Hutchinson’s Introduction to The Epicurus Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia, Edited by Brad Inwood and  Lloyd P. Gerson:
“Don’t fear god.” The gods are happy and immortal, as the very concept of ‘god’ indicates. But in Epicurus’ view, most people were in a state of confusion about the gods, believing them to be intensely concerned about what human beings were up to and exerting tremendous effort to favor their worshippers and punish their moral enemies. No; it is incompatible with the concept of divinity to suppose that the gods exert themselves or that they have any concerns at all. The most accurate, as well as the most agreeable, conceptions of the gods is to think of them, as the Greeks often did, in a state of bliss, unconcerned about anything, without needs, invulnerable to any harm, and generally living an enviable life. So conceived, they are role models for Epicureans, who emulate the happiness of the gods, within the limits imposed by human nature. “Epicurus said that he was prepared to compete with Zeus in happiness, as long as he had a barley cake and some water.”  
If, however, the gods are as independent as this conception indicates, then they will not observe the sacrifices we make to them, and Epicurus was indeed widely regarded as undermining the foundations of traditional religion. Furthermore, how can Epicurus explain the visions that we receive of the gods, if the gods don’t deliberately send them to us? These visions, replies Epicurus, are material images traveling through the world, like everything else that we see or imagine, and are therefore something real; they travel through the world because of the general laws of atomic motion, not because god sends them. But then what sort of bodies must the gods have, if these images are always steaming off them, and yet they remain strong and invulnerable? Their bodies, replies Epicurus, are continually replenished by images streaming towards them; indeed the ‘body’ of a god may be nothing more than a focus to which the images travel, the images that later travel to us and make up our conception of its nature.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

David Hume’s Essay: The Epicurean

Painting of David Hume
David Hume’s book Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary includes four essays on philosophical schools that have originated in ancient Greece: ”The Epicurean,” “The Stoic,” “The Platonist,” and “The Sceptic.” The aim of the four essays is not to analyze human nature but to inspire the reader to bring improvement into his life by following the traditional methods of achieving happiness.

The essays are not expressive of Hume’s own positions—In his Advertisement for the essays he has put a distance between himself and the four characters: "'Tis proper to infirm the READER, that, in those ESSAYS, intitled, the Epicurean, Stoic, &c., a certain Character is personated; and therefore, no Offence ought to be taken at any Sentiments contain’d in them."

In this post, I will talk about the first essay, “The Epicurean.” The focus of this essay is on emphasizing that a natural lifestyle is best suited for the achievement of pleasure and happiness.
The most perfect happiness, surely, must arise from the contemplation of the most perfect object. But what more perfect than beauty and virtue? And where is beauty to be found equal to that of the universe? Or virtue, which can be compared to the benevolence and justice of the Deity? If aught can diminish the pleasure of this contemplation, it must be either the narrowness of our faculties, which conceals from us the greatest part of these beauties and perfections; or the shortness of our lives, which allows not time sufficient to instruct us in them.
The Epicurean rejects the idea that human beings have the power to create artificial lifestyles that are as conducive for happiness as a natural lifestyle is:
You pretend to make me happy by reason, and by rules of art. You must, then, create me anew by rules of art. For on my original frame and structure does my happiness depend. But you want power to effect this; and skill too, I am afraid: Nor can I entertain a less opinion of nature’s wisdom than of yours. And let her conduct the machine, which she has so wisely framed. I find, that I should only spoil it by my tampering.
The Epicurean insists that “happiness implies ease, contentment, repose, and pleasure; not watchfulness, care, and fatigue.” We may develop all kinds of notions during the course of our philosophical studies but human nature will always assert itself. His advise is that if you are looking for pleasure do not look further than your corporeal concerns like food, drink, friendship, and love. However, Hume’s Epicurean is not preaching a life of debauchery or hedonism. Pleasure, the epicurean insists, must be pursued in moderation and within the principles of morality. He also emphasizes that only the virtuous are capable of pursuing pleasure. 

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Aristotle, Kant, and the Stoics: Rethinking Happiness and Duty

It is traditionally believed that the ethical ideas of Aristotle, the paradigmatic representative of ancient ethical thought, and Immanuel Kant, the representative of modern ethics, are sharply opposed. While Aristotle holds that all action must be done for the sake of eudaimonia, Kant, the deontologist, insists that only those actions are moral that are performed for the sake of duty. Aristotle’s view of practical reason is monistic and he insists that all action must be performed for the sake of eudaimonia, whereas Kant criticizes eudaimonism for making happiness the criteria for morality and he holds that the distinction between categorical and hypothetical imperatives is reflective of the sharp distinction between moral and nonmoral reasoning.

In 1994, Stephen Engstrom and Jennifer Whiting organized a conference entitled, “Duty, Interest, and Practical Reason: Aristotle, Kant and the Stoics,” with the aim of engineering a rethink on the traditional view of Aristotelian and Kantian ethics. In 1998, they edited a book Aristotle, Kant, and the Stoics: Rethinking Happiness and Duty which has ten essays by scholars who were speakers at the conference.  The book is divided into five parts—each part is named after the original session topic and has two essays, one on Aristotle or the Stoics and the other on Kant.

The essays conduct a systematic assessment of Aristotle’s and Kant’s ethical theories and identify important similarities. They also make the case that Stoic ethics can be seen as a bond between ancient and modern conceptions of morality and happiness.

Here’s an excerpt from the book’s Introduction by Engstrom and Whiting:
The traditional view begins to look less plausible when we turn to the Stoics, who combine elements of these allegedly opposed ways of thought. Like Aristotle and other ancient ethicists, the Stoics are eudaimonists; they take eudaimonia to be the ultimate source of moral motivation and justification. This should, on the traditional view, distinguish the Stoics from Kant, who is supposed to focus on duty and to reject the eudaimonist’s appeal to happiness. Nevertheless, the Stoics, with their emphasis on universal reason articulate a conception of duty, based on natural law, that exercises a profound influence on Enlightenment ethics in general and Kant in particular. The Stoics thus provide not only a historical link between Aristotle and Kant, but also an illustration of how putatively ancient and modern ethical thought might be coherently integrated. 
The ten essays included in the book are by John McDowell, Barbara Herman, T. H. Irwin, Stephen Engstrom, Allen W. Wood, Jennifer Whiting, Christine W. Korsgaard, Julia Annas, John M. Cooper and J. B. Schneewind.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Stoicism and David Hume

David Hume, in a number of passages, suggests that stoic ideas are favorable for leading a virtuous life. In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he says that a stoic (and epicurean) displays principles which are durable and have a beneficial impact on conduct and behavior. Here’s an excerpt:
For here is the chief and most confounding objection to excessive scepticism, that no durable good can ever result from it; while it remains in its full force and vigour. We need only ask such a sceptic, What his meaning is? And what he proposes by all these curious researches? He is immediately at a loss, and knows not what to answer. A COPERNICAN or PTOLEMAIC, who supports each his different system of astronomy, may hope to produce a conviction, which will remain constant and durable, with his audience. A STOIC or EPICUREAN displays principles, which may not only be durable, but which have an effect on conduct and behaviour. But a PYRRHONIAN cannot expect, that his philosophy will have any constant influence on the mind: Or if it had, that its influence would be beneficial to society. 
It is noteworthy that Hume is saying that skepticism (Pyrrhonian philosophy) cannot be expected to have any “constant influence on the mind.” He has expressed similar doubts on skepticism in A Treatise of Human Nature.

Hume offers his analysis of the four ancient schools of philosophy in four essays—“The Epicurean,” “The Stoic,” “The Platonist,” and “The Sceptic.” He sees these schools as the promoters of disciplined approaches for pursuit of happiness.

In his essay on stoicism, “The Stoic,” Hume says that the stoic holds that the life of a “true philosopher” is the best life:
But as much as the wildest savage is inferior to the polished citizen, who, under the protection of laws, enjoys every convenience which industry has invented; so much is this citizen himself inferior to the man of virtue, and the true philosopher, who governs his appetites, subdues his passions, and has learned, from reason, to set a just value on every pursuit and enjoyment. 
But why is the life of a “true philosopher” the best life? Hume says that, according to the stoic, happiness requires security which only a true philosopher can have:
The temple of wisdom is seated on a rock, above the rage of the fighting elements, and inaccessible to all the malice of man. The rolling thunder breaks below; and those more terrible instruments of human fury reach not to so sublime a height. The sage, while he breathes that serene air, looks down with pleasure, mixed with compassion, on the errors of mistaken mortals, who blindly seek for the true path of life, and pursue riches, nobility, honour, or power, for genuine felicity. The greater part he beholds disappointed of their fond wishes: Some lament, that having once possessed the object of their desires, it is ravished from them by envious fortune: And all complain, that even their own vows, though granted, cannot give them happiness, or relieve the anxiety of their distracted minds. 
However, Hume’s stoic does not speak directly for Hume—he is describing the views of the stoic school of thought with which Hume is not in complete agreement.  After all, Hume has given the longest essay and the final word to skepticism. He suggests that one cannot be a total stoic, but neither can one be a total skeptic.

In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume offers a comparison between skepticism and stoicism:
I accept your comparison between the Stoics and Sceptics, replied Philo. Still, although the Stoic mind can’t maintain the highest flights of philosophy, even when it sinks lower it still retains something of its former disposition; and the effects of the Stoic’s reasoning will appear in his conduct in everyday life, flavouring all of his actions. The ancient schools of philosophy, particularly that of Zeno, produced examples of virtue and steadfastness which seem astonishing to us today… In like manner, if a man has accustomed himself to sceptical considerations on the uncertainty and narrow limits of reason, he will not entirely forget them when he turns his reflection on other subjects; but in all his philosophical principles and reasoning, I dare not say, in his common conduct, he will be found different from those, who either never formed any opinions in the case, or have entertained sentiments more favourable to human reason.

Friday, 20 July 2018

David Hume’s Doubts About Skepticism

Statue of Hume in Edinburgh
David Hume believed that skepticism is irrefutable in philosophical theory, but it is hard to be a skeptic when one is attending to the concerns and activities of everyday life. In his A Treatise of Human Nature he states that after he has had dinner and played a game of backgammon, the skeptical arguments all appear cold, strained and ridiculous, and he does not feel like entering into them any further.

In the Treatise, there is a conflict between the conviction that skepticism is unavoidable in philosophical thoughts and the feeling that in practical life skepticism is not useful. By the concluding section of Book 1, Part 4, of the Treatise, Hume’s philosophical standpoint on skepticism has led him to an intellectual crisis. He complains:
I am first affrighted and confounded with that forlorn solitude, in which I am plac’d in my philosophy, and fancy myself some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been expell’d all human commerce, and left utterly abandon’d and disconsolate. Fain wou’d I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth; but cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity. I call upon others to join me, in order to make a company apart; but no one will hearken to me. Every one keeps at a distance, and dreads that storm, which beats upon me from every side. I have expos’d myself to the enmity of all metaphysicians, logicians, mathematicians, and even theologians; and can I wonder at the insults I must suffer? I have declar’d my disapprobation of their systems; and can I be surpriz’d, if they shou’d express a hatred of mine and of my person? When I look abroad, I foresee on every side, dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. All the world conspires to oppose and contradict me; tho’ such is my weakness, that I feel all my opinions loosen and fall of themselves, when unsupported by the approbation of others. Every step I take is with hesitation, and every new reflection makes me dread an error and absurdity in my reasonings. 
After a few pages, he blames the contradictions and imperfections in human reason for his intellectual problems:
The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron’d with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv’d of the use of every member and faculty. 
He goes on to assert that in practical life skepticism has no role to play:
Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hour’s amusement, I wou’d return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther. 
It is worth noting that the Treatise consists of three parts — Book 1 (Of the Understanding); Book 2 (Of the Passions); and Book 3 (Of Morals) — but the discussion of skepticism is confined to the Book 1 (much of the discussion is in Part 4). In the Book 2 and Book 3 there is not a single mention of the word “skeptic” or any related word. Also, the Treatise does not have any discussion of the influential skeptical schools, like the Pyrrhonists or the Academics. So on the whole a very small part of the Treatise is devoted to the discussion of skepticism.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

The Skepticism of Gottlob Ernst Schulze

A portrait of Gottlob Ernst Schulze
Gottlob Ernst Schulze, a professor at Helmstedt, anonymously published a book in 1792 under a long title Aenesidemus or Concerning the Foundations of the Philosophy of the Elements Issued by Professor Reinhold in Jena Together with a Defense of Skepticism against the Pretensions of the Critique of Reason. The book created great controversy and eventually it became known that Schulze was the author.

As it is apparent from the title, the Aenesidemus was aimed at examining Karl Leonhard Reinhold’s book Philosophy of the Elements, but Schulze’s real target was Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy. He wanted to prove that Kant had not refuted David Hume’s skepticism.

Schulze’s choice of the title Aenesidemus is appropriate because Aenesidemus (1st century BC) was a Greek Pyrrhonist (skeptic) philosopher. He was a member of Plato’s Academy but he rejected Platonism and adopted Pyrrhonism. His life and ideas have been described Sextus Empiricus, the ancient historian of skepticism. Schulze’s plan was to renew Pyrrhonism to combat the enemies of skepticism, the foremost of which was Kant’s critical philosophy.

In his essay, “Schulze's Skepticism,” ( Chapter 9; The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte), Frederick C. Beiser notes that “Schulze's meta-critical skepticism gives a new twist to modern skepticism since its inception in Descartes's and Hume's writings. While Descartes and Hume use epistemology as an instrument of their skepticism, examining the conditions of knowledge in order to expose unfounded claims to it, Schulze brings this very instrument into question. The skeptic is now forced to be self-reflective, self-critical of the tools of his trade.”

Like Johann Georg Hamann and Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Schulze saw Hume as a great destroyer of the pretensions of reason and the lofty claims of the Kantian critical theory. In Aenesidemus, Schulze argues that Kant never refuted Hume, he only begged the question against him. Here’s Beiser’s description of Schulze’s  arguments against the notion that Kant has refuted Hume:
Kant's transcendental deduction does not refute Hume, but only presupposes what he brings into question: the principle of causality. The deduction proves that the categories apply to experience only by assuming that the transcendental subject is the lawgiver of nature. But to assume that this subject is the lawgiver of nature, that it creates the laws to which nature conforms, presupposes the application of the principle of causality, which only begs the question against Hume. 
It is important to note that Schulze sees this as a general problem of all epistemology. In his view epistemology is caught in a vicious circle. It pretends to be the presuppositionless first philosophy; but it has to presuppose the principle of causality in order to investigate the origins of knowledge. Hence the whole enterprise of epistemology cannot get off the ground because of Hume's skepticism about causality. 
Kant’s critical theory and Schulze’s skepticism begin at the same point—that all our beliefs must submit to the free and open examination of reason. Schulze claims in Aenesidemus that he is a believer in reason, but he asserts that reason is not at odds with skepticism, rather it is its only consistent position. By coming together, Hamann, Jacobi, and Schulze—eventually Salomon Maimon jumped into their bandwagon—were able to revive interest in Hume’s skepticism. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Campbell’s Review of Binswanger’s How We Know

Ayn Rand
When I read Harry Binswanger’s How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation about four years ago, I had the feeling that this book adequately captures the general sense of life that we find in Ayn Rand’s fiction and essays. But today I read Robert L. Campbell’s 45-page review of Binswanger’s book. ("What Do We Need to Know?"; The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies; Volume 18, Number 1, July 2018; Page 118 to 163).

I think Campbell has ripped apart some of the fundamental claims of Objectivist epistemology.

Campbell’s focus in the review is not so much on the Objectivist foundation of Binswanger’s book, but on the nature of the epistemological arguments that the book contains. He also talks about the issues in epistemology that Binswanger and other Objectivist scholars are yet to grapple with in their works. I think the fans of Ayn Rand should read Campbell’s review and make up their own mind about the problems that he identifies in Objectivist epistemology.

Here’s an excerpt from the final section of the review:
In the wider world of epistemology, Binswanger’s book will scarcely register. Rand completed ITOE in 1967. Look at just a few things that have been happening since then, in psychology and in related disciplines.  
The Cognitive Revolution hit American psychology in the 1950s (Baars 1986), ending behaviorism as a basic research orientation. Information processing theory and symbolic Artificial Intelligence (e.g., Boden 1988) have grown, hit their peaks, and declined. Hard-core nativists, like Chomsky and Fodor, got their time in the sun. Perceptrons went out; Connectionism and Dynamic Systems and advanced machine learning came in. Perception-action robotics (Brooks 1991) seems here to stay. Noninvasive scanning techniques, functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography, have revolutionized human neuroscience. The legacies of Gibson (who died in 1979) and Piaget (who died in 1980) have been carried on in a variety of ways.  
While all of this has been seething and fermenting and sparking, going up and coming down, the official Objectivists, ARIan and otherwise, have hunkered behind their “philosophical” wall. Gibson’s ideas were able to break through, first with Kelley and now with Binswanger, because of their excellent (though not complete) fit with an Objectivist treatment of perception that needed supplementing. Nothing else has. 
Now, with Binswanger’s bifurcation between consciousness and the neurophysical, psychology, computer science, robotics are no longer merely being disregarded. They have lost their subject matter; they have largely been annihilated. More than a few of Rand’s own ideas won’t be able to survive.  
So, Binswanger’s appreciation of mainstream psychology ends where for nearly everyone else it began—with George Miller (1956). None of the dialogues that could have been productive have taken place; probably, none of them have even been missed. What if, to pick one instance out of a myriad, Harry Binswanger had conducted an exchange with psychologist Larry Barsalou (1983), on ad hoc categories (such as, things I need for my next trip)? Nope, wasn’t going to happen.  
Instead, except when some Gibsonian literature breaches the wall, Binswanger parcels out a little credit to other sworn, vetted ARIans, for ideas that weren’t theirs to begin with or for ways of putting things that scarcely matter. His one serious engagement with contemporary neuroscience has been with the research program of Gary Lynch and his team, on changes in the brain with the formation of long-term memories (McDermott 2010). This is work that deserves a close look, but one can’t help noticing that Lynch’s lab was housed for a number of years at 101 Theory Drive (a real address; it’s part of an office park)—in Irvine, California. What’s the average driving time from the offices of the Ayn Rand Institute?  
Such parochiality is beyond exaggeration, proof against parody.  
What we need to know, if we are to attain a reasonably complete epistemological theory that fits the relevant data and provides norms that we can gainfully apply in our own pursuit of knowledge, far exceeds anything that Harry Binswanger has ever dreamed of.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

David Hume: “Of Scepticism With Regard to the Senses”

1738 edition of the Treatise
David Hume discusses human knowledge of external world in Book 1 of his A Treatise of Human Nature. He begins by placing an implicit faith in human senses and makes note of the position that we have a direct perceptual access to the world around us. But his philosophical rumination gives rise to the notion that while human beings have a direct access to their perceptions (Lockean ideas), this is not the same as having direct access to the objects themselves.

This problem leads Hume to consider the representational position that there are two objects — first, the perceptions (ideas) to which we have direct access through the senses; and second, the independent objects which give rise to the ideas but are not directly perceived. Being an empiricist, Hume argues that we cannot have knowledge of the causal relationship between the independent objects and our perception of them unless we have a direct sense experience of this relationship. But we can’t perceive or sense objects which by definition we can’t perceive.

In Part 4 of Book 1 of the Treatise, Hume reveals his skeptical positions. Here’s a passage from Section II, Part 4, “Of Scepticism With Regard to the Senses,” in which he professes skepticism regarding our ability to perceive the causal relationship between our ideas and the objects in external world:
I begun this subject with premising, that we ought to have an implicit faith in our senses, and that this wou'd be the conclusion, I shou'd draw from the whole of my reasoning. But to be ingenuous, I feel myself at present of a quite contrary sentiment, and am more inclin'd to repose no faith at all in my senses, or rather imagination, than to place in it such an implicit confidence. I cannot conceive how such trivial qualities of the fancy, conducted by such false sup|positions, can ever lead to any solid and rational system… What then can we look for from this confusion of groundless and extraordinary opinions but error and falshood? And how can we justify to ourselves any belief we repose in them?
In the next passage he includes the operations of reason in his gloomy skeptical outlook:
THIS sceptical doubt, both with respect to reason and the senses, is a malady, which can never be radically cur'd, but must return upon us every moment, however we may chase it away, and sometimes may seem entirely free from it. 'Tis impossible upon any system to defend either our understanding or senses; and we but expose them farther when we endeavour to justify them in that manner. As the sceptical doubt arises naturally from a profound and intense reflection on those subjects, it always encreases, the farther we carry our reflections, whether in opposition or conformity to it. 
The question in my mind is did Hume realize where he was going when he began working on the Treatise? Or did his skepticism develop during the course of writing the Treatise?

Monday, 16 July 2018

Wittgenstein and The Mystical

Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1922
The word “mystical” is there in three propositions in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

In proposition 6.44, he says:
Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is. 
In proposition 6.45, he says:
The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni is its contemplation as a limited whole.
The feeling that the world is a limited whole is the mystical feeling. 
In proposition 6.522, he says:
There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical. 
Elizabeth Anscombe, in her book An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, (Chapter 13: "Mysticism and Solipsism”), suggests that Wittgenstein, being an extraordinary individual, could have some kind of mysticism about him. She says that to understand the sense in which he is using the term “mystical,” we have to look at the proposition 6.52 in Tractatus: “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions have been answered, still the problems of life have not been touched at all. Of course there then just is no question left, and just this is the answer.”

She drops a hint about the influence of Leo Tolstoy on Wittgenstein and says that the idea behind “mystical” is made clearer in proposition 6.41: “The meaning of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is, everything happens as it does happen; there is no value in it if there were any, it would have no value. If there is a value that has value, it must lie outside all happening and outside being this way or that. For all happening and being this way or that is accidental. What makes it non-accidental cannot be found in the world, for otherwise this thing would in its turn be accidental.”  She also takes note of proposition 6.42, in which Wittgenstein says: “God does not reveal himself in the world.”

Bertrand Russell offers a much clearer view of Wittgenstein’s religious and spiritual mindset. In a 1919 letter to Lady Ottoline Morell, Russell says that he discussed Tractatus with Wittgenstein during their meeting in Holland, and he was surprised by Wittgenstein’s spirituality. Here’s an excerpt from Russell’s letter:
I feel sure [Tractatus] is really a great book, though I do not feel sure it is right… . I had felt in his book a flavour of mysticism, but was astonished when I found that he has become a complete mystic. He reads people like Kierkegaard and Angelus Silesius, and he seriously contemplates becoming a monk. It all started from William James's Varieties of Religious Experience, and grew (not unnaturally) during the winter he spent alone in Norway before the war, when he was nearly mad. Then during the war a curious thing happened. He went on duty to the town of Tarnov in Galicia, and happened to come upon a bookshop, which, however, seemed to contain nothing but picture postcards. However, he went inside and found that it contained just one book: Tolstoy on the Gospels. He brought it merely because there was no other. He read it and re-read it, and thenceforth had it always with him, under fire and at all times. But on the whole he likes Tolstoy less than Dostoyevsky (especially Karamazov). He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (though he wouldn't agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking. I don't much think he will really become a monk -- it is an idea, not an intention. His intention is to be a teacher. He gave all his money to his brothers and sisters, because he found earthly possessions a burden. I wish you had seen him. ~ (Letters to Russell, Keynes, and Moore, edited by G.H. von Wright)

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Four Contrasting Voices of David Hume

Hume's engraving in first volume of
The History of England, 1754
David Hume begins his A Treatise of Human Nature with a swagger—asserting that he is in pursuit of science of man.

In his Introduction to the Treatise, he says, “Here then is the only expedient, from which we can hope for success in our philosophical researches, to leave the tedious lingering method, which we have hitherto followed, and instead of taking now and then a castle or village on the frontier, to march up directly to the capital or center of these sciences, to human nature itself; which being once masters of, we may everywhere else hope for an easy victory. From this station we may extend our conquests over all those sciences, which more intimately concern human life, and may afterwards proceed at leisure to discover more fully those, which are the objects of pure curiosity. There is no question of importance, whose decision is not comprised in the science of man; and there is none, which can be decided with any certainty, before we become acquainted with that science. In pretending therefore to explain the principles of human nature, we in effect propose a complete system of the sciences, built on a foundation almost entirely new, and the only one upon which they can stand with any security.”

Despite the confident beginning, Hume turns into a skeptic towards the closing section of the book 1 of the Treatise and he offers skeptical lamentations: “Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favor shall I court, and whose anger must I dread?”

But the man in pursuit of the science of man and the man of skepticism are not the only two voices of Hume. Robert J. Fogelin identifies four contrasting voices of Hume in his book Hume’s Skeptical Crisis: A Textual Study.  Here’s an excerpt from Fogelin's Introduction:
There are four contrasting Humes, or at least four contrasting voices of Hume, inhabiting Hume’s writing. The first is the confident Hume, projector of a complete science of human nature. The second is the melancholy Hume, wracked with Pyrrohonian doubts he seems incapable of shaking. Third, we have the chastened Hume, modest in his expectations and reasonably content with his lot. There is also a fourth voice or standing point found in Hume’s writings, important but easily overlooked. This is the standpoint of the ordinary people engaged in the affairs of daily life: the standpoint of the vulgar. 
But which perspective represents the real Hume? Fogelin observes that:  
all four standpoints are real in representing the way matters strike Hume when operating at a particular level of reflection. At the start of the Treatise, and well into it, Hume is an enthusiast for the new science of human nature he is developing. Hume’s standpoint undergoes a radical skeptical transformation in response to the appalling things his pursuit of the science of human nature reveals to him. This is full-throated skepticism. The third standpoint emerges from Hume’s recognition that radical skepticism cannot be disposed of by employing arguments against it. When matters are placed on an argumentative basis, the Pyrrhonist always wins. For Hume, the slide into radical skepticism can only be countered by yielding in some measure to our vulgar propensity to believe things that are not based on sound arguments and, more deeply, even things that run counter to sound arguments.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Anscombe’s Explanation for Wittgenstein’s Solipsism

Wittgenstein ; Anscombe
A person is a solipsist if he thinks that he is the only I, and the world, with everything and everyone in it, is an object of experience, and therefore his own experience. In Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein offers a glimpse of his solipsism in propositions 5.6 to 5.63. In proposition 5.62, he says:
This remark provides a key to the question, to what extent solipsism is a truth.  
In fact what solipsism means, is quite correct, only it cannot be said, but it shows itself. 
That the world is my world, shows itself in the fact that the lists of the language (the language which only I understand) mean the limits of my world. 
Elizabeth Anscombe, in her book An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, relates Wittgenstein’s solipsism to his view of logic. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 13, "Mysticism and Solipsism” :
In the Tractatus Wittgenstein speaks of 'my language’ (5.6) and explains this as meaning 'the only language that I understand' (5.62). Its limits 'stand for the limits of my world’. I cannot postulate a language for talking about the relation of language, the world, and the philosophical I, in which my world (the world given by the limits of my language) would be one particular thing to talk about. I can only say how things are in the world corresponding to my language. But this manifests 'the 'all-comprehending world-mirroring logic’. 

That is why, having said at 5.6 'The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’, Wittgenstein gives as the first comment on this pronouncement a number of remarks on logic: 'Logic fills the world: the limits of the world are also its limits' (5.61). The argument is: 'The limits of my language mean the limits of my world; but all languages have one and the same logic, and its limits are those of the world; therefore the limits of my world and of the world are one and the same; therefore the world is my world.'  
But the ‘I’ of this way of talking is not something that can be found as a mind or soul, a subject of consciousness, one among others; there is no such thing to be 'found' as the subject of consciousness in this sense. All that can be found is what consciousness is of, the contents of consciousness: 'I am my world' and The world and life are one'. Hence this T, whose language has the special position, is unique; the world described by this language is just the real world: Thoroughly thought out, solipsism coincides with pure realism' (5.64).  
It is not possible to understand this passage unless one has a good deal of sympathy with solipsism. We should remember that Wittgenstein had been much impressed by Schopenhauer as a boy; many traces of this sympathy are to be found in the Tractatus. Probably no one who reads the opening of The World as Will and Idea: "The world is my idea', without any responsiveness, will be able to enter into Wittgenstein's thought here. 
Anscombe says that it is difficult to get rid of one’s conception of solipsism once one has developed it. One may want to get rid of such a conception because one may feel that it makes the ‘I’ too godlike, but it is not easy to free oneself from solipsist thoughts. She notes that in Wittgenstein’s version, “It is clear that the ‘I’ of solipsism is not used to refer to anything, body or soul; for in respect of these it is plain that all men are alike. The ‘I’ refers to the centre of life, or the point from which everything is seen.”

Friday, 13 July 2018

Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein

Karl Popper ; Ludwig Wittgenstein 
Karl Popper had an argumentative relationship with Ludwig Wittgenstein. He found little merit in the doctrine which Wittgenstein advances in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that genuine philosophical propositions do not exist and therefore they cannot be solved.

In Conjectures and Refutations, Popper says:  “If Wittgenstein's doctrine is true, then nobody can philosophize, in my sense. Were this my opinion I would give up philosophy. But it so happens that I am not only deeply interested in certain philosophical problems (I do not much care whether they are 'rightly' called 'philosophical problems'), but possessed by the hope that I may contribute—if only a little, and only by hard work—to their solution.”

However, Popper holds that Wittgenstein's idea of eradicating philosophy (and theology) with the help of an adaptation of Bertrand Russell's theory of types was ingenious and original. He says that the school of linguistic analysis is inspired by Wittgenstein’s idea that there are no genuine philosophical problems, and that the philosophers task is to analyze and explain the linguistic puzzles that have been proposed by traditional philosophy.

In October 1946, Popper gave a lecture at Cambridge. Wittgenstein was present along with Russell and others, when Popper posed the question: “Are There Philosophical Problems?” Perhaps Popper’s tone was too provocative, because Wittgenstein was incensed. A vehement exchange ensued between them. According to Popper's own account, Wittgenstein had in his hand a red hot poker, which he brandished like a conductor’s baton to emphasize his points. Russell told him to put down the poker immediately. Wittgenstein complied and marched out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Popper has a lot to say about Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Here’s one passage from Conjectures and Refutations:
Wittgenstein, as you all know, tried to show in the Tractatus that all so-called philosophical or metaphysical propositions were actually non-propositions or pseudo-propositions: that they were senseless or meaningless. All genuine (or meaningful) propositions were truth functions of the elementary or atomic propositions which described 'atomic facts', i.e.--facts which can in principle be ascertained by observation. In other words, meaningful propositions were fully reducible to elementary or atomic propositions which were simple statements describing possible states of affairs, and which could in principle be established or rejected by observation. If we call a statement an 'observation statement' not only if it states an actual observation but also if it states anything that may be observed, we shall have to say that every genuine proposition must be a truth-function of, and therefore deducible from, observation statements. All other apparent propositions will be meaningless pseudo-propositions; in fact they will be nothing but nonsensical gibberish. 
It is noteworthy that in this passage, Popper talks a great deal about “observation,” but he does not mention the “picture theory of language,” which is the most crucial element of the Tractatus

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Russell’s Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus

Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1922
Bertrand Russell’s Introduction to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is quite informative. Through his analysis of the Tractatus, Russell creates the impression that Wittgenstein is a skeptic, nominalist, and in some of his contentions he can be seen as a solipsist. But Russell regards such philosophical positions as the great virtues of Wittgenstein. He says that no serious philosopher can afford to neglect the Tractatus.

This excerpt from Russell’s Introduction sheds light on Wittgenstein’s nominalism and skepticism:
Mr. Wittgenstein maintains that everything properly philosophical belongs to what can only be shown, or to what is in common between a fact and its logical picture. It results from this view that nothing correct can be said in philosophy. Every philosophical proposition is bad grammar, and the best that we can hope to achieve by philosophical discussion is to lead people to see that philosophical discussion is a mistake. “Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences. (The word ‘philosophy’ must mean something which stands above or below, but not beside the natural sciences.) The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. The result of philosophy is not a number of ‘philosophical propositions’, but to make propositions clear. Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts which otherwise are, as it were, opaque and blurred” (4.111 and 4.112). 
Russell points out that Wittgenstein’s theory condemns as meaningless all the things that have to be said to make the reader understand his theory. He also says that Wittgenstein’s fundamental thesis is that it is impossible to say anything about the world as a whole, and that whatever can be said has to be about bounded portions of the world.

On the curious discussion of solipsism in the Tractatus, Russell notes: “Logic, [Wittgenstein] says, fills the world. The boundaries of the world are also its boundaries. In logic, therefore, we cannot say, there is this and this in the world, but not that, for to say so would apparently presuppose that we exclude certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case, since it would require that logic should go beyond the boundaries of the world as if it could contemplate these boundaries from the other side also. What we cannot think we cannot think, therefore we also cannot say what we cannot think.”

Wittgenstein holds that the intentions behind solipsism are correct, but this cannot be said, it can only be shown. Russell says that, according to Wittgenstein, “That the world is my world appears in the fact that the boundaries of language (the only language I understand) indicate the boundaries of my world. The metaphysical subject does not belong to the world but is a boundary of the world.”

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Lockean Campaign Against Kant

Christian Garve
The German Empiricists who were loyal to the tradition of John Locke were alarmed by the appearance of Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. They saw the Critique as an attack on Lockean empiricism. Among the leading members of the empiricist camp were J. G. Feder, C. Garve, J. F. Lossius, C. Meiners, F. Nicolai, H. A. Pistorius, C. G. Selle, D. Tiedemann, G. Tittel, and A. Weishaupt. They were the first German scholars to recognize the importance of Kant’s Critique and the challenge that it posed.

During the Pantheism controversy, they supported Kant and they believed that his intentions were noble, but they remained opposed to his critical philosophy. They recognized that Kant was trying to develop a synthesis between empiricism and rationalism, but they felt that he was biased towards rationalism. They held that his critical philosophy was dangerous because while intending to defend the authority of reason, it undermines it. During the 1780s and 1790s, they leveled against Kant the charge of Humean solipsism or nihilism. They accused him of being a dangerous skeptic and a dogmatic metaphysician.

The Lockean campaign against the Critique began with Christian Garve’s January 1782 review, which elicited from Kant an angry response in the form of the Prolegomena. In 1784 there was a review by Dietrich Tiedemann and an essay by C. G. Selle. In the same year, there was also a review of the Prolegomena by H. A. Pistorius. But by 1786, the Critique had become immensely popular and that caused even more nervousness in the Lockean circles, inspiring them to launch a new offensive. Kant was attacked in several reviews, essays and books.

Frederick C. Beiser, in his 1987 book The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte offers an account of the Lockean campaign against Kant in chapter 6, “The Attack of the Lockeans.” Beiser says that as many authors were involved in the long drawn campaign, it is difficult to summarize the general arguments that the Lockeans used against Kant. But he offers seven themes that are characteristic of the Lockean campaign (and he also makes some points about the campaign against Kant by the Wolffians, the rationalist followers of Christian Wolff):
(1) One of the central issues between Kant and his empiricist opponents concerned the possibility of a priori knowledge. Every Lockean maintained that all synthetic knowledge is a posteriori, derived from and justified through experience. Some of them, however, were daring enough to argue that even analytic knowledge is a posteriori. 
(2) Another basic conflict centered on the proper method of epistemology. The Lockeans advocated a purely naturalistic epistemology, that is, one which explains the origins and conditions of knowledge according to natural laws alone. Such an epistemology was obviously modeled upon the natural sciences; its prototype was "the plain historical method" of Locke's Essay or "the principles of observation and experiment" of Hume's Treatise. The Lockeans therefore rejected Kant's a priori method. They saw it as metaphysical and condemned it for forfeiting the ideal of a scientific epistemology.  
(3) Yet another controversy surrounded the legitimacy of Kant's sharp dualism between reason and the senses, his radical dichotomy between the homo noumenon and homo phenomenon. The Lockeans regarded this distinction as arbitrary and artificial, as the reification of a purely intellectual distinction. Reason and sensibility were, in their view, inseparably united, different not in kind but only in degree. Of course, the Wolffians also attacked Kant's dualism; but there was still an important difference between the Lockeans and Wolffians on this score. While the Woffians saw sensibility as a confused form of the understanding, the Lockeans regarded the understanding as a derivative form of sensibility.

The Lockeans most often objected to Kant's dualism on the ground that it is antinaturalistic. It postulates a mysterious Platonic realm, the world of noumena, which is inexplicable according to natural laws. Kant's noumenal world makes the origin of our ideas and intentions obscure to us; and it renders the interchange between reason and sensibility unintelligible. Hence the Lockeans frequently accused Kant of 'mysticism', 'obscurantism', or ‘superstition'. 
(4) The most notorious and controversial issue between Kant and the Lockeans concerned whether there is any essential difference between Kant's and Berkeley's idealism. Feder was the first to deny such a difference; and all the Lockeans, and most of the Wolffians, seconded him. The charge of Berkeleyan idealism was tantamount to the charge of solipsism, which was generally regarded as the reductio ad absurdum of the critical philosophy.

(5) The Lockeans were sharp critics of the "Aesthetik," and in particular Kant's theory that space and time are a priori. They argued that space and time are not a priori intuitions, but a posteriori concepts, which are abstracted from particular distances and intervals. Almost all of their early examinations of the Kritik focused upon the "Aesthetik," because it was seen as the test case for Kant's idealism and theory of the synthetic a priori. On the whole the Lockeans, like the Wolffians, ignored the "Analytik," passing it over in silence. 
(6) The Lockeans criticized the way Kant classified concepts of the understanding as completely arbitrary and artificial. The Wolffians too made such objections to Kant. But the Lockeans, unlike the Wolffians, regarded any such classification as in principle mistaken. Maintaining that all concepts are abstractions from experience, they denied that there could ever be any complete list of all the possible concepts of the understanding.

(7) The Lockeans were the first to argue that the categorical imperative is empty, and that duty for duty's sake is in conflict with human nature. Against Kant, they defended eudaemonism as the only moral philosophy that can provide a sufficient criterion of morality and be in harmony with human needs.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Heidegger on The Kantian Interpretations of Being and Time

Martin Heidegger, in Being and Time (Chapter 2: “The Double Task in Working Out the Question of Being: The Method of the Investigation and its Outline”), suggests that Immanuel Kant’s view of the connection between being and time is influenced by the works of Descartes and Aristotle.

In his analysis, he asks two questions: “To what extent in the course of the history of ontology in general the interpretation of being has been thematically connected with the phenomenon of time? We must also ask whether the problematic of temporality, which necessarily belongs here, was fundamentally worked out or could have been?” His answer is that Kant is the first and only one “who traversed a stretch of the path toward investigating the dimension of temporality—or allowed himself to be driven there by the compelling force of phenomena themselves.”

According to Heidegger, the problem of temporality has to be pinned down in order to bring clarity to the Kantian doctrine of schematism. He points out that in his The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant indicates that he is entering into an obscure area when he writes, “This schematism of our under-standing as regards appearances and their mere form is an art hidden in the depths of the human soul, the true devices of which are hardly ever to be divined from Nature and laid uncovered before our eyes.”

One of the aims of Being and Time, is to develop a fuller interpretation of Kant’s chapter on Schematism (in The Critique of Pure Reason) and the Kantian doctrine of time which has been developed there. Heidegger posits that there are two reasons which prevented Kant from gaining an insight into the problem of temporality: “first, the neglect of the question of being in general, and second, in conjunction with this, the lack of a thematic ontology of Dasein or, in Kantian terms, the lack of a preliminary ontological analytic of the subjectivity of the subject.”

Heidegger notes that Kant nullified much of his initial advances by dogmatically adopting Descartes’s position and neglecting something essential: an ontology of Dasein. Also, while Kant takes this phenomena back into the subject, his analysis of time, according to Heidegger, remains oriented towards the “traditional, vulgar understanding of it.” Because of these reasons, Kant was unable to divine the phenomena of a “transcendental determination of time.” Heidegger’s offers a short account of the errors in Descartes’s thesis which got adopted by Kant.

While speaking of Greek ontology, Heidegger says that Dasien, which, in essence, is a being of human being, is held as “that creature whose being is essentially determined by its ability to speak.” This has led to the development of structures for speech and discussion. Heidegger notes that Plato’s ancient ontology is “dialectic.” But the Greeks felt the need of having a more comprehensive conception of being and Aristotle transcended Plato’s vision and saw a being as something that is a presence. Heidegger says that there are problems in this vision of being but he does not provide the details.

The first comprehensive interpretation of the phenomena of time, according to Heidegger, comes to us through the works of Aristotle. “The Aristotelian treatise on time has determined all the subsequent interpretations of time, including that of Bergson.” He says that an analysis of the Aristotelian concept of time shows that the Kantian interpretation of time is inspired by Aristotle’s ideas. He notes that despite all the differences that are implicit in the new inquiry, Kant’s basic ontological orientation is Greek.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Schopenhauer On University Philosophy

Commemorative stamp on Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer talks about university philosophy in his book The World as Will and Representation, Volume Two, Chapter 17, “On Man's Need for Metaphysics.” Here’s an excerpt:

"As for university philosophy, it is as a rule mere juggling and humbug. The real purpose of such philosophy is to give the students in the very depths of their thinking that mental tendency which the ministry that appoints people to professorships regards as in keeping with its views and intentions. From the statesman's point of view, the ministry may even be right, only it follows from this that such philosophy of the chair is a nervis alienis mobile lignum*, and cannot pass for serious philosophy, but only for philosophy that is a joke. Moreover, it is in any case reasonable that such a supervision or guidance should extend only to chair-philosophy, not to the real philosophy that is in earnest. For if anything in the world is desirable, so desirable that even the dull and uneducated herd in its more reflective moments would value it more than silver and gold, it is that a ray of light should fall on the obscurity of our existence, and that we should obtain some information about this enigmatical life of ours, in which nothing is clear except its misery and vanity. But supposing even that this were in itself attainable, it is made impossible by imposed and enforced solutions of the problem.”

*"A wooden puppet moved by extraneous forces." [Tr.]