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Rebirth of Reason

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Monday, September 10, 2012 - 7:27pmSanction this postReply
During the period of his academic career, extending from 1747 to 1781, Kant, as has been said, taught the philosophy then prevalent in Germany, which was Wolff's modified form of dogmatic rationalism. That is to say, he made psychological experience to be the basis of all metaphysical truth, rejected skepticism, and judged all knowledge by the test of reason. Towards the end of that period, however, he began to question the solidity of the psychological basis of metaphysics, and ended by losing all faith in the validity and value of metaphysical reasoning. The apparent contradictions which he found to exist in the physical sciences, and the conclusions which Hume had reached in his analysis of the principle of causation, "awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumber" and brought home to him the necessity of reviewing or criticizing all human experience for the purpose of restoring the physical sciences to a degree of certitude which they rightly claim, and also for the purpose of placing on an unshakable foundation the metaphysical truths which Hume's skeptical phenomenalism had overthrown. The old rational dogmatism had, he now considered, laid too much emphasis on the a priori elements of knowledge; on the other hand, as he now for the first time realized, the empirical philosophy of Hume had gone too far when it reduced all truth to empirical or a posteriori elements. Kant, therefore, proposes to pass all knowledge in review in order to determine how much of it is to be assigned to the a priori, and how much to the a posteriori factors, if we may so designate them, of knowledge. As he himself says, his purpose is to "deduce" the a priori or transcendental, forms of thought. Hence, his philosophy is essentially a "criticism", because it is an examination of knowledge, and "transcendental", because its purpose in examining knowledge is to determine the a priori, or transcendental, forms. Kant himself was wont to say that the business of philosophy is to answer three questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope for? He considered, however, that the answer to the second and third depends on the answer to the first; our duty and our destiny can be determined only after a thorough study of human knowledge.
The Catholic Encylopedia at New Advent here.

Freedom plays a central role in Kant’s ethics because the possibility of moral judgments presupposes it. Freedom is an idea of reason that serves an indispensable practical function. Without the assumption of freedom, reason cannot act. If we think of ourselves as completely causally determined, and not as uncaused causes ourselves, then any attempt to conceive of a rule that prescribes the means by which some end can be achieved is pointless. I cannot both think of myself as entirely subject to causal law and as being able to act according to the conception of a principle that gives guidance to my will. We cannot help but think of our actions as the result of an uncaused cause if we are to act at all and employ reason to accomplish ends and understand the world.
So reason has an unavoidable interest in thinking of itself as free. That is, theoretical reason cannot demonstrate freedom, but practical reason must assume for the purpose of action. Having the ability to make judgments and apply reason puts us outside that system of causally necessitated events. “Reason creates for itself the idea of a spontaneity that can, on its own, start to act–without, i.e., needing to be preceded by another cause by means of which it is determined to action in turn, according to the law of causal connection,” Kant says. (A 533/B 561) In its intellectual domain, reason must think of itself as free.  The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy here.

I begin with Kant’s 1785 Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (1981). The essay’s argument is motivated by Kant’s concern for the dignity of the individual autonomous will, which has worth in itself only because it is an end in itself. Relevant here are two claims Kant makes: autonomy or freedom is necessary for an individual to be a “person,” and this claim admits of no exceptions; that is, any admixture of heteronomy in one’s moral maxims or any treatment by others as anything other than an end in oneself compromises one’s moral personhood.
Kantian Individualism and Political Libertarianism by James R. Otteson here
My own view? Beats the heck out of me!  I tried reading Kant in Englisch and in German and I did not understand anything.  But I do now wonder how accurate and precise was Ayn Rand's view that Kant was evil because he detached the Mind from Reality.  She offered a summary, but no direct quotes.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013 - 12:35pmSanction this postReply
Here are a few choice quotes from the horse's ass, er, I mean the horse's mouth:

Obedience to duty "without any end or advantage to be gained by it . . . should serve as the inflexible precept of the will." Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. L. W. Beck (Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1969), p. 65.

". . . the ground of obligation here [in regard to moral laws] must not be sought in the nature of man or in the circumstances in which he is placed . . . Ibid., p. 6.

"Empirical principles are not at all suited to serve as the basis of moral laws . . . . But the principle of one's own happiness is the most objectionable of all. This is not merely because it is false . . . Rather, it is because this principle supports morality with incentives which undermine it and destroy all its sublimity . . . Ibid., p. 69.

Moral principles direct us "to act even if all our propensity, inclination, and natural tendency were opposed to it. This is so far the case that the sublimity and intrinsic worth of the command is the better shown in a duty the fewer subjective causes [personal motives] there are for it and the more there are against it . . . Ibid., p. 49.

"To behold virtue in her proper form is nothing else than to exhibit morality stripped of all admixture of sensuous things and of every spurious adornment of reward or self-love." Ibid., p. 50, n. 11.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013 - 12:43pmSanction this postReply

I have a question about Kant though. Has any Objectivist researched the issue of translations of Kant and written something on the topic?

The issue I have in mind is that translations are often inaccurate. Reading translated Kant it's hard to trust that what you're reading actually corresponds to the original very well.

Translations of novels are often good enough, but translations of philosophy are typically very bad because the translators are not philosophers and do not understand what they are translating. Translating complicated ideas without understanding the material is very error prone.

I think this is an important issue for judging Kant.

My own guess would be that he's actually worse in the original than in the translations. Since Western translators are better people than Kant, I'd expect a lot of errors to go in the direction of replacing some of his bad ideas with the translator's own less bad ideas.

But I don't know. And I think it's hard to have a really strong opinion about Kant without knowing more about the translation issue.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013 - 9:54pmSanction this postReply
Asimov identified many of the epistemological errors of Kant and of post-Kant public philosophy.

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Sunday, January 5 - 9:34pmSanction this postReply

'In terms of how epistemology is correctly used, 'Objectivism' seems to be a modern-day advocacy of dogmatic rationalism (cv); knowledge=reason.

The mind passively takes in knowledge by what is elsewhere called 'the bucket theory'. The distinction between subject-dependency (inner state) and subjcet independency (world) is as simple as saying'objective vs subjective.'

Kant simply blurred these lines, hence becoming an 'idealist', stating much of what we believe to be mind independent really isn't.

Well, again, this obsession with dualities that created a 'debate' between objective and subjective to begin with simply rolled over, rhetorically speaking, to materialism vs idealism.

'Just part of the piss-ant, horse's ass 101philo-stuff that makes its way around dorm room bull sessions, late at night, reinforced in ample quantity by Jack and Jose...

Real philosophy uses the inspiration of Kant as an axial question: to what extent are 'things' really concepts? For example, contemplate, if you will, a baseball bat. In passing, it's here that Aristotle's four causes prove insufficient. More progressively, Searle talked of an epistemic slide between thing and concept, as if on a scale.

Kant is also more or less responsible for philosophy's later 'linguistic turn' that ostensibly began with Tractatus. What we know of the world is not what presents itself as objects, but rather what we make a case for: "Die welt ist alles was der Fall ist..."

Furthermore, facts (not things) exist by virtue of a frame of reference (Bild). Suggestively, Witgenstein alludes to Bild as mental creations that frame objects appropriate to 'fall' within. Hence, again, Kant.

It's moreover irrelevant to speak of the 'reality' of facts outside their frame of reference: "Wovon mann nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen".

Freedom was raised in Book Three, 'Judgment', in which he boldly proclaimed that it was inate, part of who we are as humans. Rand can thank him for this, as well as countless other movements.

To this end, the slide of Wittgenstein in the 'Investigations' can likewise be attributed to the influence of Kant. Both semantics and frames are unstable, constantly changing. As Wittgenstein mockingly wrote of formal identity in the Abelian: ABC // BCD //CDE.
Our innate sense of freedom bends word usage to our desires.

What folly, then, ever to have said that he was evil.


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