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Monday, December 10, 2018

A Machiavellian View of the “Tumult” in Trump Presidency

Everyday I come across new stories on the chaos in Donald Trump’s administration. He is criticized for using his Twitter account to attack his opponents, and for being in perpetual conflict with the mainstream media, intellectual community, political establishment, and even with the powerful institutions of his own government and the members of his own staff.

Is the chaos that we see in the Trump presidency a good thing or bad thing for the Republic (USA)?

If we go by the insights on a republic that Niccolò Machiavelli offers in The Discourses on Livy, then we can draw the inference that the Trump presidency is a fairly good form of republican government. Machiavelli was of the view that a republic is energized by conflict. Without conflict, there can be no politics and no freedom for the citizens. The interests of the citizens can be safeguarded only when the political and intellectual circles are mired in conflicts of all kinds.

Machiavelli uses the word “tumult” several times in his book to describe the noisy and disorderly political culture in ancient Rome. He notes that the tumult between Rome's political factions, and between its nobles and plebs had a beneficial impact—it energized the Roman republic and preserved the freedom of its people. He is the first philosopher to assert that the conflict between political factions and sections of society is useful and good.

He writes in Chapter 4 of The Discourses:
I say that to me it appears that those who damn the tumults between the nobles and the plebs blame those things that were the first cause of keeping Rome free, and that they consider the noises and the cries that would arise in such tumults more than the good effects that they engendered.
In another passage, Machiavelli says that the tumults were a “guard on Roman freedom,” and that if Rome had been more tranquil, it would have lost its energy. If the period of tranquility were to last for too long in any republic, then instead of being strengthened, the society would lose its energy, and its political and intellectual culture would see a steep downfall.

Machiavelli understood that the very nature of politics is conflictual, and only when the ruling class is tolerant of conflict and chaos that there is freedom for the citizens. I am convinced by Machiavelli’s arguments on the functioning of a republic, and I think that Donald Trump should be cheered for his chaotic governing style.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

On Philosophers Who Demand Immediate Perfection

The Storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789
Alexis de Tocqueville points out in his book The Old Regime and the Revolution that the French Revolution was doomed because it was being led by philosophers whose learning came mostly from books and who had no experience of running an institution or a country. These philosophers demanded immediate perfection. They destroyed all the political and cultural institutions in France in order to make a new beginning. They naively believed that a great new nation can be built quickly by the ideas of “reason” alone.

Susan Dunn looks at Tocqueville’s analysis of the French Revolution in her book Sister Revolutions: French Lightening, American Light. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 2, “Revolutionary Leadership”:
Ultimately, the men who were attuned to change, who had insight into the movement of society, were not men of experience of power but rather men of imagination and vision: France’s men of letters. Whereas experienced politicians dismissed as a preposterous fantasy the idea of radically changing France’s political and social structure, intellectuals possessed the audacity and imagination to believe that people could transform French society. Only they had the creativity and vision to think that they could build, on top of the ruins of the old order, a just society. 
Here’s another passage from the chapter:
And yet, French men of letters went too far. Tocqueville deplored their plan to replace in one swift move complex and ancient institutions with abstract systems, with “simple and elementary rules.” The basic societal changes that took place may have been both inevitable and desirable, but Tocqueville thought it neither inevitable or desirable that they should be brought about through convulsive and traumatic means. It was the brutal and violent character of the Revolution, not its underlying political principles, aims, or vision, that Tocqueville condemned and for which he faulted, not politicians, but men of letters. He did not blame intellectuals for wanting to destroy the hated abuses of the Old Régime, he explained, but he did blame the naive, arrogant manner in which they went about this “necessary destruction.” 
The irony is that the philosophers who were the proponents of this total and sudden transformation of French society could not escape the fury of the Revolution. They too were consumed by the violence that swept France. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

David Hume, As a Free Market Economist

An engraving of Hume from
The History of England (1st volume) 
In 1752, David Hume published his book the Political Discourses, which is a collection of essays on a subject that was in his time called political economy and is today known as economics. The ideas that he presents in these essays are broadly similar to the economic theory that Adam Smith describes in his The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. Hume has exercised heavy influence on Smith’s economic thinking. There are numerous references, both explicit and implicit, to Hume in virtually all of Smith’s writings.

Dennis C. Rasmussen, in his book The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought, notes that within a month of the publication of Hume’s Political Discourses, Smith gave an account of Hume’s economic thinking to a gathering of professors. He was impressed by Hume’s empirical argument against British mercantilism. This can only mean that Hume had shared the work with Smith prior to publication.

Here’s an excerpt from Rasmussen’s book:
Judging from the rough report known as the “Anderson notes,” it appears that Smith also discussed Hume's Political Discourses— specifically, the essay “Of Interest”—in his jurisprudence lectures beginning quite early in his time at Glasgow. In his later lectures, we know, he showered praise on a concept that Hume outlines in “Of the Balance of Trade” and “Of Money” and that has come to be known as “Hume’s specie-flow mechanism.” Hume, Smith proclaimed, had “very ingeniously” proven the “absurdity” of the common worry about losing gold and silver through an unfavorable balance of trade. Given that prices and wages adjust automatically to the amount of money in circulation, any attempt to restrict the export of gold and silver would be self-defeating. Smith pronounced to his students that “Mr. Hume’s reasoning is exceedingly ingenious,” though he also chided Hume for having “gone a little into the notion that public opulence consists in money”—presumably a reference to Hume’s strictures on the use of paper money in the early editions of the Political Discourses. Based on Hume’s “ingenious” argument and a host of others, Smith concluded that “Britain should by all means be made a free port… and that free commerce and liberty of exchange should be allowed with all nations and for all things.” 
Rasmussen points out that many of Hume’s arguments anticipate those of Smith’s great work. Hume holds that the true source of a nation’s wealth is not gold or silver or a positive balance of trade but a productive citizenry, and that free trade works to the benefit of all parties involved—the rich and the poor, the government and the populace. He speaks against the numerous regulations that England and other European nations have put on trade. In his essay, “Of Luxury,” which in the later editions he retitled “Of Refinement in the Arts,” Hume insists that there is nothing particularly noble or redeeming about poverty, nor anything intrinsically objectionable about luxury.

Hume’s Political Discourses was widely read and praised in Britain and France. In his biography My Own Life, Hume singles out this volume as “the only work of mine that was successful on the first publication.” It is also worth noting that Hume was a Conservative Tory in his politics.

Friday, December 7, 2018

On the Friendship Between David Hume and Adam Smith

The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought, by Dennis C. Rasmussen, provides an interesting portrait of the intellectual environment in which David Hume and Adam Smith did their work, and the deep friendship that developed between them after their first meeting, which, according to Rasmussen, happened in 1749. Hume has exercised an amazing amount of influence on several important thinkers. Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Adam Smith were influenced by him.

Rasmussen compares the friendship between Hume and Smith with the relationship between Socrates and Plato. Here’s an excerpt:
Whereas these leading philosophers of friendship tend to analyze the concept in the abstract—the different forms that friendship takes, its roots in human nature, its relationship to self-interest, to romantic love, and to justice—a consideration of Hume and Smith allows us to see that rare thing, a philosophical friendship of the very highest level in action: a case study, as it were… Indeed, there is arguably no higher example of a philosophical friendship in the entire Western tradition. It takes some effort, in fact, to think of who the closest rivals would be. Socrates and Plato? Given the four-decade age disparity between them, their relationship was probably more one of teacher and student, or perhaps mentor and protégé, than one of equals, and in any case the record of their personal interactions is scant.
Hume is generally seen as a philosopher who is interested in abstract metaphysical and epistemological questions, while Smith is seen as a philosopher of practical matters, like economic theory. Also, Hume was a conservative Tory in his politics, while Smith was a liberal Whig; and Hume was a skeptic with regard to religion or perhaps even an atheist, while Smith had cultivated for himself the image of a confirmed believer. But going beyond these caricatures, Rasmussen shows that the intellectual interests of Hume and Smith overlapped a great deal as both were interested in almost everything. Hume has argued for free trade decades before Smith, while Smith has written extensively on moral theory which is inspired by Hume’s thoughts.

Rasmussen traces the evolution of their friendship through not only the contents of their letters but also from the salutations that they use. “The earliest of the letters open with a formal “Dear Sir,” but it was not long before they transitioned to the more affectionate “Dear Smith” or “My Dear Hume,” then “My Dear Friend,” and finally “My Dearest Friend”— an epithet that neither of them used with any other correspondent during the course of their friendship.”

I am currently on the page 70 of the book. I will have more to say on it in my future posts.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

How to Mark a Book

Here’s Mortimer J. Adler’s suggestion for marking a book intelligently and fruitfully (from his essay, “How to Mark a Book”):
1. Underlining: of major points, of important or forceful statements.

2. Vertical lines at the margin: to emphasize a statement already underlined.

3. Star, asterisk, or other doo-dad at the margin: to be used sparingly, to emphasize the ten or twenty most important statements in the book. (You may want to fold the bottom corner of each page on which you use such marks. It won't hurt the sturdy paper on which most modern books are printed, and you will be able to take the book off the shelf at any time and, by opening it at the folded-corner page, refresh your recollection of the book.)
4. Numbers in the margin: to indicate the sequence of points the author makes in developing a single argument.
5. Numbers of other pages in the margin: to indicate where else in the book the author made points relevant to the point marked; to tie up the ideas in a book, which, though they may be separated by many pages, belong together.
6. Circling of key words or phrases.
7. Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page, for the sake of: recording questions (and perhaps answers) which a passage raised in your mind; reducing a complicated discussion to a simple statement; recording the sequence of major points right through the books. I use the end-papers at the back of the book to make a personal index of the author's points in the order of their appearance. 
I have used all the seven methods to mark the books that I have read. But Adler notes that "marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love."

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

How to Study a Philosopher?

Bertrand Russell, in his A History of Western Philosophy, makes an interesting point on the right way of studying a philosopher. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 4, “Heraclitus” (Book 1: Ancient Philosophy):

"In studying a philosopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to believe in his theories, and only then a revival of the critical attitude, which should resemble, as far as possible, the state of mind of a person abandoning opinions which he has hitherto held. Contempt interferes with the first part of this process, and reverence with the second. Two things are to be remembered: that a man whose opinions and theories are worth studying may be presumed to have had some intelligence, but that no man is likely to have arrived at complete and final truth on any subject whatever. When an intelligent man expresses a view which seems to us obviously absurd, we should not attempt to prove that it is somehow true, but we should try to understand how it ever came to seem true. This exercise of historical and psychological imagination at once enlarges the scope of our thinking, and helps us to realize how foolish many of our own cherished prejudices will seem to an age which has a different temper of mind."

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Schopenhauer’s Lockean Critique of Kant’s Ethics

Commemorative stamp on Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer has referred to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Johann Gottlieb Fichte more frequently than to John Locke but his remarks about Hegel and Fichte are mostly derisive, whereas he has some positive things to say about Locke. Also, he has referred to Locke more often than to David Hume and George Berkeley combined. Part of his motivation for frequently referring to Locke is that he wants to contrast him with Hegel and Fichte. In his Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, Schopenhauer says that it must be to Locke’s credit that Fichte calls him the worst of all philosophers.

But there is another reason for Schopenhauer’s repeated references to Locke. In his essay, “Locke as Schopenhauer's (Kantian) Philosophical Ancestor,”  David E. Cartwright notes:
Why did Schopenhauer refer to Locke more frequently than he did to his fellow classical British empiricists? Why did Schopenhauer regard Locke as a summus philosophus? To answer these questions, it is necessary to understand how Schopenhauer viewed Kant's relationship to Locke, since he saw himself intimately related to Locke through a mediation by Kant: “Accordingly, it will be seen that Locke, Kant, and I are closely connected, since in the interval of almost two hundred years we present the gradual development of a coherently consistent train of thought”. Insofar as Schopenhauer considered himself a Kantian, and as he saw Kant as Lockean, Schopenhauer viewed his philosophy standing in a philosophical lineage traceable to Locke. Schopenhauer also tended to view his relationship to Kant in terms comparable to those through which he conceived Kant's relationship to Locke. Just as Schopenhauer claimed that his philosophy transcended Kant's, while retaining fidelity to Kantian insights, he claimed that Kant’s philosophy transcended Locke’s, while retaining fidelity to Lockean insights. But Schopenhauer's fidelity to Kant extends only to dimensions of his metaphysics and epistemology. Schopenhauer radically rejected Kant's practical philosophy, and he used the empirically minded Locke as an ally against Kant's ethics. 
Schopenhauer had several differences with Kant’s moral philosophy. In contrast to Kant’s non-empirical, prescriptive ethics of duty, Schopenhauer developed an empirically based descriptive virtue ethics. In his On The Basis of Morality, Schopenhauer makes it clear that his ethics “is in essentials, diametrically opposed to Kant’s.” In order to travel on the path of his kind of ethics, Schopenhauer had to appeal to the empirically minded Locke.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Thinkers Must Confine Themselves to the Area of Their Expertise

Thomas Reid; Ayn Rand
Thomas Reid, in the final paragraph of An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense, notes that all the thinkers who attempt to develop a theory of everything, end up creating work that is lacking in quality and significance. He gives the example of Galileo and Newton, who, he says, managed to create works of timeless importance because they confined themselves to the core area of their expertise. Here’s an excerpt:
If Galileo had attempted a complete system of natural philosophy, he had, probably, done little service to mankind: but by confining himself to what was within his comprehension, he laid the foundation of a system of knowledge, which rises by degrees, and does honour to the human understanding. Newton, building upon this foundation, and in like manner confining his inquiries to the law of gravitation and the properties of light, performed wonders. If he had attempted a great deal more, he had done a great deal less, and perhaps nothing at all. Ambitious of following such great examples, with unequal steps, alas! and unequal force, we have attempted an inquiry only into one little corner of the human mind; that corner which seems to be most exposed to vulgar observation, and to be most easily comprehended; and yet, if we have delineated it justly, it must be acknowledged that the accounts heretofore given of it were very lame, and wide of the truth. 
These lines from Reid’s Inquiry make me think of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. The reason there are so many inconsistencies and errors in her thought is that she is a philosopher of the “whole,” virtually everything. She conceived of objectivism in the late 1950s as a complete system for living on earth. But the quest for a complete system for living on earth is as delusional as the quest for Bigfoot, which can never be found because it doesn’t exist. No one in the history of humanity has ever created a complete system for living on earth, and no one ever will in the future. Philosophy will keep evolving as the knowledge of mankind evolves in other areas of activity.

In her eagerness to create a complete system for living on earth, Rand wrote and spoke on a range of topics. From Metaphysics to Epistemology, Aesthetics, Ethics, and Politics; from Plato and Aristotle to Immanuel Kant and the Logical Positivists; from theory of mind and body to the theory of evolution; abortion, family life, education, sports, libertarianism, conservatism, foreign policy, race relations—in the Ayn Rand Lexicon, you can find a Rand quote on virtually everything. But in many cases, a small quote is all that we have from her on any particular subject, as she has not revealed the arguments on the basis of which she has developed her conclusions.

If instead of speaking on so many topics, she had focused on the core areas of her expertise, and given us the complete treatises on those areas, then she would have created a work of much more value under the banner of objectivism. I agree with Reid that thinkers must confine themselves to the area of their expertise if they want to leave behind a work of any value.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

An Examination of Nozick’s Randian Argument

Robert Nozick, in his essay, “The Randian Argument,” (Socratic Puzzles; Page 249 - 264), tries to show that Ayn Rand does not objectively establish the conclusions that she reaches in her work on moral theory. He says that it is not clear to him what Rand’s argument is so he must try to set out the argument as a deductive argument and then examine the premises.

So his methodology consists of reducing Rand’s moral theory (his understanding of it) into four arguments or conclusions, each one of which he examines in turn.

But his critique of Rand’s argument is not right. Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, in their essay, "Nozick on the Randian Argument,” (Reading Nozick, Edited by Jeffery Paul, Page: 232 - 269), show that four conclusions that Nozick has set up for consideration cannot be attributed to Rand, because they are an outcome of his flawed understanding of her theory. And the multiple premises that Nozick uses to construct Rand’s argument for each one of the conclusions which he attributes to her are also not Randian.

Den Uyl and Rasmussen have done a complete autopsy of Nozick’s essay, they analyze each one of his conclusions and premises and show that Nozick fails to get even the most basic elements of Rand’s theory right. They note that “Nozick has completely failed to construct a Randian argument. Thus any effective criticisms he does make are effective only against his own constructions and not against Rand.”

In the final section of their essay, Den Uyl and Rasmussen offer their version of the Randian argument using the methodology that Nozick has used in his own essay. They point out that their Randian argument is not an “exhaustive and definitive statement of the Randian derivation. Since we are not quoting directly from Rand and other such derivations (certainly more complete ones) might be possible.” But I find their Randian argument to be quite useful.

Now the question is why did Nozick, an experienced Harvard professor, who is sympathetic to Rand’s libertarian views and has found her novels to be “exciting, powerful, illuminating, and thought-provoking”, write such a pointless critique of her moral theory? I have no answer to this.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thomas Reid on the Skepticism of Descartes, Locke, and Hume

Reid’s painting by Henry Raeburn (1796)
Thomas Reid critiques the skeptical philosophy of John Locke, David Hume, and other European philosophers in his An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense. He points out that their philosophy leads to the conclusion that there are no substantial beings in the universe, neither bodies nor spirits. He considers this conclusion to be absurd.

In Section 3, Chapter 1, of the book, Reid looks at the Cogito, ergo sum argument which Descartes has deployed to prove his own existence to himself. Reid asks: “But supposing it proved, that my thought and my consciousness must have a subject, and consequently that I exist, how do I know that all that train and succession of thought which I remember belong to one subject, and that the I of this moment is the very individual I of yesterday and of times past?”

He notes that while Descartes has not addressed this doubt, Locke has done it. Locke’s method of resolving this doubt consists of determining that “personal identity consists in consciousness; that is, if you are conscious that you did such a thing a twelvemonth ago, this consciousness makes you to be the very person that did it. Now, consciousness of what is past can signify nothing else but a remembrance that I did it. So that Locke's principle must be, That identity consists in remembrance ; and consequently a man must lose his personal identity with regard to every thing he forgets.”

He accuses Locke and Hume of fomenting a series of unnecessary doubts which they consistently fail to resolve. Here’s Reid’s take on the role played by skeptic thinkers:
[They] have all employed their genius and skill to prove the existence of a material world; and with very bad success. Poor untaught mortals believe, undoubtedly, that there is a sun, moon, and stars; an earth, which we inhabit; country, friends, and relations, which we enjoy; land, houses, and moveables, which we possess. But philosophers, pitying the credulity of the vulgar, resolve to have no faith but what is founded upon reason. They apply to philosophy to furnish them with reason for the belief of those things which all mankind have believed, without being able to give any reason for it. And surely one would expect, that, in matters of such importance, the proof would not be difficult: but it is the most difficult thing in the world. For these three great men, with the best good will, have not been able, from all the treasures of philosophy, to draw one argument, that is fit to convince a man that can reason, of the existence of any one thing without him. 
Reid says, “A man that disbelieves his own existence, is surely as unfit to be reasoned with, as a man that believes he is made of glass.” Taken as a whole, Reid’s Inquiry can be seen as an answer to the ideas of the most important philosopher of skepticism, David Hume.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

On the World of Nature

William A. Wallace, in his book The Modeling of Nature: The Philosophy of Science and the Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis, offers the following perspective on the world of nature:
Combining the two senses, we may characterize the world of nature as what is capable of coming into existence apart from human influence and as made up of things that have within themselves natures or internal sources of their distinctive activities. Nature is thus populated by plants and animals of various kinds, by chemical elements and compounds, by hosts of elementary particles, by galaxies, stars, and planets, all of which come into being and pass away and yet enjoy periods of relative stability during which they respond to, or interact with, objects around them. Some natures are animate whereas others are inanimate, yet all are knowable through observable properties and behavioral characteristics. To say of something that it is sulphur, or a geranium, or a horse, is to specify its nature; this we learn not merely from its appearance but from the way it acts and reacts in a variety of circumstances. Thus understood, there is something more enduring about natures than there is about the individuals that instantiate them. A plant may die, and when it does it ceases to be, say, a geranium, but its perishing does not entail that the nature of geranium ceases also. Other plants may continue to exist of which it is true to say "This is a geranium,” and thus the nature has a less transient character than the individuals of which it is predicated. 
He says that the human experience of nature is transempirical:
Again, to say of a horse that it is a large, solid-hoofed, herbivorous mammal is to describe, and indeed to define, its nature. The definition sets it apart from things that are not mammals, and among mammals it further differentiates the horse from small creatures, carnivores, and those without solid hoofs. This in fact becomes the meaning of the term "horse." Furthermore, the grasp of such meaning is the work of the intellect, not merely the work of the senses. Natures are a shorthand way of indicating the intelligible aspects of things in terms of which they can be understood and defined. Thus the concept of nature is not exclusively an empirical concept, if by empirical one means whatever can be measured or photographed or otherwise presented directly to the senses. It is transempirical. for although it takes its origin from sense experience it still requires going beyond the world of sense for its proper comprehension.  
To refer to the nature of a thing is therefore to designate an inner dimension that makes the thing be what it is, serves to differentiate it from other things, and at the same time accounts for its distinctive activities and responses. This inner dimension is not transparent to the intellect, for we usually do not achieve distinct and comprehensive knowledge of a nature the first time we encounter it in experience. Rather we grasp it in a general and indeterminate way that is open to progressive development and refinement on the basis of additional information. A veteran horse trainer or a veterinarian obviously knows more about the nature of a horse than does a youth with limited experience of horses. Yet even the child who is able to say "That is a horse" grasps the same nature as does the expert, even while doing so in a vaguer and less distinct way.  
When approached in this manner, nature loses some of the mysterious and occult character sometimes associated with terms such as essence and quiddity. To seek the essence of a horse is in effect to define it or determine its nature. To ask for its quiddity (from the Latin quiddilas) is similarly to ask what it is, and this is nothing more than to inquire into its nature. There is nothing spooky or metaphysical about such an inquiry. Rather it is a natural way of questioning for a human being who wishes to gain understanding of the world of nature and of the many natures of which it is constituted.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Rousseau: The Noxious Force in Modern Civilization

A Painting of Rousseau (1753)
Conor Cruise O’Brien has a thoughtful essay, “Rousseau, Robespierre, Burke, Jefferson, and the French Revolution,” in The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, edited by Susan Dunn. In the final paragraphs of the essay, he sums up the noxious influence that Rousseau has in the major universities.  Here’s an excerpt:
Rousseau also holds an influential place within the English-speaking world through the vogue for the ‘‘politically correct’’ and ‘‘multiculturalism’’ now dominant in certain faculties of several major American universities. These work in Rousseau’s manner: through strong, repeated, unargued assertion: ‘‘Hey ho, hey ho, Western culture’s got to go’’ chanted the students. No matter that the students in question have no other culture than the culture of the English language, the only language that they know, or have any intention of knowing. They are in fact monocultural multiculturalists; intellectual monsters, incapable of doing anything except exercising a kind of power through agreed nonsense, and feeling good while doing so.  
All that is very much in the spirit of Rousseau. I believe that Rousseau has been, and still remains a noxious force within Western culture. He is noxious because of a fundamental lack of seriousness. He does not think or argue. He talks for effect and teaches others to do the same. Unfortunately there are some in every generation who are seduced either by his message or—more probably—by the example of his successes. The malignant magic of the grand charlatan is liable to be with us for a long time.

Monday, November 26, 2018

On Philosophy and Science

Here’s a message that I received from Prof. Douglas B. Rasmussen regarding the nature of philosophy and the difference between philosophy and science:

Philosophy is the attempt to know the fundamental nature of things. It proceeds by the use of common experience (as contrasted to special experience, e.g., a laboratory experiment) and reason (where reason is understood broadly to involve the ability to conceptualize, formulate propositions, and present arguments, theories, hypotheses). Philosophy can be motivated by religious faith, but it does not appeal to faith.

Philosophical inquiry is concerned with questions that require conceptual clarification—what do you mean by X?—and questions that are highly general or abstract and also most basic or foundational—questions not like what is a physical thing, but what is to be a thing or what is it to be. These questions require that one offer an explanation or why—mere assertions will not suffice. Yet, this does not mean that all knowing is discursive or that there may not be self-evident truths that are presupposed by their denials and are themselves directly known—e.g., the principle of non-contradiction. The fundamental areas of philosophy are:

Ontology or metaphysics—what does it mean to be and what are the ultimate kind of beings.

Epistemology—what is it to know? What are the basic ways of knowing?

Ethics—what is inherently good and what ought I to do?

Political Philosophy—what is the purpose of the political legal order and what distinguishes de facto political/legal power from legitimate power?

Aesthetics—what is an aesthetic object? What is beauty? What is the relation of art to other human endeavors?

There can also be philosophy of X—where you examine the fundamental subject matter and methods of particular intellectual disciplines or human activities. For example, philosophy of language, economics, mind. There is also philosophy of human nature, which may be the most important to us:  Who am I, what am I, and what am I for?

The distinction between philosophy and the science ultimately rests on the idea that philosophy proceeds from common experience, ordinary sense perception, and not experience that is arranged by an experiment. There can be general principles of what can be called philosophy of nature that is based just on common experience.  Science gets more involved with the how, and particular measurements.

A philosopher will examine the so-called distinction between the empirical and the conceptual or the perceptual and rational. As an Aristotelian, I do not think they can be neatly divided. This is not unrelated to the analytic-synthetic distinction. I discuss this in some of articles of mine.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Rousseau and Robespierre

Cartoon of Robespierre guillotining
the executioner after having guillotined
everyone else in France.
The leaders of the French Revolution—Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, Maximilien Robespierre, Saint-Just, and others—were mesmerized by Rousseau’s vision of General Will leading to the creation of total harmony and unanimity in France. In 1778, before the French Revolution began, Robespierre met Rousseau. Susan Dunn talks about their meeting in her Introduction to The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Here’s an excerpt:
"I saw you in your last days," Robespierre recalled, "and this memory is a source of proud joy for me." According to Robespierre, Rousseau commented that he had prepared the field and sowed the seeds for the immense change that was about to take place in France, but, like Moses, he would not live to see the promised land. The young lawyer pledged to his master that he would be "constantly faithful to the inspiration" that he had drawn from Rousseau’s writings.
The book's final essay, Conor Cruise O’Brien’s “Rousseau, Robespierre, Burke, Jefferson, and the French Revolution,” begins with a description of Rousseau’s strong grip on the minds of Robespierre and other revolutionaries:
Rousseau was also, in a curious way, the guarantee of Robespierre’s impartiality, as a being above normal politics, spokesman for a mysterious and awe-inspiring entity: the General Will. In his address to the French of the eighty-three Departments in the summer of 1792—about the summit period of his personal authority—Robespierre came forward confidently in the persona of spokesman for the General Will, addressing the Jacobins whom he now totally dominated:  
"For us, we are not of any party, we serve no faction, you know it, brothers and friends, our will is the General Will."  
"Our will is the General Will." Once accepted as spokesman for the General Will, itself an absolute, Robespierre was able to wield absolute power, even at a time when he held no office.  
He was seen as the "guide" or "legislator" who makes his appearance in chapters 6 and 7 of Book 2 of The Social Contract. The function of the guide or legislator is to direct the General Will, "to show it how to see objects as they are, sometimes as they ought to be." 
In 1793–1794, to be designated by Robespierre, with no evidence at all, as opposed to the General Will, was invariably the prelude to the fatal prosecution of the individual concerned, to a trial with the result known in advance, and then to speedy execution.  
The cult of the General Will flourished, in a way, even after the fall of Robespierre. The Thermidorians, having killed Robespierre, declared that he had falsified Rousseau and that they themselves were the true heirs to Rousseau. On 14 September 1794 the Thermidorian-dominated Convention ordered that Rousseau’s remains be brought from his original burial place on the Isle of Poplars in Ermenonville and placed in the Pantheon in Paris with appropriate ceremony. Gordon MacNeil describes the central place of The Social Contract in the ceremonies: "The Social Contract, the ‘beacon of legislators’ was carried on a velvet cushion, and a statue of its author in a cask pulled by twelve horses."

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Rousseau’s Account of General Will and Freedom

A Painting of Rousseau (1753)
Rousseau’s communitarian vision of General Will can be seen as a forerunner of the Marxist vision of dictatorship of the proletariat. Both Rousseau and Marx believed that people do not subject themselves to any authority, except to the collective will of the people. For Rousseau, the collective will, is the General will; for Marx, it is the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Susan Dunn offers the following definition of General Will in  The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Page 19):
Rousseau held that a democratic society possesses a General Will. This ‘‘will’’ reflects what enlightened people would want if they were able to make decisions solely as social beings and citizens and not as private individuals. Individuals may possess private wills that express their particular interests, but citizens must recognize and concur with the General Will that mirrors the good of all. The General Will is not tantamount to the will of all citizens. Nor is it the sum of all individual wills or the expression of a compromise or consensus among them. Nor is it the equivalent of the will of the majority, for even the majority can be corrupt or misguided. In other words, it is a theoretical construct. The General Will is general, not because a broad number of people subscribe to it but because its object is always the common good of all.  
Thus, hovering strangely above and beyond the wills of all, the General Will is ‘‘always constant, unalterable, and pure,’’always mirroring perfectly the common good of all members of the community. The ultimate authority—and ultimate sovereignty—thus reside not really in the people, who may err in their estimation of the General Will, unable to transcend their private wills, but rather in the infallible General Will itself—the power of Reason, the enlightened collective moral conscience.
According to Rousseau, true freedom is choosing to obey the General Will. He equates freedom with obedience. Susan Dunn explains (Page 20):
Rousseau recognized two different types of freedom. The first, enjoyed by people in the state of nature, denoted their freedom to act as they wished, in a variety of diverse ways. This was a negative form of freedom, freedom from constraints. But there is another, higher form of freedom, according to Rousseau, a positive freedom. This is not freedom from constraint, but rather freedom for some higher good, for the enjoyment of the good, moral life. This kind of freedom, more heroic and ambitious than negative freedom, can belong to the citizen who is able to suppress his private will and consciously choose the common good over his own desires and personal benefit. This individual has mastered himself, becoming a moral and hence a truly free being. The originality of Rousseau’s vision resides in his concept of freedom, not as the province of the autonomous individual but rather as that of the self-sacrificing citizen.  
Indeed, the more that people identify with the community, the ‘‘freer’’ they are. Whereas primitive individuals in the state of nature were thoroughly indifferent and unattached to one another, in Rousseau’s utopia, citizens are unreservedly involved with one another. The solitary independence that people may have enjoyed in the state of nature is not something that Rousseau aspired to recover. On the contrary, he wishes to see it transformed into its opposite—voluntary dependence and interdependence, happy obedience to the General Will.

Friday, November 23, 2018

On Rousseau’s Attack on the Enlightenment Project

In her Introduction to The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Susan Dunn, the book’s editor, looks at the reasons which motivated Rousseau to attack the Enlightenment project. Here’s an excerpt:
Astonishingly, Rousseau turned against the entire Enlightenment project. He branded the daring intellectual, scientific, and artistic culture of eighteenth-century France a lie, a vast devolution, a symptom of alarming moral decline. Nothing more than a fake veneer, the century’s worldly accomplishments were all the more perfidious because they masked so effectively the deep corruption of a decadent, unequal society. The quest for knowledge and intellectual advancement was a superficial luxury that, instead of serving society, reinforced its self-indulgence and decay. "We have physicists, geometers, chemists, astronomers, poets, musicians, painters," he remarked, adding tellingly that "we no longer have citizens." 
People, Rousseau was convinced, had been deceived, seduced, and corrupted by the radiance of the Enlightenment. And what was worse, they cherished their corruption, for it seemed to mark the summit of progress and civilization. Everywhere Rousseau saw educated individuals who resembled "happy slaves," preferring the glitter of high culture to true freedom and happiness. The search for knowledge had merely taken on a life of its own, divorced from the real needs of society and citizens. 
Skepticism and vain inquiry attracted people more than a search for a meaningful life. People believed that they knew everything, Rousseau remarked, but they did not know the meaning of the words magnanimity, equity, temperance, humanity, courage, fatherland, and God. Overwhelmed by pretension, affectation, and deceit, the values that create robust citizens and a healthy society—self-sacrifice, sincere friendships, love of country—had disappeared. 
The principles of science and philosophy and the decadent values implicit in the arts on the one hand and the requirements of a healthy society on the other, Rousseau insisted, are irremediably at odds with one another. Whereas science searches for the truth by fostering doubt and undermining faith and virtue, a vigorous, patriotic society, Rousseau contended, requires assent to the principles of its foundation.
Rousseau believed that the Enlightenment project had led to the creation of a decadent society which is obsessed with luxury, prosperity, and a vain and senseless kind of free inquiry—he desired a Spartan society which imposes rules and discipline and demands sacrifices from its citizens. Essentially, he was against all symbols of modernity. His ideas were accepted by the Jacobin Revolutionaries in France, but were rejected by the American revolutionaries across the ocean.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Embracing the Absurd

Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, 1917
Acceptance of absurd art and ideas is an essential facet of modern civilization. Jacques Barzun, in his book  From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to The Present (Page 757), says:

"A repertory of such doctrines and programs would be lengthy. Here are a few samples of the absurd in practice. Western nations spend billions on public schooling for all, urged along by the public cry for Excellence. At the same time the society pounces on any show of superiority as elitism. The same nations deplore violence and sexual promiscuity among the young, but pornography and violence in films and books, shops and clubs, on television and the Internet, and in the lyrics of pop music cannot be suppressed, in the interests of "the free market of ideas." Under that rubric, speech (at least in the United Mates) has enlarged its meaning to include action: one may burn the flag; with impunity; it is a statement of opinion. The legalism would seem to authorize assassination."

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Great Switch: The Morphing of Liberalism into Socialism

Jacques Barzun, in his book From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to The Present, notes that the European intellectuals and politicians threw political vocabulary into disorder by morphing liberalism into socialism. Here’s an excerpt from Part IV, Section I, “The Great Illusion,” of Barzun’s book:
What Shaw and all the other publicists who agitated the social question helped to precipitate was the onset of the Great Switch. It was the pressure of Socialist ideas, and mainly the Reformed groups in parliaments and the Fabian outside, that brought it about. By Great Switch I mean the reversal of Liberalism into its opposite. It began quietly in the 1880s in Germany after Bismarck "stole the Socialists' thunder"—as observers put it—by enacting old-age pensions and other social legislation. By the turn of the century Liberal opinion generally had come to see the necessity on all counts, economic, social, and political, to pass laws in aid of the many—old or sick or unemployed—who could no longer provide for themselves. Ten years into the century, the Lloyd George budget started England on the road to the Welfare State.
Liberalism triumphed on the principle that the best government is that which governs least; now for all the western nations political wisdom has recast this ideal of liberty into liberality. The shift has thrown the vocabulary into disorder. In the United States, where Liberals are people who favor regulation, entitlements, and every kind of protection, the Republican party, who call themselves Conservatives, campaign for less government like the old Liberals reared on Adam Smith; they oppose as many social programs as they dare. In France, traditionally a much-governed country, liberal retains its economic meaning of free markets, and is only part of the name of one small semi-conservative party; Left and Right suffice to separate the main tendencies. In England also, the new Liberal party numbers very few. Conservative and Labor designate the parties that elsewhere are known as Conservatives in opposition to Social Democrats. The political reality, the actual character of the state, does not correspond to any of these labels. It is on the contrary a thorough mixture of purposes and former isms that earlier would have seemed incompatible. Nowadays, a sensible voter should call himself a Liberal Conservative Socialist, regardless of the election returns. Changes of party mean only a little more or a little less of each tendency, depending on the matter under consideration.
Barzun recommends a book by G. Lowes Dickinson, A Modern Symposium, which, he says, contains “arguments, briefly and beautifully dramatized long ago about shades of political opinion” which became common because of the reversal of liberalism into socialism. I am now planning to read A Modern Symposium.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Opinionated Professors: Lenin and Russell

Bertrand Russell
Paul Johnson, in his essay “Bertrand Russell: A Case of Logical Fiddlesticks’,” (Chapter 8; Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky), notes that Bertrand Russell was as opinionated as Lenin, and that both were blind to human nature and had contempt for the people. Here’s an excerpt:
The curious thing is that Russell was quite capable of detecting-and deploring-in others the same dangerous combination of theoretical knowledge and practical ignorance of how people felt and what they wanted. In 1920 he visited Bolshevist Russia and on 19 May had an interview with Lenin. He found him ‘an embodied theory’. ‘I got the impression,’ he wrote, ‘that he despises the populace and is an intellectual aristocrat.’ Russell saw perfectly well how such a combination disqualified a man from ruling wisely; indeed, he added, ‘if I had met [Lenin] without knowing who he was I should not have guessed that he was a great man but should have thought him an opinionated professor.’ He could not or would not see that his description of Lenin applied in some degree to himself. He too was an intellectual aristocrat who despised, and sometimes pitied, the people.  
Moreover, Russell was not merely ignorant of how most people actually behave; he had a profound lack of self-awareness too. He could not see his own traits mirrored in Lenin. Even more seriously he did not perceive that he himself was exposed to the forces of unreason and emotion that he deplored in common people. It was Russell’s general position that the ills of the world could be largely solved by logic, reason and moderation. If men and women followed their reason rather than their emotions, argued logically instead of intuitively, and exercised moderation instead of indulging in extremes, then war would become impossible, human relationships would be harmonious and the condition of mankind could be steadily improved.  
It was Russell’s view, as a mathematician, that pure mathematics had no concept which could not be defined in terms of logic and no problem which could not be solved by the application of reasoning. He was not so foolish as to suppose that human problems could be solved like mathematical equations but he nonetheless believed that given time, patience, method and moderation, reason could supply the answers to most of our difficulties, public and private. He was convinced it was possible to approach them in a spirit of philosophical detachment. Above all, he thought that, given the right framework of reason and logic, the great majority of human beings were capable of behaving decently. 
In my opinion, the politicians and intellectuals who are convinced that they are men of reason and logic are generally unreasonable, illogical and dictatorial. I am wary of all those who pugnaciously claim to be the fount of reason and logic. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Why did Schopenhauer lose out in his competition with Hegel?

Schopenhauer’s Bust in Frankfurt
Randall Collins, in his book The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change, makes several points on the rivalry between Schopenhauer and Hegel. Here’s a paragraph (from Chapter 12: "Intellectuals Take Control of Their Base: The German University Revolution”) that I find most interesting:
The meshing of outer and inner layers helps explain too why Schopenhauer’s pessimism and political conservatism, though mixed with genuinely Idealist ingredients, lost out in competition with Hegel. Schopenhauer was seeking a turf to distinguish himself from the Fichteans. Since Hegel had appropriated the dialectic, Schopenhauer downplayed any dialectic of contradictions and progress toward a higher unity. Although Schopenhauer declared that he was returning to the Kantian dichotomous universe, he too was post-Fichtean in claiming access to the thing-in-itself, recognizable within one’s own self. Fichte had opened the path by identifying the self with will. Schopenhauer depicted the will as a blind striving, not freedom but a trap. Schopenhauer exposed his teacher’s central concept in a new light, recombining cultural capital in order to oppose the Fichteans while maintaining his membership in the intellectual movement. History is an endless round of battles going nowhere; the Kantian sphere of ideas is a higher ground, not for scientifically comprehending the empirical world, but for transcending its change. Against the moral religion of Kant, the activism of Fichte, and the constitutional legalism of Hegel, Schopenhauer propounded a religion of escape. This position coincided with the social and political biases of Schopenhauer’s network; his earliest contacts were with conservative French émigré circles, and his origin was in the salon society of the wealthy rather than the Idealist milieu of pastors and tutors struggling to shape academic career paths. But Schopenhauer was no typical representative of the conservatives, and his position was creative in precisely the way it used the concepts of the intellectual core. 
In the 19th century, Schopenhauer was definitely beaten by Hegel, but I think from the second half of the 20th century the situation has changed. Today Schopenhauer is far more relevant than Hegel—at least, to me, he is. I think Schopenhauer’s exposition of the Kantian philosophy is classic and there is great wisdom in his writing.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Academic Revolution in Philosophy

Randall Collins, in his book The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change,   (Chapter 12: "Intellectuals Take Control of Their Base: The German University Revolution"), notes that one of the themes of the Enlightenment was the death of traditional philosophy (metaphysical speculation and anything connected with supernatural religion) and its replacement with empirical science. Yet the post-Enlightenment period saw one of the greatest outpourings of philosophical thought in the history of mankind. Immanuel Kant opened the door to this outburst of philosophy in the form of German idealism in 1781 with the publication of his first Critique.

The rise of German idealism coincided with the rise of several new universities in Germany and other parts of Europe. Such a large network of universities had never existed before.

Collins says that German Idealism “was the intellectual counterpart of the academic revolution, the creation of the modern university centered on the graduate faculty of research professors, and that material base has expanded to dominate intellectual life ever since. Kant straddled two worlds: the patronage networks of the previous period, and the modern research university, which came into being, in part through Kant’s own agitation, with the generation of Kant’s successors.”

The academic revolution has enriched philosophy by creating a multitude of philosophical disciplines in which the philosophers can specialize. “Structurally, the academic revolution divided the old all-purpose intellectual role of the philosopher into a multitude of academic specialties. The process of specialization, not yet ended today, has affected the contents of intellectual life in several ways.”

German idealism can seen as the ideology of the university or academic revolution in Europe and America. To support this premise, Collins offers four kinds of evidence:

“1) the major German Idealists were among the prime movers of university reform; (2) the contents of the Idealist philosophies justified the reform, and the succession of major Idealist positions closely corresponded to contemporary prospects of the reform movement; (3) the French Revolution, as surrounding context, produced an Idealist ideology of spiritual freedom only in Germany, where it meshed with the interests of the university reformers, whereas by contrast in England and France the chief ideologies of the revolutionary period were neither Idealist nor university-oriented; and (4) whenever the German university reform was adopted elsewhere, a generation of Idealist philosophers appeared, often in indigenous form.”

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Newton’s Epicurean Theory of Structure of Matter

Newton's portrait by Godfrey Kneller (1702)
Isaac Newton was influenced by the Epicurean theory of atomism, which he discovered mainly in the works of Pierre Gassendi. But he also read Lucretius’s De rerum natura directly. Here’s an excerpt from Optics in which Newton is talking about the elementary particles from which the world is created:
It seems probable to me that God, in the beginning, formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles, of such sizes and figures, and with such other properties, and in such proportions to space, as most conduced to the end for which He formed them; and that these primitive particles, being solids, are incomparably harder than any porous bodies compounded of them, even so very hard as never to wear or break in pieces; no ordinary power being able to divide what God had made one in the first creation. While the particles continue entire, they may compose bodies of one and the same nature and texture in all ages: but should they wear away or break in pieces, the nature of things depending on them would be changed.
Newton followed Gassendi in fusing the Epicurean or Lucretian theory of atoms with the Christian doctrine. In Gassendi's atomic model there is a rejection of the basic principles of Epicurus—that nothing is created out of nothing and that God has no role to play in creation of the universe. Gassendi asserts that God created the universe, the void, and the atoms from nothing, but he supports the Epicurean theory of everything being created through the interactions between atoms. Newton admits this view of atoms in his ontology.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Kant’s Debt to Lucretius

In Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven Or Essay on the Constitution and the Mechanical Origin of the Whole Universe according to Newtonian Principles,  Immanuel Kant says that he won’t completely deny that he agrees with some aspects of the Epicurean philosophy, and that his theory of heavens owes a lot to Lucretius’s theory of atoms. He writes:
I will therefore not deny that Lucretius’ theory or that of his predecessors, Epicurus, Leucippus, and Democritus, has much in common with mine. Like those philosophers, I posit a first state of nature as a universal dispersion of the original material of all world-bodies, or atoms as they call them. Epicure posited a heaviness that caused these elementary particles to fall and this does not seem to be very different to Newtonian attraction, which I accept.  
However, Kant rejects Lucretius’s mechanical method of explaining the universe which he points out was first proposed by Leucippus and Democritus:
[Lucretius] also accorded them a certain deviation from the straight linear motion of their fall, even though he had absurd notions of their causes and effects: This deviation to some extent corresponds to the change in the straight fall that we attribute to the repulsive force of the particles; finally, the whirlpools that arose out of the perturbed motion of the atoms were a centrepiece of the theories of Leucippus and Democritus, and they will also be found in ours. The close relationship with a doctrine that was the proper theory of the denial of the divine in antiquity, will not, however, drag mine into association with their errors. Even in the most senseless opinions that have succeeded in gaining the applause of men, we will always find some truth. One false principle or a few ill-considered connecting principles will lead men from the path of truth via imperceptible errors right into the abyss. Despite the similarity I have just mentioned, there does nonetheless remain one basic difference between ancient cosmogony and the current one, which allows us to draw quite opposite conclusions from the latter.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Schopenhauer’s Argument Against Anarchism

Commemorative stamp on Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer, in The World As Will And Idea (Translated by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp; Volume I), supports the existence of the state on the ground that the right of awarding punishment to wrongdoers belongs only to the state. Here’s an excerpt:
It is certain that apart from the state there is no right of punishment. All right to punish is based upon the positive law alone, which before the offense has determined a punishment for it, the threat of which, as a counter-motive, is intended to outweigh all possible motives for the offense. This positive law is to be regarded as sanctioned and recognized by all the members of the state. It is thus based upon a common contract which the members of the state are in duty bound to fulfill, and thus, on the one hand, to inflict the punishment, and, on the other hand, to endure it; thus the endurance of the punishment may with right be enforced. Consequently the immediate end of punishment is, in the particular case, the fulfillment of the law as a contract. But the one end of the law is deterrence from the infringement of the rights of others. (Page 445)
He is against the idea of a man taking revenge for the wrong done to him because no man has the right to set himself up as a judge—that right belongs only to the state. He says that the existence of the state and the law is necessary to distinguish punishment from revenge.
For, in order that every one may be protected from suffering wrong, men have combined to form a state, have renounced the doing of wrong, and assumed the task of maintaining the state. Thus the law and the fulfillment of it, the punishment, are essentially directed to the future, not to the past. This distinguishes punishment from revenge; for the motives which instigate the latter are solely concerned with what has happened, and thus with the past as such. All requital of wrong by the infliction of pain, without any aim for the future, is revenge, and can have no other end than consolation for the suffering one has borne by the sight of the suffering one has inflicted upon another. This is wickedness and cruelty, and cannot be morally justified. Wrong which someone has inflicted upon me by no means entitles me to inflict wrong upon him. The requital of evil with evil without further intention is neither morally nor otherwise through any rational ground to be justified, and the jus talionis set up as the absolute, final principle of the right of punishment, is meaningless. (Page 445-446)
He rejects the Kantian theory of punishment because Kant talks only about punishing the guilty, and not about preventing crime in future:
Therefore Kant's theory of punishment as mere requital for requital's sake is a completely groundless and perverse view. Yet it is always appearing in the writings of many jurists, under all kinds of lofty phrases, which amount to nothing but empty words, as: Through the punishment the crime is expiated or neutralized and abolished, and many such. But no man has the right to set himself up as a purely moral judge and requiter, and punish the misdeeds of another with pains which he inflicts upon him, and so to impose penance upon him for his sins. Nay, this would rather be the most presumptuous arrogance; and therefore the Bible says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” But man has the right to care for the safety of society; and this can only be done by interdicting all actions which are denoted by the word “criminal,” in order to prevent them by means of counter-motives, which are the threatened punishments. And this threat can only be made effective by carrying it out when a case occurs in spite of it. (Page 446) 
The punishment that the state awards to the wrongdoers is meant to serve as deterrence from crime. If instead of condemning the wrongdoers, the state becomes merciful towards them, then the crime will be repeated and the innocent will suffer. If the state can diligently perform its duty of maintaining law and order, then, according to Schopenhauer, it may succeed in eliminating all evil and create something resembling an utopia.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Kant’s Journey from the External World to the Inner World

Kant & Friends at Table
Painting by Emil Doerstling (1892-3)
When Immanuel Kant began his academic career his interest was mainly in the external world—his lectures and writings were directed towards mathematics, geography, and natural science. In his book Kant: His Life and Doctrine, Friedrich Paulsen says:
As the literary fruit of his cosmological investigations and studies of the natural sciences, he published, in addition to some small essays on physical geography, in the year 1755, a work entitled Universal History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens, or an Attempt to Treat of the Formation and Origin of the Entire Structure of the World according to Newtonian Principles. This work is of great significance, standing as it does at the beginning of Kant’s activity as an author. It was dedicated to Frederick II., but appeared originally without the name of the author. It was not until later that it received the recognition which it deserved; at first, through the failure of the publisher, it remained almost unnoticed. That Kant attached great importance to it appears from the fact that he twice called attention to its main content by giving summaries of it (1763, 1791). The problem which he set for himself in this work was to explain genetically the structure of the cosmos, and especially of our planetary system, entirely in accordance with physical principles. 
Paulsen notes that Kant was a firm believer in the Newtonian principles of gravitation and the results of modern astronomy. His attitude was more scientific than that of Newton, because he tried to explain the origin of the universe in terms of purely physical forces. “Newton had regarded the first arrangement of the world system as the direct work of God. But Kant begins where Newton had left off, and shows how through the immanent activity of physical forces, cosmic systems arise and perish in never-ending rotation. The direct interposition of God is here neither necessary nor applicable.”

In the 1760s there was a shift in Kant’s philosophical priorities. The concerns of the inner world, the realm of man and his moral nature, became the most important subject for him. He realized that science and mathematics are not the absolute ends, rather they are the means to a higher end whose purpose is to serve the moral destiny of mankind. Paulsen writes: “The primacy of the moral over the intellectual, in the evaluation of the individual and in the determination of the purposes of the race, remains hereafter a constant feature of Kant’s thought.”

Kant has credited Rousseau for making him aware that philosophy must begin with an investigation into the inner world. In his book, Paulsen offers the following quote from Kant:
I am by inclination an investigator. I feel an absolute thirst for knowledge, and a longing unrest for further information. There was a time when I thought that all this constituted the real worth of mankind, and I despised the rabble who knew nothing. Rousseau has shown me my error. This dazzling advantage vanishes, and I should regard myself as of much less use than the common laborers if I did not believe that this speculation (that of the Socratic-critical philosophy) can give a value to everything else to restore the rights of humanity.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Herder’s Praise for his Teacher, Kant

A painting of Herder (1785)
Johann Gottfried Herder was Immanuel Kant's student at the University of Königsberg from 1762 to 1764. In his 1793 work Briefe zur Beförderung der Humanität, he draws a reverential sketch of Kant from memory:
I have had the good fortune to know a philosopher who was my teacher. In the prime of life he possessed the joyous courage of youth, and this also, as I believe, attended him to extreme old age. His open, thoughtful brow was the seat of untroubled cheerfulness and joy, his conversation was full of ideas and most suggestive. He had at his service jest, witticism, and humorous fancy, and his lectures were at once instructive and most entertaining. With the same spirit in which, he criticized Leibniz, Wolff, Baumgarten, Crusius, and Hume, he investigated the natural laws of Newton, Kepler, and the physicists. In the same way he took up the writings of Rousseau, which were then first appearing, — the Emile and the Heloise, — as well as any new discovery with which he was acquainted in natural science, and estimated their value, always returning to speak of the unbiased knowledge of nature, and the moral worth of man. The history of men, of peoples, and of nature, mathematics, and experience, were the sources from which he enlivened his lectures and conversation. Nothing worth knowing was indifferent to him. No cabal or sect, no prejudice or reverence for a name had the slightest influence with him in opposition to the extension and promotion of truth. He encouraged and gently compelled his hearers to think for themselves; despotism was foreign to his disposition. This man, whom I name with the greatest thankfulness and reverence, is Immanuel Kant; his image stands before me, and is dear to me. (Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine by Friedrich Paulsen; Page 40—41) 
Herder was Kant's favorite student. The extensive notes that Herder made of Kant’s lectures enjoy a special standing among Kant scholars. But by the 1780s,  profound philosophical differences had emerged between Herder and Kant. In 1785, Kant did an unsympathetic review of Herder's book Ideas upon Philosophy and the History of Mankind. Herder, in turn, repudiated Kant’s Critical philosophy which, he asserted, was incapable of explaining the realities of the world. But he continued to admire Kant as a teacher and human being.