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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Plotinus’s Aristotelian Road to Plato

The Enneads, the collection of writings by Plotinus, was edited and published by his pupil Porphyry in 270 C.E. In his Preface to the work, Porphyry says that the Enneads is a compendium of Aristotelian thoughts, and its focus is on Aristotle's Metaphysics. He writes: "In style Plotinus is concise, dense with thought, terse, more lavish of ideas than of words, most often expressing himself with a fervid inspiration. He followed his own path rather than that of tradition, but in his writings both the Stoic and Peripatetic doctrines are sunk; Aristotle's Metaphysics, especially, is condensed in them, all but entire."

Lloyd P. Gerson, in his book Plotinus-Arg Philosophers (The Arguments of the Philosophers),  uses Porphyry’s view of the Enneads to make the case that Plotinus, while being devoted to defending Platonism from its opponents, was also close to Aristotle. Gerson notes that the Enneads contain at least 150 direct references to Metaphysics and has references to Aristotle's other works. Here’s an excerpt from Gerson’s Introduction to his book:

"An additional and sometimes overlooked facet of Plotinus’ Platonism is that Plotinus leans heavily on Aristotle for an understanding of what Plato’s doctrines actually were. For one thing, Plotinus’ Plato is sharply distinguished from Socrates, following that perfectly natural distinction in Aristotle. Nothing in the Enneads is derived from or depends on what we have come to recognize as especially Socratic. More importantly, Plotinus follows Aristotle in holding that Plato had an unwritten doctrine of principles. Indeed, Plotinus appears to rely on Aristotle for understanding what that is. Some effort is expended in the Enneads in order to show that this unwritten doctrine is at least consonant with that which appears in the dialogues. Finally Plotinus will frequently accept as authoritative an interpretation of Plato by Aristotle, as interpretation which Aristotle himself thinks leads a Platonic doctrine to shipwreck. Plotinus, however, will typically attempt to show that what Aristotle thinks is a disastrous consequences of a Platonic position is in fact true and even necessary. The alternative Aristotelian position is what ought to be rejected. And yet where Plotinus judges that Aristotle is ready not in disagreement with Plato, he will quietly adopt Aristotle’s terminology, distinctions, and even his explicit conclusions."

Friday, December 22, 2017

On The Platonism in Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle are seen as the contrasting poles of western philosophy, but there is a significant amount of Platonism in Aristotle. In his book A Critical History of Greek Philosophy, W. T. Stace notes that Aristotle himself was the originator of the mistaken belief that Aristotle and Plato are opposites. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 13, “Aristotle”:

"It has been said that everyone has either an Aristotelian or a Platonic type of mind. As this implies that Aristotle and Plato are opposites, it is considerably less than a half truth. No genuine understanding of Aristotle can endorse the opinion that his philosophical system was the opposite of Plato’s. It would be truer to say that Aristotle was the greatest of all Platonists, since his system is still founded upon the Idea, and is an attempt to found an idealism free from defects of Plato’s system. It is in fact a development of Platonism. What is the cause then of the popular notion that Aristotle was the opposite of Plato? Now the fact is that they were opposites in many important respects. But there was a fundamental agreement between them which lies deeper than the differences. The differences are largely superficial, the agreement is deep-seated. Hence it is the differences that are most obvious, and it was the differences, too, which were most obvious to Aristotle himself. The popular opinion arises largely from the fact that Aristotle never loses an opportunity of attacking the Platonic theory of Ideas. He is continually at pains to emphasize the difference between himself and Plato, but says nothing of the agreement. But no man is a judge of his own deeper relations to his predecessors and contemporaries. It is only in after years, when the hubbub of controversy has settled down into the silence of the past, that the historian can see the true perspective, and can penetrate the relations of each great man to the time in which he lived. Plato was the founder of idealism, and his idealism was in many respects crude and untenable. It was the special mission of Aristotle to clear away these crudities, and so develop Platonism into a tenable philosophy. And it was natural that he should emphasize the crudities, which he had to fight so hard to overcome, rather than that substratum of truth which Plato had already developed, and which therefore required no special treatment at his hands. It was the differences between himself and his predecessor which were most obvious to him, and it was inevitable that he should adopt a thoroughly polemical attitude towards his master." 

In the same chapter, Stace notes  that Aristotle’s grievance against Plato was that Plato did not love facts: "In the first place, Aristotle loved facts. What he wanted was always definite scientific knowledge. Plato, on the other hand, had no love of facts and no gift for physical enquiries. And what disgusted Aristotle about the system of Plato was the contempt which it poured upon the world of sense. To depreciate objects of sense, and to proclaim the knowledge of them valueless, was a fundamental characteristic of all Platonic thinking. But the world of sense is the world of facts, and Aristotle was deeply interested in facts. No matter in what branch of knowledge, any fact was received by Aristotle with enthusiasm."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

On Skepticism, Atheism, and Dogmatism

Atheism means skepticism about the existence of God, but if this position is taken seriously, then it necessarily leads to a dogmatic belief in God’s nonexistence. Therefore every utter atheist is essentially a dogmatic believer in a negative, which is God’s nonexistence. Here’s a perspective from Stephen C. Pepper’s World Hypotheses (Page 4-5):

"What can the utter skeptic himself mean? Does he mean that all facts are illusory and all statements are false? But this position is not one of doubt, but of downright disbelief. It is disbelief in the reliability of all evidence and in the truth of all statements; or, contrariwise, it is belief in the unreliability of all evidence and the falsity of all statements. For every instance of disbelief is simply the reverse of belief; it is belief in the contradictory of what is disbelieved. If a man disbelieves in the existence of God, he necessarily believes in the nonexistence of God. A dogmatic atheist is as little of a doubter as a dogmatic theist. It is the agnostic who completely doubts the existence of God. He genuinely doubts. That is, he finds the evidence on both sides so evenly balanced in this matter that he neither believes nor disbelieves, but holds the proposition in suspense."

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

W. T. Stace on The Philosophy of Hegel

"The philosophy of Hegel... is not something simply invented out of nothing by himself and flung at random into an astonished world. It is no crazy fancy of an individual's brain, no gimcrack novelty. It is not the pet theory of some erratic genius, nor is it merely one theory among many rivals. The true author of it is, not so much Hegel, as the toiling and thinking human spirit, the universal spirit of humanity getting itself uttered through this individual. It is the work of the ages. It has its roots deep in the past. It is the accumulated wisdom of the years, the last phase of the one "universal philosophy.” For the truth is, to use a phrase of Hegel’s, neither new nor old, but permanent. Yet Hegel, too, is profoundly original. But his originality is not mere novelty. It is new, but it is old too. It recognizes all past truth, absorbs it into itself, and advances. Hence its attitude to other philosophies is neither envious, nor hostile, nor destructive. It sees in every one of them some phase or aspect of truth which has to be recognized and absorbed into itself. It is for this reason a genuinely universal philosophy." ~ W. T. Stace in The Philosophy of Hegel: A Systematic Exposition (Chapter: "Greek Idealism and Hegel")

Monday, December 18, 2017

On Garve's Review of Kant’s First Critique

In January 1782, the Göttingen Learned Notices published a review of  Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781). The review was by Christian Garve but it had been extensively revised by the journal’s editor J. G. Feder. In Garve's original review there were 312 lines—Feder left only 76 lines unchanged. He made minor changes in 69 lines and extensive changes in the rest. Feder added a new element to the review by comparing Kant with Berkeley and Hume. But this comparison was in line with Garve’s intention in the original review because Garve’s characterization of Kant’s idealism was not different from what Feder proposed in his revisions.

Kant was not satisfied with the review. He took the charge that he is an idealist like Hume and Berkeley (which is Garve’s key charge against him) very seriously. He complained that Garve had not understood him, and decided to write a response, which came in the form of his book, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (1783). In the Prolegomena, Kant summarizes and explains the key arguments of the Critique. In the book’s appendix he offers his rebuttal of Garve’s review.

In August 1783, a journal published a short piece on the Prolegomena and called special attention to Kant’s charge that Garve had not understood him. Garve responded with an article in which he said: “If the honorable and witty man [Kant] did not live so much in the clouds, if he did not use a terminology of his own and if his sentences were shorter and simpler, he might be less exposed to this danger [of being misunderstood].” Later on the original version of Garve’s review of the Critique was published in another journal, but Kant was still dissatisfied with it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Kant, Jacobi, and Wizenmann in Battle

For Immanuel Kant, it was difficult to stay out of the Pantheism controversy, when both sides in the dispute were maneuvering to enlist him as their ally. Those on the side of the “party of faith,” Johann Georg Hamann, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, and Thomas Wizenmann were eager for Kant’s support. On the other side were Moses Mendelssohn and his supporters, trying their best to cajole Kant to join them. With the intention of compelling Kant to join him, Jacobi declared in early 1785 that Kant was a “philosopher of faith.” Hamann tried to encourage Kant to launch an attack on Mendelssohn’s Spinozism. But after Mendelssohn’s death in January 1786, Kant came under pressure from Mendelssohn’s allies to speak out against Jacobi and avenge Mendelssohn’s death. In May 1786, Wizenmann published a tract in which he posited that all philosophy ends in Spinozism, and, therefore, atheism and fatalism cannot be avoided.

In his essay “Kant, Jacobi, and Wizenmann in Battle,” (Chapter 4; The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte), Frederick C. Beiser makes the following comment on Wizenmann’s use of Kantian premises to make a case for religion:
Where Jacobi is vague and merely suggestive, Wizenmann is clear and bluntly argumentative. His argument is especially interesting since it begins with Kantian premises and then draws fideistic conclusions from them. In the hands of the pietists an essentially Kantian-style epistemology becomes a powerful weapon in humbling the claims of reason and uplifting those of faith. 
The main premise of Wizenmann's argument is his definition of reason, which he explicitly states at the very beginning. According to this definition, which is truly Kantian in spirit, the task of reason is to relate facts, that is, to compare and contrast them, or to infer them from one another. But it cannot create or reveal facts, which must be given to it. Appealing to Kant's criticism of the ontological argument, Wizenmann advances the general thesis that it is not possible for reason to demonstrate the existence of anything. If we are to know that something exists, then it has to be given to us in experience. Of course, it is possible to infer the existence of something, but only when the existence of something else is already known. All inferences are only hypothetical in form, Wizenmann explains, such that we can infer the existence of one thing only if another is already given. Hence Wizenmann concludes in the manner of Kant that there is a twofold source of knowledge: experience, which gives us knowledge of matters of fact; and reason, which relates these facts through inference. 
On the basis of this Kantian definition and distinction, Wizenmann builds his case for positive religion. 
Wizenmann’s tract served the purpose of making Kant aware that Jacobi and Mendelssohn were heading in the direction of irrationalism and he had to intervene. But there were several other pressures that finally goaded Kant into action—with Jacobi and Mendelssohn trying to appropriate him for their own cause, Kant ran the risk of being seen as either a philosopher of faith or a philosopher of dogmatic fanatical atheism. He disagreed with both the stances. In October 1786, Kant published his first contribution to the Pantheism controversy, an essay called “What Does it Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?”  Here’s Beiser’s perspective on the stand that Kant took on the Pantheism controversy in his essay:
In this essay Kant takes a middle position between Jacobi and Mendelssohn. He accepts some of their principles but refuses to draw such drastic conclusions from them. On the one hand, he agrees with Jacobi that knowledge cannot justify faith; but he disagrees with his conclusion that reason cannot justify it. On the other hand, he concurs with Mendelssohn that it is necessary to justify faith through reason; but he does not accept the conclusion that to justify faith through reason demands knowledge.  
What allows Kant to steer a middle path between Jacobi and Mendelssohn is his denial of one of their common premises: that reason is a faculty of knowledge, a theoretical faculty whose purpose is to know things-in- themselves or the unconditioned. Resting his case upon the central thesis of the second Kritik, which would appear only fourteen months later in January 1788, Kant assumes that reason is a practical faculty: it does not describe the unconditioned, but prescribes it as an end of conduct. Reason prescribes the unconditioned in either of two senses: when it commands us to seek the final condition for a series of conditions in nature; or when it commands us categorically to perform certain actions, regardless of our interests and circumstances. In both these cases the unconditioned is not an entity that we know, but an ideal for our conduct, whether that be scientific inquiry or moral action. By thus separating reason from knowledge, Kant creates the opportunity for a rational justification of faith independent of metaphysics. 
At the very heart of Kant's essay is his concept of 'rational faith' (Vernunftglaube). This he defines as faith based solely on reason. 
By invoking the notion of “rational faith” Kant was trying to stay on the path that ran between Mendelssohn’s dogmatism and Jacobi’s mysticism. At the same time, Kant was holding that both Mendelssohn and Jacobi are guilty of undermining reason, which, according to him, must be the final criterion of truth in philosophy. While accusing Jacobi and Wizenmann of irrationalism, Kant was declaring that  only critical philosophy can uphold reason. In February 1787, four months after the publication of Kant’s essay, Wizenmann wrote an an open letter to Kant—in it he rebutted Kant’s charges and pointed out the deficiencies in the Kantian concept of practical faith. Jacobi too realized that Kant would never join his cause, and he penned his own criticism of Kantian philosophy.

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

Jacopo Zabarella On Knowledge

Giacomo (Jacopo) Zabarella, the sixteenth-century philosopher known for his Aristotelian commitments, believed that the highest form of knowledge is demonstrative knowledge which proceeds from a distinct knowledge of the cause and demonstrates the necessary connection of the effect with the cause, thereby providing distinct knowledge of the effect. Here’s an excerpt from Zabarella’s Opera LogicaFor all scientific advance from the known to the unknown is either from a cause to an effect or from an effect to a cause. The former indeed is the demonstrative method; but the latter is the resolutive method. There is no other process that brings forth certain knowledge of a thing. For if we advance from something to something else, neither of which is the cause of the other, it is not possible for there to be an essential or necessary connection between them. Hence, no certain cognition can follow from the advance. Therefore, it follows that there is no scientific method besides the demonstrative and resolutive ones.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

On Charles Darwin and Karl Marx

In her book Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, Gertrude Himmelfarb says that there is similarity in not only the philosophical intent of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx but also in their practical effect. Here’s an excerpt from Page 421:

"When Marx read the Origin, he enthusiastically declared it to be “a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.” In 1873 he sent a copy of the second edition of Das Kapital to Darwin, who politely acknowledged the gift. “Though our studies have been so different, I believe that we both earnestly desire the extension of knowledge; and this, in the long run, is sure to add to the happiness of mankind.” If Darwin had not the least idea of what Marx was up to or what they might have in common, Marx knew precisely what he valued in Darwin. Recommending the Origin to Lassalle, he explained that “despite all deficiencies not only is the death-blow dealt here for the first time to teleology in natural sciences, but their rational meaning is empirically examined.” The other reason for his interest in the Origin emerged in Das Kapital, where he complained of the abstract materialism of the most natural science, “a materialism that excludes history and its process.” It was his hope that by focussing attention on change and development, the Origin would destroy both the old-fashioned supernaturalism and the equally old-fashioned materialism."

Himmelfarb notes that there is “truth in Engels’ eulogy on Marx: ‘Just as Darwin discovered the law of evolution in organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history.’” She says that “What they both celebrated was the internal rhythm and course of life, the one the life of nature, the other of society, that proceeded by fixed laws, undistracted by the will of God or men. There were no catastrophes in history as there were none in nature. There were no inexplicable acts, no violations in the natural order. God was as powerless as individual men to interfere with the internal, self-adjusting dialectic of change and development.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Ayn Rand’s Open Letter in Reply to Immanuel Kant

I recently posted an article, “Immanuel Kant’s Open Letter to Ayn Rand.” Roger Bissell has taken on the mantle of writing Ayn Rand’s enlightening reply to Kant’s letter. Here’s Bissell’s letter on behalf of Rand:

Dear Immanuel Kant,

Your kind letter reached me here in Valhalla, where my late husband Frank and my own late self have been residing for nearly 4 decades now. (Or so I gather, from the date of your missive. There are no clocks or calendars here, and time just seems to stretch out…eternally, it seems.) It is a serene existence, though populated with many fewer heroes than I would have hoped. But that’s all right, because I have my number one hero and soulmate, Frank, to keep me company!

I’m not surprised that you have found your life in Heaven to be a drab one. Doesn’t it get tiring, playing harp, singing Hosannahs, and knowing that you can never again enjoy the sensual pleasures of physical earthly existence? You did mention Aristotle being there with you, though without further details. I am somewhat surprised to learn that he is there in the theistic Paradise (Heaven). I would have thought that, being a Pagan and practically a god (at least, to me), he would have matriculated to Olympus – or perhaps to wherever the Great Library of Alexandria went to die. In any case, I’m certain that he finds it interesting to have you to talk with, he and you being the second and third greatest philosophers who ever lived. (You will understand that modesty prevents me from saying who was the greatest.)

But enough about our respective residences, and on to our relationship. 

You have thanked me for helping to “engineer a massive revival of interest" in your philosophy and popularization of your ideas, as the result of my “unsubstantiated and illogical commentary.” You make it sound as though the benefit that accrued to you was just an unintended consequence of my (supposedly) irrational criticism. Quite the contrary.

You have to realize that on the heels of the publication of Atlas Shrugged – my greatest novel (and the greatest novel ever written) – I fell into a deep depression because, although it sold and continues to sell many copies each year, it was severely panned by the critics and it attracted virtually no support from the academic philosophical establishment. This was a severe disappointment to me, but something I should have anticipated, because it is young people who are open to new ideas, not their professors, who are set in their ways and are a lost cause.

I don’t know which part of the rejection was worse: the massive distortions and misrepresentations by the literary and cultural thugs in their reviews of my work, or the deafening silence from those in academia who were sympathetic to my ideas but felt they had to remain silent in order not to be ostracized by their colleagues. In other words, deliberate malevolence vs. moral cowardice. In other words, hatred of the good for being the good vs. appeasing sacrifice of the good to the evil.

I felt I had to do something, to make an end run around this blockade of vicious criticism and craven silence. I had made a promise to myself and to one of my college professors that my ideas would one day be part of Western philosophy. I didn’t have it in me for another novel; I tried to sketch and outline ideas for it in my journal, but it went nowhere. I began work on a treatise on the philosophy I had introduced in Atlas Shrugged – Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living on Earth. That, too, ended up as a series of entries in my (posthumously published) Journals. 

So, I did the only thing left to me. I reached out to the young people. I began to do college lectures, and I began a monthly newsletter. And much as it pleased me to be able to quote passages from my novels in order to illustrate my spoken and written points, I found that I needed a real villain to contrast with my own self as the heroic rescuer of Western civilization from its destroyers: faith and force – its demons: mysticism, altruism, and collectivism.

You, of course, were that villain. That is, you were the obvious person to villain-ize. Your most path-breaking writing was so difficult to understand, that it could easily be distorted and depicted as attacks on reason and happiness just by selectively quoting superficially supporting statements, while also dropping context and failing to include your own clarifications and explanations. 

Can you blame me? I felt that I had to fight fire with fire. My enemies misrepresented my ideas in order to try to defeat me, so I misrepresented your ideas in order to create an enemy whose writing was so obscure that he would be hard to defend, and yet who was already widely credited as being the fountainhead of modern philosophy, and who could thus be blamed for all its ills, as well as for the decadence and corruption of modern culture and for 20th century collectivism and totalitarian mass murder. My enemies were so crude and blatant, while I was so subtle and clever, in many ways. 
  • When I wanted to change a definition, I did so without announcement, so as not to appear unstable or imperfect. 
  • When I wanted to erase unsavory implications of an earlier edition of a novel I’d written, I removed them and referred to them publicly as “editorial line changes.” 
  • When I wanted for one of my blatant contradictions to not be memorialized in an entry of a reference work, I had its editor remove that entry entirely. 
  • And when I wanted to create a villain, I buried his true nature within his own nearly impenetrable verbiage.
Yes, I am fully aware of your true nature, i.e., of what you were actually arguing for in your works. 
  • I know full well that you were not an altruist, no more than I was in my essay “The Ethics of Emergencies,” in which I argued for the obligation to non-sacrificially help those in need. 
  • I know full well that you were not anti-happiness, and that your arguments against eudaimonia were actually anti-hedonism and were remarkably similar to my own arguments in “The Virtue of Selfishness.” 
  • I know full well that you were not a deontologist, and that your “duty” ethic was no more intrinsicist and acontextual than was my follower Leonard Peikoff’s theory of volition. Your reasons for not being dishonest belied the supposed deontological nature of your morality every bit as much as Leonards’s “there is no why?” was belied by his argument that the choice to focus was due to a “reality orientation.” 
  • And I know full well that you were every bit as much a champion of individual liberty and rights as I was, because you argued that it was just to use force to “hinder” the freedom of another to “hinder” someone else’s free action.
I knew all of this, and much more, but I chose not to acknowledge it. My followers either don’t know – or they do know, but choose not to say so. But I don’t blame them for their lack of intellectual ambition and/or moral courage, any more than I would condemn myself for my lack of honesty in the ways illustrated above. This is war and, as I have often famously said, “Morality ends at the point of a gun.”

So now, as Paul Harvey, a famous radio commentator used to say, “You know the rest of the story.” And yes, you properly should thank me for elevating you to your present status in the philosophical world. And in return, I will thank you, for providing just the right “contrast object” for me to portray myself as the one whose ideas will change the course of the world and save it from irrational, violent destruction. 

For after all, and despite all the other ways in which I have…set aside…my moral code, I am above all a firm believer in the Trader Principle, and you and I have given value for value. We have each ended up better off than before I initiated our unilateral trade. And you may continue to thank me as you enjoy the continued attention and status you would not have had without my efforts.

Best premises,

(Miss) Ayn Rand

P.S. – You of all people must know that “Pure Randianism” is a Platonistic floating abstraction, and a gigantic strawman, to boot. But I can hardly complain, since I said the same about your ideas, knowing that people would not bother to check for themselves, beyond looking up the cherry-picked, out of context quotations that supported their biases which I taught them to have.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Immanuel Kant’s Open Letter to Ayn Rand

Dear Ayn Rand,

I am writing this letter to thank you for the work that you have done for popularizing my philosophy and making the earthlings realize the supreme importance of the work that I have accomplished in my lifetime.

Here I was, living a drab life in Heaven, feeling depressed by the thought that I am becoming irrelevant to the earthlings. Whenever I looked downwards from my perch in heaven, I saw earthlings being confused about whose work was more important— David Hume’s or mine? Why should it even be a question? Isn’t it obvious—Kant is the greatest philosopher!

But the earthlings remained confused and Hume began to boast in Hell (that’s right, he is in Hell along with most philosophers; Aristotle and I are the only two philosophers in Heaven) that he is on verge of overtaking Kant in popularity.

Hume compares himself with me… with Kant! He boasts that his philosophy will overtake Kant’s! But what else can you expect from a philosopher who during his time on earth tried to destroy “metaphysics.” I saved metaphysics from Humean attack. That is my great achievement.

Unlike most intellectuals on earth, you have the philosphical sense and knowledge to recognize the importance of my work. You took notice of my existence in the 1960s. Thanks to the attention that I got from you, the 1960s turned out to the most productive decade of my post-death life.

You called me the most evil force in the history of mankind! Listening to your rants against me was sheer music for my ears… reading your tirades against me was most soothing for my eyes. I am flattered beyond measure to know that the author of bestselling books like Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead considers me to be the most evil man in mankind’s history.

If I had been alive in the 1960s I would have written a fourth Critique on your philosophy—I would have called this work: “A Critique of Pure Randianism”. That is the least that I can do for a woman who hates me so much that she calls me the most evil man in mankind’s history!

The best thing about you is that you are consistent. You have integrity. Once you start a campaign against anyone, you to take it to the bitter end. You carried on with your tirade against me for decades. You went on and on till the end of your days on earth, and after you your followers are carrying on the good work of popularizing Kant by saying illogical things about him.

You have done for me what the mainstream media did for Donald Trump. The constant barrage of unsubstantiated and illogical reporting from the mainstream media sent Trump soaring to the stratospheric heights of the popularity charts, and he went on to win the presidential elections.

Likewise your unsubstantiated and illogical commentary on my philosophy has engineered a massive revival of interest in my philosophy. I was on verge of being forgotten but thanks to your rants I am now regarded as the most powerful philosopher in modern world.

Negative publicity works—it works much better than positive publicity. Randian philosophy is the best thing that has ever happened to Kantian philosophy.

I must tell you about the disastrous impact that your sayings have had on Hume. Since the 1960s he has been suffering from acute depression and high blood pressure. He is driven insane by the knowledge that the great Ayn Rand has focused her attack only on Kant and has mostly ignored him. Ha, as if this metaphysics-denying nincompoop is worthy of your rants! He is nothing.

Once again I thank you for the service that you have provided me.

Yours Truly,

Immanuel Kant

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Marx and Engels on Immanuel Kant

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels dismiss Kant as a bourgeois moralist in their book The German Ideology"The state of affairs in Germany at the end of the last century is fully reflected in Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. While the French bourgeoisie, by means of the most colossal revolution that history has ever known, was achieving domination and conquering the Continent of Europe, while the already politically emancipated English bourgeoisie was revolutionizing industry and subjugating India politically, and all the rest of the world commercially, the impotent German burghers did not get any further than “good will”. Kant was satisfied with “good will” alone, even if it remained entirely without result, and he transferred the realization of this good will, the harmony between it and the needs and impulses of individuals, to the world beyond. Kant’s good will fully corresponds to the impotence, depression and wretchedness of the German burghers, whose petty interests were never capable of developing into the common, national interests of a class and who were, therefore, constantly exploited by the bourgeois of all other nations. These petty, local interests had as their counterpart, on the one hand, the truly local and provincial narrow-mindedness of the German burghers and, on the other hand, their cosmopolitan swollen-headedness."

They call Kant a whitewashing spokesman for the German middle class: "The characteristic form which French liberalism, based on real class interests, assumed in Germany we find again in Kant. Neither he, nor the German middle class, whose whitewashing spokesman he was, noticed that these theoretical ideas of the bourgeoisie had as their basis material interests and a will that was conditioned and determined by the material relations of production. Kant, therefore, separated this theoretical expression from the interests which it expressed; he made the materially motivated determinations of the will of the French bourgeois into pure self-determinations of “free will”, of the will in and for itself, of the human will, and so converted it into purely ideological conceptual determinations and moral postulates. Hence the German petty bourgeois recoiled in horror from the practice of this energetic bourgeois liberalism as soon as this practice showed itself, both in the Reign of Terror and In shameless bourgeois profit-making." 

But they are not always negative on Kant. For instance, in the Preface to Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, Engels gives credit to Kant for being the founder of German idealism of which Marxism is an offshoot. "We German socialists are proud that we trace our descent not only from Saint Simon, Fourier and Owen, but also from Kant, Fichte and Hegel.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Lockean Campaign Against Kant

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, believing 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 were convinced that his critical philosophy was dangerous, because, in their view, while intending to defend the authority of reason, it undermined reason. During the 1780s and 1790s, they leveled against Kant the charge of Humean solipsism or nihilism and 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 a review of the Prolegomena by H. A. Pistorius. But despite these efforts, 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.

In his 1987 book The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte, Frederick C. Beiser, offers an account of the Lockean campaign against Kant in chapter 6, “The Attack of the Lockeans.”

Saturday, November 18, 2017

On The Importance of Philosophical Differences

The task of a philosopher is to grapple with the “big questions” regarding mankind, the universe, and mankind's place in the universe. But as the information available is not sufficient, the philosophers have to conjecture, rationally as far as possible, by taking into account their personal experiences, and philosophize about the possible answers.

The experiences of the philosophers are bound to be different, because no two human beings can have exposure to the same historical, political, cultural, and economic circumstances. They may possess contrasting information on the same subject, or they may use contrasting methodologies to study their information. The philosophy that they develop will carry the influence of their experiences and the philosophical methods that they use.

I am not advocating relativism—I am not saying that philosophical conclusions have to be dependent on the personal inclinations of the philosophers. But it is true that a rational philosopher can philosophize on the big questions only on the basis of the experience and information that is available to him. Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find two rational and independent minded philosophers who agree on every issue.

The differences among the philosophers are not bad for philosophy. Through their arguments and counter-arguments, the philosophers are often able to identify the problems in their thought and if they manage to resolve these problems their philosophy becomes more consistent and complete.

A philosophy thrives when the intellectuals are talking about it. It doesn’t matter if they are arguing against the philosophy; as long as they are arguing about it, they are ensuring that it remains relevant. Even if a philosophy is refuted, it can remain relevant as long as the intellectuals don’t abandon it. There are several examples in history of refuted philosophies growing from strength to strength and acquiring great social power.
To propagate his philosophy, a philosopher must to get other philosophers to talk about it. He must welcome philosophical differences—because a philosophy thrives when there is controversy about it. The bigger the controversy, the better it is. A philosophy can survive (it can even thrive) after being decisively refuted, but if it is ignored, it is dead.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Elizabeth Anscombe’s Modern Moral Philosophy

In her essay, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” Elizabeth Anscombe argues that the secular approaches to moral theory, like Mill’s utilitarianism and Kantian deontology, are without any foundation. She says that utilitarianism facilitates the endorsement of evil deeds, while Kantian ethics, with its notion of self-legislation, is incoherent. She begins her essay with these words: “Concepts of obligation, and duty — moral obligation and moral duty, that is to say — and of what is morally right and wrong, and of the moral sense of "ought," ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible; because they are survivals, or derivatives from survivals, from an earlier conception of ethics which no longer generally survives, and are only harmful without it.”

She suggests that unless there is a divine entity, the concepts such as “morally ought,” “morally obligated,” “morally right,” cannot be justified. A moral theory, she holds, requires a legislator to legislate what is morally right. In her view the modern ethical philosophers are making a mistake when they talk about actions that are “morally right or morally wrong,” but fail to define the entity which promulgates the moral law. According to Anscombe, without the idea of divine, the concept of “morally right and morally wrong” is meaningless. She posits that the secular philosophers should use terms such as “untruthful,” “unchaste,” “unjust.”

“I should judge that Hume and our present-day ethicists had done a considerable service by showing that no content could be found in the notion "morally ought"; if it were not that the latter philosophers try to find an alternative (very fishy) content and to retain the psychological force of the term. It would be most reasonable to drop it. It has no reasonable sense outside a law conception of ethics; they are not going to maintain such a conception; and you can do ethics without it, as is shown by the example of Aristotle. It would be a great improvement if, instead of "morally wrong," one always named a genus such as "untruthful," "unchaste," "unjust." We should no longer ask whether doing something was "wrong," passing directly from some description of an action to this notion; we should ask whether, e.g., it was unjust…”

It is noteworthy that Anscombe is not asserting that only the religious thinkers are entitled to talk about what is morally right and what one morally ought to do. Her contention is that the “morally ought” is often used by secular philosophers in a way that makes no sense. She says that it will be better if the philosophers use the word “just.” Anscombe's “Modern Moral Philosophy” has influenced the development of virtue ethics in the past few decades. It is notable that the term "consequentialism" was first coined by her in this essay. She uses this term to describe the central errors in secular moral philosophies, such as those propounded by Mill and Sidgwick.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

7 Literary Insults

“Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mungril bitch.” ~ William Shakespeare in King Lear 

“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut in Timequake

“I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result.” ~ Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest

"I feel like getting married, or committing suicide, or subscribing to L'Illustration. Something desperate, you know.” ~ Albert Camus in A Happy Death

“This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion!” ~ John Kennedy Toole in A Confederacy of Dunces

“I told him he didn’t even care if a girl kept all her kings in the back row or not, and the reason he didn’t care was because he was a goddam stupid moron. He hated it when you called him a moron. All morons hate it when you call them a moron.” ~ J.D. Salinger in The Catcher in the Rye

"Thou wretch! - thou vixen! - thou shrew!" said I to my wife on the morning after our wedding, "thou witch! - thou hag! - thou whipper-snapper! - thou sink of iniquity - thou fiery-faced quintessence of all that is abominable! - thou - thou-“ ~ Edgar Allan Poe in Loss of Breath

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Impact of Aristotle’s Works on Medieval Philosophy

Frederick Copleston in A History of Philosophy (Volume III, Ockham to Suarez):

“The assertion that the most important philosophical event in mediaeval philosophy was the discovery by the Christian West of the more or less complete works of Aristotle is an assertion which could, I think, be defended. When the work of the translators of the twelfth century and of the early part of the thirteenth made the thought of Aristotle available to the Christian thinkers of western Europe, they were faced for the first time with what seemed to them a complete and inclusive rational system of philosophy which owed nothing either to Jewish or to Christian revelation, since it was the work of a Greek philosopher. They were forced, therefore, to adopt some attitude towards it: they could not simply ignore it. Some of the attitudes adopted, varying from hostility, greater or less, to enthusiastic and rather uncritical acclamation, we have seen in the preceding volume. St. Thomas Aquinas's attitude was one of critical acceptance: he attempted to reconcile Aristotelianism and Christianity, not simply, of course, in order to avert the dangerous influence of a pagan thinker or to render him innocuous by utilizing him for 'apologetic' purposes, but also because he sincerely believed that the Aristotelian philosophy was, in the main, true. Had he not believed this, he would not have adopted philosophical positions which, in the eyes of many contemporaries, appeared novel and suspicious. But the point I want to make at the moment is this, that in adopting a definite attitude towards Aristotelianism a thirteenth- century thinker was, to all intents and purposes, adopting an attitude towards philosophy. The significance of this fact has not always been realized by historians. Looking on mediaeval philosophers, especially those of the thirteenth century, as slavish adherents of Aristotle, they have not seen that Aristotelianism really meant, at that time, philosophy itself. Distinctions had already been drawn, it is true, between theology and philosophy; but it was the full appearance of Aristotelianism on the scene which showed the mediaevals the power and scope, as it were, of philosophy. Philosophy, under the guise of Aristotelianism, presented itself to their gaze as something which was not merely theoretically but also in historical fact independent of theology. This being so, to adopt an attitude towards Aristotelianism was, in effect, to adopt an attitude, not simply towards Aristotle as distinguished, for example, from Plato (of whom the mediaevals really did not know very much), but rather towards philosophy considered as an autonomous discipline. If we regard in this light the different attitudes adopted towards Aristotle in the thirteenth century, one obtains a profounder understanding of the significance of those differences.”

Frederick Copleston on Schopenhauer

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Dialectical Way To Total Freedom

Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism
University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000
Chris Matthew Sciabarra

In Total Freedom, Chris Matthew Sciabarra is on a mission to rescue “dialectics” from the Marxists and bring it to libertarianism. He sees libertarianism as a movement for individual freedom that includes the myriad schools of classical liberalism, including Ayn Rand’s Objectivist system.

The idea of being bracketed inside the umbrella of libertarianism will not be music to the ears of Objectivists because Ayn Rand’s philosophy has several fundamental differences with the libertarian movement. Rand criticizes the libertarians for their lack of consistent philosophical fundamentals and their faith in anarchism—she describes them as the “hippies of the right.”

Total Freedom is divided into two parts. The Part One is “Dialectics: History and Meaning,” and the Part Two is “Libertarian Crossroads: The Case of Murray Rothbard.”

Part One, as the title suggests, is a treatment of Sciabarra’s project for dialectics—it is as he asserts in his Introduction, an attempt to wrestle “dialectics from its exclusive contemporary association with the left.” In today’s intellectual environment, the term “dialectical” is suggestive of leftist philosophical ideas and movements. To speak of something like “dialectical libertarianism” is a heresy not only for the classical liberals but also for the Marxists.

Part Two is about the concrete implementation of dialectics in the libertarian movement. But as the focus in this section is on Murray Rothbard, the central philosopher of anarcho-capitalism, our first impression is that Sciabarra is endorsing Rothbard’s anarchist ideas. But as you read-on you find that Sciabarra is, in fact, offering a robust criticism of Rothbard. He makes the case that the anarcho-capitalists are guilty of misusing dialectics in the same way as the Marxists.

The book has an extensive discussion of Ayn Rand’s ideas, and Sciabarra’s project of “dialectical libertarianism” often seems like an exegesis of “dialectical Objectivism.” Sciabarra says that the term “dialectical libertarianism” is important because “in this integration, dialectics is rescued from those who view it as a totalitarian tool, just as libertarianism is rescued from those who view it as an extension of their fragmented, atomized view of reality.” Also, in this integration we have dialectics getting inextricably connected to the notion of freedom, and libertarianism being connected to the notion of totality.

The credit for bringing dialectics to leftist politics goes to Marx who used the concept of “dialectical materialism” as a tool for analysis of society. In Part One, Sciabarra begins by proposing that Marx has made an illegitimate use of dialectics and that the Marxist concept of “dialectical materialism” is nondialectical. He holds that when libertarian thinkers rejected “dialectics” along with “dialectical materialism,” they made the proverbial mistake of throwing out the baby along with the bathwater. But he points out that Ayn Rand has never repudiated the dialectical methodology, even though she did not describe her philosophical method as being dialectical.

In his earlier book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Sciabarra has identified Rand as the key theorist in the evolution of the “dialectical libertarian” political project. He identifies the Aristotelian background of dialectics while trying to project Rand as an Aristotelian and radical thinker. The first chapter of Total Freedom, “Aristotle: The Fountainhead,” has the title of Rand’s famous novel alongside Aristotle. And Sciabarra reflects on the irony of it that it was Hegel who has described Aristotle as “the fountainhead” of dialectical inquiry.

Sciabarra begins his exegesis by tracing the roots of the concept of dialectics to ancient Greek philosophers predating Plato. He points out that while Plato is often regarded as the founder of dialectics, it is Aristotle who cleared the web of Platonic illusions and created a complete picture of what it means to be dialectical. Aristotle’s Topics, and its companion, Sophistical Refutations, are the definitive ancient texts on dialectics.

The next philosopher to do major work in dialectics is Hegel. Sciabarra sheds light on the interesting facets of Hegel’s dialectical thinking, including the dialectical syllogism which is Hegel’s means for delving into “the assumptions, premises, and inner complexities of thought, and by extension, of existence.” These syllogisms are the myriad relations between Universals (U), Particulars (P), and Individuals (I)—and Hegel proposes three basic forms: I-P-U, P-I-U, and I-U-P.

While looking at the dialectical thinking of Marx, Menger, Hayek, Ayn Rand, and a few others, Sciabarra posits that Rand stands out as the most profoundly dialectical in the Aristotelian tradition. He writes, “Educated under the Soviets, Rand was an exemplary dialectician.” (He has explored the impact that education in the Soviet Union had on Rand in much more detail in his book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.)

Sciabarra offers his final analysis of the concept “dialectics” in the fourth chapter, “Defining Dialectics.”  This is how he defines dialectics: “Dialectics is an orientation toward contextual analysis of the systemic dynamic relations of components within a totality.” He also points out that “a totality is not simply an undifferentiated or all-encompassing whole. It is a specific whole as understood from—and structured by—shifting perspectives.”

To explain the connection between dialectics and atomism, organicism, dualism and monism, he presents this chart:


Sciabarra argues that dialectics can be seen as a “golden mean” in the continuum in which strict atomism and strict organicism are the two extreme poles and dualism and monism are their derivatives. He writes: “Like atomism, dialectics recognizes the priority of particulars; but like organicism, it views these particulars in their integrated unity. Like dualism, dialectics recognizes differentiation among opposing forces; but like monism, it is willing to grant that some forces predominate over others.”

As I have said earlier in the article, Part Two is focused on Murray Rothbard, but there is also reflection on the ideas of other libertarian thinkers, including Robert Nozick, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Charles Murray, and Tibor Machan.

According to Sciabarra, the problems that plague Rothbard’s system “are rooted in the very foundations of his social ontology.” Even though Rothbard has posited a nonatomistic view of human nature, “he forges a dualistic separation between personal morality and political ethics, cultural specificity and libertarian ethos, abstract normative political principles and historical context, voluntarism and coercion, and finally, market and state.” Sciabarra’s commentary leads you to draw the inference that Rothbard embraced paleo-conservatism in the later part of his life because of his dualistic view of the central aspects of human life and society.

Rothbard sees the state as an inherently parasitic institution which, by its every nature, must always be at odds with the individual. He viewed history as a contest between the voluntarist principles of the market and the hegemonic principles of the state.

There is a commonality between his views and that of the Marxists in the sense that both regard the state as being disruptive and regressive, but the political implication of their ideas is vastly different. Because Rothbard integrates the tools of Austrian economics with anarchist class categories, he reaches a view of political society whose leitmotif is absolute freedom for the citizens. Rothbard picks up the Marxist idea of “anarchy of production” and universalizes the concept to develop his ideas of full-fledged anarchism.

Rothbard rejects Nozick’s idea of a minimal state on the ground that a minimal state, with monopoly on the coercive use of force, will not stay limited. Sciabarra arrives at the conclusion that because of his lack of attention to the vast context within which all principles of social organization must exist, evolve, and thrive, “Rothbard stands on the precipice of utopia.” Nevertheless Sciabarra does note those parts of Rothbard’s work that exhibit dialectical elements, and finds these to be among the effective, and radical, aspects of Rothbard’s worldview.

In chapter nine, “The Dialectical Libertarian Turn,” there is a discussion of Ayn Rand’s radicalism, a theme that Sciabarra has referred to in his earlier book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. He constructs her framework as a tri-level model through which it is possible “to understand—and transcend—the relations of power within contemporary statism.” Here’s Sciabarra’s diagram of the tri-level model:



In his analysis of the implications of the tri-level model, Sciabarra points out that Ayn Rand has subjected almost every social problem to the same multidimensional analysis—she has rejected all one-sided resolutions as partial and incomplete. As an ultimate argument for his point, he presents this quote from Rand: “Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.”

In the post-Aristotelian period dialectics has served as the plaything for the philosophers of irrational and collectivist ideas. Total Freedom is an attempt to change the perception of dialectics. Overall, the book has several interesting ideas to show that dialectics has the potential to enrich our understanding of facts and principles.