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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 had a problematic relationship with Immanuel Kant. In their book The German Ideology,  they harshly dismiss Kant as a bourgeois moralist:
"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."
Marx and Engels go on to dismiss Kant as a whitewashing spokesman for the German middle class. Here’s an excerpt:
"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." 
However, in his 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 and they believed that his intentions were noble, but they remained opposed to his critical philosophy. They recognized that Kant was trying to develop a synthesis between empiricism and rationalism, but they felt that he was biased towards rationalism. They believed that his critical philosophy was dangerous because while intending to defend the authority of reason, it undermines it. During the 1780s and 1790s, they leveled against Kant the charge of Humean solipsism or nihilism. They accused him of being a dangerous skeptic and a dogmatic metaphysician.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

On Teleology and Self-Perfection

David S. Oderberg in his essay, "The Great Unifier: Form and Unity of the Organism":
For the many philosophers who reflexively recoil at talk of teleology and final causes, the idea can be put in a different yet familiar way: organisms act for their own sustenance, maintenance, and development. Their parts all serve the overall goal of the organism’s flourishing. The organism, unless it has reason, does not set itself this goal; and even rational animals such as ourselves do not set every element of our goal of flourishing as human beings: much of what we do is no more than what happens to us or consists of the processes we inevitably undergo for our own sustenance, maintenance, and development. Yet the goal is there, however we got it and however any organism of any kind got it. Using more traditional terminology, I claim that organisms display immanent causation: causation that originates with an agent and terminates in that agent for the sake of its self-perfection . By ‘self-perfection’ I do not mean that there is some ideal type that every organism strives to reach. The idea is far more modest—namely that every organism aims, whether consciously or not, at the fulfilment of its potentialities such that it achieves a good state of being, indeed the best state it can reach given the limitations of its kind and its environment. Immanent causation is a kind of teleology, but metaphysically distinctive in what it involves. It is not just action for a purpose, but for the agent’s own purpose, where ‘own purpose’ means not merely that the agent acts for a purpose it possesses, but that it acts for a purpose it possesses such that fulfilment of the purpose contributes to the agent’s self-perfection.
This essay is published in the book, Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science (Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Science), Edited by William M.R. Simpson,‎ Robert C. Koons,‎ and Nicholas J. Teh