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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Aristotle on Familial Motivation

Here’s Martha Nussbaum’s perspective on Aristotle’s criticism of Plato’s proposals for holding spouses and children in common:

“Aristotle points out that close particular attachments are fundamental to familial and political motivation. "There are two things above all that make people love and care for something: the thought that it is all yours, and the thought that it is the only one you have" (Aristotle in Politics). A person motivated in this way is unlikely to view her own particular spouse or child as simply the object of universalizable ethical obligations. Parental education is superior to public education, Aristotle argues, because it begins from a grasp of the child's particularity, and is thus more likely to hit on what is appropriate.”

(Source: The Therapy of Desire by Martha Nussbaum, Chapter: “Medical Dialectic: Aristotle on Theory and Practice”)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Kepler and Modern Cosmology

Johannes Kepler has said, “I have cleared the Augean stables of astronomy of cycles and spirals, and left behind me only a single cartful of dung.” What he is describing as a cartful of dung is the non-uniform motion in non-circular orbits of the planets which could only be justified and explained by using arguments derived not from geometry, but from physics. His was the first serious attempt to explain the mechanism of the solar system in terms of physical forces, and it resulted in the formerly separate fields of physics and astronomy coming together.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

On The Hellenistic Philosophical Schools

In The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, Martha C. Nussbaum, says that unlike modern philosophy which is in most cases detached and academic, the Hellenistic philosophical schools in Greece and Rome—Epicureans, Skeptics, and Stoics—were devoted to addressing the  critical problems of human life. Here’s an excerpt from her book:
They [The Hellenistic philosophical schools] saw the philoso­pher as a compassionate physician whose arts could heal many pervasive types of human suffering. They practiced philosophy not as a detached intellectual technique dedicated to the display of cleverness but as an im­mersed and worldly art of grappling with human misery. They focused their attention, in consequence, on issues of daily and urgent human significance-the fear of death, love and sexuality, anger and aggression­ issues that are sometimes avoided as embarrassingly messy and personal by the more detached varieties of philosophy. They confronted these issues as they arose in ordinary human lives, with a keen attention to the vicissi­tudes of those lives, and to what would be necessary and sufficient to make them better. 
Nussbaum points out that the Epicureans, Skeptics, and Stoics have enjoyed far greater influence than Aristotle and Plato. Even the founders of USA were heavily influenced by Stoic and Epicurean ethical thought.
Twentieth-century philosophy, in both Europe and North America, has, until very recently, made less use of Hellenistic ethics than almost any other philosophical culture in the West since the fourth century B. C. E. Not only late antique and most varieties ofChristian thought, but also the writings of modern writers as diverse as Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Adam Smith, Hume, Rousseau, the Founding Fathers of the United States, Nietzsche, and Marx, owe in every case a considerable debt to the writings of Stoics, Epicureans, and/or Skeptics, and frequently far more than to the writings of Aristotle and Plato. Especially where philosophical conceptions of emo­tion are concerned, ignoring the Hellenistic period means ignoring not only the best material in the Western tradition, but also the central influ­ence on later philosophical developments. 
The Hellenistic period covers the period of history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the conquest of the last Hellenistic kingdom by Rome in 31 BC in the Battle of Actium. As Aristotle died a year after Alexander, Hellenistic philosophy is often regarded as post-Aristotelian philosophy. But in The Therapy of Desire, Nussbaum takes Aristotle as the starting point of Hellenistic philosophy and uses Aristotelian ethics as a benchmark.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Epicurus on Philosophy and Pleasure

Epicurus held that philosophy is vital for achieving health of one’s soul. In his Letter to Menoeceus, he writes:
Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search thereof when he is grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed toward attaining it. 
Here’s a paragraph from the letter in which Epicurus is explaining his view of pleasure:
When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest disturbances take possession of the soul. Of all this the d is prudence. For this reason prudence is a more precious thing even than the other virtues, for ad a life of pleasure which is not also a life of prudence, honor, and justice; nor lead a life of prudence, honor, and justice, which is not also a life of pleasure. For the virtues have grown into one with a pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

John Locke on the Pursuit of Happiness

John Locke, in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, says that the greatest good for man is to realize himself as an intelligent being. He relates happiness with the “highest perfection of the intellectual nature” and “our greatest good.” He says that by being good and happy we establish the “necessary foundation of our liberty.” Here’s an excerpt from Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Chapter 21: “Of Power”)

"The necessity of pursuing true happiness [is] the foundation of liberty. As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires always follow, the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action, and from a necessary compliance with our desire, set upon any particular, and then appearing preferable good, till we have duly examined whether it has a tendency to, or be inconsistent with, our real happiness: and therefore, till we are as much informed upon this inquiry as the weight of the matter, and the nature of the case demands, we are, by the necessity of preferring and pursuing true happiness as our greatest good, obliged to suspend the satisfaction of our desires in particular cases.”

Monday, March 26, 2018

Hume on Happiness Through Sharing of Life’s Experiences

David Hume believed that human beings have a natural urge to share their feelings, especially their good experiences, with each other. A life in the company of friends is more conducive to happiness than a lonely existence, according to Hume. Here’s an excerpt from Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature:
In all creatures, that prey not upon others, and are not agitated with violent passions, there appears a remarkable desire of company, which associates them together, without any advantages they can ever propose to reap from their union. This is still more conspicuous in man, as being the creature of the universe, who has the most ardent desire of society, and is fitted for it by the most advantages. We can form no wish, which has not a reference to society. A perfect solitude is, perhaps, the greatest punishment we can suffer. Every pleasure languishes when enjoy’d a-part from company, and every pain becomes more cruel and intolerable. Whatever other passions we may be actuated by; pride, ambition, avarice, curiosity, revenge or lust; the soul or animating principle of them all is sympathy, nor wou’d they have any force, were we to abstract entirely from the thoughts and sentiments of others. Let all the powers and elements of nature conspire to serve and obey one man: Let the sun rise and set at his command: The sea and rivers roll as he pleases, and the earth furnish spontaneously whatever may be useful or agreeable to him: He will still be miserable, till you give him some one person at least, with whom he may share his happiness, and whose esteem and friendship he may enjoy.
In his An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume makes the point that a solitary life can be devoid enjoyment:
Reduce a person to solitude, and he loses all enjoyment, except either of the sensual or speculative kind; and that because the movements of his heart are not forwarded by correspondent movements in his fellow-creatures. The signs of sorrow and mourning, though arbitrary, affect us with melancholy; but the natural symptoms, tears and cries and groans, never fail to infuse compassion and uneasiness.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

John Dewey on Aristotle’s Naturalism

John Herman Randall, in his book Aristotle (Chapter: “Science as Right Talking: The Analysis of Discourse”), says that “the relations of the syllogistic instrument of science to the conception of science itself, and to the kind of world in which that instrument functions, are summed up in the following statement” from John Dewey’s article:
Aristotle was above all a naturalist. He asserted that the universal is united with particular existences, binding them together into a permanent whole (the species) and keeping within definite and fixed limits the changes which occur in each particular existence. The species is the true whole of which the particular individuals are the parts, and the essence is the characteristic form. Species fall within a graded order of genera as particular individuals fall within the species. Thinking is the correlate of these relations in nature. It unites and differentiates in judgement as species are united and separated in reality. Valid knowledge or demonstration necessarily takes the form of the syllogism because the syllogism merely expresses the system in which, by means of an intervening essence, individuals are included in species. Definition is the grasp of the essence which marks one species off from another. Classification and division are counterparts of the intrinsic order of nature.
The above text is from John Dewey’s article on “Logic” (published in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, IX, 599). In a footnote on the same page of Aristotle where he offers the excerpt from Dewey’s article, Randall says that he sees a problem in Dewey’s view. Randall writes: “It is doubtful whether Aristotle thought of the universal as “keeping within definite and fixed limits the changes which occur in each particular existence.””

Friday, March 23, 2018

What is Final Causality or Teleology?

Edward Feser, in his book Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide (Chapter 2, “Metaphysics”), offers the following explanation for teleology:
“for the Aristotelian, final causation or teleology…is evident wherever some natural object or process has a tendency to produce some particular effect or range of effects. A match, for example, reliably generates heat and flame when struck. and never (say) frost and cold, or the smell of lilacs, or thunder. It inherently “points to” or is “directed towards” this range of effects specifically, and in that way manifests just the sort of end- or goal-directedness characteristic of final causality, even though the match does not (unlike a heart or a carburetor) function as an organic part of a larger system. The same directedness towards a specific effect or range of effects is evident in all causes operative in the natural world. When Aristotelians say that final causality pervades the natural order, then, they are not making the implausible claim that everything has a function of the sort biological organs have, including piles of dirt, iron filings and balls of lint. Rather, they are saying that goal-directedness exists wherever regular cause and effect patterns do.”

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Immanuel Kant’s View of Genius

Paul Guyer, in his essay, “Exemplary Originality: Genius, Universality, and Individuality” (Chapter 10, Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics, edited by Paul Guyer) talks about a subject that was of great interest to Immanuel Kant. Kant’s conception of genius as an instance of exemplary originality is markedly different from that of most other philosophers. Here’s an excerpt from Guyer’s essay:
At the outset of the eighteenth century, genius was characterized simply as exceptional facility in perception and representation, where the latter is the object of artistic production and the former its precondition. As the century progressed, and as long into the nineteenth century as genius remained a lively topic, it came to be characterized as a gift for invention, leading to originality in artistic representation. But only by a few, whom we might for this reason call philosophical geniuses, were the implications of the new conception of genius fully embraced. Immanuel Kant was the first to recognize that genius, as exemplary originality, would be a stimulus and provocation to continuing revolution in the history of art…
Guyer points out that Kant in his Critique of the Power Judgement defines genius as “the talent (natural gift)” or “inborn productive faculty” “that gives the rule to art,” or “through which nature gives the rule to art.” Further in the essay, Guyer says:
Analysis of artistic beauty entails that truly successful art must always possess what Kant calls “exemplary originality”: originality, because the successful work of art can never appear to have produced contingency or novelty; yet exemplary, because it must at the same time strike us as pleasing in a way that should be valid for all. Originality by itself, to be sure, is easy to achieve: just make something that departs from all known rules and models. Of course, in this way a lot of nonsense will be produced, so what Kant calls “original nonsense” is easy to come by. The trick is to produce exemplary originality, objects which, “while not themselves the result of imitation… must yet serve others in that way, i.e., as a standard for judging,” or objects that strike us as original in appearing to depart from known rules and models but which can themselves be pleasing to all or a rule for all. Thus, in Kant’s view, all truly successful art must be the work of genius.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Modal Properties, Moral Status, and Identity

In his essay, “Modal Properties, Moral Status, and Identity,” David S. Oderberg answers the objections that have been raised against the Identity thesis, the claim that the zygote and the embryo are individual human beings. He concentrates on the cluster of objections that are based on certain biological phenomenal and appeal to the modal properties of the zygote and the embryo—to what could happen to the immature human being in certain circumstances.

Here’s Oderberg’s explanation of the embryological terms:
The term 'embryo' comes from the Greek for 'to grow,' and simply means 'growing human being'; and 'foetus' comes from the Latin for 'young offspring.' Hence either term could properly be used to denote the human being at any stage of development. 'Zygote,' 'morula,' and 'blastocyst,' on the other hand, denote specifically cellular aspects of the early human-the first coming from the Greek for 'yoke,' and signifying the coming together of the gametes, the second from the Latin for 'mulberry' and signifying the shape of the cellular matter, and the third from the Greek for 'sprout' and 'bladder,' signifying the hollowing out of the cellular matter constituting the human being at this early stage. 
According to Oderberg, the status of the zygote and the embryo can only be understood when there is a proper grasp of the metaphysics of human identity and there is a determination to keep morality at the top of the scientific agenda. He argues that life starts at the stage of conception itself. Here’s an excerpt:
Conception is that event, typically involving the union of sperm and egg, which consists in a change in the intrinsic nature of a cell or group of cells, where that change confers on the cell (or its descendants in the case of division) the intrinsic potential to develop, given the right extrinsic factors, into a mature human being. Note that the concept of intrinsic potential employed here is not the same as that rejected earlier when discussing whether the zygote is a potential human being. It was claimed that the zygote is an actual human being, but the definition of conception just given appeals to the idea that it is an actual human being with the potential to develop into a mature member of its kind, as long as circumstances permit it. The intrinsic potential mentioned in the definition is, therefore, a property of its actual humanity. We can see that this definition excludes the possibility that the egg is a human being, since its nature would have to change; without that change, it does not have the intrinsic potential to develop into a mature human being. The definition includes the union of sperm and egg, however, since there is an intrinsic change of nature. Whether this change is in the sperm or the egg is irrelevant for metaphysical purposes—it could be the egg which is changed by the sperm, or vice versa. As a matter of brute biological fact, however, the sperm-egg union is best conceived of as a change in the egg: the sperm enters it from outside, disintegrates, and the nucleus in its head merges with the nucleus of the egg. The definition also includes parthenogenetic cells and cloned cells, both of which have undergone an intrinsic change of nature from mere gametes, somatic cells or whatever, to cells with the intrinsic potential, given the right environment, to develop into mature human beings. If one of these cells only develops for, say a few days and the embryo then dies, this is not because the cell lacks the intrinsic potential to develop into a baby, child, or adult, but because certain extrinsic factors are not present, such as important nutrients; and this is indeed the currently proposed biological explanation of why full development fails in the case of cloned or parthenogenetically generated nonhuman animals. 
Oderberg defines conception as the coming into existence of a human being, but if this is the case then the zygote has the moral status of a human being.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Power of Books

Matthew Stewart in Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic (Chapter: “The Dirty Little Screw of the American Revolution”):

“DO BOOKS MATTER? Do they change minds—or do we just read into them whatever we want to know? We live in the most literate age in human history, yet many people today find few things less useful than books, and no books as useless as those of the philosophers. Many scholars today take for granted that philosophy is a technical discipline concerned with questions that can make sense only to a cadre of professionals trained to a perfection of irrelevance. The wider public, meanwhile, tends to think of philosophy as a place to stash all the questions that well up wherever our knowledge runs completely dry: the meaning of life, why there is something rather than nothing, the existence of the supernatural, and all that. Of the many attributes that seem to mark America’s founders as residents of a foreign time and place, probably none is more astonishing today than their unapologetic confidence in the power of books—and in particular the books of the philosophers.”

Friday, March 9, 2018

On The Philosophy of Reason

Those who contend that their philosophy is the philosophy of reason have a poor understanding of philosophy and reason. The evolutionary way has firmly placed mankind in the province of reason, and for a creature of reason there is no alternative to philosophizing. Therefore, every philosophy, whether rational or irrational, is a philosophy of reason. You can’t conceive of a philosophy without using reason. Even if you want to undercut reason, you need to philosophize using reason.

In his 1893 book Appearance and Reality, F. H. Bradley says: “The man who is ready to prove that metaphysical knowledge is wholly impossible has no right here to any answer. He must be referred for conviction to the body of this treatise. And he can hardly refuse to go there, since he himself has, perhaps unknowingly, entered the arena. He is a brother metaphysician with a rival theory of first principles… To say the reality is such that our knowledge cannot reach it, is a claim to know reality; to urge that our knowledge is of a kind which must fail to transcend appearance, itself implies that transcendence.”

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Why Did Early Stoicism Ignore Aristotle?

Zeno of Citium came to Athens around 300 BC and founded the School of Stoicism which formed a deep bond with the philosophical culture in ancient Greece. But we don’t find any sign of engagement between Zeno's Stoicism and Aristotle’s philosophy. David Sedley offers an answer in his essay, “The School, from Zeno to Arius Didymus” (Chapter 1; The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, edited by Brad Inwood). Here’s an excerpt:

"One apparent feature of early Stoicism that has caused controversy is the surprising rarity of engagement with the philosophy of Aristotle. Even some of the most basic and widely valued tools of Aristotelian philosophy, such as the distinction between potentiality and actuality, play virtually no part in Stoic thought. Although there is little consensus about this, the majority of scholars would probably accept that, at the very least, considerably less direct response to Aristotelianism is detectable in early Stoicism than to the various voices of the Socratic-Platonic tradition. It is not until the period of Middle Stoicism (see Section 7) that appreciation of Aristotle’s importance finally becomes unmistakable. Yet Aristotle and his school were among the truly seminal thinkers of late-fourth-century Athens and, in the eyes of many, Aristotle himself remains the outstanding philosopher of the entire Western tradition. How can a system created immediately in his wake show so little consciousness of his cardinal importance? One suggested explanation is that Aristotle’s school treatises, the brilliant but often very difficult texts by which we know him today, were not at this date as widely disseminated and studied as his more popularising works. But an alternative or perhaps complementary explanation lies in Zeno’s positive commitment to Socratic philosophy, of which the Peripatetics did not present themselves as voices. Either way, we must avoid the unhistorical assumption that Aristotle’s unique importance was as obvious to his near-contemporaries as it is to us."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Cicero Versus Machiavelli

During the Renaissance, the humanist philosophers preached that the princes ought to keep their word and eschew force and fraud. They ritualistically repeated Cicero’s injunction in De officiis: ‘‘wrong may be done in either of two ways, that is, by force or by fraud; both are bestial: fraud seems to belong to the cunning fox, force to the lion; both are wholly unworthy of man.’’

But Renaissance scholar Niccolò Machiavelli countered Cicero's philosophy with his own dictum which he presented in The Prince: ‘‘rulers who have done great things have set little store by keeping their word, being skillful rather in cunningly deceiving men.’’ Machiavelli concludes with biting satire that a ruler must, after all, ‘‘know well how to imitate beasts . . . he should imitate both the fox and the lion.’’

The humanists used to preach that it is better to be loved than feared, and that cruelty can never profit a prince. But Machiavelli preferred the governance model of Cesare Borgia. He said that Borgia ‘‘was considered cruel,’’ but that his ‘‘harsh measures restored order to the Romagna, unifying it and rendering it peaceful and loyal." He asserts in The Prince that for a prince it is ‘‘it is much safer to be feared than loved..."

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Veatch on The Kantian Line on Moral Law

In his essay, “Natural Law: Dead or Alive?,” Henry B. Veatch says that some thinkers try to justify their position on human rights and human duties without making an appeal to nature and natural law—they prefer to follow a Kantian line of justification. In the following excerpt from Veatch's essay, we have his perspective on the Kantian line on moral law:

"In general, Kant suspected that egoistic or self-interested motives were non-moral because they were not so much reasoned to and freely chosen as automatic, given biases or vested interests caused and determined heteronomously rather than by the autonomous choice of the moral agent. In the hope of making ethical choice more rational and autonomous, Kant turned to a universalizability principle. He reasoned that universalizing one’s reasons for action (i.e., by applying those reasons equally to every other agent) would form the decisive criterion for any action that is truly rational and hence a truly moral one. This universalizing approach led Kant to formulate his categorical imperative whose edict applied equally well to all moral agents. Kant was at pains to remove all self-interested goals, ends, or objects of desire as the possible justifying reasons for moral actions. Such self-interested motives seemed to him merely irrational deterministic reflexes of an agent’s actions (similar to Hobbes’s “passions”) rather than authentic, autonomous, and rationally chosen motives."

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Political Views of Leonardo Bruni

Leonardo Bruni (1370 – 1444), the Renaissance humanist, historian and statesman points out that Rome attained great success in politics and culture as a self-governing republic, but as there was decline in republican values, Rome lost its liberty and became mired in chaos and corruption. (History of the Florentine People, by Leonardo Bruni, edited by James Hankins). Bruni believed that liberty makes virtue possible, and without virtue there can be no glory. In his 1428 oration in praise of Nanni Strozzi, Bruni says:
Praise of monarchy has something fictitious and shadowy about it, and lacks precision and solidity. Kings, the historian [Sallust] says, are more suspicious of the good than of the evil man, and are always fearful of another’s virtue. Nor is it very different under the rule of a few. Thus the only legitimate constitution of the commonwealth left is the popular one, in which liberty is real, in which legal equality is the same for all citizens, in which pursuit of the virtues may flourish without suspicion.
Bruni held that cities must be must be governed according to justice if they are to become glorious. He says that justice is impossible without liberty.  Here’s his comment on political system in 15th century Florence:
Therefore, under these magistracies this city has been governed with such diligence and competence that one could not find better discipline even in a household ruled by a solicitous father. As a result, no one here has ever suffered any harm, and no one has ever had to alienate property except when he wanted to. The judges, the magistrates are always on duty; the courts, even the highest tribunal is open. All classes of men can be brought to trial; laws are made prudently for the common good, and they are fashioned to help the citizens. There is no place on earth where there is greater justice open equally to every- one. Nowhere else does freedom grow so vigorously, and nowhere else are rich and poor alike treated with such equality. In this one can discern Florence’s great wisdom, perhaps greater than that of other cities. 
(Quoted in The Earthly Republic: Italian Humanists on Government and Society, edited by Benjamin G. Kohl and Ronald G. Witt)
A Republican constitution is must for safeguarding the freedom of the people, according to Bruni.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Aristotle’s Natural Teleology versus “Design”

Here’s an excerpt from John Herman Randall’s Aristotle (Chapter 9: "Aristotle’s Functionalism Illustrated in Biological Theory"; Section: "Aristotle's Natural Teleology versus “Design”"), Page 228-229:
Since the various religious traditions not unnaturally identified “nature,” the system of ends toward which natural processes are discovered to be directed, with the “will of God,” as Plato’s creation myth had already done, “final causes” were taken as the conscious purposes of the Deity, and as such were held to be ipso facto efficient causes, themselves acting to bring about their own realization. In sharp contrast, for Aristotle “final causes” and “natural ends” are in no sense whatever to be taken as “purposes”: they involve no conscious intent, except in the one case where conscious intent is obviously involved, human action and art. And final causes or ends are for Aristotle never to be identified with efficient causes: never for him does what a process brings about itself bring about the process. For Aristotle a final cause is always a necessary condition of understanding, a principle of intelligibility; it is never a “whence of motion,” an arche of action.  
In the second place, “final causes,” as they were developed during the predominance of the religious traditions, tended to become a way of showing how under the ministrations of God’s providence everything in the universe conduces to the self-centered purposes of man. In sharp contrast, Aristotle’s natural teleology is, in the technical sense, wholly “immanent.” No kind of thing, no species, is subordinated to the purposes and interests of any other kind. In biological theory, the end served by the structure of any specific kind of living thing is the good—ultimately, the “survival”—of that kind of thing. Hence Aristotle’s concern is always to examine how the structure, the way of acting, the “nature,” of any species conduces toward the preservation of that species, and enables it to survive, to exist and to continue to function in its own distinctive way. This Aristotelian emphasis on the way in which kinds of living things are adapted to their environment brings Aristotle’s thought very close to the functional explanations advanced by evolutionary thinkers: in both cases the emphasis is placed on the survival value of the arrangement in question.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Kant’s Defense of Moses Mendelssohn

Moses Mendelssohn and Immanuel Kant had regard for each other’s works. When Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason was published, Mendelssohn complimented Kant by calling him “the all-destroying Kant.” Mendelssohn believed that Kant’s Critique was destructive to both the empiricist and rationalist traditions which were hindering philosophy. According to most accounts, Kant was satisfied with the label “the all-destroying Kant," coined by Mendelssohn. By making several references to Kant’s works, Mendelssohn brought popularity to Kant.

Mendelssohn died in January 1786. In April 1786, Kant was present at a dinner party where Mendelssohn’s philosophical talents were being impugned. Kant immediately rose to Mendelssohn’s defense. He passionately spoke of Mendelssohn’s original genius which enabled him to see every hypothesis in the best possible light. As the argument between Kant and Mendelssohn’s detractors progressed, things started getting out of hand at the dinner party. The verbal exchange became so heated that Kant behaved very rudely and almost uncivilly before leaving with a feeling of ill-will.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Cicero’s Influence on Kant’s Moral Theory

The German philosopher Christian Garve published his book Philosophical Remarks and Essays on Cicero’s Books on Duties in 1783. In the same year, Immanuel Kant started working on his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. The Groundwork does not have any explicit references to Cicero, but Kant’s friend Johann Georg Hamann has said that the Groundwork is a conscious response to Garve’s interpretation of Cicero’s On Duties. Kant had read Cicero and he has remarked that true popularity in philosophy can only be achieved by reading and imitating Cicero.

In his article, published in Mind in 1939, Klaus Reich notes that Kant’s argument in Groundwork closely follows Cicero’s argument in On Duties. Reich points out that Kant was thinking of the classical list of virtues (justice, wisdom, courage, and self-control), which he may have discovered in Cicero’s ideas. Reich also makes the case that Kant’s principle of morality is inspired by Cicero’s stoic values. Manfred Kuhen talks about the connection between Kant’s Groundwork and Garve’s Cicero in his essay, “Kant’s critical philosophy and its reception – the first five years (1781–1786)” (Chapter 18, The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy, Edited by Paul Guyer). Here’s an excerpt:

"Furthermore, Garve was important. He had dared to criticize Kant’s first Critique, and Kant was moved to criticize Garve in turn. Thus Hamann reported early in 1784 that Kant was working on a “counter-critique” of Garve. Though the title of the work was not determined yet, it was meant to become an attack not on Garve’s review but on Garve’s Cicero, constituting a kind of revenge. Hamann, who took great interest in literary feuds, was initially excited. But he was soon disappointed. For six weeks later he had to report that “the counter-critique of Garve’s Cicero had changed into a preliminary treatise on morals,” and that what he had wanted to call first “counter-critique” had become a predecessor (prodrome) to morals, although it was also to have “a relation to Garve.” The final version did not explicitly deal with Garve. It is significant, however, that Kant read Cicero in Garve’s translation, and that he carefully looked at Garve’s commentary while writing the Groundwork. Though he might have been more interested in Garve than in Cicero, the latter had a definite effect on his views concerning the foundations of moral philosophy. But several schol- ars have argued that Garve’s Cicero was actually important to Kant in dealing with fundamental moral issues.

"What was to be a mere textbook treatment of well-rehearsed issues became a much more programmatic treatise. It is therefore no accident that the terminology of the Groundwork turns out to be so similar to that of Cicero – that “will,” “dignity,” “autonomy,” “duty,” “virtue,” “freedom,” and several other central concepts play a similar foundational role in both Cicero and in Kant. One of the most interesting things about Cicero’s account in this context is that involves the claim that our own nature depends to a large extent on our social role. Sociability or communicability is for him the most important principle from which duty derives. This is clear from the very terms Cicero uses. “Honorableness” or “the honorable” are translations of “honestas” and “honestum.” Both have to do with the holding of an office or an honor. Duties are thus essentially related to one’s social standing. They are bound up with something that is public, part of the sphere of the res publica or the community. Duties make little sense outside society. They are not internal or subjective principles, but public demands on us. Insofar as some of these duties are based on sociability as such, some duties will be universal, but they remain duties we have as “citizens of the world.”"

Friday, February 9, 2018

A House for Mr. Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant purchased a house of his own at the age of 59 (on December 30, 1783). Renting a house meant occasional moves, at times at the insistence of the landlord, and Kant felt that a house of his own would grant him certain amount of security, especially in his declining years. In Kant: A Biography, (Chapter: “The All Crushing Critic of Metaphysics"), Manfred Kuhen has an account of Kant’s journey into his own house:
The house Kant bought had belonged to a portrait painter named Becker, who had recently died. Hippel, whose own property bordered on Becker's, was instrumental in the deal. He told Kant that the property was for sale, and he wrote to Kant on December 24, the day before Christmas, that he had found out that the house was not yet sold, and that if Kant were to make an offer, he would probably be successful. Kant acted right away. Indeed, he wrote down notes and questions about what had to be done on Hippel's very letter. Thus he asked whether there was only one stove in the house, where precisely the borderlines of the property lay, whether he should take out a wall between two smaller rooms and the room that was to become the lecture room, and when the house would be free. The answer to the last question was: "in March." Kant made notes about the costs of the necessary renovation on the back of a short letter, dated February 21, 1784. Work appears to have begun at that time….
Kant was able to move into his new house on May 22, 1784. He didn't like dining alone, and usually invited one or two table companions, whose number, on special occasions, could be increased to five or six. Johann Gottfried Hasse, Kant’s colleague at the University of Königsberg, was one of the frequent dinnertime guests. Kuhen offers an excerpt from Hasse’s idyllic vision of Kant’s house:
On coming closer to his house, everything announced a philosopher. The house was something of an antique. It stood in a street that could be walked but was not much used by carriages. Its back bordered on gardens and moats of the castle, as well as on the back buildings of the many hundred years old palace with its towers, its prisons and its owls. But spring and summer the surroundings were quite romantic. The only trouble was that he did not really enjoy them .. . but only saw them. Stepping into the house, one would notice the peaceful quiet. Had one not been convinced otherwise by the open kitchen, with the odors of food, a barking dog, or the meowing of a cat, the darlings of his female cook - she performed, as he put it, entire sermons for them - one might have thought the house was uninhabited. If one went up the stairs, one would have encountered the servant who was working on preparing the table. But if one went through the very simple, unadorned and somewhat smoky outbuilding into a greater room which represented the best room, but which was not luxurious. (What Nepos said of Attics: elegant, non magnifies, was quite true of Kant.) There was a sofa, some chairs, upholstered with linen, a glass cabinet with some porcelain, a secretary, which held his silver ware and his cash, and a thermometer. These were all the furnishings, which covered a part of the white walls. In this way, one reached through a very simple, even poor-looking, door a just as destitute sans-souci, into which one was invited by a glad "come in" as soon as one knocked. (How fast my heart beat, when this happened for the first time!) The entire room exuded simplicity and quiet isolation from the noises of the city and the world. Two common tables, a simple sofa, some chairs, including his study-seat, and a dresser, which left enough space in the middle of the room to get to the barometer and thermometer, which Kant consulted frequently. Here sat the thinker in his wooden chair, as if on a tripod…

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

On Cicero’s Access To The Works Of Aristotle

Aristotle                                       Cicero
Did Cicero know the same Aristotle that Thomas Aquinas knew in the 13th century and we can know today? Did he have access to the same Aristotelian texts which Andronicus of Rhodes used in the First Century B.C. to create his Aristotelian corpus?

In his essay, “Cicero on Aristotle and Aristotelians,” Walter Nicgorski says that Cicero had more of Aristotle’s work available to him than most people before and after Cicero’s lifetime. Nicgorski points out that Cicero lived at the juncture of time and place when and where the Aristotelian corpus of Andronicus was being compiled and made available to scholars. But this was also the time and place when and where the writings of Aristotle started disappearing and many of the texts were completely lost.

Cicero was deeply interested in philosophy—it was his primary concern to bring Greek philosophy to Rome. He was in touch with other Roman scholars, and therefore it is likely that he had full knowledge of the enterprise of assembling the Aristotelian texts which was going on in Rome during his lifetime. According to Nicgorski, Cicero’s writings support the idea that he consulted Aristotle’s non-popular works (commentarios) which were then being recovered and assembled.

Here’s an excerpt from Nicgorski’s essay:
In the reference to these works at De Finibus v. 12, Cicero actually uses the Greek cognate (ἐξωτερικόν) for “exoteric” to describe the popular works which are contrasted with those (limatius) “more carefully composed” commentarii, usually translated as “notebooks”. In this passage, Cicero reveals that the distinction between the exoteric works and the notebooks is one which the Peripatetics themselves make, that it is a distinction which applies to various works of the school, not simply to Aristotle’s writings, and that he is sufficiently familiar with both the exoteric writings and the notebooks to comment on the appearance of inconsistency between them with respect to content.  
Cicero did not, it seems, know with assurance that our Nicomachean Ethics and Politics were works of Aristotle. Cicero cites neither of these works directly, though he mentions the Nicomachean Ethics and shows himself aware that this work is attributed to Aristotle; he himself is inclined to think it was authored by Aristotle’s son Nicomachus. Though the scholarly consensus is that Cicero did not know our Politics, there is a possibility, as the late Elizabeth Rawson suggests, that he knew the Politics or much of it as the work of Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor as head of the Peripatetic school. Whether or not Cicero did give close attention to the texts of the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics or encountered their teachings in other sources, his work shows the impact of such teachings and appears largely consistent with them. The teaching of the Ethics is quite clearly reflected in De Finibus, especially in Book II where Cicero speaks in his own persona, and the De Finibus is a book that Cicero regards as his most important and that treats the topic which he holds to be foundational to all philosophy. Quite directly Cicero associates what he does in De Re Publica and De Legibus with the tradition of political inquiry in which Aristotle and his school are perceived as distinguishing themselves. Could not the Politics or some version of it be what Cicero has in mind when he so credits the Peripatetic heritage in political philosophy? 
It is also noteworthy that Cicero saw Aristotle as a follower of the Platonic and Socratic traditions. In De Officiis, he says, “[M]y philosophical writings differing very little from Peripatetic teachings, for both I and those men wish to follow in the socratic and Platonic tradition..."

Friday, February 2, 2018

Publication of Spinoza’s Ethics

In his essay, “The Textual History of Spinoza’s Ethics” (Chapter 1, The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza’s Ethics), Piet Steenbakkers offers an account of the process by which Spinoza’s ethics got published. Spinoza died in The Hague on 21st February, 1677, and within a matter days his publisher received a writing box containing Spinoza’s unpublished writings and correspondence. Spinoza’s friends divided the editorial work among themselves, and within nine months of his demise, in December 1977, the manuscripts got published under the title B.d.S. Opera Posthuma, which contains his major works, including Ethica. The Dutch translation of B.d.S. Opera Posthuma was published in the same period.

Here’s an excerpt from Steenbakkers’s essay:

"Publishing the Ethics was a precarious undertaking. Spinoza himself put the manuscript away in 1675, and when his friends did publish it in the Opera Posthuma, they took safety measures to cover their activities. The book appeared without the publisher’s name (Rieuwertsz), without mentioning the place of publication (Amsterdam), and with the philosopher’s name abbreviated to ‘B.d.S.’ In the correspondence, references to people who were still alive were generally avoided and many factual allusions were discreetly suppressed. This covertness makes it difficult to determine who the editors were and what they did with the manuscripts they had at their disposal."

Monday, January 29, 2018

Immanuel Kant’s Meeting With Moses Mendelssohn

In his book Kant: A Biography, Manfred Kuhen has examined the intellectual connection between Immanuel Kant and Moses Mendelssohn. Here’s an excerpt from the book (Chapter 5: "Silent Years") in which Kuhen is describing Kant’s reaction to Mendelssohn’s visit to Königsberg:
In July of 1777 ones Mendelssohn, one of the most important German philosophers of the late Enlightenment, came for a visit to Königsberg. He was perhaps the dominant force on the German philosophical scene between 1755 and 1785. His work in aesthetic theory and on the nature and role of sensibility was especially influential, and it would be difficult to understand the development of German thought from Wolffian rationalism to Kantian idealism without paying close attention to Mendelssohn. If he was received like royalty by the Jewish community, he was treated with almost equal respect by the philosophical community. Kant and Hamann were especially happy to see him. After a trip to Memel, Mendelssohn stayed another ten days in Königsberg (August 10-20). Kant wrote to Herz in Berlin:  
Today Mr. Mendelssohn, your worthy friend and mine (for so I flatter myself), is departing. To have a man like him in Königsberg on a permanent basis, as an intimate acquaintance, a man of such gentle temperament, good spirits, and Enlightenment - how that would give my soul the nourishment it has lacked so completely here, a nourishment I miss more and more as I grow older! I could not arrange, however, to take full advantage of this unique opportunity to enjoy so rare a man, partly from fear lest I might disturb him . . . in the business he had to attend to locally. Yesterday he did me the honor of being present at two of my lectures, d la fortune du pot, as one might say, since the table was not prepared for such a distinguished guest... I beg you to keep for me the friendship of this worthy man in the future...  
One may well wonder what difference such a Mendelssohnian influence might have made to Kant's critical enterprise. Would the Critique of Pure Reason — which Kant was busily writing at that time — have looked any different? We will, of course, never know the answer to such questions.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Lenz’s Poem For Celebrating Kant’s Professorship

In 1770, Immanuel Kant was appointed as the professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Königsberg. To celebrate Kant’s promotion, one of his students Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, who later became a popular writer of the Sturm und Drang movement, wrote a poem titled, “When His High and Noble Herr Professor Kant Disputed for the Honor of professor on August 21, 1770.”

In his poem, Lenz emphasizes that Kant is a man in whom both virtue and wisdom can be found and who, in his own life, has been true to all the principles that he has been preaching to his students. The poem has twelve verses. Here’s one of the verses:

Whose clear eye never was bedazzled by the ostentatious
Who, never crawling, never called the fool sagacious
Who many a time reduced to shred
The folly's mask, which we must dread. 

Linz ends the poem with this verse:

You sons of France! Despise our Northern region
Ask if ever a genius has here arisen:
If Kant still lives, you will not hazard again
to ask this question.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Kant’s Apology for Writing "Dreams of a Spirit-Seer"

In Kant: A Biography, Manfred Kuhen points out that Dreams of a Spirit-Seer is the only book for which Immanuel Kant came close to apologizing. The Book was published anonymously, but eventually Kant accepted the responsibility for writing it. In his letter (Dated: April 6, 1766) to Moses Mendelssohn, Kant said that he was a philosophical author of steadfast character and he apologized for the ambiguous style of his book.

Here’s an excerpt from Kant’s letter:

"The estrangement you express about the tone of my little work proves to me that you have formed a good opinion of the sincerity of my character, and your very reluctance to see that character ambiguously expressed is both precious and pleasing to me. In fact, you will never have to change this opinion. For, though there may be flaws that even the most steadfast determination cannot eradicate completely, I shall certainly never become a fickle or fraudulent person, having, during what must have been the largest part of my life, learned to do without as well as to scorn most of the things that tend to corrupt one's character. The loss of self-respect, which originates from the consciousness of an undisguised way of thinking, would thus be the greatest evil that could befall me, but which most certainly never will befall me. Although I am personally convinced with the greatest clarity and satisfaction of many things which I will never have the courage to say, I will never say anything that I do not mean (dencke)."

Manfred Kuhen also sheds light on the peculiar manner in which Kant’s Dreams of a Spirit-Seer was published. The book’s publisher failed to send the manuscript to the censor, as he should have. Instead, he directly submitted a printed copy of the book. For this infraction, the publisher was fined 10 Thalers which was equivalent to one-sixth of Kant’s yearly income.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Schopenhauer On Dialectic and Logic

In his essay, “The Art of Controversy,” Arthur Schopenhauer says that the word “dialectic” was first used by Plato. By “dialectic,” Plato means the regular employment of the reason, and skill in the practice of it. Aristotle has used “dialectic,” as well as “logic” in the same sense. But “dialectic” seems to be an older word than “logic.” According to Schopenhauer, such usage of “dialectic” and “logic” has lasted through the medieval period to the modern times.  He blames Immanuel Kant for using the word “dialectic” in an untraditional sense for the first time. Here’s an excerpt from “The Art of Controversy,” (Translation by: T. Bailey Saunders):
But more recently, and in particular by Kant, Dialectic has often been employed in a bad sense, as meaning “the art of sophistical controversy”; and hence Logic has been preferred, as of the two the more innocent designation. Nevertheless, both originally meant the same thing; and in the last few years they have again been recognizes as synonymous.
Here’s Schopenhauer's view of Aristotle’s usage of “dialectic,” “logic,” and other related terms:
According to Diogenes Laertius, v., 28, Aristotle put Rhetoric and Dialectic together, as aiming at persuasion, [Greek: to pithanon]; and Analytic and Philosophy as aiming at truth. Aristotle does, indeed, distinguish between (1) Logic, or Analytic, as the theory or method of arriving at true or apodeictic conclusions; and (2) Dialectic as the method of arriving at conclusions that are accepted or pass current as true, [Greek: endoxa] probabilia; conclusions in regard to which it is not taken for granted that they are false, and also not taken for granted that they are true in themselves, since that is not the point. What is this but the art of being in the right, whether one has any reason for being so or not, in other words, the art of attaining the appearance of truth, regardless of its substance? That is, then, as I put it above.  
Aristotle divides all conclusions into logical and dialectical, in the manner described, and then into eristical. (3) Eristic is the method by which the form of the conclusion is correct, but the premisses, the materials from which it is drawn, are not true, but only appear to be true. Finally (4) Sophistic is the method in which the form of the conclusion is false, although it seems correct. These three last properly belong to the art of Controversial Dialectic, as they have no objective truth in view, but only the appearance of it, and pay no regard to truth itself; that is to say, they aim at victory. Aristotle’s book on Sophistic Conclusions was edited apart from the others, and at a later date. It was the last book of his Dialectic.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Kant’s Account of Discipline of Reason

Immanuel Kant gives three requirements for the discipline of reason—reason must be negative, nonderivative, and lawlike. He says in the Critique of Pure Reason that reason requires a “wholly nonderivative and specifically negative law-giving.”

In her lecture, “Kant on Reason and Religion” (Delivered at Harvard University, April 1—3, 1996), Onora O’Neill gives the following account of Kant’s requirements for discipline of reason:
Kant’s account of the discipline of reason can be summarized in three claims. First, in calling reason a discipline, he is claiming that it is a negative constraint on the ways in which we think and act: there are no substantive axioms of reason, whose content can fully steer processes of reasoning; there are merely constraints. Reason is indeed merely formal.  
Second, the discipline of reason is nonderivative. Reason does not derive from any more fundamental standards. On the contrary, it appeals to no other premises, so can be turned on any claim or belief or proposal for action. Neither church nor state, nor other powers, can claim exemption from the scrutiny of reason for their pronouncements and assumptions. The authority of reason would be nullified by any supposition that it is subordinate to the claims of one or another happenstantial power… 
If reason has any authority, it must be its own rather than derivative.  
Although reason does not have derivative authority, authority it must have. Authority is needed to distinguish between ways of organizing thought and action that are to count as reasoned and those that are to be dismissed as unreasoned. Kant traces this nonderivative authority to the requirement that reasons be public, in the sense that they can be given or exchanged, shared or challenged. Nothing then can count as reasoned unless it is followable by others, that is, unless it is lawlike. Ways of organizing thought and action that are not lawlike will be unfollowable by at least some others, who will view them as arbitrary or incomprehensible.  
The minimal, modal requirement that reasons be followable by others, without being derivative from other standards, is Kant’s entire account of the authority of reason. Yet mere nonderivative lawlikeness has considerable implications for the organization of thought and action: in the domain of theory it amounts to the demand that reasons be intelligible to others; in the domain of action it amounts to the requirement that reasons for action be ones that others too could follow.
O’Neill notes that “the supreme principle of practical reason is presented as a negative (formal) requirement that is underivative because it appeals to no other spurious “authorities” (that would be heteronomy) and demands adherence to lawlike maxims (i.e., to maxims that could be adopted by all).”

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Heinrich Heine on Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant’s early biographers focused only on his philosophical works and not his personal life. This created the impression that Kant was all thought and no life. Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), a friend and distant relative of Karl Marx and himself a believer in socialism, summed up the prevailing view of Kant in these words:
The history of Immanuel Kant’s life is difficult to portray, for he had neither life nor history. He led a mechanically ordered, almost abstract bachelor existence in a quiet, remote little street in Koenigsberg, an old town on the northeastern border of Germany. I do not believe that the great clock of the cathedral there performed more dispassionately and methodically its outward routine of the day than did its fellow countryman Immanuel Kant. Getting up in the morning, drinking coffee, writing, giving lectures, eating, walking, everything had its appointed time, and the neighbors knew for certain that it was half-past three when Immanuel Kant, in his gray frock-coat, his Spanish cane in his hand, stepped out of his house and strolled to the little linden avenue called after him to this day the “Philosopher’s Path.” Eight times he walked up and down it, in every season of the year, and when the sky was overcast, or gray clouds announced a rain coming, old Lampe, his servant, was seen walking anxiously behind him with a big umbrella under his arm, like an image of providence.  
What a strange contrast between the outward life of the man and his destructive, world-crushing thoughts! Truly, if the citizens of Koenigsberg had had any premonition of the full significance of his ideas, they would have felt a far more terrifying dread at the presence of this man than at the sight of an executioner, an executioner who merely executes people. But the good folk saw in him nothing but a professor of philosophy, and as he passed by at his customary hour, they gave him a friendly greeting and perhaps set their watches by him. 
If, however, Immanuel Kant, the arch-destroyer in the realm of ideas, far surpassed Maximilian Robespierre in terrorism, yet he possessed many similarities with the latter which invite comparison of the two men. In the first place, we find in both the same stubborn, keen, unpoetic, sober integrity. We also find in both the same talent for suspicion, only that the one directs his suspicion toward ideas and calls it criticism, while the other applies it to people and entitles it republican virtue. But both represented in the highest degree the type of provincial bourgeois. Nature had destined them to weigh coffee and sugar, but Fate determined that they should weigh other things and placed on the scales of the one a king, on the scales of the other a god.  
And they gave the correct weight! 
~ Heinrich Heine in On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany (1835)

Friday, January 5, 2018

An Explanation for Kant’s Bachelorhood

Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction to Kant: Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and Other Writings, edited by Paul Patrick Frierson and Paul Guyer:

"During the 1760s Kant struggled with the issue of marriage, and one finds a personal pathos throughout these writings. Kant in Observations longs for a woman with whom to make a “united pair” that would “as it were constitute a single moral person,” a woman who would both “refine” and “ennoble” him, and, most of all, a female friend who would unite beauty and nobility of soul and who “can never be valued enough.” While Kant longs for this ideal woman, though, he also recognizes a danger in his ideal. In a partly autobiographical passage, he contrasts crude sexual inclination with “extremely refined taste,” which prevents excessive lust but often at the cost of happiness since such refined taste “commonly fails to attain the great final aim of nature” and results in “brooding.” Such brooding ends in one of two bad outcomes: “postponement and… renunciation of the marital bond or… sullen regret of a choice that… does not fulfill the great expectations that had been raised.” Within a few years, Kant will have fallen into the first of these tragic outcomes. Although he will later quip, "When I needed a woman, I couldn’t feed one; when I could feed one, I didn’t need one any more (1),” the analysis in Observations seems a more likely explanation for Kant’s lifelong bachelorhood."

(1. Quoted in Kant, Herder and the Birth of Anthropology by John Zammito; Page 121)