Wednesday, January 31, 2018

FEE’s Essential Guide to Cryptocurrency and Bitcoins

In the 36-page ebook “FEE’s Essential Guide to Cryptocurrency and Bitcoins,” Jeffery M. Tucker has contributed two essays (“Bitcoin for Beginners” and “What Gave Bitcoin its Value?”) which offer an interesting insight into the monetary theory on which the Bitcoin system is based. Tucker shows that the Bitcoins follow the economic ideas of Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises.

Menger has established that the market is the fountainhead of money.  Money gradually comes into existence when entrepreneurs seek out a commodity for conducting financial transactions. In his book The Theory of Money and Credit, Mises has shown that money gets its price in terms of the goods and services that it obtains. Bitcoin is something that is being accepted by the market as a system for indirect exchange and hence it is a money.

According to Tucker, a major, if not the primary purpose of developing Bitcoin was to have a protocol which weaves together the currency feature with a payment system. The two features are interlinked in the structure of the Bitcoin code.

Here’s an excerpt from the Tucker’s essay, “What Gave Bitcoin its Value?”:
Bitcoin is both a payment system and a money. The payment system is the source of value, while the accounting unit merely expresses that value in terms of price. The unity of money and payment is its most unusual feature, and the one that most commentators have had trouble wrapping their heads around.  
We are all used to thinking of currency as separate from payment systems. This thinking is a reflection of the technological limitations of history. There is the dollar and there are credit cards. There is the euro and there is PayPal. There is the yen and there are wire services. In each case, money transfer relies on third-party service providers. In order to use them, you need to establish what is called a “trust relationship” with them, which is to say that the institution arranging the deal has to believe that you are going to pay.  
This wedge between money and payment has always been with us, except for the case of physical proximity. If I give you a dollar for your pizza slice, there is no third party. But payment systems, third parties, and trust relationships become necessary once you leave geographic proximity. That’s when companies like Visa and institutions like banks become indispensable. They are the application that makes the monetary so ware do what you want it to do. 
The hitch is that the payment systems we have today are not available to just anyone. In fact, a vast majority of humanity does not have access to such tools, which is a major reason for poverty in the world. The financially disenfranchised are confined to only local trade and cannot extend their trading relationships with the world.  
A major, if not a primary, purpose of developing Bitcoin was to solve this problem. The protocol set out to weave together the currency feature with a payment system. The two are utterly interlinked in the structure of the code itself. This connection is what makes bitcoin different from any existing national currency, and, really, any currency in history. 
The ebook also has essays by Billy Silva (“From Bitcoin to Ether: Today’s Blockchain Basics”), Andreas Antonopoulos (“Bitcoin Technology: A Festival of the Commons”), Steve Patterson (“Bitcoin: Currency of Currencies”), and Skyler J. Collins (“What Cryptocurrency Can Teach Us About Political Governance”).

Monday, January 29, 2018

Immanuel Kant’s Meeting With Moses Mendelssohn

In his book Kant: A Biography, Manfred Kuhen gives a good account of 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

Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz
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 one of the famous writers of Sturm und Drang movement, wrote a poem entitled, “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 has practiced in his own life all the principles which he preached 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.


(Information on Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz's poem is available in Manfred Kuehn's Kant: A Biography)

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 Kant accepted responsibility for 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

Arthur Schopenhauer
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 credits Immanuel Kant for using the word “dialectic” in a bad 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 another excerpt in which Schopenhauer is describing 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.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Lament of Kant’s Aristotelian Teacher

Immanuel Kant is believed to have attended the lecture of Johann Adam Gregorovius (1681—1749), an Aristotelian professor, in 1740, at the Königsberg University. Gregorovius’s primary concern was to defend Aristotle’s moral philosophy against more modern attempts at ethics. In the Wöchentliche Nachrichten of 1741, Gregorovius said, among other things:
I cannot make a secret of the fact that the philosophy of Aristotle has been so maligned and ridiculed since so many new systems have appeared after the beginning of this century… that no dog would take a piece of bread from an Aristotelian, even if it had not been fed for five days… This public disregard of antiquity led me entirely to abandon Aristotle from honest conviction. Subsequently, I had to learn every new system as soon as it appeared in order to teach it to the youthful students who were only interested in the newest (splitterneue) philosophers… I had… as great an attendance and applause as any. Yet after I got tired of the constant change… I began to compare all the new doctrines with the ancient one. Yet I had to learn that the hate and disregard which those inexperienced in these matters have against Aristotle also met me. (Source: Kant: A Biography by Manfred Kuehn; Chapter 2: “Student and Private Teacher”; Page 68)  
Gregorovius was acquainted with modern philosophy but he believed that Aristotle’s philosophy was much superior.

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 also points out 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 of 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)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Significance of Kant’s Transcendental Deduction

Immanuel Kant
In the Transcendental Deduction, Immanuel Kant’s goal is to target Humean skepticism and prove that a priori concepts (or categories) are objectively valid and are a necessary condition of our experience of the world. He offers his arguments for the Transcendental Deduction (and for the Refutation of Idealism) for the first time in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781). The transcendental arguments are also included in his two subsequent critiques: the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790).

The twelve a priori concepts (or categories) that Kant wishes to hold as objectively valid and a necessary condition of our synthetic experience of the world include: Unity, Plurality, and Totality (the Categories of Quantity); Reality, Negation, and Limitation (the Categories of Quality); Inherence and Subsistence, Causality and Dependence, and Community (the Categories of Relation), and Possibility-Impossibility, Existence-Nonexistence, Necessity-Contingency (the Categories of Modality).

In the preface to Critique of Pure Reason, Kant wrote: “I know of no investigations that would be more important for getting to the bottom of the faculty that we call understanding and at the same time for determining the rules and limits of its employment than those that I have undertaken in the second part of the Transcendental Analytic, under the title of the Deduction of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding; they have also cost me the most, but not, I hope, unrewarded effort.”

From the perspective of soundness, however, Kant’s transcendental arguments are an unrewarded effort. According to Paul Guyer, Kant’s arguments for Transcendental Deduction is formally unsound. But Guyer points out that despite the philosophical failure of Kant’s arguments, the Transcendental Deduction has played a pivotal role in effacing the influence of Cartesian rationalism and Lockean empiricism, and setting a new agenda for modern philosophy by enabling the development of philosophical movements like logical positivism and linguistic philosophy.

Here’s an excerpt from Guyer’s essay, “The Transcendental Deduction of the Categories,” (Chapter 4, The Cambridge Companion to Kant, Edited by Paul Guyer):
Formally speaking, the transcendental deduction is a failure, and at best sets the agenda for the detailed demonstration of the role of the categories in the determination of empirical relations in space and especially time in the following sections of the Critique of Pure Reason. Nevertheless, the transcendental deduction also completely transformed the agenda of modern philosophy. While he had difficulty initially spelling it out, Kant clearly perceived that there was some inescapable connection between self-knowledge and knowledge of objects, and this completely undermined the Cartesian assumptions that we could have a determinate knowledge of our inner states without any knowledge of the external world at all and that we had to discover some means of inferring from the former to the latter. And while Kant had difficultly in distinguishing between the categories as merely logical functions of judgement and as extra-logical constraints on judgement, he nevertheless clearly saw that both self-knowledge and knowledge of objects were intrinsically judgmental and necessarily involved logical structures as well as empirical inputs. This completely undermined the Lockean and Humean project of discovering the foundations of all knowledge and belief in the empirical input of sensation and reflection alone. Progress in philosophy is rarely dependent upon the formal soundness of an argument, but on the compelling force of the new vision, and from this point of the view the transcendental deduction was a total success, turning Cartesian rationalism and Lockean empiricism into mere history and setting new agendas for subsequent philosophical movements from German idealism to logical positivism and the linguistic philosophy of our own times.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Immanuel Kant: The Life of The Party

Immanuel Kant loved to eat, but he held that eating alone is bad for a philosopher because it encourages intellectual self-gnawing which leads to a lack of vitality. He saw dinner parties as the part of the “highest ethicophysical good,” holding that a dinner party brings not only physical satisfaction but also intellectual and moral stimulation.

In the section entitled, “On the highest moral-physical good,” in the conclusion to the Part One of his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, Kant argues that good living and true humanity can be realized by having a good meal in good company. He also lays out his rules for a dinner party:

Number of guests: According to Kant, the number of guests should be such that the dinner party’s atmosphere is conducive for holding a good conversation. He recommends no fewer than three and no more than nine guests.

Flow of conversation: Kant says that extended silence should never be allowed at the dinner table. The topics on which everyone is interested must be selected for conversation, and the direction of conversation should not be changed unnecessarily because nothing good can be achieved when the guests are jumping from one topic to another.

Avoid dogmatism: Kant holds that it is the duty and responsibility of every guest to show respect for others by conversing in a respectful and benevolent manner. He prohibits the guests from being dogmatic. In Anthropology, he says: “Do not tolerate the beginning or continuation of anything dogmatic.”

A refreshing play of thoughts: Kant says that dinner parties have the potential for intellectual stimulation. The host and the guests can create a refreshing play of thoughts by picking up the important new stories of the day as the topic and having a back and forth argument and finally ending the conservation with humor.

Secrecy: Kant believes that there is some kind of a moral sanctity to any dinner party. If anything indiscreet gets said at the dinner party it should stay within the party. Most human beings, Kant says, find it prudent to conceal their political views, and it is the purpose of a dinner party to serve as an oasis of trust. A free exchange of ideas becomes possible when the host and guests respect one another’s privacy.

Choice of food: Kant says that while it is impossible to have universally valid judgements on food and drink, it is possible for a host to reach comparatively universal validity. He writes, “The host makes his decisions with the tastes of his guests in mind, so that everyone finds something to his own liking; such a procedure yields a comparatively universal validity.”

Moderate drinking: Kant supports drinking at dinner parties but only in moderation. He prefers wine to other drinks. He writes: “Drink loosens the tongue. But it also opens the heart wide, and it is a vehicle instrumental to a moral quality, that is, openheartedness.” However, some biographies claim that on occasions Kant drank so much red wine that he found it difficult to walk back to his home.

No music: Kant equates music with debauchery and is against having music at his dinner parties.

In Kant: Observations on the Feelings of the Beautiful and Sublime ad Other WritingsPatrick Frierson and Paul Guyer point out that Kant was not a dour ascetic during his younger days. Here's an excerpt from the book's Introduction:
[Immanuel Kant’s early works] show a Kant who is younger, more empirical, more playful and more romantic than the Kant who would emerge over the next several decades. In fact, starting with the Russian occupation of Königsberg in 1758 Kant attended regular dinner parties, and his elegance and wit earned him the title “the life of the party.” Kant had friends from a wide variety of social classes and regularly attended dinners and parties with military officers, bankers, merchants, noblemen and noblewomen. During this period he even warns his young student Herder “not [to] brood so much over his books, but rather follow his own example.”