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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Plotinus’s Aristotelian Road to Plato

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

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

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

Friday, December 22, 2017

On The Platonism in Aristotle

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

On Skepticism, Atheism, and Dogmatism

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

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

W. T. Stace on The Philosophy of Hegel

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

Monday, December 18, 2017

On Garve's Review of Kant’s First Critique

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Kant, Jacobi, and Wizenmann in Battle

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

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

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

Jacopo Zabarella On Knowledge

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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

On Charles Darwin and Karl Marx

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

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

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

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Ayn Rand’s Open Letter in Reply to Immanuel Kant

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

Dear Immanuel Kant,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best premises,

(Miss) Ayn Rand

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