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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Plotinus’s Aristotelian Road to Plato

The Enneads, the only collection of writings by Plotinus (204—270 C.E.), 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.
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. ~ Porphyry in the preface (section 14) to the Enneads
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 while Plotinus was devoted to defending Platonism from its opponents, he has benefitted considerably from Aristotelian texts. Gerson points out that the Enneads contain at least 150 direct references to Metaphysics and it has many more 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 often seen as the opposite poles of philosophy. But that is not the complete truth. 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 points out that Aristotle’s main 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 The First Cause

W. T. Stace says that it is necessary to understand the meaning of the word “explanation” before we try to find an explanation for the universe. Here’s an excerpt from his book, The Philosophy of Hegel: A Systematic Exposition  (Chapter 3: “Hegel”):

"Philosophers have disputed whether the explanation of the universe is to be found in matter or mind, in an inscrutable first cause, or in an intelligent Creator. But the first question which ought to be settled is, what is explanation ? When we demand that the universe shall be explained, what is it that we wish to know about the universe ?

"Now an isolated fact is usually said to be explained when its cause has been discovered. And if its cause cannot be ascertained, it is said to be an unexplained fact. My cold feet are explained by the existence of a draught. But we cannot explain the universe in this way. If the universe could be said to have a cause, then either that cause is the effect of a prior cause, or it is not. Either the chain of causes extends back in an infinite series, or there is somewhere a “first cause” which is not the effect of any prior cause. If the series is infinite, then no final and ultimate explanation is to be found. If there is a first cause, then this first cause is itself an unexplained fact. If by explaining a thing we mean assigning a cause for it, then a first cause is by hypothesis unexplained and inexplicable, since we cannot assign any prior cause to it. To explain the universe by something which is itself an ultimate mystery is surely no explanation."

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 The 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 a new 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’s Theory of Republicanism, Man’s Rights, and Peace

Immanuel Kant believed that true peace is possible when states, which follow the “republican” principles and respect the rights of their own citizens and also the foreigners, are organized in a voluntary league which promotes peace. In his 1793 essay, "Theory and Practice," Kant says that a “republic” is a political system which is based on the principles of freedom and equality for the citizens—in his 1795 essay, "Perpetual Peace," he says that a republic is a political system in which the citizens depend on a common legislation.

Pauline Kleingeld sums up Kant’s view of a republic in these words: “A republic is governed by the rule of law, not the caprice of a despot. The laws of a republic are enacted by the citizens through their representatives. In a republic, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government are properly separated from each other. Finally, neither the territory of a republic nor the offices associated with its government are the personal property of the officers in function.” (“Kant’s Theory of Peace” by Pauline Kleingeld; A Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy, edited by Paul Guyer)

According to Kant, the notion of “right” originates when the concept of freedom is applied to the external relations among human beings. In "Theory and Practice," he says that “right” denotes the “restriction of the freedom of each to the condition of its being compatible with the freedom of everyone, to the extent this freedom is possible in accordance with a general law; and public right is the sum of external laws that make such a universal harmony possible.”

Here’s another excerpt from Pauline Kleingeld’s essay:

“Public right requires, first of all, a state with just laws and the power to enforce them. In the absence of a just legal system with coercive authority, that is, in the state of nature, no one’s right to external freedom can be secure against violence by others (Morals, 6:312). Kant is not here making the empirical assumption that people are in fact prone to violate the freedom of others (although he certainly believes they are); rather, he is assuming the a priori idea that people are free and that freedom implies the possible violation of the freedom of others. This possibility alone is enough to require a system of laws and their enforcement to protect rightful freedom.”

The rights of the citizens are not Kant’s only concern—he grants certain basic rights to humans everywhere on earth. He proposes the idea of “Cosmopolitan Rights” for the first time in "Perpetual Peace," and thereafter in The Metaphysics of Morals. A cosmopolitan right is that which regulates the interactions between states and foreigners: it is concerned with issues such as migration, commercial ties, or attempts at colonial settlements. In "Perpetual Peace," Kant says that in cosmopolitan right, “individuals and states who stand in an external relationship of mutual influence are regarded as citizens of a universal state of humankind.”

Kant believed that republicanism is the only constitution that can safeguard man’s rights, and therefore it is the only constitution that by its nature leads to peace. In a dictatorship the rulers are free to burden their subjects with new taxes and use the revenue to launch wars. But in a republic, they have to get the consent of citizens before they go to war and Kant is of the view that as the citizens are naturally disinclined to vote for a war, there is greater likelihood of long lasting peace between republican nations.

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 Logica:
For 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

Heidegger on The Kantian Interpretations of Being and Time

Martin Heidegger, in Being and Time (Chapter 2: “The Double Task in Working Out the Question of Being: The Method of the Investigation and its Outline”), suggests that Immanuel Kant’s view of the connection between being and time is influenced by the works of Descartes and Aristotle. In his analysis, he asks two questions: “To what extent in the course of the history of ontology in general the interpretation of being has been thematically connected with the phenomenon of time? We must also ask whether the problematic of temporality, which necessarily belongs here, was fundamentally worked out or could have been?” His answer is that Kant is the first and only one “who traversed a stretch of the path toward investigating the dimension of temporality—or allowed himself to be driven there by the compelling force of phenomena themselves.”

According to Heidegger, the problem of temporality has to be pinned down in order to bring clarity to the Kantian doctrine of schematism. He points out that in his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant indicates that he is entering into an obscure area when he writes, “This schematism of our under-standing as regards appearances and their mere form is an art hidden in the depths of the human soul, the true devices of which are hardly ever to be divined from Nature and laid uncovered before our eyes.” One of the aims of Being and Time, is to develop a fuller interpretation of Kant’s chapter on Schematism (in The Critique of Pure Reason) and the Kantian doctrine of time which has been developed there. Heidegger posits that there are two reasons which prevented Kant from gaining an insight into the problem of temporality: “first, the neglect of the question of being in general, and second, in conjunction with this, the lack of a thematic ontology of Dasein or, in Kantian terms, the lack of a preliminary ontological analytic of the subjectivity of the subject.”

Heidegger notes that Kant nullified much of his initial advances by dogmatically adopting Descartes’s position and neglecting something essential: an ontology of Dasein. Also, while Kant takes this phenomena back into the subject, his analysis of time, according to Heidegger, remains oriented towards the “traditional, vulgar understanding of it.” Because of these reasons, Kant was unable to divine the phenomena of a “transcendental determination of time.” Heidegger’s offers a short account of the errors in Descartes’s thesis which got adopted by Kant.

While speaking of Greek ontology, Heidegger says that Dasien, which, in essence, is a being of human being, is held as “that creature whose being is essentially determined by its ability to speak.” This has led to the development of structures for speech and discussion. Heidegger notes that Plato’s ancient ontology is “dialectic.” But the Greeks felt the need of having a more comprehensive conception of being and Aristotle transcended Plato’s vision and saw a being as something that is a presence. Heidegger says that there are problems in this vision of being but he does not provide the details. The first comprehensive interpretation of the phenomena of time, according to Heidegger, comes to us through the works of Aristotle. “The Aristotelian treatise on time has determined all the subsequent interpretations of time, including that of Bergson.” He says that an analysis of the Aristotelian concept of time shows that the Kantian interpretation of time is inspired by Aristotle’s ideas. He notes that despite all the differences that are implicit in the new inquiry, Kant’s basic ontological orientation is Greek.

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.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Kant’s Philosophy of Mathematics

Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of mathematics is an important component of his overall philosophical project. His view that all mathematical cognition is synthetic and a priori is in line with his theory of pure sensibility, doctrine of transcendental idealism, and his view on appropriate and successful methods of reasoning. In The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy (Edited by Paul Guyer), Lisa Shabel has an essay on Kant’s view of mathematics (Chapter 3, “Kant’s Philosophy of Mathematics”). Here’s an excerpt:

"Kant, a long-time teacher and student of mathematics, developed his theory of mathematics in the context of the actual mathematical practices of his predecessors and contemporaries, and he produced thereby a coherent and compelling account of early modern mathematics. As is well known, however, mathematical practice underwent a significant revolution in the nineteenth century, when developments in analysis, non-Euclidean geometry, and logical rigor forced mathematicians and philosophers to reassess the theories that Kant and the moderns used to account for mathematical cognition. Nevertheless, the basic theses of Kant’s view played an important role in subsequent discussions of the philosophy of mathematics. Frege defended Kant’s philosophy of geometry, which he took to be consistent with logicism about arithmetic; Brouwer and the Intuitionists embraced Kant’s idea that mathematical cognition is constructive and based on mental intuition; and Husserl’s attempt to provide a psychological foundation for arithmetic owes a debt to Kant’s characterization of mathematics as providing knowledge of the formal features of the empirical world.

"In the later twentieth century, by contrast, most philosophers accepted some version of Bertrand Russell’s withering criticism of Kant’s account, which he based on his own logicist program for mathematics. But now it is clearly time to reassess the relevance of Kant’s philosophy of mathematics to our own philosophical debates. For just a few examples, contemporary work in diagrammatic reasoning and mereotopology raise issues that engage with Kant’s philosophy of mathematics; Lakatos-style antiformalism is arguably a descendant of Kant’s constructivism; and our contemporary understanding of the relation between pure and applied mathematics, especially in the case of geometry, is illuminated by Kant’s conception of the sources of mathematical knowledge. More generally, because we persist in considering mathematics to be a sort of epistemic paradigm, our current investigations into the possibility of substantive a priori knowledge would surely benefit from reflection on Kant’s own subtle and insightful account of mathematics."