Thursday, March 22, 2012

Some Starting Points for Kant Study

   I hope to just detail a few interesting areas to consider more closely in Kant. I have done some considerable work in these, but struggle to write at length about them without continually breaking out into new inquiry, so I hope that detailing some generalities and formulating some questions here can be of assistance to my own work and as a suggestion of some things to consider for others.
   The way in which I may deliver some of these could come as shocking and abrupt, and I hope that there are questions probing into what I mean.

Self-Worth/Self-Respect:
   Kant's Practical Philosophy is usually discussed beginning from what we ought to do. This makes sense, because the Moral Law is central in Kant's thought on the order of freedom; however, there are other ways to begin an inquiry into the order of freedom that reveal the moral law from different angles; one such beginning is a discussion of self-worth, and such a starting point may be important for Kant pedagogy(especially if it is not accompanied by, or prefaced with, a study of Theoretical Philosophy, which is required for the significance of laws of freedom in contrast to laws of nature).
   Note the following passage, which is one of a few examples:
   "But it strikes down self-conceit altogether, since all claims to esteem for oneself that precede accord with the moral law are null and quite unwarranted because certainty of a disposition in accord with this law is the first condition of any worth of a person (we shall soon make this more distinct), and any presumption prior to this is false and opposed to the law." (Critique of Practical Reason, 5:73)

   If there is nothing that we ought to do - categorically - then there is no measure for our own worthiness. This also is important for understanding what Kant means when he says that the moral law renders us worthy of happiness, since it is only on the basis of this standard that we truly become worthy of something, that is, have a claim to it. By looking at Practical Philosophy from self-worth first gives us the perspective of the moral law as a means for understanding how we feel worthy, and have self-respect; this is crucial in seeing how the moral law is not a judgment of others from on high, but rather a basis of feeling their worth.
   (It is important to note that worth is here is something that you can claim, and so it not our own value in itself. Kant mentions in relation to this that we have a value in that it is possible for us to have a good will. I will not say any more on this here.)

Moral Disagreement and Moral Discourse:
   In the second Critique, Doctrine of Method, Kant discusses moral pedagogy. He just as well could have discussed supposed moral disagreements and how to approach their resolution. A moral disagreement is a dispute about what ought to be done. It is assumed that both parties involved acknowledge a duty, yet find that they have different appraisals of the situation. Understanding the anatomy of this situation has a great deal of importance in understanding Practical Philosophy generally. There is no rationalizing a duty, but their categorical status can be misleading in terms of how they apply.
   Two parties have duties that conflict with each other. How is this possible? One thing to say is that 'factual' information may be missing for one of the parties. Consider a play rehearsal with the director watching. The scene being performed involves one character murdering another. Someone not involved with the performance witnesses the actions taking place, and understands the situation as an actual murder in progress, and feels compelled to help prevent it from occurring. It is not confusing to us why the director did not feel a duty to help defend the actor, and why the onlooker found himself compelled to help what he saw saw as a victim. It is also 'intuitive' to us to understand that the director had a 'better' understanding of the situation, but the principled basis of this 'better' understanding is still mostly hidden from our view.
   The understanding of a situation is crucial for coming to terms in morals with other people when there is a supposed disagreement. We should expect in any moral disagreement that there is a different understanding of the situation - sometimes radically different - but there is an important question here: what is an understanding of a situation? It certainly is not simply a matter of knowing certain facts, but also the meaning that underlies the facts which really characterizes how we fit them together - the overall heuristic of the interpretation of the situation.

The Ideal of Reason and the unity of the Theoretical and Practical:
   In the first Critique, Kant discusses the idea of God as a regulative principle of the ground of the unity of concepts for theoretical reason. In the second Critique Kant discusses the idea of God as the condition of the Highest Good - an end which unifies Morality. The unity of these two notions of God is implied in the first Critique as the ultimate goal of Metaphysics through the unity of the theoretical and practical themselves:
   "The legislation of human reason (philosophy) has two objects, nature and freedom, and therefore contains not only the law of nature, but also the moral law, presenting them at first in two distinct systems, but ultimately in one single philosophical system. The philosophy of nature deals with all that is, the philosophy of morals with that which ought to be. ...
   The philosophy of pure reason is either a propaedeutic (preparation), which investigates the faculty of reason in respect of all its pure #a priori# knowledge, and is entitled criticism, or secondly, it is the system of pure reason, that is the science which exhibits in systematic connection the whole body (true as well as illusory) of philosophical knowledge arising out of pure reason, and which is entitled metaphysics." (Critique of Pure Reason, A840-1, B868-9)


   The project of bringing together the theoretical and practical is Philosophy. What sort of advance is it that we make when we are engaged in Philosophy? For this I refer back to my earlier discussion of moral disagreement and the understanding of the meaning of a situation. My suggestion is that Philosophy advanced in the interpretation of the situations we find ourselves in, pushing further to get a better and better understanding of what is the most suitable way to understand these situations. How are we to advance in this project? For this, we are guided back to the instincts of Plato and Socrates that still live in Kant - Know thyself. Also, consideration of the value of the moral proof of God in the third Critique, and its relationship to teleology and human purpose, shows a strong attempt at trying to get a framework for how to understand our situation. We cannot overlook, as well, the nature of the aesthetic judgment in laying the foundation for logic - something that is also discussed in the third Critique.


   I know there is something in all three of these for me to continue to consider, and study; I hope that there is something in here for someone else as well.
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