Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reconciling Rationalism and Empiricism: the Infinite, Finite and Indefinite

Considering the relation between the infinite, finite and indefinite can help overcome the difference between the Rationalists and the Empiricists. This is a rough exploration of this possibility.
A well known way of thinking about the indefinite is to consider a series that has no end, for example, the series of all natural numbers. We can imagine counting this series without having to stop. What does this "without having to stop" consist in?
In some way, it is a characteristic of a natural number is that they are finite. Because of this quality finitude, when we think a number we can always think a larger which will also have the quality of finitude. Since finitude is figured into every natural number in advance, it would be a contradiction to suppose any largest in the series.
From the above, Empiricism concludes that there can not be an absolute largest in the series of natural numbers. We are restricted to experience in our discovery of natural numbers, but we can think no reason the series could end, so we can say the series of natural numbers is indefinite, but not infinite.
This can appear to be a sufficient refutation of various Rationalist arguments that employ the infinite to prove the existence of absolute substances, causes, ideas, &c. We have no justification for saying that the series terminates in an absolute, since the series does not admit of any absolute member.
For example, Leibniz' Principle of Sufficient Reason demands a ground (reason) for everything. Leibniz uses this to argue that in order to have something there had to be an absolute (infinite) ground. From the perspective of a series, this is faulty reasoning, since we cannot see how any particular thing supposes a ground that is absolute rather than finite, and so an Empiricist would reject Leibniz' Principle of Sufficient Reason.
However, if we adjust our view we might see a different way of understanding Leibniz' principle.
When we count our series of natural numbers we can understand that we can count on forever without finding a largest. What grounds this feeling of being able to count on forever? If we turn to the individual numbers, and say that with a natural number we already understand that they are finite, and that we can count higher, we are not in a better position, since we can still ask: what grounds are there for thinking this quality of finitude?
If we understand the discussion of the infinite (absolute) as trying to understand how finite things attain this quality of finitude rather than how they appear in a series, then we can understand the discourse on the infinite as simply saying, we think the finite in contrast with the infinite. In this case, we are not thinking infinite as the largest finite thing - which is a contradiction - but rather we think the infinite strictly as the ground for thinking the quality of finitude distinctly (distinctness has to do with thinking something with a specific different).
If this possibility is employed in understanding the Principle of Sufficient Reason, then we see that the absolute (infinite) ground does not need to be thought in terms of the cause furthest in the past, or first in the series, but rather the absolute ground is that through which we comprehend the finite aspects of the series.
Kant thinks along similar lines in the Critique of Pure Reason.In the resolution to the Third Antinomy - which concerns the thesis, "there is a first cause", and the anti-thesis, "there is no first cause" - Kant concludes that both are true, if you allow yourself to think of them as operating in different ways.
Kant thinks cause in the following way: whenever something happens, something is always presupposed that came before. From this it is easy to see the necessity of an always prior happening. However, Kant asks if we are required to think of the prior thing in terms of a happening. His conclusion is that there is no such requirement, and so we can think the prior thing in a different way. Whenever we think the coming before in terms of happening, we also suppose a further coming before. But, when we do not think the coming before in terms of happening, then we do not suppose an earlier happening, but an intelligible ground. In the first case, cause is thought temporally as happening, and in the second as ground, which is not temporal.
To illustrate thinking a prior thing without thinking it as a happening, consider a basic natural law, such as gravity. When we see an object move towards the Earth, we see it in terms of the series of happenings, this series is an expression of the law of gravity. But in thinking gravity as a ground, we think it as 'something' spontaneous - not in time.Gravity, as a ground, is not an appearance, or a happening; we can't posit existence for it, but it is intelligible.
Applying this back to Leibniz, we can see that his manner of thinking the absolute (infinite) ground could be seen in terms of a law thought as an intelligible something, and not in terms of a most prior element in the series of happenings. According to Leibniz, then, in order to think any element in a series in its particular dependent way, we also think of merely intelligible thing which grants it this dependent status. An element of a series is dependent upon its prior cause in one sense, but in another sense it is dependent on the particular way it is conceived of as dependent.
(Generally, I think a resolution between the Empiricists and Rationalists using a syllogism as a model:
Major Premise
Minor Premise
Empiricists seem generally concerned with the validity of conclusions. Rationalists seem to be concerned with how the major premise (rule) can apply to the minor premise (case).
Asking into the validity of this or that conclusion is asking into the a posteriori. The accounting for the connection of the rule to the particular is asking into the a priori. The former considers cause in terms of the series of events, the latter considers the cause from the perspective of how the rules are applicable at all a priori - in terms of 'logical' ground.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reflecting on Kinds of Nothing in Kant and Leibniz

Recently I have been working on getting a handle on 'nothing' in order to to more fully appreciate Heidegger's question in Introduction to Metaphysics: Why is there something rather than nothing? I wish to understand this question not simply to understand Heidegger - he can speak for himself well enough - but to help understand some of the history of philosophy where Heidegger drew the question from. And this goal itself is only a stop along the way to unlocking the significance of 'nothing' for continued genuine questioning.
So far I have considered Leibniz and Kant. The reason for considering Leibniz is that he asks and answers our guiding question in a manner that Heidegger is aware of and reflective about. My reason for selecting Kant was my familiarity with him, and that his passage on nothing has a straightforward introduction to some difficulties of the subject; a secondary consideration was that the section that Kant's discussion of 'nothing' appears in - the Amphiboly - is one which Heidegger calls decisive, even if he does not (to my knowledge) directly reference the discussion of 'nothing'.
I also plan to consider 'nothing' in Parmenides, but before I do I want to take an opportunity to reflect on the considerations so far and to add some remarks and refinements.
One thing that has come up in the interpretation so far has been different kinds of nothing. For Leibniz, I attempted to understand nothing as the simple negation of the actual, as well as nothing as a privation (of goodness); in Kant, there was also nothing as a negation of the different ways of being judged objectively, as well as a nothing that was indistinguishable from being: the problematic object, theoretically indeterminable whether it 'is' something or nothing. To help to understand these different types of nothing I will consider the negation of a specific thing (any thing, say, a cup).
For Leibniz, the denial of the actuality of a specific thing means that it is contradictory with whatever is actual and better (more good). The negated object is still a possible object, but it has specific reasons relative to what is actual for not being actual (even if we do not know them). Simply not being actual still allows us to consider why this is so, and so blurs the difference between nothing as not-actual and as privation. If an object is self-contradictory, however, then we get a different sense of nothing for Leibniz which we should consider.
For Kant, the negation of a specific object reveals no other determination about it, but this also does not mean an object is nothing, but simply that we think it as an object of possible experience. A cup is not impossible, and so is not properly nothing, just as in Leibniz we can say that the negation of the actuality of the cup is not nothing.
For Kant, 'nothing' is determined by impossibility of the object being given in any possible experience, and there are four ways of being such an impossible object. However, the impossibility of the object is ultimately determined by its inability of being temporalized. So, for Kant, 'nothing' is relative to the constitution of our experience. On the other hand, the problematic is the positive expression of the limits of our cognition, and reveals some new options.
If something is problematic for us, and intelligible, then it is at least not self-contradictory, but we still cannot say that it is possible or impossible, since it does not relate to a possible experience. Freedom is such a concept as this, which we can think without contradiction, but also cannot be made an object of a possible experience. We can also consider the problematic in stronger terms, according to what is not even intelligible; here, even self-contradictory concepts, such as square circles, are considered problematically. Perhaps there is a being which 'experiences' square circles, and for whom a round circle is a contradiction. This is meaningless for us apart from the recognition that our form of experience is not itself necessary.
In Kant, then, we have, first, the negation of a thing, which still leaves it as possible - the imaginable; second, the nothing, which means something impossible - inability to temporalize; third, the problematic intelligible object, which is also atemporal, and is thought without contradiction - the positive expression of the limits of theoretical reason; fourth, the unintelligible problematic object which is atemporal and self-contradictory, which we can think as possible for some being constituted differently than us - the positive expression of the limits of all human reason.
We may be tempted to consider a fifth: the absolute problematic - a positive expression of the limits of any kind of reason (not only human). But the only reason that this cannot really be considered, is that it is actually just an instance of something unintelligible problematic. The contradiction of absolute limitation is that limitation is always of something, and so a non-relative limitation cannot be thought by us. However, just because it is unintelligible to us, does not discount it absolutely, since it is still unintelligible problematically.
Leibniz considers the self-contradictory to be exactly the absolute problematic (the unconditioned limit), but because this absolute limit is intelligible, it must be different from our determination above. For Leibniz, the absolute limit is self-contradiction, which is even a limit for the absolute being - God. In Kant's terms, Leibniz only goes as far as the intelligible problematic, but this intelligible problematic is determined to exist by Leibniz, and not just as intelligible. From Kant, we see that practical reason is what first gives the (intelligible) problematic determinations beyond self-consistency, such as existence, and on such practical foundations we make further determinations within the problematic. This shows more clearly the moral outlook already unconsidered in Leibniz' position.
Since Leibniz determines the absolute being as existing, and so as having a (theoretical) thingly character, we can see a choice had to be made between how we think God and objects: either the objectivity of objects must be expanded to be moral, or the nature of God must be reduced to conditions of appearance so that he can be determined theoretically. (Perhaps we can see a glimpse of Spinoza's pantheism here.) We know that Leibniz expands on the objectivity of the object, making goodness the determining factor of the actual. But, in order to have real possibilities - actual possibilities - these also must be good, and so a consideration of degrees is employed.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Understanding the Question, "Why there is something rather than nothing?", Part II: Kant

When considering the title question with regards to Leibniz, I found that the Twenty-Four Statements (as titled by Heidegger) supported two different ways of thinking 'nothing'. There was one sense that concerned just that something is actual or not. The other sense of nothing was the privation of goodness in things that were possible; the best of the possibles were the ones that became actual.
The cause (= real ground) of there being something rather than nothing in Leibniz is an absolute being (God), and this being is necessary simply given that there are actual things. There is nothing higher than the absolute being, and so nothing is just privation of what brings something into actuality - relative goodness. Kant determines the thingness of things in a different manner than Leibniz - a manner that does not involve the ethical aspect of life, and the result is very different. For Kant, we are constrained to objects of a possible experience. I will consider, now, how Kant thinks the question of why there is something rather than nothing in terms of the object of possible experience.
In the end of the Appendix to the Analytic of Elements in the Critique of Pure Reason there is a short passage concerned with 'Nothing'. This section begins with the following:
"Before we leave the Transcendental Analytic we must add some remarks which, although in themselves not of special importance, might nevertheless be regarded as requisite for the completeness of the system. The supreme concept with which it is customary to begin a transcendental philosophy is the division into the possible and the impossible. But since all division presupposes a concept to be divided, a still higher one is required, and this is the concept of an object in general, taken problematically, without its having been decided whether it is something or nothing. As the categories are the only concepts which refer to objects in general, the distinguishing of an object, whether it is something or nothing, will proceed according to the order and under the guidance of the categories." (A290 B346)
We can let Kant's discussion of the kinds of nothing stand on its own here, but take up the investigation of the problematic - the merely intelligible object in general which is divided conceptually into the possible and the impossible. The possible is already a something, while the impossible is already a nothing.
The determination of something or nothing is along with the Categories, and the Categories have significance, as we learn in the chapter on the Schematism, as a priori time determinations. The category of possibility means: "the agreement of the synthesis of different representations with the conditions of time in general." (A144 B184) So, if we consider the difference between something and nothing the problematic object which these are divided from, we can see that it is temporality generally that divides them. The problematic object is intelligible while not being in time.
If we ask the question, "why is there something instead of nothing at all?", and try to answer with Kant's conception of nothing, we only get the difference between a thing and the kinds of negations of determinate negations of temporality. There is no answer here. But, as with Leibniz, we can allow ourselves a sense of nothing as negation of 'actuality', and another sense of nothing beyond this sort of negation of something.
For Kant, the problematic is a nothing in more than the sense of negation of something, but in terms of the limits of our theoretical cognition. We could also remark that from the perspective of theoretical reason, Leibniz' 'real ground' would be just as likely absolute Being as it would be absolute Nothing.
If we consider how the problematic can give us an account of question, we can be sure that theoretical reason will have nothing to do with it. Theoretical reason will always send you looking for prior causes forever, which is something we should do, but also cannot answer our question. To get a handle on the answer for our question, we must constrain ourselves to think the problematic in one way or another. Kant gives us the manner in which we do this in his discussion of freedom in the resolution to the third antinomy.
In the third antinomy, Kant is addressing the conflict between a supposed first cause, and the necessity of there always being a prior cause. Kant's resolution is that both sides of this dispute can be true. While we must think everything that happens in terms of something that comes prior, it is not necessary that we think the prior as only appearance. Therefore, we can think something prior in a temporal way - according to an order of nature - and an a-temporal way - according to an order of freedom. But, we cannot arbitrarily decide when to think according to the temporal or not, since cause is a necessary a priori connection of representations. When are we constrained to think in accordance with a cause outside of time? Kant's answer for this is - when we think the moral: when something ought to be.
For Kant, then, the transition to Practical Reason first gives us a determination of the problematic. For theoretical reason, the problematic was indeterminate concerning its being or non-being, but with practical reason we are constrained to think the problematic in terms of being, and so to employ our temporal/theoretical scheme back onto the absolute in order to make it intelligible as a being. This illustrates how the practical determines the noumenal realm in a certain way due to the constraints of our faculties, and so shows how we must operate in relation to the absolute, but at the same time denying any real knowledge of it.
For Kant, the question "why is there something rather than nothing?" is entirely senseless for theoretical reason, but under the constraints of practical reason, the question takes on a significance for us. I not look at the answer that Kant gives to this question, but would rather take some time to consider Leibniz' and Kant's approaches to the question.
For Leibniz, the question already had moral significance, while Kant was restricted at first to a purely theoretical view, from which point the question was senseless, and then showed the transition to the moral view wherein the question takes on sense again. In terms of the ethical being involved in the question, both Kant and Leibniz are in agreement. However, for Leibniz, who didn't clarify the being of beings theoretically, the actual was constrained to be whatever was already the best (highest good), while for Kant, the actual had nothing to do with the good, but rather it was the moral demands placed on us that first allow us to think to the problematic in a determinate way. Kant shows how a system like Leibniz' can first be thought up, which first grounds it critically. I will leave off the fruitful comparison between Kant and Leibniz here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Understanding the Question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?", Part I: Leibniz

I have been struggling with finding access, by my own means, to the question Heidegger poses in Introduction to Metaphysicsthrough the history of Philosophy. The question is not an innovation of Heidegger's, but is asked, and often answered, in the history of Philosophy.
Leibniz answers the question in what Heidegger calls the Twenty-four Statements, since, he says, there ought to be a ground for the fact that there is something. For Leibniz, it seems for there to be something requires the possibility of bringing possibilities into actuality. Since there are actual things, it is necessary that these possibilities are brought into actuality, and that whatever is the cause (the 'real ground') of this stepping into reality (coming into existence) is also the necessary ground of the fact of actualities. Of course, this ground is none other than God.
Here is an illustration of Leibniz's work here in terms of the elements involved: 1) the actual that is, and which is known; 2) the demand that we account for the actual's being instead of nothing; 3) the possible from which the actual steps into existence; 4) that which is necessary in the face of the fact that the possible does step into existence.
Any of the actual things could just as well have been nothing, and, for Leibniz, many of possibilities did not come to pass. Coming to pass is determined by God on the basis of the most good. (Goodness now is understood in a way mediated first by the fact that something is rather than not, and should be understood in terms of existence, and not our preference.) For something to not come into existence is for it to have contradicted whatever did come to pass, and also not being as good as what did come to pass.
(I must mention, in defense of Leibniz, that it seems highly important to see the choice to place goodness at the root of the decision of what should be is not arbitrary. The highest order decision about what is actual should align with the highest knowledge of it, and so should be knowledge of what is best, and ultimately good. Here, goodness should not be considered in terms of morally good, since it seems ethics is determined by Leibniz at the end of the Twenty-four Statements in terms of coming to understand the goodness of the world, and to situate our minds to not be at odds with the goodness of existence by expecting things out of it that we should not. This means that the way things are opposed to our desires should have a regulative impact on us so that we come to understand the world better and change ourselves to not be at odds with it.)
So something is, in which case it is the most good, or something is not, which is to say it contradicts the good or is less good. What does nothing mean here? Nothing is not the contradictory, or the less good, since these are still possibilities. Nothing must be understood as something else. Things have less reality if they are less likely to come into existence, and so nothing would seem to be a privation, in some degree, of goodness. So nothing here is not a mere not being actual but a privation. If this is the case, then when we look out and see that there are actual things, we can't suppose that it could have been nothing, since nothing is just privation of what is. This may give us some right to understand nothing is another sense, that is, whatever is not actual is nothing.
The dual notion of nothing we have is first, nothing as privation of goodness or contradiction with what is good, and second, nothing as not being actualized. It appears that the second approach to nothing dominates the question Leibniz answers of why there is something rather than nothing. Because he is focused on the second sense of nothing, he can see the actual in opposition to its alternative, and not just different in degree. The dividing line between something and nothing, then, is determined on the basis of there being goodness (which is our highest way of thinking the best and so the highest kind of knowledge we tend towards). But this goodness is decided on the basis of what simply is (which could have still been anything). This establishes a kind of circle that is driven by the pursuit of the highest kind of knowledge for us.
Looking at the four-fold division above, then we can note that (2) the demand that we determine the question is driven by the demand to know the highest, and so the direction of (4) how we determine what is necessary is established in this practical manner (rather than upon an analysis of the 'objectivity of the object', which is an alternative approach).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Understanding Destiny Transcendentally

   I have been inquiring into 'destiny' as part of a general study of 'problematic' concepts and how they are grounded in the human experience in such a way that can provide insight into the human condition, as well as works of thought in the history of philosophy.  The result is an understanding how we are destined transcendentally.  These reflections should serve as a starting point rather than an end.  In order to understand our transcendental destiny it will be good to start with a more familiar picture of destiny.
   Where there is destiny there is a story wherein something or someone is destined.  The nature of the destined is such that it is established towards something.  Sometimes things are at the end of their destiny, and the story surrounding the thing is arranged by the destiny; other times the destiny is still to be fulfilled and stretches forward arranging and canceling possibilities.
   Destiny does not mean that something will happen according to mere mechanism, but rather according to a purpose or plan; such purposes or plans are thought on analogy with something willed by an intelligence.  (This is mentioned not to say that we must grant ourselves knowledge of some intelligence that is determining destiny, but simply to characterize the way we think destiny.)  When I meet my beloved, it may feel like some being intended for this to happen; when things are shaping up poorly I may wonder if it was planned that the difficulties would emerge at precisely the decisive moment.  
   We may feel like we are being rewarded, or punished by destiny, or even that we no longer have a destiny (that we are abandoned by the gods).  But no matter what specific case of being destined, we can be sure that there is also a pure mechanism that accounts for the entire sequence of appearances, and so the destiny is not necessary for the occurrence of the events that we feel are destined.  But we may still ask what it would be for a destiny to be necessary, and from that take a view to what things may count as such a destiny.
   For a destiny to be necessary it is not enough to just say that the destiny corresponds with whatever happens in nature mechanically.  Instead, what is destined must be thought apart from the mechanism of nature.  This is why any destiny in nature is also not necessary, since it always can defer to mechanism.  This tells us that in order for a destiny to be necessary, it cannot refer to beings as natural (where nature is understood as the Kantian 'sum total of appearances').  But what can be said to happen outside of nature that is purposive?
   Kant's aesthetic and moral judgments appear to be instances where destiny is at work transcendentally.  With the aesthetic judgment (judgment of taste) we find ourselves with the purpose of thinking a specific yet undetermined thing under a concept; with the moral judgment we are commanded to act in a certain specified way, but the command is given by us, and we are revealed as free.  Destiny in the case of the judgment of taste is the reflection off of the satisfaction in an object which at the same time makes us into thinking beings; destiny in the moral judgment is the reflection off of the moral law which at the same time reveals us as free and self-governing.
   There is a peculiarity of the aesthetic and moral judgments which defy the common view of destiny which makes man appear insignificant and only playing a role set out for them.  With the aesthetic and moral judgment, the human being is first free - free to act in relation to things according to his nature as an intellect, and as an agent.  (Perhaps it is only because the human is transcendentally destined to be free that these weighty elements of our life stories can weigh on us as they do and usurp destiny transcendentally understood.)
   We can also consider Heidegger's question concerning the essence of technology.  What is destining us to order beings in terms of standing reserve?  Well, this destiny is not necessary for us transcendentally speaking - we came into our technological 'frame' only at a certain point in history - but we can understand how a certain blindness to the limitations our 'frame' puts on the world ultimately has a restriction on the way in which we come into contexts with things, and are fated to operate in certain modes with them.  How can we best understand our capacity to conceal the nature of things?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Towards Orderly Discourse About What Philosophy Is

   A difficulty in discussing philosophy is that there are many conceptions of what it is.  These differences often lead to an inability to begin discussing, since the basic aims of the participants appear at odds with each other.  I am not interested here in arguing for any particular way to use the word 'philosophy', nor am I trying to promote anything other than orderly discourse.  I am interested in presenting general distinctions in the hope that they can be used to avoid conflicts that rest on misunderstandings.
   My approach will be to consider different ways of thinking about goals which I think are helpful for considering different uses of the term 'philosophy', and then illustrate them.  There are two distinctions that I will need to make in order to proceed.
   The first distinction concerns kinds of goals, which are either subjective and objective.  A subjective goal is concerned with a result in the subject (e.g., becoming warm when cold); an objective goal is concerned with some result in objects (e.g., a product as a final result of work).
   The second distinction concerns the kind of result expected by goals, which are either determined or undetermined.  A determined goal is one that has a specifiable state to bring about; an undetermined goal does not specify a particular result.
   I hope to clarify what these distinctions above by considering them in combination as providing different ways of philosophizing.

Determined Objective Goals
   If you philosophize in this way you are concerned with changing something about the world.  Perhaps you want to advance a discipline such as Physics, and so think through the consistency of different theories to advance the correct one; you may also have ideas for social or political changes that you would like bring about.  These would be determined objective goals.

Determined Subjective Goals
   If you philosophize in this way you are concerned with changing the subject (or other subjects).  Perhaps you want to instill a stoic outlook, or help others to take an interest in something, such as virtue.  These would be determined subjective goals.

Undetermined Goals
   Here there is difficulty addressing the objective and subjective, since it becomes clear that if the goal is undetermined we can not specify if it is one or the other.  However, I hope to say something about the objective and subjective after some exposition.  Also, this kind of goal for philosophy is the hardest to explain (at least for me), and the one I find least understood by those I speak with, and so I am giving myself more space for my exposition.
   With both objective and subjective determined goals for philosophy there is always some demand external to the activity which sets it to work.  If I am advancing a science, or the state, then there are goals to be accomplished that the philosophical activity seeks to satisfy.  An undetermined goal is an end in itself, that is, there is no external demand which the activity depends upon.  
   A peculiarity that we find now is that there is no reason to philosophize in an undetermined way, and so no justification for it; this has historically made this sort of philosophy look ridiculous.  However if we adjust our view, we can see that this kind of philosophizing occurs when we are unexpectedly brought into a kind of activity which may sustain itself in an open-ended way or opens up determined objective or subjective goals that we can pursue.
   We can make achieving an undetermined goal state into a goal, but when we ask if this goal is objective or subjective it seems difficult to answer.  Bringing about this state of activity with an undetermined goal is not clearly met by putting either the subject or objects into a certain specifiable state.  However, this weakness can become an advantage in characterizing this kind of philosophizing:  We can say tentatively that while seeking an undetermined goal state we must work to abstain from all externally determined goals.
   This sort of undetermined philosophical activity is captured in many thinkers in the history of philosophy, both in the process of the thinkers, as well as captured in themes.  Plato writes Socrates questioning the conceptions of his fellow citizens; Descartes tries to empty himself of pre-conceptions to find a necessary foundation; Aristotle discusses the highest virtue as contemplation - thought thinking itself; Kant discusses it in the judgment of taste as the foundation of logic; Heidegger tries continually to open himself, and those at his lectures, to the question posed by Being.

   By suggesting these distinctions I don't mean to decide what anyone should do.  Also, I do not want to suggest that anyone must pick one; we may constantly shift between them.  My goal is that after setting out these three types of philosophizing we can use the division to look at what people are doing at any point under the name of philosophy and consider the best approach to evaluate it and understand it better before disputing it simply because it does not sound like the sort of activity we may be interested in putting under the heading 'philosophy'.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Descartes' Cogito and Heidegger's Dasein

I want to write this just as a small matter of consideration for interpreters of Heidegger and Descartes.
Recently I was considering how doubt concerns the subject and not objects, and that the result of the hyperbolic doubt that Descartes pursues results in no change in the objects as objects, but only in the subject's possible activities with the objects - they become doubtful behaviors. 
I thought it may be interesting to point out that when we doubt an activity, it is not gone for us as a possible activity. I may doubt that I can pick up an object, but this doesn't change the object, nor does it change the possibility of my picking it up (as an action I can try). 
When I doubt all that is possible for me to doubt, as Descartes does, I am left with all the same possibilities, and objects. However, I am not doing anything else with the objects. I am, however, still there in the same circumstances, just having taken a certain stand in relation to them. 
To be a bit cheeky. Heidegger complains about Descartes, but in showing what Descartes overlooked, he also overlooked what both of them overlooked: the Cogito also establishes Dasein (being there) as Being-in-the-World.  Heidegger really does acknowledge this, however, but sees the thing that Descartes as overlooking an inquiry into the 'sum' of the 'Cogito sum'.
(6/9/2015) Heidegger has a very interesting interpretation of Descartes (similar to my own here) in his Nietzsche lectures, Volume 4 (Nihilism) Chapter 16 (The Cartesian Cogito as Cogito Me Cogitare).  Of course, Heidegger doesn't identify Descartes' position with his here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Navigating Differences in Interpretation in Non-Philological Discussions

   Recently I was in a discussion with a group.  The topic for the evening was, "Why is Kant taken to be so important, specifically concerning epistemology."  There was one member of the discussion who's interpretation of Kant's position widely differed from the rest of the group, and it produced a lot of friction in trying to move the discussion towards the topic ("Why is Kant taken to be important").  I want to offer my reflections on how to avoid these sorts of difficulties.
   When discussing an interpretation of a philosopher there is a difference between being the philosopher we are interpreting, and not being that philosopher.  In most cases of philology, we are not the philosopher we are interpreting .  Our positions about Kant, Plato, Descartes, &c are all from the standpoint of not being them.  
   As philologists of thinkers such as those mentioned, we can see that our interpretations are the results of all of the encounters we have had with the thinker directly (primary sources) and indirectly (secondary sources) and through our own reflection on the matter.  It's very difficult to accurately construct how we have attained the understanding we have in a historical way, and I think we should be happy acknowledging that we may not give the most accurate reconstruction of our own psychologies when reading thinkers.  However, this does not need to be a barrier to discussions about philology, it should just be part of the conditions of that discussion.
   As I mentioned, there was someone who was disagreeing with the entire assembly about interpretation, and that we were unable to attend to the discussion as planned since we were embroiled in this dispute.  If we had acknowledged that our interpretations each had different histories in their construction, then we should realize that all of us are necessarily going to give a different story of why Kant is important for reasons concerning epistemology.
   Rather than debating interpretation we should have simply agreed to each express what was important about Kant's contribution to epistemology.
   If the discussion had been about who's philology was correct, then we would have been justified in our dispute.
   The  prescription  that I am recommending for these case is: mindful about the topic of discussion and to consider the justification of the dispute in light of the goal.  'Importance' (qua interest in something) is not a constitutive element of objects, and so not something to dispute over objectively.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cartesian Doubt as Doubt of the Subjective

   When Descartes exerts his capacity to doubt, we see him capable of doubting all manner of objects.  However, Descartes fails to doubt the subject (Ego), which saves his project from its death spiral.  I intend to explore Cartesian doubt as being better understood as doubting the subjective, rather than the objective; in order to do this I will first articulate what I mean by subjective and objective, and then show how Descartes' thought should be seen in light of this, and how our considerations of Descartes may benefit from a new kind of emphasis on the subjective.
   When I speak of the objective, I mean whatever is said of objects, while when I say subjective I mean whatever is said of the subject.  So, if I say, "that car is red", I am saying something objective, whereas if I say, "I am cold", or, "that car is Red, for me", I am saying something subjective.  Often we use 'subjective' exclusively in relation to a bias of a subject, so that if someone says, "that cake is tasty", we would realize it may not be tasty for everyone, and so we would say that the statement is subjective.  I want to say that this statement was objective, since it pertains to the cake, not the subject, however, it should have been said, "this cake is tasty, for me".
   We often express ourselves objectively when we mean it subjectively, as we saw with the cake.  I realize this is pedantic, but I want to be as clear as possible since I will be holding myself to this in discussing Descartes. Strictly speaking, all speaking in a subjective mode is rather an objective mode: the subjective cannot truly be communicated, for this would mean actually transmitting the state of the subject.  If this were possible, reporting, "I am cold", would make others cold.
   Now I ask, when Descartes doubts objects what does he accomplish? The passive cognitions of perceptions and understanding of the objects are unaffected; the cup is still experienced as a cup just as it was before the doubting.  What difference is made by doubting?
   Because doubt does not affect my passive cognitions, but instead my active ones, I should consider how my active cognitions relate to the cup.  As active, I am a willing or unwilling being.  This suggests that my doubt of the cup just pertains to my attitude towards possible activity with the cup.  We can see here a hint that my doubt of the cup is a doubt of my capacity to effect something, and not of some property the cup possesses.
   More general than our activity with the cup seems our doubt of its existence.  What does doubting the existence of the cup mean?  Something vague like, there appears to be a cup, but there is really no cup?  If we are considering if the cup is a mirage or dream, then we attribute to the appearance of a cup the status of something which is not a cup.  This sort of attribution to the cup is objective, since it pertains to an understanding of the cup.
   While there is a sense of 'doubting' in taking the cup to be a mirage, it should still be described not as a doubt of the thing, since we doubt how we first understood it, but this is still ultimately a doubt of the subject.  We are doubting how the cup which appears to us is understood by us, then changing our assessment of the object to a mirage or dream; in this new understanding of the object, which is positive, we once again just have our own abstinence from activity with the object, such that we see the difference between the non-mirage and mirage is set by actions (not passions).
   In brief: if we do not simply doubt the cup as understood by us, but are concerned that the appearance of the cup is an appearance of something, but not how that something really is, then we are not concerned with any passive element of our cognition, since these are exhausted entirely on the appearance, but instead are concerned about acting.
   There are some benefits afforded by this emphasis on the subjective in reading Descartes: first, it clarifies what doubt consists in; second, we can get a sense of the passive and active elements of cognition insofar as they have an impact on the discovery of certainty of Ego; third, we can clarify the discovery of certainty in the Ego by noting that all sorts of activities were able to be abstained from save for the activity of cognizing (doubt itself is active cognizing); fourth, we can clarify what existence means by clarifying what it means to be able to doubt or not doubt it (perhaps this will help us understand the proof of God in the third meditation).
   We also find ourselves with some new murky elements in Descartes ripe for exploring, such as, what is the relation between the active and passive elements of cognition, and how are they bound together as one Ego? This union of action and passion may also help clarify the more central role that the will develops in the fourth meditation which I have discussed before.  I hope to investigate this soon. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Descartes' Cogito and Kant's Transcendental Deduction of the Categories

In Kant's deduction of the categories, he shows that two things are the same which usually are spoken of as different: the a priori unity of our representations is the same thing as the unity of consciousness. To put this in other terms which are more understandable: relationships thought between objects are at the same time the subject ('I') in its pure form. If we consider Descartes' Cogito along the lines of Kant's deduction, we find greater insight into how Descartes' Ego Cogito should be understood.
Ego Cogito, Ego Sum. These words, which do not constitute an argument so much as a recognition, seemed to change the course of Philosophy after them. When we look at what cognitions compose Descartes' Ego, he first describes a laundry list of thought processes: doubts, understanding, affirmation, denial, will, imagination and sensory perception. If we want to consider all of these as related to Kant's deduction we will concern ourselves with sensory perception.
We can note that the other sorts of cognition other than sensory perception all concern sensory perception directly or indirectly. We understand what is given through sense, and our judgments consist in connecting that understanding to doubt, affirmation, denial, willing (an act in the sensory world) or being unwilling (in the sensory world); Descartes' exploration of the kinds of ideas that we have to imagine with also shows that they all either come from sense originally or are innate.
Now, Descartes says, "Ego Cogito, Ego Sum": I think, I am. These statements are equivalent (there is no 'therefore'). If we concern ourselves with just sensory perception, we can say, "I perceive, I am", as an accurate reformulation. Now, it is very easy to see this as saying, like Kant, that the unity of representations is also the unity of consciousness (what is taken to be 'I'). There is just one concern that may bother us: Descartes speaks of himself as if he is a substance, which gives the impression that there is something underlying the thought, or which thought adheres to as a predicate.
Kant is clear about avoiding the pitfalls that Descartes gets accused of. He notes that we cannot attribute substance to the subject, since substance only applies to objects, but in its application to objects the subject is produced as well. This use of 'substance' in Kant is incredibly refined, since it not only has the general characteristic meaning of substance (something which is only predicated of, and not a predicate), but also additional refinements in terms of how the concept is able to be used by us.
The refinements in the use of 'substance' in Kant may be a large change in the sense of the word such that if we look back at Descartes we can find that substance might be used in a different way. It's clear that Descartes does not intend for the substance to be understood in terms of a material, and it seems like it would be much easier to understand it in terms of an idea. There is also reason to think that Descartes really only considered God a substance.
Even if we can not completely clear Descartes' name of all faults (though I may attempt it), we can still get greater insight into his work by clarifying elements of it through such comparisons as above.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Understanding the Question: "Do you Believe in God?"

    When asked if I believe in God I have what may seem a peculiar reaction.  After many years of reading in the history of philosophy, I do not think that asking about my belief in God is meant to query my opinion about an inherently unknowable entity, nor is it meaningfully posed if it asks if I am going by the word of some few I have accepted as authorities.  When I consider what I end up thinking about to answer the question, I consider nothing apart from how I have been living my life.  Here my interest in this question is not in answer it, but in accounting for, and even justifying, my reaction to it by evaluating what the question asks.  I will be helping myself to Kant's Practical Philosophy as a standard terminology for getting at the meaning of the question about belief in God.  I will develop an account in brief of Kant which may serve as an introduction to Kant's thoughts on the interface between morals and religion.
   When asked about their belief in God, many people have an answer grounded in a position developed over the history of philosophy, and either acquired from study or environment; these positions are: Theism, A-theism, A-gnosticism.  These positions are worthy of thought, but I mean to argue that none of them can satisfy the question concerning belief in God.  Why is this? It is because I am insisting that the question properly requires one consider their own life in a particular way that needs no recourse to arguments.
   I expect it sounds strange to insist that asking if one believes in God is a question of how one lives, or perhaps it is not so strange.  In either case, I mean to provide some justification, as well as some clarity.  But, how do I justify this, and what sort of clarity will be given?
   First, in order to justify reconsidering our beliefs in God in new terms, I will first examine what it is to have an interest in God.  There is a discourse already in the work of many thinkers concerning the source of our interest in God, and just as frequently people are surprised by thinkers who assure us that all men believe in God (at least in a certain sense).  I hope to be able to justify a certain sense in which many of us may have at least a vacillating belief in God.  As I mentioned, I will be employing Kantian terminology in order to have a standard for expression rather than a whole array of terms from the tradition.  This choice was based on my own familiarity with Kant, and not because such an account could not be given from another source.  I would be very interested in showing how these terms would be applicable elsewhere in the history of philosophy, and would love to share exchange with others on this matter.
   Second, the clarity which I want to provide does not, and cannot, consist in an answer to the question for any us: ultimately, each of us must look at our own lives to see if we believe and in what way.  But I hope to produce some clarity concerning our approach to this question, as well as some maxims in dealing with it.  We should not approach this question from the perspective of metaphysics except insofar as we mean to clarify the question - we cannot answer it with any doctrine, and our continual attempts to do so only hinder our understanding of the question and deny the answer we all have available.

The Interest in God as Unknowable Entity
   There are many ways we can talk about our interest in God, and many traditions.  I am not here considering all of the different cultural representations of faith, but rather the bare possibility of taking an interest in a God.  One reason why interest in God is particularly suited for a question like this is because of how unfathomable the object of interest is.
   Consider some object we can think, but which we cannot know.  Granting that you cannot know it, or determine it in any way, consider how you may take an interest in it and first think of it.  We do not know what it is, so have no idea of its usefulness, and we also have no reason to avoid it.  In fact, we are not even thinking the object in this example, since without any determinations this unknowable object is the same as any number of unknowable objects.  'God' is a concept of such an unknowable object, yet given some additional determinations which are interesting.  How is it that such an unknowable object becomes the object that takes on such determinations?
   When I speak of something as knowable I mean, with Kant, the possibility that an object can be given in experience.  And while God is unable to be given in an experience, we are still interested in him.  How we take an interest in these sorts of objects is a task that Kant accomplishes, and which we can benefit from considering.
   We can be interested in things we can come to know because they can be given to us in a certain way.  However, with things that cannot be given to us we can still have something we take an interest in which makes an interest out of something else, and this something else may be something which cannot be given.
   The moral law is given to us through the experience of moral feeling.  We recognize a duty to act or omit action from the experience of the moral law.  What the moral law imputes to us is the possibility of acting for the sake of that duty, and not for an externally determined factor, that is, it leads to an interest in our freedom.  So far as we consider our acts, or the acts of others, to be moral, we are also considering them to be freely done.  This isn't a metaphysical proof of freedom, but it is a proof of our taking others and ourselves to be free (in a positive sense) as an element of our morals and moral discourse.
   I use this example of freedom as a postulate to illustrate how something which cannot be known can become interesting to us.  If we did not have any moral experience we also would never be concerned with ourselves as free, though we may very well consider ourselves spontaneous (freedom in a negative sense).  A similar structure is illustrated in Kant which shows how we believe in God (as well as an immortal soul).  I will illustrate it briefly:
   Reason is a faculty of seeking unconditioned unity, not only in knowledge, but in life.  If we have ends that must conflict, then they are not in unity with each other.  The Highest Good is a state where none of our ends are in conflict, and we also have all of our ends met: we are happy to the degree which we are virtuous, and since we will be perfectly virtuous we will be perfectly happy.  (I have written about Worthiness to be Happy, and it would be good to read to clarify this point.)
   When we pursue the Highest Good we are striving to be moral, and restraining our desires whenever it is necessary in order to discipline ourselves to be more inclined to do what we ought to do.  However, it is still not in our power to make nature reward us for our virtue, and so we find that we have also assumed a postulate in the midst of these activities as well: God, a being who is able to judge and reward us for our moral worthiness.  So we find here that something which we do know - our way of acting - contains an interest that we did not arbitrarily insert, but which constitutes the coherence of the pursuit of our highest aim.

The Question Concerning Belief
   There is no impartial guarantee for the existence of God given above, nor is one possible.  However, God is required whenever we are willing to bring about the Highest Good - the unity of virtue and happiness.  If we are asked if we believe in God, and see in our own lives an effort to promote the Highest Good, then that is the same thing as our believing in God.  This is why I say that when we are asked if we believe in God, we have but to look and see how we are living our lives.
   If we see ourselves as promoting the Highest Good, yet deny our belief in God, we are saying that we are trying to bring about and end which we also take to be impossible, which is a direct contradiction in our behavior.  Of course, we can fluctuate in our belief, but we can be honest about what we are postulating at any time and find that sometimes we are believers and sometimes not.
   It is very important to point out that this faithful natural attitude does not depend upon any scripture or cultural development of a particular kind.  Rather it is would appear to be the fertile field out of which such scripture and articulate philosophical positions about God (for and against) begin to develop, as well as the basis on which scripture should be interpreted.  The more we can open ourselves up to carefully thinking through these sorts of fertile contexts in our own lives, the sooner we will be able to unravel many difficulties and disputes.
   (We may want to consider a thinker like Kierkegaard here, and wonder if his description of the knight of faith could serve as material for continued reflection on faith.  It appears that one could interpret the knight of faith as maintaining exactly that we will the Highest Good, yet affirm it to be impossible.  I am not committed to such a reading, but I do think that there are some who are interested in this, and I simply want to note that I am also interested in discussion about it.)

What do we do Now?
   Classical Theism, A-theism and A-gnosticism all present evaluations of approaches to the question concerning the the existence of God.  In the above, we have realized that a belief in God is not directly concerned with His existence as the result of a doctrine, but in how we are living our lives; and the way in which we are living our lives reflects our belief.  The classical treatment of questions directly addressing the existence of God still can serve us as examples of arguments that attempt to show some limits or extensions to our knowledge, but they can never really tell anyone if they believe in God or not.
   We should definitely not forget the classical treatment of the existence of God, but we should be very clear when we are presenting it and reviewing it as a sort of refresher about what we can know, however, it should be completely dispensed with in real discussions of religion, since a religious belief in God is not the product of any subtle arguments, but is found simply in how we organize our life around the problem of the pursuit of happiness and virtue.

Appendix: Ways of Believing or Non-Believing
   It may be interesting to consider the above analysis and see if we can establish briefly a use for the terms Theism, A-gnosticism and Atheism in this context.  Of course, these names for positions will acquire an entirely different mien now that we have reinterpreted the question concerning the belief in God along the lines we have.
   It seems that all finite rational beings (at least humans) are in one of these four conditions concerning God: interest, hope, belief, or delusion.
   If we acknowledge our self-worth or worthlessness, then we are able to take interest in the possible existence of God.  This seems to be a sort of pure A-gnosticism.
    If we are desirous of happiness from our worth, then we are desirous of God, and hope for His existence.  If we act as if we will be rewarded, then we believe in God.  This seems to be a sort of pure Theism.
   If we were to strive against virtue, then it seems like we may have a reversal of Theism available to us: if we are desirous to avoid punishment from worthlessness, then we are desirous of the non-existence of God, and hope for His non-existence.  If we act as if we will not be punished for our viscousness, then we do not believe in God.  This is a sort of pure A-theism.
   If you take yourself to know, theoretically, that there is, or is not, a God, then you are deluded.  This is usually considered Fanaticism.
   Some remarks must be made here which seem interesting.  Here it appears that A-theism is being accused of immorality.  I do not mean to imply that those who call themselves A-theists because of a position they have developed or have received from the history must be immoral, but rather that insofar as so-called A-theists are moral, I would probably consider them to be A-gnostic or even Theistic in the terms developed above.  It is important to keep in mind that these re-definitions of traditional terms are meant to express non-doctrinal positions which need not be articulated in order to be inhabited. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Understanding 'Worthiness to be Happy' in Kant

   When reading Kant's practical philosophy I have struggled how best to understand how 'self-worth', and 'virtue', are understood also as 'worthiness to be happy'. Kant seems to think that it is clear, but I do not think I am alone in my difficulties. I hope that sharing my own reflections on the topic can help continued progress in understanding Kant's practical philosophy.
   My overarching concern with 'worthiness' relates to what Kant calls the Highest Good, which is the the idea of possessing happiness in proportion to virtue (this is basically theodicy). Kant understands virtue as worthiness to be happy, and so the Highest Good could also be formulated as happiness in accordance with worthiness to be happy. If we do not correctly understand what worthiness to be happy means, or fail to understand how merely being good renders us worthy of happiness in our own eyes, then we are not completely clear on what Kant means by virtue, and therefore, we also do not understand the Highest Good, either.
   This problem may also be valuable opportunity for examining a style of reading, since I will need to employ some kind of technique to understand worthiness to be happy. Therefore, to begin I am going to discuss my approach to this hermeneutical problem.

Interpretive Method
   Because Kant does not provide a lot of detailed interpretation of worthiness, or a derivation of it, it is probably safe to assume (ex hypothesis) that its meaning should be fairly straight forward. I generally think we all have a sense of justice in punishment and reward. However, giving metaphysical accounts gets more and more difficult as the object being accounted for becomes more 'straight forward'. Personally, I think that Kant may not have recognized the limits of his discussion of worthiness to be happy (or I have not found the passage he makes its necessity precise enough); I also think that Kant did not have a method for working out this question until the third critique, and in light of that I plan to approach this question in light of the third critique. I will explain this briefly.
   The third critique examines principles which concern reflective judgments. In short, reflective judgments tell us about the subject, as opposed to objects. The third critique does not examine all cases of determination of the subject, but only the necessary connection between our faculties as revealed in certain experiences (beauty, usefulness). The procedure is generally as follows: if there is an experience which constrains us to think the subject to be some way, then we have found a necessary determination of the subject. Any necessary judgment requires a transcendental principle. We will examine 'worthiness to be happy' as a type of determination of the subject that is unavoidable in the experience of self-worth.
   Such an analysis could be done, with much benefit, on other topics in Kant. One of these that may stand in most need would be the unity of apperception.

Self-Worth as Un-concealing of Worthiness to be Happy
   Worthiness to be happy is identified with our moral worth, or self-worth. To put this in another way: when we do what we ought to, we feel good about ourselves, and this good feeling is also a feeling of our worthiness to be happy. This sense of self-worth is quotidian, and I assume the feeling of it is available to all readers such that we can appraise it on our own in relation to how we think of worthiness. But first, we can continue to clarify.
   Kant takes there to be two ways in which things are valued: as means and as ends. So far as something is (or I am) useful as a means to some end, the thing (or I) have instrumental value for that end, which is valued. On the other hand, so far as I do what I ought to, then I have an inner worth (moral worth, or self-worth) which is indifferent to the results of my actions; this is what it means to be worthy as an end in myself. It is only in this latter, inner worth that we will seek to understand worthiness.
   Another question we might ask is - and this will sound phenomenological - how does worthiness to be happy show itself? Worthiness to be happy is something attributed to the subject. It shows itself through my self-worth arising from an action I performed. How does this self-worth constrain us to think the subject?
   Worth is always of some value, and we might ask if worth (be it from material or formal principles) should always be thought as connected with purposiveness (thinkable in terms of what for). If so, with self-worth I think a purpose (a what for) pertaining to myself. However, it is a purpose that is ambiguous, a peculiar usefulness which I cannot use for myself. I say this because we do not know any technique of using our self-worth to attain anything.
   If something is useful for us, and pertains to our happiness in some way. This usefulness, uncovered by self-worth, then relates to happiness. To put this in another way, our self-worth gives rise to the thought of our own useful, which is always for our happiness. We can see an interpretation of worthiness to be happy emerging.
   I would like to clarify the analysis so far, doubling back to two points in particular: first, worth always brings along with it the thought of purposiveness; second, that something useful for us always pertains to our happiness.

   Purposiveness is the suitability of something for some end. For example, when we experience the force of the moral law, we experience the suitability of the subject to the duty commanded by the law. Above we have mentioned that when we act for the sake of duty and feel self-worth that this value of ourselves is also the thought of ourselves as useful. However, through self-worth we do not also think a maxim or technique for use of ourselves to some end. Furthermore, there is no way we can guarantee that the world, which obeys laws of nature, will have any means to make us happy from this self-worth, since it is the result of laws of freedom. This worth cannot be manipulated or made use of by us. Is it coherent to say that something can be determined as purposive, and suited to some end, without any way of knowing how to use it for that end?
   This seems coherent, since I can suppose anything to be useful to the end of happiness without yet knowing how to make use of it. In fact, this simply is a heuristic for thinking the object according to a plan to know more about its usefulness. Perhaps we can add this additional clarification to our interpretation above and see if it is clearer: worthiness to be happy is the subject being made aware of his suitability for happiness by his self-worth arising from obedience to the moral law; this is a heuristic for coming to know more about how obedience to the moral law makes us suited for happiness, that is, it sets up an interest in the subject in the happiness that it might attain through virtue.
   We may recognize an additional clarification here. Since duty makes us useful to the ends of some command, does this mean that duty itself implies that the end it supplies is useful to us? No, since the representation of the suitability does not include any ends which we might take, and so which might contribute to our happiness. We do not find worth, that is, use, in the moral law, but we respect it.
   Now I want to clarify the second point which is what I mean when I say that something useful for us always pertains to our happiness.
   By happiness I understand when something has happened in accordance with my desire. When something is useful, but not worth anything to us, then it is thought as having a purpose in some relation to an end and means, but it is not useful for us. When something is useful for us, then it also has a worth because it can contribute to our happiness. A thing can contribute to our happiness when its purpose is suited to something we desire, and, therefore, aims at our happiness.

   In the analysis of worthiness to be happy, moral law, self-worth, happiness and an interest in our self-worth - all important in Kant's practical thought - have been represented in their relationships, and hopefully this has provided some clarity and distinctness to many of these concepts. However, it may be helpful to illustrate once more the connection of these concepts: self-worth, which is the result of acting out of respect of the moral law, is the same thing as a consideration of our usefulness to ourselves for happiness, which is always an interest to us. We can add to these connections the Highest Good.
   The usefulness to ourselves thought in self-worth is virtue, and it contains no maxim that we can adopt which will fulfill the value of the will. Therefore, for this value to be redeemed, intervention is requires. If this intervention is within the bounds of nature, and due to respect from other finite rational beings, then we find that we can be benefited by others due to respect for us. However, the Highest Good involves perfect happiness, which means that nature is entirely bent to my desire (will and wish). For this we must think a force at least as great as nature, but also capable of respect and so capable of judgment. Therefore, it cannot simply be nature. This entity must be a will with enough power to control nature entirely. This is the postulate of God.
   I hope to further consider the postulate of God in another post, by asking what it means to be asked if you believe in God.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Understanding 'Contexts' Better through Kant

   In much contemporary metaphysics, and in both of the so-called Analytic or Continental schools of thought, the concept of contexts are important. Some prime examples of contexts are how or when a word is used, the use or equipment-character of objects and the way of being a subject. What do these have in common as contexts (what is the context of contexts)? We certainly do not mean something that is a part of the word, object or subject, rather something that this word, object or subject is found in, and must already be in. I hope to be able to clarify what a context is by looking to the thought of Kant, and hopefully get a new context for thinking through Kant as well.
   This essay is not only to further consider how well we understand 'contexts' or Kant's thought, but also as an argument for an approach to philology. Many readers who are interested in a specific topic in metaphysics may feel that they only have a limited number of authors to turn to. 'Context' is not a term used in Kant or central in the literature on him, so he would be less likely to be considered. However, I would like us to consider if the field of metaphysics may not admit of a very wide variety of topics, or at least topics which are not all fundamentally integrated; we should consider, as philologists, if all attempts at metaphysics may be attempts at elucidating the same ground. If we accept this, then we should be far more liberal in who we read for what reasons when it comes to metaphysics. I hope the value of this approach will be seen from a cursory glance through Kant's three Critiques where it concerns contexts.

An Overview of Contexts in Kant
Critique of Pure Reason
   A good starting point for context in Kant is with appearances. Appearances are always of something in space and time. Space and time are not properties of appearances, rather they are the form of appearances, or what allows appearances to show themselves in various ways. This should not lead us to think of space and time as being containers of appearances. While being the field in which there are appearances, this field itself is ideal; it is not a thing, but the rules of the ability-to-arrange things as appearances.
   The field of appearance in Kant is very narrow compared to that of experience. Experience is not simply appearances, but relations of appearances; experience is the context of objects and occurrences. There are no events in an appearance or intuition, rather events are relations of appearances. The principles, or form of, the objects of experience are what Kant calls pure concepts of the understanding, or categories for short. However, experience doesn't just have relations between objects, but also a unity all unto itself. Within this overall unity of consciousness, we can think of a unitary subject, even thought such a subject is never known, and never appears. This means that the context of experience is more inclusive than simply the subject or a field of objects. Experience is the context of both the subject and objects.
   Besides objects and thought of a subject, experience always contains thought of three different relationships: first, a relation to the subject; second, a relationship between objects; third, a relation between everything taken together. Each of these relations is a schema for a particular manner of knowing; each manner of knowing is able to be formulated syllogistically.
   The relation to the subject is formulated by the categorical syllogism, and represents simply knowing something; the relation between objects is formulated by the hypothetical syllogism, which represents knowing the orderliness of objects; the relation between everything together is formulated by the disjunctive syllogism, and represents consistency in knowledge for the subject. Each of these describes a context in which situates a type of knowledge, and this means that experience is also the context of knowledge. Now these different relations in experience, while being the contexts of particular knowledge, also allow for a different and broader kind of context.
   The various relations exhibited in experience are not themselves given as objects, but as ways in which something is known. Each type of syllogism can be extended indefinitely, filling in more and more of the same sort of relation; when taken to their respective extremes in thought, these relations serve as plans for total systems of knowledge organized by a principle. Kant called the principles by which we organize these bodies of knowledge 'regulative principles'. With these regulative principles we find a context that is different in kind from those we have already discussed (appearance and experience), since these principles do not refer to objects, but to a heuristic through which a subject is directed to bring about more and more systematic unity in their knowledge; knowledge that is organized by a principle which directs the organization is called scientific, and so science is the introduction of this new context in which the subject plays an active role.
   When there is a principle which determines the actions of a subject, it is called practical in a general sense. When this determination is of a means to an end it is technically practical; if the determination of the subject is by a law of freedom, then it is morally practical. The regulative principles are technically practical. The change from theoretical contexts of appearance, experience and knowledge in the practical contexts of science (as an activity), technique and morality form the beginning of a very helpful distinction that we can import into the discussion of contexts. However, for now we can continue elucidating different contexts we find in Kant.
   The three different plans for sciences provided by regulative principles are those of knowing every thing (categorical), knowing the rules that govern the relations between every thing (hypothetical), and the unity of all the things to each other, there use and suitability (disjunctive). With these plans at hand, the subject can practice its talents for furthering the ends of its own reason compels it to in the field of experience; the subject can also use these as models for building more specialized sciences, such as, biology, chemistry, &c. With morality, however, we depart from determining the field of experience or furthering our knowledge of it directly. Before discussing morality directly, it first makes sense to discuss the context of life.

Critique of Practical Reason
   While theoretical contexts all concern objects that can be given in some experience, and relations in experience, life is even broader. The theoretical concerns ultimately organized knowledge, while an organized life makes the best use of its knowledge for aims that it could not derive solely from nature. The context of organizing life is practical.
   The experience of ourselves under the compulsion to act or omit action in this or that circumstance is common, and comes in two flavors: we desire to attain or avoid some state, and so we will our actions in accordance with means that attain our desired end; or, we know that something is good or bad apart from actually thinking of any particular end, and will our actions to act or omit actions so as not to violate our sense of duty. The contexts that both of these determinations of the will appear are practical, but only the latter Kant calls moral (purely practical) while the former is technical.
   Moral and technical maxims of action are both presented in the context of life, but also form the basis for further contexts, just as we found when the context of appearance contributed to the context of experience. With technical aims we can appreciate the utility in things, and of ourselves, and can value these in relation to how well they achieve what is desired; this is instrumental value. for the morally practical we come to esteem ourselves and others as good or evil according to how we compare them with their duties; this is self-worth and respect.
   Our life is organized by both technical and moral maxims, and these conflict frequently. However, we find ourselves as the kind of beings that want to be happy, and also the kind of beings that want to be good. We cannot neglect one or the other of these without torment. Now, while we do not perform our duty because of some personal interest, we still naturally become interested in what is good, and our own self-worth leads us to want happiness in like measure, this provides a foundation for a further context, that of reward and punishment.
   Our worthiness to be happy, acquired by frequent action from respect towards duty, can become a sore spot for us. And organizing life to bring virtue into harmony with our own sensible nature is ultimately our highest aim and most insurmountable challenge. Such a union, can never be guaranteed in nature, though we can come closer and closer.  The goal to unite our self-worth and happiness in this world forms a principle for the context of developing the kingdom of Heaven on Earth; this ideal arrangement on Earth is just the idea of all agents acting according to the moral law and in harmony with each other.
   The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is an idea of a continually advancing humanity, but not satisfied with merely with the happiness of some ideal posterity; we also are naturally interested in our own happiness.  When we have a natural aim, such as being rewarded, where we understand both its impossibility for us, but yet how it could be fulfilled, we find ourselves with the context for faith. (Since we are simply concerned with this as it a context, we can skip the specifics of Kant's moral proof of the existence of God.)

Critique of (the Power of) Judgment
   Now, casting a glance on what we have discussed this entire time, there have been a lot of contexts that deal with the determination of things, or the determination of the subject regarding things. In Kant's Critique of Judgment, we find the contexts in which the subject is related to itself in various ways. I will discuss contexts we find here as well, but briefly so as not to add too much more to consider.
   When we experience an object, and do not know what it is, yet are interested in it, this is what Kant calls beauty. However, for Kant, beauty is not a property of the object, but rather a sign that the subject is encountering something that recommends itself to our understanding (by being interesting without any reason for our interest). In this experience we uncover the context of the discovery of the subject as an intelligence (as well as how the faculty of intuition is conceived in its relation to the understanding).
   There is nothing that we can see that constitutes nature that provides us with a determination of purposes, and yet we see purposes that things have for each other, as well as purposes that we have. For Kant, considering something in terms of purposiveness is considering it in terms of a final cause. These purposes are not constituents of objects themselves, but they do reveal the way in which we think of ourselves as beings that are suited for making use of things. This we saw in the theoretical contexts, but the emphasis was not on the subject's character so much as it was on the different ways in which we have plans for knowledge.

Benefits of Further Consideration
   I will not go go over the vast number of insights that we can gain by reflecting on this cursory overview of contexts in Kant. Perhaps I can do this at a future time if there is interest, but I feel that simply the large number of different contexts, and their interwoven character, provides enough of an argument to consider thinking through Kant in this way, but we can provide other reasons.
   Kant is clearly not the only thinker to consider to get a better sense for contexts. We could consider Wittgenstein, or even Heidegger, to get straightforward discussions of the contexts of words, or of equipment. We could even get a lot out of considering Plato's forms in terms of contexts (a project for another time). These are all considerations that need to be made and philology that we will do and have done.
   However, we can see in Kant an incredible amount of variety in different types of contexts each with a very precise character, principle, and each related to distinct features of our experience of the world. This is something that few other thinker are able to provide, and these divisions could potentially be important into readings of Wittgenstein or of Plato in order to get a deeper reading of these other impressive thinkers, and this work could be used then in similar ways.
   Apart from these concerns of philology, understanding Kant's divisions can also help us to reflect on our own experience and lives and potentially help us to organize our thoughts better. Every new distinction for us is a possibility for more clarity in our thoughts, and the ability to better compare thoughts adds to distinctness.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guidelines for a Metaphysics Journal

   In the following I have taken different elements from the Doctrine of Method in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason which I think may be useful to inform an editor of a possible journal of metaphysics. I will work on some additional remarks later, but this a start.
   I have had various plans to start an online journal at some point, and here I am making some of my plans available so that I might benefit from input. I don't see these guides as being suited to any writing, but it seems specifically well suited (at least as an experiment) for articles on metaphysics.

Definitions: there are no definitions, only exposition, in metaphysics. Expositions, wherein a concept or principle is clarified, are the result of metaphysical work, not the first step.

Axioms: there are no axioms, since metaphysics uncovers a priori principles by analysis, and does not assume them first.

Demonstrations: there are no demonstrations, since metaphysics proceeds by analysis, not synthesis. Otherwise, there is nothing standing outside of the objects metaphysics has available which is of interest to it.

Polemics: (Internal) There are no genuine polemics in metaphysics, where polemic is understood as one side opposed to another. All parties are engaged in continually clarifying the principles of reason. (External) It is impossible that a proof external to metaphysics can undermine a principle in metaphysics. Metaphysics has no grounds to contest empirical claims except so far as they overstep their bounds.

Hypotheses: There are no hypotheses as Metaphysics is only concerned with what is necessary (necessary here is considered in terms of the category).

Proofs: There is no use of apagogic proofs, since proving how one alternative is not possible will not necessarily reveal any solution (consider the Antinomies); such proofs can have use from a skeptical, but not a critical, perspective. Proofs in metaphysics must first prove the objective validity of their principles or concepts.

-Metaphysics aims to clarify the means and ends of reason, not to bring reason further to its ends (which would require synthesis). No claims should be advanced synthetically, rather a critical attitude should be maintained towards whatever material is provided.

-The distinction between Practical and Theoretical should be actively preserved and explicit stated. All activity should be considered both in terms of how it cognizes its object, as well as any maxims of the activity. Even our own metaphysical research should not go unconsidered as to the conditions of its aims.

-The divisions in opining, believing and knowing should be preserved, and it should be clear which sort of taking-to-be-true is used in any case. Metaphysics does not have any need for taking-anything-for-true which is not necessary, and its powers are all spent on the clarification of the necessary.

-Philosophy (distinct from metaphysics) is not an actual science, but a science in idea. Philosophy as science is the legislation of human reason. We are concerned with advancing towards such a legislature concerning two different areas: causes of nature and causes of freedom. The would-be philosopher continually seeks a more unified life.

-The division between the different branches of metaphysics, which should be preserved, are as follows:
1) ontology (transcendental philosophy)
2) rational physiology (containing rational physics and rational psychology)
3) rational cosmology
4) rational theology

-The metaphysician's interest in doing history is in order to hold that history together under one view - that of pure reason. Whatever is mathematical, empirical, scriptural, &c in the history, in terms of its theses, hypotheses or positions, should be clarified from the main body of the metaphysical work. Where principles are blurred with what is unnecessary, then the history should document the error of the inclusion (or exclusion).

-There should be a unity in all the sciences, and since history is a body of knowledge, the principle that organizes it also allows for their unity, if not agreement.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Kant and Common Sense

   Kant is considered one of the most difficult reads in the history of Philosophy, and so this usually fixes him in peoples minds as opposed to common sense. However, I mean to explain why Kant may yet be among the greatest advocates of common sense of all time.
   Imagine two men speaking on the street, a speculative philosopher, and Kant. A layman walks by overhearing some conversation just as the discussion has turned to some metaphysical doctrine (such as the doctrine of determinism). In overhearing the discussion, the layman may roll his eyes, and indignantly break in saying something like the following: "Excuse me for interrupting, but while you are both here bickering about everything being determined, the rest of us are out here acting. You are making fools of yourselves and should try to be more practical!"
   To this accusation, the speculative metaphysician may reply with some holier than thou rigmarole about the importance of Truth, or simply feel ashamed or at a loss for words. However, Kant would sympathize with the layman, and might say: "Exactly! These metaphysical discussions should be guided by the practical, and ultimately are if we understand them properly. That's why it's so important that we show the limits of the speculative outlook in these considerations. Even the speculative only serves the practical in life."
   In a certain sense, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason constitutes the most articulate eye-roll at speculative metaphysics that one can imagine (while Plato's may be the most pleasing eye-roll). This image of the eye-roll conveys a lot that isn't intended, however, since Kant doesn't take speculative reason to be totally bankrupt - at least as long as it is properly understood; the eye-roll is properly directed at the dogmatist (or for Plato the sophist).
   At first there is something humorous in Kant's agreement with the layman, since Kant's own complicated works aren't full of readily understandable notions. But we can we see the compatibility of Kant's very technical works with his affirmation of common sense with only some little consideration, and recognize that it isn't simply being very plain that makes one agree with common sense. (In fact, it is a harmful prejudice that being simple is necessary in order to agree with common sense.)
   Kant remarks of his Critique of Pure Reason that it is not meant for popular consumption. Rather, it is a medicine for those who have been stricken with enthusiasm in their metaphysical inquiries and have sought to extend their knowledge far beyond its proper limits. Those who are sick with this disease have been, contrary to their intention, abusing reason in setting themselves the task of answer questions which can only be assailed by each man's practical outlook.
   Kant sees many dangers resulting from speculative reason's attempt to usurp practical interests. It isn't that he thinks the subtle argumentation of dogmatists will directly cause confusion in society, since these arguments are ignored by the common man. However, so far as the erudite have an indirect influence on the culture through their disciplines (in Kant's day these were medicine, law and theology), there is a risk that the practical instinct could be misled as more and more begin to defer to others. There is also an opportunity for a positive influence on society (see Kant's Conflict of the Faculties for these considerations).
   (During Kant's life time, education was not as accessible. Today a lot more people have an opportunity to be exposed to dogmatisms while, it seems, just as few people are willing to think for themselves. In light of this, it may be more important to reevaluate just how many people the Critical project could benefit, and if it needs a new exposition in order to suit this need.)
   To understand why technical language alone isn't enough to separate subtle inquiry from common understanding, we should consider more closely what it means for the speculative to usurp the practical. Speculative Metaphysics attempts to settle, once and for all, problems which not only are insoluble, but really first become concerns for us in questions of how we should act. Right away, a speculative solution to this question is shown to usurp the question of how we should act, and take it out of the hands of individuals; instead it will be a handful of speculative philosophers who determine how people should conduct themselves, and on the false pretense (that may yet go unchallenged if these men have much prestige) that answers can be given in these matters. We can see, then, that technical terminology can be a friend to common sense, especially when it is trying to keep it out of bondage.
   Now, we shouldn't all at once think that the actions of the speculative philosophers are malicious, or intend to damage humanity. However, we should see if the actions of these philosophers is due to genuine, practical motives which have led to attempts at answers through methods that have not been considered as concerns their effectiveness. This is exactly what Kant's Critique of Pure Reason sets out to ask, and so far as we can see the merit of such an inquiry - whether we agree with Kant's results or not - we recognize that it is in our interests to know if we are properly serving our ends. If we agree with Kant's conclusions, then we will also find ourselves agreeing with the layman's reaction to sophists of all generations: they just aren't practical.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hume and Kant on Cause and Effect

   It is continually confusing to me why Kant and Hume are so sharply contrasted. I mean to correct this presently, and to keep it brief.
   We can see how on the surface Hume and Kant look like they are in conflict: Hume says cause is never known with necessity while Kant says that cause is always known with necessity. However, this expression of both thinkers completely lacks the subtly required to understand either of them.
   Hume says there is no necessity to any of our causal inferences. That is, we see certain occurrences many times and draw an inference that there is some rule that relates them; however, since there is always outstanding experience, we cannot know if this relation will continue to maintain itself.
   On the other hand, Kant says that cause and effect involves a necessary connection in time of appearances. That is, when something happens it always involves an appearance (the effect), and the connection to a prior appearance in which something was different. There is no empirical rule implied in this, there is no inference even, it is simply an evaluation of what the experience of a cause is like.
   Kant agrees with Hume that none of our empirical inferences have necessity. Even further, Hume seems to agree with Kant in the necessary connections of appearances, particularly how he discusses principles of association. His work in showing how no empirical rules have necessity completely grants the principles of association - one of them being cause and effect - even as it denies any of the particular rules.