Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nietzsche and a Completion of Metaphysics

     One among many heuristics I employ to relate figures in the history of thought is assuming that thinkers react to what is too prevalent in their own time, and try to balance things out by throwing their weight in the opposite direction. This heuristic has certain limitations, but like all heuristics it allows the history to come to light in a particular way that can be helpful. When considering what themes are 'balanced out' we come across some that are prominent and can be to an extent generalized across history. Such themes are one vs many and being vs becoming. These disputes may have their first classical exemplification in the West through the conflict of Parmenides and Heraclitus.
     There are other thinkers in the history of thought that are interested in this heuristic. For example, Nietzsche seems to consider all culture and psychology as dealing in terms of these alterations from one extreme to another, and treats this as a problem to be resolved or at least understood. Recognizing this in my recent study of Nietzsche led me to consider what Heidegger means when he said Nietzsche brought Western Metaphysics to its completion (Heidegger himself offers other interpretations of this, such as in his essay on Plato's Doctrine of Truth). So far as I can see this alternation of one extreme to another, and the attempt by Nietzsche to overcome this, is what the remark means. While Nietzsche does seem to bring the history of Western Metaphysics to a close, it is only if we regard it in terms of the heuristic I mention above. Factually speaking, this back and forth still occurs and probably always will.
     The concept of revenge is important for the notion of the superman and the will to power which play central roles in (this reading of) Nietzsche as completing Western Metaphysics. The superman is one who has overcome revenge; this being has transcended by no longer being a part of the constant back and forth; someone who has courage to stand on their own. This I read as the ideal of the overcoming of the back and forth. The will to power is generally a fundamental striving to overcome opposition. This usually is characterized by overcoming external forces or agents, but the most crucial opposition we face, the most primary and difficult to dominate, is ourselves.
     When we take the will to power as the highest metaphysical principle, then it can direct our attention to that which leads us to struggle with things that are external, and shed light on how opposing others is a weakness of character; we ignore the most difficult and closest opponent that actually has dominated us in these struggles with external opponents - ourselves. It takes great magnanimity to preserve ourselves in the face of others.
     How does this finish the history of Western Metaphysics? The reason why Nietzsche brings the history of metaphysics to a close is not because it makes up for something in any of the (apparently) different systems of thinking, but because it makes their apparent opposition a problem that is resolved with the highest principle in Nietzsche's system: will to power. Of course, this brief sketch cannot be the end of the full importance of Nietzsche, but rather is only an attempt to consider him in the light of the heuristic of reacting to what is too common.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Should Socrates Have Escaped?

Whenever I discuss Plato's Crito the typical reaction I find is of disappointment in Socrates for not escaping his sentence. We all feel - even know - that Socrates is innocent, and recognize an injustice that is being committed against him. If Socrates really supports justice then should he not escape so that the innocent are not punished? Is it not our duty to disobey orders that are unjust?
Socrates may appear hypocritical in not sparing his own life when it is to be taken unjustly, but I think that nothing is farther from the case. Socrates was certainly falsely accused (as he himself admits), but he is right to submit himself to the law; the reason for this is nothing draconian, nor is it some fantastic fear that Athens would topple if this one man were to disobey. The reason is that Socrates truly does care about justice and the Crito shows us what this means to Socrates.
For all of those who say that Socrates should escape in the name of justice, I, along with Socrates, will suggest that they are great enemies of justice. This philosophical point is totally lost in the typical reading. Furthermore, most subtle points and problems of the Crito are lost, such as the problem of the expert of justice and the relationship of the laws of Athens to their "brothers" in Hades. I hope briefly to provide my reasons for holding this view of the Crito. (Another issue with this faulty reading of the consistency of Socrates' own character is called into question, and therefore Plato's greatness as an artist.)
Assumptions of the Interpretation:
First of all, I assume that we should believe Socrates when he says that leaving Athens would lead to a life not worth living, for he did choose death over exile; however, this still allows us to wonder what it was about escaping from jail and leaving Athens that would have made life not worth living. Here are the two options that I see as available, the first being the most common one that I encounter.
  1. Socrates did not want to be called a hypocrite by the many. It was a pride in not wanting to be proved wrong that led him to succumb to the law.
  2. Socrates lived life in a way, and towards an ideal, that was in fact impossible without the state as he conceived of it. It is a genuine love for the state that prevents him from leaving.
From these options the second is the most appropriate reading. The clearest reason is that the first shows Socrates being concerned with the opinions of the many while this way of acting is explicitly ridiculed. Recall that in the beginning of the dialogue Crito complains about what everyone will think of him for not saving his friend; Socrates maintains that it is experts that we should listen to, not the mob. Who is the expert that they have recourse to? We can discuss this later.
Even though we have sided with the second of these it is not yet clear what exactly the state is such that it is necessary for a life well lived. An important element of the dialogue is how the many who actually constitute the state are contrasted with the state in its ideal or principle form. Socrates shows concern for matters in principle over how they are given their representation consistently - this is almost the entire use of the theory of forms for guiding thought. We should consider, now, in what way the state is required for a life well lived.
The Possibility of Justice:
Crito tries to convince Socrates that he should leave for more reasons than a fear of gossip; some of these reasons are noble in appearance. For example, Socrates should continue the education of his children. When Socrates invokes the Laws of Athens to speak for themselves they reply to Crito point-by-point. On the matter of education, they reply that the state is what makes education possible to begin with! How could we abandon the state in order to attend to our children's education? Now, we can easily say that Socrates escape from jail will not prevent Socrates from educating his children in another state, however, this is not the point; what are they being educated for if not for a life in a state? (Does this help show us the relationship between education, the state and a life well lived?) We must invoke the difference of the concrete implementation of the state, and the state in principle.
I have said already that it is clear that a single person breaking the laws does not bring down the state in its physical manifestation, but for those who break the law they ruin the state in principle for themselves. We cannot maintain that we are a subject of the state if we also maintain that I have authority over the state. If Socrates can teach us one thing here it is consistency.
If we abandon the state in principle we truly abandon it and make justice impossible; it is the ideal of the state which guides progress and actually is compelling, not the fallible many. Once we abandon the state in principle and no longer pursue it ourselves, we only have private affairs. These private affairs may be given the appearance of public affairs, but never can be while lacking the support of the ideal of the state. (How little do any of us live in a state today in these Socratic terms.) If we care about the state as Socrates does, we cannot forsake the principle without also forsaking justice itself which depends upon it. To destroy the possibility of the state in principle for us whenever we disagreeing with the many and are injured by their misjudgments is to have never really lived in a state. The poor judgment against Socrates is only a failure of justice, this is something that could only happen if justice itself is possible. Socrates maintains that justice requires a state in principle.
This tells us something very important. To live in a state to begin with is not a real circumstance. Just being in a group of people who are all able to make mistakes and poor judgments is not a state. Living in a state is rather ideal, and only insofar as we submit ourselves to that ideal can we conceive of something like justice. With this main argument finished, I will address some other topics important in the Crito. (Update from Comment Thread Concerning an Aim of my Interpretation: Submission to the state is very peculiar, we sacrifice our freedom to the state for some greater security (freedom in a different sense). We must understand Socrates as having submitted himself to the state in this way and then the question of what we really get in return for our submission opens up as an additional and larger question (maybe addressed in Plato's Republic). I think it is a valuable exercise to consider what it is that we require to live a good life, and if the ways in which we are submitted to our state (or any authority) actually contribute to that personal well-being, or if this submission only produces new ways of being insecure so that we actually have a net loss in freedom. Certainly we have seen examples of states where it would be better not to be in one at all. The Crito does not address these concerns directly, but provides an avenue of opening these questions. My interest in defending Socrates decision on the grounds I have are in the interest of this broader question that is more compelling to me.)
The Expert of Justice:
The examples of experts that Plato provides in other dialogues are professionals, such as doctors, but in matters where the skills are virtue and wisdom we find that Socrates defies the normal notion of experts - experts are lacking. Rather the experts become the forms towards which we much come to understand through our pursuit of virtue or wisdom.
In the Crito, Socrates is clear that he has been wronged not by the laws, but by the many; there is no expert among the many (Socrates included), and so the laws themselves come forward as expert (yet, mark that Socrates himself is speaking for them). This can suggest a problem of democracy to some, but I rather see it as displaying a risk that faces democracy, but not an inherent problem.
The reading of this as problematic is that there is actually no person who is an expert on justice, and so democracy is always unjust. Of course, no matter what form of government you have the ruling class will not be experts in justice, so this should fall flat as a problem with democracy, but all government.
Perhaps the risk is that each person takes themselves to be an expert of justice and no longer works towards an ideal. By each person taking themselves to be the expert the possibility of dialogue (as opposed to debate) is diminished, the hostility within the state among all these supposed experts increases, and all men work only for private interests and not the state - like Crito is doing in this very dialogue.
The Laws of Hades:
In the last moments of the dialogue, the laws of Athens say that they are the brothers of the laws of Hades - of the afterlife. The relationship between moral laws and civil laws are drawn here. I will do nothing more than mention that this relates to the Phaedo, which also has a different theodicy for why we must have immortal souls. I feel like there is a lot of work to be done to understand this further.
Kant's Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Right:
As an addition, this reading of the Crito gives me a new way to appreciate the arguments about punishment in Kant's work that normally seem so harsh. I will not spend any time on this here, but I cannot shake the feeling that the Crito is essential to understanding Kant's thought here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Principle and Practice of Philosophy

(This short work of questions relates to some earlier posts on problems: Philosophical Problems I and Philosophical Problems II)

   In principle answers to problems of arithmetic have a single answer, yet in practice there is the possibility of error, and so there may be a variety of answers parading as correct. However, this does not lead us to maintain that there is more than one answer to the summation of any two integers. While arithmetic has necessity in its results being singular, philosophy has this, as well as the necessity of its questions.
   (If you find yourself disturbed by the above claim I would be interested in hearing why. I will list two possible reasons rhapsodically: perhaps you are concerned that I am claiming that philosophy has a sort of preeminence in importance over other sciences, or maybe you think I am just wrong - philosophy is mostly silly, and much more a sign of decadence than necessity. I would enjoy to hear other reasons.)
   What does it mean to say that the questions of philosophy are necessary? It is not necessary that any two integers are added together, so why should it be necessary to ask any other question? It is hard to characterize what a philosophical question is like - but for now we have this one element that I am asserting: the questions themselves are necessary. Looking closer at this, we may ask that just because a question is necessary in principle, it may not actually be asked in practice. Sticking with the attitude of assertion, there is a further relationship between the results of philosophy and the questions both being necessary that may help us: the questions are the results of philosophy.
   Assertion continued: philosophy is not a science of knowing, but of asking. This helps us to formulate an ideal of philosophy: the ideal is something towards which the project of philosophy aims at which it also cannot attain, something that structures the inquiry that is philosophy. As a suggestion here, I will consider that what is sought in philosophy is the most questionable. (Is this the question of Being, or what this question is a symbol for?)
   In the first Critique, Doctrine of Method, Kant idealized the philosopher as the one who directly gives the rules to reason. This characterizes the philosopher as one who has a power of determination. To begin with this seems to directly contradict what I was above describing as the goal of philosophy, since asking and authorizing are very different activities, but maybe we should consider a moment the difference between philosophy and the philosopher. Philosophy is a sort of pursuit of the highest question, the philosopher is one who pursues in a particular way so that he can authorize reason. Does asking the highest question amount to a total exposure and authority over what can be thought by man?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sentimentality and the Difficulty of Returning to the Things Themselves

(This is a revision of part of a correspondence.)

     'Sentimentality' is something that I would like to address, as it frequently comes to mind (since I read Schiller's distinction between simple and sentimental poetry). To frame this topic in a new, and experimental way (for me), I will begin by saying that sentimentality is being captive to our reflections. This captivity is recognized in the symptom of taking reflective judgments to be determining of objects. 
     The terms that I employ here in my understanding of sentimentality are of two groups, the shocking (captivity) and the Kantian (reflections, determining). The captivity is related to a risk of our being reflective. The risk is clarified by explaining what confusions between reflective and determinative judgments are.
     (For Kant, all judgments involve a universal to a particular. Determinative judgments relate a universal to a particular, while reflective judgments take a particular and request, in a certain way, that there be a universal put on it. For more information on this distinction see the introduction to the Critique of Judgment. I will discuss reflection below as well in different terms.)
     The a priori is a discovery for us, yet not as something empirical; rather we find the a priori in reflection.  (Here I allow myself to depart from Kantian  terminology, but may find myself right back at the Kantian position.) Reflection is a process where another 'image' is produced in the likeness of what is reflected; the 'image' is not an actual duplicate. My account of reflection here is being used as a metaphor for the process of reflection, which takes what we encounter, and, instead of producing another encounter (as a pool of water, or glass or bronze mirror does) produces something else that we do not encounter but that we also understand. The reflected image is more complete than what we originally encounter because it does not itself need content to be full - yet without content it only makes a place where something is revealed, or towards which we are directed. The results of this reflection as spoken word is formal terminology.  By formal here I mean that which deals with the form rather than matter; terms that deal with the form of experience, or possibility of experience, and transcendental terms generally are formal.
     In my estimation, the essence of logic is simply this sway that reflection has over us, and Logic as a body of knowledge is guided by the goal of understanding reflection as it underlies dialogue. (Logic already presupposes all that is possible for dialogue - a considerable amount.) Logic is, in my parlance, the essence of, 'hearing' and 'being heard', and dialogues in formal terms are communications that try to make reflectivity itself an object to reflect on. This (present writing) is a formal account of these formal dialogues, which can become illustrative of my concerns with sentimentality. The sort of captivity we can fall into when we speak formally is in taking the formal language to be material, or otherwise being taken (either by speaker or listener) as determinative rather than reflective. Taken as determinative we are forced to see the formal as matter, and we will fail to do this, requiring us to go beyond appearance, but in the mode of objects still.
     This first way of confusing the formal and material leads to taking the formal as referring to the 'beyond': the "true" world. As a result of trying to reject this "true" world in a formal discussion, the "true" world butts up against the apparent world. This apparent world is itself purely formal - we never encounter the apparent world, it only arises in our reflecting on reflecting, and analogizing on analogy. One place we can become captive to reflection is in the apparent world.
     Another source of captivity from reflection is from idols. We can formally express Socrates through the ideals he presents to us immediately in his actions, and then, not having the courage of Socrates, merely become professors of the merit of these values while not living a Socratic life.
     It is not enough to just point out the difference between the reflective and determinative in formal terms, but the next step is much harder: finally looking back through the formal (wherever, and however, and through whoever it appears) into being itself. What formality can we express to achieve this again? This may be the use of the shocking, even as it man open opportunity for new confusion and hesitation.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Considerations of "the body" in relation to Kant

      The status of the body in Kant’s work can hopefully provide some insight into how we think the difference between the theoretical and the practical: for theoretical reason a body is not required, while for practical a body is. I will only present this as an introduction to a problem, and hope to work through this problem in the future.

      I am not completely aware of all the places Kant may discuss the human body, so there is some opportunity to add more insight to this as I continue my study. As far as I know, however, Kant never mentions that the body is a necessary thing to understand in order to have duties. In fact, this would totally seem to contradict him, since the Categorical Imperative is known a priori, and bodies are certainly known a posteriori. To make clear why there is no contradiction I should first do an exposition of a few concepts. By the concept of ‘body’ I understand the matter through which we understand the possibility of first bringing effects into existence. Some interesting, related expositions of concepts from the Metaphysics of Morals (6:211), are first, “the faculty of desire is the faculty to be, by means of one’s representations, the cause of the objects of these representations”, and second, “the faculty of a being to act in accordance with its representations is called life.”
      The reason I understand a body to be a necessary component of practical thought is that practical philosophy is about actions, and duties require an action to be conceived as a possible product of our will. Without a comprehension of where effects we may be able to produce first begin from, it is impossible to generate even a single action as possible for us. That is, if I am to produce this blog post through the process of typing, I need to know through what mechanism this is to take place, and what part of this mechanism I can first call into action. I identify my hands, very naturally, as that which I can call to my aid. If I did not understand myself as possessing some mechanism for activity I may have desires, but I would have no means of thinking my actions in relation to them.
      The experience of a duty to act or restrain myself from action reveals that I already understand myself as having mechanisms available for bringing about certain effects. Now, just because my duty supposes an understanding of how such actions are possible for me it does not imply that the principle itself for the judgment must include this information about a body. A maxim is a plan for action, and these maxims will require an understanding of what is possible for us. It is these maxims that are tested by the Categorical Imperative. Understanding how maxims arise, specifically with concern for our understanding of our bodies, provides an opportunity to get some insight into the relationship between the second and third Critiques.

Reflective Judgments and the Body:
      A reflective judgment is a judgment that seeks a rule to place a particular under. Different sorts of reflective judgments initiate certain heuristics. The heuristic may be objective if it provides a mode of arranging things, or it can be subjective if it provides a mode of arranging our own faculties. An example of a subjective heuristic is found in the judgment of taste; the reflective judgment involved does not provide a heuristic for learning what objects are beautiful, but rather for a heuristic that guides the faculty of understanding, recommending an object to it for thought. Heuristics of an objective sort are characterized best by teleological judgments where a purpose is attributed to an object, or an object is understood as organized such that it has a particular purpose that it seeks, or is determined to seek.
      Now, the case of our body is interesting since it seems to be involved in all of these sorts of heuristics. The body considered on its own is an organized and self-generating being that seems suitable for all sorts of ends – it is the tool required for the use of all other tools. It is also a clue to the discovery of another sort of judgment that uncovers a subjective heuristic.
     We must be able to know a priori that we can have an effect on representations, and should expect to determine a certain sort of experience that first includes our understanding of our effectiveness mechanically. This experience is the origin of our capacity for practical reason, and the origin of our interest in representations for ends as well. (That ends are recognized differentiates this from judgments of taste.) There are far too many implications of this that occur to me presently, and so putting any of them into this blog post before considering them further seems to be a mistake. One thing is clear, that this judgment will potentially show a clearer hinge between our theoretical and practical cognitions.
     For other rationalists, such as Leibniz and Spinoza, there is no difference between the body and soul. This could cast some of the light of Kant’s critical philosophy back onto these thinkers as well to reveal what was being considered by them more clearly.