Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Short Critique of Logic

(As this is a critique, I will be trying to illustrate the limitations of logic positively. A critique is not a rejection, but an attempt to understand something better.)
All λόγος(logos, discourse) is a kind of gathering.
For many, logic is the standard that determines the success(or failure) of discourse. It is entirely suited to logic to remain with this determination. However, success and failure are not the only way of evaluating discourse; we can also consider discourses in terms of the nature of what is gathered. Logic as a standard of gathering that succeeds is only possible where gathering has not only already occurred in some way, but also has gathered people in agreement with what is gathered. Gathering itself does not depend upon logic, but first makes a standard such as logic possible through the gathering-in-agreement of individuals through a discourse that gathers.
Logic, which is founded on the agreement of what is gathered in discourse, is the establishing of a standard discourse agreed upon. The effects of logic being established can be seen in any human co-operation.
Humans did not need to wait for Aristotle to set down his categories or analytics. Aristotle's texts on 'logic' - called the Organon (literally, tool)by his followers - was a discourse that formulated logic concerning assertions in a particularly general way. Assertions describe only one way of gathering through discourse.
We may organize our discourse around logic, and the standard for agreement it dictates. In this way we can begin to overlook the origin of the agreement in the original gatheringthat set the standard of logic. I will repeat this with greater precision: we may gather through our discourse in a way that restricts itself to what was gathered in an original discourse that gathered people in agreement and was established as logic. Such a restriction of our own gathering in discourse to what has been gathered by the discourse that established logic can begin to obscure the original gathering, since the nature of what was gathered cannot enter into the original gathering as a part.
A total restriction of discourse to logic does not keep us 'rational', but obscures the original gathering and cuts discourse off from considering radically, that is considering its roots, even though these roots are still assumed.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Suggestions for Philosophical Collaboration

   There are a few things I would like to propose to help philosophical interactions online:

1) Keep it short.
   Why? There is a lot of noise online, and a lot of interesting people.  It would be better if we got to read more of each other's thoughts than having to pick and choose between fifty page essays.

2) Solicit interaction
   Why? Without interaction, philosophizing does not have the effect of gathering individuals together in thought and helping us come to terms and cultivate ourselves.

3) Do your homework.
   Why?  There has been a breakdown in classical education and we need to rebuild a common knowledge of a canon.  Writing and reading will be a lot better if we are experts in more than just one area of thought.

4) Write for audiences that have done their homework.  
   Why?  Make your writing shorter by not having to quote constantly.  Keep the level of discourse high. Enforce good reading habits and help develop the contemporary culture of philosophical discourse.

5) Try your hardest to come to an understanding by realizing that every disagreement relies upon a very broad ground of agreement.
   Why? The same debates have been happening continuously under different guises throughout the entire history of philosophy, and none of them have been included as elements in any of the penetrating insights in the same history.  I would go so far to say that coming to agreement should be a sacred duty of philosophers.

   What am I doing?

1) I try to keep my posts under 1000 words.  

2) I organize philosophy meetings in my city.  I try to get readers on some social websites and communicate to others through twitter.

3) I read a lot, and am interested in reading whatever is required to better interact with whoever I come into contact with.

4) My writing expects a fairly high level of familiarity with texts, but tries to make a point without that familiarity.

5) In person I have had more opportunity to practice this, but coming to terms and a belief that everything can be reconciled is central to my thought and work.

In addition: I am very interested in designing a website that will  facilitate  philosophical discussions, as well as help us to organize our own thoughts and interact.  I would love to speak with other philosophers about my ideas on this and get more input.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Transcending into the World

    Transcendence is typically understood as going beyond nature or the world (of appearance).  I have an interest in broadening this understanding by recognizing that transcendence also involves coming into the world.  This is not a new discovery in the history of philosophy, but a re-emphasis of past thought and a reflection on terminology.
   For Kant, 'transcendence' refers to whatever goes beyond any possible experience.  Even though this is the only sense in which 'transcendence' is used by Kant, we would do a disservice to ourselves if we did not allow ourselves to consider it in terms of its reverse.
   Kant defines life as the faculty of effecting representations.  This faculty of life is not itself a representation, and so we have a relation between something transcendent (us) and representations - cause and effect between things that are different in kind.  It is plain to see the problem, and even to associate it with its well known name: the mind-body problem.  This is the classical situation of transcendence into the world; it is frequently associated with Descartes, but I would contend that we can see it as very old, going all the way back to Parmenides' statement, "τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι" [the same thing is for thinking as for being].  We may do well not to go into obscurity, and stick with Descartes for now as the locus classicus of the problem.
   Recently, I wrote about how Descartes' doubt only affects his understanding of the subjective.  The world is cognized by our passive faculties, while our active faculty (will) is employed in doubting.  Doubting only annuls possibilities of action, rather than objects or the will itself.  Descartes cannot entirely annul life in doubt, since the doubt is also an act of will, but he is cut off from acting among the things of the world with any certainty.  The mind-body problem in Descartes, therefore, concerns how to understand how an intelligible entity (will) can effect objective entities.  Descartes considers that something greater than both subject and object is required for this, and, along with Anselm, God is employed as this object.  Matters stand differently for Kant.
   For Kant, the mind-body problem was not a live difficulty.  It is clear that asking how the category of cause can apply to something merely intelligible is an impossible question from a theoretical point of view.  The best we can do theoretically is to show that there is no inherent contradiction in thinking something intelligible as a cause.  However, in circumstances where it is demanded of us that we act, life is simply posited, unproblematically, by practical reason.  Taken practically, the mind-body problem is irrelevant, since it would only ask into what was already assumed.  However, now a peculiar reversal makes itself apparent.
   It is the experience of life that gives us a foundation for the theoretical mind-body problem.  And so, the actual transcendence into the world sets the stage for the problem of exiting the world and returning to ourselves - to transcend experience, or to know ourselves.  This first transcendence in action, which postulates life, connects the theoretical and practical in an interesting manner.
   (Perhaps a thought-worthy way to express the mind-body problem is as regulative: the mind-body problem is the idea of the highest technique.  If we could use the 'cause' of the mind-body connection it seems we could use it for any effect - it would be a godlike power: the mind body problem as the idea of the highest technique is the technically practical ideal of happiness.  I will leave this thought unfinished here.)
   We enter into the world through first transcendence by being directed to objects in the world.  An infatuation with the world immediately seems to conceal the coming-into-the-world, and our thought is modeled after the world in great part.  When we seek to employ our worldly thought in attending back to the first transcendence, we find ourselves incapable.  (We even find that our worldly way of thinking is not sufficient to understand world as such.)
   We are not necessarily cut off in thinking more broadly than our normal worldly way.  Certain things awaken a recognition of our first transcendence, for instance, the moral law expressed in our sense of duty, the sublime, and beauty.
   Philosophy seeks the return to the point of first transcendence in understanding; this is not for the purpose of leaving the world, but only in order to move back into the world with new direction.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Kant and the Principle of Sufficient Reason

For Leibniz, the principle of sufficient reason demands that for everything that is there must be a reason. Leibniz reasons that because there is no contingent thing that can be a sufficient reason for all other contingent things, we must look beyond the totality of existing things towards something which the totality can derive its existence from. This being that is the reason for the totality is God, and because God's essence is existence we have no need to demand a further reason for his existence.
Kant is considered to have advanced beyond Leibniz by showing that the sort of proof that Leibniz gives fails in what it promises. However, we should not be too quick to think that this rejection places Kant in complete opposition to Leibniz, since Kant still employs the principle of sufficient reason in the same manner that Leibniz does. We should consider just how different Kant's position is from Leibniz'.
Kant constrains the term 'existence' to apply only to objects of an actual experience, and since God is an object of even a possible experience, existence is improperly applied to him. Further, existence, as well as the other modalities of possibility and necessity, are not properties of things, but only represent the manner in which something is related to our mode of knowing it. In Kant's terminology, God isn't even possible; God is 'problematic', that is, we can think Him consistently, but have no way of knowing if he is possible or impossible (since He cannot be an object of possible experience). From this standpoint we easily see that Kant finds great problems in arguments for the existence of God. However, Kant does not count God out in this way, but realizes he must seek a different approach.
While showing that the ontological argument does not work, Kant still accepts the principle of sufficient reason as making a valid demand on us; the difference between Leibniz and Kant on this point is that Kant doesn't allow the demand from the principle to cause him to overstep the limits of his knowledge. However, Kant does show that we at least thinking beyond the boundary of theoretical reason, but just thinking beyond this boundary does not prove any existence.
However, what Kant calls 'practical reason' thinks intelligible being in terms of a necessary demand of the moral law. Under the heading of practical philosophy, Kant can begin to work towards the same position Leibniz maintained, however Kant will not attempt to maintain it as a known fact, but rather as a postulate of our practical manner of thinking. The best we can do is say 'God ought to be' as an expression of our constitution as knowers struggling against the demand our moral life places on us. I won't dwell on Kant's practical thought in relation to Leibniz here, but will only go into closer detail concerning Kant's use of the principle of sufficient reason for maintaining our capacity to think the intelligible.
Kant considers cause in the following way: whenever something happens, it presupposes something prior - a cause. (It is important to emphasize a happening.) If the cause is thought in terms of a happening, then it also must be thought as having a prior cause; if it is not thought in terms of a happening, then it is thought outside of the temporal order. Thus we can think a causal order stretching back indefinitely in the natural order, as well as spontaneous causes that are technically thought as supernatural. This shift from the natural order to the super-natural order is exactly how Leibniz argues for the existence of God. However, Kant still maintains that our capacity, and even need, to think these supernatural causes does not prove their existence, but a peculiarity of our form of cognition. In the realm of practical reason, Kant maintains that freedom, immortality and God are three postulates (roughly, assumptions); as postulates they are thought as really existing, however, we do not know them to exist even still.
Now, if Leibniz is to be similar to Kant, we would expect to find that there are moral grounds supporting Leibniz' determination of the existence of God, and not merely theoretical grounds as appears to be the case in his argumentation. It is plain to see that Leibniz' work is highly oriented towards living the best life possible, so there may be room to discover a reason to interpret Leibniz as operating from the very beginning in a practical mode, and so potentially being very close to Kant in the end. I hope to continue to look into this in further study.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How I Interpret Philosophically

Interpreting a text always involves a manner of interpreting. The manner of an interpretation informs how the material interpreted is organized, as well as what material is included or excluded from the interpretation. Depending on what is being interpreted, and why, different strategies may be employed. In reading to get 'the gist' most material will be excluded from the interpretation; in performing a detailed textual analysis, certain qualities (such as, alliteration, use of large or short words, &c) will be included in the interpretation; when reading for pleasure there may be more openness to reaction. These and many other ways of interpreting are familiar to us. I want to convey what it is to interpret in a philosophical manner.
Just as we may read Plato to get the 'gist' or Aristotle's Topics for enjoyment, interpreting philosophically is not restricted to 'philosophical texts'. Just like other manners of interpretation, sometimes it feels more natural and other times it does not. Most works considered 'philosophical' are good candidates, but also a large amount of poetry, fiction and scientific works. I will restrict myself here to more paradigmatic cases.
The primary characteristic of philosophical work, and so a quality of typical candidates for philosophical interpretation, is that ideas employed in order to understand something are being evaluated or first established. In these cases there is something being conveyed that will help guide the interpreter in understanding a great number (and often all) things that fall within the domain considered. For example, with Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, we can understand human experience of existences in terms of its limits, basic elements and structures. Just as philosophy works in evaluating and establishing ideas by which we think, philosophical interpretation also does this.
When interpreting philosophically one attempts to ground the ideas presented in it positively, that is, the interpreter strives to be able to navigate the domain the ideas present. In order to do this effectively, it is not enough to repeat the manner in which the ideas were set out, but rather to use the exposition of the ideas to guide an original undertaking in drawing the ideas out of the interpreter.
In the Mediations on First Philosophy, Descartes doubts his opinions, knowledge and experience of the world. In order to interpret Descartes philosophically, it is not sufficient to simply take what seems to be his conclusion - that the only thing we cannot doubt is ourselves, and when we consider what else we know from this, we also find that we know God best of all. Nor is it sufficient to go through some procedure of doubt that we understand, and then come to some conclusion - that I cannot doubt myself, but I can doubt the existence of God. Not even following Descartes' procedure and attaining the same result is sufficient for philosophical interpretation. What is called for is an original grounding of Descartes' thought which results in a new understanding of his procedure and results.
Through bringing about an original ground in the interpretation, one authenticates what is being interpreted, and can fully integrate it into their own understanding without any conflicts. This means philosophical interpretation is not concerned with agreeing or disagreeing with what is being interpreted. Instead, philosophical interpretation is a practice in thinking and understanding that cannot be attained in interpretations the stop at agreement or disagreement.
Such an interpretive procedure may be thought to efface the text interpreted. If I come to some new way of thinking Descartes' position so that I can also maintain it, then am I not just reading into Descartes in order to smooth out difficulties? No. If we can suppose that Descartes really did maintain the view that he wrote about, coming into possession of the capacity to understand that view, even if we also uncover its limits, is not "reading into" Descartes, but understanding what was left unsaid.
No philosopher can convey the understanding of their thought directly, but can only do their best to convey their thought in the hope that it will be understood. Because of this, every philosophical interpretation cannot be expressed without itself becoming another philosophical system that can only hope to be understood philosophically which means understood better.
Even if a philosopher has attained to completeness in their system to the extent that any interpretation will not prove it to be limited, the system itself will still not have encapsulated the understanding of itself; it is still up to the interpreter to attain an understanding, and a philosophical understanding makes what is understood its own, and recognizes the need to do so continuously.
What value does philosophical interpretation have? One may suggest a number of things, but they would all point in the wrong direction. There is no specific value to philosophical interpretation, since it may ultimately demand re-integrating and grounding any of these values. As Plato said, philosophy begins in wonder, and so does philosophical interpretation. This wonder should be thought of as an experience that frees us for thinking - not one that already has a determined and expected result - and which calls on us to enter into our interpreting philosophically.