Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reflection on Rights and Punishment

   In the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant describes the connection of law and punishment in the following simple relation: if you violate a law, it is a violation of the security of some right or rights for everyone else, and so your own same right should be made insecure. After this, the Doctrine of Right proceeds to discuss a legal system that seems familiar, involving a central authority that meets out punishment.
   Given the manner in which the rights of the criminal are made insecure, it does not seem necessary that any punishment over and above this naturally follows.  Why could the judgment not merely end at the removal of the rights of the individual until such a time when they can be returned?  Of course, if you have committed a murder, and now are made insecure concerning your own life, the result could be worse (in brutality) than a punishment met out by the state: vengeance can be very bloody indeed.  However, there is also the possibility of forgiveness of the deeds which is impossible by means of punishment, and which also seems more needful and just than any punishment.  
   This accords better with the state, since the state ought to be concerned with the maximum freedom of all of its members, and so a violation of rights and subsequent exclusion from the state in certain ways (with the possibility of readmission), allows the state to strive to include a maximum of individuals with differences, but can exclude those who must make the state insecure.
   The human being, taken practically (morally), is the agent of his actions. There is no mechanism we can place underneath the actions of an agent without also destroying the form of practical thought that we think him under.  Any absolving of crimes that are met out through some kind of mechanism which measures out a particular amount to be repaid will never be commensurable with crimes committed by an agent: such correction must be reserved for mere equipment.  This is why it makes sense to untangle the theoretical and practical in this case, and require that forgiveness be the only means of absolution for crimes.  Forgiveness does not accept the crimes committed, but it accepts the person in spite of them.
   The degree to which we take as quite natural and fitting the punishment of individuals as a means of making amends for crimes, or the correction of these individuals as if they are broken equipment, is also a degree to which we take people as mere objects.  If justice is to concern persons in their full humanity, then the treatment of humans as mechanical also stands for the impossibility of real justice.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Education and the Handing Down Philosophy

   Education, even when it is autodidactic, does not merely make use of the subjective, but requires something from outside (objective).  Just as little could education involve only something external, but whatever comes from outside must have a place in the student already prepared for it.  Just as we pass on a torch in a race, we teach only because we suppose that others are able to take it up again in the same way.  We also recognize that when we pass the torch we are no longer entirely responsible for what is done with it, and that the intention we held for the torch will be fulfilled; this makes education all the more important, particularly when it concerns our ultimate fulfillment.  
   We don't pass on teaching unless it is needful for our ends and for those of the students.  The needfulness of the teaching is part of what recognizes that it has a place in the student, even if the student does not recognize this place.  Philosophy is concerned with the needfulness (finitude, lack, synthesis character) in our being and an education in philosophy results in the opening up of this needfulness.  There are many other needs that manifest themselves first and more clearly.  Our bodies require constant care, but these problems can be faced, and even resolved so that we can transform our original anxiety over them.  
   Anxiety over plumbing does not arise for me save for when I leave these modern conveniences behind, and the anxiety is not in the face of not knowing what to do, but in my solution no longer being available.  Plumbing is a problem that has been solved.  It can be refined, and it can still become a concern, but the concerns that arise for us now are in light of the solution.  The anxiety we have over the lack of plumbing was not even possible prior to plumbing.  Such solutions to anxieties that allow new anxieties to crop up are not proper to philosophy, and the education in philosophy does not seek to develop these, but to continue to guide everyone back to the same needfulness of the human being which are not open to solution by man.
   Education in philosophy should try to open the learner up to their needfulness, and with an interest to the potentiality of having a true measure of their destiny and potential fulfillment - even if such fulfillment is beyond our power.  Our needfulness is of such a depth that it leads to the despairing wisdom of Silenus, that the best for man is to never have been born; it also leads to the pursuit of salvation in Christianity.  Philosophy itself does not give its own answer to this need without becoming something else (like theology); philosophy merely opens this need up again and again, and prepares the philosopher to face the great demands that come with being human.  (Receiving a degree in philosophy currently involves a study of the history of philosophers - many of whom have opened up the depths of human needfulness - and with some technical procedures in argumentation.  This is, perhaps, the most we can expect of philosophy treated as a discipline.)
   A reason why so many suggest that philosophy does not advance is in reference to the attempt of philosophy continually to uncover the same problems.  However, the material written by philosophers can advance us in its efficacy in assisting in that uncovering, and making it more penetrating.  To me, Kant was a greater help then Plato in first uncovering the problem of my needfulness, and after Kant I have been able to appreciate Plato in ways where his meaning stands out and further penetrates into these problems.  Penetrating further into the problem of my needfulness is why I study the history of philosophy, not to see who had the right or wrong answer; this latter practice degrades philosophy, and so far as it blocks the awakening of our own needfulness it is harmful to our humanity.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Descartes and the Lowering of God

(While this 'story' surrounds some few thinkers, I recognize that there are many lost to me, and to history, which I leave out.)

   Descartes' Cogito is often read as denying the reality of objects.  This is how I think Descartes understood it as well, but, as I have written on in the past, I think that Cartesian doubt is actually a doubt of the subject, and his ability to act in relation to objects: Cartesian doubt preserves objects unchanged (theoretically), while separating us from them (practically).
   The result of Descartes' interpretation of the cogito as the list of cognitive acts (perceiving, willing, denying, &c), leaves him with a jumble of things which he rightly recognizes as containing nothing that relates them to the same being (as existing) over time.  The unity of these 'representations' is not contained in all of these acts of the mind (taken in an empirically psychological manner).  However, the continuity of his existence he takes as granted, and so can say, analytically, that there is some infinite idea/being that he depends upon for (the unity of) his existence.  This being is God.
   In relation to Descartes, Kant recognizes the pure concepts which are required when we experience representations, and which - under the unity of apperception - explain the unity of experience.  The unity of apperception plays the same role in Kant as God plays for Descartes (in the third meditation).  However, Descartes choice had a peculiar result in the history of philosophy (as we have received it) which we can, perhaps, learn from.
   As a result of God taking the position of the unity of apperception, and becoming responsible for the unity of experience, we found a way of thinking God which was immediately connected in our theoretical experience of the world (analytically).  However, Descartes begins a tradition that results in the lowering of God.
   Malebranche's Occasionalism represents a view where God works a miracle at every moment to position things correctly.  Spinoza's Monist-Deism does more or less the same in terms of making everything in nature an act of God.
   Leibniz is the first thinker (known to me) in the rationalist tradition that has been handed down, and emphasized, to truly recognized the problem here.  Leibniz demanded that God should not be considered to have caused any miracle save for the bringing into existence of the World.  This single miracle is, to Leibniz, worthy of His greatness.  If we consider, also, that the bringing into existence of everything is understood by Leibniz in terms of the triumph of Good (since this is the best of all possible worlds) it is clearer that this reflects a kind of practical attitude at the foundation of his system.  This decision of Leibniz' seemed to be incredibly important for the development of Kant's thought in relation to this same area.
   I do not write this post to plant a knife in Descartes back, nor to complain about Malebranche's or Spinoza's shortcomings.  I think that all of these thinkers were in possession of the answer to the problem I have raised here - the answer just laid dormant in their systems until a genuine concern with goodness could once again take its place at the helm of the structure of the system (and not merely the interest in first attending to it).  In order to learn from Descartes, Malebranche and Spinoza, we can uncover these practical propositions in their work (as well as bring them out more clearly in Leibniz), and so recover a great deal of clarifying thought for our own benefit (and training).

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Practical Dialectic in Kant and Plato

   This will be a simple attempt to expand my understanding of thinkers by thinking them through each other, and also an illustration of such thinking through.  This procedure runs along these lines: structures in philosophical thought are actually few in number, despite the rich variety in language, and so when two philosophers have thought about the same subject, it can be helpful to compare the structures they employ to see if they are actually indicate results that are only implied in the other, or which can be seen by structuring elements in one system by those in another.  The comparison here is between Kant and Plato, and concerns the highest Good in Kant and Beauty itself (which is also the True, Good, &c) in Plato, and how both thinkers see these highest ideas as providing for the highest objectives of human life.
   Kant sees man's practical life divided between two universal ends that are in conflict: virtue and happiness.  To be virtuous means to obey the autonomous moral law (duty), while happiness is the fulfillment of our heteronomous desires.  These universal aims are in conflict since our desires may always lead us astray from our duty.  These conflicts in human nature have been recognized through the history of philosophy, and attempts have been made to resolve the conflict intellectually.  Kant contrasts the attempt of Stoics in supposing that virtue is happiness with that of Epicureans in supposing that happiness is virtue and finds that both the popular Stoic and Epicurean positions ignore one side of the conflict, rather than actually resolve the struggle between autonomy and heteronomy.
   Kant names the fulfillment of perfect virtue and happiness the "highest Good", and notes that striving for its attainment is in our nature.  However, this goal cannot be accomplished by us, and so requires supernatural assistance for its possibility.
   For Plato, there are primarily two ways of thinking 'love': as philos and eros.  Philos is associated by us with friendship, and for Plato I will emphasize the motto (maybe maxim), "friends share all things in common" (Phaedrus, Lysis).  Eros is thought by us in connection with erotic love, and Plato considers it more broadly as the result of our feeling the lack (Symposium, Phaedrus).  I will associate philos with the demands of autonomy (virtue), and eros with heteronomy (happiness), and thereby use Kant's practical dialectic as a foil to predict some thing we can expect in these terms.
   Plato understands love (eros) of Beauty itself to be obtainable, and so it is not an ideal that guides us onward indefinitely.  Perfect fulfillment of heteronomous desire is an unobtainable ideal in Kant, and so not to be made equivalent with loving Beauty itself.  We should understand education in eros as the unveiling of new kinds of eros, and so new things that we lack and pursue.
   Beauty is manifest in all objects of desire, however, but there is an exclusivity involved in the love of finite things which does not exist for Beauty itself.  Still, even when we attain a love Beauty itself, we are still susceptible to finite objects of desire, and so are tempted to exclude others from them.  For Kant, a limit on our ability to attain to perfect virtue is exactly this constant possibility of desire for things, and so the struggle to attain a love of Beauty itself parallels the development of virtue somehow.  Now, erotic love is still heteronomous, and so the cultivation of it at any level will never suffice for autonomy, and so we should see if the cultivation of eros provides a foundation for virtue rather than its attainment.
   It is, at first, hard to see how philos has a relationship to the cultivation of virtue.  But, supposing that the cultivation of eros develops the ground for virtuous practice, we may find how this cultivation concerns philos.  Considering the motto, "friends share all things in common", we can project the development of relationships between people where conflict arises due to limited resources.  The perfect management of these resources, so far as we must have them, will be a progress towards universal freedom sustained mutually between agents, as well as an economy of objects desired.  If we were to only love things that were limited, then it would require a great deal of laws to keep us in a relation as friends (but this would itself not work without love of law - even begrudgingly).  However, so far as we can attain to a love (eros) of things which are not subject to limited resources, then sharing becomes much easier.  Here we can clearly see how the cultivation of eros lays the ground for the pursuit of philos as a maximum in sharing, freedom under laws, and how a perfect development of eros (so that we only love Beauty itself) would produce no need for laws.  However, so long as we are finite beings, we have finite needs which prevent us from a perfect love of Beauty itself.
   To review: if friends are to share all things in common, we will have great difficulty so far as we find ourselves needful of things that are limited and of which we have a limited amount.  The cultivation of loving (eros) Beauty itself (Good, Truth, &c) orients us towards a domain of things that are not subject to limitations.  This means that the cultivation of eros is at the same time the development of philos, but this development will still be on the side of a single individual, and so only makes an individual suitable to be a part of a community of friends without creating that community.  This can indicate the importance of education in Plato, and that education should not be seen in terms of passing on knowledge of finite things or even particular cultural mores, but rather is for cultivating eros to allow for better friends, and citizens (this also should be understood relative to letting things stand in their own light, as in the allegory of the cave`).
   Reflecting off of this insight into Plato's thought we can find insight into Kant.  We can see that Kant's description of virtue in the Metaphysics of Morals as the cultivation of our inclination for duty is exactly this cultivation of eros in Plato.  The universality of the Categorical Imperative illustrates how Kant considers duty to involve such a possibility of a community of friends in relation to individual developments of virtue.  Situating the universality of the moral law in these terms of the conditions of maximum sharing in common (philos) represent Kant's understanding of morals more accurately, and avoids the harmful reception of Kant himself pronouncing what one ought to do.
   Happiness (in Kant) is only attainable so far as we can bring about conditions of universal philos in ourselves and others, and for this we will always be striving in this life in our cultivation of eros or virtue.  Perhaps this life long striving revealed in Plato can provide us a good basis to move on to understanding the afterlife myths that involve the familial relationship he draws between the laws of a state and those of the afterlife (Crito), or the striving after the forms (Phaedrus), or the expression of power to free us from long standing tyranny (Republic), or Socrates easygoing relation to death (Phaedo).