Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Using Time in Aristotle to Compare Kant and Heidegger: Part I

In Aristotle's Physics the existence of time is deeply called into question and reinterpreted in an apparently phenomenological manner.  I think the conception of time in Kant and Heidegger can benefit from comparison to Aristotle.  I will carry out this comparison in three parts.
For Aristotle the beginning and end of any time is ideal and can be described like temporal geometric points (i.e., they have no size).  Between these points is an indeterminate duration.  Time only exists in this structure:
beginning -------------- end
This does not mean that for Aristotle time is composed out of units of beginnings and ends, or even overlapping beginnings and ends.  Instead, the experience of time always structurally contains these moments.
When we become aware of something it is always awareness of a difference - a change has taken place.  This awareness is the awareness of an end, and the prior state before the change is the start.
Imagine that someone throws a ball (or throw a ball into the air yourself).  You see it in its trajectory over numerous points in space.  Each of those points is an awareness of change that takes its reference to a beginning.  Here time is not a duration but a certain mode of awareness about things.  In order to have a duration one must measure time by something.  We are not concerned with measuring time, but I can remark that such measuring is done traditionally through movements (perceived to be) of a fixed kind (e.g., the movements of planets).
In this experience of time, the beginning doesn't come before the end, but both come together in awareness.  From this, Aristotle is able to make the point that there is no such thing as the beginning of movement.  One can only encounter movement in its continuing to move or stopping.  (While I am sticking to movement I should at least point out that all change of characteristics are understood in this way by Aristotle.)  One can verify this with reference to ones own experience of change.
Now, the structure of time with a beginning an indistinct duration and an end is something that is all at once for awareness, but looks like a line drawn out (as we map it to space), and so it is easy to think that we can point the the beginning.  In this regard, of course, there is a beginning, but if we want to speak of a beginning in time without an end, then we are not speaking about our primordial experience of time but of time converted already into a duration, and so we mean the time.
The next part (Part II) will concern Kant and how the indistinct-duration (that Aristotle recognized) in the experience of time is given priority.  This indistinct measure is not broken up moment to moment, but considered as infinite. Then pure concept (category) of cause is used to provide the same model of beginning, indefinite duration, and end that is found in Aristotle.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Applying Kant's Moral Proof to Materialism

I will briefly sketch Kant's Moral Proof for the existence of God, and then apply the same kind of reasoning to Materialism.
It is well known that Kant gives a harsh criticism to all theology in the first critique, and shows that (theoretically speaking) God is unknowable.  We cannot have so much as an opinion about God's existence.  We do not know if God is possible or impossible.  
For many, Kant's earlier criticisms of theology produce confusion in light of his later Moral Proof of the existence of God.  While one can say that the Moral Proof is not theoretical, and so has nothing to do with the criticisms he leveled against theology, this doesn't do any work to help us understand the Moral Proof and to remove all lingering suspicion that he hasn't gone back on his previous work.
To understand the Moral Proof, one must first understand a subtlety about ends (goals) that we will (undertake):  when we will an end, we take the means necessary for the end to be possible.  Now, if we will an end that required supernatural means, we take these supernatural means to be possible. 
If will the Highest Good (the union of perfect virtue and perfect happiness) we also have granted the possibility of the means.  The means must be able to have our actions in the world that are motivated by duty impact the way we are rewarded in nature.  The cause that would combine our happiness with our virtue could not in nature, so it requires a supernatural cause.  This supernatural cause is God.
Using the structure of this moral proof we can take another example of a metaphysical position: materialism.  One may interpret materialism as saying that all of our empirical scientific research is bound up with a study of matter at some level.  At this point, materialism is not a metaphysical statement, but simply a statement of the domain of study for science.  To give this position a metaphysical characterization I will add the following: all attitudes must be constrained, ultimately, to the realm of empirical scientific research, and so ultimately get their explanations in an account of matter.
Just as Kant points out concerning theoretical knowledge of God, it cannot be known if our theory of materialism is true (the reasons for this I will leave aside).  It is, in fact, a practical sort of theory.  It is normative for the way we give accounts of things.  The question, "know thyself", must necessarily mean to know something about matter.  Using the same form as the Moral Proof, we can see a potential motivation for determining ourselves in favor of this metaphysical outlook.
If I am interested in have possible efficacy regarding all things, I will want any possible encounterable problem to be in a domain where I am effective.  To state this another way: if I will that I am sufficient to all of my ends, then all of my ends must relate to that which I can manipulate, and all that I can manipulate is matter.  This end permits me to give a practical denial - metaphysically - to the super natural (even to the will, which becomes a conversational convenience).
There may be other ways of interpreting materialism.  This is all ultimately an attempt to characterize how metaphysical positions are motivated.  For me, this goes a long way in helping me to sympathize with positions (such as materialism) that I find difficult to maintain.  (I do not feel a demand to be sufficient to all of my ends, but I can begin to understand what that would be like, and how that would benefit my existence.)
I think that all these metaphysical positions, accordion to their motivation, can be further evaluated so far as we understand what we do when we ask and answer the question "know thyself".  "Know thyself" here is understood as a question concerning the human being generally (a philsophical anthropology, perhaps).  What interpretation of the human being makes the most sense to us is going to determine our metaphysical outlook.
(Aside: If humanism is taken to mean that humans can be sufficient to ourselves through our own 'meaning making', then humanism will ultimately be a materialism.  Of course, there are other ways of speaking about humanism.)