Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘Kant’

Explaining Postmodernism by Dr. Stephen Hicks

Posted by Jerry on August 1, 2011

My trip to Italy provided a fitting background for me while I finished reading the brilliant book Explaining Postmodernism: From Rousseau to Foucault by Dr. Stephen Hicks.

This book should be required reading for all university graduates–especially those of liberal arts and humanities.

The essential thesis of this book is:

The failure of epistemology made postmodernism possible, and the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary.

Dr. Hicks has an incredibly lucid, engaging style of writing–and the expansiveness of the topics he covers with such ease–going from Kant to Rousseau to Marx and Rorty and then back to Plato–is astounding.

Reading his account of the philosophical drama that played across centuries and which gave rise to the anti-intellectual movement that we call Postmodernism today, one is reminded of a fact that is often forgotten: that philosopher need not all be wise just because they got published and are famous today; and that what they preach need not always originate from honest and true intentions; that philosophers, like anyone else, can almost stubbornly and petulantly defend a viewpoint in order to save face, score a brownie point, or wage a war of words for its own sake. Hegel, Fichte, Marcusse, and others fit this description.

Take the following excerpts, for instance:

Immanuel Kant is the most significant thinker of the Counter-Enlightenment. His philosophy, more than any other thinker’s, buttressed the pre-modern worldview of faith and duty against the inroads of the Enlightenment. Kant firmly chose religion. And so, he stated famously in the Second Preface to the first Critique, “I here therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

And another philosopher Schleiermacher, a Kantian in approach, said: “The essence of religion is the feeling of absolute dependence. I repudiated rational thought in favor of a theology of feeling.”

Then Fichte, who wanted to create a superior race of German automatons through socialized education, preached, like Kant, a dedication to pure duty and an abdication of all self-interest:

“in place of that love of self, with which nothing for our good can be connected any longer, we must set up and establish in the hearts of all those whom we wish to reckon among our nation that other kind of love, which is concerned directly with the good, simply as such and for its own sake. The pupil of this education is not merely a member of human society here on earth and for the short span of life which is permitted to him. He is also, and is undoubtedly acknowledged by education to be, a link in the eternal chain of spiritual life in a higher social order. A training which has undertaken to include the whole of his being should undoubtedly lead him to a knowledge of this higher order also. [The German] “alone above all other European nations, [has] the capacity of responding to such an education.”

And among the most outrageous ideas, we have Hegel–who inspired Marx–creating a Divinity out of the Government. He said:

“It must further be understood that all the worth which human being possesses–all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth.” The State has as its final end the self-realization of the Absolute, and thus “this final end has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the state.” “One must worship the State as a terrestrial divinity.”

People have agendas–and philosophers are not exempt from this. And philosophers in particular can be incredibly evil–in that they intentionally develop, defend, and promulgate ideas that are horrific in practice.

I am reminded of Ayn Rand’s brilliant analysis of the history of Counter-Enlightenment philosophy in her dramatic speech for John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, in which she correctly identifies and summarizes the key themes of Kant (the mystic of spirit) and his successors (the mystics of muscle). You can read the relevant excerpts from the Ayn Rand Lexicon here.

The discovery of truths is in sifting through the layers of detritus and engaging one’s own honest intellect with the evidence provided by our senses. Surely, geniuses can help illuminate the path along the way, but it’s up to us to figure out which path will lead us to the Enlightenment world, and which, to the one of nihilism.

I cannot recommend Dr. Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism enough.

Posted in Books, Culture, General Work/Life, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, Political Issues, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Common Sense of Thomas Reid

Posted by Jerry on January 3, 2008

About the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid, John Enright had this to say in a recent post:

I’ve long been a big fan. I think his criticisms of Hume had real merit. But hardly anyone seems to have read him, so I never get a chance to talk about him with anybody!

Thereafter, in a rather succinct series of rhymes, John hints at the substance of Reid’s philosophy:

“I saw an apple.”
That’s what I said.
Could it have been
A mere patch of red?

It tasted the apple,
I bit through its peel.
Could it be true
That it’s not really real?

I tossed the apple
In the sky.
Doubt its existence?
Please tell me why.

So now I was intrigued and wanted to discover more about the philosophy of Thomas Reid. I doubt that I’ll find any books by or about him in bookstores here; I read up his entry on the SEP and was really impressed with the account of his arguments against Humean and Lockean epistemologies. Reid does a brilliant job of shifting the burden of proof on to the skeptics and the idealists, and in doing so, reveals how incredibly contorted their theories actually are.

Reid was a staunch defender of the common sense method in philosophy; his epistemology can be described as direct realism, i.e., the mind can acquire direct knowledge of the external world via the interaction of the sense organs and external objects, which are the causes of mental acts or events.

Reid’s account of perception caught my interest in particular:

Colors, sounds, tastes and smells are powers to produce certain characteristic sensations in us in normal conditions; to ascribe such a quality to an object is not to perceive any intrinsic qualities of the object, but is, rather, to perceive that the object bears a certain relation to something else: namely, ourselves. So, for instance, say that the skin of the apple in front of me has a certain molecular structure that results in its reflecting light at a certain wavelength which in turn causes in me a certain characteristic visual sensation of red. If I am speaking correctly when I say, “That apple is red”, I am reporting the fact that I conceive of the apple as possessing a particular relational property: I am aware that the apple has the property of being-such-as-to-cause-in-me-sensations-of-red-in-normal-conditions.

The above comes very close to the principle and concept of objectivity in Objectivism:

Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic).

Thus, while Kant and others argued that it is impossible to have direct knowledge of the external world precisely because we are conscious of it and since our consciousness has identity, Objectivism turns this challenge on its head: direct knowledge of the external world is possible precisely because our consciousness has an identity and the specific means by which to grasp existence, and that without a consciousness of a specific sort, there can be no concept of objectivity.

Reid illustrates the principle of objectivity with reference to colors by noting that the apple is red objectively precisely because it has in itself the objective properties that cause sensations of redness in the perceiver, who has in himself the properties of responding to such sensations with the awareness of the color red. Objectivity, like all other concepts (including the concept of the absolute) and the rest of human knowledge, is relational.

Posted in Books, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Incoherence of Rationalistic Rights

Posted by Jerry on November 29, 2007

I’ve been thinking about Christine Korsgaard’s article in defense of animals rights (I have a printed copy, but the link is inactive). Korsgaard employs a radical reinterpretation of Kantian duty ethics to mount her case for animal rights. This is unique because Kant himself was explicitly against granting rights to non-rational beings, i.e., animals.

Korsgaard’s article is lengthy and technical, but her reversal of Kantian ethics in support of a position Kant himself was explicitly against is impressive. Briefly, Korsgaard argues that human rights are derived from our nature as living organisms who seek to pursue things that are good for ourselves; further, she argues that all living organisms that pursue the good for themselves are acting as ends-in-themselves. Humans are different in that not only do we pursue the good, but we pursue it out of choice and reflect upon our choices. We ascribe value to our pursuits of the good and protect it (legislate it) in the form of rights.

Korsgaard argues that this ability to legislate our pursuits and protect it is not a sufficient condition to retain rights exclusively for humans, because we do grant rights to those humans who cannot legislate and protect the good for themselves: for example, little infants and the severely disabled cannot demand or legislate their right to pursue the good, yet we extend the protection of pursuits (i.e., rights) to them. Likewise, women and slaves at one point were not allowed to legislate for themselves and demand protection for their pursuits–yet society extended certain protections (rights) to them.

Therefore, the criteria for having rights–Korsgaard argues–is not our ability to reflect upon our pursuits and protect them by legislation but our ability to pursue the good which is necessary for our survival as living beings. Korsgaard argues that this necessity is a common feature among all living things–whether or not they are consciously aware of their acts in pursuit of the good. She admits that such an argument may result in an absurd reductio whereby the rights of even microbial organisms and plants would need to be recognized. However, she does not consider this a weakness of her argument, rather a matter for us to grapple with, to reexamine the alleged foundations and nature of our concepts of rights.

In my post Veals Are Not Innocent, I responded to philosopher Joel Marks’ defense of animal rights, which is based on utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer’s argument of minimizing suffering in the world; particularly, eliminating the unnecessary suffering of sentient beings.

Korsgaard’s approach is unique because it makes no appeal to the philosophically murky notion of suffering as the standard of morality. However, the problem with her approach is its rationalism–dropping the context of reality.

The problem with rationalism–of the philosophic kind–is that it can be put to argue any position that is deductively derived and logically consistent: for rationalism, reality is hardly a contraint to an argument, only logic is. Afterall, it’s noteworthy that Kant believed his ethical system did not permit the extending of rights to non-rational beings, and yet, it is precisely the Kantian ethical system that is used by Korsgaard in her logical argument for animal rights arising from the nature of living entities as ends-in-themselves. What does this say about the Kantian ethical system or the rationalistic method it employs?

By situating itself solely in the abstract realm of logically deductive analysis, rationalism perpetuates the false dichotomy between deduction and induction, analysis and synthesis; the price it pays for appearing to have mathematical precision is the context of reality.

Objectivism is fundamentally a reality-oriented philosophy: From empiric observation, Objectivism extrapolates its general principles in conformance with the laws of logic. Note that Objectivism is not identical to Empiricism, just as it is not Rationalism. Objectivism does not deduce from a set of first principles nor does it generalize from any number of empiric instances. It does not look at how many times a certain event by an entity has occurred in nature to form a general principle of the event or the entity.

Objectivism integrates empiric observation with logical and deductive principles in non-contradictory fashion to examine the nature and quality of the event-causing entities. The validity of a principle is not in how often it appears in reality but in its fundamental nature and adherence to the laws of logic.

Thus, induction is not merely a matter of extrapolating a principle from a large number of unfalsified observed instances; it is a matter of discovering the nature of causality of the event by ascertaining the identity of the entity (i.e., applying the law of Identity and its corollary the Law of Causality to the context: An entity acts only according to its identity).

In the context of reality, granting rights to animals is an undeniably incoherent position if you discard rationalism: if rights are intended to protect one’s pursuit of necessary values for survival, how does one safeguard the rights of one animal from being violated by another animal? For example, whose rights should one enforce–that of the prey to its life or that of the predator to its food as a means of survival? Reality offers no room for contradictions; therefore, our epistemic policy should also be to permit no contradictions in our formation of concepts, principles, and knowledge.

Likewise, to highlight the weakness of empiricism, just because we observe that human pursuits of the good are routinely and rampantly violated or thwarted by governments, dictators, societies, and other individuals across the world, we cannot legitimately conclude that rights do not exist or that human rights inherently conflict with each other or that rights are artificial constructs relative to cultural norms.

Only Objectivism offers the most robust foundation and defense of human rights–not on rationalistic or empiric grounds–but on objectively valid and universalizable grounds. For Objectivism, rights do not exist in a vacuum; it is not intrinsic to living entities; it does not exist on a platonic realm; it does not apply to a lone man on a deserted island. Rights arise from a specific existential relationship between man–because of his identity–and other men in his surroundings. What this results in is a notion of rights that is coherent, logically consistent with other rational principles, valid in reality, and universally practicable without conflict.

Posted in Animal Rights, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

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