Kant’s Ethics

Below are Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Critique of Practical Reason.

Metaphysics of Morals:

Kant, Immanuel. General Principle of the Metaphysics of Morals, The Great Books Series (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1952).

Kant is the perfect embodiment of modern liberalism.  Imagine one of your neighbors.  He’s a nice guy, does all the right things.  All he wants is for everyone to be nice.  At worst, he might want the State to enforce niceness.  This isn’t that different from late 20th century America.  It’s completely useless, however, against nihilism and revolution.

This is a lucid treaty which introduces you to Kant’s famous maxim, “Don’t do something if you aren’t willing to make it a universal law.”  That actually works quite well in a Christian, or at least moral society.  There are problems in Kant’s ethics, to be sure, but he does cover all the requisite ground and deals with the same issues you would find in Aquinas on happiness.

All rational knowledge is either concerned with the object of knowledge or with the form of understanding itself.  Kant’s goal is to construct a pure moral philosophy.  Such a moral philosophy will not only conform to moral law, but will do so out of a sense of duty (and that is the main point for Kant).

Indeed, what makes a good action good?  Kant’s answer is very simple: a good action is good simply by virtue of its volition (256).

Surprisingly enough, Kant argues that reason can’t be the guide.  He correctly notes that reason can’t satisfy all of our wants and perhaps even multiplies them.  Rather, our duty is to follow the law. If we must have emotions, then we should have respect for the law. What kind of law should determine my will?  Kant gives us his famous secularized golden rule: “never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” (260).

Persons and Things

A person is a rational being who is an end in himself.  A thing is a being whose end is relative to another end (272).

Kingdom of Ends

A kingdom for Kant is a union of rational beings in a system by common laws (274). This definition, while inadequate, is not too far from Augustine’s “common objects of love.”  Ends for Kant are determined by abstract, universal laws.  For example, I must treat everyone as though he were an end in himself and not my means to another end.

Kant nicely summarizes his project this way. Morality has three modes: 1) a form, consisting in universality; 2) a matter, such as the end or goal; and 3) the ability to characterize all maxims in the previous two modes (275).

A Will that is Free

Kant has a standard account of free will.  Such a will is independent of external, determining forces, etc.  It has an internal causality.  That brings Kant to a problem of which he is very much aware. It’s not really coherent to speak of my making laws to which I am subject.  It’s a circle, as he notes: “we laid down the idea of freedom because of the moral law only that we might afterwards in turn infer the latter from freedom” (282).  What is his solution? It’s not clear but I think he says such an intuition of freedom allows us to transcend ourselves.  I’m not really sure what that means.

There is a bigger problem, though.  If the world of nature is mechanistically determined, then how am I free? Kant says that for all practical purposes, we are free. If we don’t presuppose that, then we can’t make sense of human actions.

Problems

Kant is not unaware of problems with his system.  For example, if I have a direct inclination to an action, say, caring for my wife, my passion and strong feelings towards my wife might actually cloud the nature of duty (258). In fact, in order to truly appreciate the duty of caring for my wife, I shouldn’t let my emotions or feelings come into play at all! (Only an unmarried bachelor like Kant could have imagined this).  If I have conjugal relations with my wife and I enjoy it, that’s good and all but irrelevant.  All that matters is we have performed our duties. Have fun with the therapy.

Perhaps more to the point.  I have a duty to preserve my life.  Most men in fact do this.  Here is the problem:  Are they doing this just out of natural habit or from the specific command, “You must act according to the duty to preserve your own life”?  Almost everyone acts from the former and they are not wrong to do so. Kant, however, would say they failed to act ethically.

The same applies to helping the poor.  Unless you do it from the perspective of “I have a duty to be beneficent,” the action has no moral worth.  This doesn’t seem right.

Moreover, with Kant we see the modern commitment to ethical autonomy.  Consider the following chilling passage: “Even the Holy One of the Gospels must first be compared with our ideal of moral perfection before we can recognize him as such” (263).

Kant’s system is beautiful and elegant, yet cold and austere.

Critique of Practical Reason

Introductory thoughts: Freedom is the only idea of speculative reason that we can know a priori (291).  Freedom is the condition of the moral law.  Ideas like God are conditions of the practical use of our pure reason (i.e., God is a limiting concept.  You need God to make other ideas work).

To say it another way: God is an application of our will to a determined object.

Problems Kant must solve:

1) He had previously denied that we could know supersensible reality, yet he specifically posits this for morality (the freedom of our will).

The thinking subject internally intuits itself as a phenomenon (292).

The imperative: these are rules that I do not make up for myself.  They transcend me. It is closer to the realm of causality.  A Law is much stronger.  It actually determines the will.  As such they are categorical.

Theorem I: a principle which presupposes an empirical object of desire can furnish no practical laws (298).

Theorem 2: all material practical principles fall under the category of self-love or private happiness.

A refined pleasure is one that does not wear out and increases our capacity for enjoyment.

Kant proceeds to speak on what is “a good or an evil in itself” (317).  That language is surprising, given his agnosticism on knowing anything “in itself.” Kant is cheating.  He (rightly) says the moral good “is something whose object is supersensible” (319).  He correctly wants to avoid the is-ought fallacy.  On the other hand, one wonders how he can possibly know this, given that the supersensible are noumena and off-limits to our knowing. He says by way of conclusion that “It is therefore allowable to use the system of the world of sense as a type of a supersensible system of things” (320).  I had always suspected Kant was a secularized Plato.  Now I am sure.

Motive: subjective ground of determination (321).

Kant defines personality as “freedom and independence on the mechanism of nature.”

Kant’s most notorious move is his positing God, the soul, and the moral law as postulates of pure reason.  He knows he needs these categories in order for his system to work.  Unfortunately, they are empty concepts. Kant doesn’t seriously think that God will act in history and bring judgment.  Yet that is precisely what Kant’s God would need to do in order for a moral universe to work.  At the end of the day, as Nietzsche would later point out, Kant doesn’t really need God at all.

Kant’s take on human freedom and determinism bears our consideration.  How can we be free if we live in a Newtonian universe of cause and effect?  Kant’s analysis here is quite similar to Jonathan Edwards’.  As long as we remain in a time-bound universe, we cannot be free.  Kant believes in freedom, though. He maintains that the time-bound universe is the world of appearances, akin to the phenomenal world.  You aren’t free in that world.  However, you do have a transcendental freedom.  Determinism only applies to the sensible world of appearances.

I think he is wrong, but his take isn’t that strange.  As Reformed Christians, we hold free will in suspicion, yet we also believe we are active moral agents who make meaningful choices.  And if we hold to Edwards’ analysis of determinism, it’s not clear how different we are from Kant, practically speaking.

Kant’s writing is elegant and austere and could have only been written during the Enlightenment.  This text is fascinating in some regards because Kant begins to walk back some of his stronger claims in the First Critique.

Metaphysic of Morals (Kant)

Kant, Immanuel. General Principle of the Metaphysics of Morals, The Great Books Series (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1952).

Kant is the perfect embodiment of modern liberalism.  Imagine one of your neighbors.  He’s a nice guy, does all the right things.  All he wants is for everyone to be nice.  At worst, he might want the State to enforce niceness.  This isn’t that different from late 20th century America.  It’s completely useless, however, against nihilism and revolution.

This is a lucid treaty which introduces you to Kant’s famous maxim, “Don’t do something if you aren’t willing to make it a universal law.”  That actually works quite well in a Christian, or at least moral society.  There are problems in Kant’s ethics, to be sure, but he does cover all the requisite ground and deals with the same issues you would find in Aquinas on happiness.

All rational knowledge is either concerned with the object of knowledge or with the form of understanding itself.  Kant’s goal is to construct a pure moral philosophy.  Such a moral philosophy will not only conform to moral law, but will do so out of a sense of duty (and that is the main point for Kant).

Indeed, what makes a good action good?  Kant’s answer is very simple: a good action is good simply by virtue of its volition (256).

Surprisingly enough, Kant argues that reason can’t be the guide.  He correctly notes that reason can’t satisfy all of our wants and perhaps even multiplies them.  Rather, our duty is to follow the law. If we must have emotions, then we should have respect for the law. What kind of law should determine my will?  Kant gives us his famous secularized golden rule: “never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” (260).

Persons and Things

A person is a rational being who is an end in himself.  A thing is a being whose end is relative to another end (272).

Kingdom of Ends

A kingdom for Kant is a union of rational beings in a system by common laws (274). This definition, while inadequate, is not too far from Augustine’s “common objects of love.”  Ends for Kant are determined by abstract, universal laws.  For example, I must treat everyone as though he were an end in himself and not my means to another end.

Kant nicely summarizes his project this way. Morality has three modes: 1) a form, consisting in universality; 2) a matter, such as the end or goal; and 3) the ability to characterize all maxims in the previous two modes (275).

A Will that is Free

Kant has a standard account of free will.  Such a will is independent of external, determining forces, etc.  It has an internal causality.  That brings Kant to a problem of which he is very much aware. It’s not really coherent to speak of my making laws to which I am subject.  It’s a circle, as he notes: “we laid down the idea of freedom because of the moral law only that we might afterwards in turn infer the latter from freedom” (282).  What is his solution? It’s not clear but I think he says such an intuition of freedom allows us to transcend ourselves.  I’m not really sure what that means.

There is a bigger problem, though.  If the world of nature is mechanistically determined, then how am I free? Kant says that for all practical purposes, we are free. If we don’t presuppose that, then we can’t make sense of human actions.

Problems

Kant is not unaware of problems with his system.  For example, if I have a direct inclination to an action, say, caring for my wife, my passion and strong feelings towards my wife might actually cloud the nature of duty (258). In fact, in order to truly appreciate the duty of caring for my wife, I shouldn’t let my emotions or feelings come into play at all! (Only an unmarried bachelor like Kant could have imagined this).  If I have conjugal relations with my wife and I enjoy it, that’s good and all but irrelevant.  All that matters is we have performed our duties. Have fun with the therapy.

Perhaps more to the point.  I have a duty to preserve my life.  Most men in fact do this.  Here is the problem:  Are they doing this just out of natural habit or from the specific command, “You must act according to the duty to preserve your own life”?  Almost everyone acts from the former and they are not wrong to do so. Kant, however, would say they failed to act ethically.

The same applies to helping the poor.  Unless you do it from the perspective of “I have a duty to be beneficent,” the action has no moral worth.  This doesn’t seem right.

Moreover, with Kant we see the modern commitment to ethical autonomy.  Consider the following chilling passage: “Even the Holy One of the Gospels must first be compared with our ideal of moral perfection before we can recognize him as such” (263).

Kant’s system is beautiful and elegant, yet cold and austere.

Dugin notes, 4th Political Theory

I have my questions about his larger project, but his analyses of modernity and postmodernism are simply too good to ignore.

Birth of a Concept

  1. Three Ideologies
    1. Liberalism: the individual is the normative subject (this includes both free market capitalism and the Democratic Party.  I am using “liberal” in a non-perjorative sense).
    2. Fascism: race or nation is normative subject
    3. Communism: Class
      The second and third options failed, leaving liberalism in charge.  Without any alternatives, liberalism is the norm.
    4. 4th political theory: Dasein is the acting subject.  We will explain more on this later.
  2. Postmodernism
    1. Global Market Society
      1. Globalism
      2. Technology
    2. Kingdom of Antichrist
  3. Heidegger and the Event
    1. The ancient greeks confused the nuances between pure being (Seyn) and a being (Seinende).
    2. Nihilism and the event
      1. The “Nothing” is the flip side of being and paradoxically reminds one of Being’s existence.
      2. Event: the sudden return of being.

Dasein as Actor

  1. What is the nature of freedom?
    1. Classical Liberals defined freedom as “freedom from.”  There should be no ties on an individual’s will.  
      1. It is these individuals, acting alone but taken as a whole, who form the circle of liberal action.
      2. Lacking a telos by definition, liberalism is hard-pressed to explain what we have freedom for.
    2. All political theories have an acting subject.
  2. Dasein as subject.
    1. Dasein is a way to overcome the subject-object duality.  It is inzwichen, the “between.”
  3. Hidden Racisms
    1. Is “progress” racist? Maybe.  Progressive societies have an implicit judgment that other societies, who do not hold such views, are inferior.
    2. The only true human rights are those enshrined by global capitalism, democracy, individualism.
  4. Ethnos: A community of language
    1. Racist societies, whether Nazis or American neo-liberals, reduce society to a concept like race, blood, market.
    2. A better reduction, if reduction it is, is language.
      1. Language allows for an “accommodating landscape” (Gumilev).  It is the matrix of a “Life-world” (Husserl).
      2. Ethnicities generate the criteria by which they are judged (Dugin 48).
    3. The village-state is an alternative to the metropolis.

Critique of the Monotonic Process

Liberal ideology is necessarily evolutionary.  The concept of progress takes one from barbarism to technologism and the more refined way of life of the markets.

Monotonic process: the idea of constant growth, accumulation, steady progress by only one specific indicator (60).  In other words, in a system only one value (x) grows.  Only one thing (or a small group of things) accumulates.  Applied to either machines or biological life, this is death.  

The Gift

In traditional societies surplus was always sacrificed or given away. Thus, festivals.

Nietzsche: if there is growth in life, the movement towards logos, then the balance of the nocturnal Dionysian world exists as well (65). 

Modern political options have all seen progress and time in a linear fashion.  Even more so, because of time there must naturally be progress. By contrast, Dugin suggests that

T1: Time is a social phenomenon with its structures arising from social paradigms (68).

By this he wants to safeguard the idea that there can be “interruptions” and reversals in the flow of time.  History does not simply teach the march of capitalism upon earth (borrowing and adapting Hegel’s phrase).

Nevertheless, and perhaps unaware, Dugin remains close to the linear view.  He does note that time is “historical” (70) and from that draws a very important, Heideggerian conclusion:  it cannot be objective.

Why not? The acting subject, the historical observer (whom we will call “Dasein,” but this is true also of the individual in liberalism) is finite.  He doesn’t have a god’s-eye view on history.

Of course, that’s not to say it can’t be real or reliable per the observer, but we don’t have the Enlightenment’s dream of a god’s-eye application of reason to reality.

Global Transition and its enemies

  1. What is the New World Order?
    1. It is a “universalism of free market economics, political democracy, and the ideology of human rights” (71).
    2. From the American point of view: a strong imperial core with the periphery divided and fragmented.
      1. Creation of multilateral unipolarity.
      2. Promotion of accelerated globalism and swift de-sovereignisation of nation states in favor of a global United States.
    3. Global democracy is a self-generating virus (Stephen Mann).
  2. The World Order from a non-American point of view

Conservatism and Postmodernity

Paradoxes of Freedom

  1. Liberal freedom in action is the freedom to choose TV stations.
    1. If I am “free,” am I free to say no?  Can I say “no” to freedom?
    2. Liberalism cannot allow this, which means there is no alternative to it.
  2. Df. conservatism = repudiation of the logic of history.  True conservatism means that history isn’t necessarily moving towards a moment of universal global markets.
    1. Fundamental Conservatism: Traditionalism (86ff).
      1. Opposes “time.”  Specifically, it does not accept the argument that progress is necessarily good.
    2. Status quo conservatism: liberal conservatism.
      1. It is liberal in that it says yes to modernity, “but at each stage it attempts to step on the breaks” (91).
    3. Left Wing Conservatism (Social Conservatism)
    4. Eurasianism: an umbrella of subordinate conservatisms
      1. There is no single historical process.  
      2. Every nation has its own historical model and moves in its own rhythm. 

Transformation of the Left in the twenty first century

  1. The Leftist Philosophy in Crisis: three varieties
    1. Old Left: 
      1. Orthodox Marxists.
        1. Stuck in concepts anchored in the Industrial Revolution.  Really couldn’t adapt to hyper-technological ages.
        2. Fundamentally wrong about historical dialectic.
      2. Social Democracy: 
        1. Income tax, government in the private sector, free medicine; traditional “liberal” mores.
        2. Social Justice + Market expansion
    2. Left Nationalists
    3. New Left: anti-globalism, postmodern, post-human
      1. Utilized Marxist analysis of ideology as “false consciousness” to explain society, philosophy, economy.
      2. Bourgeois society is a result of superstructures.

Ontology of the Future

  1. Three ecstasies of time (Heidegger).  Normally, we would say that the future “lacks the most being.”
    1. Immediacy (there is/there is not)
    2. Documentary (there was/there was not)
    3. Probabilistic (there will be/there will be not)
  2. Perception and Being: Kant denied that by mere perception we have access to the thing-in-itself.
    1. Therefore, if the being of the present is put in doubt, then all three moments become ontologically unproveable.
    2. From the perspective of pure reason, the future is the phenomenon, and hence, it is (157). 
    3. Kant puts time nearer to the subject and space nearer to the object.
      1. Therefore, time is subject-ive.  
      2. It is the transcendental subject that installs time in the perception of the object.
    4. Time is like music (Husserl); the resonance lingers.
      1. The future is continuous in the present.
      2. The future is the tail-end of the present.
    5. Consciousness
      1. That which is beneath the level that the nature of time is perceived.
      2. In the present consciousness perceives itself and nothing else.
    6. Short circuit:  perception of pure being as the presence of the subjectivity of consciousness. Transcendental subjectivity (158).
      1. Causes all kinds of dualities to be born.
      2. The creation of time stops this trauma.
      3. “Intentionality and logical judgments are all rooted in this evasion of the perception of pain of the void whereby consciousness becomes aware of itself” (158).
        1. Pure presence of the same is unbearable.
        2. Time constitutes consciousness running from the unbearable confrontation with itself.
    7. Initial Conclusions
      1. Time precedes the object.
      2. The world is created by time (or time through God)
        1. Time’s manifestation is as self-aware subjectivity.
        2. The future is predefined by the structure of the subject.
      3. Organizing time: circular, traditional, material.
    8. Society and Time
      1. Every society is a separate act of consciousness in temporal and rational horizons.
        1. Every society has its own history.
        2. Thus, time is rooted in geography.
        3. Thus, globalization, in canceling out traditional differences, erases time.
          1. Therefore, with no time, the “short circuit would grow exponentially without the possibility of being dissipated.
          2. Cataclysm.

A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism

Gignilliat, Mark. A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism.

This is a great intellectual snapshot of Old Testament studies from the last 300 years.

Spinoza: he first tries to show the connection between Descartes’ rationalism and Spinoza’s conclusions. There is a movement away from the substance of the things themselves to the actual thinking process.

Much of Spinoza’s argument consists of typical academic grand-standing: we are neutral, etc.  He does make one important claim: the bible doesn’t make metaphysical claims. Not surprisingly, this allows Spinoza to operate on a hidden metaphysical claim:  deism. Another payoff (or more likely, crippling debt) from Spinoza’s method is the view that the Bible is a natural book with a natural history.

In light of that, Spinoza’s natural history denies Mosaic authorship, places divine law in naturalistic categories, and rejects miracles because scientific law is absolute.

M. L. De Wette: History Becomes Religion

Biblical critic as romantic rationalist.  While de Wette himself was probably a critic, he claims that Johann Herder protected him from the wasteland of biblical criticism.Herder had rejected the Enlightenment’s devaluing of historical particulars. The Enlightenment also ignored the relationship between language and culture. Herder even suggested a link between language, culture, and consciousness.

Unfortunately, de Wette’s foundation, already weakened by criticism, was shattered by Kant. The result is that we now focus on “timeless truths,” truths that only exist outside of space and time. To be fair, de Wette saw where this was going and backed off.

De Wette later discovered Schelling’s lectures on art, where Schelling argued that art manifests the Absolute. The surprising payoff is that this meant that Kant’s dominant philosophy was only a partial reflection of the Absolute.  

Julius Wellhausen: Israel’s History and Literary Sources

He says he learned from Ritschl that Graf said the law came after the prophets chronologically. Wellhausen’s project aimed to reconstruct Israel’s history from various sources.  Well. wasn’t simply saying that there were different authors for the Pentateuch. That wasn’t new. He used those various sources to construct an Israelite religion based off that most pure form of human expression: 19th century German liberalism.

Herman Gunkel

While he began on a promising note that we must understand the writings as the ancient Hebrews did, leading to the idea of a Sitz im Leben, Gunkel never transcended the methodological naturalism that crippled German scholarship. 

Gerhard von Rad

Von Rad’s life was filled with dangerous irony.  He championed the OT but was appointed by Nazis to teach at Jena.  He openly condemned the Nazi church but was later forced into the German army.  He ended the war as a prisoner of war in an American camp. 

Problem of the Hexateuch: Moses + Joshua. 

Brevard Childs

While he lived in the Northeast growing up, Childs had the background and manner of a Southern aristocrat.  He taught himself Greek while on the way to World War II.

When Childs was in Europe, he studied under the legends of the time.  

Conclusion

Behind almost all of these critics is a desire to get to the reality “behind the text,” whether it is “ultimate feeling” or “real history.”  The author does a good job in showing the influence of German philosophical movements on the critics without reducing the critics’ position to German romanticism.

The “Biola” Turn in Christian Philosophy

Or, a return from relativism.

I have several goals in this paper.  I utilize Dallas Willard’s metaphysical realism to rebut post-Kantian idealism.  I also challenge James K. A. Smith’s quasi-Derridean view of interpretation.

In “How Concepts Relate the Mind to its Objects: The God’s Eye View Vindicated,” Dallas Willard defends a robust realism in the face of various post-Kantian proposals.  While criticisms of Kant are common and always welcome, this paper takes a different turn. It is a response to the various “creational hermeneutics” by men like James K. A. Smith who appear to posit an endless deferral of meaning.  To be fair, Smith doesn’t advocate a strict Derridean view. He assumes meaning is possible. Rather, he advocates that every hermeneutical event is always (already?) situated by our finitude. We never approach the realm of “pure interpretation.”

Further, Smith isn’t a Kantian.  He isn’t saying (as far as I am aware) that our minds create reality.  In this case, many of Willard’s remarks won’t directly apply to him. There are some parallels, though.  Both Kant and Smith function as though there is a “wall” between our minds and reality.

On one level that seems true enough. I don’t even know what a pure interpretation unsullied by presuppositions would look like.  I think there is something more, though. It’s not enough that Smith wants to avoid a Derridean relativism or something like an endless deferral of meaning.  Well and good. I fear, though, that his epistemology is underdeveloped and if pursued consistently, will in fact lead to relativism.

In a new chapter to Fall of Interpretation Smith responds to criticisms of Derrida.  He says Derrida does affirm that communication takes place. However, it only takes place within “communal discernment” (Smith 215-216). Indeed, communities “fix meanings.”  We will come back to this claim later.

Dallas Willard’s article provides a summary of how the mental process works. He discusses what a concept is and how the nature of a concept (which always includes intentionality, relations, etc) avoids what he calls the “Midas touch” of post-Kantianism. Followers of Kant see the concept as an activity of the mind.  As Willard explains, “It [the Kantian view] always turns the ‘mediation’ of the relation between the mind and world into a form of making: the object which comes to stand before the mind is in some essential way made by a ‘grasping’ of something other” (Willard 2-3).

The Structure of the Knowing Act

While Willard’s article decisively rebuts Kantianism, it does have a small payout for the “Derridean Christian Philosophers.”  If what Willard says is true on how the mind knows, then it doesn’t matter if we posit that our knowledge is “mediated” or “structured” by communal knowings.

Survey of the Material

Kant: what comes before the mind as objects are products of the action of the mind (Willard 4).  Evidently, there is some amorphous sludge that is present before our mind. Our mind then categorizes it and “out comes the perceived object.”

Beginning of the Case

Willard’s main argument is that all knowing acts involve “intentionality,” which is the “about-ness” or “of-ness” of something.  If I know a dog, this dog, then “there must be something about each of the terms (my thought of my dog, my dog) that my thought of my dog is “together with” or pairs up with my dog” (5).

What is a Concept? 

A concept is acquired, applies to or is “of” something (extension), has intension (inherent properties), is transpersonal.  If there is anything that “mediates” between our minds and the outside objects, it is concepts, not endless linguistic deferrals or “communal” interpretations. 

Further, concepts are properties, not acts or events.  As such, they don’t “do” anything. A concept also has a “nature.”  This means it has properties, relations, and an overall place “in the scheme of things” (8).  Since it is a universal, it is exemplified in time and space but itself is not in time or space.  

With all of this in mind (no pun intended), we can see that intentional properties are concepts which form a bridge between thought and its object.  I do not think of the intentional properties but “of what is before my mind through them” (10). The intentional properties of a concept are not identical with “the properties which things must have to fall under the concept” (11).

We can try to say it another way: there is an intentional affinity (the of-ness or about-ness of a concept) between the concept and the properties of the concept. They are related in such a way that the intensional properties “always come to mind upon the instancing of the property which is the concept, but not by being instanced in the thought along with the concept” (12).  In other words, the concept is before our mind, not simply the inherent structure of the concept. The following diagram might help:

Thought of a dog (exemplifies) concept of a dog (has natural affinity with) properties making up caninity (exemplified in) Dogs (Fido, etc). (Willard 13).

The Pay off

If the above is true then the objects of thought do not take on any character. They aren’t changed in structure from an amorphous sludge to a dog.  Therefore, we are not “locked inside language” (14).

How does this work with the Radical Orthodox type crowd which posits an intermediate communal meaning?  At the most basic level it makes it irrelevant. Let’s take the concept of a dog. I read about a dog in a text.  How does placing “the communal interpretation of the faith-community” between myself and the dog “make” the text correct?  

That might be somewhat trivial.  Let’s take a theological dictum. If all the RO guys are saying is that we must read in conjunction with fellow believers, then there really isn’t a problem. A more hard-line approach would be “the church’s interpretation is our interpretation.”  Only Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy say anything that silly. It’s common enough, though. Let’s look at it. What mediates the church’s reading of the text and the text itself? It doesn’t work to say the church, for that is no different from their own characterization of Protestantism writ-large.  Further, it’s no different from the very foundationalism they eschew.

But if the church doesn’t mediate between the church’s interpretation and a given fact of experience, then who does?  We are then thrown back to the individual believer’s responsibility to interpret the world, receive data, and make judgments.  These judgments aren’t infallible, but they are still warranted. He can accept many of them as basic beliefs (in the absence of overriding defeaters).  

 

 

Whose Community? Which Interpretation?

Image result for whose community which interpretation

Whose Community? Which Interpretation?

Realism:  claim that the world (the real) is “out there” and is what it is independent of whether or what we might think of it (18).  Plato intimated as much when he said the philosopher apprehends the purely intelligible structures (Phaedo 66e). 

immediacy:  “the object is given to the subject without any mediating input from the subject” (20).  

But Kant said we don’t perfectly mirror the world, we apprehend it mediately through the forms and categories we bring with us to experience.  

Historical Background

Schlieiermacher:  sought to apply a general hermeneutics that would apply to all culturally relevant texts.  Hermeneutical circle. Also advocated historical method about author.  

Psychologism:  language is primarily to be understood as the outer expression of the inner psychic life (29).  Project oneself into the experiences of the text (ala Romanticism).  

Against Romantic Hermeneutics

Relativist hermeneutics:  1) we are always somewhere and never nowhere when we interpret; 2) We never escape from hermeneutical circularity.

Speech-Act Theory

Words are performative.

Wolterstorff argues that speaking does not necessarily have self-revelation as its primary function for either human or divine discourse.  Divine discourse usually comes to us in the form of promises and command (covenant).  authorial discourse interpretation: per Wolterstorff to interpret the bible correctly is to ask what speech acts did the author perform (40).  

Revoking Authorial Privilege

Even the French trio doesn’t think the author is truly dead.  “To deny that the author is the unilateral source of a text’s meaning is not to deny that the author plays an important role” (58).  Westphal explains, “For our French trio, the finitude of the author in relation to the text is expressed in a double relativity. In the first place, human authors ‘create meaning’ only relative to the language available to them…this language shapes and conditions their thought in ways of which they are unaware and over which they do not preside” (59).  

To say it yet another way: “The author is not a godlike, infinite creator of meaning” (65).  Humans are finite and our sub-creations (what Milbank would call mythopoesis) are always within the realm of the finite and conditioned.

Rehabilitating Tradition

Gadamer.  Fundamental thesis about tradition is “belonging.”  p. 70. Tradition plays a double-role. It gives us a place to stand and it is is plural.  We do not belong to a single, universal tradition. “All interpretation is relative to traditions that have formed the perspectives and presuppositions that guide it” (71). 

“To be historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 301-302).  

Alterity Thesis.  Tradition as other.  Tradition will set before us what it has already done within us.

Authority Thesis.  We acknowledge tradition as a “sub-authority” over us.  “My conscience is a grounded opacity that allows a richly mediated knowledge of its object” (Westphal 74).  

Fallibility Thesis.  Question of critique:  “How can we distinguish the true prejudices–by which we understand–from the false prejudices (by which we misunderstand” (75).   Tradition must be open to this critique. Even worse, the difference between true and false is not always either/or but a matter of degree. 

Back to authorial intent

It’s important but maybe not the main point.  When I read a text I am only interested in the author to a certain degree (unless it’s an autobiography).  This is a bad problem in a lot of conservative introductory surveys to the Bible (cf Carson, Moo, Morris). One gets a lot of different theories on authorship and place (important, no doubt) but the meaning of text gets sidelined. 

Authorial intent is important in understanding a text, but only to a degree. Authors themselves are wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstein, historically effected consciousness.  They don’t have absolute self-transperancy either.  Westphal has an interesting suggestion: “there is a power at work in finite authorial creation–for Gadamer, tradition–of whose agency and effects the author is never fully aware” (81).  

Truth Beyond Method

Art as the location.  Classic texts of literature.

It should read “Truth Beyond Scientific Method.”

“Language is at once a primary bearer of tradition and an ever-changing form of tradition” (90).  

Bildung/education as formation…training in the sensus communis. 

Performance and Application

Interpretation is not so much a completed object but an event (102).  It is performative.

 

Kant: Critique of Pure Reason

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I thought I had a review of this book, but evidently not. I read it in 2014, I think.

Kant is neither fun nor easy to read, but he can be read if one takes notes. And he should be read by lay philosophers as he represents an important (if not always benign) moment in Western culture. The following is a woefully bare review of Kant but it should alert the reader to Kant’s “key moves.” I don’t normally do reviews by defining terms but I think it would be helpful in this case.

Our knowledge begins with experience (I. B1). In the order of time we have no knowledge antecedent to experience. But we do have certain modes of a priori knowledge. This would include necessary and universal propositions.

Key Terms:
Pure reason: that which contains the principles whereby we know anything absolutely
Transcendental reason: not so much the objects of our knowledge, but the mode of knowledge.
Transcendental Aesthetic: isolates everything about sensation, so that all is left is empirical intuition
space: Our mind represents objects as “outside of us,” and we call this “space.” Here Kant exposits an “inner/outer” dialectic.
Intuition: the representation of appearance (A 42).
Apperception: the simple representation of the “I” Self-consciousness.

Kant denies, pace Berkeley, that objects are illusions. The object is always a given, but the relation between the knowing Subject and the object is not a given (B69).

transcendental analytic: that part of logic which deals with the elements of pure knowledge yielded by understanding (B86).
Noumenon = object of nonsensible intuition. It serves to limit the objective validity of sensible knowledge.
Matter = a species of representations (intuition) that relate perceptions to space. Space is conditioned within us. External objects are mere appearances.

These terms should allow the reader to navigate Kant. As to his conclusions, most will chafe at his defining matter as a species of representations, but on the other hand saying “matter” is flux is somewhat accurate. Further, his idea of God/morality/soul/noumenon as limiting concept makes sense only within a unique moment in Western history. Nietzsche and Hegel would later make short work of this argument.

Criticisms

Kant argued that A transcendental aesthetic isolates everything about sensation, so that all is left is empirical intuition; however, as Hegel pointed out, nothing exists apart from relations.

I won’t get into Kant’s antinomies.  I never found them persuasive and few skeptics today understand them (at least on the street level).

Hegel: Phenomenology of Spirit

Where to begin a review on a book of this magnitude? While this might seem like a difficult question, the easiest answer is also the most Hegelian: start anywhere, for you will end up in the final moment of the dialectic. (Any parenthetical citations in this review refer to the paragraph numbers in the Miller translation) With that said, let’s begin:

Preliminary notes from Charles Taylor (Cambridge, 1975)

The problem in Hegel’s time:  man as the knowing subject faced a number of divisions.

  • separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact
  • what can bridge the gap between mind and world?
  • self-consciousness leads the individual to distinguish himself from his community.
  • opposition between finite (free will) spirit and infinite (fate) spirit.

The goal: philosophy is to understand how these divisions overcome themselves. Oppositions arise out of an earlier identity.  An entity cannot be utterly distinguished from its “Other” because it cannot exist on its own.  Taylor:  “It is not related to an other but to its other, and this hidden identity will necessarily reassert itself in a recovery of unity” (Taylor 80).

Hegel rejects Greek dualism and almost stumbles upon a biblical Hebraism.  He sees the Cartesian project as inherently mechanistic and incoherent (what connects mind and matter?  Cartesians have never really answered this).

Unfortunately, Hegel still sees the idea of a mind/soul in a body as a “dualist temptation.”  He does admit, though, that it is foreign to Greek thought (81).

Hegel is drawing upon Herder’s expressivism.  Thought, language, etc does not exist without a medium.  Thus for Hegel, the subject, no matter how spiritual, is necessarily embodied.  This is true up to a point, but runs into problems in two areas:  God/Geist is not embodied (at least not God the Father and the Holy Spirit, though Hegel gets around that) and the soul exists in a disembodied state after death.
[1] What does phenomenology suggest? Something like the external world appears to me in a certain way and/or my mind constructs these categories. If so, how would a phenomenology of spirit be possible, since spirit is usually not associated with the external world? This is why Kant’s noumenal distinction is wrong. Just what is it that appears in appearance? Appearance is the showing forth of what something is.

[2] The short answer: Reason recapitulates itself. It doubles back. Take the category of abstract being or reason or spirit. In the abstract it is an empty category. To say that something is says nothing specific about it. Yet, it is not Nothing. Therefore, oscillating between this “Being” and “Nothing” is Becoming, which can account for particularity.

[3] Therefore, Reason must Reflect upon itself and become self-consciousness. As Glenn Magee notes, “Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (Magee 88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).

[4] This leads to the infamous Master-Slave dialectic: simple awareness of objects cannot produce consciousness of self. We can’t just know objects. We must act and overcome on them. Self-consciousness is only achieved when our desire is directed on other desires: when we see ourselves in the other. The master is actually serving the slave because he depends on the recognition from inferiors. His identity is based on what inferiors think of him.

[5] We come finally to Absolute Spirit. It manifests itself in three modes: Art, Religion, and Philosophy. The first two are inadequate because they use sensuous images and can only approach from finite vantage points. But philosophy is able to give self-knowledge that doesn’t depend on picture-thinking.

[6] Substance becomes Subject. It retains self-consciousness’s own self and can now be a predicate. Spirit is the unity between Subject and predicate. When Spirit remains just substance, it remains an object to itself. Spirit must become subject by uniting and sublating the object.

[7] Being is no longer an abstraction, as in [2]. It is now Being-as-Spirit. Its previous determinations [read: those moments when x is contrasted with y] have since been sublated. Hegel gives us a reversed chain of being (cf Magee, The Hegel Dictionary).

[8] If Spirit is now universal self-consciousness, then it is community (Hegel 781). Logos has now been refracted outward.

[9] If [6] holds then we have something like Gnosticism: Spirit empties itself of itself and falls into substance. As Subject, though, it goes out of that Substance and cancels out the difference between objectivity and content (Hegel 804). Like some strains of Gnosticism, this is a “fall into otherness and multiplicity and a return by means of “finding myself.”

The Good in Hegel:

*He has a good epistemological insight that the knower is always involved in the known object.
*Hegel anticipated all of the good insights made by communitarians. We do not possess our identity intrinsically, but only in relation to something else. Identity will always involve difference because identity consists of relations.
*His stuff on community is very good.

The Bad

~From a theistic standpoint Hegel appears irreconcilable with traditional theism. Much of what he says, if on the level of created reality, is quite good, but when you move this to the nature of God we have all sorts of problems: process theism, open theism, patripassianism.

Works Cited

Magee, Glenn. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
—————–. The Hegel Dictionary. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, 1975

4th Political Theory

4pt500

The phrase that best sums up Dugin’s approach is “Negating the Logic of History.”  Dugin begins by listing the three most common (and modern) ideologies:

    1. Liberalism: the individual is the normative subject
    2. Fascism: race or nation is normative subject
    3. Communism: ClassThe second and third options failed, leaving liberalism in charge.
    4. 4th political theory: Dasein is the acting subject.

Liberalism is the broad, architectonic worldview that hinges on several assumptions (the challenging of which will entail a drone strike). Classical Liberals defined freedom as “freedom from.”  There should be no ties on an individual’s will.   It is these individuals, acting alone but taken as a whole, who form the circle of liberal action. Lacking a telos by definition, liberalism is hard-pressed to explain what we have freedom for.

Against this Dugin posits Heidegger’s Dasein as the acting subject of the 4th Political Theory. Dasein is a way to overcome the subject-object duality.  It is inzwichen, the “between.”

One valuable insight of Dugin’s is his pinpointing the bigotry of Western liberals.  All societies must accept liberalism in its current manifestation.  What if you don’t want to?  Well, if you don’t have natural resources you are probably okay.  Otherwise, look out.

Liberal ideology is necessarily evolutionary.  The concept of progress takes one from barbarism to technologism and the more refined way of life of the markets. This is what Dugin calls “The Monotonic Process:” the idea of constant growth, accumulation, steady progress by only one specific indicator (60).  In other words, in a system only one value (x) grows.  Only one thing (or a small group of things) accumulates.  Applied to either machines or biological life, this is death.

Modern political options have all seen progress and time in a linear fashion.  Even more so, because of time there must naturally be progress.   By contrast, Dugin suggests that

T1: Time is a social phenomenon with its structures arising from social paradigms (68).

By this he wants to safeguard the idea that there can be “interruptions” and reversals in the flow of time.  History does not simply teach the march of progress upon earth (borrowing and adapting Hegel’s phrase).

Nevertheless, and perhaps unaware, Dugin remains close to the linear view.  He does note that time is “historical” (70) and from that draws a very important, Heideggerian conclusion:  it cannot be objective.

Why not? The acting subject, the historical observer (whom we will call “Dasein,” but this is true also of the individual in liberalism) is finite.  He doesn’t have a god’s-eye view on history. Of course, that’s not to say it can’t be real or reliable per the observer, but we don’t have the Enlightenment’s dream of a god’s-eye application of reason to reality.

Dugin then analyses how Leftist and Conservatism evolved in the 20th century.

Finally, he ends with a dense and staggering discussion on the nature of time.  Kant denied that by mere perception we have access to the thing-in-itself.  Therefore, if the being of the present is put in doubt, then all three moments (past, present, future) become ontologically unproveable. From the perspective of pure reason, the future is the phenomenon, and hence, it is (157).

Kant puts time nearer to the subject and space nearer to the object. Therefore, time is subject-ive.  It is the transcendental subject that installs time in the perception of the object.

4th Political Theory (Review)

This review has in mind St Cheetos the Prophet.

The phrase that best sums up Dugin’s approach is “Negating the Logic of History.”  Dugin begins by listing the three most common (and modern) ideologies:

    1. Liberalism: the individual is the normative subject
    2. Fascism: race or nation is normative subject
    3. Communism: Class

      The second and third options failed, leaving liberalism in charge.
    4. 4th political theory: Dasein is the acting subject.

Liberalism is the broad, architectonic worldview that hinges on several assumptions (the challenging of which will entail a drone strike). Classical Liberals defined freedom as “freedom from.”  There should be no ties on an individual’s will.   It is these individuals, acting alone but taken as a whole, who form the circle of liberal action.Lacking a telos by definition, liberalism is hard-pressed to explain what we have freedom for.

Against this Dugin posits Heidegger’s Dasein as the acting subject of the 4th Political Theory. Dasein is a way to overcome the subject-object duality.  It is inzwichen, the “between.”

One valuable insight of Dugin’s is his pinpointing the bigotry of Western liberals.  All societies must accept liberalism in its current manifestation.  What if you don’t want to?  Well, if you don’t have natural resources you are probably okay.  Otherwise, look out.

Liberal ideology is necessarily evolutionary.  The concept of progress takes one from barbarism to technologism and the more refined way of life of the markets. This is what Dugin calls “The Monotonic Process:” he idea of constant growth, accumulation, steady progress by only one specific indicator (60).  In other words, in a system only one value (x) grows.  Only one thing (or a small group of things) accumulates.  Applied to either machines or biological life, this is death.  

Modern political options have all seen progress and time in a linear fashion.  Even more so, because of time there must naturally be progress.   By contrast, Dugin suggests that

T1: Time is a social phenomenon with its structures arising from social paradigms (68).

By this he wants to safeguard the idea that there can be “interruptions” and reversals in the flow of time.  History does not simply teach the march of capitalism upon earth (borrowing and adapting Hegel’s phrase).

Nevertheless, and perhaps unaware, Dugin remains close to the linear view.  He does note that time is “historical” (70) and from that draws a very important, Heideggerian conclusion:  it cannot be objective.

Why not? The acting subject, the historical observer (whom we will call “Dasein,” but this is true also of the individual in liberalism) is finite.  He doesn’t have a god’s-eye view on history. Of course, that’s not to say it can’t be real or reliable per the observer, but we don’t have the Enlightenment’s dream of a god’s-eye application of reason to reality.

Dugin then analyses how Leftist and Conservatism evolved in the 20th century.

Finally, he ends with a dense and staggering discussion on the nature of time.  Kant denied that by mere perception we have access to the thing-in-itself.  Therefore, if the being of the present is put in doubt, then all three moments (past, present, future) become ontologically unproveable. From the perspective of pure reason, the future is the phenomenon, and hence, it is (157).

Kant puts time nearer to the subject and space nearer to the object. Therefore, time is subject-ive.  It is the transcendental subject that installs time in the perception of the object.