Ed Buckner raises this question, and he wants my help with it. How can I refuse? I'll say a little now, and perhaps more later.
Kant was brought up a rationalist within the Wolffian school, but then along came David Hume who awoke him from his dogmatic slumber. This awakening begins his Critical period in which he struggles mightily to find a via media between rationalism and empiricism. The result of his struggle, the Critical philosophy, is of great historical significance but is also an unstable tissue of irresolvable tensions. As a result there are competing interpretations of his doctrines.
I will propose two readings relevant to Ed's question. But first a reformulation and exfoliation of the question.
Can one think about God and meaningfully predicate properties of him? For example, can one meaningfully say of God that he exists, is omnipotent, and is the cause of the existence of the natural world? Or is it rather the case that such assertions are meaningless and that the category of causality, for example, has a meaningful application only within the realm of phenomena but not between the phenomenal realm as a whole and a putative transcendent causa prima? Are the bounds of sensibility (Sinnlichkeit) also the bounds of sense (Sinn), or are there senseful, meaningful assertions that transgress the bounds of sensibility?
Weak or Moderate Reading. On this reading, we can think about God and meaningfully make predications of him, but we cannot have any knowledge of God and his attributes. We cannot have knowledge of God because knowledge necessarily involves the interplay of two very different factors, conceptual interpretation via the categories of the understanding, and sensory givenness. God, however, is not given to the senses, outer or inner. In Kantian jargon, there is no intuition, keine Anschauung, of God. All intuition is sensible intuition. The Sage of Koenigsberg will not countenance any mystical intuition, any Platonic or Plotinian visio intellectualis, at least not in this life. That sort of thing he dismisses in the Enlightenment manner as Schwaermerei, 'enthusiasm' in an obsolete 18th century sense of the English term.
But while Kant denies that there is knowledge of God here below whether by pure reason or by mystical intuition, he aims to secure a 'safe space' for faith: "I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith." (Preface to 2nd ed. of Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1787, B xxx.) Now if God and the soul are objects of faith, this would imply that we can think of them and thus refer to them even if we cannot have knowledge of them.
The soul is the object of the branch of metaphysica specialis called rational psychology. Since all our intuition is sensible, there is no sensible intuition of the soul. As is well-known, Kant denies that special metaphysics in all three branches (psychology, cosmology, and theology) is possible as science, als Wissenschaft. To be science it would have to include synthetic a priori judgments, but these are possible only with respect to phenomena.
Kant's key question is: How are synthetic a priori judgments possible? He believes they are actual in mathematics and physics, and would have to be actual in metaphysics if the latter were a science. To put it quick and dirty: synthetic a priori judgments are possible in math and physics because the phenomenal world is our construction. The dignity and necessity of the synthetic causal principle -- every event has a cause -- is rescued from the jaws of Humean skepticism, but the price is high: the only world we can know is the world of phenomena. Things in themselves (noumena in the negative sense) are beyond our ken. And yet we must posit them since the appearances are appearances of something (obj. gen.). This restriction of human knowledge to the physical rules out any knowledge of the metaphysical.
On the moderate reading, then, Kant restricts the cognitive employment of the categories of the understanding to phenomena but not their thinking employment. We can think about and refer to the positive noumena, God, the soul, and the world as a whole, but we cannot have any knowledge of them. (And the same goes for the negative noumena that correspond to sensible appearances.) We can talk sense about God and the soul, and predicate properties of these entities, but we cannot come to have knowledge of them. Thus we can meaningfully speak of the soul as a simple substance which remains numerically self-same over time and through its changing states, but we cannot know that it has these properties.
The arguments against the traditional soul substance of the rationalists are in the Paralogisms section of KdrV, and they are extremely interesting.
Strong or Extreme Reading. On this reading, we cannot talk sense about positive or negative noumena: such categories as substance and causality cannot be meaningfully applied beyond the bounds of sensibility. Riffing on P. F. Strawson one could say that on the strong reading the bounds of sensibility are the bounds of sense. This reading wins the day in post-Kantian philosophy. Fichte liquidates the Ding an sich, the neo-Kantians reduce the transcendental ego to a mere concept (Rickert, e.g.), the categories which for Kant were ahistorical and fixed become historicized and relativized, and we end up with a conceptual relativism which fuels a lot of the nonsense of the present day, e.g., race and sex are social constructs, etc.
How's that for bloggity-blog quick and dirty?
So my answer to Ed Buckner's title question is: It depends. It depends on whether we read Kant in the weak way or in the strong way.
In his highly original Anthropocentrism in Philosophy: Realism, Antirealism, Semirealism (Walter de Gruyter 2015) Panayot Butchvarov argues that philosophy in its three main branches, epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics, needs to be freed from its anthropocentrism. Philosophy ought to be “dehumanized.” This entry will examine how Butchvarov proposes to dehumanize metaphysics. These Butchvarov posts are exercises toward a long review article I have been commissioned to write for a European journal.
Anthropocentrism in Metaphysics
In metaphysics, anthropocentrism assumes the form of antirealism. Antirealism is the view that the world, insofar as it is knowable, depends on us and our cognitive capacities. (6) Bishop Berkeley aside, metaphysical antirealism has its source and model in Kant's transcendental idealism. Contemporary antirealism is “the heir of Kant's transcendental idealism.” (189) On Butchvarov's view there can be no return to a pre-Critical, pre-Kantian metaphysics. (225) But surely the world cannot depend on us if 'us' refers to human animals. Butchvarov's task, then, is to develop a version of metaphysical antirealism that is free of anthropocentrism. A central question is whether the characteristic antirealist thesis that the world depends on us and our cognitive capacities can be upheld without 'us' being understood in an anthropocentric way. To answer this question is to resolve the Paradox of Antirealism (PA), a paradox that I would maintain is endemic to every form of transcendental philosophy from Kant, through Husserl and Heidegger, to Butchvarov:
PA: On the one hand, we cannot know the world as it is in itself, but only the world as it is for us, as it is “shaped by our cognitive faculties, our senses and our concepts.” (189) This Kantian insight implies a certain “humanization of metaphysics.” (7) On the other hand, knowable physical reality cannot depend for its existence or intelligibility on beings that are miniscule parts of this reality. The whole world of space-time-matter cannot depend on certain of its fauna. (7)
Some will reject the paradox by rejecting its first limb. But that would be to reject antirealism. It would be to dissolve the problem rather than solve it. Let's see if Butchvarov can solve the paradox while upholding antirealism. But what version of antirealism does Butchvarov espouse?
Butchvarov's Metaphysical Antirealism
Metaphysical antirealism is so-called to distinguish it from antirealism in ethics and in epistemology. It is the view that “The world insofar as it is knowable by us depends on our capacities and ways of knowing, our cognitive faculties.” (111) I would have liked to have seen a more careful unpacking of this thesis, but I take the point to be, or at least to imply, the substantive (non-tautological) proposition that the world is not intrinsically knowable as an Aristotelian realist would maintain but knowable only in virtue of certain contributions on our part. If this is not the point, then it is difficult to see how contemporary antirealism could be “the heir of Kant's transcendental idealism.” (189)
Metaphysical antirealism divides into cosmological antirealism and ontological antirealism. A cosmological antirealist denies the reality of the world, but needn't deny the reality of the things in the world. Note that 'world' has multiple meanings and that now we are distinguishing between the world as a sort of totality of what is and the world as the members of the totality.
Butchvarov takes his cue from proposition 1.1 of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus wherein Ludwig Wittgenstein stipulates that by 'world' he means the totality of facts (die Gesamtheit der Tatsachen), not of things (nicht der Dinge). Now if the world is the totality of facts, then one who denies the reality of facts denies the reality of the world, and is thereby a cosmological antirealist. (113) Such an antirealist need not be an ontological antirealist, i.e., one who denies the reality of things. Since Butchvarov does not question the reality of things (169), he is not an ontological metaphysical antirealist. He is a cosmological antirealist who advocates a form of logical antirealism according to which (i) “there are no logical objects even though logic is present in all thought” (114), and (ii) the “cognized world” depends on the logical expressions of our language rather than on our “mental faculties” as in Kant. (189)
At a first approximation, when Butchvarov says that there are no logical objects what he means is that the logical connectives, the quantifiers, the copula 'is,' and whole declarative sentences do not designate or refer to anything. In old-fashioned terminology, they are syncategorematic or synsemantic expressions. Consider the sentence, 'Tom is tall and Mary is short.' As I understand Butchvarov, he is maintaining that the sentence itself, both occurrences of 'is,' and the single occurrence of 'and' are all logical expressions while the proper names 'Tom' and 'Mary,' and the predicates 'tall' and 'short' are non-logical expressions. There are no logical objects corresponding to logical expressions. (This bald assertion needs be qualified in a separate post on semirealism. Butchvarov takes a semirealist line on facts, the logical objects corresponding to some sentences.) That there are no logical objects is perhaps obvious in the case of the propositional connectives. Few will say that 'and,' 'or,' and 'not' designate objects. The meaning of these words has nothing to do with reference. But while there are no logical objects, there can be no “cognized world” without language, or rather human languages. With this we are brought back to the Paradox of Antirealism. Even though the things in the world do not depend on human animals, the world itself does so depend inasmuch as there would be no world at all without language.
Consider the generic sentence, 'Men are taller than women.' For Butchvarov, many generic sentences are true, but there is nothing in the world that makes them true: they have no corresponding logical objects. And yet without truths like these, and other sorts of truths as well, there would be no world. In this sense, the world, but not the things in it, depends on language-users. Butchvarov's position is roughly similar to Kant's. Kant held that one can be both a transcendental idealist and an empirical realist. Butchvarov is like a transcendental idealist in that he holds that the world depends on language and thus on us; but he is like an empirical realist in that he holds that the things in the world do not depend on us. Like Kant, however, he faces a version of the Paradox of Antirealism: surely it is as absurd to maintain that the world depends on the existence of human animals as to maintain that the things in the world depend on human animals.
Butchvarov's Solution to the Antirealism Paradox
The solution involves a re-thinking of the role of the personal pronouns 'I' and 'we' as they function in philosophical as opposed to ordinary contexts. (See article referenced below.) The idea is that 'I' and 'we' as they figure in the realism-antirealism debate do not refer to anything in the world, and so they do not refer to human beings; these grammaticallypersonal pronouns refer impersonally to a view or "cognition" of the world, one that is not owned by any person or group of persons. This view of the world, however, just is the world. Therefore, the world does not depend logically or causally on the view of the world or on us: "the world and our cognition of it . . . are identical." (191) To grasp the thought here, you must realize that "cognition" is subjectless: it is not anyone's cognition.
Now let's dig into the details.
Butchvarov's theory can be divided into negative and positive theses. On the negative side, he claims that (i) "there is no such entity as the philosophical, metaphysical, self or ego." (191) Nor (ii) is there any such thing as consciousness as a property or activity of the metaphysical self, or as a relation (or quasi-relation) that connects such selves to their objects. (191) (ii) is a logical consequence of (i). For if there is no self, then it cannot have properties, stand in relations, or exercise activities. It also follows from (i) that (iii) there is no act-object distinction. Butchvarov would claim phenomenological support for the first and third claims: no self appears and no mental acts appear. Phenomenologically, he is right. But this doesn't decide the matter since there is also a 'dialectical' assumption at work, something like a Principle of Acquaintance:
Only that with which we are or can become acquainted, only that which can be directly experienced or singled out as an object, can be credited as real and as a possible subject of true and false predications.
This Principle of Acquaintance (my formulation) is a bridge principle that connects phenomenology to ontology, and makes of phenomenology more than a study of 'mere appearances.' It would therefore be fair to classify Butchvarov as a phenomenological ontologist along with Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre. As opposed to what? As opposed to what could be called a metaphysical ontologist who essays to peer behind the phenomenal scene into a realm of 'positive noumena' to use a Kantian phrase, where God and the soul count as positive noumena. Butch of course will have no truck with positive noumena, nor even with Kant's negative noumenon, the unknowable Ding an sich. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Butchvarov neither affirms nor denies the negative noumenon.
One sort of move that the Butchvarovian approach rules out is a transcendental inference from what is given to transcendental conditions of the given's givenness that cannot themselves be brought to givenness. Someone might say this:
Granted, the subject of experience does not itself appear as just one more object of experience. But this failure to appear is precisely what one ought to expect: for as a necessary condition of any object's appearing it cannot itself appear as an object. The fact that it does not and cannot appear is no argument against its existence. For it is precisely a transcendental condition of objectivity. Just as there must be an 'accusative of manifestation,' something that appears, there must also be a 'dative of manifestation,' an item to which an appearing object appears, but which does not itself appear.
To which Butchvarov might respond that this begs the question by its rejection of the Principle of Acquaintance. The principle disallows any posits that cannot be brought to givenness. No ego appears, and so there is no dative of manifestation. And since there is no ego, appearing is non-relational: it is a monadic feature of that which appears. Objects appear, but not to anything.
But of course this does not end the discussion since one can ask what validates the Principle of Acquaintance. Why should we accept it given that it cannot be brought to givenness? Hume claimed that all meaningful ideas derive from sensory impressions. But what about that (propositional) idea? Is it meaningful? Then which sensory impressions does it derive from? It appears that here we end in a stand-off.
Butchvarov's Sartrean position is opposed to the triadic Cartesian schema that Husserl presupposes:
Ego-cogito-cogitatum qua cogitatum.
For Butchvarov, there is no ego and there are no cogitationes; there are only the cogitata and their appearing. He speaks of objects and their "lightening" and "revealing." (205) He mentions Sartre by name but alludes to Heidegger as well for whom the world is not the totality of things or the totality of facts but the illuminated space wherein things appear.
For Butchvarov, then, the structure of consciousness is not triadic but dyadic: there is just consciousness and its objects. But it is impersonal: it is not anyone's consciousness. It is the sheer revelation of things, but not to anyone. Consciousness is exhausted in its revelation of objects: it has no inner nature. This is a radically externalist, anti-substantialist view of consciousness. Butchvarov is a Sartrean externalist about consciousness.
If this externalist view is correct then one can understand why Butchvarov thinks he has solved the Paradox of Antirealism. If consciousness is no-thing, then it is no thing upon which anything else can depend either logically or causally. The paradox arises if the things in the world are made dependent for their existence, nature, or intelligibility on any transient parts of the world such as human animals. The paradox vanishes if consciousness is no thing or things.
Toward a Critique
But wait a minute! What has now become of the first limb of the paradox? The first limb reads:
On the one hand, we cannot know the world as it is in itself, but only the world as it is for us, as it is “shaped by our cognitive faculties, our senses and our concepts.” (189)
Surely consciousness as no-thing, as a Sartrean wind blowing towards objects, as Mooreanly diaphanous, emanating from nowhere, without a nature of its own, not anchored in a Substantial Mind or in a society of substantial minds, or in animal organisms in nature, ever evacuating itself for the sake of the revelation of objects -- surely consciousness as having these properties cannot do any shaping or forming. It cannot engage in any activity. For it is not a substance. It is only in its revelation of what is other than it. All distinctions and all content fall on the side of the object: none come from consciousness itself. On a radically externalist, anti-substantialist view of consciousness/mind, it can't do anything such as impose categorial forms on the relatively chaotic sensory manifold.
Kant is the main man here as Butch well appreciates. Kant's thinking operates under the aegis of a form-matter scheme. Space and time are the a priori forms of sensibility, and the categories are the a priori forms of the understanding. These forms are imposed on the matter of sensation. The vehicle of this imposition is the transcendental unity of apperception. All of this is our doing, our transcendental doing, whatever exactly this means (which is part of the problem). Our making of the world is a transcendental making: it is not an immanent process within the world such as a literal making of something out of pre-given materials -- which would presuppose the world as the where-in of all such mundane makings and formings. Nor is this transcendental making a transcendent making by a transcendent deity.
Now who is it, exactly, who does the forming of the sensory manifold? Who imposes the categorial forms on the matter of sensation? It cannot be human animals or their brains. It cannot be anything in the world. Nor can it be anything out of the world either. And what, exactly, is this activity of forming? It cannot be an empirical process in the world. Not can it be a transcendent process such as divine creation. What then?
These problems are part and parcel of the Paradox of Antirealism. The paradox cannot get off the ground without the notions of forming, shaping, imposing, etc. whereas Butchvarov's solution to the paradox in terms of an impersonal, subjectless, non-substantial consciousness without a nature does away with all forming, shaping and imposing. Mind so conceived cannot impose forms since all forms, all distinctions, all content determinations are of the side of the object. How can Mind be spontaneous (a favorite Kantian word) and active if Mind is not a primary substance, an agent?
My suspicion, then, tentatively proffered, is that Butchvarov does not solve the Paradox of Antirealism; he dissolves it by in effect rejecting the first limb. It is clear to me how he removes anthropocentrism from metaphysics; what is not clear to me is hgow what is left over can still be called antirealism.
There is also the question of whether the philosophical uses of 'I' and 'we' that are essential to the formulation of the realism-antirealism debate are really impersonal uses. To that issue I will return in a later entry.
A tip of the hat to London Karl for bringing the following to my attention. Karl writes, "I love your country, but it gets more absurd by the day."
It does indeed. Contemporary liberals are engaged in a project of "willful enstupidation," to borrow a fine phrase from John Derbyshire. Every day there are multiple new examples, a tsunami of folderol most deserving of a Critique of POOR Reason.
Here is a little consideration that would of course escape the shallow pate of your typical emotion-driven liberal: If Kant's great works can be denigrated as products of their time, and as expressive of values different from present day values, then of course the same can be said a fortiori of the drivel and dreck that oozes from the mephitic orifices of contemporary liberals.
Immanuel Kant was born on this day in 1724. He died in 1804. My dissertation on Kant, which now lies 37 years in the past, is dated 22 April 1978. But if, per impossibile, my present self were Doktorvater to my self of 37 years ago, my doctoral thesis might not have been approved! As one's standards rise higher and higher with age and experience one becomes more and more reluctant to submit anything to evaluation let alone publication. One may scribble as before, and even more than before, but with less conviction that one's outpourings deserve being embalmed in printer's ink. (Herein lies a reason to blog.)
So finish the bloody thing now while you are young and cocky and energetic. Give yourself a year, say, do your absolute best and crank it out. Think of it as a union card. It might not get you a job but then it just might. Don't think of it as a magnum opus or you will never finish. Get it done by age 30 and before accepting a full-time appointment. And all of this before getting married. That, in my opinion, is the optimal order. Dissertation before 30, marriage after 30.
Now raise your glass with me in a toast to Manny on this, his 291st birthday. Sapere aude!
Robert Paul Wollf here replies with wit and lefty snark to a charming request by one Pamela N., a personal assistant, who wants to know who Immanuel Kant is referring to when he writes, "Caius is a man; man is mortal; therefore, Caius is mortal." Pamela confesses,
I will admit, I have not read Kant's works. I have, however, spent the last couple of hours combing through post after post after post about this particular quote from the book and cannot find a single soul who would say who they think Caius is.
In reading these many posts, I have come to the conclusion that Kant is probably referring to Pope Caius as he has been venerated by the Catholic Church as a Saint. Given that title, and the fact that Saint's [sic] are given to [sic] a quasi-immortal status [sic], I have ascertained that this is who Kant is most likely referring to. My question for you is, do you think that my assumption is correct? or do you have a deeper insight into who he is referring to?
Can Kant's ethical scheme accommodate the supererogatory?
If obligatory actions are those that one is duty-bound to perform, a supererogatory action is one that is above and beyond the call of duty. Michael A. Monsoor's throwing himself on a live grenade to save his Navy SEAL buddies is a paradigmatic example. But in a wide sense, a supererogatory act is any act, however trifling, that is in excess of what is morally required, any act that is morally good but the nonperformance of which is not morally bad.
One idea worth exploring is that there is room for supererogatory acts in Kant's scheme under the rubric of imperfect duties. Kant tells us that ". . . by a perfect duty I here understand a duty which permits no exception in the interest of inclination . . . ." (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, AA 421, fn) A perfect duty can be either towards oneself or towards another. Kant gives the prohibition of suicide as a perfect duty to oneself and the prohibition of deceitful promises as a perfect duty towards others. These are proscriptions that admit of no exception, and I take it that perfect duties are perfect in that they are exceptionless: in no circumstance may one take one's own life, and in no circumstance may one make a deceitful promise. If so, then imperfect duties are prescriptions that admit of exceptions. This interpretation fits the examples Kant gives (423-424). There is the duty to oneself of cultivating one's talents, and the duty to to others of benevolent assistance. Both of these duties are prescriptions and both admit of exceptions. My general duty to cultivate my talents is not a duty to cultivate all my talents, or even any particular talent. And the duty of benevolent assistance cannot be a duty to assist everyone. Paul Guyer's reading is similar:
In the Groundwork, Kant's principle of morality gives rise to a fourfold classification of duties, resulting from the intersection of two divisions: between duties to oneself and to others, and between perfect and imperfect duties. Perfect duties are proscriptions of specific kinds of actions, and violating them is morally blameworthy; imperfect duties are prescriptions of general ends, and fulfilling them by means of performing appropriate particular actions is praiseworthy. The four classes of duty are thus: perfect duties to oneself, such as the prohibition of suicide; perfect duties to others, such as the prohibition of deceitful promises; imperfect duties to oneself, such as the prescription to cultivate one's talents; and imperfect duties to others, such as the prescription of benevolence (4: 422-3, 429-30 ). It is straightforward what a perfect duty prohibits one from doing; it requires judgment to determine when and how the general ends prescribed by imperfect duties should be realized through particular actions.
Note that Guyer states that the fulfilling of imperfect duties is praiseworthy. Now it is the supererogatory that we praise: it is inappropriate to praise people for doing what they are obligated to do. How morally absurd to praise a pater familias for paying the rent and putting food on the table! That is what he is supposed to do, what he morally must do. The failure to do such is blameworthy, but the performance is merely required, hence not praiseworthy. Since the fulfilling of imperfect duties is praiseworthy, it seems we can conclude that in Kant the class of supererogatory acts either is or is a proper subclass of the class of imperfect duties.
Further support for this interpretation comes at Grundlegung 429-430 where Kant speaks of "necessary or obligatory duties to others" and a "contingent (meritorious) duty to oneself." In English, 'obligatory duty' smacks of pleonasm, but that might not be the case for Kant's schuldige Pflicht. If duties divide into the obligatory (schuldigen) and the meritorious (verdienstlichen), then we can say that Kant accommodates supererogatory acts under the rubric of imperfect or meritorious duties.
There is more to it than this, of course, and there is a technical literature on this topic only a small amount of which I have read; but I think I can safely say two things: (i) a case can be made for Kant's being able to accommodate the supererogatory, and (ii) Kantians are more hospitable to the supererogatory than are utilitarians.
For me, travel is disruptive
and desolating. A little desolation, however, is good for the soul, whose
tendency is to sink into complacency. Daheim, empfindet man nicht so sehr die
Unheimlichkeit des Seins. Travel knocks me out of my natural orbit, out of the familiar with its gauzy filters, into the strangeness of things. Even an
overnighter can have this effect. And then time is wasted getting back on track.
I am not cut out to be a vagabond. I Kant hack it. I do it more from duty than
from inclination. But I'm less homebound than the Sage of Koenigsberg.
More on travel in the Travel category in which you will find Emersonian and Pascalian reasons against it.
The Russian boys were lined up for beer; perhaps one of them couldn't wait his 'transcendental' turn and the other, forsaking duty for inclination, shot him categorically albeit phenomenally. Or maybe the shooter was attempting to demonstrate that the transcendentally ideal can also be empirically real. Or perhaps the shooter was a Randian hothead and the man shot was a Kantian.
This is what comes of ignoring 'motorist' Rodney King's rhetorical question, 'Kant we all just get along?'
For Ayn Rand and her followers, Kant is the devil incarnate. I don't dispute that Rand made some good points, but her tabloid outbursts anent the Sage of Koenigsberg aren't worth the hot air that powered them. Despite her frequent invocations of reason, her work would be a worthy target of a Critique of Poor Reason.
Again, show what? 'There are objects' is nonsense. One cannot say that there are objects. This is shown by the use of variables. But what is shown if not that there are objects? There, I've said it!
Ray Monk reports on a discussion between Wittgenstein and Russell. L. W. balked at Russell's 'There are at least three things in the world.' So Russell took a sheet of white paper and made three ink spots on it. 'There are three ink spots on this sheet.' L. W. refused to budge. He granted 'There are three ink spots on the sheet' but balked at the inference to 'There are at least three things in the world.'
W's perspective is broadly Kantian. The transcendental conditions of possible experience are not themselves objects of possible experience. They cannot be on pain of infinite regress. But he goes Kant one better: it is not just that the transcendental conditions cannot be experienced or known; they cannot be sensibly talked about. Among them is the world as the ultimate context of all experiencing and naming and predicating and counting. As transcendental, the world cannot be sensibly talked about as if it were just another thing in the world like the piece of paper with its three spots. And so, given that what cannot be said clearly cannot be said at all but must be passed over in silence, one cannot say that the world is such that it has at least three things it it. So W. balked and went silent when R. tried to get him to negotiate the above inference.
What goes for 'world' also goes for 'thing.' You can't count things. How many things on my desk? The question has no clear sense. It is not like asking how many pens are on my desk. So Wittgenstein is on to something. His nonsense is deep and important.
Theology cannot serve to explain the appearances of nature to us. In general it is not a correct use of reason to posit God as the ground of everything whose explanation is not evident to us. On the contrary, we must first gain insight into the laws of nature if we are to know and explain its operations. In general it is no use of reason and no explanation to say that something is due to God's omnipotence. This is lazy reason. . . .
As Kant remarks in a footnote to A 689 = B 717 of the Critique of Pure Reason, ignava ratio was the name given to a "sophistical argument" of the "ancient dialecticians," the so-called Lazy Argument.
Diligent reason attempts to account for all natural phenomena in natural terms. The role of God is accordingly attenuated. He becomes at most a sustaining cause of the existence of nature, but not a cause of anything that occurs within nature. See my earlier discussion of divine concurrence. The squeeze is on, and it is no surprise that Schopenhauer squeezes God right out of the picture by rejecting the very notion of causation of existence, as I explain in Schopenhauer on the Cosmological Argument.
This is relevant to my series on Plantinga's new book. The crucial question is whether there is any room for divine guidance of the evolutionary process.
1. An important distinction for understanding the doctrine of original sin is that between originating original sin (peccatum originale originans) and originated original sin (peccatum originale originatum). This post will explain the distinction and then consider Immanuel Kant's reasons for rejecting originated original sin. It is important to realize that Kant does accept something like original sin under the rubric 'radical evil,' a topic to be explored in subsequent posts. It is also important to realize that Kierkegaard's seminal thoughts about original sin as expressed in The Concept of Dread were influenced by Kant, and that Reinhold Niebuhr's influential treatment is in turn derivative from Kierkegaard.
2. So what's the distinction? According to the Genesis story, the Fall of Man was precipitated by specific sinful acts, acts of disobedience, by Adam and Eve. The sins of Adam and Eve were originating original sins. They were the first sins for the first human beings, but also the first sins for the human race. Their sin somehow got transmitted to their descendants inducing in them a state of sinfulness. The sinfulness of the descendants is originated original sin. This originated original sin is hereitary sin: it is inherited and innate for postlapsarians and so does not depend on any specific sin of a person who inherits it. Nevertheless it brings with it guilt and desert of punishment. Socrates, then, or any post-Adamic man, is guilty and deserving of punishment whether or not he commits any actual sins of his own. And so a man who was perfectly sinless in the sense that he committed no actual sin of his own would nonetheless stand condemned in virtue of what an earlier man had one. This doctrine has the consequence that an infant, who as an infant is of course innocent of any actual sin, and who dies unbaptized, is justly excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Such an infant, on Catholic doctrine at least, ends up in limbo, or to be precise, in limbus infantium. A cognate consequence is that a perfectly sinless adult who lives and dies before Christ's redemptive act is also excluded from heaven. Such a person lands in limbus patrum. (See here for the Catholic doctrine.)
3. The stumbling block is obvious: How can one justly be held morally accountable for what someone else has done or left undone? How can one be guilty and deserving of punishment without having committed any specific transgression? How can guilt be inherited? Aren't these moral absurdities? Aren't we morally distinct as persons, each responsible only for what he does and leaves undone? There might well be originating original sin, but how could there be originated original sin? It is worth noting that to reject originated original sin is not to reject originating original sin, or original sin as such. There could be a deep structural flaw in humans as humans, universal and unameliorable by human effort, which deserves the title 'original sin/sinfulness' without it being the case that sin is inheritable.
Again I revert to my distinction between the putative fact of our fallenness and the various theories about it. To refute a theory is not to refute a fact.
4. Kant rejects the Augustinian notion of inherited sin. Sinfulness, guilt, desert of punishment -- these cannot be inherited. So for Kant there is no originated original sin. Of the various explanations of the spread of moral evil through the members and generations of the human race, "the most inept is that which describes it as descending to us as an inheritance from our first parents." (Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, trs. Greene and Hudson, Harper 1960, p. 35) But this is not to say that Kant rejects the notion of original sin. He himself speaks of peccatum originarium, which he distinguishes from peccatum derivatum. (26) For Kant, original sin is a propensity in us toward moral evil which is universal and logically prior to specific immoral acts. I hope to say more about this in a subsequent post.
5. But what is Kant's argument against hereditary guilt and originated original sin? Kant as I read him accepts it as a fact that in all human beings there is radical moral evil, a peccatum originarium that lies deeper than, and makes possible, specific peccata derivata. What he objects to is the explanation of this fact in terms of a propagation of guilt from the original parents. The main point is that a temporal explanation in terms of antecedent causes cannot account for something for which we are morally responsible. If we are morally responsible, then we are free; but free actions cannot be explained in terms of temporally prior causes. For if an action is caused, it is necessitated, and what is necessitated by its causes cannot be free.
What is true of actions is true of moral character insofar as moral character is something for which one is morally responsible. Therefore our radically evil moral character which predisposes us to specific acts of wrongdoing cannot be explained in terms of temporally antececent causes. Hence it cannot be explained by any propagation of guilt from the original parents to us. Thus there is no originated guilt. Our being guilty must be viewed "as though the individual had fallen into it directly from a state of innocence." (36) Thus all actions which make us guilty are original employments of the will. All original sin is originating original sin.
Perhaps we can put it this way. Adam has nothing over Socrates. It is not as if Adam went directly from a state of innocence into a state of sin while Socrates inherited sinfulness and was never in a state of innocence. If there is such a thing as original sin then both are equally originative of it.
The Genesis account gives us a temporal representation of a logical and thus atemporal relationship. The state of innocence is set at the temporal beginning of humanity, and the fall from innocence is depicted as an event in time. But then we get the problems raised in #3 above. The mistake is to "look for an origin in time of a moral character for which we are to be held responsible . . . ." (38) We make this mistake because we want an explanation of the contingent existence of our radically evil moral predisposition. An explanation, however, is not to be had. The rational origin of the perversion of our will "remains inscrutable to us." (38)
6. Kant thus does accept something like original sin. We have within us a deep propensity to moral evil that makes us guilty and deserving of punishment. But there is no deterministic causal explanation for it. So while there is a sense in which our fallenness is innate, it is not inherited. For it is morally absurd to suppose that I could be guilty of being in a state that I am caused to be in. Each one of us is originally guilty but by a free atemporal choice. This makes the presence of the radical flaw in each of us inscrutable and inexplicable. The mystery of radical evil points us to the mystery of free will. On Kant's view, then, there is only originating original sin. Each of us by his own free noumenal agency plunges from innocence into guilt!
We shall have to continue these ruminations later. Some questions on the menu of rumination:
Q1. Is Kant's account with its appeal to atemporal noumenal agency really any better than Augustine's biological propagation account?
Q2. How can guilt be innate but not inherited, as Kant maintains?
Q3. Why believe in radical evil in the first place? If the evidence for it is empirical, how can such evidence show that radical evil is both universal (and thus inscribed in man's very nature) and ineradicable by human effort?
I am of the understanding that one of your post-graduate degrees focussed on Kant. With your knowledge of said philosopher I wonder if I might trouble you to answer a few questions for me?
These questions pertain to Kant's criticism's of the cosmological argument for God's existence. I know that this argument comes in three basic forms: Leibnizian, Thomistic, and Kalam. Did Kant direct criticism to all three versions? Brian Magee has stated, "The fact simply is that Kant has demolished the traditional 'proofs' of God." (Confessions of A Philosopher, p.198) Many other credentialed philosophers make similar claims. In your view, is Magee's strident assertion justified? Do any of Kant's criticism's of the cosmological argument still have force today, or are you of the opinion that the work of recent philosophers has blunted the arguments of the Prussian?
Of course, I don't expect you to provide any counter-arguments to Kant. I am merely curious as to your take on the questions I have asked and I am quite happy for your answer to be brief. Thank you for your time.
Dear Mr. Lewin,
Thank you for writing and for reminding me of that delightful book by Bryan Magee. Unfortunately, the sentence you quote I do not find on p. 198. But on p. 156, we read that Kant's philosophy ". . . demolishes many of the most important religious and theological claims . . . ." On the same page Magee bestows upon Kant the highest praise. He is "the supreme understander of the problem of human experience," "the supreme clarifier," and "the supreme liberator." For Magee, Manny is the man!
A little farther down on the same page we find your quotation: "The fact simply is that Kant has demolished the traditional 'proofs' of God."
You ask whether Magee's confident claim is justified. No, but first a comment on 'demolishes' as it occurs in the above quotations. Magee uses it in connection both with claims and with arguments. But to demolish a claim is not the same as to demolish an argument. Presumably, to demolish a claim such as the claim that God exists would be to show that it is obviously false because ruled out on broadly logical grounds, or else ruled out on the ground that it is inconsistent with some well-known empirical fact or set of empirical facts. Clearly, Kant does not demolish the claim that God exists in this sense of 'demolish.' Ditto for the claim that the soul is a simple substance. Nor is it his intention to demolish these claims. At most he shows them to be unknowable or unprovable. And he thinks that is a salutary thing to have shown. "I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith," Kant famously remarks in the preface to the 2nd edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (Bxxx). I suggest that Magee is being sloppy when he speaks of demolishing theological claims. He may be confusing 'show to be false' with 'show to be unknowable or unprovable.' I receommend a careful reading of the 1787 preface as a counterbalance to Magee's Kant interpretation as der Alles-Zermalmer, the all-pulverizer.
Now what would it be to demolish an argument? To demolish an argument is to expose a clear mistake in it such as a formal fallacy or a plainly false premise. I believe that Kant demolished the ontological argument "from mere concepts" which is essentially Descartes' Meditation V ontological argument. Kant did this by isolating a presupposition of the argument which is plainly false, namely, the proposition that some concepts are such that, by sheer analysis of their content, one can show that they are instantiated. Surely Kant is right that no concept, not even the concept of God, includes existence. Interestingly, Aquinas would agree with this.
But there are modal versions of the ontological argument that are immune to the Kantian critique. See my "Has the Ontological Argument Been Refuted?" Religious Studies 29 (1993), pp. 97-110. As for the cosmological argument, Kant thinks that it depends on the ontological argument and collapses with it. This is an intricate matter that I cannot go into now. If you are interested, see my article, "Does the Cosmological Argument Depend on the Ontological?" Faith and Philosophy, vol. 17, no. 4 (October 2000), pp. 441-458.
Another idea of Kant's is that there cannot be a First Cause because the category of causality has no cognitive employment beyond the realm of phenomena. Schopenhauer borrows this notion and pushes it for all its worth. Relevant here is my post, On the Very Idea of a Cause of Existence: Schopenhauer on the Cosmological Argument. But it cannot be said that either Kant or Schopenhauer demolished the cosmological argument because their critiques rest on their own questionable metaphysical systems.
And as you suggest above, there are Kalam and Thomist versions of the CA that Kant doesn't even consider. Kant's knowledge of the history of philosophy was meager and the metaphysics he criticized was that of the Wolffian school which derives from Leibniz.
Finally, I refer you to my article, "From Facts to God: An Onto-Cosmological Argument," International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 48 (2000), pp. 157-181.
For, "The bed is a nest for a whole flock of illnesses." (Immanuel Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, tr. Gregor, p. 183)
I read Kant and about Kant at an impressionable age, and it really is a pleasure plowing through his texts again as I have been doing recently. I suspect my early rising goes back to my having read, at age 20, that Kant was wont to retire at 10 PM and arise at 5 AM.
Soon enough, however, I was out-Kanting Kant with a 4 AM arisal from the bed of sloth. And when I moved out here to the Zone, 4 became 2:30. (A Zone Man must make an early start especially on outdoor activities before Old Sol gets too uppity.) I've tried 2 AM, the time the Trappist monks of Merton's day got up, but I couldn't hack it. 2:30 is early enough. (I don't know whether the Trappist regimen is as rigorous today as it was in the '40s and '50s, and I'm not sure I want to know.)
I'd meant to get back to a little point you'd made a few days ago.
You said this: "I think of creation as an ongoing 'process': God sustains the world in being moment by moment. But at each moment, the totality of what exists is completely determinate: for each individual x and for each property P, either x has P or x has the complement of P. I would say that all and only the complete exists. Creation is bestowal of existence. So if at time t God is sustaining the world in existence, and what exists is complete, it is hard to see how God could add anything to it. The world at t is complete; anything added to it would precipitate a contradiction."
I agree with everything you say, but it doesn't seem to me to rule out the possibility of an input of new energy into space-time. It would of course be a contradiction if God were to both sustain the world at a time such that no new energy was anywhere present and, by a special act of will, bring it about at that time that there was new energy. But the creation of new energy at a time need not entail this contradiction. Rather, if there's new energy at time t, its existence is part of the complete world-whole at t; and God does not, at up to and at t, sustain the world-whole such that no new energy is present. Completeness does not imply a lack of novelty. Rather all that it implies is that novelty, when it occurs, is part of the world-whole at the time of its introduction and thereafter.
The question concerning the possibility of miracles is connected to a wider question concerning the relation of secondary or natural causes and the causa prima, God. How do these two 'orders' of causation fit together?
1. One extreme position is occasionalism according to which all causal power is exercised by God. For the occasionalist, God is all-powerful not just in the sense that he can do all that is (broadly) logically possible, but also in the sense that he exercises all the power that gets exercised. For the occasionalist, God is the only genuine cause and all secondary causes are mere occasions for the exercise of divine power. Although I have defended occasionalism elsewhere ("Concurrentism or Occasionalism?" Am Cath Phil Quart, Summer 1996, 339-359), I will not be assuming its truth here.
Earlier posts uncovered epistemic as opposed to ontic conceptions of miracles in Augustine and in Spinoza; but Immanuel Kant too seems to favor an epistemic approach. "If one asks: What is to be understood by the word miracle? it may be explained . . . by saying that they are events in the world the operating laws of whose causes are, and must remain, absolutely unknown to us." (Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, Harper Torchbooks, p. 81) There is no talk here, as in Hume, of a miracle as involving a "transgression" of a law of nature. The idea is that in the case of miraculous events there are laws of nature operating but these laws are unknown to us. This seems to imply that the miraculousness of a miracle is an appearance relative to our ignorance. If we knew the laws, there would be no miracles.
What I said about Abraham and Isaac yesterday is so close to Kant's view of the matter that I could be accused of repackaging Kant's ideas without attribution. When I wrote the post, though, I had forgotten the Kant passage. So let me reproduce it now. It is from The Conflict of the Faculties (1798), the last book Kant published before his death in 1804 except for his lectures on anthropology:
. . . if God should really speak to man, man could still never know that it was God speaking. It is quite impossible for man to apprehend the infinite by his senses, distinguish it from sensible beings, and recognize it as such. But in some cases man can be sure that the voice he hears is not God's; for if the voice commands him to do something contrary to the moral law, then no matter how majestic the apparition may be, and no matter how it may seem to surpass the whole of nature, he must consider it an illusion. (115)
A footnote to this paragraph reads:
We can use, as an example, the myth of the sacrifice that Abraham was going to make by butchering and burning his only son at God's command (the poor child, without knowing it, even brought the wood for the fire). Abraham should have replied to this supposedly divine voice: "That I ought not kill my good son is quite certain. But that you, this apparition, are God — of that I am not certain, and never can be, not even is [read: if] this voice rings down to me from (visible) heaven." (115)
Here is what I wrote yesterday:
Which is more certain, that I should not kill my innocent son, or that God exists, has commanded me to kill my son, and that I must obey this command? That I must not kill my innocent son is a deliverance of our ordinary moral sense. But wouldn't a command from the supreme moral authority in the universe trump a deliverance of our ordinary moral sense? Presumably it would — but only if the putative divine command were truly a divine command. How would one know that it is?
Kant's argument, put as concisely as possible, is that:
1. It is certain that one ought not kill one's innocent son. 2. It is not certain that a seemingly divine command to kill one's innocent son is truly a divine command. Therefore 3. One ought to trust one's moral sense and not the putative divine revelation. Therefore 4. ". . . if it [a scriptural text] contains statements that contradict practical reason, it must be interpreted in the interests of practical reason." (65)
Whether or not one accepts this argument that I am attributing to Kant — you are invited to note that I cobbled it together from disparate passages — you must, if you are rational, see that there is a problem here, one that cannot be ignored, namely, the problem of adjudicating between putative personal and Biblical revelation, on the one hand, and (practical) reason on the other. Something has to give. My judgment is that Kant is right in the passage just quoted, and that our sense of the moral law trumps any contra-moral personal revelation (e.g. a voice commanding an immoral act) and also any Bible passage that seems to endorse the acquiescence in a personal revelation that commands an immoral act.
But why not the other way around? Why not say that the Bible passage trumps our sense of the moral law? The short answer is that our sense of the moral law has superior epistemic credentials. If we know anything about morality, we know that we ought not kill our innocent children. If we don't know that, then we don't know anything about morality. But a voice commanding one to kill an innocent child has no claim on our belief.
Infirm as reason is, it is yet a divine spark within us, an element in the imago Dei. Insofar forth, it is inviolable.
Immanuel Kant was born on this day in 1724. He died in 1804. My dissertation on Kant, which now lies 31 years in the past, is dated 22 April 1978. But if, per impossibile, my present self were Doktorvater to my self of 31 years ago, my doctoral thesis might not have been approved! As one's standards rise higher and higher with age and experience one becomes more and more reluctant to submit anything to evaluation let alone publication. One may scribble as before, and even more than before, but with less conviction that one's outpourings deserve being embalmed in printer's ink. (Herein lies a reason to blog.)
So finish the bloody thing now while you are young and cocky and energetic. Give yourself a year, say, do your absolute best and crank it out. Think of it as a union card. It might not get you a job but then it just might. Don't think of it as a magnum opus or you will never finish. Get it done by age 30 and before accepting a full-time appointment. And all of this before getting married. That, in my opinion, is the optimal order. Dissertation before 30, marriage after 30. Now raise your glass with me in a toast to Manny on this, his 285th birthday. Sapere aude!
As a prelude to forthcoming posts on hypocrisy as seen by Kant and Hegel, here is a Kantian hymn of praise to sincerity. From Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone (trs. Greene & Hudson), p. 178, n. 2:
O sincerity! Thou Astraea, that hast fled from earth to heaven, how mayst thou (the basis of conscience, and hence of all inner religion) be drawn down thence to us again? I can admit, though it is much to be deplored, that candor (in speaking the whole truth which one knows) is not to be found in human nature. But we must be able to demand sincerity (that all that one says be said with truthfulness), and indeed if there were in our nature no predisposition to sincerity, whose cultivation merely is neglected, the human race must needs be, in its own eyes, an object of the deepest contempt. Yet this sought for quality of mind is such that it is exposed to many temptations and entails many a sacrifice, and hence calls for moral strength, or virtue (which must be won); moreover it must be guarded and cultivated earlier than any other, because the opposed propensity is the hardest to extirpate if it has been allowed firmly to root itself. And if now we compare with the kind of instruction here recommended our usual mode of upbringing, especially in the matter of religion, or better, in doctrines of faith, where fidelity of memory in answering questions relating to these doctrines, without regard to the fidelity of the confession itself (which is never put to the test) is accepted as sufficient to make a believer of him who does not even understand what he declares to be holy, no longer shall we wonder at the lack of sincerity which produces nothing but inward hypocrites.