To RL and GP
Provisional remarks on Saturday 5 December 2020
After the ground-breaking work of Kant there was not much to do for philosophers. How to you follow on from Beethoven?
So attention turned to other matters, such as what was driving the history of the world (Hegel), or the distress of mankind (Schopenhauer). Where Schopenhauer spotted reproduction (as his successor Freud, sexuality) as a secretive driving force, another inheritor of Hegel sought the answer in economics (Karl Marx).
Then came the contemporary of Marx, Nietzsche, who for me, and in defiance of the contempt of most philosophers, stands head & shoulders above the rest.
In his late work N. came up with the idea of The Will to Power as a driving force. I believe this is best understood as being descriptive, but his denigrators (and, separately, those who abused his work for their own ends) thought that he was praising (the will to) power (the will to power not being quite the same as power itself).
The merit but also weakness of Nietzsche’s thesis is that Power might be expressed in all sorts of devious ways. Like sexuality, and maybe femininity. This was his accusation against Christianity, which he saw as exercising power by pretending that it was devoted to something else.
The Christians meanwhile were turning to Love, as better to promote than God. So God became Love.
PAUL objects that all these mono explanations must fail. They only work by assuming different kinds of power, or love, or capitalism, so they turn out to be somewhat empty.
This is where one can rejoice in dualism, which, at least, introduces an element of straight differentiation into the debate. For all the objections to Descartes, many will still wish to distinguish materialism from spirituality. True, these may form a continuum, but one can surely be more or less materialistic, from which it may be inferred conversely that a more spiritual approach to things might supplant Puritan materialism.
This said, we might suspect that dualism, too, has had its day.
There is another dualism, though: Good And Evil.
The peril here is Manichaeism, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, a heresy, despite which the Churches succomb to it periodically.
Not only the Church. Woke, too, sees everything in terms of Good and Evil.
Most wrongdoing and misfortune, tho, is not due to Evil, but to people naturally preferring self-interest, within bounds, and getting the bounds wrong. There is weakness of will, but also misjudgement of all manner of things. Regularly, people also get carried away with one obsession, such as accumulating wealth, or travel experiences, or sensory pleasures. Or praise (adulation?) even. Avarice, gluttony, hubris.
PAUL says that: There comes a point when the all-too-human (reference Nietzsche’s early book of this name) turns suddenly to evil, like the fresh milk going sour. There are mathematical equations (trajectories) that demonstrate this. Tipping points.
Nietzsche takes a different line. He distinguishes two dualisms: Good versus Evil, and Good versus Bad. The aristocratic spirit sees the world in terms of Good & Bad, whereas the slavish (Christian) spirit in terms of Good & Evil.
PAUL does not believe in God. At least, he does not pray to God, which has to be the litmus test of belief. PAUL does, however, sadly, think there is evidence for the existence of something akin to Satan. There are forces at work in the world which go beyond weakness of will, misjudgement, and all-too-human aberrations. As was observed in a bygone time: some people spend a lot of time devising ever more bizarre and cruel forms of torture. For them, it is not enough to kill their enemy. (Or the Other, or the disbeliever...). This gives them a sensation of Power.
My diagnosis is that mankind is suffering from Hubris.
The idea that when a deadly virus comes, it is the responsibility of Govt to make it undeadly. That when the sun grows hotter. it is the responsibility of Govt to stop earthly warming, rather than accomodating to what should be a welcome change. Not that Govt is much use at all the things it should be attending to, such as finance, taxation, criminal justice, etc. Grandstanding, tho, is great, and it is this that is Hubris.
This said, we do need to designate the Dark Forces behind the assault on common humanity. Some will be engaged only – only – in the reckless pursuit of profit. But others in this concatenation of interests imagine that they know best for the world and have taken on themselves to impose this solution, without presenting it for critical examination and in defiance of the basic human and children’s needs to see faces, breathe freely, hug & kiss, gather together. Not to mention the vaccines that may reaonsably be suspected of having a different agenda (culling, sterilisation).
I have no compunctions about calling these forces Evil. These people have refused dialogue, have suppressed inconvenient videos on the Internet, and now it is too late. We are at war. Füllmich has praised the US legal principle of Discovery, which says that, if vital information is suppressed, let alone misrepresented, that side in a dispute has lost.
KANT for RL
Kant spent his entire long life into the beginning of the nineteenth century in Königsberg, East Prussia.
His work is encapsulated (i) in the Critique of Pure Reason, which is about epistemology (theory of knowledge) and metaphysics. And (ii) in his work on Moral Philosophy. Not to dismiss (iii) his plea for international institutions to create world peace.
He is famous for his essay “What is Enlightenment?” in which he pleads for men to leave the ignorance and tutelage for which they alone are responsible. People have a duty to think for themselves, and not leave the thinking to priests, or experts, or their betters. Much quoted today in Germany.
PAUL was and continues to be much impressed by Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. In this enterprise, Kant was famously awoken from his slumbers by the British Empiricists, who imagined (a thought experiment) that we were blank slates and all knowledge could be constructed from experience.
Kant argued that we are hard-wired. For example, whenever possible we categorise things in terms of numbers – one, two, five, etc. (i.e. we count). We attribute causes to every effect. We see things in three dimensions. We recognise some creatures as being human beings, like us. With intentions. That is, with a concept of the future. Like time, which is another category.
Hence, the Kritik der Reinen Vernunft asks what we can know, and where the limits of knowledge lie. So there are some things we cannot know.
At the limits there are also paradoxes. I do not know if Kant refers to one paradox, which is central to my own thinking. It is that when we try to understand some past event we will come up with narratives explaining why it had to come about the way it did. But of course, there was no necessity. The challenge for the historian is not to attribute blame, but to see how, in their time, the actors could hardly have acted differently. But we do want to attribute blame (or praise). We blame ourselves be being cowardly, or lazy, or whatever, and sometimes we need to forgive ourselves for our failures. So we have two completely incompatible ways of thinking. Kant had a special word for these incompatibles, which I have forgotten (but so has everyone else).
Kant famously was impressed by the “Starry skies above and the Moral Law within.”
PAUL thinks Kant’s ingenious moral philosophy is a disaster. Kant. understands morality as the observance of self-made laws, and he imagines that this is freedom. It is freedom, he argues, because by following self-made laws one is not having one’s actions determined by extraneous things. If one is driven by desires, one cannot be free. (This idea is also found in Plato.) PAUL has an entirely different understanding of freedom, which will be somewhere on his Thinking website.
PAUL thinks there is something autistic in Kant. Famously, in Königsberg, which he never left, the workmen knew the exact time of day by observing him on his morning walk.
An action is moral, according to Kant, if it would be possible to make it a universal law for mankind. This is absurd, and it is possible to satirise the principle.
In contemporary German culture, Kant and his moral imperatives are referred to often, and uncritically.
Historically, his moral predecessors were legal thinkers.
Rescuing Kant‘s Moral Philosophy
Kant’s idea that morality consists, at some fundamental level, of devising laws which are universalisable (i.e. such that they could be laws for all mankind) is absurd. There is something autistic about this approach, it being a hallmark even of those suffering only from Asperger syndrome that they imagine everyone does, or should, play by the same rules they follow.
But it is also to confuse (public) law with (private) morality. Elsewhere I have adduced several reasons why law involves a different – a contradictory – logic to morality. Briefly, the law involves what can reasonably be generalised (univeralised) whereas morality involves what is specific to individual circumstance and context.
Nor to my knowledge does Kant provide a criterion to exclude obviously eccentric rules, such as taking one’s exercise at a particular time of day. Laws can be easily devised which have no moral substance, or at best an aesthetic one, but which are basically arbitrary. There might in clothing fashion be a rule, or tradition, about which colours go together, or which are masculine, which feminine, but this has nothing to do with morality, at best with convention.
Having said all this, I think Kant was onto something, it is just that his full lifetime was not enough for it to ripen.
Putting the laws of state aside, and bracketing out the informal and variable rules which govern good manners, morality has to be about finding one’s place in society. We cannot all occupy the same place, any more than we can occupy the same space.
This aspect also opens up a pathway on moral motivation. Serious discussion of motivation has long and even always been a glaring deficit of ethics as a philosophical tradition.
Whereas inventing universalisable laws is the task of politics – (some subject to retraction when their time is past) – the task of identifying some ground rules for one’s personal conduct, and so for one’s life design, is the proper sphere of ethics. How I should I live? What sort of life would I want to have lived? How can I best relate to other people, and this in awareness of their great variety?
(By the way: Every decade or so one should review the ground rules one will have semi-consciously adopted. One may have changed such that they are misplaced.)
The answer that, maybe, Kant was inching towards was identity. I do not know this. Kant wrote an enormous amount about ethics, and it is heavy going in an eighteenth century German idiom, quite different to the contempory language. So I have only read extracts, some repeatedly, but others a long time ago. Not that even then my eyesigh permitted reading volumes.
Finding one’s footing in life is a matter of assuming a specific identity. One might identify one’s strengths, and one’s weaknesses, in order to assume a role, or roles, where one can best flourish. Or contribute to the greater good.
An important part of life might be found in work. This will be less true where the work in mundane, does not require (even prohibits) reflection, or is tightly controlled by externalities. But it does, or should, hold true of a profession. A profession is not learned in a day or even a year. It involves application over an extended period and the accumulation of experience, ideally in collaboration with members of the preceding generation.
Each profession has an ideal, which is mostly in the background because it does, or should go, without saying. In medicine it is the promotion of health. In law, it is due process. In architecture it is the creation of buildings that are both functional and pleasing to use. (I imagine that the latter criterion does not apply to the design of prisons, but that is a special case.) Civil engineers aim to create good infrastructure. Translators are devoted to enabling communication between people of different language. And so on, also for novel professions, such as software developers.
Now, however one may behave in areas of life which are disconnected with one’s profession, there is an implicit requirement within the profession to work well. This will involve a commitment to truthfulness. A scientist or accountant who fiddles (i.e. falsifies) the data is being, at the least, untruthful. They are betraying their fiduciary duty. Normally this must be grounds for expulsion from the profession. But, independently of external sanctions (i.e. punishment), there is the element of self-respect. “I am not the sort of scientist, accountant or journalist who does that sort of thing.” – This is an assertion of one’s specific identity. Even – “I am not the sort of burglar or bank robber who does that sort of thing.”
Note that one assumes in a professional capacity a specific identity which is different to that which those in other professions adopt.
To be continued....
PCG, December 7, 2020