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Guest Alan

Where is this Kantian corruption?

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Guest Alan

One thing I have not been able to understand is Ayn Rands hatred of Immanuel Kant. I don't agree with Kants philosophy but she seems to exagerate his entire philosophical premise. Especially that no one can know reality, Kant never said this he only said that man may not be able to know all of reality. Another thing that I've heard talked about is Kantian philosophy corrupting the world, how and in what form is it in?

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Kan'ts division of reality into two different worlds--one "phenomenal" and the other "noumenal"--is only one his mind-destructive fallacies. The concept of a "noumenal" world, reality as it appears in itself independent of perception, is a contradiction in terms because a thing cannot "appear" without something to perceive it. To appear is to be perceived. There is no such thing as a "noumenal" world. There is only one reality--the reality that we perceive.

His atrocious morality of "categorical imperatives" is a morality of absolute and total selflessness. And if you've read what Ayn Rand had to say about selflessness, then you know how it is corrupting the world.

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Guest Alan

But Kant is not the only one to uphold selflessness. He's not even the only famous philosopher to uphold it. So my questions are why Kant? And is there proof that it is his philosophy that is corrupting the world, and not just the belief of selflessness as a virtue?

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Here is a link to an op-ed that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal by conservative intellectual Dinesh D'Souza: Not So 'Bright'; Atheists aren't as rational as they think (posted on HBL).

Read that for an explicit example of the Kantian influence in our culture. (Then read the reader responses to his article, most of which are also Kantian--those who explicitly praise Kant, those who state that they've never heard of him, and even, to some extent, some of those that recommend Rand as a counter to Kant.) It is obvious that this influence is everywhere, except that most people don't know or explicitly identify its source.

Now, if you take ideas seriously, it cannot escape your notice that ideas such as the ones espoused in this article (and more so and originally by Kant himself in his own writings) are an insidious attack on reason, reality, and man's life. This form of unreason is responsible for every evil in the world.

Have other philosophers espoused similarly wrong ideas? Of course. But Kant was the culmination of such ideas, he was the one who did the most to dress them up as "rational," and he is the one who, in particular, has had the most influence on Western thought and culture extending through to today. The majority of the evils occuring in today's world can be traced directly back to Kantian ideology. As an example, take Bush's hesitant foreign policy. He flip-flops back and forth, lacking the moral courage to commit to the right ideas--because he has accepted the Kantian notion that we can't have certainty about everything (or actually, anything).

I suggest studying more seriously the connection between philosophy and history. You will find that certain ideas have shaped the course of whole cultures, and Kant has been by far the biggest and the worst influence in Western civilization for the past two centuries. If it weren't for his "rational" attack on reason coming when it did, proclaiming the "fallacy of the Enlightenment," the Enlightenment would have continued to progress in the culture and we would be living in a much more consistently rational society today--instead of regressing as we have for more than a century now.

Edited by AshRyan

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Guest Grantsinmypants

Alan,

You're right that Kant is not the only philosopher to uphold selflessness, nor is he the most famous. I would say that the most famous is Karl Marx. But Ayn Rand says that Kant laid the foundation for Hegel's ideas, and Hegel laid the foundation for Marx's ideas. Or was that Ayn Rand 2 (Peikoff). Whatever.

I guess that those observations mostly relate to what those three had to say about ethics. I don't know enough about Kantian, Hegelian, or Marxist ethics to tell you exactly what is wrong about it. I do know the main points. Tom has already elaborated upon them. I think that the only differences between Kant, Hegel, and Marx is not whether or not they treat ethics as a duty, but to whom that duty lies.

I do know that out of those three, Kant had the most to say about metaphysics. And I recall that the metaphysical beliefs of Hegel and Marx have alot of similarities with Kant's. With that in mind, I'd say that one would have to accept of certain amount of Kantian philosophy in order to accept things like selflessness and communism (beliefs derived from the notion of ethical duties and the philosophies of Hegel and Marx, among others). And I think it'd be fair to say that selflessness, or at least the lack of a popular defense of selfishness, is a major underlying factor in political and economic policy making.

Grant Williams

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One thing I have not been able to understand is Ayn Rands hatred of Immanuel Kant.  I don't agree with Kants philosophy but she seems to exagerate his entire philosophical premise.

Oh, and regarding this statement, what Rand actually did was reduce Kantian philosophy to its essentials. (Which you have to do when commenting on Kant, because it's pointless to try to quote him and let him speak for himself since his writing style is--not coincidentally--so convoluted.)

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In Rand's opinion, Kant was definitely not the first philosoper to advocate selflessness, but he was the first to completely sever values from morality. (In fact, she thought this was just one of many symptoms of a single larger problem: that he was the first to utterly sever man's mind from reality.) I've read the Prolegomena, and I can see why she would think that. There's one part where, depending on how you read it, he could be taken to be saying, basically, that an act only has moral import if a person gains nothing from performing it.

Here's Kant's argument, on this reading. An act is only moral if it is undertaken because of a duty -- i.e., you realize that you are morally required to do something, and that's your reason for doing it. Acts undertaken for personal gain aren't necessarily immoral, but if that's your only reason for doing something, Kant doesn't think it's by that fact either moral or immoral. So the problem comes up: if somebody does something which is in accordance with a duty, *and* which he gains by, how can you tell if he did it because of the duty or because of what he expected to gain? Kant thinks, further, that the same can apply to your own actions: if you are going to gain from an action which falls within one of the duties, you yourself can't tell which is your reason for doing it, and so you can't know if you're acting morally. Now, of course, the point of having a moral code is to try to act morally. So, if all this is true, the only way that you could be certain that you were acting morally would be to only undertake those dutiful actions which you did *not* want to do -- and to cultivate dislike for those dutiful actions which you *did* want to do, so as to be sure that you were doing them solely because of the duty. In practice, this would mean: if you have a duty to preserve your own life (which Kant thinks you do, since it's a prerequisite for other moral activities), you'd have to despise living, or to learn to despise living -- otherwise, you wouldn't know if you were doing it selfishly or because of your duty. Run through the list like this, and you'll see how utterly corrupt it would be.

However, a lot of people don't think this is what Kant meant. (It was a very common interpretation in the past, and would probably have been the only one taught when Rand was in school.) For the record, I don't have a fully formed opinion on what Kant thought here. I've only read the Prolegamena, and I didn't think it was clear what Kant was getting at there. He might only have been saying that you couldn't always know for sure why you were undertaking an action, so the test of a person's morality is what they do in situations where reason is opposed to desire: do they follow their desires, or do they follow their reason? (Remember, he doesn't have the same conception of reason as Rand, either, though.) If that's the case, his philosophy isn't necessarily as bad as Rand thought. But -- Rand's interpretation is definitely plausible, and might be supported in Kant's other books. And if she was right, he *was* as bad as she made him out to be.

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Matt,

Two points about your post. First, I think if you provide some actual quotes from Kant's ethical writings, you will find that your "interpretation" is pretty much just a restatement. As such, it's hard to see how this could be a mistaken interpretation of Kant. In other words, yes, he meant it.

Second, even if the interpretation is mistaken (i.e., if Kant didn't really mean it), as you pointed out, it has been the prevalent interpretation for a long time. Therefore, it is that interpretation of Kant that has in fact been the historically influential one. And who is responsible for this mistaken interpretation, if not Kant? After all, his writings are so unclear that the few clear statements he makes do lead one to this interpretation.

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Andrew,

It's not really a restatement, because he never drew the conclusion that you had to cultivate dislike for values in order to be moral. I had read Rand's stuff about Kant before I read Kant, and was prepared to utterly hate him. I saw plenty of bad stuff in Prolegamena, but nothing that would make him the worst ever. (On the other hand, I think Rand's fundamental problem with him was epistemological, anyway, so maybe this was a secondary issue to begin with.) Now, to be clear, I don't think there's anything *good* about his ethics. They're really bad, no matter how you cut it. The way he puts it, at least in the Prolegamena (which is not the bulk of his ethical theory, though it is the most widely-read), it could be taken either way. The other way of reading it, he's basically just saying that you should go with reason instead of emotion -- and if you're doing the right thing, but for purely emotional reasons, it doesn't say anything in favor of your character. I don't think that's something Rand would disagree with, in itself. If that's what he meant, it's more just the specific ethical principles he espouses which are objectionable, which would make him no particularly worse ethically than most philosophers in history.

As for the last point, yes, Kant certainly takes some blame for being unclear. Even people who love Kant usually hate reading him, and I've heard of German students reading the English translations because the original is *worse*. But, at least from what I've read, I *don't* think it's that clear what he meant. Certainly he left the door open for bad interpretations. (Though, again, I have no idea what he wrote elsewhere.) One thing that makes me hesitant to lay the blame on him is that I have absolutely NO doubt that Hegel was utterly corrupt and evil, and he was one of the most influential followers of Kant.

If you want to give me a reference for where Kant is crystal-clear about the conclusion Rand thinks he draws, whether in the Prolegamena or elsewhere, I'd love to take a look at it.

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Matt,

I think you're right that Rand's biggest problem with Kant was definitely in his metaphysics/epistemology. However, I think she also regarded his ethics as evil, and justifiably so.

I should also add here that my first exposure to Kant was somewhat an opposite experience for me as it was for you. I didn't think that he would actually be that bad, and I found him to be much, much worse than I was expecting.

Unfortunately, I don't have a Kant text here to look up quotes to support my interpretation of Kant, but I can draw a few things from a short critique of his ethics I had to write for an Ethics course last year. I will reduce that critique to a few main points and modify it for the purposes of this discussion. (I will also provide the bibliographical information from the paper so that you can follow up on some of my claims and verify them if you'd like.)

Firstly, the foundation of morality for Kant is "duty." In fact, for an action "to have moral worth [it] must be done from duty" (Kant 192). And strictly so; if there are any other motives to perform a duty, including a natural inclination to do so, it is not a morally good action (Kant 180). Thus, what morality demands must be directly opposed to your own desires, or (on the best possible interpretation) you must be completely indifferent to it. Duties are what Kant calls "subjective maxims" which can be derived from the "objective" categorical imperative. Morally good people, or those who have what Kant calls a "Good Will," are those whose actions are motivated purely by duty or "respect for the law" (Kant 182) (the law here no doubt meaning not a political legal system, but rather the categorical imperative and the maxims derived from it).

Kant explicitly states that any action tainted by any selfish motive is not a moral action. He states that "it is a duty to maintain one's life," but that one is only truly acting morally by acting in accordance with that duty if they do not want to live (Kant 180). The best possible interpretation one could come up with for this is that people who do act from self-interest at all are at best a-moral. But even if this is all Kant means and doesn't explicitly condemn selfishly motivated actions as immoral, those who desire good--those who see the practicality of following objective ethical principles and wish to do so for their own happiness or any other reason whatsoever--according to Kant do not have a Good Will and are not good people. Never has fact been more completely severed from value. Kant has effectively turned morality upside down and made it impossible to live morally.

Secondly, Kant's categorical imperative and maxims do not help to determine a rational system of ethics to guide people's lives; they just confuse matters even more, because they are context-less. This leads them to conflict with one another almost always, and of necessity in real life. As Mill pointed out, "When he begins to deduce from this precept any of the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct." While it is a duty to preserve one's life, Kant also says that it is a duty to sacrifice one's own life for the sake of another if they are in danger. One cannot do both (and this is only one of countless examples). Kant provides no wider principle by which to sort out ethical conflicts of this sort. The categorical imperative, as a wider principle, is only good for deriving those sorts of narrow, context-less, mutually contradictory maxims. An objectively correct system of ethics would have to provide a consistent system capable of guiding one's actions in any given context; Kant's system is the antithesis of this.

Thirdly, as you mentioned in your last post, this whole thing is put over under the guise of "reason." Since we can't actually perceive objective reality, according to Kant, whatever he is advocating, it isn't reason. Do not make the mistake of thinking that Kant is pro-reason. Many have done so, and this leads them to believe that reason goes against their self-interest.

So, take a context-less, useless system of ethics and say it must be followed out of disinterested duty, let it filter down through the culture for a couple hundred years, and suddenly everybody thinks of morality as in conflict with practicality, i.e., in conflict with their life. Thus, accepting these false premises, most people either abandon morality completely and decide that the best way to live their life is by their own subjective whims, or accept morality and consign themselves to a Mother Theresa type lifestyle, or continually compromise on the code of morality they've accepted and consign themselves to a life of unearned guilt. One of those three approaches to morality describes the vast majority of people today, and it can generally be traced directly back to the Kantian influence.

In short, I think Ayn Rand was completely correct in condemning Kant as one of the most evil men in history.

(Incidentally, all this follows directly from Kant's metaphysics/epistemology. Since in the fundamental branches, Kant severs the object of perception (existence) from the subject, a mind/body dichotomy flows through his whole philosophy, leading to the severance of fact from value and morality from practicality. I think Ayn Rand viewed Kant's philosophy as an integrated system, and rejected it all together, not just some particular branch of it.)

(Kant, Immanuel. "Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals." Ethics, Classical Western Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Ed. James P. Sterba. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000. 179–193.)

Edited by AshRyan

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I was talking to somebody on a message board and somehow the conversation turned to morality and he comes out with this statement.

If you believe in religion, which, personally, i do, but there is a way to figure out independently of religion. Try Kant's categorical imperative, for example. Always treat people as ends, never as means. And test the universality of a moral rule. For example, say you want to legalize slavery. Would it be moral for everyone to own slaves? No, because someone would have to be a slave, and wouldn't be able to own slaves themselves. That shows that this rule cannot be applied to everyone and is thus immoral.

what is the Ayn Rands argument against kants universality of a moral rule?

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what is the Ayn Rands argument against kants universality of a moral rule?

See "Kant and Self Sacrifice" by Leonard Peikoff in The Objectivist September, 1971 and "The Ethics of Evil" Chapter 4 in The Ominous Parallels. There is also a nice discussion in Miss Rand's letter to Hospers dated April 29, 1961 in The Letters of Ayn Rand

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A few people have mentioned kant's comparative worth as a philosopher previously in this thread, and i think this is an important distinction to make. Kant is not the worst philosopher of all time. His ideas are convoluted, and because he causes an a priori/postori dualism he ends up with ideas that are metaphysically unfounded. We know he was wrong. But as its been stated previously many philosophers were more wrong, Marx for example. And some are so incorrect they become obscure (who is Hugo Grotius?) But Kant's worthlessness is not in his ability to philosophize, it lies in his ability to decieve. Kant has influenced a subjectivist movement that so permeates our society it makes you sick. People actually believe that truth is in themselves; that it is a priori and although these may not be ideas directly from the mouth of Kant, they are dripping with his influence. Lies are only dnagerous if someone is foolish enough to take them for truth, and this is what has happened in the case of Kant.

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Kant is not the worst philosopher of all time.

Who do you propose to be worse than Kant? People can read The Ominous Parallels or "From the Horse's Mouth" in The Ayn Rand Letter (Vol. IV, No. 1 Oct. 1975) if they want to learn more about Objectivism's evaluation of Kant.

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I have not read any Kant, but I have read stuff about him, (from Ayn Rand) I do not understand how he can say we don't exist, but God does. Does this lie in his nouminal and phenominal worlds? Can someone give a quick answer, or should I just wait until I can get around to reading Kant?

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It's still hard to believe people are so ridiculous. What kind of universe would be so illogical in nature as to have a system where a man is to exist without being able to fully rely on the only senses he has.

There was one sentence in there that is such a blatant contradiction I was amazed the writer could even have written it. "The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that there is only one limit to what human beings can know, and that limit is reality itself."

If it is beyond reality then what the hell is it? non reality. not real. non-existent. Absolute insanity.

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It's still hard to believe people are so ridiculous. [...]

There was one sentence in there [...] "The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that there is only one limit to what human beings can know, and that limit is reality itself."

Which people do you think are ridiculous?

When you say "one sentence in there," to what are you referring? What is "there"?

Where did the sentence you quoted appear? What book, and which author?

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Where did the sentence you quoted appear? What book, and which author?

I just read it myself, so I can answer that. BreathofLife's quote was taken from the op-ed link that was posted by AshRyan above as an example of Kant's influence on our culture. It was a simplistic pro-Kant opinion essay from the Wall Street Journal online op-ed web site.

I agree that it's pretty dumb stuff. The author of that essay is seriously at risk of running into "walls-in-themselves" at their home because they "cannot be apprehended by our five senses" (Note to self: detect true Kantians by the fact that they always have a box of bandages handy...).

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