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Boydstun

New Anti-Kant

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New Anti-Kant

František Příhonský

S. Lapointe and C. Tolley, translators

 

The full title is New Anti-Kant, or Examination of the Critique of Pure Reason according to the Concepts Laid Down in Bolzano’s Theory of Science. This book was published in 1850. Its author was a student and friend of Bernard Bolzano.* New Anti-Kant and Bolzano’s Theory of Science (Wissenschaftslehre, 1837) came into full English translation only last year. Until I read these books and recent works of contemporary scholars concerning Bolzano’s philosophy, I had known of Bolzano only slightly, by the brief remarks of Frederick Copleston in A History of Philosophy; and I had known the name Bolzano-Weierstrass Theorem* from a text on Real Analysis I had studied decades past. In recent years, a critical edition of the entire body of Bolzano’s works has been underway, and his major works are being translated into French and English. Bernard Bolzano has, at last, become recognized as one of the great philosophers of the nineteenth century. Not great in influence. Great in vista.

 

My interest in Bolzano for my own book and philosophy caught fire when I noticed a certain closeness to Rand in his foundations of theoretical philosophy. I treat that logical kinship and its differences with Rand in my book. Of interest there is Bolzano’s conception of a general ground-consequence relation and its relations to deducibility and causality (and to Kant’s ground-consequence relation). I reform it for my own foundational work, closer to Rand’s. Of interest also for that project is Bolzano’s analysis, contra Kant, of the nature of concepts in relation to experience, the purely conceptual nature of pure mathematics, the nature of deduction, and the relations among logic, mathematics, and our empirical sciences. Logic and mathematics were known as science to Bolzano, and his monumental four-volume Theory of Science is importantly theory of logic in a broad sense.

 

New Anti-Kant was written by Příhonský in close collaboration with Bolzano in the last years of Bolzano’s life. It was published two years after Bolzano’s death. It is called New to distinguish it from an earlier, then-known (and inept) work titled Anti-Kant (1788*) and to indicate that the case against Kant’s first Critique in Příhonský’s book is a fresh one. New Anti-Kant did not receive much comment from scholars at the time. For me it is a help for further grasp of Bolzano’s views. In the present note, I’d like to mention some remarks of Příhonský concerning influence of Kant’s philosophy which resemble some views of Rand on Kant’s influence, a topic that will not fit in my own book. In his Preface, Příhonský pauses to forestall the impression one might get from the book’s title that he and Bolzano (not idealists of any stripe) thought Kant had done nothing good by his philosophic writings. Příhonský’s corrective to that possible presumption provides a window into how Kant was being viewed, and lauded, by some of his well-versed opponents as of 1850 in German lands. One laudation from Příhonský concerned ethics:

But Kant gained even greater merit, not just for philosophy alone but for humanity as a whole, in virtue of the fact that he supported ethics with a purer foundation and freed it from egoistic motivations. Before him, moralists for the most part paid homage to the principle of personal happiness [Selbstbeglückung], a principle as false as it is pernicious, which they not only sought to make valid in science but also to introduce into everyday life through popular writings. Now, it is easy to understand that men should have eagerly embraced and kept hold of a principle that so flattered their wishes, and it truly required Kant’s entire, weighty authority to wrest it away from them, and to convince them of its falsehood and its deleteriousness; a task in which the great man fully succeeded. (29–30)

 

Rand wrote in 1960 “Kant’s expressly stated purpose was to save the morality of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice. He knew that it could not survive without a mystic base—and what it had to be saved from was reason” (FNI).

 

The extent to which Kant was undermining reason in Rand’s meaning of the term needs to be detailed by consideration of how Kant had characterized perception and its relations to concepts and how he had characterized (partly affirming and partly limiting the) powers of understanding, reason, and judgment.* Where Rand wrote “expressly stated purpose,” she likely meant the Kant passage in the Introduction to the second edition of Critique of Pure Reason (KrV) at Bxxx about knowledge and faith.* She slides from faith to Judeo-Christian morality. That slide is not too wrong, considering what Kant did subsequently in moral theory. His is not altruism, to be sure. His is a partial self-sacrifice at base, but that sacrifice, so far as it is in the base, is not for the sake of others. His base shadows the First Commandment. Kant’s moral ideal entails of course only self-authored self-sacrifice.

 

In his early formal education at Königsberg’s Collegium Fredericianum (from age 8 to 16), Kant would have memorized Luther’s Small Catechism and studied the Large. He would know Luther’s explication of the First Commandment. In the Lutheran doctrine, God is the source of goodness in the world. Every good in the world—health, wealth, and family—are gifts from God. Every right gift one might give to another or receive from another, must be seen as a gift from God. It is more than a pleasing coincidence that the words Gott and Güte are so similar. God commands that one’s heart and mind be set first and foremost on God. He will bring good things, temporal and eternal, to people who follow this commandment, and he will bring woe to people who put other goods in first place, higher than God. To keep the true God in first place, one must have the right heart and head, the right faith. Luther: “Believe in Christ and do your duty.”

 

In his secular construction of morality, Kant would give to a good will the role Luther had given to a right faith. Kant wants to keep with individual necessary reward and penalty for individual condition of will, and he thinks he can find this necessary connection right here in the constitution of human will and reason. Beyond the sure sanctions for a good will is the hope of happiness in this life and hereafter.*

 

Contradicting what Příhonský would say later, Schopenhauer (1839) had indicated a number of ways in which Kant’s ethics profoundly favors egoism, which Schopenhauer took to be a demerit of Kant’s theory. How much of this contradiction is surface and how much substantial, I’ll leave open in this remark. But I should enter a caution about Příhonský’s characterization of the condition of German ethical theory at mid-century. In his criticisms of the portions of Critique of Pure Reason outlining Kant’s ethics, we read some encouraging metaethical tenets of Bolzano-Příhonský. When common sense “determines the good nature or wickedness of an action to be performed, it usually weighs the advantages and disadvantages that can reasonably be expected from it, i.e. its influence on the welfare of the living” (Příhonský 1850, 128). Moreover:

Whether we ought to cause or to refrain from causing certain changes in the inanimate world, this must only ever happen on account of the influence these changes have on the animate beings. Therefore which conduct is the ultimate ground of all moral duty and which is commanded by the highest moral law is to be found only amongst the effects on the animate beings. (130)

 

Those propositions combined with one conception of the nature of life give later in the century the moral theory of Jean Marie Guyau;*\* more recently, with another conception of life, the moral theory of Ayn Rand; and with yet another conception of life, the theory of Richard Kraut.* With Bolzano-Příhonský, we get a leap from those quoted propositions straight away to still another moral theory, again an anti-Kantian one: utilitarianism, which they rate excellent for its unselfishness. Many earlier thinkers, though not all, connected utilitarianism with conscious or unconscious psychological egoism (Windelband 1901, II.513–18). Příhonský’s picture of ethical egoism as a dead theory in his era in German lands might well be an exaggeration, an aim at death by reporting death, or it might be the true situation and the truth about Kant’s role in bringing it about. I speculate the truth is somewhere in between. Devotees of the subjective egoism of Max Stirner there may have been, quietly, secretly. Modest currents of egoism from Aristotle, from Judaism, Spinoza, and Heine, and from Christian personalism surely continued in the culture. But until the last decade or so of the century, until the entry of Nietzsche into the melieu, there was evidently no forthright ethical egoism (anti-ethical in some moments) publicly squaring off against Christian and Kantian self-sacrifice as moral virtue and gaining at least some popular following, if not academic following.

 

At the end of the nineteenth century, Wilhelm Windelband writes:

The compelling power which Kant’s philosophy gained over the minds and hearts of men was due chiefly to the earnestness and greatness of its ethical conception of the world; the progress of thought, however, attached itself primarily to the new form which had been given to the principles of the theory of knowledge in the Critique of the Pure Reason. (II.573)

 

Of Kant and his first Critique, Rand writes:

Kant originated the technique required to sell irrational notions to the men of a skeptical, cynical age who have formally rejected mysticism without grasping the rudiments of rationality. The technique is as follows: if you want to propagate an outrageously evil idea (based on traditionally accepted doctrines), your conclusion must be brazenly clear, but your proof unintelligible. Your proof must be so tangled a mess that it will paralyze a reader’s critical faculty—a mess of evasions, equivocations, obfuscations, circumlocutions, non sequiturs, endless sentences leading nowhere, irrelevant side issues, clauses, sub-clauses and sub-sub-clauses, a meticulously lengthy proving of the obvious, and big chunks of the arbitrary thrown in as self-evident, erudite references to sciences, to pseudo-sciences, to the never-to-be-sciences, to the untraceable and the unprovable—all of it resting on a zero: the absence of definitions. I offer in evidence the Critique of Pure Reason. (1973, 116–17)

 

That sounds to me like someone who actually opened the book and gave it a try. Which translation would that have been? The best at that time in English would have been the one by Norman Kemp Smith. That was the translation of KrV in my hands 1971–1997. The book became a step less opaque with the new translations (plus copious notes and ample index), by Werner Pluhar in 1996 and by Paul Guyer in 1998. When I first read Rand’s remark that KrV rests on no definitions, I was taken aback a little. Kant defines analytic, concepts, contingency, empirical, experience, faith, freedom, happiness, and on and on through the alphabet. He has incorrect views, in my assessment, of empirical and philosophical definitions and conceptual change, views at odds with Rand’s, although these views held by Kant were perhaps unknown to her. Kant writes: “To define, as the term itself yields, is in fact intended to mean no more than to exhibit a thing’s comprehensive concept originally within its bounds” (A727 B755). To that statement, he attaches a footnote:

Comprehensiveness means clarity and sufficiency of the characteristics; bounds means the precision whereby there are no more characteristics than belong to the comprehensive concept; and originally means that this determination of the bounds is not derived from somewhere else and thus still in need of a proof—which would render the supposed explication of the concept incapable of standing at the top of all judgments concerning an object. (ibid.)

 

In the case of empirical concepts, Kant argues that with the growth of knowledge of an object some characteristics in the object’s concept may need to be removed, or new characteristics may need to be added. Therefore, the concept is never securely bounded. For philosophical concepts, which Kant thinks of as a priori concepts, such as substance, cause, or right, he argues:

I can never be sure that the distinct presentation of a concept given to me (as still confused) has been developed comprehensively, unless I know that it is adequate to the object. However, the object’s concept, as it is given, may contain many obscure presentations that we pass over in dissecting the concept, although we always use them in applying it; and hence the comprehensiveness of my concept’s dissection is always doubtful, and can . . . be made only presumptively but never apodeictically certain. . . . Since, then, neither concepts given empirically nor concepts given a priori can be defined, there remain no concepts on which to try this artistic feat of definition except concepts thought by choice. In such a case I can indeed always define my concept; for I must surely know what I wanted to think—since I myself deliberately made the concept and it was not given to me through the nature of my understanding, nor through experience. But I cannot say that I have thereby defined a true object. . . . I do not even know whether it has an object at all, and my explication of the concept may better be called a declaration (of my project) than a definition of an object. . . . (A728–29 B756–57)
In philosophy one must not imitate mathematics by starting from a definition—except perhaps as a mere attempt. . . . In a word, in philosophy the definition, as involving rigorous distinctness, must conclude rather than begin the work. (A730–31 B758–59)

 

Příhonský has important criticism of those views of Kant, starting with Kant’s notion of a priori concepts as independent of all experience (24–25). I’ll close with a lamentation of Příhonský over the effect of this section of KrV on German philosophy to the middle of the nineteenth century.

In our opinion, the damage our philosopher has wrought and still continues to wreak in the domain of philosophy through the claims of which he has made himself guilty in this section is incalculably great. For even those who did not take up anything else still enthusiastically adopted and maintained the claim that in philosophical investigations, nothing can be exactly defined, nothing can be rigorously demonstrated. And from then on it became common custom—(Kant himself certainly cannot have wanted this to happen)—in German philosophy, the one science which requires the most careful determination of its concepts and the most circumspect proofs, with a constant consideration of all the false grounds that stand against it; and from then on, it became common to mock these procedures as pedantry, to burden the reader with the task of guessing from the mere context of discourse and without having been provided with any proper agreement on their meaning, which concepts one connects with one’s expressions, which reasons have prompted one to make one’s claims, and which reasons one could still advance for them. (167)

 

References

Bolzano, B. 1837. Theory of Science. P. Rusnock and R. George, translators. 2014. New York: Oxford University Press.

 

Copleston, F. A History of Philosophy. Vol. 7, Pt. 2. Garden City: Image.

 

Kant, I. 1781, 1787. Critique of Pure Reason. W. S. Pluhar, translator. 1996. Indianapolis: Hackett.

 

Příhonský, F. 1850. New Anti-Kant. S. Lapointe and C. Tolley, translators. 2014. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

 

Rand, A. 1960. For the New Intellectual. In collection by that title. New York: Signet.

——. 1973. Untitled Letter. In Philosophy: Who Needs It? 1982. New York: Signet.

 

Windelband, W. 1901. A History of Philosophy. Expanded edition. New York: Harper.

softwareNerd likes this

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Great stuff, Stephen. I've thought a lot about this myself. If you aren't familiar with it, Alberto Coffa's To the Vienna Station is an extremely useful historical overview of the narrative arc Bolzano is a part of. 

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"The extent to which Kant was undermining reason in Rand’s meaning of the term..."

Uh, well, yes, because Rand's notion of reason is pre-Kantian, referring back to some form or another of Lockean direct realism. Modern research psi supports Kant's insight that 'direct' is really 'naive'. So you people really need to get with the program and quit practicing 17th century science.

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1 hour ago, Guest James Cunningham said:

"The extent to which Kant was undermining reason in Rand’s meaning of the term..."

Uh, well, yes, because Rand's notion of reason is pre-Kantian, referring back to some form or another of Lockean direct realism. Modern research psi supports Kant's insight that 'direct' is really 'naive'. So you people really need to get with the program and quit practicing 17th century science.


Lol

 

Eiuol likes this

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.

"you people" <--- laziness on your part, Mr. Cunningham. There is no such monolithic thinking at this site.

Rand's meaning of reason was express, and that was "the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the human senses." In case you have some no-sloth interest in that concept of reason: this

My take on contemporary direct perceptual realism: A. D. Smith 

Contemporary direct perceptual realism from an Objectivist perspective: David Kelley 

Edited by Boydstun

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