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BIGBANGSingh

Kant

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"I've heard Objectivists criticized for misinterpreting Kant, can anyone whose studied Kant comment on what the basis of these criticisms and on whether they have any merit?"

(Original inquiry has been rephrased thanks to GCS' suggestions.)

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I have not yet read Kant, so I can't answer your question. (I will be reading plenty of him next year, though.) But I have heard many people aside from Objectivists discuss Kant, and they generally share Ayn Rand's interpretation.

Dr. Peikoff does state in OPAR that Kant CLAIMED to be Aristotelian; indeed, I have heard some people argue that Kant merely explicated Aristotle's philosophy. It seems likely to me, however, that Kant and those who accept his claim misinterpret Aristotle.

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I have read most of the Critique of Pure Reason, and now the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. I have not yet run into anything that was contrary to what I've heard in Objectivist circles. But that's all I've read so far.

I wrote, as part of an answer to a written exam on the Critique, the standard criticism that Rand originated: Kant says we're deaf because we have ears, blind because we have eyes, etc. (I may not have put it in those exact words.) And I did not get marked down for this.

Hope that helps. If you want to know more about Kant [beware: shameless plug to follow], enroll in my course at the 2004 summer conference. Kant's is one of five ethical theories I will be covering in my 5-hour course.

(To the administrators: another emoticon that is very helpful is the "pimp" emoticon. This comes in handy whenever one wants to put in a shameless plug for something. For a whole bunch of fun smilies, see www.bimmerfest.org, and go to "forums.")

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Thanks for the tip! :D

Btw, I first went to my school's (Texas A&M) forum to see what they had, and was suprised to see the emoticon attached below. I think it's rather derogatory, but still interesting to see it...

post-8-1075001254_thumb.gif

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Cool, now I can pimp in style :pimp:

I guess you didn't like bimmerfest's "confused" emoticon, the one with the "palms" up, shrugging his shoulders? I think that one's cute, too. I see you picked up the :D, though!

Good work.

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I've studied Kant with a few professors, and it is they who misinterpret him. As Daniel said, most of them see him as basically Aristotelian. A cursory glance at Nichomachean Ethics on the one hand and Metaphysics of Morals on the other should make it obvious that this isn't the case.

I don't think I can convincingly reproduce the argument that Kant was Aristotelian. I'll say that those that I've encountered that are Kant-fans generally point me to Kant's "What Is the Enlightenment", and avoid all discussion of the transcendental deduction.

(And it is very interesting to note that, in accord with Amy's experiences, Kantians don't object to identity being the disqualifying element of consciousness--but object strongly to the notion of Kant being anti-reason.)

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In my experience, professors teaching from a modern perspective classify Kant as an Aristotelian, simply because they see the basic dichotomy in philosophy as being between objectivism/rationalism (and so the capital 'R' Rationalists get lumped in together in the same group as the more objective philosophers, such as Aristotle) and subjectivism/relativism. Professors teaching from a more historical perspective tend to draw a distinction between Rationalism and Empiricism, and place Kant as kind of a hybrid connecting the two schools and introducing the fully modern era of philosophy.

In any case, whenever I have presented an interpretation of Kant on some point from an Objectivist perspective, none of my professors have ever considered it to be a misinterpretation. But then again, many of them (being subjectivists) think that any interpretation is as good as any other, and refuse to judge between any of them anyway.

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The criticism that "Objectivists misinterpret Kant" is a case of context dropping. There is no Objectivist interpretation of Kant. There is nothing at all *distinctive* about Ayn Rand's or Leonard Peikoff's description of Kant's views except for their classification and assessment of these views. They both interpret Kant in the manner that it has been traditional to interpret him since at least the time of Hegel, and this is the interpretation that you will find in most history books. So even if one finds an error in this view, it drops the context to characterize it as Objectivists misinterpreting Kant.

It's become trendy recently to question the traditional reading of Kant (indeed it's become trendy to question the traditional readings of almost every historical philosopher), and to advance alternative readings. A handful of people noticed this, and noticed that the Objectivist critique of Kant is based on the standard interpretation, and they began prattling about Objectivists misinterpreting Kant.

Even if the traditional interpretation of Kant were wrong, it is more important to critique it than whatever he actually meant to say. It is the view that has long been attributed to Kant that has had a great (and horrific) historical influence.

In fact, I think that the new "alternative" readings are false. Kant writes confusingly and says contradictory things about several key issues in his philosophy (particularly about "things in themselves"). This opens the door to reading him in several different ways, but the traditional "two worlds" interpretation makes the most sense, if one considers their role in Kant's system as a whole (i.e. the integration between his epistemology and ethics).

Moreover, if one looks closely at the new, alternative readings of Kant (both in epistemology and in ethics) one sees that they just add a few wrinkles but in the end boil down to the same essential view. All the criticisms AR raises still apply, just in more subtle ways.

I don't have time to give the evidence for any of this, but I'll make a few suggestions of decent accessible secondary sources. The presentation of Kant in Jones' history of Philosophy is good and quite readable. It brings up some of the interpretive issues. The book "On Kant" in the Wadsworth Philosophers Series, is decent. It goes in for some of the new ways of interpreting Kant, but it explains the key elements of the interpretive controversy in farley accessible terms. It's worth comparing all of this to Dr. Peikoff's presentation of Kant in volume two of his History of Philosophy.

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Having said all that, I'd just like to note that there's something wrong and inappropriate about the initial question. BIGBANGSingh wrote "I have heard time and again that Objectivists misinterpret Kant. To those who have studied Kant, how true/false is this?" Consider this, alternative, question for comparison: "I've heard Objectivists criticized for misinterpreting Kant, can anyone who has studied Kant comment on what the basis of these criticisms and on whether they have any merit?"

The first way of putting it gives to much credence to what amounts to an arbitrary accusation against Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, et al. It is also, incidentally an accusation against a number of people *on this board*. Amy and I, for example, both teach Kant.

The claim that Objectivists misinterpret Kant is to assert a positive, and as such it requires evidence before its truth can even be considered. Now I assume BBS's situation is that he has heard the claim put forth without evidence and wants to know if there is anything to it. But he raises it here as though it had some cognitive standing, and that's a mistake.

When dealing with any claim, the first question to ask is about the standing of the claim. Is there evidence for this? Not: Is it true or false? This is an epistemological point, but like all epistemological points, it has moral import. By not following the proper procedure in an instance that involves evaluating people (as this one does), one is unjust. The form of the original question constituted a subtle (and I assume unintentional) insult.

But let's get back to the epistemology of the question. Asking the question he did prevents BBS from getting a satisfactory answer. Again consider the difference between my question and his. My question asks about the basis and merit of the criticisms. To answer it one would have to say something about what Objectivists say about Kant and why some people disagree with that and whether this disagreement is well founded. Those are the three ingredients to a useful assessment of the criticisms. But none of the posts (my own included) gave him *any* of this information.

By jumping ahead to the question of whether the criticisms are true, what kind of comments does BBS invite? Anecdotes about whether or not professors have objected to AR's reading of Kant, comments about why contemporary scholars classify Kant one way or another, etc. All of these responses have some value in a certain context, but I doubt that BBS can make much use of them or that they will help him resolve the issue. All he has now that he didn't have before is a pile of contradictory opinions (ours and the ones he heard before) about whether some unspecified objection to an unspecified interpretation of Kant holds up. The whole issue is necessarily floating.

Because it was the wrong question, it won't lead to successful cognition. By skipping the question about the *basis* of the criticism, BBS disconnected the discussion from the subject matter, and from any possibility of an answer.

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Um, wow

Looks like I should take a cue from my dog and get my hackles up more often, as opposed to jumping in and answering right away. Nice job, Greg.

Oh, and since you did a good job, I think you should go ahead and pimp for your conference course, too. Judging from your posts here, it's going to be a good one. :D

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Greg is always very thorough, in my experience. And we all could certainly take a cue from him in that regard.

What conference course is he teaching this year? I wish I could attend, but I'm going to have to miss the conference this time around. :D

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Ok, since Amy got a pimp icon instated just for this purpose, I guess it wouldn't be out of place to mention my course. :angry: It's going to be on Plato's philosophical system. The focus will be on the Meno, the Phaedo and the Republic and I'm going to stress the development of the system and its integration of around the metaphysical/epistemological theory of Forms.

Oh, and in case it's not clear from his last comment, BBS is a fellow Pittsburg resident, and he's an officer of the club at CMU, so I have the opportunity to brutalize him in person from time to time.

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