1. What did Kant do every day with such predictable regularity that his neighbors were said to have set their watches by it?
2. What are space and time, for Kant, if not concepts?
3. What famous phrase did Kant introduce in his Metaphysic of Morals to distinguish his view from utilitarianism?
4. Who was the Galileo and Newton of the 19th century?
5. What did Hegel consider unreal or illusory?
6. What does Russell say freedom meant for Hegel?
7. What concerns did Kant share with Nietzsche?
8. What impresses Gros about Kant?
- How would you define "time" and "space"? Do they exist independently of us, or of any and all sentient beings?
- What makes right actions right? If you do the right thing, does it matter why you did it?
- Is everything ultimately connected with everything else? Or do things stand more-or-less loosely together (and apart)?
- If you voluntarily follow a rule or law, is that a free act? Or is it compelled?
- Are reading, writing, and eating important to you? Why?
- Do you practice any form of daily discipline that helps you accomplish your goals in a slow and steady way?
[Note: we'll get to Schopenhauer & Bentham soon]
(More Hegel quotes below*)
3. Stern says Hegel's philosophy is ______ (similar to, different from) Mill's in its emphasis on progress, optimism, and freedom of speech.
5. Schopenhauer called the "deeper reality beyond the world of appearances" ___.
BONUS: Who thought he might better understand Hegel if he first ingested nitrous oxide before reading The Phenomenology of Spirit?
BONUS+: Was Schopenhauer an ascetic?
4. What do you think of Schopenhauer's belief that everyday life ("the human situation") is a meaningless cycle of will, striving, and unfulfilled desire? Is a blind, purposeless, voracious Will really the ultimate reality of our existence? What do you think of the idea that art and music are our salvation? LH 135
HE has short hair and a long brown beard. He is wearing a three-piece suit. One imagines him slumped over his desk, giggling helplessly. Pushed to one side is an apparatus out of a junior-high science experiment: a beaker containing some ammonium nitrate, a few inches of tubing, a cloth bag. Under one hand is a piece of paper, on which he has written, "That sounds like nonsense but it is pure on sense!" He giggles a little more. The writing trails away. He holds his forehead in both hands. He is stoned. He is William James, the American psychologist and philosopher. And for the first time he feels that he is understanding religious mysticism... (from "The Nitrous Oxide Philosopher"... "The Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide"... Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit)
But despite the density and difficulty of his prose style, "friend Hegel" had a fairly straightforward message:
To the degree that we are thinking beings, Hegel says, we have to consider ourselves as part of a larger whole and not as neatly individuated. He calls this mental whole Geist, or Spirit, [or Absolute Reason,] and tries to work out the rules by which it develops through time… Robert Prowse
Hegel thinks that one important movement in history is the movement from thinking that just one of us is entitled to freedom (a king, say) to some (the patricians of ancient Athens, say) to all of us, where obviously this development relates to changing views of what freedom is, what we are, how we relate to one another... I'm not free unless I'm working for the good of society. Robert Stern
So Hegel's an optimist, unlike his countryman Schopenhauer and perhaps oddly more like the Brits Mill and Darwin.
*A few pithier-than-usual Hegel quotes:
“Only one man ever understood me, and he didn't understand me.”
“Truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.” [There's a pedestrian example of what Hegel means by "dialectic" in The Cave and the Light: think of automobiles as the thesis, traffic jams as the antithesis, and stop signs & traffic laws as the synthesis... and so on, ho hum.]
“We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.”
“What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”
“To be independent of public opinion is the first formal condition of achieving anything great.”
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Hegel & Schopenhauer
We're into the 19th century, with Hegel (and Robert Stern on Hegel's dialectic) and his arch-rival Schopenhauer. A pair of audacious Hun metaphysicians who presumed to speak grandly for Reality.
(What's real, if you ask me? Younger Daughter's home pitching debut for her new school resulted in a 15-3 win yesterday afternoon, as she chipped in another triple and a beautiful scoring line drive to support her own cause. Later, Older Daughter phoned home from college with news that she's been recognized for excelling in both cinema and oratory. That's reality. I don't need a theory to tell me so. But Hegel and Schopenhauer thought otherwise.)
And here come the Germans now, led by their skipper Knobby Hegel...
They’re both in the song, if that helps. Let’s see… Schopenhauer and Hegel were both out-consumed by David Hume.
But it would probably be more helpful to relate the Germans to their predecessor Kant.
Schopenhauer and Hegel tried to go beyond Kant’s proscription against specifying the “thing-in-itself,” the ultimate “noumenal” reality beneath the appearances. For Hegel, History’s the thing. For Schopenhauer it’s Will.
An amusing sidelight: in spite of himself, and his intent to renounce personal will (so as to starve ultimate Will, or at least deprive it), Schopenhauer was stubbornly competitive with his philosophical rival Hegel. He insisted on lecturing at the same time as the more popular Hegel, withpredictable results.
But you have to wonder if his auditors understood a word Hegel said? Maybe free gas was provided? (See William James’s “observations on the effects of nitrous-oxide-gas-intoxication” and his essay On Some Hegelisms - ”sounds like nonsense, but it is pure on-sense!”)
That's funny, but not entirely fair. Hegel wanted to fly with Minerva, through a glorious dawn. Any given snippet of Hegelian prose may be impenetrable, but his overall objective is clear enough: he wanted us to understand ourselves and our lives as active participants in the great progressive unfolding of history, of the coming-to-consciousness of spirit ("geist"), of the birth of enlightenment and freedom. Friendly aspirations all.
My old Mizzou prof often spoke of "Friend Hegel," and so did Michael Prowse.
To the degree that we are thinking beings, Hegel says, we have to consider ourselves as part of a larger whole and not as neatly individuated। He calls this mental whole Geist, or Spirit, and tries to work out the rules by which it develops through time… Hegel didn’t regard Geist as something that stands apart from, or above, human individuals. He saw it rather as the forms of thought that are realised in human minds… What Hegel does better than most philosophers is explain how individuals are linked together and why it is important to commit oneself to the pursuit of the general or common good.
And that's why, as Stern points out,
Hegel thinks that one important movement in history is the movement from thinking that just one of us is entitled to freedom (a king, say) to some (the patricians of ancient Athens, say) to all of us, where obviously this development relates to changing views of what freedom is, what we are, how we relate to one another... I'm not free unless I'm working for the good of society.That's not Schopenhauer's view, nor is it even remotely close to his mindset and general sensibility. Anything at all ambitious, let alone something as grand as the liberation of society and triumph of good, was to him just more fuel for the Will. Will is a voracious, never-sated, all-devouring blind force or power that uses us, and everything else in its path, to no end beyond its own perpetuation and expansion.
Moreover, Schopenhauer was morose and constitutionally dis-affected. He despised happiness as a form of self-delusion.
But I have to admit: for such an old sourpuss, Schopenhauer’s a lot of fun to read. His aphoristicArt of Controversy is a good place to begin.
The average man pursues the shadow of happiness with unwearied labour; and the thinker, the shadow of truth; and both, though phantoms are all they have, possess in them as much as they can grasp. Life is a language in which certain truths are conveyed to us; could we learn them in some other way, we should not live. Thus it is that wise sayings and prudential maxims will never make up for the lack of experience, or be a substitute for life itself.
And his Studies in Pessimism are oddly cheerful.
Schopenhauer, In Our Time...
One of the lesser-known but more intriguing facets of Schopenhauer’s philosophy was his belief that music is our point of entree to Will, and to ultimate reality.
1. Kant said we can't know the _______ world of things-in-themselves, but we can know the _______ world of appearances as presented by our mental "spectacles."
2. If (and only if) you help an injured stranger because _________ (it's your duty, you feel sorry for him), Kant says, you've acted morally.
3. Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism affirms the Greatest ______ Principle, defining _____ as pleasure and the absence of pain.
4. According to Nigel, the best way for a Benthamite to maximize pleasure and minimize pain would be to plug into what? OR, who was Bentham's famous pupil and critic, who said maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain is not all there is to the good life?
5. What's the difference between analytic and synthetic knowledge, and what does a priori mean?
6. According to Moore, where does Kant rank among philosophers?
BONUS: Who said “Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable"?
BONUS+: Who did Kant say "awakened [him] from his dogmatic slumbers”?
BONUS++: Who had a walking stick he called "Dapple" and a teapot called "Dick"?
BONUS: What Irish-born critic of the French Revolution said it was a sham, proclaiming equality as a pretext for redistributing property?
- Do you think it would be possible to communicate with an intelligent alien, whose mental "spectacles" might not perceive space, time, cause-and-effect, etc., as we do? How? Or do you think such categories must be universal among all forms of intelligence? Why?
- Have you ever gone out of your way to help a stranger? Did you do so because you thought it was the right thing to do, because you felt sympathetic for the stranger's plight, or for some other reason? Do you agree with Kant that dutifulness alone is morally relevant to such acts?
- Is it better to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," or as they would have you do...?
- What does it mean to you to "use your reason" and think for yourself? Does that require a particular form of courage? (Kant: "Sapere Aude," have the courage to use your reason...)
- Do you agree that maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain are the main (if not exclusive) criteria of ethical action? Why or why not?
- There's a (false) old saying that he or she who finishes the game with the most toys wins. What about finishing with the most blissful experiences? Would that make you a winner? Would a lifetime of blissful experiences, "real" or not, be tempting to you?
- What's so funny about liberty, equality, and fraternity? (An Elvis Costello question)
- OR, Is redistributivist activism a pretext, or a legitimate political program?
- Who, in your opinion at this stage of your philosophical education, is #1 (in terms of insight, influence, wit and charm or whatever)?
“Dare to think!”
“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
“Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
“For peace to reign on Earth, humans must evolve into new beings who have learned to see the whole first.”
"The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail?"
“Every day will allow you, --will invite you to add something to the pleasure of others, --or to diminish something of their pains.”
“No power of government ought to be employed in the endeavor to establish any system or article of belief on the subject of religion.”
“What is the source of this premature anxiety to establish fundamental laws? It is the old conceit of being wiser than all posterity—wiser than those who will have had more experience,—the old desire of ruling over posterity—the old recipe for enabling the dead to chain down the living.”
“The quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry.”
An old post-
Today in CoPhi we'll talk Immanuel Kant, who said the starry heavens struck him with awe (and Adrian Moore on Kant's metaphysics), Jeremy Bentham, and Richard Bourke on ancestral conservative Edmund Burke. [Kant & Bentham quote gallery]
“Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable.”*
No, he wasn’t. Not at all. But that’s still the first thought that ever pops into my head when I hear his name, thanks to the Bruces, and my old Kant professor from grad school whose Brooklynese made his “how I met my wife” story downright vulgar.
Kant was actually the most soberly stable and fastidious of men. They “set their watches by him as he went on his daily walk” in 18th-century Konigsberg, Prussia. That’s probably the thing about him I like most. He well knew the truth of William James’s later observation that steady habits are our greatest productive ally. Kant was as productive, eventually, as he was un-flashy.“Awakened from his dogmatic slumbers” and his romantic dalliance withRousseau and Leibniz by David Hume’s dash of cold water skepticism, he assigned appearance and reality to the phenomenal and noumenal worlds, respectively. He didn’t mean that phenomena are unreal or unknowable, just that we know them through the categorical spectacles of our projective understanding. We don’t know them “in themselves,” the “ding-an-sich” is a non-starter.Russell: "The 'thing-in-itself' was an awkward element in Kant's philosophy, and was abandoned by his immediate successors, who accordingly fell into something very like solipsism." Or what may be worse, into the conceit of thinking they had themselves discovered the things-in-themselves: for Hegel, History, for Schopenhauer, Will, etc.
"It's as if we have innate spectacles through which we look at reality," and knowledge is what we get from "reflecting on the nature of our own spectacles." The spectacles give us categorical knowledge of space and time, causality, and all the other things Hume called mere habituation and custom, or constant conjunctions. "Science is concerned with how things appear to us through the spectacles," continues Adrian Moore, and the result (nicely summarized by Nigel) is supposed to be the protection of the possibility of God, free will, the moral law, etc., "even though we can't be absolutely sure about these things."
But Kant knew what he knew. The stars are awesome, and so is a dutiful conscience (“the moral law within”). Fealty to the latter led him to his “Categorical Imperative” and its “silly” obsession with inflexibly rational consistency.Kant. Obsessive, punctual of habit, semi-gregarious, a mouth-breather, fond of Cicero, and also a philosophical walker (but with a weird aversion to sweat). Famous last word: “Sufficit.” Enough. (I like his countryman Goethe’s better: “Mehr licht.” More light. (Or was it “Mehr nicht,” No more?) Famous living words: “Sapere aude.” Have the courage to reason and think.Kant & Hegel from Osopher [Kant/Hegel slides]
What I love most about my teaching job is that it keeps teaching me new things about our subjects. Utilitarian pioneer Jeremy Bentham is a good example.
It should come as no surprise that the philosopher who had his body preserved and housed for public display (though he keeps losing his head) in University College London had other charms and quirks, but I learned of them only recently. The first volume of Parekh’s Critical Assessmentsreports that (like Kant and Rousseau) Bentham also was a walker and an eccentric, an understatedly “amusing” man.
Bentham was an extremely amusing man, and in many respects rather boyish. Most of his life he retained an instinctive horror of being left alone… He had a large black tom cat of an ‘uncommonly serious temperament’ which he nicknamed the ‘Doctor’ and ‘The Reverend Doctor Langborn’… He had amusing names for his daily activities and favourite objects. His favourite walking stick was called Dapple, after Sancho Panza’s mule, and his ‘sacred tea-pot’ was called Dick. His daily routine included ‘antejentacular circumgyration’ or a walk before breakfast, an ‘anteprandial circumgyration’ before dinner, and an ‘ignominious expulsion’ at midnight accompanied by the ‘putter-to-bed’, the ‘asportation of the candle’ and the ‘transportation of the window.’So yes, he was weird. But also “basically a warm, generous, and kind” man. He wanted to reform the misery-inducing industrial culture of his time and place, and to improve the basic quality of life of his fellow human beings. So, this cartoon featuring Bentham's zombie auto-icon confronting Phillipa Foot is unfair. But not unfunny.
Create all the happiness you are able to create: remove all the misery you are able to remove. Every day will allow you, will invite you, to add something to the pleasure of others, or to diminish something of their pains. And for every grain of enjoyment you sow in the bosom of another, you shall find a harvest in your own…
Sorry, Mr. Mill, that’s just not what I’d call a “pig philosophy.” It’s humane and compassionate, and it deserves a hearing too.Russell says Bentham was nicer than his philosophy per se encourages people to be, "seduced by his own kindly and affectionate nature" into expecting everyone to pursue not only their own pleasure but to seek to maximize others' as well. I think that's an unduly (but not uncommonly) literalist reading of "greatest happiness for the greatest number." The greatest number would be wholly inclusive. The trouble comes when he dismisses individuals' rights, our ultimate safeguard against unjust discriminatory exclusion, as "nonsense on stilts." A utilitarian need not endorse that dismissal.
A note from a friend currently in painful convalescence from surgery says Bentham was right, the Stoics were wrong: ignoring pain does not work, we've got to work actively to replace it with pleasure.
And following up on Rousseau and Kant and the mystery of what it was about the former’s Emile that kept the latter off the streets– “Everybody who does Education has to read Emile cover-to-cover,” says this jet-lagged Yale lecturer– Rousseau’s Dog is instructive:
According to one anecdote, the fastidious Immanuel Kant, whose daily routine was so rigid and undeviating that people set their watches by him, became so absorbed in Émile that he bewildered his neighbors by forgetting to take his usual post-lunch constitutional… Rousseau understood, he thought, the paradox of autonomy—that freedom meant conformity to a rule. As he was writing his own masterpiece, the Critique of Pure Reason, he had a single portrait in his house—of Jean- Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s Dog
So while it was Hume whom he credited with waking him from his “dogmatic slumber,” it was the somber Swiss who really inspired his work and set his Copernican Revolution spinning.
But, Kant "realized that Rousseau's picture of the noble savage was an ideal construct:'This wish for a return to an age of simplicity and innocence is futile.'" (Cave&Light)
In other words: we must live in our own age, not retreat to a romantic and probably false dream of an idyllic Eden. We must continually work to make our complex and "civilized" arrangements and institutions genuinely civilizing. The melioristic impulse is also in our nature.
But I still wonder what the dog thought. [Chains, laws, stars, push-pin & poetry]
I'm not a big fan of Burke, with his defense of aristocracy and the 1% solution. But I do love the quote from him that most everybody knows: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” If he said it. I know he didn't say one of the other things commonly and falsely attributed to him on the Internet: “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.”
That last is actually a misquotation of Santayana. Or maybe Abe Lincoln. But don't believe everything you read on the Internet.
For discussion. The Kantian mental spectacles that allegedly give us our phenomenal world might very well also prevent us from seeing someone else's. Imagine an alien intelligence, whose world must look very different. Could it be that, on Kantian grounds, the search for ET is doomed? Or are the languages of math and physics literally universal?
Kant's commitment to dutifulness as the sole determinant of correct moral action is distressing to most of us, who want to feel virtuous in our sympathies and not deflected from the paths of righteousness. Why can't solicitude for strangers be dutiful and compassionate, and moral in equal measures?
Is there any reason why the impulse to maximize pleasure and minimize pain must be strictly egotistical? Why do critics of utilitarian ethics make this assumption?
There's a (false) old saying that he or she who finishes the game with the most toys wins. What about finishing with the most blissful experiences? Would that make you a winner? Would a lifetime of blissful experiences, "real" or not, be enviable or pitiable? (What would Neo or Professor Nozick say?)
An Elvis Costello question: What's so funny about liberty, equality, and fraternity? OR, Is redistributivist activism a pretext, or a legitimate political program?
Finally, and in anticipation of next week's exam extra credit discussion prompt: Who, in your opinion at this stage of your philosophical education, is #1 (in terms of insight, influence, wit and charm or whatever)? Moore says Kant. I can't agree. I do love Russell's impish question concerning the Sage's bachelorhood:
The Encyclopaedia Britannica remarks that 'as he never married, he kept the habits of his studious youth to old age'. I wonder whether the author of this article was a bachelor or a married man.You probably have to be married (though not necessarily male) to get what's impish about that.