Sunday, 27 June 2010

Inter Kant is a year old!

This blog has now been running for a whole year (and they said I'd never make it!). Happy birthday to the blog and thanks to all readers for reading and an especial thanks to all who comment on the postings. Postings can now be easily shared on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms should you find the posts interesting enough to send on to your friends.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Ethics and Teleology (II)

Essentially what is meant by describing an approach to ethics as "teleological" at the moment can be summarised as a very particular understanding of what an "end" involves. So, on this conception, an "end" is something that can be taken to be a goal or intention. Not only is this so but it represents something that we can realise in differential amounts with the general aim being to "maximise" it. On these grounds a teleological approach to ethics is rendered pretty much equivalent to consequentialism.

If someone were to claim that Kant had this kind of approach to ethics then it would require a lot of work. Some have claimed this and the view they give would take an examination that was very specific. I assume, for the sake of this posting, however, that there are few philosophers who take Kant to be endorsing consequentialism. Since this is so it will then automatically appear necessary to deny that Kant could possibly be saying anything teleological about ethics.

So let's approach the question next from a different angle. I mentioned in the previous posting that there are variant understandings of the formula of humanity at present and that some articulate a ground for supporting it as the favoured way of representing the categorical imperative on the basis that this offers a reply to Hegel's "empty formalism" objection. (Incidentally this criticism is one that has had formidable influence including on philosophers who would otherwise disregard Hegel's views.) Now, those who approach the formula of humanity in this way, such as Allen Wood, view an end primarily as "something for the sake of which we act" (85 of Kantian Ethics). However, Wood also views the notion of humanity as incorporating a reference to a value, the value of rational nature. Since this value is something independently specified from the formula of universal law (since if it were not there would be little point in favouring it as a formula over that of universal law) it follows, on Wood's account, that humanity is hence a goal towards which we aim and that, as such a goal, it also possesses a value.

Now, the teleological ethic that emerges from Wood's interpretation has to be regarded as importantly different from classic consequentialism. It does, however, treat the idea of the reference to an "end" in the humanity formula in much the way that consequentialists view ends. The difference is only that this "end" is taken to have a weight (an "absolute" status) different from that of any other end. Since it has this weight it can be given something like a Rawlsian lexical priority over other ends and be treated as special and not to be sacrificed in considerations of commensurate weighting. Whilst this view maintains the distinction between "price" and that which is beyond all price it still essentially views the end-in-itself as an end in the same kind of way as other ends.

Now does this do any better than the classic consequentialist view as a reading of Kant's ethics? The problem with it is, that if we take Kant's reference to an "end" in the humanity formula in this way then it is not clear how the notion of rational nature really relates to the idea of universal law. The point of suggesting that the formulas of the categorical imperative are inter-related is to make some kind of connection between these ideas. But if universal law is essentially conceded to only state something emptily formal whilst we have a substantial value with the formula of humanity it follows that the value in the latter formula has no grounding in the law of the first formula but is something independent of that law. And that seems to make nonsense of Kant's approach to ethics.

However the notion of a teleological approach to ethics does not have to take either the path of classic consequentialism or the idea put forward by Wood of relating to humanity as a value independent of the law. There must be another way since Kant, in the Doctrine of Virtue, describes ethics as "the system of the ends of pure practical reason" (Ak. 6:381). If ethics is a system of ends then there has to be a sense in which adopting the categorical imperative gives us a response to ends that is distinct from either the classic consequentialist view or a view that has to formulate the sense of humanity as different in principle (and in value) from the idea of universal law.

Just after making the claim about ethics just cited Kant makes the following distinction between two types of end:
One can think of the relation of end to duty in two ways: one can begin with the end and seek out the maxim of actions in conformity with duty or, on the other hand, one can begin with the maxim of actions in conformity with duty and seek out the end that is also a duty. (Ak. 6: 382)
This contrast is related by Kant to the distinction between right and virtue and raises a number of interesting questions about right that I will turn to on another occasion. The Doctrine of Right, says Kant, takes the first way. That is, when viewing things in terms of right, we begin with the end as something given and seek out, on the basis of this pre-given end, a relationship to what duties we have. However, with ethics, says Kant, we go the opposite way. That is, we start from the view that there are duties and on the basis of this we seek out ends that conform to such duties. If Wood's reading of the formula of humanity were right then it would appear that this difference between right and virtue could not be specified in the way Kant has done since, on Wood's reading, it appears that humanity is an independent value whose end we start with. So the end of humanity sets out a constraint for duties. But that is not how Kant views virtue, hence, not how he sees ethics.

It follows from this way of presenting the distinction that there is an internal connection between an "end" and a "duty" when we are dealing with virtue and if this is so (and the notion of "duty" is dependent on the sense of universal law) then it follows that there must be an important sense in which the formula of humanity is something that emerges out of the formula of universal law and is not something that can be set against the formula of universal law. This is also specified concretely in the supreme principle of virtue: "act in accordance with a maxim of ends that it can be a universal law for everyone to have" (Ak. 6: 395).

So, Kant's ethics appears "teleological", if this is the right expression, in the sense that it is importantly concerned with ends. However, if the ends that it is concerned with are ones that emerge from passing through the process of meeting the criteria for permissible maxims then one cannot start, in a Kantian approach to ethics, with some specific ends as pre-given and think about how to maximise them (which cuts against consequentialism) and nor can we think of the notion of humanity as expressive of a value independent of law (which cuts against Wood's reading). Since this is the case it may appear that there is little sense to using the term "teleology" here at all. However, this does not quite follow or, at least, this reaction should be modified. In the Groundwork Kant writes: "The categorical imperative would be that which represented an action as objectively necessary of itself, without reference to another end" (Ak. 4: 414). So there is reference to an end importantly built in (as with the remark I cited earlier saying that virtue is a system of ends). This end, however, requires no reference to any other end separate from itself. In this respect it is not a goal if goals are taken to require means-ends reasoning as is usual. It is, rather, an "end-in-itself". If there are ends in themselves then it is not our task, pace Wood, to act "for the sake of" these. Such an expression suggests that the notion of end in the formula of humanity is not different in kind from the type of end that is at work in instrumental reasoning but Kant does distinguish these from each other. The difference is not that this end is given a mysterious absolute status despite being essentially similar in kind to other ends. It is not: it is different in kind from other ends. In this respect it has really an eschatological rather than a teleological sense. And this sense is importantly connected to rationality. That would require another posting to show but this distinction between an eschatological and a teleological sense of ends should clear up a confusion I inadvertently created in my book on practical philosophy.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Humanity and Value

A little while ago I wrote a posting on the formula of humanity in which I traced the use of it, in preference to the formula of universal law, as indicative of a trend within the specific area of Kantian ethics, to present an opposition between teleological and deontological conceptions of ethics. The point I made there was that the resistance to the understanding of the formula of universal law as the key to the categorical imperative turned on variations of Hegel's argument for its alleged "empty formalism".

The nature of Kant's reference to humanity in the formula of humanity is itself less than obvious, however, as is evidenced by the different interpretations of it current at present. So, Allen Wood argues, most recently in his book Kantian Ethicsthat to treat humanity as an end in itself means to respect "the value of what makes it such an end". In understanding humanity in the formula of humanity as a value Wood implicitly aligns the comprehension of this formula with a classic kind of teleological view of ethics that sees ends as values that we must strive for. By contrast, Richard Dean, in his book-length study of the formula of humanity, The Value of Humanity in Kant's Moral Theory, argues that the formula of humanity involves no "brute claim about value" and that it rather commands us "to treat as an end in itself the kind of will that arouses the same deep moral feeling of Achtung as the moral law itself does" (137).

If Wood's view of the formula of humanity commits Kant to a deep claim about value and, along with such a claim, effectively ensures that it is the case that Kantian ethics is seen as a striving to realise certain values, the view of Dean, by contrast, treats the formula of humanity as another way of stating the moral law where this law is aligned carefully with the notion of the good will. So Dean's reading is one that is set against classic understandings of teleological ethics. In the next posting I will seek to clarify this discussion by setting out the ways in which the classic teleology/deontology dispute that is at work in the conflict between these two views of the formula of humanity can be shown to trade on very un-Kantian understandings of the idea of "ends" which create confusion over would could be meant by a teleological approach to ethics for a Kantian.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Apple and Censorship (II)

Just a day after publicising Apple's censorial habits news has come through that they have decided not to block out parts of The Importance of Being Earnest and Ulysses after all. This is welcome news even though it does also demonstrate the need to be cautious with all the major players in the computing world!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Apple and Censorship (I)

I generally like the products of Apple. I'm writing this posting on an Apple MacBook, I have an iPhone (though one that will soon be very old indeed) and I recently bought an iPad. Their designs are great, they are easy to use, they work straight out of the box and they look and feel very "hip". What's more, they aren't Microsoft!

All of this marks me out as a fairly typical Apple customer since generally, once one has got into Apple you tend to get all their stuff and swear by them. Fair enough, even philosophers can develop brand loyalty. But recently something has been putting me off Apple and it's not the products or even the recent suicides at Foxconn, the Chinese enterprise that manufactures Apple products (along with Dell and Hewlett Packard). No, it's something that offends me even more than the dubious labour practices of the firms to whom Apple outsources.

What is this? The increasing tendency of Apple to censor and act as a moral arbiter. Recently a comic book version of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was released which up-dated the story to make it more explicitly gay, included male nudity (though not genitalia) and even panels showing men kissing each other. Apple agreed to allow this comic book to be sold over iTunes but then censored the panels showing men kissing along with some of those showing male nudity. Amongst other things this reflected double standards on Apple's part who have allowed similar heterosexual scenes on comic books they have retailed. This complaint however is only part of the problem since if they had extended their censorship to heterosexual scenes they would have compounded the problem of censorship rather than ended discrimination.

Not only have Apple censored this new version of Wilde's play but they also recently censored a version of James Joyce's Ulysses, a work that suffered rather badly from precisely such responses during the 20th century. This again affected a comic book version which dared to show a scene of Leopold Bloom using the toilet. 

Apple have broadly defended the policy as concerned with "freedom from porn", a curiously similar defence to that adopted by the Chinese authorities when faced with complaints from Google. The Chinese authorities cited concerns about children just as Steve Jobs has done when challenged. It's heartening to find that Jobs agrees with the country in which most of his products are made that censorship is good since it helps kids. But perhaps, like Google, he should beware of the company he keeps and consider adopting the slogan of not being evil, the slogan that helps to explain why they left China and departed from practices that are far from enlightened.

Friday, 11 June 2010

New Journal: Kant Studies Online

Kant Studies Online is a new journal that will be published exclusively on-line and will be free access. It will publish articles in English on all aspects of Kant's philosophy and its application. All submitted articles will be double blind peer reviewed in accordance with a clear procedure. Pieces submitted for consideration will be guaranteed speedy publication if accepted. To submit pieces for consideration for publication in the journal please write to the editor, that's me, Gary Banham.

I hope that the journal will serve two important functions, firstly, to provide another forum for the publication of work on Kant, and, second, to help in the establishment of an environment in which e-journals seriously begin to create new modes of publishing that move us away from the print model.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Response from Goldsmiths

In reply to the posting made recently, this blog was contacted by Goldsmiths College who have issued the following statement:
Goldsmiths has a high regard for philosophical perspectives in its research and teaching. The MA module in contemporary thought was offered in the Department of History, but very few History MA students opted to take the module. The course in Contemporary Thought will continue to run next year and, will, as formerly, be available to postgraduate research students across the College. It may also be an option for students on relevant MA programmes, subject to approved programme structures.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

(Most of) Middlesex is to move to Kingston

As I suggested in an earlier posting the management of Middlesex University have not backed down on their plan to close philosophy. Instead some of the members of staff who were based there have succeeded in moving themselves, programmes they were running and post-graduate students they were working with to Kingston University as is made clear in a statement over at the campaign

The official aim of the campaign must be said to have failed since it has proved impossible to shift the view adopted at Middlesex. Since one third of the original department will also not be moving the solution reached must also be said to be partial. Having said which it is still the case that Kingston University should be commended for its commitment to philosophy, a commitment lacking at Middlesex.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Rawls on Ideal and Non-Ideal Theory (I)

A great deal has been written about John Rawls' work The Law of Peoples and much of what has been written is very critical. What I would like to begin focusing on is the account of non-ideal theory given there. However, in order to get focused on the view of non-ideal theory within it, it is first necessary to look at some of the ways Rawls distinguishes between ideal and non-ideal theory.

The distinction itself is not new to The Law of Peoples as it was earlier discussed in A Theory of Justice. As was clear from Theory one of the points of the distinction is to reflect what the earlier work termed "natural limitations" although a further point concerns what Rawls calls "partial compliance". This second component of the notion of non-ideal theory is relatively easy to contrast with ideal theory since ideal theory supposes "strict compliance" with the standards of justice. Ideal theory assumes, that is, that we have a perfectly just basic structure and so, by contrast, non-ideal theory will be working with an imperfect situation where the basic structure is only partially congruent with the standards of justice. However, this situation of partial compliance means that in non-ideal theory we are dealing with the existence, in some degree, of injustice and are trying in such a case to work out principles for how to, as Rawls puts this, "meet" such injustice. (Section 39 of Theory.)

One of the peculiarities about the distinction as set out in Theory is the degree of allowance made there to intuition as Rawls simply states that the degree of departure from the standards of justice in the case of non-ideal theory is left to this. We also clearly require more to be said about what Rawls terms "the basic structure", a topic that threatens in itself to require major exegetical and philosophical work. Rather than undertake this here I would simply refer to the basic definition in section 2 of Theory: "the way in which the major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation". The "major social institutions" are there understood to include laws governing free thought and conscience, markets, private property in the means of production and the monogamous family. Much could be said both about the definition and what Rawls fits under it but, for the time being, I will leave this topic.

More important at this stage is to indicate the ways in which the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory seems to alter when we reach The Law of Peoples. There was, in Theory, acknowledgment of the notion of an international version of the original position (discussed in section 58). There we discovered that the basic principle of such a position between nations was equality. From the notion of the equality of all parties we arrived at the consequence of self-determination, right of self-defense against attack and the need for treaties to be kept.

However, at the opening of The Law of Peoples, Rawls now lists 5 types of domestic society and then proceeds to describe the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory in relation to these types. Ideal theory is now complicated as it is split into 2 distinct parts at the international level. The first part concerns the society of liberal democratic peoples whilst the second part extends the contractualist apparatus to societies of a different sort, societies that have "good standing" but which are not democratic. These second types of society are termed by Rawls "decent" societies and a lot has been written concerning the view he presents of them. The key initial point is the view that the "decent" societies are capable of agreeing to the same law of peoples as the liberal democratic societies.

Having thus expanded the notion of ideal theory Rawls then turns to characterising non-ideal theory in terms that still follow the outline of Theory as one part of it concerns "conditions of noncompliance" and concerns what Rawls views as "outlaw states" whilst the other part deals only with unfavourable conditions or what he terms "burdened societies". Future postings will begin the process of working through how the account of ideal theory at the international level incorporates a division that was not given previously and how the distinction between two kinds of non-ideal conditions relates to the ideal theory.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Goldsmiths College Joins in Cuts on Philosophy

The latest news is that Goldsmiths College intends to ends its MA in Cultural History and close the seminar in Contemporary Thought. This news effectively means the Dept of History at Goldsmiths is rendering the research work of its Professor of Cultural History, Howard Caygill, superfluous to the Dept. This decision is strange on many levels, not least in terms of the excellence of Caygill's work. This decision is one it is hard for me to even write about in a dispassionate way given my general admiration for Caygill.

Caygill is the author of a number of serious and important works of philosophy, perhaps most famously, the Kant Dictionary, a work which presents an innovative and insightful response to Kant's philosophy. Howard has also contributed an introduction to the Kemp Smith translation of the Critique of Pure Reason that situates in careful detail the nature of Kemp Smith's response to Kant and gives an historical account of interpretative issues. Apparently an MA in history that doesn't include such philosophical expertise is considered preferable by the powers that be at Goldsmith's and this decision is clearly part of a pattern of closure of philosophy programmes and positions. In response to the attempt to close his MA courses please sign the petition.