Saturday, 25 September 2010

Contradiction in the Will and the Universal Law of Nature

I've been looking again at the Groundwork lately and was led to reflect on some questions concerning the way the "examples" work the first time they are told in the second section of it. The whole story of these "examples" is a complicated one that has attracted much commentary though more heat has been generated on the whole than light. So let's just begin by defining parameters before going on.

Firstly, the examples are introduced on two occasions after two distinct formulas. The second time is after the statement of the formula of humanity and I'd like to return to the discussion there on another occasion. However, the first time is after the formula of universal law has been stated but it is not this formula, in its classical statement, that is tested by them. This point is not always recognised but strikes me as significant. So, let's first reconstruct what happens with the formula prior to the statement of the examples and then cut to a point that is of interest about the treatment of these examples.

With regard to the formulas, what happens first is that Kant gives the formula of universal law as arising merely from connecting the concept of the law to its formula. This produces the classic statement: "act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law" (Ak. 4: 421). This is what is generally known as the formula of universal law (FUL) and many philosophers and commentators have come to the view that it doesn't work or is in some, very important way, problematic. However, Kant doesn't himself work with this formula in relation to the examples that he gives shortly after. This is despite statements about deriving all imperatives of duty from "this single imperative as from their principle" (Ak. 4: 421). What happens next is that Kant begins to discuss the universality of the law in relation to the representation of effects. In other words, Kant thinks about the law as something that could work in a causal nexus. After raising this prospect, Kant goes on to discuss how representation of such a causal nexus is equivalent to speaking about "nature" as nature is, "the existence of things insofar as it is determined in accordance with universal laws". The culmination of this discussion is that Kant next formulates what he terms "the universal imperative of duty" and this takes the much less familiar form: "act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature" (Ak. 4: 421).

It is this second formulation and not the classic FUL that is then tested in relation to the "examples" and nor is this insignificant for how the examples are treated. Before looking at that treatment, and particularly the division within it, it is worth pointing out that if FUL were related directly to duties then one would expect a test to emerge that would only relate to universality and nothing else. However, as we will see, the switch from FUL to reference to a "universal law of nature" (or ULN) ensures that Kant can discuss something more than merely universality alone even though the form of universality is still crucial in what he says.

The four examples that follow involve maxims connected to suicide, promising, the cultivation of talents and beneficence. Now, whether one likes what Kant says about suicide and promising or not the treatment of them is relatively straightforward. With these examples Kant alleges that adopting maxims of a certain sort is not consistent with treating the maxims in question as universal laws of nature since, if that is how they are treated, the conception of this nature would involve a self-contradiction. This is often stated as meaning that these maxims involve a "contradiction in conception" and this is alright so long as it is understood the conception is not within the maxims as such but the maxims understood as universal laws of nature.

The second two maxims are much more complicated since, in the cases of someone declaring they will not cultivate their talents as in the case of someone who refuses to act beneficently, there is not the same self-contradiction involved in the picture of nature that would ensure if these maxims were taken as universal laws of it. Instead, the contradiction is often said to be a contradiction in the will that would be asked to will these maxims. Now, how does this alleged contradiction in the will in question relate to the notion of a universal law of nature?

With the first case, of cultivation of talents, Kant pictures the person in question not bothering to work on themselves for the purposes of self-improvement basically because they would prefer instead to devote themselves to "idleness, amusement, procreation", which is summed up as "to enjoyment" (Ak. 4: 423). In this case it is apparent that the motivation in question is one of acting in accord with inclinations alone, something previously discussed in this section of the Groundwork. Alright, but what's wrong with that in relation to universal law? Surely it would be possible to will a nature that had such action in accord with inclination into being? It is not ruled out since, as Kant puts it, such a nature could "subsist". So the nature in question is a possible nature, unlike the nature ruled out in the case of the first two examples. But, the problem is said to be, although the conception of this nature is not itself an impossible one, we could not wish to live in a world that was governed by such laws so acting in accordance with a maxim that would, if universalised produce it, is not in accord with our will. Why not? Because, says Kant, as a rational being we "necessarily will" that all our capacities be developed since they serve both ourselves and others "for all sorts of possible purposes".

This point seems to be one, however, of indicating the imprudence of willing a nature governed by such a law. In such a nature there would be innumerable purposes that we wouldn't be able to carry out due to our not having adopted the means of developing them. So it is not, as it were, in our best interests to will in this way. The appeal then would appear to be to those best interests and to rule out a certain kind of disposition due to the way it will later affect our prospects. This may well not be the strongest type of consideration that could be given here!

The last of the examples, concerning beneficence, takes the case of someone who says he won't help others and is quite willing, in return, not to have them help him. Again, if such a disposition is used as the basis of a maxim of universal law of nature then it appears that we could well find that nature thereby would "subsist". The problem, again, is supposed to be that we couldn't "will" such a nature to be. The reason, on this occasion, why there is taken to be a problem with "willing" this as a universal law of nature is that we rule out the prospect, in advance, of being able to call out for help however dire our need. Since we have no way of knowing how dire that need may be there is a sense in which we have acted to prevent it being possible that we can achieve sustenance. Again, the problem seems here to be that such a maxim is not a prudent one. That is, the argument seems to show that the kind of end we have in view here, as the basis of a hypothetical imperative, is one that defeats itself in relation to certain necessary outcomes of it. And, once again, this doesn't seem like the kind of thing we would expect Kant to say.

However, what is of interest with these examples and the way they are treated here is how they focus very definitely on purposes and their consistency. It is the consistency of certain kinds of purpose that is being questioned with the device of the universal law of nature. The device of the universal law of nature may not be the best one to deal with this but what is shown by the fact that it is purposes that are being so treated is the centrality of purposes to Kant's considerations.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Rawls, Non-Ideal Theory and War (II)

The last posting on this topic began by looking at Rawls' general discussion of the distinction between "outlaw states", "decent societies" and liberal societies where the last two have some adherence to the "law of peoples" whilst the first named are not in compliance with it. The result of this includes a sense in which the latter two have some rights against the first named to intervene so that Rawls does include an expansion of right of intervention beyond simply responding to aggression. However, whilst this is so, the nature of right within war has not yet been discussed and it is to this which I now intend to turn.

The notion of "right in war" or jus in bello is given quite an extended treatment by Rawls, so extended, in fact, that I will treat it over more than one posting. It is discussed by him as part of "just war doctrine". Three "familiar" principles are used to set the discussion up, namely, (i) that its aim should be a "just and lasting peace", (ii) that it should occur for "well-ordered" peoples only against peoples that are not "well-ordered", (iii) that is is necessary to distinguish between an "outlaw" state's leaders, its soldiers and its population.

To an extent, as he confesses, Rawls here is following the analysis of Michael Walzer, not least with regard to the third provision. The point that is being made with regard to the population at large, is that the general population of such states is, by necessity, not included in the considerations of the leaders and that such states, effectively, lack any sense of "public sphere". They are private enterprises run for the benefit of the rulers and have no mechanism for consultation of the public and so the public has no say in the war and cannot be held to account for the fact that it has broken out. A consequence of this, not discussed by Rawls here, is that the population of such an "outlaw state" is, therefore, in a state of nature with regard to its rulers (or, as Ripstein has taught, there is here a state of barbarism).

The consequence Rawls himself draws is a different one, since he is focused rather on the circumstances in which the third guideline can be said not to have been followed and thus in which "well-ordered" states acted in a way that was not just. Circumstances he points to of this sort included the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fire-bombing of Tokyo in 1945. (Interestingly, in pointing to these examples, Rawls reveals something about an American perspective. In the UK, it would be much commoner to cite the bombing of Dresden but this is not in Rawls' mind.)

The guideline on action in relation to the general population effects also the response of "well-ordered" peoples to the military of "outlaw" states. If the general population is outside the sphere of consideration of the rulers in such states, is it different for the military, especially considering that the military is often the institution that is most important in such states? In mitigation, if conscription is a tool used by such states and the general population is thereby introduced into the military, there is a consideration for taking the military to be partly exonerated from creation of the conditions that led to war. However, Rawls also introduces another consideration that is more wide-ranging when he refers to the "indoctrination" to which the military may have been subjected. In this case Rawls points to the military code that prevented Japanese soldiers surrendering.

This point about "indoctrination" is much more difficult than the one about the general population. It is true that an essentially private venture being at issue with the "outlaw states" that they must have some means of persuading others to support them in their actions and that this will require the rulers to develop means of action that are not based only on physical power. But Rawls provides here no theory of the nature of such "indoctrination" or its types. This indicates a serious question about the nature of the generality of such a description. The question concerns whether there are different types of "indoctrination" which produce different kinds of regimes and this question cuts to the nature of the distinction between "decent" peoples and "outlaw" states. But perhaps this point would require more extended analysis on another occasion. A more important point, in specific reference to consideration of the effect of such "indoctrination", concerns how the well-ordered state should act. Rawls' own example leads him to confessing that confronted with soldiers of a certain type it may necessarily occur that normal rules suffer some kind of suspension (so the US soldiers here rarely took prisoners). Is this the correct conduct or is it merely forced upon the "well-ordered" state?

A fourth provision states that "well-ordered" peoples must respect, as much as they can, the human rights of civilians and soldiers of the enemy. This point seems to curtail the exceptions that might arise from the third and provide some kind of guard-rail around it but, again, there seems no systematic reflection here on the relations between these points.

The fifth provision states that well-ordered peoples should, by actions and statements during the war foreshadow the nature of the peace aimed for after it. The "content" of this provision, other than the point aimed at in the reference to "human rights" in the fourth is, to say the least, unclear. The final, sixth, provision, restricts the scope of means-ends reasoning in reference to the norms already established.

In discussing the fourth and fifth provisions Rawls introduces the "ideal of the statesman" and this will be returned to in the next posting on this topic.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Second Call for Submissions: Kant Studies Online

As mentioned previously I have recently launched a new journal, Kant Studies Online, which will be exclusively on-line and will be free of charge. Articles in English, of a maximum length of 10,000 words, will be subjected to a process of double-blind peer review prior to publication and will be published speedily once accepted. The journal's editorial board is here. To have a chance of being included in the first batch of articles published people are asked to submit by 15th November.

If you check out the website you will find notes on procedure and a style sheet made available there and all submissions should be sent to me as the editor. The journal is intended as a basis for high-level theoretical debate on all aspects of Kant's philosophy and its application and is further open to discussion of Neo-Kantian themes of all types.

Ripstein, Barbarism and Revolution

Over at Crooked Timber today there is an amusing, if also somewhat tiresome, response by Chris Bertram to Arthur Ripstein's recent book Force and Freedom which was subjected to a response of a different sort in a previous posting. Bertram does not focus on the topic that was taken up in that previous posting, namely, international right. Rather, Bertram emphasizes primarily the discussion, which is certainly innovative, of "barbarism".

Bertram correctly reports that Ripstein uses the notion of "barbarism" to address the "problem" posed by Kant's remarks on revolution in the Doctrine of Right. The problem is described in Ripstein's telling in terms of the difficulty that some states (notoriously, that of the Nazis) are such that they surely are no advance on the state of nature. Ripstein uses the notion of "barbarism" to characterize these states and, in so doing, to legitimate rebellion against them where rebellion now becomes characterized as "the creation of a state where there was none before" (Ripstein, 338).

There are certainly problems thinking about what Kant says about revolution and the way Ripstein tries to deal with it. Bertram's response is somewhat tiresome, however, since it reiterates a kind of sniggering, "oh, look, Kant has some bad arguments" form which I have discussed previously. This really is no kind of response to any philosopher. Bertram mentions, in his posting, how reading Ripstein made him prefer Rousseau, Marx and Hegel, above all for their attention to "anthropology". However, the number of "bad arguments" that one can find in each of these three, not least in their anthropology, are legion. So it might be better not to start a war of "who has the worst arguments".

Bertram also makes another error in his response to Ripstein when he insists on a set of responses that will transcend the "example" (if they can be termed that!) of the Nazis, insisting that, if the notion of "barbarism" is of any use it should also be able to guide our political responses to Franco's Spain and Israel. To suggest that the distinction, just as such, is sufficient to deal with such complex empirical situations is no more helpful than the view that Rousseau's accounts of where a republic exists and where it does not should so easily be applied. The other case given, however, that of the US when it had slavery is rather simpler since, as Ripstein states explicitly: "A condition in which some are not allowed to have anything as their own, or in which they are enslaved or murdered by others, is not a difficult case" (342). In such cases there is not a state of right since the state of right explicitly requires equal rights to freedom. So if there not such rights then, for everyone in such a condition, there is not an advance on the state of nature. This is precisely the point of Ripstein's invocation of the notion of "barbarism".

The point behind these objections to Kant seems, however, to be pointed up more by Bertram's demand for an anthropology that he rightly finds missing in the Doctrine of Right. As some have pointed out in response to Bertram's posting there is plenty of anthropological reflection by Kant if that is what you prefer (though there are good reasons not to prefer it, at least not as it is simply given). The Doctrine of Right is meant to provide a "strict" account of an a priori view of right though it requires supplementing by further "principles of application". There are good reasons for thinking this further supplementation is not well carried out by Ripstein and I have many reasons for disagreeing with Bertram that a "better book" on Kant's philosophy of right is unlikely to be written. Having said which, it would be good to see debate that centred not always on "examples" and "cases" but concerned itself rather more with principles, laws, rules and the generic basis of Kant's view.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Liberalism: "Old" and "New"

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has published a new article on the topic of liberalism which is by Gerald Gaus. Gaus' piece raises a number of important questions concerning the nature of "liberty", the debate about the comprehensiveness of liberalism, the discussion of its reach and the division between types of liberalism. Given the dominance of liberalism within contemporary political philosophy the discussion is an important one and most of what Gaus discusses is worth responding to in detail.

For the sake of this posting I want to focus on the way Gaus distinguishes between two forms of liberalism: the forms he terms "old" and "new" liberalism. This distinction is an interesting one, cutting, as it does, to the nature of debates within liberalism that are important for seeing reasons why liberals, who apparently share the "same" view, often have very different reasons for saying and doing things and, in fact, turn out to be at some variance with each other.

The people Gaus terms "old" liberals are more usually referred to as "classical" liberals and should be distinguished from libertarians (though Gaus conflates them to a certain degree). These types of liberals stress private property as a uniquely fitting institution for the protection and enhancement of liberty. Along with the stress on private property emerges a commitment to the market economy. As Gaus stresses, this position can be made even firmer, as it was in the case of Hayek, for whom private property is basically the only type of institution that is taken to fit the demands of liberty. This tradition is, however, not carefully related by Gaus to precedents in political philosophy. So, Gaus claims that it has precedent in the 19th century and cites Jeremy Bentham in support but says nothing about John Stuart Mill and has, in his consideration of this form of liberalism, nothing to say about its relationship with pre-19th century philosophers such as Kant. This is despite the fact that the structure of Kant's Doctrine of Right mirrors the emphasis of "classical" liberals in opening with a discussion of property and taking the relationship between freedom and property to be decisive for what he calls "private right". It should be said, however, in mitigation of this, that Kant also indicates a distinction between "private" and "public" right with the latter including a basis for state restrictions on private property. Even so, the relationship of the Kantian account of property to this "classical" notion of liberalism would certainly be worth thinking through and Gaus does not do so.

Gaus' notion of the "new" liberalism involves concern with the notion of "social justice". This emphasis involves a reference to the work of Keynes whose examination of such things as the "paradox of thrift" arrived at the view that economies based primarily on "natural" liberty would not be able to deal with structural problems of wealth that would require, instead, the intervention of the state. So, by contrast to the "old" liberals, the "new" ones promoted emphasis on state action. With the emphasis on state action comes a certain kind of suspicion of private property where this now becomes seen as the basis of inequality. Incidentally, and again not noted clearly by Gaus, this view of property indicates a re-evaluation of equality. If the classical form of liberalism emphasizes "liberty" (in accordance with the name "liberalism"), the new form, by contrast, is involved in a new emphasis on equality. Such a concern with equality naturally leads to looking at the sources of inequality but does require that the presence of inequality is seen as a distinct social ill. Here Gaus does mention John Stuart Mill in terms of the political economy of Mill leaving open the question as to whether private property was the best means of ensuring personal freedom. However, in mentioning Mill in this context, Gaus neglects to note here the tensions within Mill's thinking and particularly the ways in which he comes close to socialism at some points whilst providing arguments of a distinctly libertarian kind at others.

Having drawn this distinction, which, despite the problems noted here with the means it has been done, does indicate something of importance, Gaus proceeds to discuss contemporary liberal political philosophy primarily as contributions to the "new" liberalism. Again, somewhat surprisingly, there is no reference to Kant, despite Paul Guyer's essay discussing the relationship of Kant and Rawls, and Rawls' own history of references to Kant, references that point in many different directions. So, despite the usefulness of Gaus' analysis here, there remains room to think in much more detail about the nature of the variety of possible Kantian responses to the divide sketched.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Pope and Secularism

Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has been visiting the UK this week. Fortunately, by the time many of you will read this his visit will have ended and he will back in his pseudo-state of the Vatican. His visit to the UK prompted protests and much commentary and his own speeches whilst here are fascinating in their own way. 

In one of his most prominent speeches the Pope attacked "aggressive secularism" and suggested that Christianity was not receiving sufficient tolerance here. Both assertions are somewhat surprising. The previous Labour government was one of the most active in recent years in promoting Christian schools, otherwise known as "faith schools" and in placing emphasis on a "moralization" of society that drew explicitly, in Tony Blair's case, on Christianity. Blair was an odd case, it is true, since he also stated that his proudest moment was passing the Civil Partnership legislation that gave substantial marriage rights to gay couples. However, after he ceased being Prime Minister he converted to Catholicism.

The new government, whilst including an atheist as Deputy Prime Minister, has indicated every intention of following in Blair's footsteps with Baroness Warsi recently indicating that, on her view, the previous government insufficiently emphasized the role of "faith groups" in society. So it is somewhat surprising that the Pope chooses Britain, of all places, as a spot in which "aggressive secularism" reigns. Britain is also somewhat unusual in having a state church resided over by the sovereign of the country. We also reserve a place for religious leaders (particularly Christian ones) in the upper house of our legislature.

Given all this it seems lamentably clear that Britain is not, as one might hope it should be, a leader of "aggressive secularism". Secularism is a somewhat misused term since some assume it to be the same thing as atheism whilst others assume it is just a by-word for consumerism. Secularism can, however, be defined quite simply: it is the principle of the separation of church and state. It need not be the case that religion is thereby ordered out of the "public sphere" entirely but it is true that for religious leaders and groups to play any serious role in such a sphere they need to put their case in terms of principles that are capable of commanding general assent and do not rely on special pleading based on invidious interpretations of supposedly sacred texts. Such a principle is worth fighting for and even being "aggressive" about. Certainly a sense of adherence to it enables tolerance of minorities, including religious minorities. It should be celebrated and not condemned and Britain could do with rather more of it, sufficient, for example, to disestablish the Anglican Church and to remove all special place for religious leaders in our legislature. Oh, and to cease recognising the claim of state-hood made by the Vatican, a ridiculous and contemptible claim! 

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Sellars and Kant on Intuition (IV)

The last posting on this topic considered the third movement of the first chapter of Sellars' book Science and Metaphysics and concluded with a comparison of Sellars' view of Kantian intuition and that of Salomon Maimon. In this posting I am going to consider the fourth movement of the first chapter.

The fourth movement opens with a series of questions concerning the status of "sense impressions" considered as the content of "sheer receptivity". The basic question considers whether the "sense impressions" need to be considered as states of consciousness (albeit non-conceptual ones) that intervene between the causal impact of the external environment on the mind and the verbal expression indicating a referential relation to the environment. Rather than see the "sense impressions" this way it could be the case, as is suggested by contemporary physicalists, that all we need to discuss is physical states. In which case, the relationship of guidedness between the referential verbal report and the environment on which it reports would simply be carried out by the physical operations alone. Here, it is interesting to see how Sellars, whilst maintaining a framework of scientific realism, moves away from the standard responses of physicalists.

What the appeal to the notion of the "sense impression" involves is a kind of state that is neither conceptual nor physical and, in making this appeal, Sellars resists classical intellectualism on the one hand and brute physicalism on the other. (Here we see his intellectual kinship to Kant and why the Kantian reference is important to him.) The rationale for the "sense impressions" remains one of accounting for the appearance of conceptual representation within the general awareness of perceptions. Particularly, it is meant to help deal with what we might think of as "minimal conceptual representations" even though, as indicated in the third movement of the chapter, Sellars does not take it to be the case that all visual perception need involve these.

The basic question concerns one of a correlation between the physical objects on the one hand and the mental states that have a connection to them. This is expressed again, as was the case in the third movement, through an analytical response to the way that conceptual representations occur. So, the example is given that, under "normal" circumstances there are perceptions of a red and rectangular object in specific circumstances. The circumstances are when we are in some causal relationship to the object. Another situation in which the perception of this type occurs is an "abnormal" one where something else than the specific object is affecting us due to its possessing, in some sense, characteristics that are related to the object.

What Sellars wants to account for is not a set of behavioural characteristics such as are displayed when someone consistently shows they can distinguish between "red" and "blue" accurately. It is rather the ability to conceptualize the experience that is at issue. The basic problem is thus not one that concerns the second case mentioned in the last paragraph (the "abnormal" one) but the first case (the "normal" one). How is that the conceptual occurrence of the description of the datum is given when confronted with something that referentially matches said datum? In responding to this Sellars wishes to invoke the "sense impression" as what is at work in "guiding" the conscious state such that the "sense impression" immediately corresponds to the causal stimuli that brings it about. (This "immediate" element of the "sense impression" is also a connection of it to the Kantian sense of intuition.)

There has to be something about the "sense impression" that makes it, in a way that does not apply to the verbal conscious report, analogous to the causal stimuli that brings it about. Rather than invoke this notion Sellars mentions that we could have one of two alternatives that might seem to dispense with the need for it. We could, on the one hand, claim that the capacity in question, is innate. On the other hand, we could just deal with it, in quasi-Wittgensteinian terms, by speaking about induction into a language-game. Sellars does not attempt, however, to deal here with the rationalist appeal to innatism but simply leaves that suggestion aside.

Sellars' response to the quasi-Wittgensteinian view is more interesting. The point he makes here is that, in order for this induction into the language-game to work, there must already exist the possibility of some cues for connection between verbal reports and causal and physical stimuli which the story in question presupposes and cannot explain. The account is, in fact, part of a story of generational connection but not really one that makes clear how such connection can take place at all.

Going back to the question at issue Sellars distinguishes between the sense that there are impressions of red rectangles simpliciter and impressions that red rectangles are located in specific regions. The latter already requires something conceptual being added to the former and so the former is the real first point that needs accounting for. Similarly, in the first instance, we should not be thinking about the standard cause of the appearance of the impression as this will inevitably lead in the direction of Humean questions. The basic reason for that concerns the move, noted in the third movement, of minimizing the referential element when we  become stuck on analysis of the occurrence in question in terms of a philosophical analysis that approximates to that of puzzlement of the ordinary perceiver.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Freudenthal on Maimon

Salomon MaimonImage via Wikipedia
I recently posted a report on the conference I attended on Salomon Maimon. However, running out of steam at the end, I gave the gist of Gideon Freudenthal's talk rather briefly and he has sent to me both an abstract of the talk and a discussion of the overall argument. I reproduce these here:

Maimon develops his philosophy in the analysis of mathematics which is the best of human knowledge in his view. However, even mathematics does not really satisfy his criterion of rationality which depends on intelligibility in terms of the insights of human understanding rather than intuition and imagination. The specification of intelligibility is through analytic and synthetic criteria. Maimon tries to reduce mathematics to analytic propositions and, when this proves impossible, aims to make it conform to his synthetic criterion, the latter consisting in a principle of determinability, which distinguishes meaningful predications from category mistakes. Both programs fail to fully achieve their goal but, rather than give up on his criterion of intelligibility, Maimon envisages an infinite progress to his goal.

The Argument

Maimon's philosophy is imbued with mathematics. To him, only mathematics is knowledge proper, and he develops his theses in discussion of mathematical examples. However, also mathematics does not satisfy his criteria of rationality.[see note 1 below]
Maimon's main concern is intelligibility. His criterion of rationality is insight of the understanding as opposed to intuition and imagination. Intelligibility is specified to an analytic and a synthetic criterion on which two comprehensive philosophical programs are based, one more demanding than the other. The first criterion is logical truth, and the program consists in the reduction of all synthetic propositions to analytical ones, concepts of substance to concepts of function. The less demanding  criterion was Maimon's Principle (or Law) of Determinability. The principle formulates the conditions of a "real synthesis". In “real synthesis” a new object is produced from which new consequences that follow neither from the original subject nor from the predicate concepts alone, but only from their synthesis. Thus a triangle has certain “consequences” (e.g., that the sum of its internal angles equals two right angles), whereas the Pythagorean theorem is a consequence of the synthesis of “triangle” and “right angle.” This criterion does not dispense with intuition, nor substitutes analytic for synthetic judgments, but accepts the (temporary) reality of synthetic judgments (a priori). Both criteria presuppose one supreme concept from which they proceed either analytically or synthetically.

The central motif of Maimon's philosophy is hence that proper knowledge must be based on the understanding. Intuition is not only opaque to reason but may also deceives us. Maimon learned this lesson in The Guide of the Perplexed of Maimonides, his early source of philosophical education. Maimonides discusses asymptotes. The imagination (or intuition) shows that these two lines must intersect, the understanding proves that this is false. What source of knowledge do we trust, the imagination (or intuition) or the understanding? In his commentary, Maimon emphasizes the prerogative of reason over imagination which alone establishes the preeminence of man over beasts, and supplies a three pages discussion with a simplified version of Apollonius' proof accompanied by a diagram. He was evidently very proud of this proof and  mentions it also in his Lebensgeschichte.[ see note 2 below]
Maimon's philosophical program was not successful in either version. Mathematics depends on axioms, postulates, and natural numbers which are not the product of the understanding but imposed on us in intuition. He therefore concludes that even mathematics is only subjectively necessary and not objectively and apodeictic. We thus receive the following hierarchy: Pure logic is objective and apodeictic, arithmetic and even more so geometry are subjectively necessary, mathematical physics is contingent, propositions dependent on perceptions ("The square is red") are not yet knowledge in this form.
The uniqueness of Maimon's philosophy consists in upholding these criteria of rationality on the one hand, and claiming that they have not been met even by the best of human knowledge, on the other. The gap between actual and ideal knowledge is a permanent challenge and - because it diminishes by the progress of knowledge - it is also a motivation to further efforts. The full fulfillment of the program is the prerogative of the "infinite intellect". The present state of mathematics - and its gradual transcendence towards the ideal of the infinite intellect! - are the share of the finite intellect. Insisting that our knowledge is not based on firm ultimate foundations and does not conform to the criteria of proper knowledge, that it rather begins and stops in the "middle" in a mixture of logic and intuition, and that also philosophy - his own included! -  is merely hypothetical, is the core of Maimon's anti-Kantian philosophy of human finitude. The optimistic counterpart is the claim that we proceed towards ever more objective knowledge. If indeed an isomorphism obtains between the knowledge of the finite and the infinite intellect, then we may hope that we progress in the right direction. But because we cannot know this, our progress may be an aberration. This is Maimon's radical skepticism. The hope that from the "middle" we progress towards "proper knowledge", and the skeptical fear that this might be an illusion, designate the opposite poles of Maimon's "Rational Dogmatism" and  Skepticism. 

[1] There have been a number of cursory discussions of Maimon's philosophy of mathematics, but the only serious analysis is Lachterman's 1992.
[2] Maimonides' example is the leg of an hyperbola and its asymptote which is the outline of the cone itself. See The Guide of the Perplexed I, 73. See Apollonius Conica II, 1, 2, 14. See Maimon's commentary in GM 142 - 149, esp. 146-148; Lebensgeschichte I, 381 see also GW III, 232.

Sellars and Kant on Intuition (III)

I have been going through the first chapter of Wilfrid Sellars' Science and Metaphysics recently with the last posting  on this topic discussing the second movement of the chapter and revealing how, in it, Sellars substantiated his conception of "sheer receptivity" and connected it to a revised account of "sense impressions". In this posting I will look at the third movement of the first chapter.

The third movement opens with what Sellars hopes is a relatively uncontentious claim to the effect that visual perception involves, in some sense, conceptual representations. If we do assume this to be so then it will follow that verbal reports made concerning what it is we are seeing will express a "conceptual episode" that contains the twin elements of perceptual capacity and a reference to how the general environment is causally affecting one. This point is then used to begin to explore the relationship between ordinary speech that refers to sense impressions and the philosophical analyses that have been undertaken of such. The contrast drawn is that, generally, people seem to have no compunction in referring to a general impression of a red book on a brown table but philosophical analysis of impressions rarely allows for the sense that what that phrase might report is a distinct sensory impression. The reason why philosophers appear to have been reluctant to analyse what is given in ordinary speech in a way that reflects the structure of that speech appears to have been that philosophical analysis of such impressions produces a thinner sense of what is given than ordinary speech appears to report.

However, there is a point at which philosophical analysis and ordinary speech get closer together and this is when ordinary speech reflects a problem in the speaker's response to the datum given. So, speakers become, for example, confused about what is given to them and then their speech reports become correspondingly thinner (and more like philosophical analysis). Sellars illustrates this with a progressive distinction between speakers concerning whether the datum they have given to them is "a red book over there" as opposed to "a rectangular physical object" or even it merely "looking like" there is a red book over there. The second claim would be a kind of minimal objective claim (much like philosophical analysis tends to give) whilst the last moves from a vocabulary that endorses something as given to one which places it in a merely "seeming" location. We can imagine the second claim relativised by also being put in a "seeming" manner.

If the second claim was so relativised then we have a kind of reflection on the statement in question. Now, in general situations the reason why this kind of reflection often appears required is, as first suggested, because of a kind of puzzlement about the datum given. It doesn't seem necessary to reflect otherwise. However, philosophical analysis has often operated as if the experience of the sense impression was typically like the one that ordinary speech only reflects in these cases of puzzlement. By contrast, what Sellars seems to aim at now is a distinction between the presence of minimal sense impressions and the necessity of minimal conceptual episodes like those given when we place the impression under the cover of a "seeming" notion.

However, rather than immediately directly arguing against the assumption that says  a kind of minimal conceptual episode is required if there exist minimal sense impressions, Sellars first looks at what would have to be given in the minimal conceptual episode, if it existed. There would have to be, Sellars suggests, three distinct aspects of the visual perception. These would be: a) a purely physical aspect, however described; b) a primary mental aspect sufficient to produce the minimal conceptual episode; c) a "rich" conceptual episode that allows for reference to such things as "cabbages and kings and pigs in barnyards".

Sellars does not next instantly reject the division of the experience into the three elements in question. Nor does he reject the distinction between the "receptivity" of the sense and the "guidedness" of the sense by conceptual representation. The second is, in fact, taken to be required by Kantian analysis. For example, Kant refers to productive imagination "taking up" (A120) the manifold which implies, to Sellars, that the manifold is something independent. (See also, which Sellars does not cite, B145.) 

However, whilst the latter point seems required for the Kantian analysis to work, this manifold should not be construed as belonging itself to the conceptual order but to be something non-conceptual. It is only if it is understood, in accord with the general pattern of Sellars' analysis, as so non-conceptual, that we have a notion that there is something "outside" the conceptual order, something that he takes to be a sense of "intuition", the sense at work in the uniqueness of perceptual judgment where the latter refers to some notion that there is something given, a particular this as such. This continued insistence on the understanding of intuition in this way is part of what makes Sellars' analysis so constantly reminiscent of that of Maimon whilst also distinguishing it from Maimon since the latter takes the consequence of this point to be that space and time are not really intuitions at all.

The general point that Sellars closes the third movement with is that the heterogeneity of the receptivity of sense (in the radical way required by the notion of "sheer receptivity") is what would be needed for Kant to escape the dialectic of German idealism that leads to Hegel. Without this heterogeneity we are well on the way to such idealism and the movement towards it seems, indeed, part of the effect of Maimon's analysis.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Interrupting Derrida

I've been reading a posthumous publication of an interview with Jacques Derrida entitled Copy, Archive, Signature. Its purported "subject" is photography with the subtitle telling us that what we have here is a "conversation" on the topic. Derrida gave a lot of interviews to a lot of people on very varied occasions with rather mixed results. This one dates from 1992 and has previously appeared in German in an abridged form but has not yet appeared in French. The question of the linguistic status of the text and, indeed, of texts generally is raised in a lengthy introduction by Gerhard Richter.

However, what struck me about this text were things different to what occurred to Richter. The interview has been transcribed from a tape recording and at one point it is marked in the transcription that there "appears" to be an interruption. We come back in with some odd remarks from Derrida about rain but following these there comes a question about the "role of the gaze in the photographic portrait". To this Derrida answers with a discussion of the peculiarity of gazing. When we gaze we do not see our own gazing. This ordinary fact is, naturally, somewhat peculiar since there is something essential about ourselves that is hidden from us. The camera, if it catches our gaze, shows us something in the photograph that we never otherwise catch a glimpse of. 

Earlier in the interview Derrida had spoken about the peculiar status of giving photographs of oneself to another. Early in the 20th century "thinkers" such as Heidegger would give signed photographs of themselves to others, something that no one in such a status does now. For historical reasons that are both obvious and yet also elusive only those identified as "celebrities" now give such gifts to others. 

What is given when the photograph of oneself is given to someone else? Rather than directly answer this Derrida discusses the way in which to give such a gift one both engages in narcissism and yet also, in another way, 'interrupts' it. The engagement in narcissism occurs due to the presentation of the image of oneself to the other, a presentation that seems to say to the other, "here I am". This saying, from me to you, thus signals my importance for and to you. By contrast, however, the "interruption" occurs due to the fact that what I give in giving this image is an indication of something that is lost to me, my own gaze. This giving of what is lost to me hence, in its way, robs my narcissism of its focus, removes my self from me. This leads finally to a couple of sentences that, in my view, are some of Derrida's most beautiful:

This is like the erotics of the gaze, the exchange of gazes, gazes that cross, and that cross at the point where each one cannot reappropriate itself, and therefore already gives itself, delivers itself and gives itself up, unarmed: this is a gesture that can in certain situations be more exposed, more giving and more intense than 'making love'. In it the gaze is naked, at once naked and not seeing itself. Exposed as overexposed, like nudity.

The giving of the image of my gaze provokes, in its turn, your gaze upon my gaze, a gaze here that I do not receive and that you find does not return to you since it is as lost to you as my gaze is to me. This "exchange" follows the gift but it is not an exchange in the sense that anything returns to either of us. It is a situation of absolute loss and this loss is what disarms us. The gaze as the surrendering of one to the other, the most basic form of nudity. This reflection clearly echoes something in Levinas but, even as it does so, takes away from Levinas something. That economy would itself merit further reflection, on another occasion.

Friday, 10 September 2010

W.D. Ross, Common Sense Morality, and Self-Evidence

In The Right and the Good there are a number of references to "what is commonly thought" or held to be the case in terms of morality. Ross also refers at certain points to what the "plain man" thinks. These references are part of a rudimentary notion of "common sense morality" in Ross, a notion inherited from intuitionists of an earlier time (and perhaps a notion systematised first by Henry Sidgwick). However, when he turns to assessing the grounds for taking the claims of such morality seriously then Ross makes an appeal that turns on the "self-evidence" of such "common sense" morals.

The appeal in question is explained by reference to how it is that certain types of claim fail to get dislodged by moral theories. This argument is specifically aimed against consequentialism but would effect other theories that, like the consequentialist one, are revisionist of settled moral convictions. The example given is that of making a promise. When a promise is made we assume that it has binding force independently of any notion of optimific outcomes. When we "reflect" on the notion of a promise we do not find any reference in our understanding of its obligatoriness to considerations of the type that would be expected if it were grounded ultimately on consequentialist considerations. This does not entail that we have to reject any appeal to consequence sensitivity but it does show that even if we decide not to follow the prima facie duty of promise keeping that this does not, in itself, indicate that the ground of the duty is in fact a consequentialist one.

Ross also summarises his understanding of the self-evidence that applies with ethics in terms of a remarkable statement that relates ethical statements to a type of accumulative sedimentation when he writes:

We have no more direct way of access to the facts about rightness and goodness and about what things are right or good, than by thinking about them; the moral convictions of thoughtful and well-education people are the data of ethics just as sense-perception are the data of natural science. Just as some of the latter have to be rejected as illusory, so have some of the former; but as the latter are rejected only when they are in conflict with other more accurate sense-perceptions, the former are rejected only when they are in conflict with other convictions which stand better the test of reflection. The existing body of moral convictions of the best people is the cumulative product of the moral reflection of many generations, which has developed an extremely delicate power of appreciation of moral distinctions; and this the theorist cannot afford to treat with anything other than the greatest respect. The verdicts of the moral consciousness of the best people are the foundation on which he must build; though he must first compare them with one another and eliminate any contradictions they may contain. (40-1.)

This remarkable passage has a number of intriguing elements in it. Firstly, and perhaps most overarchingly, it indicates a limitation on the persuasive power of revisionist theories of morality. These theories need to take seriously the sense that there already exists, prior to their being elaborated, a deep moral sense that has been historically generated. There is a similar point to this made in the first section of Kant's Groundwork where Kant likewise seeks to show that there is already contained in general moral consciousness sufficient for the theorist. Secondly, this limitation on revisionist theories, or certainly on their persuasiveness, is not merely stated in favour of conservatism although a first reading of this passage might suggest so. The point is not that existent moral claims be simply and wholly accepted as apt but rather that the aptness of these claims requires reflective consideration in relation to each other (much like in the case of Rawls' notion of "reflective equilibrium"). Thirdly, the revision allowed room by theory needs to be related to that which works through the consistency and coherency of the general body of convictions. So the revision does not merely succeed due to a general argument in its favour but also has to be stable in relation to the reflective self-criticism of the data of theory, namely, the settled convictions of the "best people". The oddity of the appeal finally resides however in this last point, namely, that there are some people ("the best" or those who are "thoughtful and well-educated") better able generically to carry out the reflective process in question. What enables this ability to reside in such people is not stated and surely it would here have been preferable to refer instead to a procedural mechanism rather than a settled group thought to already itself be a locus of wisdom?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Rawls, Non-Ideal Theory and War (I)

In a posting a couple of days ago I set out questions for how non-ideal theory might be considered in the context of the Law of Peoples. Now I want to begin to probe this discussion further through greater attention to the text of the work.  The first topic Rawls turns to in his discussion of non-ideal theory in this work concerns the right to war. Given that the conditions of non-ideal theory include consideration of states that are actively refusing compliance with the demands of ideal theory it is not surprising that Rawls begins his account of non-ideal theory here. 

The first point of some interest to note is that Rawls does nuance his discussion of "outlaw states" somewhat when he begins this part of his account. "Outlaw states", in their active rejection of the conditions of ideal theory, might be thought to be actively aggressive in their foreign policy. However, Rawls' account of these states does not classify all such as having such an aggressive intent. They can be termed "outlaw states" under another type of description, namely, because they adopt state policies that involve violation of at least some of their own citizens' human rights (what Rawls refers to here is the situation of "minorities"). Due to these policies they put themselves in defiance of the conditions of ideal theory (notably, in opposition to the equality of rights) and this opens them up to potential intervention by other states, even if they are not aggressive towards these other states.

So one type of right to war could involve protection of universal conditions of human rights. This is so even though the state acted against may have made no specific move against the well-ordered society that decides to intervene. This significant modification of the general international convention preventing aggressive warfare already points in the direction of what has come to be known as the "right to protect", a residue of the ambitious project of "liberal interventionism". 

Despite this modification of the general view adopted by international lawyers Rawls is in accord with the position generally recognised by the latter in rejecting any claim to war purely on the basis of a state's self-interest (which would allow aggressive war per se, not merely one advanced in protection of human rights). Well-ordered peoples, working in accord with principles of ideal theory, will therefore not engage in war with each other since they will have no aggressive intent towards each other and will not engage in suppression of the human rights of their own citizens. This being so, there will only be rights of war for such states with regard to "outlaw states".

There will, though, be a right to war in self-defence though Rawls differentiates the grounds for appeal to such a right between the different kinds of "well-ordered" societies his ideal theory recognises. Liberal societies engage in self-defense with the primary aim of defending and preserving basic freedoms. In such societies there exist institutions that are reflexively justified: that is, citizens are publicly and consciously informed by them in their actions and affirm them in their dealings with one another. So, when such societies affirm a right to war exists this will be done in ways that meet tests akin to those of Kant's affirmative principle of publicity discussed in Perpetual Peace.

Decent societies are subtly different since they would act in such a way that they would show respect for others even whilst being governed by comprehensive views. Rawls is less clear about the nature of their consultation hierarchy but I will venture for now that it fits more the negative publicity test of Perpetual Peace. Benevolent absolutisms are also described as including respect for human rights but as having no consultation process. In this respect these societies deny, in fact, a basic right, the right to have included a respect for the provision that laws enacted should be seen to relate to the potential of universal consent. Or this is how Kant would have seen it!

This is only the first part of the discussion of non-ideal theory with regard to war. Rawls goes on later to discuss conduct within war, as well as the right to declare war but I'll leave this for a later posting.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Sellars and Kant on Intuition (II)

In my last posting on this topic I looked at the first movement of the first chapter of Wilfrid Sellars' book Science and Metaphysics whose argument culminated with a problem concerning the notion that space is the "form of outer sense". Today I want to reconstruct and assess some of the elements of the second movement of this first chapter. 

Sellars opens the second movement by stating the up-shot of the first movement has been to suggest that representations of a manifold as a manifold, representations described by Kant as "intuitions", are a special class of representations of the understanding that belong to spontaneity, not to receptivity or at least not to "receptivity" in its "radical" or "sheer" sense. The "radical" or "sheer" sense of receptivity is, however, also now suggested to be a "postulate", albeit a transcendental one. The items which make up the manifold that belongs to the radical or sheer form of receptivity are, however, characterised by Sellars as "sense impressions" which ensures that what Sellars means by such impressions is somewhat different than the role they played in empiricist accounts.

Despite the fact that the place of "sense impressions" in Sellars' reconstruction of Kant is not equivalent to the role they play in empiricist accounts there is a consideration of how the role of this notion has often functioned within philosophy generally (and hence within empiricist accounts). The general account that follows focuses on the notion of an impression of a red rectangle which is analysed by Sellars as including three components. The first component is that what is meant by sensing this impression is that we are undergoing a conscious state. The second component concerns what is happening what this state is undergone which is that we are faced by a process in which this impression is, at least in "normal circumstances", brought about by physical objects that fit the appropriate description. The third component is that the impression in question represents the appropriate physical object.

Having analysed the experience in question through this discussion of its components Sellars goes on to discuss the understanding of the "state of consciousness". The phrase is itself described by him as "both ambiguous and obscure". The ambiguity is focused on first with the point initially made that such impressions, considered as states of consciousness, are often assimilated to bodily sensations and feelings. Sense impressions, in the broadest sense, are comprehended as "non-conceptual" and the impressions are understood as being not just "states" of consciousness but also as "objects" of it.

The question now arises as to whether the sense impressions are, as specific individuated "contents", themselves made objects of awareness (or, as Sellars puts it in more Kantian language, are "apperceived"). The point is made that once we grant the existence of such "impressions" it becomes almost impossible not to consider them as apperceived, particularly if we do not have care with our distinctions.

Cartesians, for example, have the possibility of saying that the specific, individuated, sense-impressions are objects of awareness but that they are things of which we are "inadequately" or only "obscurely" aware. Similar statements are made in a more recent vocabulary when philosophers suggest that we are not aware consciously of what the manifold of our senses "really" (physically, i.e., natural-scientifically) "represent". Sellars wishes to move away from such models precisely through his notion of "sheer receptivity" and its corresponding notion of "sense impression". So the point is that the classic uses of "sense impression" which develop this sense of "inadequacy" do so because they have not really distinguished the two senses of "receptivity".

In response, then, to the classic pictures of sense impressions we arrive now at a notion of them that allows for the possibility that such impressions are not specifically given to us as objects of awareness. In a sense, this fits, according to Sellars, with Kant's usage since he need not relate to any such manifold of "sheer receptivity" as something of which we are aware. 

The second movement of the chapter appears, therefore, to consist mainly in developing and substantiating the concept of "sheer receptivity" and indicating the way in which it allows for a clarified sense of "sense impression" but Sellars, in this movement, does not yet fill out the place this will philosophically occupy for him in any serious detail and nor has he, as yet, returned fully to the way in which his renovation of the Kantian conception will both build on, and away from, Kant's own view.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Rawls, Non-Ideal Theory and International Relations

In yesterday's posting the topic of the relationship between ideal and non-ideal theory for John Rawls reached the point of intersection with his view of international relations as expressed in his book The Law of Peoples. In this work, one of Rawls last publications, he describes two forms of society that match the generic conditions of non-ideal theory. On the one hand, there are "burdened societies" that are the victim of historical contingencies and as a result of these we would expect that their application of the conditions of ideal theory is partial and compromised. On the other hand, there are societies that deliberately and consciously work against the conditions of ideal theory and these latter are termed "outlaw states". This opens out the question of how states that approximate more closely to the conditions of ideal theory should deal with states in the two positions that are decidedly non-ideal.

At the opening of the discussion of non-ideal theory in the Law of Peoples Rawls describes the need for "policies and courses of action" that are are "morally permissible and politically possible as well as likely to be effective". There are here three distinct requirements that could in principle be independently detailed and related to each other. Rawls does not specify either how these notions are to be understood or how the relationship between them should be guided which ensures that there is rather ample space left here for "intuition". Nor does Rawls discuss whether we should aim in dealing with these requirements at conditions that follow some general rule that is independent of them all whether that rule be one of some general maxim of efficiency or expediency or utility.  There is, however, some guidance in the pages of Theory since in section 46 of it Rawls gives two priority rules, one that that has been discussed previously to the effect that liberty has priority over the second principle of equality and the other that states justice has priority over efficiency and welfare. This second rule addresses our query here in stating that the principle of equality is prior to any principle of efficiency (including utility). 

The notion of "moral permissibility" listed at the opening of the discussion of non-ideal theory in the Law of Peoples is not further specified there. Back in Theory we note in section 19 a discussion of what Rawls terms "natural duties" and it might be reasonable to assume that these would form part of the guidance for what is "morally permissible". Included there under the heading of "natural duties" we find duties of mutual aid (pertinent with regard to "burdened societies"), duties of non-maleficence and duties of beneficence. Here Rawls also specifically wrote that such duties should be recognised in the conduct of states.

With regard to the question of "political possibility" and "likely effectiveness" there are further questions. Firstly, what is politically possible may be what is possible within certain societies in relation to others. So, despite being well-ordered, some societies might manifest more or less tendencies amongst their citizens to either help other societies or engage in confrontation with them. This may make some actions more or less "politically possible". Similarly, what is "effective" may not be what is most "possible". And, what is understood to be "effective" could be either measures that remove specific injustices or the overall group of injustices. Removal of some specific injustices might be more "politically possible" and yet have little overall effect on the general conditions of injustice. Presumably the best outcome (though this involves some notion of optimality) would be to remove the general conditions of injustice but this might well not only lead to some specific injustices being unaddressed but could even lead to circumstances that perpetuated these specific injustices.

These problems point up matters that need to be considered when reading through the discussion of non-ideal theory in the Law of Peoples in more detail as I intend to do on a future occasion.