The Decline of Theology; the Growth of Aesthetics

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

I’m sure there are plenty of discussions about this, all I can remember right now is Carl Schmitt in Political Theology and Political Romanticism, which address different but relevant points.

As I suggested in yesterday’s post, Hume marks some kind of transition from a ‘Stoic’ belief in the sovereignty of reason overs the passions to a belief in the sovereignty of passion, to use a crude formulation I hope has a useful function in elucidation. The interest in ‘taste’ is tied up with this loss of sovereign reason, not that I’m suggesting that Hume is an irrationalist, but that some kinds of Reason are undermined by him.

One form of Reason that Hume undermines, famously, is metaphysical theology and its centrality to philosophy. While I don’t think there is a such a thing as an outright victory or defeat in arguments about religious and naturalist views of the universe, or the existence of God, Hume and then Kant’s arguments on this topic are nevertheless about as successful as any set of philosophical arguments have ever been in shifting the central pre-occupations of philosophy. This is not necessarily anything to do with abandoning God and religion: Hume avoids such an argument and has been taken up by Faith based thrological thinkers; Kant intended to strengthen a way of thinking about ethics which gives us a reason to believe in God. However, their arguments certainly make it easier to abandon God and religion, and shift philosophy away from putting God at its centre in metaphysics.

Very broadly, the arguments of Hume and Kant depend on making a separation between the evidence of our perceptions, and our knowledge of ultimate reality. There is no way tracing our perceptions back to a unified divine cause. There is also no basis for the argument that there is a kind of being that must exist, because it is perfect being, which means a whole shift away from any assumption that some kinds of beings are dependent on higher kinds of being, and so on until we reach Perfect Being as the source of all beings. That is, we move away from the idea of a hierarchy of being.

In Hume and Kant, aesthetics and taste enter into areas where God would have entered, in earlier philosophy. Ethics in Hume is linked with aesthetic taste, in the explanation of how it is formed and how it develops in human history. Kant harmonises ethics and knowledge with reference to an account of the power of judgement, the first half of which is taken up with aesthetic judgement. Understanding and sensibility are harmonised through beauty, coming into the role Descartes, Occasionalists and Leibniz attributed to God, of harmonising different substances. When Kant talks about harmonising understanding and sensibility he is approaching the issue of harmonising mental substance and physical substance in earlier philosophers. Beauty symbolises moral ideas for Kant, and that symbolism is the model for grasping God. The sublime is a way of grasping God, as what is greater than any force of nature. Agreement on taste is the basis for communicability between humans.

Reason is no longer sovereign over the passions, God is no longer sovereign over events. Taste emerges as a way of explaining how the passions organise and unify different people; the beautiful and the sublime emerge as ways of unifying the faculties of the mind, and grounding social communication. We are not necessarily talking about a total aestheticisation of philosophy here, but we are taking about its ineliminability from a less theological philosophy.

Link of the Day: Pippin on Hegel and Experience

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

‘Concept and Intuition: On Distinguishability and Separability’ by Robert B. Pippin.

Hat tip PhilPapers

Pippin has posted a 2005 paper for Hegel-Studien on his personal page, link to posted publications, at the University of Chicago.

Pippin is a notable commentator on German Idealism, mostly Kant and Hegel. and the philosophical tradition that follows.

The paper resists the idea that Hegel should be seen as completely departing from the experienced based aspects of Kant’s Philosophy. Pippin argues that Hegel does not move into a very subjectivist view, detached from experience of the external world, or an absolute metaphysical structure separate from experience. Hegel has suffered from those kinds of interpretations. Pippin refers to philosophers who have situated Hegel, in an account of concepts, as both derived from experience, but also exceeding the content of one moment of experience, He refers to the Pittsburgh philosopher John McDowell and his predecessor in Puttsburgh Hegelianism, Wilfrid Sellars. Pippin also situates the interpretation if Hegel with regard to discussion of names in Gareth Evans and the discussion of truth and knowledge in Donald Davidson.

This rehabilitation if Hegel as a philosopher who is concerned with experience, and can be situated in ‘Analytic’ discussions of language, truth and knowledge, is well established now. Another Pittsburgh Hegelian has help establish this way of thinking about Hegel, Robert Brandom. However, even those who already have some familiarity with the material will still find Pippin’s paper to be very worth reading as a very economical statement of the issues, and this way of taking Hegel. Anyone who thinks of Hegel as anti-objective or anti-experience philosopher should certainly read this to get an excellent introduction to another way of thinking about Hegel.

How did Kant come to be taken as Anti-Liberal?

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

I mentioned the question of Kant and liberalism in yesterday’s post on ‘Liberating Republicanism’. I think it merits more investigation. Kant is clearly not always taken as anti-liberal (taking liberalism to mean classical liberalism). It might seem obvious that Kant is liberal, since his writings on ethics, law, and politics indicate the following core liberal ideas.

The primacy of the individual.

The autonomy of the individual.

The right to have property, of any extent.

The rule of law.

The progressive force of free trade and market based economies.

The importance of limiting and balancing power in the state, largely through a division between the law making power and the executive power.

The danger of unrestricted democracy, which for Kant would mean that the executive power is the same as the law making power, and both are democratic.

The value of peace between nations.

The value of a federal/confederal agency to enforce peace between nations.

So where does all these anti-liberal Kant assumptions come from? Most obviously in two groups of people: post-modern/post-Marxist political thinkers, particularly the Cosmopolitics crowd; the most purist market libertarians, I take Kant to be highly compatible with moderate market libertarianism . They are wrong, but they are not just being stupid. One part of it is that they over focusing on some passages, some aspect and not putting it in the context of the whole; one part is that they need to define their position by making an opposition between Kant and liberalism.

What aspects of Kant are they focusing on, in an imbalanced way?

1. Kant emphasises a transcendental power of the productive imagination, which for some people can be linked with the labour theory of value in Marx, and Marx’s general tendency to elevate the producer as labourer.

2. Kant’s enthusiasm for Rousseau, While I strongly resist attempts to turn Rousseau into the original totalitarian, I think just about everyone can agree he was not a liberal or libertarian of the free market individualistic kind.

3 .Kant’s references to positive freedom and therefore perfectionism. Positive

freedom in Kant means using our innate freedom not only to obey moral law, put to follow it it a very strong way so that we are perfecting ourselves. I don’t see that as anti-liberal, but since Humboldt talked about negative and positive welfare in The Limits of Stare Actions, there has been a tendency to see a social ethic based on a collective responsibility greater than mere obedience to law as threatening to purist liberalism. It can be threatening to freedom, but it does not have to be, if we understand it as a mixture of purely voluntary action and the steps the state takes to promote the values of individual freedom and political decision making through democratic institutions.

4. Kant emphasises a transcendental unity, and purpose, of humanity or of the republic.

5. Kant is placing some limit on national sovereignty and the interaction of states in his cosmopolitanism.

6. Kant emphasises an ethical foundation for law, the state, cosmopolitanism, public right, cosmopolitan right, which might seem to reduce the possibilities of self-interested actions by individuals in the private sphere.

In 3., I get at some of the issues around reading Kant the wrong way. If you believe that either the state is purely an agency for upholding contracts, property rights, and free trade; or that everything, or a very large proportion, in property/welfare distribution should be decided through democratic majorities in the public sphere, with nations to be similarly bound by some kind of transnational decision making body, then this makes sense.

We do not have to make this either/or choice. I just don’t believe either choice has been put into practice, or ever could be. We could regard them as useful extremes between which to define a range of positions, which is OK so long as we do not conceive that as distribution along a single line. For example, a stronger public sphere of law making could be more beneficial to private property than a weak, or non-existent public sphere, and that has often proved to be the case, in practice.


Liberating Republicanism

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

What do I mean by liberating Republicanism? A few things.

I mean liberating Machiavelli the Republican theorist from the crass parody of him as an opportunistic servant of tyrants, a cynical engineer of despotism, even a version of the devil. Here I can only say, read The Discources, then read or reread ,The Prince. If you think you know Machiavelli, but you haven’t done this, you are very mistaken.

Republicanism is a theory of freedom. A theory in which the state is limited and upholds liberties, but also a theory in which freedom in a society is enhanced by political participation and political rights, by the existence of a political sphere. As Machiavelli notes, there is lot of self-interest at work in that sphere; as Machiavelli also noted, given good Republican institutions that self-interest can be turned into a freedom enhancing struggle for relative prestige. So Republicanism is something liberating.

On the whole Republican theorists have been concerned with the protection of individual rights, including property rights, from the state and from the more extreme decisions of temporary majorities. The two main exceptions are Spinoza and Rousseau, though I wouldn’t want to go down the sad and sorry road of blaming Rousseau for everything bad in politics since the Jacobin Terror, and there are certainly things a Republican concerned with individual rights can learn from those two. On the other side, we have Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, Harrington, Sydney, and Kant, as the clearest examples, I would also add Locke, Montesquieu, Smith, Jefferson, Madison, Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill.

The obvious thing about that last list above is these are people often listed as Classical Liberals. I think it bizarre that Kant is often not listed among the Classical Liberals, but more on him a bit later. Current Libertarian thinking tends to take those Classical Liberals as all united by a view of individuals and their property as absolute self-contained capsules. On this basis, voluntary contracts and exchanges between individuals are regarded as the only legitimate social relation. The political sphere is seen as valueless in comparison, and at best something to be tolerated as a necessary evil.

This view is most strong in the United States, and is tied up with a disguised nationalism in which it is presumed that the US Constitution rests on the same assumptions. As even some hard core libertarians have acknowledged, this is not a realistic presentation of the US Constitution, or the people associated with its political and intellectual origins (Jefferson and Madison, we could also add Montesquieu and Locke as ghostly intellectual presences). Indeed the most hard core libertarians, particularly the minarchists and the anarcho-capitalists, are bound to concede this if they are at all honest. There is no way that the Constitution presents a night watchman theory of the state, and how could it be am anarchist document?

An honest approach would lead to dumping claim to the thinkers I listed from Locke to Mill, except with regard to particular passages and aspects, which are compatible with hard core libertarianism. I have addressed this recently with regard to readings of Locke and Étienne de La Boétie.

The earliest thinker who really fits in with hard core libertarian thought is Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) in Limits of State Action, but even Humboldt didn’t follow the prescriptions of the book as a Prussian education minister. The next proto-hard core libertarian thinker is Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), a notable economic thinker. A really admirable and sometimes funny writer in the advantages of markets. I would say the same, as I would say about various libertarian economists since Hayek, great economic ideas, how very unfortunate that the view of politics and political liberties is so dismissive.

The intermediate step there is that economic ideas, which are great for explaining how social rationality emerges from free economic decision of individuals, are not so great for dealing with situations where the good is intrinsically collective, whether it’s transport planning or building a constitution. Both of those can, and should be, informed by market thinking, but the market cannot create a decision about whether or not to route a road somewhere, or what the voting system should be. In principle a non-state agency formed by economic agents could have the power to route roads, but then that would not be operating as a purely economic agent and would have acquired a political quasi-state role, and we’d have to ask who gave it this power and excluded other claimants.

One part of this is about showing that Republicanism promotes liberty. Another part of this is about showing that the Republican element in various Classical Liberal thinkers should be liberated from a large part of libertarian thinking. Another part of this is about showing how libertarianism needs to be liberated from the worst aspects of libertarianism. The last part is about liberating Republicanism from left-liberals, social democrats, and socialists.

Republicanism is big in political theory now, but not with people who aim to find some way of combining political culture with property owning individualism. It has become socialism for a period in which the idea has lost a lot of its force. On the political level, Republicanism has been picked up by Demos (a New Labour linked think tank in Britain, founded originally by hyper revisionist Marxists) and the Spanish Socialist Party, and probably some other left leaning groups and parties.

On the theoretical level, the most influential people are Philip Pettit and Quentin Skinner. We could also mention J.G.A. Pocock who preceded them with important studies of Early Modern Republicanism, but we’ll leave him aside in this context, Pettit’s idea of Republicanism is very much in the tradition of the egalitarian liberalism of John Rawls, but wishing to add more something, that is a right of non-domination which is one way of describing the idea of Republican self-government. But Pettit’s interest is in egalitarianism, of a kind which does not look very compatible with the kind of property rights and individualism of concern to Montesquieu and Locke. He has very little to say about political process and political culture, Skinner’s work is mostly on Early Modern political thought. Where he writes about the 19th Century, he produces a contrast between ‘Neo-Roman Liberty’ and liberalism of a kind which would leave us unable to account for a figure like J.S. Mill who believed in civic virtues as well as individual rights.

The left leaning use of Republicanism goes even further with Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri where it has become a part of neo-Marxism, drawing on Spinoza, Jefferson, Machiavelli etc. For Hardt and Negri, Republicanism itself is not the answer, but the proper reading of it as the precursor of some transformed version of Marism and communism for the present age. This picks up on well established tradition of seeing Kant as the precursor of Marx, not as a whole but through the reading into Kant’s ideas of transcendental production and unity, of a prefiguring of Marx’s ideal of an emancipated community. There is a whole current of cosmipolitics around in post-Marxist post-Modern political theory, which interprets Kant’s ideas about world federation as fitting into that frame. I’ve even heard these people use Kant as what they regard as an alternative to liberalism and a critic of it.

This kind of reading of Kant can be found in Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) in Socialism, Mises is one of the inspirers of current libertarianism, a free market economist who interpreted liberalism as being about property rights in the most non-political, and even, anti-political way. Kant’s tendencies to talk about a kind of transcendental unity of humanity and history, are interpreted by Mises as socialist, proto-Marxist talk. This is bizarre, Kant is clear enough about property rights, the division of powers, the danger of unrestrained majoritarianism, the role of commerce. Why should Mises and the Neo-Marxists want to agree on reading Kant this way? Kant who thought labourers should be be excluded from the franchise? It suited Mises to turn against anything which shows Classical Liberalism gave value to the political sphere, that Classical Liberalism overlaps with Republicanism. It suits the Po-Mo left (in between mangling Foucault) to find a thinker about the political sphere against a liberalism they have parodied as Mises type anti-political libertarianism. An extraordinary alliance.

Maybe the phrase Libertarian Republicanism could provide a better approach.

Clausewitz, War, Dialectic and Political Economy

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

I’m following on from remarks I made yesterday at the end of my post on Carl von Clausewitz’ On War. Something I’ve mentioned before is the link between Clauswitz’s approach and German Idealist philosophy of the time. I’m not concerned with details of influence here, but with significant similarities with regard to ideas and methods which did not appear before. There is a ‘dialectical’ approach in Clausewitz’ book in its concern with the relation between part and whole and between opposites. Tactics and strategy only exist in comparison with each according to a boundary which shifts according to context. The success of Napoleon’s battles and campaigns changes according to how much we think about the overall consequences of a battle and consider what might have happened if Napoleon had done something different, or if his opponents had judged the situation more accurately. What I didn’t talk so much about yesterday is how far Clausewitz suggests that the success of one side in a battle depends on its relation to original goals. A battlefield victory in which the general does not achieve goals with regard to destroying the enemy’s army or occupying territory is not a real victory. A defeat in which the general was intending to retreat to predetermined lines while destroying as much of the enemy as possible is not a defeat.

This does parallel Hegel’s idea of dialectical method in philosophy, which emphasises context, relation between part and whole, the move from particular to universal and simple to complex as all relevant concepts are brought in relation to a single concept, the importance of conflict and resolution between differing ideas.

It also parallels political economy, which must have had some impact of Hegel. What I mean by political economy is largely Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). What Smith is concerned with is how trade and commerce integrates differing and competing interests from different parts of a country and even the world. On a very simple level, we can only understand why a village bake makes bread in relation to the demand for bread from other villagers. At a slightly more complex level, we can only understand why wheat is grown in certain parts of a country because of the demand from bakers for the materials to make bread. Economic processes allow the mergence of very complex co-ordination of a mass of different points of production and demand through a mass of individual decisions to respond to demand and production. What happens at any one point can be partly understood through a simple relation, people in that village want bread, but only fully understood through the complex set of intersecting relations in the economy as a whole.

Some of what Clausewitz says about military organisation and decisions applies to economic activity. Smith referred to the economic gains of dividing a production process between simple repeated actions carried out by distinct individuals. Famously is model was a match factory. Clausewitz recognises the value of routine to reduce friction in the operations of an army. He sees the battle as made up of a complex interaction of decisions made by junior officers, which the commander-in-chief cannot control.

Clausewitz is very concerned with an overall estimate of costs and benefits, and the hidden costs of not following a certain course of action. This is the sort of thinking with which economists are very concerned, what are the hidden costs of an individual, corporate, or governmental decision; how to calculate the opportunity cost of lost benefits from another decision and the ways that not thinking about opportunity costs. Smith has a classic account of this at the governmental level in Book IV of The Wealth of Nations, ‘Of Systems of Political Economy’.

Some of this might sound very commonsensical, but as I pointed out yesterday Clausewitz explains that the importance of numerical supremacy had largely been ignored in war. What can seem like the obvious now, may not have seemed at all obvious for millenia of previous history.

Adam Smith’s attention to the basic forms of economic interaction and the appearance of complex systems, was certainly known to Kant as he refers to the role of self-interest and trade in creating human communities and unifying human communities. Before Smith it may have seemed to bizarre to think that humans come together because of self-interest, but Smith explains who competitive self-interest and co-operation need each other and even if they conflict sometimes they also depend on each other.

Kant rejected the idea of ‘dialectic’ in philosophy, nevertheless his philosophy is dialectic in the sense that it deals with complexity, parts and wholes, interaction. Kant rejected ‘dialectic’ because he thought it was a kind of reasoning that lacks reference to experience, but in Smith we see a dialectic in an area of empirical study. We don’t have to call it dialectic, Smith did not, but it we describe Hegel’s ‘dialectic’ in the simplest terms possible we can see a connection. The connection goes indirectly through Kant, but also directly as Hegel thinks of law arising from the need to mediate property disputes within the kind of economy described by Smith. This is a dialectical move, law which is universal within a community emerges from conflicting particular interests.

It maybe that Hegel’s attempt at a dialectic of spirit or logic, is too abstract and speculative, but even if we think that, we can still take bits of Hegel independently of that grand project. This kind of social-political argument in Kant and Hegel, has an impact in their philosophy as a whole.

There are certainly other things to be taken into account, the development of science, the influence of slightly earlier and contemporaneous philosophers are among the most obvious; but the methods of German Idealist philosophy have some connection with political economy. Clausewitz could not have written On War before the era of political economy and German Idealism.

Thoughts on the Philosophy of Peace Conference

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker’s Weblog, with pictures!

The ‘Philosophy of Peace III’ conference at Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University, Istanbul ended two days ago. My last three posts write up each day of the conference. The biggest conference focus was on Kant’s essay ‘Perpetual Peace’ (‘Zum ewigen Frieden’). The front cover of the first German edition is shown above. Not every paper referred to Kant, but his philosophical view of the possibility of permanent peace was discussed many times. Those papers which did not directly refer to Kant still engaged with the issues that Kant deals with: how there can be universal peace, and associated issues of communication, justice and ethics.

I won’t react to the conference by detailing my reaction to individual papers, all of which were summarised on the last three posts. I will list, in no particular order, some things I learned in general mixed in with some points I would like to work on in reaction to what happened at the conference.

The tension between ideas of natural law (law that supposedly all humans agree on if they are thinking clearly and which therefore come from nature rather than human institutions) and socially constructed order, in thinking about how human communities might move towards peace.

The permanence of war in the sense that peace can only be maintained by states (or possibly one integrated global state) using a monopoly of violence to repress threats to peace within the state and in relations between states. Since politics is the competition to control the state monopoly of violence, politics and all associated social conflicts must be seen as war of some kind.

The likely necessity of war in bringing the world closer to perpetual peace, as aggressive states have to be defeated. Efforts to defeat aggressive states, along with violent non-state organisations, are not only likely to require violence, they are likely to cause reactive violence. The movement towards perpetual peace must be labyrinthine.

There is no purely moral government, state or political leader. That may seem to be a statement of the obvious, but work on ‘Peace’ tends to be hovering on verge of assuming the goal of a purely non-violent ethical order, of law without force. This could only happen from a anarchist perspective. When I say anarchism, I do not mean chaos, I mean anarchism as a political project. In general the political project of anarchism is a society governed by laws which have been adopted by peaceful consensus of the community as a whole. I do not think this is a realistic project. As was pointed out in the conference, stateless ‘primitive’ communities fight each other and have a high rate of death by violence.

War as we know it is inevitable for many future decades, at least, and war in the general sense that politics always refers to the state’s use of force is inevitable in any conceivable society. In that case we must be concerned with the ethics of war, so we can pursue the highest ethical standards in all out military wars and in the war of politics. When I say highest ethical standards, I do not mean that ethical purity is possible, I mean that the labyrinth of individual and collective passions and interests needs to be regulated from the point of view of some ethical standard.

War cannot be taken in a purely negative sense, even though we should work for a world without war, at least in sense of the full out military conflict. Kant himself though war can be morally elevating if conducted according to laws of humanity. There are various ways in which military virtues have played a part in the history of moral thought, and taken in its broadest sense that includes the role of war and warriors in artistic works with moral qualities. War has often been associated with broad political and social changes, and all of us can think of some political or social changes associated with some wars, which we find desirable however much we hate the suffering of war. Military ideals have appeared in political thought in all traditions, liberal and Marxist as well as conservative and nationalists. Sometimes conservatism is more pacific than other political currents because of fear of the social and political changes brought about by war.

If Kant is a convenient starting point for the study of peace, then Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831, portrait at bottom of post) is a convenient starting point for the study of war, in his unfinished but still monumental On War (Vom Kriege, front cover of first edition at bottom of post). The lives of Kant and Clausewitz overlap and they were both German subjects of the Prussian monarchy. It is widely accepted that Clausewitz’ writing is marked by German Idealist philosophy. If Clausewitz belongs to the study of war, he must belong to the study of peace as Kant must belong to the study of war. Just as we can find antique precedents for Kant’s cosmopolitanism in antique Stoicism and Virgil’s Roman-Augustan universalism in the Aeneid, we can find antique precedents for Clausewitz in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War and in Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad.

I will end just by referring to the classic explanation, and justification, of Samurai spirit in Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s (1659-1719) Hagakure (The Book of the Samurai), which suggests that the Samurai warrior belongs with the Buddhist priest in the practice of compassion and of fearlessness before death. Tsunetomo himself was a samurai from the end of the Samurai era who became a Buddhist monk.


Negative and Positive Liberty: A Short History

The distinction between negative and positive liberty was famously discussed by Isaiah Berlin in his 1958 lecture ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’. The essay is very widely quoted which is very odd in some respects since it is not a very good paper. It is readable introduction to the distinction in very vague terms. It refers to a distinction between freedom from restraint and freedom to improve the self. The essay vaguely gestures at Eighteenth Century origins without explaining them. The essay has a very polemical purposes, delivered as it was 13 years after the end of World War Two and 5 years after the death of Stalin. Berlin emphasises the value of negative liberty in distinguishing liberal democracy from Fascist and Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism, while leaving some room for the idea of liberty as the pursuit of human perfection.

There’s a lot more going on, here is a list with so elements of a discussion.

Seventeenth Century.
Hobbes
defines liberty as freedom from physical restraint. The political regime is irrelevant. Ancient ideas of political liberty are an illusion. A regime based on monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy all rest on obedience to sovereign authority.

Eighteenth Century
Montesquieu
distinguishes between Ancient Republicanism and modern Monarchy.
Republicanism is Democratic, resting on the Principle of Virtue Or
Republicanism is Aristocratic, resting on the Principle of Moderation
Monarchy rests on the principle of Honour, which is refers to Ambition.
Monarchy offers freedom absent in Despotism which rests on the principle of fear.
In all regimes Montesquieu is concerned with liberty. Ancient Republicanism gives liberty on the basis of following a character of Virtue or Moderation, linking the right to political freedom with perfection of the self. Monarchy gives liberty through honour, the principle of competitive self-interest detached from political rights.
Kant
Morality refers to positive duties/freedom and negative duties/freedom. There are negative duties limit us from harming ourselves or others. There are positive duties which encourage us to be concerned with the gaols, and ends, of others.
Negative freedom in Kant is freedom from harming the self.
Positive freedom is the freedom to perfect the self from impurity, positive freedom is willing the good of all, the perfection of humanity as a whole.
Constant Liberty of the Ancients and the Moderns Hunboldt Negative Welfare and Positive Welfare
Humboldt: in the Ancient world, the state protected the negative welfare of the population, which refers to protecting its security.
In the Ancient world, the state protected the positive welfare of the people by acting to improve their souls.
In the modern world, state power is more dangerous because the possibilities of control and interference are much greater. In the Ancient world, dependence on the state was limited by the individual’s struggle with nature to survive and struggle with neighbouring states as as a soldier. Positive welfare in the modern world means the state bureaucracy interfering with the economy and providing social welfare for the poor. These measures result in a constant increase in the size of the state, and in a growing dependence of individuals on the state.

Hegel
Morality and Ethical Community
In the freedom of private morality and conscience the individual is free from external constraint but has no external constraint on its consciousness and actions which are dangerously self-centred.
In the freedom of ethical community, the individual finds it is free through the family, civil society and the state, which all create the conditions for the individual to enjoy freedom though family relations, the economic corporations of civil society, the way in which the state establishes law.
In the Ancient world, the individual sees itself in the state and community of its limited social world. Following Montesquieu, Hegel suggests that in the Ancient world the state is identical with the community. In the modern world, the state is distinct from the complex structure of the community, which contains a complex civil society.
For Hegel, the complexity of the modern world gives more space for individual freedom, while establishing a a state which is the condition of modern liberty under laws.

Aristotle, Hume,Kant and Nietzsche on Ethics

Teaching Ethics
I’ve been teaching Aristotle and Hume (along with Plato, Kant and Kierkegaard) in an Ethics course for non-philosophers at the technical university where I work. Usually I like to teach Nietzsche when teaching Ethics, and reflecting common practice at present, the Genealogy of Morality. Usually I use the Walter Kaufmann edition, but I have also used the Maudmarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen edition. This semester I’ve give Nietzsche a rest, largely because as my students are not philosophy students they are more likely to pick up on the ‘Nietzsche was a Nazi’ myth. They are very good science students, but they lack a context to distinguish unreliable rumours in philosophy from genuine interpretation. I’m sure I’ll go back to Nietzsche again in a course where I’ll think of the best possible way of dispelling the infamous myth, but I’m having a break to get perspective at present.

Aristotle and Nietzsche
In teaching these philosophers I am certainly thinking about Nietzsche at all times (so it’s not really cheating on Nietzsche). One thing I’m concerned about is the assimiliation of Nietzsche to Aristotelian Virtue Theory. It’s a productive exercise t put Nietzsche in the context of Aristotle and Neo-Aristotelian virtue theory, but the differences are important. There is a bestowing virtue in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but it is egotism. It is true that Aristotle’s virtue is egotistical in some way. As with other Antique thinkers, he’s concerned with the health of the soul, rather than assuming a burden of moral obligation. But, the Aristotelian Virtue is learned over time and becomes habitual in cognitive process with feed back as immediate knowledge of a principle becomes habitual knowledge of how to follow a principle in practice. But in Nietzsche virtue is the expression of a self which does not accept external legislation. It may be tempting to think of Nietzsche’s ‘Overman’ in terms of the ‘Magnanimous’ or ‘Great Souled Man’ in Aristotle. However, the Great Soul man is understood through the mean between excess and lack of virtue in Aristotle. Aristotle prefers the excess of virtue over the lack, so this does lead to some Nietzschean looking thoughts on the virtues of giving and heroism. The Nietzschean Overman experiences great tensions between great conflicting forces and has to be strong enough to integrate them. The Great Souled man follows prudent habits in which we have a set of consistent virtues, which connect with no problem. Nietzsche’s ethics must be understood in terms of self-invention, inner conflict and a spontaneous giving from bursting inner strength; together with a strong distinction between inner life and civic life.

Hume and Nietzsche
There are readings of Nietzsche which make him look like Hume based of the claims that both Hume and Nietzsche are: determinists with regard to the will; have a naturalistic view of philosophy and mental contents; follow a empirical-scientific model for philosophy. I doubt that Nietzsche read much Hume, his reading of the history of philosophy was patchy. He knew the Greek and Roman texts very well, and had only seriously read later philosophers in an intermittent way. This is used as argument against reading him in the context of Kant and German Idealism , but strangely not Hume. I suggest that his idea of Hume, as part of a group British psychologists, largely derives from his friend Paul Rée. The empirical-scientific model in Hume is very subjectivist-empirical undermining the objectivity of science, but that seems to be overlooke din the Humean Nietzsche readings. Nietzsche did not abandon an earlier ‘aesthetic’ view for a later ‘scientific view’, as he sees continuity between science and art. Hume’s ethics of minimising pain and increasing pleasure is reactive by Nietzsche’s standards; Nietzsche’s ethic is one of a strength which can absorb pain and which creates without regard to a calculus of pain and pleasure; the creative uses and increases pain to increase. It seems to me Nietzsche does have a form of libertarianism with regard to the will, based on the indeterminism of nature; and one might argue Hume shuld have done the same if he had been consistent about the invented nature of causality.

Nietzsche, Kant and German Idealism
This whole topic has fallen into undeserved oblivion. It’s true that Nietzsche is against the Idealist view of a strong homology between mind and nature. It’s may also be true that Nietzsche’s main understanding of Kant was through Schopenhauer’s reading, and that he had not read much German Idealism. With Nietzsche though, it is important to realise his talent for strategic reading, on the basis of limited knowledge he was able to grasp the significance of Kant and Hegel for his own ideas, and the conflcits he was interested in. The section on duties to oneself in Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals, refers to the human as the individual who commands and obeys the self. This is a very Nietzschean thought, the human strength which grows from inner conflict. The Kantian self legislates from a subjective point of view, it’s good for Nietzsche, though the universality of reason is not so good for him.

Intuitionist Engineering Students. What Engineers Really Think about Philosophy of Maths

The issue of Philosophy of maths came up in a course on ‘Knowledge, language and Logic’ I gave at the technical university where I am based to a group of mostly engineering students. In that course I alternated between Analytic and Continental Philosophy, looking at 14 texts from Frege to Derrida. On one of the Analytic weeks, we were looking at Quine‘s ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ (in From a Logical Point of View) and I got onto the topic of ontological relativity in Quine, with reference to philosophy of maths. In ‘On What there Is’ (also in From a Logical Point of View), Quine mentions three basic position in philosophy of maths as ontological position. Formalism in maths corresponds with Nominalism about names and generalities; Logicism in maths corresponds with Realism about names and generalities; Intuitionism in maths corresponds with Conceptualism about names and generalities.

The question in philosophy of maths is whether numbers, sets, and other abstract mathematical entities exist separately from symbols and from mental concepts. For the Formalist, numbers etc. only exist as symbols manipulated by rules, which corresponds with Nominalist ontology according to which general names group individual things together and do not name any kind of abstract general thing. For the mathematical Logicist, numbers etc. exist outside symbolisation and outside the mind as real abstract things, which corresponds with the Realist ontology according to which general names name an abstraction uniting the individual things coming under that abstraction. For the mathematical Intuitionist, numbers etc. exist as mental constructs, which corresponds with the Conceptualist ontology aaccoring to which general names name a mental construct that unites many individual things.

I presented the three options and asked for a vote from the students. Intutionism/Conceptualism came out first by a long way, with Formalism/Nominalism clearly preferred to Logicism/Realism which was not at all popular. I was surprised because I assumed that they would be knee jerk Realists. I get the impression that the common sense ideology of scientists, including engineers is that scientific laws are true and refer to real objects; and that mathematical laws are true and are about real objects. From what the students said, maths academics may well have that attitude towards maths. They felt it’s an inevitable consequence of being a mathematician, that you believe in the reality of mathematical objects. The engineering students had a much more instrumental attitude towards maths.

I didn’t get onto Instrumentalism, Realism and Conceptualism in science However, we did get onto Thomas Kuhn‘s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Michel Foucault‘s Archaeology of Knowledge, which clearly question Realism about scientific laws and theories, and even Realism about the objects of science. Students were much more sympathetic to both than I expected. The relationship with Nominalism and Constructionism, is too big to discuss here. I will just take the opportunity to suggest that we should be careful about assuming that either Kuhn or Foucault were representatives of a branch of Constructionism, know as Social Constructivism, which is how they are often taken. That is they are often taken to believe that scientific laws are social constructs. We might be better off thinking of them as
Nominalists. Foucault’s position over many stages of thought consistently includes a concern with the artifciality of categorisation, as compared with the pure physicality, or certainly unique individuality, of individual things.

Self-Love as the Foundation of Kierkegaard’s Ethics

I’ve just got through grading last semester’s courses and submitting grades at the two universities in Istanbul I was giving courses last semester, one full time and one part time. The process of grading overlapped with getting next courses ready, and it’s been an intense time. It’s left with me with a few ideas which I hope to keep developing. Some of this comes from what I feel I did not convince students of last semester. I usually get that when I’m teaching Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and I spent 8 weeks on them in an Ethics course last semester, after working through Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Bentham and Hegel. The other figure I might have that problem with is Machiavelli. I’m teaching him in a Politics course next semester, but I’m teaching the overtly Republican Discourses (pdf download) instead of the merely covertly Republican Prince (pdf download), in the hope that cuts out all the Machiavelli was a life style coach for power junkies kind of stuff. Machiavelli may well feature in future blogs.

My immediate concern is the tendency to see Kierkegaard as a Christian Moralist. This is a misleading way of looking at Kierkegaard, with respect to both words. That is an absurd thing to say in some sense, as Kierkegaard devoted himself to Christianity and to Christ as the supreme moralist. There are strong reasons for rejecting this label for Kierkegaard though. In his philosophical arguments (as opposed to his declarations of faith, and even those are still conditioned by the philosophy), the problem is what it is to be a self.

I chose to illustrate this in my Ethics class with a thorough look at Part I of Works of Love. That seems like a high risk place to start a non-theological and non- Fideist reading of Kierkegaard. The non-Theological reading emphasises Kierkegaard’s Enlightenment attitude to the metaphysical reality of Christianity, which is that there is no objective reality established for Christianity. The non-Fideist reading emphasises that Kierkegaard does not put pure unmotivated faith at the beginning of his thought. The Fideist interpretation of Kierkegaard partly relies on the widespread myth that Kierkegaard advocated a ‘a leap of faith’, a phrase he never used. In general it ignores the structure of argument in which a relation within the self in Kierkegaard is a relation between the empirical self and the absolute self. In genral it ignores Kierkegaard’s use of dialectic. It is ‘dialectic of the absurd’ but it is still a dialectic. Kierkegaard advocated a passion for paradox, which is sill a rational philosophical exercise in finding paradoxes of reason. Philip Quinn’s argument for a Divine Command Ethics does not rest on an irrationalist form of Fideism in its reading of Kierkegaard, but its emphasis on the acceptance of divine command as absolute is still failing to engage with the question of subjectivity in Kierkegaard.

The Christian readings of Kierkegaard cannot deal with Kierkegaard because they cannot deal with his approach to subjectivity, which is at work in all his texts, including both the ‘aesthetic’ texts of literary philosophy and the ‘Christian’ texts of Biblically based faith. We will see how this works in the highly Christian looking Works of Love. This is centrally concerned with a philosophical problem of moral motivation taken from Kant, as interpreted by Hegel. Kierkegaard deals with the question of why we should obey law if it exists in the univeral rational form suggested by Kant. What motivates the individual to follow law? It is Hegel who suggested that an absolute gap opens between subjective inclination in Kant and the abstract universality of law. Kierkegaard has a solution in love.

Christ commands us to love. Kierkegaard looks at that injunction itself, before looking at hiw it applies to ‘God’, ‘the neighbour’ and so on. In the Bible (pdf download), Christ says you shall love, or you ought to love as Kierkegaard says in an echo of Kant’s formulation of moral law as a universal ought. The command to love, however, is not a command to follow abstract duty, it is a command to be what you already are, to become what you are, since love is part of human inclinations and needs.

The command to love your neighbour comes out of the command to love (again echoing Kant on respect for humanity) through self-love. I can only love my neighbour if I can already love myself. The command to love the neighbour is the command to love yourself and then love what you see of yourself in the neighbour. The command to love God continues on this basis since it is the command to love the absolute in myself.

Kierkegaard is not a ‘moralist’ since he puts our capacity for ethical judgement on the grounds of out subjectivity, not of the duty to obey external commands. The subjectivity itself is not Christian in the sense of giving ethical commands from God which are external to us.

Therefore, we do not read Kierkegaard in all his philosophical riches if we assume that his philosophy leads us to an extra-rational faith, or willingness to follow external commands. Truth is already in us and becomes apparent in the subjectivity of life, without reference to the historical truth of the Bible or the external existence of God.