Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Immanuel Kant and learnedness

"The final end of learnedness ought to be to give the human race its true form, to free it of prejudices, to refine its morals, and to elevate the powers of the soul; then it is a good thing for the human race."  Immanuel Kant (Blomberg Logic)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Immanuel Kant and Radical Evil

Pablo Muchnik has a very interesting book and a fascinating take on this controversial subject matter in Kant.  I now understand the concept of radical evil in Kant much better.
Muchnik, in his book Kant’s Theory of Evil, clarifies the issues involved in Kant’s doctrine of radical evil.  He steers a course between Henry Allison and Allen Wood by showing that the idea that human beings have a tendency to evil is not just an empirical observation but also has a priori status. 
Muchnik shows us that Kant explicates the radical tendency to evil in the notions of the frailty of the human heart, the impurity of the human heart and finally the wickedness of the human heart.  The frailty of the human heart is referred to in the concept of the “weakness of the will.”  St. Paul complained that what he willed to do, he did not do, and what he willed not to do that is what he did (Romans 7).  The agent knows the action is morally required, but fails to carry it out and instead acts out of inclination.    In this case, Muchnik argues, the agent acknowledges the validity of the moral law, but doesn’t grant it authority.  He says “The agent with a weak heart, then makes herself believe that her motivational structure is essentially good, even when her actions suggest otherwise” (p. 157).  He holds that the agent with a frail heart is tempted by “gluttony, lust, and wild lawlessness [in relation to other human beings]” even in the case where moral luck makes her moderate and sympathetic. 
The frail heart knows better but doesn’t do better, but the impure heart doesn’t adopt the moral law as a sufficient incentive for moral action but allows incentives of the inclinations to determine her actions.  Her actions conform to duty, but are not done purely from duty.   Her real motivation is self-love even if she looks like she is doing the moral thing.  Muchnik tells us that this agent transforms morality into a system of hypothetical imperatives. 
The wicked heart represents depravity and perverts moral judgment at its root.  The wicked heart pursues non-moral reasons as a matter of principle.  She “callously uses everyone else as a tool to her goals, justifying her conduct in terms of a perverse conception of the good” (p. 161). Kant considers this the highest expression of the propensity to evil.   This person systematically denies dignity to other persons and even to themselves.
Muchnik also takes a position on the sticky question of whether Kant’s position can adequately account for the immorality of murder and genocide.  Against Claudia Card and Bernstein, he defends Kant’s position that even these horrific acts are motivated by self love.  Bernstein wants to rehabilitate the idea of the diabolical will, but Muchnik argues that such a will would be incapable of being legislative and would undermine itself.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Immanuel Kant and Learning Critical Thinking

Immanuel Kant not only believed that people should learn to think for themselves he also believed that the way philosophy was taught determined whether students learned to think for themselves or only learned how to memorize a philosophical system.  He distinguished between philosophy that was taught in the scholastic sense and philosophy was that was taught in the cosmopolitan sense.  He wrote:  “one must differentiate between two types of learning:  there are minute [grüblerisch] sciences, which are useless for human beings, and formerly there were philosophers, whose whole science consisted in exceeding each other in ingeniousness, these were called Scholastici; their art was science for the university [Schule], but no enlightenment for everyday life could be acquired through this.  He could be a great man, but only for the university, without giving the world some use for his knowledge” (Starke, Menschenkunde, p. 1).  The scholastic philosopher was exacting, minute and pedantic in his teaching methods.
Students who studied with scholastic philosophers imitated their professors and memorized the philosophical system.  Kant argued this was philosophy based on historical knowledge (cognitio ex datis) rather than philosophy based on rational knowledge (cognitio ex pirincipiis) because the philosophy was simply memorized.  He gave the example of Christian Wolff’s and said: “Wolff was a speculative…philosopher…he was actually not a philosopher at all, but rather a great artificer [Vernunftkünstler], like many others still are, for the intellectual curiosity of human beings” (Philosophische Enzyklopädie, XXIX, 8).  Immanuel Kant maintained that: “Anyone, therefore, who has learned (in the strict sense of that term) a system of philosophy, such as that of Wolff, although they may have all its principles, explanations, and proofs, together with the formal divisions of the whole body of doctrine, in their heads, and, so to speak, at their fingertips, have no more than a complete historical knowledge of the Wolffian philosophy” (Critique of Pure Reason, B 864). 
Immanuel Kant went onto say that students who learned philosophy in this way were often very clever in the use of concepts but their loquaciousness was also “blinder than any other self-conceit and as incurable as ignorance” (Nachricht II, 305).   They had merely memorized the concepts and system and were imitating the philosophy but not thinking for themselves.  They sounded impressive and could talk the good talk but they were not able to do philosophy for themselves.  These students did not gain insight into the philosophy but were merely learned [Gelehrt].
Instead Kant thought it was important for students not just to learn philosophy, but to learn how to philosophize and learn how to think (Nachricht, II, 306).  And he regarded his cosmopolitan philosophy as a good example of disciplines that taught students to think for themselves.  So he taught physical geography and anthropology to introduce students to thinking methodically.  The physical geography lectures demanded that a student think in terms of effective causality whereas the anthropology lectures required that students think through final causality.  Effective causality was the kind of causality we use in the natural sciences whereas final causality is the kind of causality we use in the human sciences.  Effective causality demands that the cause precede the effect, whereas final causality requires that the final cause comes after the effect.   For example, an earthquake causes a tsunami in the first instance, but wanting to live in a house causes us to build a house in the second case.  Both types of causality create a nexus that can be thought through systematically.
These two disciplines taught students to think methodologically and the disciplines made it impossible to just memorize philosophy.   Students were able to take the method and then apply it to their everyday lives in new and unexpected ways.  Students could identify natural causes in their experience, but they could also learn to evaluate their lives in terms of purposes and final causes.  Both disciplines required reflection whether on the world or on themselves and hence resisted mere imitation.  So Immanuel Kant not only believed in critical thinking, he taught it to his students at Königsberg University.

If you would like to know more about this in Immanuel Kant, please read chapter 6 of my book at Amazon:  Kant’s Pragmatic Anthropology.  Or at Abebooks:  Kant’s Pragmatic Anthropology.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Immanuel Kant and Critical Thinking

Immanuel Kant articulated his primary position on critical thinking in his essay "What is Enlightenment?"  In there he defines enlightenment as "man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity" and he defines immaturity as "the inability to use one's reason without the guidance from another."  What he means by this is that critical thinking is thinking for oneself and so he affirms the Latin term "Sapere Aude!" which means to have the courage to use one's own understanding.

Kant thinks that people are lazy and do not want to use their understanding and do not want to think for themselves.  They prefer to let others think for them.  So they pay their doctor to give them a diet or prescription.  They let their pastor serve as their conscience.  They let books do their thinking for them.  What their doctor or pastor says is right and cannot be questioned.  Books must be right because, after all, they are in print and so their authority is impeccable.  We not only believe that we are ignorant in comparison to those who have expertise that we do not have, but we simply are not willing to question them or let what they say come into question using our own reason.  We don't want to think for ourselves.  We want to be told what to do and what to think.

The remedy for this is not to quit going to a doctor, or to church, and to stop reading, but rather to question the authority of one's doctor and pastor and books.  One should seek alternative explanations and directions.  One should consider the alternatives and weigh them with what the doctor, pastor or book says.  One can always get a second opinion.  One should always consider the opposite position.  And this is what scholars do. 

The private use of reason does not necessarily have to be free.  For instance, if you are a pastor you have to follow certain beliefs in order to fulfill your role as a pastor.  Otherwise by definition you are not following what is required by the position.   A pastor who calls the Apostle's Creed into question is not a Christian.  Likewise, it is right to follow the orders in a military context.  One should not question the orders and think for oneself when in a situation of war.  One has to follow what is prescribed.  This is the private use of one's reason.

However, the public use of one's reason needs to be free.  This is needed by scholars.  The primary symbol for thinking for oneself is the scholar in an academic situation.  The scholar needs to be free to question received authority and think through the matter for herself.  For instance, it was the received tradition that Moses wrote the Pentateuch of the Old Testament.  Scholars who questioned that and began to see reasons why that was not possible suffered ostracism when they challenged that position.  it was not until the 20th century that scholars could research and hold a position contrary to that tradition without losing their jobs.  But even today, students are often forced to memorize their professors' positions and are not allowed or encouraged to think things through themselves.  They are forced to exchange their prejudices for their professors' prejudices instead of being allowed to challenge both opinions.  In an academic situation scholars and students should be encouraged to push the envelope and challenge received beliefs so that truth can emerge.

Although Kant is right that the private use of reason restricts thinking for oneself, it is not true that pastors and soldiers and patients don't need to think for themselves.  Pastors will meet circumstances and issues that are not dealt with in the bible or the tradition.  Soldiers still need to think how best to carry out the orders given to them.  Patients may need to trust the expertise of their doctors but they should also seek a second opinion or research the issue on the internet for themselves.  So everyone needs to be like a scholar in some sense.  We all need to see ourselves in the pursuit of the truth.  So good critical thinking is necessary for everyone in every circumstance in life, not just for the scholar.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fighting Cancer with Critical Thinking

Everyday I hear of people who are in end stages of their fight with cancer.  They are losing and will soon lose.  It saddens me greatly because I know you can win the battle but so many people will never know that they can because they rely on modern medicine and their conventional care doctors to tell them that their own chance lies with chemotherapy and radiation.  Neither chemotherapy nor radiation cure cancer however, but rather attack the body's immune system and the good cells in the body.

People are afraid to question their doctors and use their own critical thinking because of the great esteem doctors are held in and because for the most part their doctors do base their knowledge on medicine that is supported by scientifically credible studies.  But people should question their doctors and use their own critical powers of thinking.  There are a number of reason why.  1.  Doctors and even cancer specialists are dependent upon pharmaceutical companies who have a lot to gain by selling expensive chemotherapy drugs.  2.  Medical schools do not teach alternative methods but are also influenced by studies that are funded by pharmaceutical companies.  3.  Pharmaceutical companies have the big bucks to invest in medical studies that study their own products.  4.  Potential cures that don't cost much will not be studied because there is no money in their promotion and studies cost a lot of money.

Instead of studies, then, a person who wants to know about alternative cures is going to have to rely for the most part on personal testimonies of people who have tried the cure and succeeded in curing themselves.  Personal testimony can be persuasive if is collaborated by many personal testimonies.  We should not be frightened off of personal testimony just because it is not a controlled experiment.  When you put a whole lot of personal testimony together it becomes an informal study.  The control group is already known:  those who are taking chemotherapy and radiation and are dying.  

The most widely hailed cure and preventative for cancer is the Budwig Diet.  It is a great pity that Steve Jobs did not discover this cure.  It is not only cheap and simple it cures within 6 weeks.  The cure rate is said to be 90%.  And when I say "cure" I mean that the cancer is gone.  One can learn about the Budwig Diet from the Budwig Center (http://www.budwigcenter.com/).  Their site hosts many examples of personal testimony of people who have been healed of cancer because of the diet.  The diet is simple:  it consists of flax seed oil and cottage cheese or kefir.  Just blend the two together, add some cinnamon and sweetener and eat it once a day.  Flax seed oil is an omega 3 the cells need to be healthy and fight cancer and cottage cheese or kefir gets it into the cells.  It is also inexpensive.  I take this daily as a preventative measure and it costs me about $25 every two weeks.  It not only tastes good it makes you feel good and supports your immune system. 

The second most widely considered support for the fight against cancer is found in Transfer Point's Beta 1.3D Glucan which can be found here (http://www.transferpoint.com/).  Although they cannot say it cures cancer because of the FDA's crackdown on such claims, they host many credible studies that hail its ability to build the immune system and fight cancer the natural way.  It too is cheap.  You can buy a bottle that lasts a month for $40 and some people use this as a preventative too.  In any case it is going to keep your immune system functioning in top form.  If you were to put these two together and eat a healthy diet you would have the best chance of winning the fight against cancer.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Immanuel Kant and God's Grace

Immanuel Kant writes: “God’s justice is usually divided into justitiam remunerativam et punitivam, according as God punishes evil and rewards good.  But the rewards God bestows on us proceed not from his justice but from his benevolence.  For if they came to us from justice then there would be no premia gratuita, but rather we would have to possess some right to demand them, and God would have to be bound to give them to us.  Justice gives nothing gratuitously; it gives to each only the merited reward.  But even if we unceasingly observe all moral laws, we can never do more than is our duty; hence we can never expect rewards from God’s justice.”  [Immanuel Kant, Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion, 28: 1085, quoted from Religion and Rational Theology, translated and edited by Allen Wood and George di Giovanni (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 417].
Immanuel Kant has been accused of holding that we merit God’s grace by our actions because we choose to adhere to the moral law and hence by choosing to adhere to the moral law we thereby make ourselves worthy of happiness.  In this point of view, that happiness would be a gift from God, and he gives it when we merit it from having chosen the moral law as the incentive for our actions.  But this would reverse the very idea of God’s grace being freely given from his sovereignty, since this kind of position would mean that God is constrained to reward us for our good choices and hence, that is merited happiness, not unmerited grace.  Kant would be in direct conflict with the Christian concept of grace if this were his position.  However as the quote above shows, this is not Kant’s position.  Kant has a position that is consistent with the doctrine of unmerited grace that St. Paul and the Gospels articulate.
In this quote above Kant distinguishes between remunerative justice and punitive justice.  Remunerative justice regards positive rewards for just actions whereas punitive justice has to do with punishments for unjust actions.  Kant is saying that God definitely punishes unjust actions and we merit punishment by our unjust actions, but that God does not reward just actions.  God’s justice is not the source of reward but of punishment.  The source of God’s reward is in his benevolence.  There is a great difference between God’s justice and his benevolence.  God’s benevolence is freely given to all and is not based on merit.  As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).  God gives his benevolence universally to all people.  He gives rain to both the just and the unjust.  He doesn’t just give rain to the just, but also to the unjust.  So merit has nothing to do with God’s benevolence.  His benevolence extends to all people.  He gives good things even when we don’t deserve it. 

As Kant would put it – God wills the happiness of human beings universally, and does not favor some people over other people by virtue of having merited it.  It is the universality of God’s will that characterizes his benevolence.  And it is also unmerited benevolence since it is given whether one deserves it or not.  God universally wills that all people be saved and that all people be happy.  We do not deserve this by our moral decision-making according to Kant because our morality is motivated by duty.  We are to choose the moral law as the incentive for our actions not because we are trying to please God but because it is our duty to do so.  We are under the moral law and it requires of us that we conform our maxims to the universality of the moral law.  To expect a reward for this is precisely to be moral out of self-love, which is an evil motive.  Hence we are to be moral for the sake of being moral and by virtue of that pure motive we become worthy of happiness.  But being worthy of happiness does not mean that we thereby acquire a right to be happy.  Happiness is not a reward but a free gift of grace.

Hence, we can conclude that Kant does not hold that we make a demand on God by our moral action and then grace is no longer grace.  Rather, in our decision to make our maxims conform to the universality of the moral law we become worthy of happiness which is a gift of God and always was a gift of God’s benevolence and good will toward human beings.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Immanuel Kant and the Limits of Knowledge

Immanuel Kant begins the Critique of Pure Reason with this pregnant statement: “HUMAN reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.” This statement is astounding and amazing because it is reason admitting that it cannot answer the very questions it poses so necessarily.  Our reason longs to answer the questions:  Does God exist? Is there a free will? And why is there something rather than nothing?  Yet, our reason has to profess its inability to answer those very same urgent and life size questions. 

Kant says in his project that he is limiting the claims to knowledge so that he can make room for faith.  Kant goes on to show that our capacities for knowledge extend only to the way our minds are disposed to knowledge, namely to the way experience is constructed by our concepts and intuitions.  That is our capacity to know something depends on how our minds are capable of knowing something.  We cannot know something that our minds are not so constructed to know.  This is like the limitations we have in our senses.  I cannot hear certain sounds that elephants can hear because my hearing apparatus is not such that it can hear that level of sound.  Likewise there things that I cannot see because I don’t have the capacity to see that far or that deeply.  Now we have learned to extend our senses through instruments like microscopes, telescopes, radio, etc but there are limits even to the ability of these instruments to extend the degree our perceptions of reality. 

Now Kant is saying that same principle of limitation applies to our minds and our reason.  Our minds by their very nature know through two elements: concepts and intuitions and they both must be present for there to be knowledge.  Our concepts give form to our knowledge while our intuitions put us in touch with reality. But our concepts by their very nature are limited and can comprehend nature only as far as they extend and they must be linked to intuitions or they are empty.

So let us take the big questions again:  Is there a God?  Is there a free will?  Why is there something rather than nothing?  These questions demand that we extend our knowing beyond experience and intuitions.  Our concept of God as an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God does not permit us discovering that in experience because everything we experience is in space and time (our intuitions) and God as we just defined him is not in our experience of space and time.  There is nothing in space and time that is all-knowing, all powerful, or all-loving.  Nor is there anyway for us to see the free will.  The will itself is not visible in space and time.  We can have a concept of the will but we cannot observe it.  And the question of why there is something rather than nothing is obviously impossible to answer for our limited capacity for knowledge.  There is nothing in our experience to tell us that answer and science itself cannot answer it.  That is why Kant calls these questions “metaphysical.”  They are not questions that science by its very nature can answer because science confines itself to experience.

Yet Kant understands that our reason demands answers for these questions.  We cannot stop our reason from venturing into the arena and asking the question.  Hume thought we could simply stop ourselves from asking these questions but that is like telling someone they cannot break the 4-minute mile.  Human beings don’t want to be subject to limits.  We are constantly trying to transcend our limits as can be seen with the microscope, telescope, computer and car.  By our very nature we long for transcendence of our limitations and that to me is evidence that we have something in us besides just cells and dna.  We have a spirit and that spirit bears witness to something. 

Now Kant made room for faith in God by limiting reason, but I want to go beyond Kant and say that the very reason our reason longs for answers it cannot give is already evidence in experience for something beyond experience.  It is evidence there is something beyond experience that right now is hidden to us because of the limitations of our minds, but someday we may come to experience it.  Just consider this:  at one time in the evolution of life on earth, there were no eyes, ears, or taste buds.  But while there was nothing to perceive light, sound, and taste, light, sound and tastes already existed. There just weren’t any sense perceptions to perceive them at the time.  But we evolved those sense perceptions because we are constantly transcending our limitations.  Before there were eyes there were amoebas and if they could have argued, perhaps they would have argued about whether light existed or not.  But once we developed eyes we no longer argue about that – we see the sun.  Now we argue whether God exists but someday we will no longer argue about that.  We will know.  But for now it is a matter of faith and by showing us the limitations of our knowledge, Kant made room for faith and for an open future. (picture by Andy Potts).