Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kant on natural purposes, part the Vth

Section 72

Wherein our intrepid hero talks about two pairwise families of methodological or heuristic principle. In the last post we settled on the unhappy, but mercifully brief labels “Blind Forces Family” and “Guidance Family.” So, sticking to our guns, we will use ‘em (and a couple more).

In this post, Para-Kant explicates these two families, and their members while re-re-re-reminding us that we should not take him to be taking them in an ontological fashion.

“OK K-Man we got the message. Chill.”

What say you Para-Kant? (Please note, this is an extra-snarky post in this series, taking very many liberties. I can’t help it. Kant does this to you if you read him too much. If you don’t like it, turn the channel. No one dragged you in here Myrtle.)

If we talk about explanatory systems which explain NOOPs in terms of final causes, these will controvert each other ONLY on the ontological reading. If we read them as merely heuristic or “subjective”( saying more about our cognitive limitations, or how we ‘must’ go about explaining things like animals and plants), than about ‘things out there’, then they don’t controvert. Just in case you haven’t got that message, I’m saying it again. Ya read me?

So, now that we’ve got that straight, I’m now going to introduce you to one more of my incredibly informative yet crystalline terms. Ready for it?

“Technic of Nature” Nice eh?

O good gracious, you can’t do better than that Kant? But wait, maybe he’ll give us some helpful tips as to why he thought this was such a good phrase for what he had in mind..

There are two sorts of hypothetical systems as to the Technic of Nature, that is; the productive power in nature which brings about entities that are in apparent accordance with the ‘rule of purposes.’ One hypothesis type is “idealism” (or, ‘it ain’t really real’). The other is “realism” (do I have to explain that one)? In other words, we have the Blind Forces Family (BFF) and the Guidance Family (GF).

The first maintains that all the apparent purposiveness in nature is brought about by; you guessed it, unguided processes (thus is not designed). The second maintains that some apparent purposiveness in nature is in fact not merely apparent, but brought about by intelligent guidance. [Taking the latter supposition as granted it can be deduced, that the Technic of Nature, as regards nature as a whole (that is, including everything including the freaking plants and animals) is also something that involves design and guidance.]

Once again, this latter claim is not argued. Earlier, I supplied a possible argument for this position, relying on the fact that organism are part and parcel of the physical world, with which they must interact.

So apparently by “Technic of Nature” Kant means to be saying something about the productive forces that have nature as the end result. Another way to put it: ”How nature does its thing”? So, he here is introducing us to the two families, each of which has two members. Continuing:

In the BFF (it ain’t really out there) family there are two members: the causal determination thesis, and the fatalist thesis.

The causal thesis explains the forms of the various material things it sets out to explain (NOOPs that is), in terms of the physical laws that govern the motion of their constituent parts. The fatalist thesis explains NOOPs in terms of a hyperphysical basis, something that stands as a sort of substrate to the physical universe.

The causal thesis which is ascribed to the atomists Epicurus and Democritus, is, if taken literally, absurd, and we needn’t allow it to detain us further

Phil Harris butts in: “Hold up Clyde. Why is it absurd? What exactly is this literal reading? The mechanistic reading of atoms as little billiard balls that bounce around, some adhering to one another? Why is this absurd? Why does it not merit further discussion? It seems logically possible that such an explanation could work. Sure, that ain’t sayin’ much, but even Remley here could see that it’s logically possible. So, if you’re meaning that it’s absurd in the sense of being logically contradictory, then, you are wrong.

Remley interrupts: Curley. Don’t you think you are being rather Churlish with our slight and wigged Prussian friend? Maybe he’s just saying that it seems so incredibly unlikely, on the model proposed by the ancient atomist, that anything like an organism, let alone a world full of them, could come about, that it’s as good as a logical absurdity, when you get down to the mathematics of it..

Phil: Remley, you might have something there. Mr. Kant, please accept my sincere apologies for my churlish ways.

Remley: Still, Curley, you do have a point. He don’t even argue the point. He just claims it, and moves on. Mr. Kant, would you care to elucidate?

(Ed., He won’t.) Anyway, back to ParaKant:

The fatalist thesis is developed by Spinoza, but is much older. (Ed.: See, I told you he’d just move on as if nothing had happened.) Because this thesis essentially appeals to something (an original being) that is a substrate of all that we perceive, yet distinct from the appearances, it is not easy to controvert. But, this is only because we cannot possibly understand its notion of an original being.

Even if you claim to understand what this original being is, because the fatalist thesis undertakes to explain the appearance of NOOPs (and indeed the whole universe) as somehow occurring, sans intelligent guidance, as products following of necessity from the nature or essence of this unknowable substrate, one cannot make any use (analogical or otherwise) of the notion of a being with understanding somehow or another taking steps to construct these entities. Instead the entire universe just somehow unthinkingly ‘emanates’ from the original being. This isn't much of an explanation, just because it can explain anything. A universal everything explainer, that takes no effort to make, nor investigation to corroborate. A poor substitute for true understanding.

OK, so we now have the two “idealist” or “it ain’t really out there” theses: the causal determinism thesis and the fatalistic thesis. Kant declares the first absurd, without argument (at least here in section 72) and the second as unintelligible as well as being useless as an explanation. He will next move on to the two “realistic” or “it’s really out there, honest, I ain't makin' it up” or “Guidance Family” theses:

That’s next on the big hit parade of Para-Kantian snark.

Stay tuned.

André Glucksmann on the Athenians' gift: Tragic Freedom

This is a very engaging discussion of the ambiguous term "freedom" as well as being a good discussion of the unique contribution the Athenians made to our culture.

Glucksmann contrasts two senses of freedom. One, you can call emancipatory, eschatological or, as he chooses to label "epic". According to this vision (actually "visionary" is another possible label for this conception) freedom is a progressive acquisition of a sort of disconnection from human nature or fate envisioned as an external determinant, and a gaining of complete mastery and power over human fate, something that will bring on a radically new phase in human history, a sort of golden age, if you will. There are obviously religiously inspired versions of this "epic" outlook, and just as obviously, secular versions.

This is contrasted with a more modest vision of freedom, as being liberty in a setting of uncertainty. This is the freedom of someone like Socrates, a freedom that critically questions, and in the very act of questioning, recognizes that there is no inevitability in progress. It recognizes that men and women make the same mistakes with their freedoms repeatedly, even while they also do marvelous things. It recognizes hubris as a constant risk, with tragic consequences.

He makes an interesting argument that this latter outlook can be seen as a logical outgrowth of the theology of the ancient Greeks. Unlike the monotheistic Judeo-Christian tradition, a tradition that features not only a beneficent and perfect God (who has all the "omni" properties mind you), but also, a promised end to human travails, the Greek religion features (to put it mildly) imperfect Gods and a seemingly endless cycle of bickering and fighting, and no vision of an end or eschaton.

This forced the humans to say "hey look, we're basically on our own in this world that is and always will be capricious, even as it is also to some extent, rationally cognizable. So, we'd better do what we can to rationally deal with it, and get down to the nitty gritty of exercising our freedom to create tolerable modes of governance." The Gods, looking on, no doubt said something like "hey, good luck with that. If we cannot pull that feat off, you can't either, you frail creatures."

So, permanent crisis, and adjustment to crisis is the human condition, even as it is at the same time, free. Glucksmann:

Athens taught us that free will and critical thinking go together. The necessity of submitting celestial voices and their dictates to the painstaking criticisms of reason is a matter not of pride but of modesty: it is not because I think myself good or intelligent, but because I know I am fallible and capable of deceiving myself, that I am bound to investigate oracles, just as Socrates did with the Delphic message. The evil spirit—perhaps myself—“often disguises itself as an angel of light,” Immanuel Kant later observed. To think is to defend one’s freedom against one’s imagination and to guard against a deceiving God, for “we were all children before becoming men,” as Descartes said, and spent many years governed by our passions, not our reason.

To believe that it is enough to believe is a pathology that threatens every religion, even a secular and materialist one. To listen to voices without ever questioning them is superstition. To fail to examine the authenticity of one’s commitments is arrogance. The combination of superstition and arrogance yields fanaticism: God is in me, and I am in God; there is no point in thinking, since my brain already occupies a little part of paradise. Free thought, by contrast, requires us to look reality, including unfortunate reality, in the eye. In response to the claims of a prayer that commands, implores, and requires, Aristotle proposes a cool attention that points out and observes. Non-pathological religions distinguish the temporal and the spiritual: king and priest in the Bible, caliph and preacher among the Muslims, the way of the world and the way of faith in the Christian tradition. “I believe in order to understand,” say Augustine and Anselm, the first intellectuals of post-Roman civilization.

To discover one’s freedom is to recognize a capacity for self-intoxication and self-deception, and thus to condemn oneself to doubt. This experience of freedom is primary for a current of modern philosophy, just as it was for the thinkers of antiquity. Descartes, in this sense Socrates’s son, called it “a freedom, by which we can refrain from admitting to a place in our belief aught that is not manifestly certain and undoubted, and thus guard against ever being deceived.”

There is much more in the article than this overarching theme, including; a discussion of Plato's Platonism its eschatological flavor as typified by the Symposium vis-a-vis its tension with the more realistic view of freedom espoused by the paper; Aristotle's doctrine of the mean, his thoughts on slavery; the Greek tragedians and their thoughts on the separation of the private and public spheres (Sophocles's Antigone); and Alexander the Great's cosmopolitanism. [What's that Macedonian doing in this discussion? Ask Aristotle the Stagirite.]

Hold on. Hold on. A Western Union Telegram (get it.."western" ha ha) from Themistocles. Something about the importance of political freedom, and freedom's reliance on deterrent power, protection by judicious application of force..

Reading from the telegram:

"What? No mention of me? I feel slighted. If it wasn't for me Periclean Athens would have never occurred. You can't have all that high falutin' culture if you've been carted off as slaves somewhere in Persia, or if you're dead. Right?
Come on.

I tell ya, I get no respect. I ensure my home state's freedom, the survival of nascent Western culture, and what do I get? A swift kick in the ass, I end up in Persia. Magnesia to be precise. Thanks a lot Athens. Thanks..


Themistocles, son of Neocles"