Oct 102013

This excellent blog post on Kant’s various crazy views by UC Riverside philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel details some of the crazy views that I covered in my recent broadcast on Kant’s views on sex. It’s worth reading though for its tidbits on including on organ donation, women in politics, and more.

At the end of the post, Schwitzgebel draws two lessons, both worthy of consideration:

First, from our cultural distance, it is evident that Kant’s arguments against masturbation, for the return of wives to abusive husbands, etc., are gobbledy-gook. This should make us suspicious that there might be other parts of Kant, too, that are gobbledy-gook, for example, the stuff that transparently reads like gobbledy-gook, such as the transcendental deduction, and such as his claims that his various obviously non-equivalent formulations of the fundamental principle of morality are in fact “so many formulations of precisely the same law” (Groundwork, 4:436, Zweig trans.). I read Kant as a master at promising philosophers what they want and then effusing a haze of words with glimmers enough of hope that readers can convince themselves that there is something profound underneath.

Second, Kant’s philosophical moral reasoning appears mainly to have confirmed his prejudices and the ideas inherited from his culture. We should be nervous about expecting more from the philosophical moral reasoning of people less philosophically capable than Kant.

I added the bold, because I think that’s so damn true. Kant does not merely handwave on occasion. So many of Kant’s arguments are rationalistic, pie-in-the-sky handwaving, where mere associations between words are supposed to give the force of argument.

My only point of disagreement is that I strongly suspect that the various horrifying ethical claims surveyed in the blog post were significant worse than the prejudices of his culture. For example, children born out of wedlock might have been stigmatized, but I doubt that more than a few crazies thought they could be killed with impunity. Then again, maybe I’m overestimating the moral culture of Königsberg.

Kant’s Philosophy Inspires Crime Spree!

 Posted by on 25 September 2013 at 1:40 pm  Crime, Funny, Kant
Sep 252013

Okay, maybe my title is a bit over-the-top… but still, wow: Russian shot in quarrel over Kant’s philosophy:

An argument in southern Russia over philosopher Immanuel Kant, the author of “Critique of Pure Reason,” devolved into pure mayhem when one debater shot the other.

A police spokeswoman in Rostov-on Don, Viktoria Safarova, said two men in their 20s were discussing Kant as they stood in line to buy beer at a small store on Sunday. The discussion deteriorated into a fistfight and one participant pulled out a small nonlethal pistol and fired repeatedly.

The victim was hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening. Neither person was identified.

It was not clear which of Kant’s ideas may have triggered the violence.

Again, wow.

Sep 132013

On Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I’ll answer a question about Immanuel Kant’s views on sex. I was hoping that someone would submit such a question when I mentioned the topic on the 30 June 2013 show. I was not disappointed!

For my listeners who want to read what Kant has to say on the topic for himself, I offer the following selections from his writings. These are drawn from the course packet for the Introduction to Ethics class that I taught as a graduate student at CU Boulder. Yes, I did force my poor little undergrads to discuss Kant’s views on masturbation in class! Fun times, those were!

As you’ll see, these writings are far more clear than Kant’s metaphysical writings. So … um … enjoy!

Kant – The Moral Use of Sexuality

Immanuel Kant. Lectures on Ethics. Translated by Louis Infield (with some revisions by me).

Amongst our inclinations there is one which is directed towards other human beings. They themselves, and not their work and services, are its objects of enjoyment. It is true that man has no inclination to enjoy the flesh of another–except, perhaps, in the vengeance of war, and then it is hardly a desire–but nonetheless there does exist an inclination which we may call an appetite for enjoying another human being. We refer to sexual impulse. Man can, of course, use another human being as an instrument for his service; he can use his hands, his feet, and even all his powers; he can use him for his own purposes with the other’s consent. But there is no way in which a human being can be made an object of indulgence for another except through sexual impulse. This is in the nature of a sense, which we can call the sixth sense; it is an appetite for another human being.

We say that a man loves someone when he has an inclination towards another person. If by this love we mean true human love, then it admits of no distinction between types of persons, or between young and old. But a love that springs merely from sexual impulse cannot be love at all, but only appetite. Human love is good will, affection, promoting the happiness of others and finding joy in their happiness. But it is clear that, when a person loves another purely from sexual desire, none of these factors enter into the love. Far from there being any concern for the happiness of the loved one, the lover, in order to satisfy his desire and still his appetite, may even plunge the loved one into the depths of misery. Sexual love makes of the loved person an object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stifled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry.

Sexual love can, of course, be combined with human love and so carry with it the characteristics of the latter, but taken by itself and for itself, it is nothing more than appetite. Taken by itself it is a degradation of human nature; for as soon as a person becomes an object of appetite for another, all motives of moral relationship cease to function, because as an object of appetite for another a person becomes a thing and can be treated and used as such by every one. This is the only case in which a human being is designed by nature as the object of another’s enjoyment. Sexual desire is at the root of it; and that is why we are ashamed of it, and why all strict moralists and those who had pretensions to be regarded as saints, sought to suppress and extirpate it. It is true that without it a man would be incomplete; he would rightly believe that he lacked the necessary organs, and this would make him imperfect as a human being; nonetheless men made pretence on this question and sought to suppress these inclinations because they degraded mankind.

Because sexuality is not an inclination which one human being has for another as such, but is an inclination for the sex of another, it is a principle of the degradation of human nature, in that it gives rise to the preference of one sex to the other, and to the dishonoring of that sex through the satisfaction of desire. The desire which a man has for a woman is not directed towards her because she is a human being, but because she is a woman; that she is a human being is of no concern to the man; only her sex is the object of his desires. Human nature is thus subordinated. Hence it comes that all men and women do their best to make not their human nature but their sex more alluring and direct their activities and lusts entirely towards sex. Human nature is thereby sacrificed to sex. If then a man wishes to satisfy his desire, and a woman hers, they stimulate each other’s desire; their inclinations meet, but their object is not human nature but sex, and each of them dishonors the human nature of the other. They make of humanity an instrument for the satisfaction of their lusts and inclinations, and dishonor it by placing it on a level with animal nature. Sexuality, therefore, exposes mankind to the danger of equality with the beasts.

But as man has this desire from nature, the question arises how far he can properly make use of it without to his manhood. How far may persons allow one of the opposite sex to satisfy his or her desire upon them? Can they sell themselves, or let themselves out on hire, or by some other contract allow use to be made of their sexual faculties?

Philosophers generally point out the harm done by this inclination and the ruin it brings the body or to the commonwealth, and they believe that, except for the harm it does, there would be nothing contemptible in such conduct in itself. But if this were so, and if giving vent to this desire was not in itself abominable and did not involve immorality, then any one who could avoid being harmed by them could make whatever use he wanted of his sexual propensities. For the prohibitions of prudence are never unconditional; and the conduct would in itself be unobjectionable, and would only be harmful under certain conditions. But in point of fact, there is in the conduct itself something which is contemptible and contrary to the dictates of morality. It follows, therefore, that there must be certain conditions under which alone the use of the sexual faculties would be in keeping with morality. There must be a basis for restraining our freedom in the use we make of our inclinations so that they conform to the principles of morality. We shall endeavor to discover these conditions and this basis.

Man cannot dispose over himself because he is not a thing; he is not his own property; to say that he is would be self-contradictory; for in so far as he is a person he is a Subject in whom the ownership of things can be vested, and if he were his own property, he would be a thing over which he could have ownership. But a person cannot be a property and so cannot be a thing which can be owned, for it is impossible to be a person and a thing, the proprietor and the property.

Accordingly, a man is not at his own disposal. He is not entitled to sell a limb, not even one of his teeth. But to allow one’s person for profit to be used by another for the satisfaction of sexual desire, to make of oneself an object of demand, is to dispose over oneself as over a thing and to make of oneself a thing on which another satisfies his appetite, just as he satisfies his hunger upon a steak. But since the inclination is directed towards one’s sex and not towards one’s humanity, it is clear that one thus partially sacrifices one’s humanity and thereby runs a moral risk.

Human beings are, therefore, not entitled to offer themselves, for profit, as things for the use of others in the satisfaction of their sexual propensities. In so doing they would run the risk of having their person used by all and sundry as an instrument for the satisfaction of inclination. This way of satisfying sexuality is prostitution, in which one satisfies the inclinations of others for gain. It is possible for either sex. To let one’s person out on hire and to surrender it to another for the satisfaction of his sexual desire in return for money is the depth of infamy. The underlying moral principle is that man is not his own property and cannot do with his body what he will. The body is part of the self; in its togetherness with the self it constitutes the person; a man cannot make of his person a thing, and this is exactly what happens in prostitution. This manner of satisfying sexual desire is, therefore, not permitted by the rules of morality.

But what of the second method, namely concubinage? Is this also inadmissible? In this case both persons satisfy their desire mutually and there is no idea of gain, but they serve each other only for the satisfaction of sexuality. There appears to be nothing unsuitable in this arrangement, but there is nevertheless one consideration which rules it out. Concubinage consists in one person surrendering to another only for the satisfaction of their sexual desire whilst retaining freedom and rights in other personal respects affecting welfare and happiness. But the person who so surrenders is used as a thing; the desire is still directed only towards sex and not towards the person as a human being. But it is obvious that to surrender part of oneself is to surrender the whole, because a human being is a unity. It is not possible to have the disposal of a part only of a person without having at the same time a right of disposal over the whole person, for each part of a person is integrally bound up with the whole. But concubinage does not give me a right of disposal over the whole person but only over a part, namely the sexual organs. It presupposes a contract. This contract deals only with the enjoyment of a part of the person and not with the entire circumstances of the person. Concubinage is certainly a contract, but it is one-sided; the rights of the two parties are not equal. But if in concubinage I enjoy a part of a person, I thereby enjoy the whole person yet by the terms of the arrangement I have not the rights over the whole person, but only over a part; I, therefore, make the person into a thing. For that reason this method of satisfying sexual desire is also not permitted by the rules of morality.

The sole condition on which we are free to make use of our sexual desire depends upon the right to dispose over the person as a whole–over the welfare and happiness and generally over all the circumstances of that person. If I have the right over the whole person, I have also the right over the part and so I have the right to use that person’s sexual organs for the satisfaction of sexual desire. But how am I to obtain these rights over the whole person? Only by giving that person the same rights over the whole of myself. This happens only in marriage. Matrimony is an agreement between two persons by which they grant each other equal reciprocal rights, each of them undertaking to surrender the whole of their person to the other with a complete right of disposal over it. We can now apprehend by reason how a sexual union is possible without degrading humanity and breaking the moral laws. Matrimony is the only condition in which use can be made of one’s sexuality. If one devotes one’s person to another, one devotes not only sex but the whole person; the two cannot be separated. If, then, one yields one’s person, body and soul, for good and ill and in every respect, so that the other has complete rights over it, and if the other does not similarly yield himself in return and does not extend in return the same rights and privileges, the arrangement is one-sided. But if I yield myself completely to another and obtain the person of the other in return, I win myself back; I have given myself up as the property of another, but in turn I take that other as my property, and so win myself back again in winning the person whose property I have become. In this way the two persons become a unity of will. Whatever good or ill, joy or sorrow befall either of them, the other will share in it. Thus sexuality leads to a union of human beings, and in that union alone its exercise is possible. This condition of the use of sexuality, which is only fulfilled in marriage, is a moral condition.

But let us pursue this aspect further and examine the case of a man who takes two wives. In such a case each wife would have but half a man, although she would be giving herself wholly and ought in consequence to be entitled to the whole man. To sum up: prostitution is ruled out on moral grounds; the same applies to concubinage; there only remains matrimony, and in matrimony polygamy is ruled out also for moral reasons; we, therefore, reach the conclusion that the only feasible arrangement is that of monogamous marriage. Only under that condition can I indulge my sexual faculties. We cannot here pursue the subject further. …

Kant – Marriage Right

Immanuel Kant. The Metaphysics of Morals in the anthology of Kant’s ethical writings, Practical Philosophy. Translated by Mary J. Gregor. 6:277-8.

Sexual union is the reciprocal use that one human being makes of the sexual organs and capacities of another. This is either a natural use (by which procreation of a being of the same kind is possible) or an unnatural use, and unnatural use takes place either with a person of the same sex or with an animal of a nonhuman species. Since such transgressions of laws, called unnatural or also unmentionable vices, do wrong to humanity in our own person, there are no limitations or exceptions whatsoever that can save them from being repudiated completely.

Natural sexual union takes place either in accordance with mere animal nature (prostitution, casual love, fornication) or in accordance with law. – Sexual union in accordance with law is marriage, that is, the union of two persons of different sexes for lifelong possession of each other’s sexual attributes. – The end of begetting and bringing up children may be an end of nature, for which it implanted the inclinations of the sexes for each other; but it is not requisite for human beings who marry to make this their end in order for their union to be compatible with rights, for otherwise marriage would be dissolved when procreation ceases.

Even if it is supposed that their end is the pleasure of using each other’s sexual attributes, the marriage contract is not up to their discretion but is a contract that is necessary by the law of humanity, that is, if a man and a woman want to enjoy each other’s sexual attributes they must necessarily marry, and this is necessary in accordance with pure reason’s laws of right.

For the natural use that one sex makes of the other’s sexual organs is enjoyment, for which one gives itself up to the other. In this act a human being makes himself into a thing, which conflicts with the right of humanity in his own person. There is only one condition under which this is possible: that while one person is acquired by the other as if it were a thing, the one who is acquired acquires the other in turn; for in this way each reclaims itself and restores its personality. But acquiring a member of a human being is at the same time acquiring the whole person, since a person is an absolute unity. Hence it is not only admissible for the sexes to surrender to and accept each other for enjoyment under the condition of marriage, but it is possible for them to do so only under this condition. That this right against a person is also akin to a right to a thing rests on the fact that if one of the partners in a marriage has left or given itself into someone else’s possession, the other partner is justified, always and without question, in bringing its partner back under its control, just as it is justified in retrieving a thing.

Kant – On Defiling Oneself by Lust

Immanuel Kant. The Metaphysics of Morals in the anthology of Kant’s ethical writings, Practical Philosophy. Translated by Mary J. Gregor. 6:424-6.

Just as love of life is destined by nature to preserve the person, so sexual love is destined by it to preserve the species; in other words, each of these is a natural end, by which is understood that connection of a cause with an effect in which, although no understanding is ascribed to the cause, it is still thought by analogy with an intelligent cause, and so as if it produced human beings on purpose. What is now in question is whether a person’s use of his sexual capacity is subject to a limiting law of duty with regard to the person himself or whether he is authorized to direct the use of his sexual attributes to mere animal pleasure [i.e. masturbation], without having in view the preservation of the species, and would not thereby be acting contrary to a duty to himself. In the doctrine of right it was shown that the human being cannot make use of another person to get this pleasure apart from a special limitation by a contract establishing the right, by which two persons put each other under obligation. But the question here is whether the human being is subject to a duty to himself with regard to this enjoyment, violation of which is a defiling (not merely a debasing) of the humanity in his own person. The impetus to this pleasure is called carnal lust (or also simply lust). The vice engendered through it is called lewdness; the virtue with regard to this sensuous impulse is called chastity, which is to be represented here as a duty of the human being to himself. Lust is called unnatural if one is aroused to it not by a real object but by his imagining it, so that he himself creates one, contrapurposively; for in this way imagination brings forth a desire contrary to nature’s end, and indeed to an end even more important than that of love of life itself, since it aims at the preservation of the whole species and not only of the individual.

That such an unnatural use (and so misuse) of one’s sexual attribute is a violation of duty to oneself, and indeed one contrary to morality in its highest degree, occurs to everyone immediately, with the thought of it, and stirs up an aversion to this thought to such an extent that it is considered indecent even to call this vice by its proper name. This does not occur with regard to murdering oneself, which one does not hesitate in the least to lay before the world’s eyes in all its horror. In the case of unnatural vice it is as if the human being in general felt ashamed of being capable of treating his own person in such a way, which debases him beneath the beasts, so that when even the permitted bodily union of the sexes in marriage (a union which is in itself merely an animal union) is to be mentioned in polite society, this occasions and requires much delicacy to throw a veil over it.

But it is not so easy to produce a rational proof that unnatural, and even merely unpurposive, use of one’s sexual attribute is inadmissible as being a violation of duty to oneself (and indeed, as far as its unnatural use is concerned, a violation in the highest degree). The ground of proof is, indeed, that by it the human being surrenders his personality (throwing it away), since he uses himself merely as a means to satisfy an animal impulse. But this does not explain the high degree of violation of the humanity in one’s own person by such a vice in its unnaturalness, which seems in terms of its form (the disposition it involves) to exceed even murdering oneself. It consists, then, in this: that someone who defiantly casts off life as a burden is at least not making a feeble surrender to animal impulse in throwing himself away; murdering oneself requires courage, and in this disposition there is still always room for respect for the humanity in one’s own person. But unnatural lust, which is complete abandonment of oneself to animal inclination, makes the human being not only an object of enjoyment but, still further, a thing that is contrary to nature, that is, a loathsome object, and so deprives him of all respect for himself.

Casuistical questions

Nature’s end in the cohabitation of the sexes is procreation, that is, the preservation of the species. Hence one may not, at least, act contrary to that end. But is it permitted to engage in this practice (even within marriage) without taking this end into consideration?

If, for example, the wife is pregnant or sterile (because of age or sickness), or if she feels no desire for intercourse, is it not contrary to nature’s end, and so also contrary to one’s duty to oneself, for one or the other of them, to make use of their sexual attributes–just as in unnatural lust? Or is there, in this case, a permissive law of morally practical reason, which in the collision of its determining grounds makes permitted something that is in itself not permitted (indulgently, as it were), in order to prevent a still greater violation? At what point can the limitation of a wide obligation be ascribed to purism (a pedantry regarding the fulfillment of duty, as far as the wideness of the obligation is concerned), and the animal inclinations be allowed a latitude, at the risk of forsaking the law of reason?

Sexual inclination is also called “love” (in the narrowest sense of the word) and is, in fact, the strongest possible sensible pleasure in an object. It is not merely sensitive pleasure, as in objects that are pleasing in mere reflection on them (receptivity to which is called taste). It is rather pleasure from the enjoyment of another person, which therefore belongs to the faculty of desire and, indeed, to its highest stage, passion. But it cannot be classed with either the love that is delight or the love of benevolence (for both of these, instead, deter one from carnal enjoyment). It is a unique kind of pleasure, and this ardor has nothing in common with moral love properly speaking, though it can enter into close union with it under the limiting conditions of practical reason.

Kant, Savior of Religion

 Posted by on 27 October 2007 at 7:20 am  Kant
Oct 272007


Religion has faced formidable foes in its history. But atheism hasn’t generally been one of them — until today. A recent string of bestselling books has put believers of all stripes on the defensive. Religion, say authors such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, is an unreasonable form of blind faith, often leading to fanaticism and violence. Reason and science, they contend, are the only proper foundations for forming opinions and understanding the universe. Those who believe in God, they insist, are falling for silly superstitions.

This atheist attack is based on a fallacy — the Fallacy of the Enlightenment. It was pointed out by the great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant erected a sturdy intellectual bulwark against atheism that hasn’t been breached since. His defense doesn’t draw on sacred texts or any other sources of authority to which people of faith might naturally and rightfully turn when confronted with atheist arguments. Instead, it relies on the only framework that today’s atheist proselytizers say is valid: reason. The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that there is only one limit to what human beings can know — reality itself. This view says we can find out more and more until eventually there is nothing more to discover. It holds that human reason and science can, in principle, unmask the whole of reality.

That’s from Dinesh D’Souza, unsurprisingly. He’s the author of the just-published book, What’s So Great About Christianity. (Yes, I do plan to read it.)

Kant as Destroyer

 Posted by on 21 February 2006 at 1:58 pm  Kant
Feb 212006

Someone who probably wishes to remain anonymous sent me the following comment on my post on David Kelley Versus Ayn Rand on Kant:

[Your post] brought to mind a passage I discovered in a book by Heinrich Heine (a 19th century German poet). Speaking of Kant, Heine writes:
What a strange contrast did this man’s outward life present to his destructive, world-annihilating thoughts! In sooth, had the citizens of Konigsberg had the least presentiment of the full significance of his ideas, they would have felt a far more awful dread at the presence of this man than at the sight of an executioner, who can but kill the body. But the worthy folk saw in him nothing more than a Professor of Philosophy, and as he passed at his customary hour, they greeted him in a friendly manner and set their watches by him.” [Religion and Philosophy in Germany, translated by John Snodgrass (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), p. 109.]

The “worthy folk” of Konigsberg had an excuse: They were not professional philosophers, had not seen the historical consequences of Kant’s ideas, and had not read Ayn Rand. David Kelley has no such excuse.

Indeed! David Kelley should know better than to think that the Marxist professors who advocate the “dictatorship of the proletariat” are morally better than actual dictators of that proletariat. Yes, those Marxist professors do merely attempt to persuade others — but they attempt to persuade some to exercise brute force while rationalizing and/or denying the resulting rivers of blood to others.

The fact that the professors wouldn’t dream of bloodying their own hands does not exonerate them, but condemns them further. It shows that they wish for the illusion of civilization, even while obviously supporting the very opposite, including death camps for even suspicion of dissent, show trials against loyal communists, and starving whole peoples into submission. (Yes, Marxist professors did support such atrocities, not just by rejecting such “bourgeois” concepts as individual rights, objective law, and economic freedom, but also by defending the USSR and other communist regimes against almost any criticism.) To be unable to slit the throats of your ideological victims yourself, yet continue to preach the ideas which justify and inspire others to slit throats, is not a sign of any redeeming virtue but only of dishonest cowardice.

David Kelley Versus Ayn Rand on Kant

 Posted by on 19 February 2006 at 11:56 pm  Kant
Feb 192006

Myfraf has blogged a bit about David Kelley. His question about whether Kelley’s views on moral judgment can be reconciled with Ayn Rand’s judgment that Kant was the most evil man in history is worth considering. Instead of offering some grand analysis of the issue, I’ll simply quote the relevant texts, to let my readers just for themselves.

Ayn Rand made the “most evil man in history” claim about Kant in the final issue of The Objectivist, in an article entitled “Brief Summary.” Here’s the relevant section:

Those who are not willing to give up the world to mindless brutality, must learn that the battle is philosophical–and that there is no time for anything else.

Suppose you met a twisted, tormented young man and, trying to understand his behavior, discovered that he was brought up by a man-hating monster who worked systematically to paralyze his mind, destroy his self-confidence, obliterate his capacity for enjoyment and undercut his every attempt to escape. You would realize that nothing could be done with or for that young man and nothing could be expected of him until he was removed from the monster’s influence.

Western civilization is in that young man’s position. The monster is Immanuel Kant.

I have mentioned in many articles that Kant is the chief destroyer of the modern world. My primary concern, however, was not to engage in polemics, but to present a rational approach to philosophy, untainted by any Kantian influence, and to indicate the connection of philosophy to man’s life here, on earth–a connection which Kant had severed. It is useless to be against anything, unless one knows what one is for. A merely negative stand is always futile- as, for instance, the stand of the conservatives, who are against communism, but not for capitalism. One cannot start with or build on a negative; it is only by establishing what is the good that one can know what is evil and why.

Kant was opposed in his time and thereafter, but his opponents adopted a kind of Republican Party method: they conceded all his basic premises and fought him on inconsequential details. He won–by default and with their help. The result was the progressive shrinking of philosophy’s stature in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. All the irrational twistings of contemporary philosophy are Kantian in origin. The ultimate result is the present state of the world.

If, on the positive basis of my philosophy, I may be permitted to express a negative consideration, as a consequence and a side issue, I would like to say, paraphrasing Ragnar Danneskjold in Atlas Shrugged: “I’ve chosen a special mission of my own. I’m after a man whom I want to destroy. He died 167 years ago, but until the last trace of him is wiped out of men’s minds, we will not have a decent world to live in. (What man?) Immanuel Kant.”

It is, therefore, appropriate that in the last issue of The Objectivist, I should offer you Leonard Peikoff’s brilliant presentation of Kant’s views on some of the central questions of morality. It is a condensed presentation, especially since it is excerpted from a fuller discussion, but it will be sufficient to give you a clear image of Kant’s mentality and of its product.

You will find that on every fundamental issue, Kant’s philosophy is the exact opposite of Objectivism. You may also find it hard to believe that anyone could advocate the things Kant is advocating. If you doubt it, I suggest that you look up the references given and read the original works. Do not seek to escape the subject by thinking: “Oh, Kant didn’t mean it!” He did.

Dr. Peikoff’s essay will help you to understand more fully why I say that no matter how diluted or disguised, one drop of this kind of intellectual poison is too much for a culture to absorb with impunity- that the latest depredations of some Washington ward-heelers are nothing compared to a destroyer of this kind–that Kant is the most evil man in mankind’s history.

It will also help you to see what enemy I am fighting and have been fighting all these years.

In contrast, here’s what David Kelley said in “A Question of Sanction“:

The concept of evil applies primarily to actions, and to the people who perform them. [Peter] Schwartz asserts that we should not sanction the Soviets because they are “philosophical enemies.” This is a bizarre interpretation of their sins. Soviet tyrants are not evil because they believe in Marxian collectivism. They are evil because they have murdered millions of people and enslaved hundreds of millions more. An academic Marxist who subscribes to the same ideas as Lenin or Stalin does not have the same moral status. He is guilty of the same intellectual error, but not of their crimes (unless and to the extent that he actively supported them, as many did in the 1930s, although even here we must recognize a difference in degree of culpability).

On David Kelley’s view of moral judgment, no mere intellectual could even aspire to be “the most evil man in history,” let alone achieve that distinction. As a commentary on both Ayn Rand and David Kelley, let me quote Leonard Peikoff’s comments in “Fact and Value“:

Now consider the case of Kant, whom I take to be the negative counterpart of Ayn Rand. To anyone capable of understanding Kant’s ideas, the first thing to say about them is: “false.” But implicit in the all-embracing war on reality they represent is a second verdict: “wicked.” The cause of such ideas has to be methodical, lifelong intellectual dishonesty; the effect, when they are injected into the cultural mainstream, has to be mass death. There can be no greater evasion than the open, total rejection of reality undertaken as a lifetime crusade. And only evasion on this kind of scale, evasion as the motor of an entire philosophic system, makes possible and necessary all the atrocities of our age. (For details, see The Ominous Parallels.)

Whoever understands the Critiques, yet urges “toleration” of Kant (or his ilk), or tells us to practice cognition on his ideas but not moral evaluation, has rejected self-preservation as a goal. He has rejected the principle of justice and the entire realm of moral value. He has said that man’s life or death should not be a ruling concern in anyone’s mind.

In the final issue of The Objectivist, Ayn Rand described Kant as “the most evil man in mankind’s history.” She said it knowing full well that, apart from his ideas, Kant’s actions were unexceptionable, even exemplary. Like Ellsworth Toohey, he was a peaceful citizen, a witty lecturer, a popular dinner guest, a prolific writer. She said it because of what Kant wrote–and why–and what it would have to do to mankind. She held that Kant was morally much worse than any killer, including Lenin and Stalin (under whom her own family died), because it was Kant who unleashed not only Lenin and Stalin, but also Hitler and Mao and all the other disasters of our disastrous age. Without the philosophic climate Kant and his intellectual followers created, none of these disasters could have occurred; given that climate, none could have been averted.

The dishonesty central to Immanuel Kant’s philosophy is not some self-evident primary. I’ve certainly questioned it myself. To arrive at that judgment, a person must firmly grasp that intellectual honesty fundamentally consists of actively working to rationally conform one’s ideas to the facts of reality. He must clearly understand the fundamental principles of Kant’s philosophy — as learned from Kant himself. And he must be familiar with the metaphysical and epistemological works of at least some major Enlightenment philosophers, not just to understand the bright intellectual milieu in which Kant worked and which Kant destroyed, but also to provide more than a few clear contrasting examples of clearly honest but also thoroughly erroneous attempts to defend reason and understand the world thereby. (Locke’s Essay is an excellent example, since he’s wrong on almost every substantive point, yet also clearly honest. Looking back, I think that I wasn’t quite certain of Kant’s dishonesty in that old blog post because I wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the shining honesty Enlightenment philosophy.) With that background, a person can understand that Kant’s philosophy constitutes a thorough, blatant rejection of reality and reason, not just some misguided attempt to understand reality by means of reason.

As an aside, let me add that I absolutely do not think that Kant’s dishonesty can be directly inferred from his horrendously crow-busting writing, as many try to do. While I think that his style of writing is dishonest obfuscation, plenty of basically honest intellectuals are horrendous writers of various kinds. (Sadly, most of those today are the confused children of Kant, I think.) The judgment of dishonesty cannot be based upon a reader’s inability to easily understand Kant’s ideas; it must be based upon those ideas themselves. And that requires wading through all his jargon and untangling his obfuscation, no matter how hard that might be. Yet once that is done, his style of writing does take on new meaning, since it is clearly his method of concealing his pathetically bad arguments for his shocking conclusions.

Of course, none of that matters for David Kelley, since “in judging an individual… one cannot go merely by the content of what he believes” (T&T 44). Rather, “one must have some independent evidence about his motives for believing it” (T&T 44). So while both Stalin and the Marxist professor willingly adopted anti-life ideas, perhaps even by evasion, Stalin “intended to kill,” whereas the Marxist professor merely “engaged in persuasion” (T&T 36). And so we are supposed to fix our gaze upon the thin veneer of civilization to which so many intellectuals cling, ignoring the obvious fact that they are openly calling for the destruction of all that civilization requires.

Kant in the News

 Posted by on 18 November 2004 at 4:50 pm  Kant
Nov 182004

When I heard that Dinesh D’Sousa had written a very Kantian op-ed for Opinion Journal from some Objectivist sources, I figured that the article merely had a Kantian flavor to it. Boy, was I ever wrong. The whole article is an explicit appeal to Kant’s tortured metaphysics and epistemology, all for the small task of rejecting Daniel Dennett’s stupid suggestion that atheistic materialists identify themselves as “brights.”

I would quote from the article for the purposes of illustration, but then I’d have to quote it all. So go read it if you want the gory details.

Far more amusing was British Home Secretary David Blunkett blaming Kant for the public’s skepticism about national identity cards. (Paul found it in the course of surfing for stories for GeekPress.)

Home Secretary David Blunkett said today that the German philosopher Immanuel Kant is to blame for scepticism about the government’s plans for a compulsory national identity card. He was speaking at a meeting at the Institute of Public Policy Research, restating his arguments in favour of the scheme.

The British public’s fear of ID cards is down to our “history of legitimate doubts about the intentions of the state, reinforced by what we saw in terms of communism and fascism over the last century”, Blunkett said. “It was writers like Kant who first took the view that there is something suspicious about government activity, and that if a government is up to something, it must be about removing freedoms.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, he argues. In fact, the ID card will pave the way for a more tolerant society, with greater social cohesion. It will be useful in the fight against racism, and won’t be a big-brother style surveillance tool, at all. It is now time to take on the sceptics, and those who argue that the government’s intentions cannot be taken at face value, he says.

Trust us. We’re nice.

If only Kant were such a good influence on public policy!

Was Kant Necessarily Dishonest?

 Posted by on 14 October 2004 at 12:30 pm  Kant
Oct 142004

I wrote the bulk of this post a number of weeks ago, but then abandoned it as other work piled up. Instead of re-writing it to be entirely current, I decided to just clean it up a bit and post it, as I’m still quite interested in responses to my ruminations and questions. In other words, although my thoughts on this matter have progressed somewhat, I wouldn’t regard them as settled.

This semester, I’m taking a class on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason from one of my favorite professors, Bob Hanna. (I took two good semesters of philosophy of mind from him in my first year at Boulder.) In order to thoroughly learn the material of this profoundly influential work, I’ve adopted the procedure of first reading the text carefully, then later reviewing and writing some notes on it. I actually typed the whole long passage from the B Preface below into my notes, as it fairly well encapsulates Kant’s basic project in the First Critique. (I added paragraph breaks to facilitate reading for the blog.)

As you read it, remember that Kant regards Hume as having absolutely demonstrated that the concept of causation cannot be derived from experience. Moreover, after considering the “general form” of Hume’s skeptical arguments, Kant claims that the whole of metaphysics consists of concepts relevantly similar to causation, i.e. synthetic a priori concepts. (Kant recounts that bit of intellectual history in the Preface to the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, pages 257-61.)

For those unfamiliar with Kant’s terminology, “cognition” concerns any mental representation, “intuition” is sense perception, and “understanding” is reason.

Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but all attempts to find out something about them a priori through concepts that would extend our cognition have, on this presupposition, come to nothing. Hence let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that objects must conform to our cognition, which would agree better with the requested possibility of an a priori cognition of them, which is to establish something about objects before they are given to us.

This would be just like the first thoughts of Copernicus, who, when he did not make good progress in the explanation of the celestial motions if he assumed that the entire celestial host revolves around the observer, tried to see if he might not have greater success if he made the observer revolve and left the stars at rest.

Now in metaphysics we can try in a similar way regarding the intuition of objects. If intuition has to conform to the constitution of the objects, then I do not see how we can know anything of them a priori; but if the object (as an object of the senses) conforms to the faculty of intuition, then I can very well represent this possibility to myself.

Yet because I cannot stop with these intuitions, if they are to become cognitions, but must refer to them as representations to something as their object and determine this object through them, I can assume either that the concepts through which I bring about this determination also conform to the objects, and then I am once again in the same difficulty about how I could know anything about them a priori, or else I assume that the objects, or what is the same thing, the experience in which alone they can be organized (as given objects) conforms to those concepts, in which case I immediately see an easier way out of the difficulty, since experience itself is a kind of cognition requiring the understanding, whose rule I have to presuppose in myself before any object is given to me, hence a priori, which rule is expressed in concepts a priori, to which all objects of experience must therefore necessarily conform, and with which they must agree.

As for objects insofar as they are thought merely through reason, and necessarily at that, but that (at least as reason thinks them) cannot be given in experience at all — the attempt to think them (for they must be capable of being thought) will provide a splendid touchstone of what we assume as the altered method of our way of thinking, namely that we can cognize of things a priori only what we have ourselves put into them. (CPR B xvi-xviii)

One could say a great deal about Kant’s basic project. Yet my thoughts on it of late have largely concerned the question of whether a philosopher could ever honestly reject the idea that “our cognition must conform to the objects” in favor of the view that “objects must conform to our cognition.” In other words, can we judge Kant as necessarily dishonest on the basis of his ideas alone?

In an attempt to understand the issues involved a bit more clearly, I recently re-listened to Leonard Peikoff’s two lectures on Kant from his History of Philosophy (HP) course, as well as his discussion of inherent dishonest ideas in the final lecture of Understanding Objectivism (UA). In the UA lecture, Peikoff argues that since intellectual honesty fundamentally consists of working to rationally conform one’s ideas to the facts of reality, then no outright rejection of reason and reality can be honest. Yet he denies that that implies, for example, that Plato was necessarily dishonest for downgrading the world of sensibility in favor of the world of Forms, since he was still working to conform his thoughts to a (mistaken) understanding of reality. Similarly, even skeptics like Hume were often unable to take their own ideas all that seriously, even though they could not refute their own skeptical arguments. In sharp contrast, Kant explicitly rejects the basic aim of rationally understanding reality — asserting that such is not merely impossible but also unimportant. That basic analysis makes good sense to me, yet the case for Kant’s dishonesty still seems like too much of a floating abstraction, i.e. a mere deduction from some abstract principle.

On the one hand, I have no trouble recognizing (1) the ways in which Kant’s philosophy makes mincemeat of fundamental and self-evident truths of philosophy, (2) the terrible destruction wrought upon Western civilization by Kant’s “Copernican Turn,” and (3) the fact that Kant, as a well-educated professional philosopher, ought to be held to a higher standard than ordinary folks. Moreover, I do not think that a philosopher can arrive at any conclusions whatsoever honestly; consciousness is not infinitely malleable. Yet perhaps I don’t understand all that well enough, as I cannot quite wrap my mind around the conclusion that he was necessarily dishonest on the basis of his horrid philosophy. His writings seem too civilized for that, although perhaps that is merely a clever disguise. (Notably, many of the examples from his ethics are downright revolting.) Perhaps I am seeking some sort of explanation for Kant’s destructive rejection of reality — but perhaps that is neither possible nor reasonable nor necessary. Really, I’m not sure.

Any thoughts?

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