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Rand's notions of Kant and Hume


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#381 Merlin Jetton

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 06:16 AM


Please tell us. In an ant capable of effort? Is an ant volitional? In an amoeba capable of effort? Is an amoeba volitional?

Point taken. But since neither ant nor amoeba have any consciousness of values, what role does this play in discussing moral values?

You are trying to change the subject. Stop evading and answer my questions. Or is that you simply don't want me checking and exposing your erroneous premises?

#382 Xray

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 12:06 PM



Please tell us. In an ant capable of effort? Is an ant volitional? In an amoeba capable of effort? Is an amoeba volitional?

Point taken. But since neither ant nor amoeba have any consciousness of values, what role does this play in discussing moral values?

You are trying to change the subject. Stop evading and answer my questions. Or is that you simply don't want me checking and exposing your erroneous premises?

Wasn't my reply "point taken" clear enough? You have exposed an error on my part, and this is exactly what checking premises is about.
I have no problem at all in standing corrected and therefore agreeing with you that speaking of "effort", and "goal" can include all living things, not just those living beings who can make conscious volitional choices. We can use DF's #364 post for further reference on that if you like.

I was not changing the subject at all, for the subject IS moral values, and you can regard the whole biocentric discussion as a prélude of that which is to come.
As I mentioned in # 378, moralists (like e. g. Rand) who claim that their morality "is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life" try to convince people that they "need" the values of the moralist's presriptive ethics like a living organism needs sustaining nutrients.

The biocentric approach in a discussion about values conceives of "value" as a means being of instrumental value to achieve a goal.
Stomach acid e. g. is a means of instrumental value for the goal "breaking down food".
But the biocentric approach also means (in many cases) divorcing the concept "value" from "valuer", (in the above example, there exists no valuer).

The biological 'functioning' of e. g. a non-volitional plant is different from the ethical choices of a volitional human being.
And surely you will agree that it was the volitional humang being Rand had in mind when she spoke of "valuer". Imo her excursion into biology was hardly conducive to getting clarity. On the contrary, it made her contradict herself.

Rand rejects the intrinsic theory of values:
"The intrinsic theory holds that the good is inherent in certain things or actions as such, regardless of their context and consequences, regardless of any benefit or injury they may cause to the actors and subjects involved." Radn
From the rejection of anything being intrinsically good, it follows that the phenomenon "life" is not intrinsically good (or bad) either. It just "is".
Would you agree so far?

Edited by Xray, 06 June 2010 - 12:45 PM.


#383 Merlin Jetton

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Posted 07 June 2010 - 06:15 AM

Wasn't my reply "point taken" clear enough? You have exposed an error on my part, and this is exactly what checking premises is about.
I have no problem at all in standing corrected and therefore agreeing with you that speaking of "effort", and "goal" can include all living things, not just those living beings who can make conscious volitional choices.

No. Good. That's refreshing.

I was not changing the subject at all, for the subject IS moral values, and you can regard the whole biocentric discussion as a prélude of that which is to come.

You were considering that my focus in this dialog was about plants.

The biocentric approach in a discussion about values conceives of "value" as a means being of instrumental value to achieve a goal.
Stomach acid e. g. is a means of instrumental value for the goal "breaking down food".

Are all goals arbitrary? If yes, that makes all your goals arbitrary, doesn't it? :)

But the biocentric approach also means (in many cases) divorcing the concept "value" from "valuer", (in the above example, there exists no valuer).


Who says, besides you?

And surely you will agree that it was the volitional humang being Rand had in mind when she spoke of "valuer". Imo her excursion into biology was hardly conducive to getting clarity. On the contrary, it made her contradict herself.

You sure have a habit of asserting contradiction with no or very inadequate justification.

Rand rejects the intrinsic theory of values:
"The intrinsic theory holds that the good is inherent in certain things or actions as such, regardless of their context and consequences, regardless of any benefit or injury they may cause to the actors and subjects involved." Radn
From the rejection of anything being intrinsically good, it follows that the phenomenon "life" is not intrinsically good (or bad) either. It just "is".
Would you agree so far?

Life "just is" in the sense that life exists. Even if there is nothing intrinsically good, what warrants using the term "good" at all? What is the standard for using it? If there are no other answers to these questions, then the use of "good" is wholly arbitrary -- anything is good simply because somebody believes it is. This is your answer, as far as I can tell. That answer is also incoherent. X's good may be bad for Y, or what X believes to be good may actually be bad, even for X. By what standard should a living being value something as good or something be regarded as good/bad for a living thing? Many people hold it is the "will of God", which amounts to none other than what they wish. Comtean type altruists say the good is what is good for others, never one's self, which doesn't answer what is good for the others. Aristotle said the ultimate good, for humans at least, is happiness. Ayn Rand said the standard is a being's own life. "It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil" (VOS 14).

Edited by Merlin Jetton, 07 June 2010 - 10:46 AM.


#384 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 11 June 2010 - 10:34 PM

Merlin and Stephen,

Apologies for not replying sooner. It's been a hassled week here.

Merlin,

I belatedly realized that I'd stepped into the midst of an ongoing dispute between you and Xray, the history of which I haven't followed and still haven't had time to trace back. I was just startled and puzzled upon seeing you say that plants "make efforts" --


Stones don't make efforts; plants do.


At first I thought that maybe you were thinking of "effort" with the meaning "effective force," but actually that wouldn't make sense at all in trying to distinguish the motions of plants from those of stones (or anything else), since "effective force" is a fictitious force invoked in accelerated frames to get Newton's second law of motion (F=ma) to hold.

Plus you wrote "*make* [my emphasis] efforts," which to me suggests the presence of intention. (I'm thinking of "intention" in the sense of a striving for, a trying for a goal, an actively attempting to achieve a result.)

It's just that sense of "effort" as something *made* which I've come to think of as the "essence" of volition, and as a type of force which only enters the world with the evolvement of motility (hence doesn't apply to plants). My working definition of "volition" for the last couple years or so has been "the effortful molding of activity." I've debated as to whether I think that the force involved really is a new kind of force which breaks with classical mechanics in not obeying Newton's third law (action/reaction) but instead is literally, in part, *produced* by the organism disproportionally to the action/reaction chain. At this stage, I'm seeing no alternative except to bite the bullet and say, yes, I do mean that a break with classical mechanics is required in order to have volitional activity be a real phenomenon.

The issues I raised with my questioning you are well off the track of this thread, so if there's interest in pursuing a discussion, I think we should relocate.

Stephen referenced his article "Volitional Synapses" in post #375. I've been reading -- or re-reading? -- that. I'm sure I've read part of it before, but I'm not having any recall for the material in section I of the first installment ("Conscious Controls"), so maybe I never previously read the whole article. There's a lot I'm finding in the first installment which is relevant to my puzzlings.

Stephen already started a thread on May 1, 2007, "Thank Your Lucky Cells" -- link -- the first post of which quotes from section II ("Psychoneural Relation") of "Volitional Synapses," so I'll copy this post to the end of that thread.

I'll continue there when I have a chance (which might not be until later this week).

Ellen

I've copied the above as post #33 of the "Lucky Cells" thread.

Edited by Ellen Stuttle, 11 June 2010 - 10:50 PM.


#385 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 11 June 2010 - 10:39 PM

Ellen, I want to apologize for being short and unfair to you in an exchange on another site about a year ago. I was irritated at getting distracted from something very difficult I was working on at that time. I always enjoy your intelligence and information. Sorry. –Stephen


No problem about the exchange elsewhere. I was mildly miffed at the time, but short-livedly. I hope you were successful with the project you were working on.

The compliment is one to treasure coming from you. Thank you for that. :)

Ellen

#386 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 12 June 2010 - 06:41 AM

I have finally had a few minutes to read the first part of this very fertile thread.
There are things I have written, available on the internet, possibly of interest,
pertaining to Kant issues that are raised in the first three pages on this thread.

Rand’s Apparent Friendliness towards Kant in 1936 – A
In that novel, and in Anthem 1938, too, Rand uses the term duty regularly.
In those years, she may not yet have taken home the bits of Nietzsche
(and the oodles of Schopenhauer) against Kant’s concept duty.

Horse’s Mouth / Paulsen – B

Kant on Rational Faith – C

Kant’s Relation to Newton – D
Scroll down to pages 12–29 for doctrines in Critique of Pure Reason
and in Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science.

Kant’s Ethics (& Rand’s)
—Wolff, Hutcheson, Hume, Shaftsbury – 1
—Herder – 2
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals / Cicero – 3
Groundwork / Practical / Metaphysics of Morals / Moral Worth, Necessary and Free – 4, 5

Edited by Stephen Boydstun, 12 June 2010 - 06:52 AM.


#387 Xray

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Posted 12 June 2010 - 02:23 PM


The biocentric approach in a discussion about values conceives of "value" as a means being of instrumental value to achieve a goal.
Stomach acid e. g. is a means of instrumental value for the goal "breaking down food".

Are all goals arbitrary? If yes, that makes all your goals arbitrary, doesn't it? :)

I spoke of the goal "breaking down food", and get as a reply from you "Are all goals arbitrary?" I don't see the conneection between my post and your response.
I'm not sure what you mean by "arbitrary" in your answer here. Would you give an example of an "arbitrary goal" and a "non-arbitrary goal"?

Merlin Jetton:

Xray: But the biocentric approach also means (in many cases) divorcing the concept "value" from "valuer", (in the above example, there exists no valuer).


Who says, besides you?

One of Rand's attacks aginst the intrinsic theory of values is that it "divorces the concept value from valuer".
But when one uses biology to bolster a moral value theory, the absence of a 'valuer' can be observed in many instances as well.
For example, there exists no valuer for the goal 'breaking down food', for which stomach acid is of instrumental value.
Something is of "instrumental value" if it is a suitable means to achieve a goal.

MJ:

Xray:
From the rejection of anything being intrinsically good, it follows that the phenomenon "life" is not intrinsically good (or bad) either. It just "is".
Would you agree so far?

Life "just is" in the sense that life exists. Even if there is nothing intrinsically good, what warrants using the term "good" at all?
What is the standard for using it? If there are no other answers to these questions, then the use of "good" is wholly arbitrary -- anything is good simply because somebody believes it is. This is your answer, as far as I can tell.

No, it is not. For "good" mostly refers to instrumental value. For example, if you are thirsty, water is deemed 'good', i. e. suited to purpose.
Whereas if your cellar is filled with water because of flood damage, the water is deemed 'bad', and efforts are made to achieve absence of water to suit the purpose 'keeping your home damage-free'.
As for calling things "good" just because one believes in them - if you ask the believer to explain why, you will usually find out the "suited to purpose" in their answer. Example: a religious person will call religion 'good' because it serves the purpose of creating a "sense of life" for that individual.

What is the standard for using it?

In most cases, "suited to purpose".

That answer is also incoherent. X's good may be bad for Y,

In calling it "incoherent", you don't seem to take into account that
1) instrumental values can differ because people's goal's can differ,
and
2) people can have the same goal and be in competition.
Example of 1): If you throw a party and find the loud music 'good', you sleep-deprived neighbors will find it 'bad'.
Example of 2): If you and someone else compete for the same job, the one who gets it will find the outcome 'good', the other 'bad'.

MJ: or what X believes to be good may actually be bad, even for X.

In that case, X could have been in simple error about a fact. I'll never forget when I eagerly gulped down my first (and last) strawberry milkshake at the age of six because it looked so good. A few minutes later, I had to throw up.

MJ: By what standard should a living being value something as good or something be regarded as good/bad for a living thing?

When it comes to preserve the organism in order to ensure survival, the biological program takes care of that in form of a biological drive. You don't have to 'choose' to value fluids if you are thirsty - you will be driven to look for fluids.
The same goes for procreation: there is no "rational choice" needed to value sexual activity, for we are programmed to find pleasure in it.
Rand makes it appear as if "choosing life" were a rational activity, while in fact we are biologically programmed to enjoy life. Just look at a toddler who already enjoys life without reflecting about anything.

To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms.


Can you think of a single example where "speaking of value" is done "apart from life"?
Pointing out that life is the standard of value is like pointing out that my ability to smell and taste is the "standard of value" when I speak of my favorite dish.

MJ: any people hold it is the "will of God", which amounts to none other than what they wish. Comtean type altruists say the good is what is good for others, never one's self, which doesn't answer what is good for the others. Aristotle said the ultimate good, for humans at least, is happiness. Ayn Rand said the standard is a being's own life. "It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil" (VOS 14).

We are drawing nearer to the core of the issue. I'll address these points in a separate post.
A question in advance: do you believe in any such thing as a "universal goal"?

Edited by Xray, 12 June 2010 - 02:54 PM.


#388 Merlin Jetton

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Posted 15 June 2010 - 01:20 PM



The biocentric approach in a discussion about values conceives of "value" as a means being of instrumental value to achieve a goal.
Stomach acid e. g. is a means of instrumental value for the goal "breaking down food".

Are all goals arbitrary? If yes, that makes all your goals arbitrary, doesn't it? :)

I spoke of the goal "breaking down food", and get as a reply from you "Are all goals arbitrary?" I don't see the conneection between my post and your response.

You aren't trying. You have said many times that "good" is merely instrumental to some goal, and you have given no standard whatever for any goal. You say only that it is subjectively chosen. If there is no standard for any goal -- it's merely an arbitrary choice -- then all goals are arbitrary.


One of Rand's attacks aginst the intrinsic theory of values is that it "divorces the concept value from valuer".
But when one uses biology to bolster a moral value theory, the absence of a 'valuer' can be observed in many instances as well.
For example, there exists no valuer for the goal 'breaking down food', for which stomach acid is of instrumental value.
Something is of "instrumental value" if it is a suitable means to achieve a goal.

An "instrumental value" to whom and for what? What is the goal?



Life "just is" in the sense that life exists. Even if there is nothing intrinsically good, what warrants using the term "good" at all?
What is the standard for using it? If there are no other answers to these questions, then the use of "good" is wholly arbitrary -- anything is good simply because somebody believes it is. This is your answer, as far as I can tell.

No, it is not. For "good" mostly refers to instrumental value. For example, if you are thirsty, water is deemed 'good', i. e. suited to purpose.
Whereas if your cellar is filled with water because of flood damage, the water is deemed 'bad', and efforts are made to achieve absence of water to suit the purpose 'keeping your home damage-free'.

Mostly? Then what is the standard for a goal that isn't merely an instrumental value? Give us an example of a goal that is good and not merely instrumental.


That answer is also incoherent. X's good may be bad for Y,

In calling it "incoherent", you don't seem to take into account that
1) instrumental values can differ because people's goal's can differ,
and
2) people can have the same goal and be in competition.


My use of "incoherent" takes into account #1, #2, and much more.

A question in advance: do you believe in any such thing as a "universal goal"?

The most universal goal is survival. There are a few exceptions, especially regarding humans. Regardless, survival explains a lot. Do you have a better answer? Or do you simply say there is no answer or it's arbitrary, because you can't find one without exception?

#389 Xray

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 02:23 PM

You have said many times that "good" is merely instrumental to some goal, and you have given no standard whatever for any goal. You say only that it is subjectively chosen. If there is no standard for any goal -- it's merely an arbitrary choice -- then all goals are arbitrary.

There exist countless standards for all kinds of goals - that is not the problem. The problem lies in not realizing that a "standard" is the result of a human decision; it does not exist out there to be discovered. Which is why standards are subject to change. One brief look at the history of moral values offers enough illustrative examples.
As for the goals one chooses, they themselves can again be seen be seen as of instrumental value in achieving a further goal.
Example: John and Jane, a married couple, put aside a percentage of their wage for retirement each month. Saving is the instrumental value to achieve the goal: having enough money as retirees. Having enough money as retirees is in itself again an instrumental value for the quality of life John and Jane have in mind. And so on. You can do this with every goal people set for themselves and will ultimately arrive at what constitutes 'happiness' and 'quality of life' for them.
But what makes X happy is not applicable to everyone else. Therefore people may find happiness in values which are not on Rand's list, or even diametrically opposed. I for example am far happier working as a state employee than I would be if I had to work for a private employer. Nor would I want to be a private employer myself and have others work for me. It's just not my cup of tea. Another person may decide the exact opposite for themselves.


Something is of "instrumental value" if it is a suitable means to achieve a goal.

An "instrumental value" to whom and for what? What is the goal?

"The goal" in the 'stomach' example is to sustain the organism, and as for consciously chosen goals by humans, it is whatever the person wants to achieve. My 'goal' right now is to bring my point across in this reply to you.

Life "just is" in the sense that life exists. Even if there is nothing intrinsically good, what warrants using the term "good" at all?
What is the standard for using it? If there are no other answers to these questions, then the use of "good" is wholly arbitrary -- anything is good simply because somebody believes it is. This is your answer, as far as I can tell.

No, it is not. For "good" mostly refers to instrumental value.

Mostly? Then what is the standard for a goal that isn't merely an instrumental value? Give us an example of a goal that is good and not merely instrumental.

I used the modifier 'mostly' because there exists a use of good which refers to subjective taste only, like e. g. stating that chocolate chip cookies are 'good' because one happens to like them.
As for "standard", see above.

A question in advance: do you believe in any such thing as a "universal goal"?

MJ: The most universal goal is survival. There are a few exceptions, especially regarding humans. Regardless, survival explains a lot. Do you have a better answer? Or do you simply say there is no answer or it's arbitrary, because you can't find one without exception?

My question was intended to go beyond the survial and replication program of living systems on our tiny earth. I was thinking of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and its effect on the universe.
Imo any claim of a 'universal goal' existing in these dimensions can only be religious.

Edited by Xray, 17 June 2010 - 02:37 PM.


#390 Brant Gaede

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 04:50 PM

But what makes X happy is not applicable to everyone else. Therefore people may find happiness in values which are not on Rand's list, or even diametrically opposed. I for example am far happier working as a state employee than I would be if I had to work for a private employer. Nor would I want to be a private employer myself and have others work for me. It's just not my cup of tea. Another person may decide the exact opposite for themselves.


Yep, I wanna be a serial killer.

In your profession there isn't too much private employment. Some, not much.

In my imaginary elementary school I can effectively teach a class of 100. I'll never get this chance--if I wanted it--because the state would prevent me in various ways. No real innovation allowed. You, not understanding what I have in mind, are probably stuck with the notion of the impossibility of this idea in action. I also know of an effective home-schooling plan that lets the child teach himself through the high school level including calculus. You don't have much home-schooling in Europe. Public education is simply another aspect of the fascist state. It's natural enough in that controlling the economy it would also control the education of the future denizens of that economy for it needs good citizens if not out-right meat for its war machine.

--Brant

Rational Individualist, Rational self-interest, Individual Rights--limited government libertarian heavily influenced by Objectivism


#391 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 19 July 2010 - 11:06 AM

. . . . As for Kant's views on faith, he did not mean following your feelings instead of your reason, or anything like that. Stephen Boydstun, judging by some comments he posted on another list, knows a lot about Kant's notion of faith, so maybe he will help me out here.
Ghs

Kant defines faith in Critique of Pure Reason in a section titled “On Opinion, Knowledge, and Faith.” This is in the first edition and in the second (1781, 1787).

Kant defines assent as “an event in our understanding that may rest on objective bases but that also requires subjective causes in the mind of the person who is judging. If the assent is valid for everyone, provided that he has reason, then its basis is sufficient objectively and the assent is then called conviction. If the assent has its basis only in the particular character of the subject, then it is called persuasion” (A820 B848).

A mere persuasion lacks truth, which is agreement with the object. To take the basis of a mere persuasion as objective is a mere illusion. Conviction, in Kant’s meaning, would be found valid “for every human being’s reason” (ibid.). So if a student in one of Kant’s logic classes does not accept that the inference known as “affirming the consequent” is a fallacy, his acceptance of the inference as valid is an illusion, not a conviction. The inference is not valid in his reason nor in the reason of anyone. (Fallacy: If Bacon wrote Hamlet, Bacon was a great writer. Bacon was a great writer. Therefore, Bacon wrote Hamlet.)

We will be freed of such an illusion if we can “unfold the judgment’s subjective causes that we take to be objective bases of it, and if we can therefore explain the deceptive assent as an event in our mind without needing the object’s character for this explanation” (A821 B849).

To assert something is to “pronounce it as a judgment that is necessarily valid for everyone” (A822 B850). Under this meaning of assertion, one should not assert one’s persuasions. One can hold persuasions for oneself, but one should not run around proclaiming them, trying to force them into the status of convictions. That is Kant’s view. It seems to me that the holder of a persuasion does not always know that it really is nothing but a persuasion. Perhaps the standing rule is: assume it is only a persuasion until one has reason think otherwise.

Turn back now from assert to assent. “Assent—or the judgment’s subjective validity—in reference to conviction (which holds [subjectively and] at the same time objectively has the following three levels: opinion, faith, and knowledge. Opinion is a assent that is consciously insufficient both subjectively and objectively” (ibid.). Now comes an idea familiar to readers of Objectivist philosophy: “I must never presume to hold an opinion without knowing at least something by means of which the judgment, which in itself is merely problematic, acquires a connection with truth; for truth, even when not complete, is still more than an arbitrary convention” (ibid.).

“Assent that is sufficient both subjectively and objectively is called knowledge” (ibid.). Assent that is “sufficient only subjectively and is at the same time regarded as objectively insufficient . . . is called faith” (ibid.). That there are inhabitants on other planets is a faith of Kant’s, not merely an opinion (A825 B854). This is an example of what Kant calls a doctrinal faith. This is not from some sort of divine revelation. Kant’s faith that there are extraterrestrials is called doctrinal for (i) although we could not (in his day) take actions concerning extraterrestrials, we could conceive what actions we could take towards them if we had the means and (ii) he would be willing to bet all he owns on the proposition if verification were possible. Kant argues that and how “the existence of God belongs to doctrinal faith” (A826 B854).

Beyond doctrinal faith is moral faith. Under speculative reflection, we see it as simply doctrinal faith, modest in its objective credentials, firm in its confidence. In moral faith, “there is an absolute necessity that something must occur, viz., that I comply in all points with the moral law. . . . But since the moral precept is thus simultaneously my maxim (as, indeed, reason commands), I shall inevitably have faith in the existence of God and a future life” (A828 B856). This moral faith is a rational faith (A829 B857).

It is inappropriate to portray rational faith in the present sense as fideism. From Bayle to Kant’s contemporary Hamann, fideism is standing in opposition to purported autonomous rational grounds in metaphysics and ethics in order to saturate all with faith. The fideists will say there is no essential difference between Kant’s moral faith and faith in the Holy Trinity, just as they will say there is no essential difference between believing the earth will be there for your next step and having faith in the Holy Trinity. That sort of con gets nowhere with Kant (or Leibniz).

The certainty of moral faith is tied to one’s personal moral attitudes, in Kant’s view, and that might lead the reader to think that that certainty is unwarranted. No. Moral interests are not shaky. The human mind, and indeed any rational mind, takes a natural interest in morality. Solidify and increase this interest, and you will find a person’s reason “very teachable and even further enlightened for the task of uniting with the practical interest also the speculative interest”(Note 151, A830 B858).

Critique of Pure Reason, Werner S. Pluhar, translator (1996).

In Kant’s view, promoting action towards the highest good requires at least the possibility of God and immortality to be postulated in the nature of things. These postulates from a practical point of view are not merely permitted hypotheses. They are “practically necessary ends of a pure rational will, which does not here choose; instead it obeys an inflexible command of reason that has its ground objectively in the character of things as they must be appraised universally by pure reason and is not based upon, say, inclination, which is by no means justified in at once assuming, for the sake of what we wish on merely subjective grounds that the means to it are possible or that the object is real. . . . I will that there be a God, that my existence in the world be also an existence in a pure world of the understanding beyond natural connections, and finally that my duration be endless; . . . I will not let this belief be taken from me; for this is the only case in with my interest, because I may not give up anything of it, unavoidably determines my judgment” (Critique of Practical Reason 5:143, Mary J. Gregor, translator). The fable of Job was a favorite of Kant’s.

In Rand’s view and mine, it is the absoluteness and finality of human life and death on earth, along with the vital necessity of man’s form of consciousness, that is source of necessity in morality. The highest good is here, free for knowing and pursuing.

(Also)

#392 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 07:21 AM

I should add the following quotation to reinforce part of my interpretation of Kant in the preceding post. Kant writes in Critique of Practical Judgment (1788): “Universality of assent does not prove the objective validity of a judgment (i.e. its validity as cognition) but only that, even if universal assent should happen to be correct, it could still not yield a proof of agreement with the object; on the contrary, only objective validity constitutes the ground of a necessary universal agreement” (5:13, Mary Gregor, translator).

That text of Kant’s occurs within a good summation of his refutation of Hume’s empiricism and skepticism. Kant maintains there is no way someone might discover “that there is and can be no a priori cognition at all. . . . [That] would be tantamount to someone’s wanting to prove by reason that there is no reason” (5:12).

For, we say that we cognize something by reason only when we are aware that we could have known it even if it had not presented itself as it did in experience; hence rational cognition and cognition a priori are one and the same. It is an outright contradiction to want to extract necessity from an empirical proposition (ex pumice aquam [water from a pumice stone]) and to give a judgment, along with necessity, true universality (without which there is no rational inference . . .). To substitute subjective necessity, that is, custom, for objective necessity, which is to be found only in a priori judgments, is to deny to reason the ability to judge an object, that is, to cognize it and what belongs to it; it is to deny, for example, that when something often or always follows upon a certain prior state one could infer it from that (for this would mean objective necessity and the concept of an a priori connection) and to say only that we may expect similar cases (just as animals do), that is, to reject the concept of cause fundamentally as false and a mere delusion of thought. (5:12)

It is right here that Kant’s denial that universal assent is sufficient for validating the truth of judgments—their agreement of judgments with their objects—is put to work. Hume did not take up a universal empiricism, for he exempted mathematics and logic. But with Hume’s weak requirement that custom can be substituted for objective law, there is no reason for those exemptions.

Now it is well known that Hume “asked nothing more than that a mere subjective meaning of necessity, namely custom, be assumed in place of any objective meaning of necessity in the concept of cause, so as to deny to reason any judgment about God, freedom, and immortality . . .” (5:13). Extending Hume’s principle to arrive at a truly universal empiricism lands one in an absurd conflict of reason with itself and, hence, in total skepticism. Mathematics “inevitably comes into conflict with a reason that admits only empirical principles” (5:13). For example, if (as is roughly the case) “mathematics proves incontestably the infinite divisibility of space, which empiricism cannot allow, then the greatest possible evidence of demonstration is in manifest contradiction with the alleged inferences from empirical principles . . .” (5:13). Universal empiricism leaves no touchstone against skepticism of experience, where experience “consists not of feelings only but also of judgments,” such as the touchstones that are the a priori principles of mathematics.

Kant’s theories about how it is that arithmetic and geometry apply to the world are untrue. And Hume’s empirical reasoning to the atomicity of space and time were unsound anyway. Kant was onto something nevertheless. Although we do not require Kant’s doctrines of synthetic a priori intuition for modern mathematics, it remains that careful postulates of an area of mathematics, such as incidence postulates of the Euclidean plane, are in addition to the axioms and inference rules of logic. And though such postulates can be exemplified empirically (a four-legged table is more apt to rock than is a three-legged table because three points determine a plane), their credit as postulates for an area of mathematics is not by durability under empirical test.

There is a pertinent book on my shelf waiting for this reader:
Custom and Reason in Hume
A Kantian Reading of the First Book of the Treatise
Henry E. Allison (Oxford 2008)




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