George H. Smith

Rand's notions of Kant and Hume

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This is MSK writing, not George. His post will occur in this same space after the part I present. I give the reason below.

Anyway, a discussion unfolded about Rand's understanding of Kant and Hume on a thread called "The Rewrite Squad" where Robert Campbell compars the way Rand has been rewritten by Robert Mayhew in his "editing" of her previously unpublished material. In order to keep that thread centered on the rewrites, and not tangents, I am moving the pertinent posts to this thread. "Chewing on Ideas" seems to be a good place for it.

A good place to start is the Q&A in the post below, which continues on the original thread. It was not included in Ayn Rand Answers--I think for pretty obvious reasons. The mission of the rewrites was (and is) to sanitize Rand in order to manipulate public perception. It is well known that Rand constantly blasted the hell out of Kant, but the post below--and ensuing discussion--show clearly that Rand scapegoated Kant based on her own suppositions and misunderstandings of his work instead of presenting his ideas correctly and rebutting them properly.

There is a HUGE difference between dealing in essentials and cherry-picking.

I think a good lesson can be learned here--that scapegoating is always bad and it ultimately and inevitably reflects poorly on the scapegoater. Even when Ayn Rand does it.

People remember Henry Ford for his cars, not his antisemitism. Still, it's there like a fly on a beautiful painting.

I believe that people will remember Rand for her brilliant defense of capitalism and productive achievers, not her oversimplifications and misrepresentations of Kant. Still, it's there...

So...

On with this show...

The Objectivist Ethics (radio version) 1962

Q&A, CD 2, Track 1, 11:08 through 12:09

Q: Another question from a listener, an important one, I think. I'll ask Miss Rand how is the transition from the "is" to the "ought" accomplished exactly? And how can a statement involving the term "ought" be deduced from premises which do not contain such a term? Don't we get at best what Kant called a hypothetical imperative? That is, if you want to be rational, do so-and-so, or if you wish to survive, do such-and-such. But let's suppose that I don't desire to survive.

A: Now this is a very interesting question, and a very important one. And I would like to start by pointing out that what, euh, the Hume-Kant axis has in fact accomplished here, uh, is what I call the rebellion against the whole concept of ethics. It is a rebellion against the possibility of ethics

CD 2, Track 2, 0:00 through 11:54

or, more specifically, a rebellion against ethics as choice.

Now observe what it is that Kant is saying, in effect: that at best we can get hypothetical imperatives, uhh, meaning what? If you want to achieve certain thing, then you do a certain thing.

I would like to challenge Kant, or any of his, uhh, advocates, to, uh, tell me what would be the meaning of ethics devoid of choice. If we have such a discipline or such a, euh, concept as morality, implicit in it is the concept that we are confronted by a choice. We have to choose one of two possible alternatives. If there is no choice, in any issue not open to our choice, there can be no question of ethics or morality.

Uh, now, when we are confronted with a choice—and choice is not possible without the concept of purpose—a choice necessarily in, includes, implies in it, inbuilt in the concept of a choice is the fact, the question, "For what—for what purpose?"

Nobody but an insane person can make a choice without a concept of a "why." And even then it's doubtful whether an insane person—he may think he knows the reasons, but that would apply more to a neurotic—uh, nonetheless, there are some reasons for every choice, and if it's not a man's conscious, purposeful choice, well, then, he's acting as a deterministic entity and something is making the choice for him.

But now we are not talking about psychological determinism here; we are talking about ethics. And once we talk about ethics, we have already admitted the fact that man has choice. If he has choice, then a hypothetical imperative—if you want to call it that—is all that ethics can properly be concerned with.

Only I will immediately challenge the term. Uh, neither "imperative" nor "hypothesis" are terms applicable to the fact that man has to make choices [word partly covered by noise in the recording]. What does Kant's term imply? Well, of course, it implies the opposite of what he was aiming at; namely, his categorical imperative. What did he mean by that? Some sort of, apparently, innate instinct, which forces us to make a certain kind of choice in certain circumstances. Some sort of categorical imperative for a duty which we all are born with and have to follow.

Well, of course, if this were true—which it isn't—if in fact we had such an instinct, it would be outside the province of morality or ethics. It would have nothing to do with ethics since it would be an innate imperative which we could not resist. It would not be open to our choice. And this is the basic contradiction in the whole Hume-Kant attitude toward ethics. I'd make it wider—in the whole mystic attitude toward ethics. If any ethical proposition, any, uh, commandment or precept, cannot be resisted, if it is from God or our glands or any authority other than our free will choice, if it cannot be resisted, it no longer belongs in the realm of ethics, and it's a contradiction in terms to talk of an irresistible imperative or an irresistible choice, choice which we cannot help but make. If we could not choose, we are no longer in the issue of ethics.

Now that is my first answer and objection to approaching the question in the Humean-Kantian way. Uh, by the nature, uh, of the way they set up the problem, they eliminate the possibility or the reality of choice, and they in effect tell you, "Unless there is some enormous mystical compulsion, unless in some way you cannot help acting in a certain way, uhh, you, uh, have only a hypothetical, uh, ethics. An absolute ethics would be one which you couldn't, ehh, help but follow. Well, I repeat, if you couldn't help it, it would no longer be an issue of ethics.

Uhh, now then, where, how do we, uh, relate the "ought" to the "is"?

Well, first, we have to identify the "is" of ethics. What is ethics? And that is precisely what I do in the Objectivist approach to ethics. I first identify what it is: the entire issue of ethics, what is choice, what are values, why does man need them. And when you identify what is the issue of an "ought," where does an "ought," a "should"—that is, a moral precept—where does it come from, then you realize that it comes from the needs of living organisms. The concept "ought" could not have arisen—would not exist—neither the concept nor the reality corresponding to that concept could not , uh, exist—except as a need of living organisms, as a necessity of a living entity's survival.

Uh, to give you the simplest example: A fish ought to live in water. Now a fish by itself has no choice about it; it is not a moral choice for the fish. Nevertheless, a fish is a living entity. It is an entity which has to live in water, or, if it is removed from that environment, it dies. Therefore, if we as men would ask, er, "Should a fish live in water?" the answer will be, "If it is to live, yes, it has to live in water. Take it out on dry land and it will die." Now there is the simplest example of the relationship between an "is" and an "ought."

Since all life is conditional, in the sense that life has to be maintained by a certain kind of action of the living organism itself, then every form of life has an "ought" inbuilt into it and every living organism will live only if it follows a certain course of action, such as a fish has to live in water. And when we come to the highest, uh, living species, man, then we discover that man has to discover what is his proper manner of survival by a conscious, rational process. Man's form of survival is not automatically granted to him, but nevertheless he can survive in only, uh, one specific manner: he has to use his mind, his reason, in all, order to survive. Therefore, implicit in what he is, implicit in the fact of being a certain kind of entity, a human being, implicit in it is the necessity for a certain kind of course of action and for the pursuit of certain values, the first one of which is the value of rationality. Implicit in man's nature, in what he is, is the necessity to be rational, but that necessity is not force on him; he needs it, but it is up to him to choose it or not to choose it. Therefore, the "ought" in human nature comes out of the "is" in human nature. Man ought to be rational, if he is to live. But that "if" is also a fact, and not someone's conditional, uhh, hypothetical, arbitrary prescription. Every living entity, if it is to live, has to act in a certain way; therefore, that "ought" is inbuilt in the concept, in the fact of, the "is" of any living entity.

The second part of the question, uhh, uh, really contains a certain contradiction in it. If a man says, "I don't desire to survive qua human being," my answer to him would be, "And just where did he get the concept of desire?" The mere fact that he is capable of desiring anything comes from, is based on the fact that he is a certain kind of entity and thus has the capacity for certain kinds of values. Now he does not have to know where his desire comes from. Morally he should, but in fact he's free to evade the source of his desires. He is also free to decide that he does not want to desire anything or, above all, which he is free to say, he wants to be irrational— many people do.

But my answer to that is, yes, you have this capability, but it is the purpose of ethics to tell you why if you do not want to survive as a human being, why if you do not want to live as a man, you are evil, mistaken, and wrong—and this is the purpose of the Objectivist ethics, specifically, to tell you why you are wrong in such a desire and why such a desire is evil. Euh, but you will always have the possibility, the capacity not to choose to live as a man, and precisely because you have such cap, that capacity, that is why man needs ethics. That is why ethics is an issue of choice. If man didn't have that choice, the question of ethics would not come up.

Ayn Rand Answers: not included.

Michael

PS: The text below the double line is from George H. Smith. I had to "borrow" part of his post space for mine because of the time stamp in moving posts. As today is May 10, the program put my opening post later in the thread since George's post is May 7.

===================================================================

(Now it's George H. Smith writing below.)

Robert,

Your transcription of Rand's response to the Is-Ought problem is one of the most significant that you have posted so far. Although not exactly a model of clarity, it does provide some important insights into how Rand viewed the problem.

As I was reading the passage, I wondered why no version of it appears in ARA. Then I got to this part:

The Objectivist Ethics (radio version) 1962

Q&A, CD 2, Track 1, 11:08 through 12:09

Only I will immediately challenge the term. Uh, neither "imperative" nor "hypothesis" are terms applicable to the fact that man has to make choices [word partly covered by noise in the recording]. What does Kant's term imply? Well, of course, it implies the opposite of what he was aiming at; namely, his categorical imperative. What did he mean by that? Some sort of, apparently, innate instinct, which forces us to make a certain kind of choice in certain circumstances. Some sort of categorical imperative for a duty which we all are born with and have to follow.

Well, of course, if this were true—which it isn't—if in fact we had such an instinct, it would be outside the province of morality or ethics. It would have nothing to do with ethics since it would be an innate imperative which we could not resist. It would not be open to our choice. And this is the basic contradiction in the whole Hume-Kant attitude toward ethics.I'd make it wider—in the whole mystic attitude toward ethics. If any ethical proposition, any, uh, commandment or precept, cannot be resisted, if it is from God or our glands or any authority other than our free will choice, if it cannot be resisted, it no longer belongs in the realm of ethics, and it's a contradiction in terms to talk of an irresistible imperative or an irresistible choice, choice which we cannot help but make. If we could not choose, we are no longer in the issue of ethics.

Now that is my first answer and objection to approaching the question in the Humean-Kantian way. Ayn Rand Answers: not included.

This interpretation is so off-base, both in regard to Kant and Hume (who differed widely in their approaches to ethics), as to be acutely embarrassing to anyone in the ARI crowd who knows anything about the history of philosophy. And this might explain why no version of the passage was used in ARA. At the very least, had Rand's explanation been included, this part would almost certainly have been expunged.

I have said before that Rand's knowledge about many key figures in the history of philosophy was severely limited and often inaccurate. But the above nonsense is beyond the pale.

Ghs

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George,

I found her critique of the "Humean-Kantian axis" strange on a number of levels, and not just because of her decision to lump Hume and Kant together where they so obviously differ.

Her notion of the categorical imperative as an irresistible instinct is inconsistent with Kant's view of the self, on any interpretation I'm familiar with. It definitely isn't congruent with Leonard Peikoff's interpretation, on which she would be conflating the noumenal self with the phenomenal. This alone would have motivated Peikoff to instruct Bob Mayhew not to use the answer.

Another reason Peikoff wouldn't have wanted to publish this answer is that there is no hint in it of the "pre-moral choice to live." I doubt that Rand herself ever propounded that doctrine anyway. Where she came closest to it was in "Causality vs. Duty," nearly a decade later, when Peikoff was publishing his own articles about Kant.

As far as copyright issues are concerned, for obvious reasons I have no plan to publish this material on paper—either my raw transcriptions, or transcriptions with the (very light) level of editing that I think is appropriate.

If Leonard Peikoff et al. are interested in doing the right thing, they'll discontinue the Mayhew book and replace it with a decent publication of Ayn Rand's spoken answers. The Estate paid Mayhew to do his rewriting, when it would probably have cost a good deal less to get the project done properly in the first place...

Robert Campbell

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> I found her critique of the "Humean-Kantian axis" strange on a number of levels, and not just because of her decision to lump Hume and Kant together where they so obviously differ.

Robert, I think an axis here means an alliance or a division of labor even if not a conscious one -- Kant thought he was answering and rebutting Hume.

Just like the Hitler-Mussolini axis (or the systems of the Nazis and the Soviets), it doesn't mean the ideologies or applications are identical. (Although, both believe that reason cannot know reality - directly in the case of Kant, at all in the case of Hume.)

It's enormously illuminating to think in terms of a "Humean-Kantian axis" as long as you remember that it's not just H and K, but has its roots (and extensions) elsewhere in the history of philosophy.

Edited by Philip Coates

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Robert, I think an axis here means an alliance or a division of labor even if not a conscious one -- Kant thought he was answering and rebutting Hume.

Phil,

My complaint was not with Rand's invocation of a Hume-Kant axis. Kant effectively allowed Hume to frame many of his problems for him.

My complaint was more along these lines: if you're going to criticize the Hume-Kant axis, you've assumed an obligation to characterize both ends of it accurately. But Rand patently failed to do that in her answer. She neither described the relevant problems that Hume had bequeathed to Kant, not did she describe Kant's efforts to solve them. She barely seemed to understand what Kant thought a hypothetical imperative was, nor did she adequately contrast it with a categorical imperative. She gave ample further indications of failing to understand Kant's ethical theory.

It's not that the job has never been done in Rand-land. In his history of philosophy lectures, Leonard Peikoff offers a clear description of both ends of the axis. But the 1962 answer makes it painfully clear how little study Rand herself had made of either philosopher. For nearly anything worthwhile that she would ever have to say about Hume or Kant, she was indebted to others—primarily to Peikoff, I would have to assume.

Yet Peikoff continues to pretend that none of Objectivism was his doing. Rand, he would have us believe, merely spoke; he merely listened and tried to remember.

Robert Campbell

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> if you're going to criticize the Hume-Kant axis, you've assumed an obligation to characterize both ends of it accurately. But Rand patently failed to do that in her answer.

Robert, not a real big deal, though. (Nor does it indicate she doesn't know the meaning.)

I agree that for a general audience you can't breezily refer to a "Hume-Kant" or "Plato-Hitler" or "Nazi-Soviet" or "intrinsicism-rationalism" axis or alliance or division of labor. Or the like because they won't have the faintest idea what on earth you are talking about.

> the 1962 answer makes it painfully clear how little study Rand herself had made of either philosopher

Huh?? Why do you say that? An off the cuff linkage without elaborating or explaining might be over their heads, but doesn't mean Rand doesn't have in mind exactly what I said in my previous post.

In fact, if memory serves, she -has- elaborated elsewhere.

You seem too eager to find a fault or "read in" lack of knowledge here on a small basis.

Edited by Philip Coates

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Phil,

The origins of these radio broadcasts aren't clearly identified on the CDs that the Ayn Rand Bookstore sells. However, from a reference on one of them to Rand giving her talk on "America's Persecuted Minority" at Columbia University, where the announcer said he heard a question from the audience, I'm pretty sure they're from a series that originated at WKCR, the Columbia radio station.

The broadcasts were not made for an audience of Objectivists, as would be obvious from the questions that she was asked on them.

And do you really think, from the evidence of this answer, that in 1962 Rand understood the doctrine of the categorical imperative?

Robert Campbell

PS. I wonder who the announcer on these broadcasts was. Very erudite individual. He sounds a lot like Dick Cavett.

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I find Rand's fixation on Kant with that stuff about "most evil" to be embarrassingly bad. And I hardly know Kant from the man in the moon. But I do know and appreciate an expert. She wasn't a Kant expert and one doesn't have to know Kant to know that: only her explications on the subject and a good general knowledge of philosophical principles and the complexities of human history. Peikoff made the same mistake in The Ominous Parallels by focusing on one facet only of the problems facing America and generally ignoring history and its multiple subcategories such as economics, sociology, psychology, the great man, human nature, geography, weather even, etc. all apropos to his thesis that America was in trouble. In November or December of 1970 I went to hear Rand give a talk at the Bronx Community College after which she took questions. One question was whether she had ever read any book by Kant. She didn't say she had, but talked and talked around the subject and question. This meant, of course, that she hadn't. To say that, however, would have made her whole claim about the evil of Kant not only suspect but discardible.

--Brant

she wasn't always honest and she wasn't there

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Brant,

I've heard it said that in Rand's library there was a heavily marked up copy of the Critique. I'd like to see it.

Maybe when she was younger she was more interested in the nuts and bolts of philosophy.

-Neil Parille

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Brant,

I've heard it said that in Rand's library there was a heavily marked up copy of the Critique. I'd like to see it.

Maybe when she was younger she was more interested in the nuts and bolts of philosophy.

-Neil Parille

Said by whom? What happend to it? If this is true all she had to do was say "yes", in the Bronx almost 40 years ago. And she would have and should have.

--Brant

show me the money

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No book by Kant is included in Ayn Rand's Marginalia. Was there a list of property including her library in the documents about her will.

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Subject: Essentialize, essentialize

I had this debate with Jeff R on another thread, so I won't repeat it but it's possible to get sufficient knowledge of certain thinkers from secondary sources, if those secondary sources (encyclopedias, reference works in philosophy, economics, physics, not to mention college survey courses) are reliable, jointly agree, and give sufficient depth and detail that you can assess them.

You can disagree on Kant's motives - whether he intended to save reason from Hume's skepticism, or destroy it in favor of mysticism - but it's not controversial what he said and how one can essentialize its meaning and effect.

As well as in the courses I've taken, I've also read in the history of philosophy texts as well as in the standard Oxbridge dictionaries and encyclopedias of philosophy scholarly entries on Kant, Hume, Plato, Aristotle, the pragmatists, the existentialists and, yes, Rand and Peikoff **DO** understand those thinkers.

In essentials. And enough for their purposes.

I have not the slightest interest in whether Rand read the Critique in its entirety or whether she read what I did above. Nor does it reflect on her 'scholarship' unless she was inaccurate in her overall assessments (as opposed to on a nitpick).

And, no, I don't see much point in debating this endlessly. All you have to do is have a good grounding in philosophy. I've had the equivalent of an advanced degree in the subject.

I will grant that sometimes people don't think in essentials and are unable to 'simplify' what Kant's (or Hume's or Plato's) worldview is.

Edited by Philip Coates

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Subject: Essentialize, essentialize

You can disagree on Kant's motives - whether he intended to save reason from Hume's skepticism, or destroy it in favor of mysticism - but it's not controversial what he said and how one can essentialize its meaning and effect.

I've read in the history of philosophy as well as in the standard Oxbridge dictionaries and encyclopedias the entries on Kant, Hume, Plato, Aristotle, the pragmatists, the existentialists and, yes, Rand and Peikoff DO understand those thinkers.

In essentials. And enough for their purposes.

Rand repeatedly called Kant an "altruist." He wasn't. He was a deontologist who regarded both egoistic motives and altruistic motives as nonmoral in character.

In "Philosophy: Who Needs It?" Rand wrote:

Or: "I can't prove it, but I feel that it's true." You got it from Kant. Or: "It's logical, but logic has nothing to do with reality." You got it from Kant. Or: "It's evil, because it's selfish." You got it from Kant."

In "From the Horse's Mouth," Rand wrote:

Man's goals, actions, choices and values—according to Kant—are to be determined irrationally, i.e., by faith.

Kant said none of these things. Since when do misrepresentations qualify as dealing in essentials?

As for Kant's motives, Rand said repeatedly that Kant deliberately set out to destroy the efficacy of man's mind. This is why she did not regard him as merely mistaken, but as evil. As she put it in the "Age of Envy":

On the basis of his works, I offer Immanuel Kant in evidence, as the archetype of this species: a system as consistently evil as his cannot be constructed innocently.

Rand's critics have said similar things about her. All of this is Mickey Mouse.

Ghs

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Subject: Essentialize, essentialize

I had this debate with Jeff R on another thread, so I won't repeat it but it's possible to get sufficient knowledge of certain thinkers from secondary sources, if those secondary sources (encyclopedias, reference works in philosophy, economics, physics, not to mention college survey courses) are reliable, jointly agree, and give sufficient depth and detail that you can assess them.

One needs to study Objectivism directly and systematically for decades before one truly understands it, but one can skim a dictionary or encyclopedia entry to understand any other philosophy? The same dictionaries and encyclopedias that get Rand wrong (because those who write dictionary or encyclopedia entries haven't studied Objectivism systematically for decades) are nonetheless reliable when it comes to other thinkers?

You can disagree on Kant's motives - whether he intended to save reason from Hume's skepticism, or destroy it in favor of mysticism - but it's not controversial what he said and how one can essentialize its meaning and effect.

As well as in the courses I've taken, I've also read in the history of philosophy texts as well as in the standard Oxbridge dictionaries and encyclopedias of philosophy scholarly entries on Kant, Hume, Plato, Aristotle, the pragmatists, the existentialists and, yes, Rand and Peikoff **DO** understand those thinkers.

In essentials. And enough for their purposes.

But then again, you really don't know accurate her assessments were of Kant because you haven't read Kant, have you?

I have not the slightest interest in whether Rand read the Critique in its entirety or whether she read what I did above. Nor does it reflect on her 'scholarship' unless she was inaccurate in her overall assessments (as opposed to on a nitpick).

In regard to my primary area of interest, aesthetics, Rand was highly inaccurate in her assessment of Kant. I don't think she read his third Critique or had the slightest clue of what it contained.

And, no, I don't see much point in debating this endlessly. All you have to do is have a good grounding in philosophy. I've had the equivalent of an advanced degree in the subject.

And by "have a good grounding in philosophy," you mean studying Rand for decades, browsing encyclopedia entries on other thinkers, and believing what Rand and Peikoff told you to believe about them? Sorry, Phil, but I don't think that one can achieve "the equivalent of an advanced degree" while refusing to read original sources.

J

Edited by Jonathan

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The problem with studying Objectivism is not understanding it, but improving one's life and character consequently. There's where the real work is and it's a life's job.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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Rand repeatedly called Kant an "altruist." He wasn't. He was a deontologist who regarded both egoistic motives and altruistic motives as nonmoral in character.

In "Philosophy: Who Needs It?" Rand wrote:

Or: "I can't prove it, but I feel that it's true." You got it from Kant. Or: "It's logical, but logic has nothing to do with reality." You got it from Kant. Or: "It's evil, because it's selfish." You got it from Kant."

In "From the Horse's Mouth," Rand wrote:

Man's goals, actions, choices and values—according to Kant—are to be determined irrationally, i.e., by faith.

Kant said none of these things. Since when do misrepresentations qualify as dealing in essentials?

In "From the Horse's Mouth," Rand says that while recovering from her illness she read (at least part of):

[a book] published in 1898. Written by Friedrich Paulsen, it is entitled Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine.

She gives excerpts from what I suppose is an introductory overview by Paulsen, whom she describes as having been "a devoted Kantian."

[bracketed inserts and ellipses -- also the copyediting glitches -- in original]

The conflict between knowledge and faith, Paulsen explains, "has extended through the entire history of human thought" (p. 4) and Kant's great achievement, he claims, consisted in reconciling them. "...the critical [Kantian] philosophy solves the old problem of the relation of knowledge and faith. Kant is convinced that by properly fixing the limits of each he has succeeded in furnishing a basis for an honorable and enduring peace between them. Indeed, the significance and vitality of his philosophy will rest principally unon this....it is [his philosophy's] enduring merit to have drawn for the first time, with a firm hand and in clear outline, the dividing line between knowledge and faith. This gives to knowledge what belongs to it, - the entire world of phenomena for free investigation; it conserves, on the other hand, to faith its eternal right to the interpretation of life and of the world from the standpoint of value." (P. 6.)

This means that the ancient mind-body dichotomy -- which the rise of science had been healing slowly, as men were learning how to live on earth -- was revived by Kant, and man was split in two, not with old daggers, but with a meat-ax. It means that Kant gave to science the entire material world (which, however, was to be regarded as unreal), and left ("conserved") one thing to faith: morality. If you are not entirely certain of which side would win in a division of that kind, look around you today.

Paulsen's overview I think supports several of Rand's descriptions -- not "It's evil, because it's selfish," and it doesn't directly refer to Kant's views on logic. However, doesn't it support her claim of Kant's assigning the realm of value to the province of faith? Is it your view that the brief synopsis from Paulsen is incorrect?

-

A detail regarding Rand's view of Kant's motives. You write:

As for Kant's motives, Rand said repeatedly that Kant deliberately set out to destroy the efficacy of man's mind. This is why she did not regard him as merely mistaken, but as evil. As she put it in the "Age of Envy":

On the basis of his works, I offer Immanuel Kant in evidence, as the archetype of this species: a system as consistently evil as his cannot be constructed innocently.

"The Age of Envy" -- published in two parts in the July and August, 1971, The Objectivist -- was her last article prior to the "Brief Summary" in the final, September 1971, issue of The Objectivist.

She again evaluated Kant as deliberately destructive in "Brief Summary" -- where she included a summarizing verdict ("Kant is the most evil man in mankind's history") which has been frequently quoted:

[The essay by Peikoff to which she refers is titled "Kant and Self-Sacrifice." It follows her "Brief Summary" and is the only other article in that final issue of The Objectivist. Two paragraphs from "The Age of Envy" are appended after Peikoff's essay.]

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.

I don't remember any other places where she outright claimed that Kant himself -- in his motives -- was evil. I'd welcome citations to other examples.

I have a recollection, the accuracy of which I've never gotten around to trying to verify, that someplace in The Objectivist Newsletter she said of Kant that in terms of his effect he was the most evil man in mankind's history, but without a charge of deliberate intent to destroy. I wonder: Are her pieces from The Objectivist Newsletter on the research CD? If so, could someone who has that CD do a search on "Kant" and "evil"? My suspicion is that she became stronger in her negative opinion of Kant himself over the years after Leonard Peikoff started working on his The Ominous Parallels.

Ellen

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Paulsen's overview I think supports several of Rand's descriptions -- not "It's evil, because it's selfish," and it doesn't directly refer to Kant's views on logic. However, doesn't it support her claim of Kant's assigning the realm of value to the province of faith? Is it your view that the brief synopsis from Paulsen is incorrect?

I'm hesitant to judge Paulsen without having read his remarks in a more complete context. But if he attributed to Kant the position "It's evil, because it's selfish," then he was flat wrong -- unless he distinguished, as many philosophers have, between "selfishness" and "rational self-interest" (or "self love").

The latter possibility strikes me as quite likely, since the distinction between selfishness (i.e., pursuing one's interests at the expense of other people, as a thief might do) and rational self-interest (i.e., pursuing one's interests within the boundaries of justice) was emphasized over and over again by moralists from the 17th through the 19th centuries.

A succinct and accurate description of Kant's position can be found in H.J. Paton's classic work on Kant's ethics, The Moral Law. Paton (p. 20)writes:

"It should also be observed that, so far from decrying happiness, Kant holds that we have at least an indirect duty to seek our own happiness."

I don't like writing super-long posts, so I'll continue this later.

Ghs

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Paulsen's overview I think supports several of Rand's descriptions -- not "It's evil, because it's selfish," and it doesn't directly refer to Kant's views on logic. However, doesn't it support her claim of Kant's assigning the realm of value to the province of faith? Is it your view that the brief synopsis from Paulsen is incorrect?

(I should have included these brief remarks in my last post, but I forgot.)

I really don't understand the business about Kant's assigning values to the province of faith. I have read all three of Kant's major works on ethics: Critique of Practical Reason, the Metaphysics of Morals, and the Fundamental Principles (or Foundations or Groundwork) of the Metaphysics of Morals.

The whole point of these works is to establish ethics on a rational foundation. Granted, it's been a while since I've read this stuff, so it's possible that Kant assigns a role for faith in regard to some values, but to claim that he assigns all values to faith, and thereby puts ethics per se beyond the realm of reason, is absurd. That interpretation would make nonsense of the three works noted above.

Ghs

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Somewhat off topic, but Kant wasn't a religious person in the traditional sense. He didn't pray or go to church. I recall that Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone had problems with Prussian censors. Although Objectivists want to portay him as some champion of religion who was trying to save religion, most conservative theologians I've read aren't big fans of Kant.

When Rand says Kant or someone said x, she often means that if Kant were consistent with what his alleged premises were he should have said x.

-Neil Parille

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Paulsen's overview I think supports several of Rand's descriptions -- not "It's evil, because it's selfish...."

One more comment about this: Rand's interpretation conflicts with what Peikoff wrote in Chapter 4 of The Ominous Parallels, viz: "This does not mean that self-love in and by itself is evil, according to Kant; it is merely amoral."

("Nonmoral" would probably have been a better choice of words, but this is still an accurate characterization.)

Ghs

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I really don't understand the business about Kant's assigning values to the province of faith. I have read all three of Kant's major works on ethics: Critique of Practical Reason, the Metaphysics of Morals, and the Fundamental Principles (or Foundations or Groundwork) of the Metaphysics of Morals.

The whole point of these works is to establish ethics on a rational foundation. Granted, it's been a while since I've read this stuff, so it's possible that Kant assigns a role for faith in regard to some values, but to claim that he assigns all values to faith, and thereby puts ethics per se beyond the realm of reason, is absurd. That interpretation would make nonsense of the three works noted above.

Ghs

It's likely been a longer while since I read those works than it's been since you read them. My recollection of the original sources is very dim. However, what I think is the case (mostly from secondary sources) about Kant's attempt "to establish ethics on a rational foundation" is that the "rational foundation" in question is the "pure reason" of the noumenal world, where he locates the categorical imperative and free-will. If so, doesn't this amount to an act of faith, since we can't directly know the noumenal world?

Paulson's statement quoted by Rand seems to me to square with this interpretation:

"...it is [his philosophy's] enduring merit to have drawn for the first time, with a firm hand and in clear outline, the dividing line between knowledge and faith. This gives to knowledge what belongs to it, - the entire world of phenomena for free investigation; it conserves, on the other hand, to faith its eternal right to the interpretation of life and of the world from the standpoint of value." (P. 6.)

Ellen

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Michael,

This digression about Kant may go on for a while. If it does, perhaps you should separate it into a separate thread, so it doesn't detract from Robert's work, which is the main business here.

Ghs

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Paulsen's overview I think supports several of Rand's descriptions -- not "It's evil, because it's selfish...."

One more comment about this: Rand's interpretation conflicts with what Peikoff wrote in Chapter 4 of The Ominous Parallels, viz: "This does not mean that self-love in and by itself is evil, according to Kant; it is merely amoral."

("Nonmoral" would probably have been a better choice of words, but this is still an accurate characterization.)

Ghs

Just to be clear, I wonder if you're missing the "not" in the quote from me -- I wasn't saying that the brief passage from Paulsen supported that particular statement of Rand's. (I have no idea if anything else in Paulsen's book might have supported it.)

Ellen

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It's likely been a longer while since I read those works than it's been since you read them. My recollection of the original sources is very dim. However, what I think is the case (mostly from secondary sources) about Kant's attempt "to establish ethics on a rational foundation" is that the "rational foundation" in question is the "pure reason" of the noumenal world, where he locates the categorical imperative and free-will. If so, doesn't this amount to an act of faith, since we can't directly know the noumenal world?

Kant's categorical imperative is related to the noumenal world only via the presupposition of free will, which Kant ultimately viewed as an unknowable mystery. But this doesn't have anything to do with "faith" per se.

Ghs

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