Tag Archives: Kant

Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

As originally linked:

From Darwinian Conservatism-‘Trolleyology & Rawlsian Moral Grammar

For a Kantian utilitarian like Singer, the relevant moral principle in the trolley problem–that five deaths are worse than one death–is the same in both cases, and therefore Singer would pull the switch and push the fat man. For Singer, the 10% of the people who would push the fat man are rightly following pure moral reason, while the other 90% are allowing their emotions to override their reason, because from the viewpoint of pure reason, there is no morally relevant difference between the two cases.’

How far will utilitarian logic go?

A few more links:  From Tomkow.com ‘Trolley Problems:’

‘Then too, according to many accounts of self-defense, the right self-defense entrains the right of “other-defense”; so that if someone is permitted to defend themselves against an action then others are likewise permitted to intervene to help them prevent it. Perhaps, when folks express qualms about pushing the Fat Man they are sensitive to the fact that it may be permissible for third parties to forcibly restrain them.

Or, maybe, folks see a moral difference between, on the one hand, saving the lives of five people and, on the other, forcing someone else to save those lives.’

From the comments:

‘This is why I’ve always used the trolley problem simply as an illustrative guide, one which clearly points out the difference between comission and omission. The point about utilitarianism is not that it gets the answer to this particular problem wrong, but rather that it cannot make sense of this distinction. -‘

From another post at Tomkow.com on property:  The Origins Of Property II, which finds the typical Hobbes-Locke-Nozick libertarian defense of private property inadequate:

‘An “absolutist” about property rights is someone who says that — freezing or not—it is morally impermissible for the hiker to use the cabin without the owner’s permission and that if the owner had been around he would have been within his rights to kick the hiker out to die in the snow or shoot him like a common burglar. Because the hiker violates the owner’s property rights he is morally obliged to pay the owner compensation in full for all damage done -

I had an interesting discussion with a Kantian about the coming abolition of property rights…

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy..A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche ConnectionDinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Full interview here.

Totten interviews Benjamin Kerstein, who’s written Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite, which is bold in holding Chomsky to account for many of his ideas and public statements regarding his politics:

‘In the case of Chomsky, however, I think we have one of the most egregious cases. He didn’t just support an ideology, he essentially created it, or at least played a major—perhaps the decisive—role in doing so. And there isn’t just one case of lending his skills to justifying horrendous acts of political evil, there are many. And as I noted before, he has never owned up to any of them and as far as I can tell never will.’

It sounds quite incendiary.   Kerstein labels Chomsky a monster for such sins as Cambodia.

There’s also this:

‘Chomsky says at one point that there is a moral and ethical order that is hardwired into human beings. And Foucault basically asks him, why? How do you know this hardwired morality exists? And even if it exists, how can we know that it is, in fact, moral in the first place? We may feel it to be moral, but that doesn’t make it true.’

———————————–

More here from the Times Literary Supplement.

Related On This Site:  Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain.  This could lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism, or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism.  There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision.  Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

What about value pluralism…positive and negative liberty?: The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

A reader points out that I’ve put forth no real arguments…: The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal

Perhaps Chomsky and Strauss both flirted with Zionism, but they were very different thinkers:…From Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”

John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

Review here of a new book by author Luke O’Sullivan on 20th century British conservative and thinker Michael Oakeshott. Other books by O’Sullivan on Oakeshott can be found here.

If you’re interested in critiques on the effects of rationalism and utopianism in politics and political theory, and a defense of the familiar and the traditional in the face of Socialist, Marxist, and other ideologies, it’s probably worth looking into.

Drop a line if this is your area.

Gray:

‘That Oakeshott’s thought does not in the end hang together may not be very important. What system of philosophy does? But the fact is ironic given his intellectual antecedents. He was one of the last of the British Idealists, who, as opponents of empiricism, understood truth not as meaning correspondence with any kind of external reality but as a form of internal coherence in our thinking.’

and:

‘He wrote for himself and anyone else who might be interested; it is unlikely that anyone working in a university today could find the freedom or leisure that are needed to produce a volume such as this. Writing in 1967, Oakeshott laments, ‘I have wasted a lot of time living.’ Perhaps so, but as this absorbing selection demonstrates, he still managed to fit in a great deal of thinking’

A nihilist of sorts?

Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Wednesday Quotations: A Thread Of Stoicism

“Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: Not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always to take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock.”

-Seneca The Younger

What can I know? What ought I to do?  What can I hope?

-Immanuel Kant

Some Sunday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

For a friend:

The problem of how a judgment can be synthetic and a priori, then, presents itself to Kant as the problem of how two concepts, neither of which includes the other, can be connected in a way which does not rest upon past experience and is not vulnerable to future experience.”

Page 23 of ‘Kant’s Analytic‘ by Jonathan Bennett.

On Locke at the Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy:

‘Some philosophers before Locke had suggested that it would be good to find the limits of the Understanding, but what Locke does is to carry out this project in detail. In the four books of the Essay Locke considers the sources and nature of human knowledge. Book I argues that we have no innate knowledge. (In this he resembles Berkeley and Hume, and differs from Descartes and Leibniz.) So, at birth, the human mind is a sort of blank slate on which experience writes.’

On Charles Sanders Peirce.  Full entry here:

The previous point must be tempered with the fact that Peirce increasingly became a philosopher with broad and deep sympathies for both transcendental idealism and absolute idealism. His Kantian affinities are simpler and easier to understand than his Hegelian leanings. Having rejected a great deal in Kant, Peirce nevertheless shared with Charles Renouvier the view that Kant’s (quasi-)concept of the Ding an sich can play no role whatsoever in philosophy or in science other than the role that Kant ultimately assigned to it, viz. the role of a Grenzbegriff: a boundary-concept, or, perhaps a bit more accurately, a limiting concept. A supposed “reality” that is “outside” of every logical possibility of empirical or logical interaction with “it” can play no direct role in the sciences. Science can deal only with phenomena, that is to say, only with what can “appear” somehow in experience. All scientific concepts must somehow be traceable back to phenomenological roots. Thus, even when Peirce calls himself a “realist” or is called by others a “realist,” it must be kept in mind that Peirce was always a realist of the Kantian “empirical” sort and not a Kantian “transcendental realist.” His realism is similar to what Hilary Putnam has called “internal realism.” (As was said, Peirce was also a realist in quite another sense of he word: he was a realist or an anti-nominalist in the medieval sense.)

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Link To An Ayn Rand Paper By George Walsh: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Full paper here.

It’s one thing to question the influence of a thinker’s effect on intellectual history (Kant poisoned everything after him with his idealism and mysticism,  and his “leaving room for faith” as Rand claims), it’s another to dispute his metaphysics.  Ayn Rand rejects Kant’s a-priori category of knowledge upon which he built much of his metaphysical system.  The author of the paper discusses (and summarizes) Rand’s similarities and differences with Kant.

“(1) They both accept the existence of a world whose major constituents they call entities or objects and regard as ordered in a system of space, time and causality and perceived by men generally. This world Kant calls “empirical reality” and Rand calls simply “reality.” In contrast to this world are some illusions and delusions whether individual or collective. These can be detected and corrected by the application of ordinary rules and processes. (But Rand interprets Kant as saying that the whole of what he calls “empirical reality” is itself a “collective delusion,” which is universal in scope.)

(2) They both agree that the proper use of man’s perceptual and conceptual faculties, in other words, his reason, in dealing with this world, results in knowledge.

(3) They both agree that man, by accepting this world as metaphysically given, i.e., “outside the power of any volition” (Rand), can adjust to it, control it and thrive in it.

(4) They both agree that in dealing epistemologically with the universe as a whole, we cannot treat it as an entity in the sense in which we call a table or a chair an entity, and can deal with it only in terms of the most fundamental concepts.”

You’ll have to go to the link for the differences.  As for me, I just had a conversation with a bright Objectivist and felt the need to respond much better than I did in the conversation.

Here’s Albert Einstein discussing Hume and Kant, among other ideas, in his Remarks On Bertrand Russell’s Theory Of Knowledge:

“The following, however, appears to me to be correct in Kant’s statement of the problem: in thinking we use, with a certain “right,” concepts to which there is no access from the materials of sensory experience, if the situation is viewed from the logical point of view.

As a matter of fact, I am convinced that even much more is to be asserted: the concepts which arise in our thought and in our linguistic expressions are all — when viewed logically — the free creations of thought which cannot inductively be gained from sense experiences.”

An old German rationalist?

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Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

Sadly, the video does not include the discussion of both Kant and Chomsky, nor the Chomskian linguistic revolution.  Click through for parts 2 and 3.

Kant’s novel answer to the problem of how scientific knowledge is possible (Newton’s Principia), relies partly on David Hume’s assertion that no universal knowledge can be achieved by induction alone, as the video does a good job of explaining.

Here’s a quote from a previous post on this site:

The problem of how a judgment can be synthetic and a priori, then, presents itself to Kant as the problem of how two concepts, neither of which includes the other, can be connected in a way which does not rest upon past experience and is not vulnerable to future experience.”

Page 23 of ‘Kant’s Analytic‘ by Jonathan Bennett.

Kant realized that Science itself, and its claims to objective universal laws that are good for all time, past present, and future, and for all space (the tiniest particles to apples to the moon to all celestial bodies) were under threat from Hume’s induction problem, and he set out to find a solution.  Here’s a good summary from If-Then Knots (which also goes into the Kant/Chomsky connection):

‘Those propositions that we knew independent of any particular fact about the world (a priori) but which also contained new information about the world (synthetic) were synthetic a priori. 

How do we know such propositions?  On Kant’s account, synthetic a priori statements are derived from the conditions that make experience possible.  For example, we know propositions in geometry because they are derived from the conditions that make possible the experience of spatially extended objects.  From his account of mathematics as grounded in synthetic a priori statements about space and time, Kant felt that he could put Newtonian mechanics on objective and certain foundations.’

and:

‘…Kant used the transcendental method to derive synthetic a priori propositions, which he argues form the foundation of scientific (ie, objective and certain) judgement.  Simple enough, right?’

One consequence of Kant’s view is that knowledge of objective reality is due to some extent on our own onboard apparatus.  Reality, or the reality which is knowable, has already conformed to our minds, rather than the other way around.  Kant thought his own project may best be used as a negative limit for possible knowledge, including the threat scientific knowledge faces from Hume’s problem of induction.  Kant’s views of time and space are complex: (and his thinking has some questionable connections to subsequent developments in mathematics).

Some of this is relevant, in part, to Chomsky’s work:

Chomsky’s Universal Grammar is totally consistent with Kant’s epistemology (although, obviously, Kant never used it as an example, having been dead for 153 years when Chomsky first published his theory):

 

  1. The Universal Grammar is a priori.

 

Unlike his predecessors in the field of linguistics, Chomsky does not join the empiricists in claiming that learning a language is just a matter of imitation. There has to be something in our mind, something innate, that makes the knowledge of any human language possible. In fact, Chomsky has postulated the existence of a language organ in our brain that would come equipped with knowledge of the Universal Grammar. Non-human animals, lacking that language organ, can never become fluent in any human languages.

 

  1. Reality conforms to the mind

 

In the context we are discussing, by “reality” we mean “language”. In the empiricist’s view, the mind is just a passive receptacle of information—if you spoke to a child in any sort of language (English or Arabic, but also a computer language or an alien language) from the moment they are born, then the child would become fully proficient in it. In contrast, in Chomsky’s theory, a human child could never acquire a computer language or an alien language as their first language, since those languages do not conform to the Universal Grammar (FOOTNOTE: An alien language would doubtless conform to some sort of Universal Grammar, but it would be the Alien Universal Grammar, as opposed to the Human Universal Grammar.) So the Universal Grammar makes our knowledge of language possible, but also limits the kinds of languages we can know, just like our a priori of space makes our perception of physical objects possible, but also limits the kinds of objects we can perceive—to, for instance, three-dimensional objects.

————————

So, Chomsky, may something of a Kantian in his revolutionary work on linguistics.

Yet, I was asked if there is any connection between Kantian transcendental idealism and Chomsky’s political philosophy, and I remain doubtful I could provide proof of such a connection.

It has remained confounding to me that Chomsky has clung to a philosophical idealism that serves, at best, as a platform to critique all human organizations relentlessly (especially the U.S. government, and “corporate tyrannies,” military and civil hierarchies but also fascist tyrannies and other oppressive regimes).

Perhaps, after Kant’s moral philosophy, Chomsky believes that we must derive the laws of morality a priori from reason itself, rather than from experience (and Humean habit), thus lending such laws a presumed universality and objectivity. Chomsky seems to hold a rather strong and positive definition of individual liberty, perhaps sharing a space in the social contract tradition which seeks to maintain the consent of the governed (a tradition which includes Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Kant all of whom approached the problem in different ways).  He remains highly skeptical of authority, claims to authority and argues that individuals are best served by anarchy, or anarcho-syndicalism, or some form of libertarian socialism.  The burden of proof, on this view, would be upon governments, institutions and groups of individuals to justify interference into the lives of individuals.   According to Chomsky, when people do deal with each other (as they must), they ought to do so voluntarily, entering and leaving obligations of their own will as do the leaders of a community council, or perhaps as occurs at a faculty meeting solving problems as they arise (not exactly practicable for most states, nor for the large scale of nation states).

It would be curious to imagine how such a view would respond to Hobbes’ fool, or any threats an individual might pose to any ruling body over him when it is rational for him to do so (a room full of anarchic libertarian socialists may have trouble finding common ground).  It is my belief that neither anarchists, nor community councils, nor faculties would maintain legitimate power for long, and the strong, free individual would soon find himself ruled by those who cared not for his positive, generally rights based, definitions of freedom.

Yet, as to the original question, I can’t seem to find satisfactory proof of a connection.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Addition:  A reader mentions Kropotkin, and points out that some of Chomsky’s thinking harkens to the heady days of the Russian Revolution (Chomsky’s family emigrated from Russia).

Related On This Site: The commenters find no clear argument I’ve made between Kant and Chomsky’s political philosophy: The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal

Perhaps Chomsky and Strauss both flirted with Zionism, but they were very different thinkers:…From Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’

Full discussion here.

A summary of chapters in a reading group presentation:

‘Jerry has argued throughout the book that the conception of the person employed within public reason liberalism and liberalism broadly speaking must move in this Hayekian direction. If public reason liberals follow Jerry’s lead, the fundamental structure of public reason and even the nature of the social contract theorists’ project must substantially change. In short, political justification must not begin with deriving the rationality of rule-following from a teleological conception of practical reason. Instead, it must begin with an understanding of the nature of human beings who are already rule-followers and the nature of the moral emotions and cooperative activities that accompany such rule-following. It is in this way that Jerry moves most forcefully away from Hobbesian conceptions of public reason. He goes further by arguing that even the Kantian conception of the person he endorses cannot be constructed out of practical reason alone. Instead, human nature contains Kantian elements for thoroughly Humean-Hayekian-evolution reasons. Our rule-following nature is contingent on our social development (though no less contingent than our goal-seeking nature).’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Addition: Public Reason also has an audio interview here.

Related On This SiteJesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads...

Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

..A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSome Friday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

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From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

Full piece here.

Metcalf is arguing, I think, that Nozick’s reasoning is unsound (philosophical father?).  Here’s Metcalf:

‘When I study American history, I can see why America, thanks to a dense bundle of historical accidents, is a kind of Lockean paradise, uniquely suited to holding up liberty as its paramount value. This is not what Nozick is arguing. Nozick is arguing that liberty is the sole value, and to put forward any other value is to submit individuals to coercion.’

Well, it’s good to see a modern liberal appeal to Lockean life, liberty and property, even if for other ends (to position Nozick as extreme, and libertarians as outside the norm of a more reasonable definition of liberty).  Here’s the Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy’s page on Nozick:

‘Nozick takes his position to follow from a basic moral principle associated with Immanuel Kant and enshrined in Kant’s second formulation of his famous Categorical Imperative: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” ‘

and:

‘But if individuals are inviolable ends-in-themselves (as Kant describes them) and self-owners, it follows, Nozick says, that they have certain rights, in particular (and here again following Locke) rights to their lives, liberty, and the fruits of their labor. To own something, after all, just is to have a right to it, or, more accurately, to possess the bundle of rights – rights to possess something, to dispose of it, to determine what may be done with it, etc. ‘

thus:

‘So far this all might seem fairly uncontroversial. But what follows from it, in Nozick’s view, is the surprising and radical conclusion that taxation, of the redistributive sort in which modern states engage in order to fund the various programs of the bureaucratic welfare state, is morally illegitimate. It amounts to a kind of forced labor’

Perhaps you find Nozick’s minimally intrusive, all-that’s-morally-justifiable “night watchman” state inadequate for how people actually behave (Nozick was well prepared, however, for many of your arguments). Let’s say you’re OK with paying taxes for roads and public education (as for me I know quite well that incentives can be distorted: state workers often getting lazy, bored, resentful at their bosses, aiming for retirement etc…teachers not often being the best minds, some quite mediocre, also aiming for retirement and benefits, bored, the creative ones ground down by the red tape and petty bureaucracy…and this is if both groups DON”T unionize).  But no state services for roads and education?

So, what is Metcalf’s response to Nozick?  After two readings, I’m still unclear:

‘The ploy is to take libertarianism as Orwell meant it and confuse it with libertarianism as Hayek meant it; to take a faith in the individual as an irreducible unit of moral worth, and turn it into a weapon in favor of predation.’

The ploy?  Predation?  Clarity please.

‘When Hayek insists welfare is the road is to serfdom, when Nozick insists that progressive taxation is coercion, they take liberty hostage in order to prevent a reasoned discussion about public goods from ever taking place.’

Not too impressive.  I could see how liberals might want to keep Rand and F.A. Hayek and perhaps Nozick (thinkers grappling with communism and socialism on the ground in the former cases…and the results in both Russia and Austria…from defining the debate, but….well…make the arguments).   Comments might be worth a read.

Addition:  Libertarianism often rises during liberal administrations, and is particularly active in California.  If liberalism has at its core some socialist and communist elements (and in my experience, it does), then I see a real need for a Nozickian defense of liberty as do many libertarians and Californians who’ve seen the rise of a union and special interest controlled democratic party, crony capitalism, and much corruption and waste.  Those are serious threats to individual liberty as are the good intentions of many universalists and idealists, even if you find Nozick extreme.

As to Nozick perhaps unwittingly building a Kantian/Lockean extreme defense of liberty, built upon the largesse of a mix of state/private enterprise that modern liberalism has helped build, then where is a more clear path from modern liberalism to classical liberalism, and to Locke?

Related On This SiteA Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

On anarchy: Two Sunday Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

Tuesday Quotation: J.S. MillPeter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

There are other ponds: A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’

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Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment’

Full article here:

So what’s lacking in the humanities?  Roger Scruton has some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science (however…it’s been done before with some success).  Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:

“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

And now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.

So how to restore the vision? Scruton advises to restore (and not eschew) judgment:

” Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”

This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resists his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses.  Here are the last few lines:

“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”

One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.

Here’s a quote from George Santayana:

The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”

———————————————————————-

On another note:  Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth:  Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?

We know the humanities will never be a science.  Politics is always in conflict with the arts.   Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best.

One target here may be somewhat political as well:  anti-social constructionism and anti-multiculturalism, though I am speculating.

See Also On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Scruton again has deep insight, but will Christian religious idealism have to bump heads with Islamic religious idealism?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Thanks to iri5

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