Cato riffs on a Bill Gates interview at the Wall Street Journal, regarding education.
‘Why? Because, as Bill Gates correctly observes, hardly anyone thinks of education as their business. And how do you get masses of brilliant entrepreneurs to think of education as their business? You make it easy for them to make it their business.’
“In Obama’s speech, the main justification for leaving Afghanistan was that al Qaeda is crippled and compromised — and this is sufficient from the U.S. perspective. But for Afghans, defeating al Qaeda has never been as urgent as ending the Taliban insurgency, which, in its tenth year, needs a political solution, not just a military one. Obama acknowledged as much, saying, “As we strengthen the Afghan government and Security Forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.” But it is unclear how such a settlement could come about under the truncated timetable of U.S. withdrawal.”
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.”
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.’
‘…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).
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):
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.
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).
Still, Fukuyama’s project is quite in the spirit of Hegel, who made clear that the writing of universal history does not require giving an account of everything that has ever happened to mankind. Rather, Hegel explained in the introduction to The Philosophy of History, “The History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom; a progress whose development [is] according to the necessity of its nature.” It is this story of progressive enlightenment that the universal historian has to tell…
…In the past, Fukuyama felt that that story was best and most succinctly explained by Alexandre Kojève, the Franco-Russian philosopher whose seminars on Hegel, given in Paris in the 1930s, exerted a huge influence on subsequent political thinkers. (When Fukuyama talks about Hegel, he acknowledged in The End of History, he is really talking about “Hegel-as-interpreted-by-Kojève.”) It was Kojève who proposed that History (that is, the History of the march toward freedom, rather than the lowercase history of whatever happens to happen) ended with the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon—for convenience’s sake, say in 1806, the year of the Battle of Jena and the completion of Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit.
This influence led to a strong historicist strain in Fukuyama’s work; a continental line of thought that can often lead to a rather liberal political philosophy. But Fukuyama was on the ground in Afghanistan in 1979, studied with Allan Bloom and Samuel Huntington and was often associated with neoconservatism. So how did he get here, and where is he headed?:
For in a strange way, without explicitly acknowledging it, Fukuyama in his new book abandons the central premise of his earlier work, which was the Hegelian necessity of the progress of freedom. It is true that, as before, Fukuyama sees political history as the story of the evolution and spread of liberalism. The strategy of the book is to examine the development, across a range of societies, of what he considers the three pillars of “modern liberal democracy”: a strong state, the rule of law, and accountable government.
This seems closer to Huntington’s reaction to modernization theory, toward the current neoconservative viewpoint of using our military and economic strength to advance democracy and overthrow dictators (Fukuyama has since pulled away from neoconservatism after Afghanistan and Iraq).
Fukuyama has never accepted the Hobbesian view of the state of nature as a war of all against all, but the grounds of his rejection have changed. In The End of History, he countered Hobbes with Hegel: the Hobbesian notion that society is grounded in man’s fear of violent death, he argued, was less plausible than the Hegelian view that society arises from man’s need to earn recognition from his fellows by dominating them.
And he’s arrived at Darwin?:
In the new book, he again dismisses Hobbes, but this time on Darwinian grounds. Mankind has never consisted of atomized individuals, Fukuyama writes, but even in its most primitive state was organized into small, kin-based bands:
“Political systems evolve in a manner roughly comparable to biological evolution,”
Kirsch doesn’t seem too impressed by this new turn, and disputes this influence with Nietzsche’s response to Darwin: the will to power:
“In The Will to Power, Nietzsche observed that, for human beings, the subjective experience of triumph was more important than actual success in the struggle for survival: “Physiologists should think again before positing the ‘instinct of preservation’ as the cardinal drive in an organic creature. A living thing wants above all to discharge its force.” And the discharge of force can take forms inimical to the preservation of life.”
Which could mean we’re right back to a Kantian/Hegelian philosophical influence as far as Kirsch is concerned (I’m thinking of the Straussian critique of historicism which holds that Nietzsche merely followed such logic into to its conclusions inherent in Hegel and in the subsequent crises of modernity…often visible in attempts to restlessly attach modern liberal democracies to something…away from religion…and as Strauss likely saw it, away from Natural Right…). Correct me if I’m wrong.
Kirsch finishes with:
“As long as Fukuyama could believe in History as a dialectical process, moving inevitably in the direction of freedom and equal recognition, there was at least one compass point that he could rely on. In the Darwinian world of The Origins of Political Order, that directionality has vanished, and we are left with contingency and cynicism as the keys to understanding our own past. That this results in a more conventional book than we have come to expect from Fukuyama is a sign of how difficult the conventional wisdom is to escape.”
If you’ve read the book, please share your thoughts. Any comments are welcome.
“Most Afghans hate warlords. Most Afghans hate the Taliban. When the warlords ruled Afghanistan it was lawless, and so many people welcomed the Taliban who beat back the warlords and installed crude justice. Soon, the Taliban, staggered by their new power, became the new pariah”
Addition: The Afghan military isn’t looking so good. U.S. public opinion against the war is high and anti-American AfPak sentiment high at the moment.
Another Addition: The WSJ has a piece on Andrew Bacevich, which is not favorable. It seems Bacevich has lost sight of what can and can’t get done in war, and perhaps in human nature.
“At the moment, Republicans seem to be moving toward a smaller, purer bargain. Depending on what’s being offered, that may be the right course. But self-described “constitutional conservatives” should remember that Mr. Madison’s ingenious system doesn’t just require compromise. Sometimes it rewards it as well.”
The Tea Party and the base have got Boehner’s feet to the fire, and nearly every Republican thinking about re-election can’t ignore them in the House and Senate. An interesting game of chicken with serious consequences.
‘While relying on hard to find decent childcare, they [women] have had to accommodate themselves almost entirely to a workplace created for men with traditional wives.’
I’m not sure it logically follows that we must rearrange our society to accomodate women who want to work part time (which should be at the company’s hiring discretion…some people may be worth it), women who take significant time off for child-rearing (probably good for all of us as far as producing good citizens and well-adjusted people…but available to a relative few), and not compete amongst men who are working to take care of their own families:
“In his May 12, 2011 testimony to the U.S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich stated that “by the 2000s, the typical American worker worked more than 2,200 hours a year—350 hours more than the average European worked.”
According to Miedzian, not only do we need to emulate the more regulated, managed, high-unemployment, culturally homogenous European economies (I presume in part because Europe has been much less violent this past century), but we need Secretaries of Labor like Reich to tell us so. Plenty of room for disagreement there. She goes on:
After citing all this, Hymowitz then mistakenly concludes that “blaming the media doesn’t make much sense. Media execs…can’t foist a new cultural type on an unwilling public.” This ignores the human potential for undesirable, anti-social behavior—in this case the male potential for childish, crude, irresponsible, violent, and misogynist behavior. The entertainment media is one of several variables that feed into this behavior.
Well, what about what you may have observed of women’s childish, crude, irresponsible, violent (agreeably less physical, but not always) and misandrist behavior? Apparently, Miedzian’s definition of equality wouldn’t extend that far. Human nature on her view is inherently good, but is only corrupted by improper ideals (and only males are primarily violent). Miedzian is on a mission, which I think leads to this rather unhealthy desire to control the means of communication.
Here’s where I might have some agreement with Miedzian:
‘While Hymowitz does a good job of identifying some of the social and cultural forces that are prolonging pre-adulthood for young men, she certainly does not prove that the rise of women has turned men into boys.’
What is the level of proof required? I don’t know if Hymowitz has it right, but if Miedzian’s work is any indication, then what Hymowitz is disputing is having replaced religious morality and the promotion of marriage and the two-parent family as a basic unit of society….with…ideals that have left us with a confused jumble of no-fault divorce laws, arguably reduced incentives for marriage (especially for men), gender equity ideologues who stifle debate about basic biology and human nature (the ‘personal is political’ crowd).
In my humble experience, Europeans are often alternately surprised but fearful, perhaps a little admiring but usually disdainful of American idealism when it pops out. Some of it is quite logical given their interests and histories, other times it can be due to mere unthinking prejudice. Perhaps many U.S. academics share some of these characteristics…as our author points out:
‘The liberal elites of whom I speak witness public displays of patriotism amongst the masses and fear that that kind of patriotism is tantamount to nationalism, and it leads to war and totalitarianism because it persuades the benighted masses to defend their country and support their leaders without question. Flags and lapel pins and the pledge of allegiance, not to mention Memorial Day and Independence Day, are just so many pieces of propaganda that serve to raise children in automatic loyalty to the machinery of the state.’
That’s a little dramatic, but point taken that those those past a certain point on the Left, academic or not, often become unaware of actual human nature, including their own, and have a large blind spot extending from a benighted vision of certain Enlightenment ideals being realized. Patriotism, of course, can be a simple good; fellow feeling and common suffering united by patriotism a source of pride. It can also be a useful tool for a politician, or a force that pushes a nation into war. Of course, in Europe, there is usually a much more entrenched Left politically, and more public sentiment for such a view as described above (as well as less free, less healthy movement between hard nationalistic right and impossibly ideal left, which I hope would be enough to cause many Americans to stop and reflect).
‘But let us grant that there are some on the Far Right who turn a blind eye to the faults of the country — if others will grant that the Far Left turns a blind eye to America’s virtues and achievements.’
Fair enough. And:
‘Patriotism, in my definition, is a love of country that comprehends the country’s faults as well as its virtues, and that compels criticism of government when it ill-serves the country and support of government when it serves the country well. ‘
Reasonable enough, though I am sympathetic to the effort to highlight the failure of some of our most important institutions to not walk down the paths of diversity, equality and excessive egalitarianism without stronger consideration of the logic behind these ideas and the people driving the change; the merits and dangers to public life and our institutions.
Here’s a quote from Schopenhauer I put up before.
‘-Patriotism, when it wants to make itself felt in the domain of learning, is a dirty fellow who should be thrown out of doors.’