A ‘Practicing’ Kantian by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
A „Practicing Kantian“
- Understands that every creature has LIMITS, physically and intellectually, that keep one humble.
- Understands that each and every human being (regardless of physical or mental limits) possesses a spark of creativity of some kind in some region of experience that is capable of INTENTIONALLY changing nature/the world in ways that nature/the world cannot change on its own.
- Understands that this spark of creativity is the basis of the individual’s capability to assume RESPONSIBILITY for her/his decisions/actions unlike any other species of which we are aware – although it is possible intentionally to suppress the assumption of responsibility, to have it “beaten out” of one, or can be ignored a desperate circumstance.
- Understands that this spark of CREATIVITY is the basis of HUMAN DIGNITY that cannot be given or taken away much less substituted for something or someone else.
- Understands that the issue is not “who” but “how” we respect the dignity of others that matters. We should neither allow ourselves nor the other TO BE TREATED AS A MERE MEANS FOR OUR OR SOMEONE ELSE’S ENDS BUT ALWAYS AS AN END in themselves.
- Understands that when one decides and acts on the basis of one’s dignity and responsibility – even when one does so contrary to what appears to be one’s self-interest, one experiences a sense of “MORAL WORTH” and a “FEELING OF BEING ALIVE” that is superior to monetary wealth, public applause, and even health.
- This acknowledgement of dignity REJECTS ALL DE-HUMANIZATION BASED ON THE EXTERNAL APPEARANCES AND ACTIONS OF OTHERS (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, religious intolerance, etc.).
- Understands that there are TWO SYSTEMS OF LAWS that we must assume govern all experience, for without these there is no understanding or responsibility: PHYSICAL LAWS AND MORAL LAWS.
- Understands that part of our intellectual limits is our inability to causally explain the origin of or to prove or disprove that these two systems of laws apply at all times and all places. They are a NECESSARY ASSUMPTION (faith) for us to live and thrive.
- Understands that these two systems of physical and moral laws are NEITHER THE CIVIC LAW that govern the negotiation of a social world NOR TECHNICAL AND PRAGMATIC RULES that govern the acquisition and exercising of skills but the “lawful orders” required “below” (in nature) and “above” (in the individual) them by even the civic law, technical-. and pragmatic for the achievement of justice according to the civic law and the responsible application of technical and pragmatic skills.
- Understands that NOT EVERYTHING THAT IS “RIGHT” IS “MORAL.” Life is not a system of repressive, mechanical legalities but a project of spirited and creative transformations that can embrace the unexpected precisely by affirming dignity.
- Understands that when acknowledgement for physical and moral laws are combined with human dignity by the individual, s/he deserves the HIGHEST RESPECT of others – although it is impossible for us to know the internal principles upon which another has chosen to act.
- Understands that when we step outside our limits to give an explanation of things for which we are incapable of accounting, WE STORM THE CITADEL OF DIVINITY AND BECOME THE MOST DANGEROUS SPECIES ON EARTH.
- Understands that, although everyone is capable and does lie, LYING IS WRONG not just because it deceives the other but because it erodes the individual’s internal consistency upon which all “proper” understanding and action depends.
- Understands that the committing of SUICIDE out of shame or financial collapse IS THE APPLICATION OF ONE’S OWN CREATIVE SPARK TO DESTROY ITSELF, the ultimate contradiction of human dignity with all the devastating shock waves that the destruction of dignity sends out through one’s world.
- Understands that all human capacities as well as the very universe are a GIFT, that each individual is PRICELESS (i.e., incapable of being substituted by some-one or some-thing else – including technology), that we all have a responsibility to MAINTAIN OUR HEALTH as much as our decisions influence it, to DEVELOP OUR TALENTS, and to RESPOND TO THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS – with the limit that we ourselves don’t end up requiring the aid of others because of our own generosity.
- Understands that we are RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT and THE PROPER TREATMENT OF ANIMALS, not capriciously sovereign over them for the mere purpose of serving our self-interest.
- Understands that no one is or can be perfect, but that we have an obligation to ourselves, others, and the universe TO MAKE OUR BEST EFFORT, which only the individual can know for sure, TO ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER TO DO SO, AND TO AFFIRM AND SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER TO THE EXTENT THAT WE CAN DISCERN THAT S/HE HAS.
Just as a “practicing Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Taoist, Shinto (not to speak of the Aboriginist religions of the world and all of the sub-sects of religion)” etc., does not require a personal grasp of the intricacies of “theology” or “religious teaching” much less a command of the ritual and history of the respective tradition involved, so too, a “practicing Kantian” does not require a grasp of Kant’s notions of “theoretical” and “practical” reason, determining and reflecting judgment, and aesthetics (beauty and the sublime) with all of their esoteric jargon.
At the risk of sinking into jargon …, Kant wrote in the Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge ed., 193; AA VI, 443-444):
[…] we have a duty with regard to what lies entirely beyond the limits of our experience but whose possibility is met with [only] in our ideas, for example, the idea of God; it is called the duty of religion, the duty ‘of recognizing all our duties as […] divine commands.’ But this is not consciousness of a duty [owed] to God […] Rather, it is a duty of a human being to himself [sic.] to apply this idea, which presents itself unavoidably to reason, to the moral law in him, where it is of the greatest moral fruitfulness. In this (practical) sense it can therefore be said that to have religion is a duty of the human being to himself.
In short, religion is concerned with “faith” in the reality of the physical law without and the moral law within, and its aim is to make us “better” human beings – not to guarantee our happiness in this or some other life. In this respect, there is only “one” religious faith although there are many religious traditions.
Co-authored with James R. Cochrane (Available as of January 2018)
Title Page, Endorsements, Table of Contents, Acknowledgments, Preface, and Introduction:
Available as Kindle e-book at Amazon.com. The link to download the free Kindle App in order to read Kindle e-books on a PC (or other media) is
The e-book is in pdf format, which gives page numbers that make citations accurate.
The 1839 political revolution in Zurich, Switzerland, provides a view not only of an early, yet still relevant, clash between the natural sciences and populist religion but also of the value of distinguishing between a so-called, empirical history of theology and a Kantian theology of history. Despite all the developments in New Testament criticism since 1835, David Friedrich Strauß’ The Life of Jesus Critically Examined continues to be valuable for insights into the gospel narratives — particularly, the issue of the understanding of miracles in the gospels. Furthermore, Strauß’ shift from a far-Left-Wing Hegelian Speculative Theology to a Kantian Practical Religion indicates the value of the Copernican Turn in theology even for today.
This book-length project includes the translation of two historical accounts (one official, the other partisan), street pamphlets, newspaper articles, official governmental reports, and public letters pro and con as well as an overview of the political, religious, and scientific context, and presentation of the shift in David Friedrich Strauß’ theological understanding between the 1835 The Life of Jesus Critically Examined and 1864 The Life of Jesus Prepared for the German People that allow the identification of a Copernican Turn in his theological understanding. The final chapters are samples of the significance for today of the theology of history for the understanding of humanity, the interface between religion and science, and the general study of religion. The project ends with the “Report on the Activity of the Aid Society for the Good of the Victims of 6 September 1839” that documents the lasting effects of the uprising.
Precise for 1839 Zurich Revolution
Table of Contents
Original German Materials in the Order of Their Appearance (List in Table of Contents):
Schultheß, Aufzeichnungen über die Straußische Bewegung und den 6. September 1839
Beschreibung des 6. Herbstmonats 1839 in Zürich
Paulus, Ueber theologische Lehrfreiheit
de Wette, Dr. Strauß und die Züricher Kirche
Strauß darf und soll nicht kommen!!
Strauß, Sensschreiben an die … Herren Bürgermeister Hirzel, Prof. Orelli und Prof Hitzig in Zürich
Antwort eines Laien auf das Sendschreiben des Hrn. D. Strauss an Hirzel, Orelli und Hitzig
Henne, Sendschreiben an den Großen Rath des Kantons Zürich
Meyer, Der Werth des geschriebenen Wortes an Henne
Kottinger, Doktor Strauß und seine Lehre. Ein freies Wort an die freien Züricher
Wirth, An dem Verfasser der Schrift: “Doctor Strauss und seine Lehre,” und das Zürichische Volk
Scherr, Ein freies und belehrendes Sendschreiben des züricherischen Seminardirektors an die Herren
Bericht über die Wirksamkeit des Hülfvereins zum Besten der am 6. September 3829 Verunglückten
Critical Idealism’s Defense of Investment
in the Liberal Arts: Precise
Welcome to Critical Idealism!
A Critical Idealist begins by asking what are the (usually, unquestioned) presuppositions of the issue at hand. Appropriately, in my humble opinion, the usual defense of the Liberal Arts builds on issues of change, skills, knowledge, and creativity. However, these terms are employed as if they are self-evident. Maybe they’re not self-evident!
Succinctly, rather than acquiring skills in order to create, we are a creating species that must acquire skills – our instincts are so lousy. The symbolic (figurative language) and responsibility (morality) are not after-thoughts or “frosting-on-the-cake” but at the very core of what it means to be and become human. Creativity, the symbolic, and morality all require education because they are not “natural.”
The linked paper was presented at the “Religion, Society, and the Science of Life” conference to be held at the Ian Ramsey Centre at St. Anne’s College in Oxford, England, 21 July 2017
The paper is a direct response to the “Call for Papers” that claims that Kant has been contradicted by scientific progress:
“’There will never be a Newton for the blade of grass,’ Kant wrote in 1784, a quarter-century before the birth of Charles Darwin, and less than a half-century before the first synthesis of an organic compound in a laboratory. Life is an object of science, but an object like no other, presenting an unparalleled field of complexity and intricacy. A single cell contains an entire world. Biology is changing, with increasing recognition of how context influences even the most basic processes. This is why the science of life is distinctive among the sciences using history, narrative, and teleological explanations. All of this sets up fascinating resonances with the humanities. Can a convergence between the humanities and biology—from Darwin and Lamarck to holism and epigenetics—shed light on human societies, narratives, and religions? This interdisciplinary conference (a joint venture between the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion and the International Society for Science and Religion) will explore the implications of the life sciences for religion, values, morality, education, and meaning.”
Pdf format: The Petri Dish only Confirms that Kant was Correct
Reason Suppresses Feelings? Or Moses Mendelssohn’s Influence on Kant’s Project of Three Critiques by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Written version of a paper
presented at Stellenbosch University
in Stellenbosch, South Africa,
24 April 2017
PDF version with page #s: Reason Suppresses Feelings? Or Moses Mendelssohn’s Influence on Kant’s Project of Three Critiques Reason-Suppresses-Feelings 09 May 2017
Reason Suppresses Feelings?
Moses Mendelssohn’s Influence on Kant’s Project of Three Critiques
Abstract: A common claim is that the proper functioning of reason requires the suppression of feelings because feelings are a debilitating, merely subjective pathology that cloud and/or distort clear thinking. Frequently, as well, it is claimed that Enlightenment reason’s suppression of feelings is exemplified by Kant. This post argues to the contrary that for Kant’s Critical Idealism feelings, rather than being a pathological hindrance to reason, are positive and ubiquitous to all aspects of reason as they, not by their content but by their function, motivate creativity and the assumption of moral responsibility for the decisions driving, and the actions deriving from, such creativity. Mendelssohn’s Morgenstunden is examined as the source for the reflections that led to the three-element structure to Kant’s project of three Critiques.
Was Kant a Racist? Can Critical Idealism Contribute to Combating Racism? With an Addendum: On South Sea Islanders in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
PDF VERSION (with page #s): Was Kant a Racist with Addendum on South Sea Islanders Revised 10 April 18
Revised 10 April 2018 with the addition of documentation of Kant’s explicit rejection of slavery as well as rejection of colonialism, the inhumane treatment of animals, and call for the protection of the environment (page 12 and two first footnotes).
Revised 20 January 2017 with the addition of a quote (page 17 below) from the Metaphysics of Morals (AA VI, 467-468): The statement here by Kant constitutes an explicit rejection not only of racism, ageism, sexism, power or weakness, status and prestige (e.g., aristocracy) as criteria for judging others, but it is also an implicit rejection of homophobia, nationalism, populism, and any other criteria for judging others, which are all based on merely empirical criteria of “theoretical reason” to the entire neglect of the capacities and moral significance of “practical reason.” Thanks to Birgit Recki who cited the second of the two paragraphs of this “Remark” from the MM for a very different but equally laudable purpose in her Ästhetik der Sitten. Die Affinität von ästhetischem Gefühl und praktischer Vernunft bei Kant (Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 2001): 255, n. 43.
Was Kant a Racist?
Can Critical Idealism Contribute to Combating Racism?
With an Addendum: On South Sea Islanders in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
Overview: In which Kant’s comments on race are discussed in light of his philosophy of history, critiques of theoretical and practical reason, and his biological reflections on “evolution.” Humanity is seen as the “ultimate end” of nature. Although this sounds anthropocentric and suggests the justification of the indiscriminate exploitation of nature, it is manifest not by means of a culture of “skill”, but by a culture that promotes the individual’s assumption of moral responsibility for her/his decisions and actions.
“Critique, Not Emotionless Critical Thinking” by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Revised version (04 May 2016) of “‘Critique,’ not ‘Criticism’”(8 March 2016) in response to Rob Jenkins’ “What is Critical Thinking, Anyway?”
Critique, Not Emotionless Critical Thinking
When one encounters the word “critique,” one readily thinks of a negative strategy, frequently of negative dismissal, in the spirit of “criticism,” or perhaps one thinks of emotionless “critical thinking.” As a consequence, it is easy to miss a profound difference between “critique” and “critical thinking.” Given the difference in what each does with respect to the phenomena that initiates them, the difference is so great that one can even speak of “critique” as 180 degrees opposite to both “criticism” and “critical thinking.”
Design: A Heuristic Strategy, not Metaphysical Doctrine by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
A Heuristic Strategy, Not Metaphysical Doctrine
Because there’s only indirect access to causes, given effects can be understood to have multiple causes, and the same cause can produce multiple effects, the criterion for the evaluation of a causal explanation is neither empirical proof nor disproof. Rather, the evaluation must be in terms of the consequences of holding the cause for an adequate explanation of the event. The Physico-Theological argument for design as a form of cause in nature cannot serve to give us any information about the Noumenon (God) that it presupposes – certainly not any information about anthropomorphic characteristics of that Noumenon. Rather, its value is to confirm our confidence in the intelligibility (the rule-governed character) of nature in contrast, for example, to the chaos of nocturnal dreams. To the extent of confidence in this intelligibility, our “explanations” of nature involve necessity, that is, a presumed necessity based upon the functional relationality that accounts for the phenomena. Because all our capacities both theoretical (science) and practical (religion) are dependent upon the material conditions of experience, this criterion is important not only for the furtherance of the natural scientific enterprise but also for religion. Drawing on pre-critical and critical writings of Kant, I reject the Naturalistic reading of Kant by P.F. Strawson et al. to argue that Kant’s Critical Idealism is beneficial for an investigating of the meaning and role of design in experience.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.
On the So-Called Conundrums in Kant’s Philosophical Theology
Overview: In which three conundrums of Kant’s pure religion—the good will, radical evil, and grace—are addressed, and three strategies employed for understanding the role of the afterlife in religion (noting that pure religion is concerned with the moral improvement in history of the species generally and not merely the moral improvement of the individual). We conclude with an examination of the question of Theodicy in Kant’s pure religion.
A Post-Factual World? by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
A Post-Factual World?
The boogey-man is alive and well in our scientifically “enlightened” age: Knowledge is profoundly under siege by a threatening relativism called the “post-factual” and “post-truth” world. Even well-intended proponents of cultural relativism have been seduced by a “world view” that at first appears to be a challenge to all “dogmatisms” but in the end undermines the very confidence in understanding that is necessary for humanity to constructively and responsibly play its role in the order of things. The consistent relativist, like the radical skeptic, is left with no foot on which to stand to question anything, not least the injustices of her/his own society much less injustices in another society.