Freedom! What’s It Good For? 18 Pages

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Freedom! What’s it good for?

In his 1979 essay “What’s wrong with Negative Liberty,[1]” Charles Taylor identifies Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty[2]” as the archaeological heritage to which he appeals in order to engage a discussion of freedom. However, Taylor employs Berlin’s concept of negative freedom (freedom from external interference) as the straw man for formulating an alternative notion of positive freedom to Berlin’s positive freedom. Berlin’s positive freedom is “coercive freedom” in the sense of Rousseau’s Social Contract through which the individual subordinates her-/himself to a “higher authority” such as parents or the state in order to increase one’s, or to achieve a greater, freedom. In contrast, Taylor’s positive freedom is not “coercive” but “purposive.” In other words, Taylor wants to acknowledge that freedom involves not merely an alternative between radical independence and external coercion, but positive freedom is concerned with “internal” elements (the individual’s desires) that lead to our pursuing purposive ends. For Taylor, then, Berlin’s notions of negative and positive freedom are inadequate to grasp the true character of positive freedom: the pursuit of ends governed by our internal desires. Since not all desires are moral, though, the desires that govern Taylor’s notion of positive freedom as “purposive” require a “second-order” reflection that invokes moral principles to govern our desires. For Taylor, the source of these moral principles is religion.

“Religion and Morality” Presented at the University of Cape Town – 27 Feb. – 1 Mar., 2019 (7 pages; with notes 15 pages)

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Department of Religious Studies
University of Cape Town

Moral and Ethical Frameworks and Performances

Call for Papers

Convenors: Abdulkader Tayob; Andrea Brigaglia

In spite of deep-seated modernist suspicions, religions have been expected by the state and by societies to take some responsibility for morality and ethics. The close connection between moralities and religions has been recognized as an important part of social life. From Kant’s vision of religion rooted in ethics, to the challenges of globalization, ecological degradation and poverty alleviation in our time, religions are expected and often do respond with ethical values and virtues. This hope invested in religion is not always matched by social theory. Most contemporary and early modern scholars have not seen a close affinity between religion and true morality (ethics). The prevailing doxa is that the two are worlds apart. While freedom occupies an essential feature of a truly moral and ethical life, obligation and compulsion are believed to dominate religious life. The latter was characterised by very little scope for deviation and adaptation, which makes ethical choices difficult if not impossible. While closer attention to religious life has challenged these presuppositions, the prevailing prejudice is  hard to change. Religious moralities might be valued, but they are hardly regarded as truly ethical.

Recent interest in Aristotle’s virtue ethics has prompted a turn to the religious life worlds where ethics and morality are guided by a complex of beliefs, values and practices.  Theodicies (the justification for the persistence of evil) are only one among the many ways in which religious traditions frame human life on earth. Other ways of thinking about how religions frame ethics and ethical dispositions  might be conceptions of the nature of good or evil, conceptions of the human person, patterns of social and culture life that sustain moral life, or the future of the good in this world and the afterworlds. But conceptions of a moral life are not presented in clearly organized frameworks. They are embodied and lived through narratives and practices that sustain a moral and religious life for individuals and groups. And they are subtly malleable, but also resilient to winds of change.

This is a call for papers on the deep connection between religious traditions and morality as it is articulated in texts, beliefs, media, dispositions, practices, attitudes and emotions.

  • What are the conceptions of the good life and how are they formulated and framed in the foundational texts religious traditions?
  • How are ideas of religious ethics and morality embodied and sustained over a period of time. How do they meet the demands of change and challenges in political, economic or cultural contexts?
  • How are ethics and moralities sustained and transmitted through informal and formal educational projects?

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Religion and Morality[1]

Douglas R McGaughey
30 January 2019


If there is anyone who was not (and today would not be) surprised about a disconnect “between religion and ethics, it would be Immanuel Kant.[1] Nonetheless, the two are deeply connected: there can be no morality without particular experience in the world and the transcendental conditions of possibility for which the term religion is appropriate.

On the Value and Lack of Values of Artificial Intelligence (9 Pages) 13 January 2019

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Presented in Prof. Otfried Höffe’s
12 January 2019


An examination of the claims made on behalf of “artificial intelligence” (AI) that it can and will replace human rationality. Whereas AI has the potential to be beneficial (as the case with any product of autonomous freedom), it also has the potential to be extremely destructive. However, the core thesis of the paper is not simply one of a critique of AI by practical reason but a rejection of the materialistic reductionism on the part of the blind defenders of AI. Already in the 18th Century, Critical Idealism pointed out that there is far more to reason than the “hypothetical” imperatives and “culture” of technical skills. We lose humanity when we overlook the a priori synthetic structures of theoretical and practical reason, the reflecting judgment of “aesthetics,” and “pure” religion.

  1. Special and deep thanks to James R. Cochrane, Emeritus Professor, the University of Cape Town for feedback on the initial draft of this piece. This paper benefited tremendously from the conversation it generated at Prof. Otfried Höffe’s Oberseminar on 12 January 2019. The observations with respect to AI have been more carefully formulated, and, especially at the suggestion of Prof. Höffe, a 9th Thesis has been added on the social and historical nature of reason. It was a genuine privilege to have one’s work engaged by such a talented group of students. []

Mea culpa – Anachronistic Metaphor Interference: Synthesis as nexus and compositio 28 October 2018

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Mea culpa – Anachronistic Metaphor Interference:
Synthesis as nexus and compositio
28 October 2018

The postings on make no claim to perfection because the limits to reason are so ubiquitous and pervasive.  Furthermore, because the postings are (and must be) reflections stimulated by Kant’s writings, they make no claim to know what Kant “really meant.”  To make such a claim would be to succumb not only to the arrogance of hermeneutical certainty denied by the very limits to reason so central to Kant’s project but also to the illusion of the intentional fallacy.

Nonetheless, it is painful to have to acknowledge that one has made the same error that one has pointed out in the writings of other interpreters:  anachronistic, metaphor interference.  This is a label for the assumption that what a metaphor means today (or at the point in time of an interpreter’s writing) is what the metaphor meant for Kant.  Jean Paul wrote in his Vorschule der Aesthetik in 1804 in Sämmtiche Werke, Vol 42 (Berlin:  S. Reimer, 1827):  24-25 that “each language is a dictionary of faded metaphors.”   Given that all language is metaphorical, not literal, it should come as no surprise that the meaning of a term for a particular author must be arrived at through careful attention to its context of usage.  However, interpreters pro and con of Kant have acceded to metaphor interference with respect to core elements in Kant’s terminology:  a few examples are autonomous freedom, Enlightenment, a priori synthetic judgment, radical evil, Anlage  and Hang, critique, Copernican Turn, subreption, Ding an sich, Noumenon and Phenomena, regulative and constitutive ideas, “pure”/rein, Anschauung, etc.

When I have discussed a priori synthetic judgment in Kant, I have frequently cited the Critique of Pure Reason (B 201*) to distinguish between synthesis as the a posteriori determination of something “in common” (e.g., a concept) to a set of phenomena from synthesis as the a priori “adding to” the phenomena of something not given directly in the phenomena.  I took the term nexus to refer to a posteriori synthesis and compositio to refer to a priori synthesis.  I should have read B 201* more carefully.

Whereas Kant most certainly made the distinction between a posteriori synthesis and a priori synthesis (see B 748, 750, 751-752), his distinction between nexus and compositio at B 201* is concerned with two kinds of a priori synthesis.

B 201* is concerned with distinguishing between a priori  “mathematical” and a priori “dynamical” synthesis.  He is talking here about a priori “combinations” (syntheses) that are either “not necessary” (mathematical) or that are “necessary” (dynamical).  Unnecessary combinations he calls “compositio,” whereas necessary combinations he calls “nexus.”

The issue here, then, is not a priori (adding to phenomena) judgments versus a posteriori (deriving from) judgments but “unnecessary” and “necessary” a priori judgments.  Mathematical judgments (formal, logical conditions) are not necessary because they are “merely” logical.  Dynamical judgments (concerned with “forces” and “change”) are necessary because they are concerned with empirical phenomena.

Compositio are a priori syntheses that are not (!) arrived at out of “necessity” (in the sense of the necessary conditions of possibility for experiencing a set of phenomena) but logically, and they can be an “aggregation” (concerned with “extensive” size) or a “coalition” (concerned with “intensive” size).  Extensive size involves amounts and multiplicity and is concerned with the representation of the parts of a perception that make possible the representation of the whole – hence, the parts precede the whole.  It is a logical procedure.  Intensive size is concerned with contents and their diversity, logical significance, and fruitfulness for understanding insofar as the contents lead to multiple and significant consequences (not quantity but quality).

Nexus are a priori syntheses that are (!) necessary as the conditions of possibility for experiencing a set of phenomena (i.e., they are not simply logical).  Kant uses the examples of “substance and its accidents” and “cause and effect.”  These elements are not equivalent but are “connected” a priori.  Because they are not arbitrary or capricious, Kant calls them “dynamic” (concerned with “forces” and “change”).

My “metaphorical interference” was to take compositio to mean a priori “construction/adding to” the phenomena and to take nexus to mean a posteriori “discovery of a unity in the phenomena.”  However, for Kant both forms of synthesis are a priori and refer to two kinds of a priori synthesis:  “unnecessary” (i.e., logical), mathematical judgments (compositio) and “necessary” (i.e., required to understand phenomena), dynamical judgments (nexus).

In addition to the Critique of Pure Reason, we find Kant’s distinction between a priori and a posteriori synthetic judgment in the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics § 22:

“[…] uniting in a consciousness is either analytic by identity [e.g., arrived at a posteriori], or synthetic by the combination and addition of various representations one to another [e.g., added a priori].  Experience consists in the synthetic connection of appearances (perceptions) in consciousness, so far as this connection is necessary.  Hence the pure concepts of the understanding [which are the necessary condition for a priori synthetic judgments] are those under which all perceptions must first be subsumed before they can serve for judgments of experience in which the synthetic unity of the perceptions is represented as necessary and universally valid.”

Here Kant adds a footnote:

“But how does the proposition that judgments of experience contain necessity [emphasis added] in the synthesis of perceptions agree with my statement [… made so often before] that experience, as cognition a posteriori, can [… give us] only contingent [not necessary] judgments?  When I say that experience teaches me something, I mean only the perception that lies in experience—for example, that heat always follows the shining of the sun on a stone; consequently, the proposition of experience is always so far contingent [emphasis added].  That this heat necessarily [emphasis added] follows the shining of the sun is contained indeed in the judgment of experience (by means of the concept of cause [emphasis added]), yet is a fact not learned by experience [emphasis added]; for, conversely, experience is first of all generated by this addition of the concept of the understanding (of cause) to perception [emphasis added].”

“Desiderata 2018” – 5 Pages

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Desiderata 2018

The page is blank. It turns into a “text” because there is an “animal” capable of “seeing” more than just a blank page. The page is a metaphor for a life, and this “animal’s” capacity to generate a “text” is what makes all the difference …

What follows seeks to unpack this difference in a way that enables the reader to grasp its transforming power as far more than the blind causality that, like leavening yeast, changes flour and water into a loaf of bread. This difference involves more, though, then just the individual because, as a communal project, it is grounded in dignity from which springs not the self- and social-destruction of mere self-promotion and material aggrandizement but the elevating joy of responsible creativity that improves us all. Make no mistake: The duty that accompanies dignity is no depressing weight that crushes the enjoyment of life but a call to do one’s best despite the inescapable and ineradicable limits that biology places upon us. It is precisely our imperceptible limits that make it possible for us to stretch the perceptible limits of the physical world. When we do so with a sense of insight and responsibility, we not only draw on the thrill of creativity but also commit ourselves to what makes our efforts truly worthwhile: the preservation of the material conditions of life as we creatively transform what are only merely apparent, perceptible limits of the material world.

God is Necessary to be Good (10 pages)

This paper was written and presented in response to the Call for Papers for the 2018 Oxford Symposium in Religious Studies in Oxford, England.  The paper has an index of themes found in the footnotes to aid the reader’s understanding of the paper’s themes and to access Kant’s discussion of them.

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Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies
Ioannou Centre
Oxford, UK
August 2, 2018

God is Necessary to be Good!


This paper proposes that, although one best avoid invoking an anthropomorphic deity, belief in God is, nonetheless, a necessary assumption for the exercising of humanity’s moral capacity.  This invokes the notion of the “good,” which will be parsed according to an amoral, a categorical, and a hypothetical good that grounds (or is necessary for) autonomous freedom’s ability to intentionally initiate sequences of events that, otherwise, nature on its own cannot accomplish, which, in turn, makes moral effort possible.  Denial of this set of themes is, of course, conceivable, but methodological skepticism’s Copernican Turn points out that such scoffing amounts to misanthropy.

Reason Suppresses Feelings? Or Moses Mendelssohn’s Influence on Kant’s Project of Three Critiques – Revised 27 June 2018

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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.

Originally Presented at Stellenbosch University
in Stellenbosch, South Africa,
24 April 2017
Revised 27 June 2018

Reason Suppresses Feelings?[1]
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 paper proposes to the contrary that a more appropriate understanding of the role of feelings (not emotions, generally) for Kant’s Critical Idealism, rather than being a pathological hindrance to reason, as well as an understanding of the centrality of the third Critique is served by examining Section VII of Mendelssohn’s Morgenstunden. The feelings of awe and respect are positive and ubiquitous to theoretical and practical reason as they, not by their content but by their function, motivate creativity and the assumption of moral accountability for the decisions driving, and the actions deriving from, such creativity.

The Human Spirit: Groundwork

Co-authored with James R. Cochrane (Available as of January 2018)

Title Page, Endorsements, Table of Contents, Acknowledgments, Preface, and Introduction:

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Available as Kindle e-book at  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.

Theology and Revolution -The 1839 Zurich Revolution: A Reader in the History of Theology for the Theology of History 2 January 2018

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.

Project Overview:




Table of Contents

Works Cited

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

Critical Idealism’s Defense of Investment
in the Liberal Arts:  Precise

Doug McGaughey

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 Cyclops and the Philosopher’s Stone” – 30 July 2017[1]

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Abstract:  Regardless of national, ethnic, religious, and/or gender identity, or commitment to/rejection of the natural sciences, we are all pragmatic, instrumental cyclops today.  Thankfully, we are not genetically cyclops, but we have so long ignored, and become so comfortable with blocking, our “second” eye that we are threatened with evolutionary mutation to a single eye.  With Homer’s “Cyclops” representing the mere empiricism of “opening one’s eyes” and the Bacchae Dionysian representing a portrayal of insightful rapture that is the “closing of one’s eyes” (the exact opposite to the Cyclops’ empiricism), Odysseus and Athena are taken to represent the power of pragmatic, instrumental reason over nature.  Nonetheless, the Cyclops, the Bacchae, Odysseus, and Athena are all various forms of monocularity.  In order to preserve our “second eye,” we need the “Stone of the Wise” or “Philosopher’s Stone[2]” (der Stein der Weisen) that reminds us of the importance of practical reason to complement mere empiricism and its pragmatic, instrumental reason.

The Petri Dish Only Confirms that Kant was Correct: Or Technical, Teleological, and Practical ‘Purposiveness’ in Science and Morality – Revised 23 July 2017

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.”

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“Was Kant a Racist?” with Addendum on South Sea Islanders 01 May 2017 – Rejection of Slavery, Colonialism, the Inhumane Treatment of Animals, and Wanton Destruction of the Environment

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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” – Revised 04 May 2016

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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 a Metaphysical Doctrine 11 July 2008 — Key Paper

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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.

On the So-Called Conundrums in Kant’s Philosophical Theology 26 November 2017

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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?

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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.

Zero Sum or Principles? 13 November 2016

Zero Sum or Principles? by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Zero Sum or Principles?[1]

Abstract:  If we refuse to accept materialistic reductionism that makes our social lives exhaustively the product of capricious genetics, the amygdala, and chemicals in the brain like oxytocin, we are the species that can ask what we should do.  By playing a zero sum game,[2] one knows who “won” whereas acting on principle gives one the satisfaction that one tried to do more than “win.” However, here it is claimed that the alternative of a zero sum game and principles represents not an exclusive dyad as if one can pursue one of the options only by exclusion of the other.  Both are symptomatic of humanity’s “radical” evil and “radical” goodness.  We can pursue one or the other only because we have the capacity to do both. Hence, deeper than decline, progress, or stagnation is an understanding of humanity as the source of a causal efficacy that is not reducible to physical causality and, therefore, this suggests that with humanity we find in degree an “openness” in nature that allows for creative change while demanding assumption of moral responsibility for the exercise of humanity’s creative power.

What is ‘Radical Evil?:’ A Reading of Ricoeur on Kant and Religion 16 December 2014

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The following paper was presented at at the Society for Ricoeur Studies at the University of Oregon, October 27, 2013

PDF Version:  What is ‘Radical’ Evil? A Reading of Ricoeur on Kant and Religion

What is ‘Radical’ Evil?
A Reading of Ricoeur on Kant and Religion


What follows I can best describe as a “lover’s quarrel” anchored, for my part, in deep gratitude and respect.  On the one hand, I will strenuously critique Ricoeur’s reading of Kant, particularly with respect to 1) the ontological status of “radical” evil, 2) the anchoring of morality in violence, 3) Ricoeur’s “deliberative,” hence, consequentialist ethic, and 4) his limiting of religion to historical religion.  On the other hand, the “ontology” of his theory of metaphor as well as the centrality of the “productive imagination” in his theory of discourse are applauded vigorously and can be viewed as thoroughly in harmony with the “ground” of Kant’s ethical reflections, “autonomous freedom,” which will be proposed as a more comprehensive “ground” for morality, and a more adequate “ground” for understanding of religion.

Reflections on the Symbol:  A Quasi-Transcendental Assumption that “Gives Rise to Thought”

I begin my investigation of Ricoeur’s reading of Kant by examining the notion of “symbol.”  I will seek to demonstrate that the pre-figuration, which is the symbolic for Ricoeur, functions in a quasi-transcendental sense that makes symbols a posteriori synthetic judgments and, therefore, hypothetical, not, as for Kant, a priori synthetic judgments that are categorical (I will speak to the difference between a posteriori and a priori synthetic judgment below).

Freedom on This and the Other Side of Kant – Unabridged – September 2015

Freedom on This and the Other Side of Kant Unabridged January 2018

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Enlightenment: Reflections on Michel Foucault’s “Was ist Aufklärung? [“What is Enlightenment”] 7 February 2016

Reflections on Michel Foucault’s ‘Was ist Aufklärung?'”[1]

At least since the French „Encyclopedists,” the notion of enlightenment has been associated with knowledge of the correct facts.  As a consequence, even Kant’s famous aphorism for labelling enlightenment, Sapere Aude! (Dare to know for oneself!), has been frequently taken to mean:  assume responsibility for your own knowledge of the facts (i.e., don’t trust authorities to be providing you with the true facts)!

On Martha Nussbaum’s Reading of Kant March 31, 2016

On Martha Nussbaum’s Reading of Kant by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

On Martha Nussbaum’s Reading of Kant: Aristotelian Teleology Meets Kantian Archaeology

The following is an email that was sent to Herman Waetjen, Emeritus Professor of the San Francisco Theological Seminary and Berkeley’s GTU.  During a recent visit with him in San Anselmo, Herman shared with me passages from Martha Nussbaum’s Frontiers of Justice that offer her reading of Kant on reason, morality, and humanity’s responsibilities to nature, other species, and the physically and mentally challenged. Herman had written a paper on “The Theology of Animals” for the Spring 2016 meeting of the Pacific Coast Theological Society meeting. His paper is available on-line at the PCTS webpage. This email provides my response to what I take to be a serious but, unfortunately, all too frequent “mis-reading” of Kant.  To be sure, every reading of a text is an interpretation, but that fact is no license to generate any whimsical reading that serves one’s purposes in the moment.  As Paul Ricoeur proposed: A good reading is congruent with the text and generates a plenitude of rich meaning. A poor reading is narrow and far-fetched. In my judgment, Martha Nussbaum’s reading of Kant is incredibly narrow and far-fetched, even if there are powerful voices in the academy today who share her reading.

PhD Dissertation – The University of Chicago Divinity School

The following is Doug’s Dissertation submitted to and accepted by The Divinity School of The University of Chicago in 1983.  The doctoral adviser was Prof. Paul Ricoeur, and the readers were Profs. David Tracy and Langdon Gilkey.

If one’s intellectual life is an odyssey, it would be a shock to look back over thirty-plus years at this dissertation to find myself entirely in agreement with everything in it.  I am by no means shocked.  However, back then I had the “clever” idea that one can establish a parallel between the “metaphor” that functions “at the level of the sentence” and the “symbol” that functions “at the level of the narrative.”  I have since followed Langdon Gilkey’s wise advice to read Ernst Cassirer’s corpus, especially his Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, to learn that I was addressing only a segment of symbols, that is, religious symbols.  In most circumstances, I would be now more comfortable were the reader to substitute “religious symbol” wherever “symbol” occurs. I was unable to find a publisher for this early work (I couldn’t even get a publisher to send it out to readers) so that I am posting it here.  Although I have some reservations, I am arrogant enough to believe that there are elements here that justify its being accessible on-line.

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On the Soteriological Sitnificance of the Symbol of the Kingdom of God in the Language of the Historical Jesus by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Title Page

Table of Contents



Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Selected Bibliography

Critical Idealism: A Brief Introduction

Critical Idealism:  A Brief Introduction

Critical Idealism has been out of favor at least since the Vienna Circle imperially proclaimed in the first third of the Twentieth Century that there are no such things as a priori synthetic judgments.  Because that’s what intellectuals in Europe wanted to hear as they turned away both from religious revelation and from Hegel’s spiritual meta-narrative toward the physical world, few (if any) bothered to ask just what an a priori synthetic judgment was – according to Immanuel Kant.  In fact, the Vienna Circle presupposed precisely what it denied.