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?

Religion and Morality by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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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“God is Necessary to be Good” by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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.