Freedom! What’s It Good For? 17 Pages

Updated 15 July 2019

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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.  Because 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.

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
Oberseminar
12 January 2019
Tübingen

Abstract1

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. []

“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.

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]
Or
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.

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

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

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!

Introduction

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.

“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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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.

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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 2017, 2019

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Revised (2017/2019) version of “‘Critique,’ not ‘Criticism’” 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 – Notes Updated 12 July 2019

Updated 12 July 2019

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Design:
A Heuristic Strategy, Not Metaphysical Doctrine

Abstract

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.

A Post-Factual World? (11 Pages)

Updated 13 July 2019

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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

Updated 13 July 2019

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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 (5 July 2019)

Theology and Revolution — The 1839 Zurich Revolution: A Reader in the History of Theology for the Theology of History by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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What is ‘Radical’ Evil?:

A Reading of Ricoeur on Kant and Religion

Introduction

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.

On Martha Nussbaum’s Reading of Kant March 31, 2016 (5 Pages)

Updated 14 July 2019

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On Martha Nussbaum’s Reading of Kant: Aristotelean 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: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,2006) 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 “Towards a Theology of Animals” for the Spring 2016 meeting of the Pacific Coast Theological Society meeting. His paper is available on-line at https://www.academia.edu. 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.

Should Foreign Language Acquisition be Required? 29 December 2016 (5 Pages)

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Should Foreign Language Acquisition be Required?
29 December 2016

According to today’s NY Times (29 December 2016), Princeton University is making the learning of a new language a mandatory requirement of its General Education program — even for those already proficient in a second language.  I’m commenting here because I don’t have a Facebook account, which the NY Times requires for commenting on their blog.

In our day, it is an incredible privilege as a US citizen to know a second language if you are not an immigrant or from a recently immigrated family.  It is a privilege because foreign languages unlike in almost all other industrialized nations are not required in elementary school, and, increasingly, they are not required in high school even for those intending to go on to college because even colleges are rapidly dropping the requirement. After all, all one needs to get ahead in the world these days is English because the whole world has committed to English as the lingua franca of research and business.  I am among the privileged able to afford two summers at Middlebury College’s Summer German School at the ripe age of 31.  I know full well that the costs in time and money make such an experience simply impossible for most Americans. Continue reading “Should Foreign Language Acquisition be Required? 29 December 2016 (5 Pages)”

Incomplete Copernican Revolution (Ed. 6 July 2019)

The Incomplete Copernican Revolution in Popular Legend, the Natural Sciences, and in Practical Reason (Morality) by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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The Incomplete Copernican Revolution in Popular Legend, the Natural Sciences, and in Practical Reason (Morality)

Abstract: There are three senses in which the Copernican Revolution of the 16th century is not yet

complete today. The first sense is in terms of the popular account about what Copernicus actually

accomplished and the reaction on the part of the church in Rome to Copernicus’ writings. The second

sense is in terms of the meaning of the revolution for the natural sciences and what it means to do

science after Copernicus. The third sense is in terms of practical reason (morality) or the religious

consequences of the CR.

The Incomplete Copernican Revolution in Popular Legend

 

The popular account of the CR maintains that Copernicus displaced the earth from the physical center of the universe and, thereby, challenged what one took to be a cherished cornerstone of Christian theology with respect to God’s providential plan of salvation.  Furthermore, the popular account claims that Copernicus’s writings were placed on the index by the Roman Catholic Church after his death.  A corollary to the legend is that Galileo was excommunicated and placed under house arrest for his defense of the Copernican model.

As with all legends, there is a kernel of truth to these elements, but the distortions far outweigh the kernel.  What is unequivocally true, of course, is that Copernicus forced us to deny our senses and to view our solar system, though he thought it was the universe, with the sun, not the earth, as its physical center.  The Harvard Astrophysicist, Owen Gingerich demonstrated that almost everything else in the story is massive distortion.[1]

Copernicus’ writings were censored by Rome, which of course is bad enough, though they were not placed on the Index of forbidden texts –however, the censorship was not of his science!  Rather, he was censored wherever he claimed to have proof rather than an hypothesis.  At those points of enthusiasm and not in rejection of his mathematics, the church raised its objection.  However, Gingerich’s examination of the manuscripts by no means confirms even the semblance of universal censorship.  To be sure, the closer the manuscript was to Rome (!), the more likely that it was censored.  Outside of Italy, however, the manuscripts were not censored, and Copernicus’ writings were required reading for theologians at least in Spain.

Gingerich reports that the case with Galileo is similar.  His mathematics was not rejected, he was never excommunicated, and he was placed under house arrest not for defending the Copernican system but for insubordination and defamation of the Pope.  He made the mistake in portraying the Pope, his childhood friend, as the bungling simpleton (“Simplicio”) in his Diologue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.  Furthermore, Cardinal Baronius, Vatican librarian, not Galileo is the author of the famous aphorism:  “The bible does not tell how the heavens go but how to go to heaven.”

In terms of the popular legend, then, the CR is far from complete since this legend is riddled with misconceptions and distortions.  Not the least, concentration on the displacement of humanity from the center of physical reality eclipses the crucial sense in which humanity is unequivocally the epistemological and creative “center” of reality.

“What is Categorical about the Categorical?” Updated 3 September 2012 (7 Pages)

Updated 14 July 2019

What is Categorical about the Categorical? by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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What is Categorical about the Categorical?
On the Sensible and the Supersensible

Human experience is dependent upon the inseparable, yet distinguishable, interaction between two dimensions: the sensible and the supersensible. Each dimension must simultaneously make a contribution, or else there can be no experience (see the very opening lines of the Critique of Pure Reason B 33). Although we must speak of two dimensions that make our experience possible, we are no more talking about dualism as the explanatory ground of experience than attributing multiple, interacting causes to a physical event shatters the unity of efficient causality. We would be concerned with dualism only if we succumbed to a Cartesian dual-substance notion of experience, but that would, of course, presume that we had access to such things as substances that could confirm their reality. Rather, we do not experience substances, only their appearances. Granted, “hardness” (Unnachgiebigkeit) and “durableness” (Dauerhaftigkeit) are strong indicators of the presence of substance, but we too quickly substitute substance for its appearance. We live in a world of appearances and a priori synthetic judgment, and any conclusions about the nature and character of substance are among our synthetic judgments either a posteriori or a priori since we cannot experience substances themselves.
These two dimensions appear to be 180° opposite to one another. The sensible world consists of a set of appearances that are perceptible, material, divisible, measurable, and constantly changing. The supersensible world consists of a set of “appearances” that are imperceptible, immaterial, indivisible, immeasurable, and, when it comes to concepts, unchanging. Observation of these contrasting sets of appearances by no means presumes what needs to be proved. Rather, it is only a contrast between descriptive sets, and it is the task of Critical Idealism to sort out what is necessary and what is purely accidental about these sets of appearances.

Critical Idealism and Postmodernism 13 November 2011 (5 Pages)

Updated 15 July 2019

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Critical Idealism and Postmodernism

One of the intriguing ironies of the history of philosophy is that Enlightenment Modernism already anticipated and provided a strategy for responding to the skepticism of Postmodernism.

Postmodernism is usually linked to Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition[1] (1979, English 1985), in which he dismisses the meta-narratives of Western culture as bankrupt because of their destructiveness.  It is also associated with a movement in architecture that is characterized by the demolition of gigantic buildings (e.g., hotels in Las Vegas) and sport facilities as a symbol of the impermanence of even the most massive of human constructions.  In the theory of knowledge, Postmodernism is intimately connected with Deconstructionism that seeks to cultivate the virtues of vulgar skepticism for a project of justice.