Reading a bit of Jäsche Logik this afternoon, came across some observations on the nature of philosophy. Since the status of this text is different from even your usual student lectures, it’s hard to cite it as belonging to Kant himself, although it is clearly in the spirit of what Kant writes elsewhere on the matter (see below):
Philosophy is thus the system of philosophical cognitions or of cognitions of reason from concepts. That is the scholastic concept [Schulbegriff] of this science. According to the worldly concept [Weltbegriff] it is the science of the final ends of human reason. This high concept gives philosophy dignity, i.e., an absolute worth.
In this scholastic sense of the word, philosophy has to do only with skill [Geschicklichkeit], but in the relation to the worldly concept, on the other hand, with usefulness [Nützlichkeit]. The the former respect it is thus a doctrine of skill; in the latter, a doctrine of wisdom, the legislator of reason, and the philosopher to this extent not an artist of reason but rather a legislator.
The artist of reason… strives only for speculative knowledge, without looking to see how much the knowledge contributes to the final end of human reason; he gives rules for the use of reason for any sort of end one wishes. The practical philosopher, the teacher of wisdom through doctrine and example, is the real philosopher [der eigentliche Philosoph]. For philosophy is the idea of a perfect wisdom, which shows us the final ends of human reason. [9:24] (English translation from Cambridge edition, 537)
It seems that Kant is talking about speculative philosophy in terms of skill/art of speculation which is not authentically philosophical exercise. What is it then? I think that without sounding condescending and dismissive we can stay that such philosophy as artistry is skill-oriented, detail-oriented and aims at a concrete set of abilities. This sort of scholastic philosophy concerns itself with style and form, not necessarily with substance, even if this distinction can be easily contested. The stylish philosopher is well-spoken and well-argued (maybe even smooth). What is this other “worldly concept” of philosophy? I think it is philosophy in a worldly sense as in “cosmopolitan sense” [weltbürgerlichen Bedeutung] that Kant mentions on the next page. It sounds a bit strange to my ear – worldly philosophy – but it seems to imply a sort of this-worldly philosophy that is concerned with “ends of human reason” which is Kant’s way of thinking purpose.
Kant’s notion of Weltbegriff is translated as world-concept at one point in the first Critique and deals with “absolute totality” [A408/B434]. Yet at another point, closer to the end, we get a translation of Weltbegriff as a “cosmopolitan concept” (despite the fact that Kant provides a Latin equivalent – conceptus cosmicus – and has a footnote on the matter). In fact, this is the point in the first Critique where Kant, in his own voice, so no doubts about the authenticiy of the passage, basically says the same thing as in Jäsche Logik written in 1800 (so with first Critique out in 1781, we can safely say that this was likely one of those annoying mantras professors repeat once in a while forgetting that they alread said that many times):
Until now, however, the concept of philosophy has been only a scholastic concept, namely that of a system of cognition that is sought only as a science without having as its end anything more than the systematic unity of this knowledge, thus the logical perfection of cognition. But there is also a cosmopolitan concept [Weltbegriff] (conceptus cosmicus) that has always grounded this term, especially when it is, as it were, personified and represented as an archetype in the ideal of the philosopher. From this point of view philosophy is the science of the relation of all cognition to the essential ends of human reason (teleologia rationis humanae), and the philosopher is not an artist of reason but the legislator of human reason. It would be very boastful to call oneself a philosopher in this sense and to pretend to have equaled the archetype, which lies only in the idea. [A839/B867]
In a footnote Kant clarifies his “cosmopolitan concept” as one that concerns that which necessarily interests everyone. This imagery of artistry of reason versus philosophy as wisdom is strange at first, but makes sense if we look at it a bit closer. Kant is not denying that philosophy needs skill and artistry, he is not putting down “mathematicians, scientists and logicians,” who are the main examples of “artists of reason,” he is suggesting that a philosopher proper aims at “systematic unity from the standpoint of ends” – the final end, the highest end and “there can only be a single one” which is “the entire vocation of human beings” [A840/B868]. The philosophy of the entire vocation of human beings is moral philosophy, therefore the real task of philosophy is morality which is one of Kant’s most prominent themes.
So after all of these citations and all, what does it have to do with normativity? I think that Kantian notion of normativity deals with this “worldly concept” that in turn deals with unification of manifolds, with a final purpose of humanity. Normativity rests on principles and principles are not found in experience, i.e. they cannot be deduced from empirical observations of how things are. Kant’s insistence that “real” philosophy is philosophy that deals with that which interests everyone is this insistence on the legislative or normative nature of philosophical purpose, it is that which distinguishes philosophical stance from other uses of reason, as necessary and as skillful as they are.
This is not a uniquely Kantian idea, I think, because Aristotle, for example, makes a similar point in Metaphysics: what makes a specific object what it is is what it does, its function (ergon), or in Kantian terms, its end [Zweck].
We have now dealt with Being in the primary sense, to which all the other categories of being are related; i.e. substance. For it is from the concept of substance that all the other modes of being take their meaning; both quantity and quality and all other such terms; for they will all involve the concept of substance, as we stated it in the beginning of our discussion. And since the senses of being are analyzable not only into substance or quality or quantity, but also in accordance with potentiality and actuality and function, let us also gain a clear understanding about potentiality and actuality… [9.1045b]
If we take Aristotelan distinction between matter and form, then matter is the stuff of an object and the form is its functional or teleological organization, i.e. form is the organization of matter that allows the object to properly fulfil its function. In this sense, teleological organization of any object is a normative judgment about it: it must be this way to be what it is. A desk is that which serves a purpose of holding my papers, pens, books and allows me to use it as a writing space. My desk is made of wood, but I can easily imagine all sorts of desks, and what will make them desks will be their function. There is a normative principle behind this function of the desk, it must be this way and not any other way in order to be a desk. This function constitutes my desk – what is at some point a simple aggregate of parts becomes a desk when its function becomes visible to me. In this sense, for Kant, philosophy deals with the final unity of all the functions, of all the ends – the concept of the “world” in Kant, of course, cannot be a product of experience and therefore philosophy is by definition a normative/legislative activity not of describing how the world is, but prescribing how it must be.
Without going further into Aristotele and all that business of potential/actual, as interesting as it is, plus this post is getting too long anyway, I’d like to draw attention to the exchange that is taking place over at Speculative Heresy concerning the similar issues of normativity – here are just some sections I liked:
[Alexei] – I guess all I can say is that I don’t see how philosophy isn’t anything other than a concern for the intelligibility and significance of our world, our relationships to one another, and the meaning of our actions. To the extent that we’re all concerned with ‘meaning,’ we’re concerned with normativity. For meaning, like knowledge, is normative (knowing what ‘green’ means = knowing how to apply it in various contexts, and be able to identify misapplications, etc). Again, normativity isn’t the same as ethics or norms; normativity = that which makes ethics or norms rationally compelling. On a bad day, when I’m hungover or grumpy, I would probably say that normativity = the problem of philosophy, full stop. Bad philosophy is philosophy which fails to realize this.
[Asher] -I think a genetic (or more broadly, “naturalistic”) description of normativity can do more than tell us where specific norms came from. It can tell us why we think normatively at all, and further, why some things are rationally (or irrationally) compelling to us.
It seems to me that it is fair to say that to think philosophically = to think normatively, everything else is important part of our use of understanding/reason, collection of observations, science, theories etc etc, but to think about objects philosophically is to see how they are teleologically constituted, i.e. to see not only their use/function, but their purpose, and purpose seems to imply “why?” rather than a simple “what?”
[Alexei] – All I want to maintain is that an explanation of something in terms of efficient causes is an incomplete explanation. That’s all I need to say; that’s all I need to show. If I can mount a convincing argument on this score, then the materialism/naturalism/idealism/realism controversies turn out to be red herrings. That is, if it turns out that a ‘complete’ explanation of a given phenomenon requires both a physical description and a normative component (a base and a superstructure, a Zizekian parallax), which cannot — for whatever reason — be reduced to some univocal, underlying phenomenon, then the point of contention among the competing substance monisms becomes totally otiose. They’re all false, insofar as non of them provide a compelling account of a given phenomenon on their own.
I am not at all sure if I know what I am talking about in all of this, it’s just some rather random thoughts and observations, but it seems to me that a larger philosophical enterprise, a system, if you will, must necessarily explain itself in terms of “why?” and leave the rest to sciences and their “what?” – the question of the relationship between science and philosophy raised during Realism Wars™ has been bugging me precisely because I am not willing to accept the scenario in which I need to abandon philosophy and become an amateur scientist since there’s no real philosophical subject matter or uniquely philosophical activity. Ultimately, if we follow Kant’s hints, philosophy is about system-building with a very practical goal in mind, i.e. its final end is a project for the future of humanity (moral philosophy – ethics and politics)…