Book Review: Ripstein’s Force and Freedom

A review of Ripstein’s book on Kant’s political philosophy by Stefan Bird-Pollan:

Though Kant has been enjoying significant critical attention in moral and political philosophy since Rawls published A Theory of Justice almost 40 years ago, Kant’s ideas have only rarely been defended as a whole. The chief problem with Kant’s view, one which Rawls shared with Kant’s immediate successor Hegel, is that the notion of the categorical imperative is essentially too abstract and must be given a more concrete grounding. Constructivism was to be the way of doing this. Rawls thus rejected Kant’s metaphysical argument for morality and replaced it with an intuitive account of our own deep intuitions about justice, to be brought out by the procedure of the original position, later to be refined by the reflective equilibrium. Thus Kantian autonomy was to be cashed out in terms of respect for persons.

Jokes about Neo-Kantians

Not a cretinous tirade, but another amusing passage from Scholem’s Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship:

Benjamin was fond of telling a joke that circulated about Hermann Cohen, the head of the Margburg Neo-Kantian school.  In Marburg even pharmacists who wished to obtain a diploma had to take an examination in philosophy, cursory though it may be.  One day such an examinee was sent to Cohen, and he asked him with his characteristic intensity, “What do you know about Plato?”  The candidate had never heard the name.  “Can you tell me anything about the main doctrines of Spinoza?” Silence.  Cohen, now in despair: “Can you tell me who the most important philospher of the 18th century was?”  The pharmacist’s face brightened and he started hemming and hawing.  Cohen vigorously encouraged him.  Finally the candidate said, “Kaut, Mr. Privy Councillor.”  Cohen is said to have burst into tears (p135).

Kant and the Limits of Autonomy Reviewed

I’m not getting this one for Christmas, but I’m looking forward to reading it – reviewed by Tatiana Patrone:

At a Kant conference last summer, I met a beginning graduate student who said that “everything in Kant fascinated her” but that she will “for now focus only on Kant’s notion of freedom.”  People at our lunch table smiled — while certainly admirable, the hope to focus “only” on what Kant said about freedom seems so unrealistic that one feels bewildered about a project such as this (unless one is in her twenties!)  And yet Susan Shell undertakes a task equally (if not more) gargantuan in her 2009 Kant and the Limits of Autonomy.  This task is made even more challenging by Shell’s consistent commitment not only to the analysis of Kant’s arguments (pre-critical and critical) concerning autonomy, but also to looking at the historical context in which these arguments emerged and developed.  As the result, Shell’s 400-page exposition of Kant’s notion of autonomy and of the surrounding issues provides a wonderful guide to anyone who is interested in the many levels and in the philosophical complexity of the topic.

New (Kant) Book: Force and Freedom

During the morning life agenda setting meeting, Shahar mentioned this book to me and an accompanying review by Allen Wood:

Arthur Ripstein, Force and Freedom: Kant’s Legal and Political Philosophy, Harvard UP, 2009, 399pp., $49.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780674035065.

Reviewed by Allen Wood, Stanford University

One sunny spring day nearly forty years ago, I was sitting in an open air café in Ithaca, New York, having coffee with Hans-Georg Gadamer. He was already over 70, and I was still in my twenties, having just published my first book on Kant. So our conversation, which consisted mainly of youth listening to the superior wisdom of age, centered on the current state of Kant scholarship. Gadamer said that the biggest single lacuna in Kant studies was the absence of a really good book on Kant’s Rechtslehre. It ought to be a book, he declared, that did not start out from Kantian ethics, but instead expounded Kant’s theory of human rights, law and politics authentically, solely on the ground of Kant’s concept of Recht: external freedom according to universal law. Gadamer told me I should write such a book — a recommendation I found flattering, but I also immediately (and silently) dismissed, partly because my principal interest in Kant was precisely in his ethics, but chiefly because I thought it could be done properly only by someone who had much more knowledge of law than I had, or ever intended to acquire. Since then I have read many good books on Kant’s legal and political philosophy, many by people I know and respect (one of them even based on a doctoral dissertation I supervised). Until now, however, I have never found the book Gadamer thought so badly needed to be written. But this book finally appears to be it.

The rest is here.

Looks like a good exegetical study of Kant’s Rechtslehre, although from Wood’s summary it’s hard to see how anything in this book is really new, i.e. how it goes beyond the simple presentation of Kant’s ideas (which is what Wood himself is, of course, well-known). I do want to read it though, especially since it seems to be paying attention to Kant’s progression from the discussion of the private right (property) to the public right. Before that book arrives, I wonder if there’s any interest in reading Hardt/Negri’s Commonwealth in any sort of organized way?



Kant Without Kantianism

A new book out and a nice review article is accompanying it – looks very interesting:

20091027_kant2-ff309Recensé : Gérard Lebrun, Kant sans kantisme, préfaces de Paul Clavier et Francis Wolff. Paris, Fayard, 2009, 341 p., 22 euros.

Gérard Lebrun n’a jamais autant publié que depuis sa mort, survenue en 1999. Les deux seuls livres qu’il fit paraître en français, ouvrages de référence, ont été réédités en 2003. Ils furent ainsi rendus à ceux qui, désireux de saisir la radicalité de l’intervention kantienne dans l’histoire de la métaphysique (Kant et la fin de la métaphysique, Armand Colin, 1970, rééd. Le Livre de Poche), ou la singularité du régime de discours hégélien (La Patience du concept, Paris, Gallimard, 1972, rééd. 2003), ne pouvaient faire l’économie, non pas seulement d’une lecture, mais bien d’une authentique méditation de ces livres qui ne quittent jamais totalement ceux qui les ont rencontrés. La rareté francophone de Lebrun ne s’explique pas seulement par le souci de perfection de quelqu’un qui écrivait en esthète, ni par cette intégrité qui interdit de publier pour ne rien dire. Il faut ajouter qu’il vécut longtemps au Brésil, où il jouit encore d’une aura particulière. C’est grâce à deux de ses anciens élèves, Paul Clavier et Francis Wolff, que le lecteur non lusophone a pu découvrir L’envers de la dialectique (Paris, Seuil, 2004), d’abord paru en portugais. C’est grâce à eux encore qu’il dispose désormais d’un recueil d’articles parus en français, en portugais, ou encore inédits, jalonnant 25 ans de travail (le plus ancien date de 1974, le plus récent de 1999) : Kant sans kantisme.

Crisis of Faith

T304434AHaving read Kant’s political writings for some time now, and having often compared his political advice (no resistance, reforms from above only) to his philosophical advice (revolution and undermining critique), I am slowly coming to an uncomfortable conclusion that was somewhat pressed upon me this week while I reread sections of “The Doctrine of Right” and The Conflict of Faculties – Kant was a  conservative and naive citizen of Prussa whose use of the imagery of “revolution” vis-a-vis his own philosophical discoveries (and multiple autobiographical events such as famous “dogmatic slumber” incident or a discover of Rousseau) did not propel him to leave his provincial shell of a “teacher of the people” and see radical political implications of his own discoveries. How Heine could possibly compare Kant to Robespierre is beyond me. How can we change our society for the better? According to Kant, we cannot do much – we hope and pray that the state “reforms itself from time to time” but ultimately we can only hope for a miracle, “a kind of new creation (supernatural influence)” [7:92] – What sort of reactionary flaming pile of shit is this? And coming for Kant? I better go read some Marx (or maybe Fichte) to get me away from this idiocy…

Metaphysics: Unrequited Love and Air-Architecture.

An old observation from Kant came to mind again, while I was quietly contemplating why so many people these days are so enamoured with all things metaphysical – I went back to reread it, and found the book even better than I remembered it (Dreams of a Spirit-Seer):

Metaphysics, which it is my fate to be in love with, even though I cannot boast of having received any favors from her, offers two advantages. [2:367]

This is at the end of chapter two of the second part of the book, a sort of conclusive thought that Kant drops in passing. As is well-known, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer is a strange book which basically reveals Kant’s disillusionment with metaphysics.  Some parts of the book, I think, need to come back and reassert themselves as the interest in metaphysics makes me think of passages like this (from Part I, chapter 3, translation for the linked above old English version): Continue reading

Braver Reading Group: Chapter 3 – Hegel: The Truth of the Whole.

[If you’re just joining us, please click on the cover icon on the right side of the page to see the post that gathers all the discussions of Braver Reading Group, or click here]

1 Overview.

One of the coolest things about Chapter 3 is how beautifully the previous two chapters are explained as part of Hegel’s story.

Unfortunately (well actually fortunately for the reader; order the book!) there is so much great philosophy in this chapter that I can’t do a book report.

Instead, I made a groovy chart that shows how Braver has retold the Phenomenology of Spirit in his first three chapters, with page numbers to the relevant sections in Braver’s book. I present this chart in lieu of a detailed exposition. “R” refers to a realist take on the row’s thesis, “A” refers to an anti-realist take. Expressions such as “6d” occurring in cell X denote that the argument given by Braver in the page numbers given in row 6, column d are part of why cell X gets an A or R. Also note that if you still need your reading glasses after left-clicking on the picture (it’s linked to the full-sized jpeg), then click HERE for the .doc version. Continue reading