Justice and Metaphysics.

Nick comments on the last thread: 

If I have a commitment to a certain conception of justice, is this practically any different from someone who has an elaborate metaphysical system that tries to justify this same principle?

I think this is a somewhat different conversation, I hope, at least that’s how I would see it, yet it is related to our whole conversation about realism because, if anyone remembers, it started with a simple of question of the nature of normativity – to simplify it significantly, I think I was asking a question not unlike this one: If a realist is someone who thinks that is a knowable world out there and all our philosophical efforts should be directed at getting to know it better, then this attitude seems to lack a dimension of “ought” and is found primarily in the dimension of “is” which is to say, it does not seem to be concerned with the way the world should be but only with a way the world is. Many objections were raised, the discussion veered off into Kantian ethics and so on, but still I thought that the only way “ought” would enter a realist world view is through a kind of fiat: there are ideas of justice and peaceful coexistence, we don’t know where they are coming from, but we have them now so there. Continue reading

Random Quote: Kant Against Idealism

I think the peculiarity of our discussion of Kant (or our inevitable reference to Kant regardless of the topic) is that Kant did not think of himself as an idealist – idealism for him is a position that declares that

…the existence of objects in space outside us to be either merely doubtful and indemonstrable, or else false and impossible; the former is the problematic idealism of Descartes, who declares only one empirical assertion (assertio), namely that I am, to be indubitable; the latter is the dogmatic idealism of Berkeley, who declares space, together with all the things to which it is attached as an inseparable condition, to be something that is impossible in itself, and who therefore also declares things in space to be merely imaginary. [B274]

Interestingly enough, Kant is not spending much time on dogmatic idealism of Berkeley, only stating that Continue reading

Experience: Now With New (Scientific) Sauce.

So things are pretty active in the last thread, but I am getting a bit lost in all the comments there, so I’m going to separate one thread and post on it separate. I used an example of looking at an object and trying to distinguish between p-qualities and s-qualities. I think Levi’s response was especially enlightening in terms of trying to flesh out our disagreement on the matter, but before we get to it, Nick noted, commenting on my remark that I am not sure how much our perception really changed with scientific revolution, something I am not really certain about, just a thought: Continue reading

Metaphysics and Its Ethical Consequences.

UPDATE: While I was writing the post below, Levi posted his own take, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so if some issues are already addressed, I apologize.

While clarifying what Kantian ethics is really about is a noble task, I would like to point out some things that might have been unclear from my initial post on realism’s possible ethical stance as i cited Kant’s third Critique (§76). I think that Levi’s questions concerning the connection between metaphysics and ethics are legitimate, but are directly addressed in Kant’s corpus – I would even say that Kant is extremely concerned with ethical outcome of any sort of metaphysical exercise and this concern is found throughout his writings. In §76 Kant is basically imagining a different kind of human cognition, the one that lacks the distinction between intuition and understanding/reason, a kind of cognition that would have an immediate knowledge of the actual (things-in-themselves), if I am reading it correctly. Kant’s argument is simple, I think, and consists of very simple steps: human cognition distinguishes between appearance and things-in-themselves as it has knowledge of the former and only posits the latter, if we imagine a cognition that distinguishes between the two yet knows both, the very distinction is then shown to be unnecessary, now we are talking about a thought experiment, only God’s cognition would fit a hypothetical scenario, yet if we take realism and its claim that there is a world out there and (important “and” I think) we have a direct access to it and can know it as it is in itself, then we know things-in-themselves via a sort of “intellectual intuition,” i.e. Kant’s point about heterogeneity of intuition and understanding can be disregarded. I then go on to ask a question: what would the world of things-in-themselves look like if indeed we have direct knowledge of it? Kant states, and again we may or may not agree with his argument, that in such a world things would simply be, simply exists – I thought of such a world as a sort of a nightmare precisely because without space/time (form of intuition, of course) and without potential/actual distinction (being a form of causality, causality being part of mind’s work, not something found in things themselves) life would be a nightmare.

Ok, let’s throw all that Kantian jargon and Kantian arguments out of the window – there’s a lot, I know, so I’m going to give you some time… Continue reading

The Nightmare of Things-In-Themselves.

Having tried to follow the recent discussions of various realisms, I have always wondered about the sort of a picture of reality that one would have were one to agree with a realist position, even if a very speculative (and entertaining) one – Harman does a good job of describing his fictive reality, yet still one wonders what it would be like to actually live in one. I think my main (philosophical) concern has always been with the peculiar distinction between “is” and “ought” both in a metaphysical and ethical sense: metaphysically, if I am using this term correctly, of course, the distinction could be the one between “actual” and “potential”; ethically, it is a distinction between “I do” and “I ought to do” – at least this is what it seems like to me. Before I cite some passages from Kant (as I usually do), I’d like to summarize my issues, if you’re interested in a specific text I am thinking of, you can read on and see if my reading of it makes sense.

As I think about a philosophical view that would claim that there is no significant philosophical problem when it comes to the distinction between the way we perceive things and the way they are in themselves, i.e. the distinction itself is affirmed (I’m yet to see a realist position that completely disregards the fact that it is humans who perceive objects) but it is not presented as a major issue, I wonder if there is any possibility of prescription in such a view of reality. In other words, if we ask an old question – why should I be moral? – then the issue here is not simply of moral motivation (self-interest, pleasure, utility etc etc), but of the possibility of any sort of moral necessity, in fact, if we take Kant’s moral theory as a model here, then any necessity, period. Does reason prescribe at all, or does it simply describe?  It seems to me that in the world of things in themselves (assuming that our perception of them coincides perfectly with the way they are in themselves), of things without any input from human understanding, there can never be any sort of a consistent ethical or political theory. That is, no knowledge of what is right, only a competition of opinions. Continue reading

Meillassoux, Contingency, and Kantian Catastrophes

By the end of Chapter Three of Meillassoux’s After Finitude we are left with a rendering of the world reminiscent of Monadology, expect with some rather big differences.  Meillassoux has described a world of chaos wherein each entity is at once self-contained, completely contingent and not connected to any one thing or another vis a vis a principle of reason etc.  Naturally, this leads to a chapter long consideration of Hume, but Meillassoux insists “one unavoidable consequence of the principle of factiality is that it asserts the actual contingency of the laws of nature” (83).   In the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume writes:

We have said that all arguments concerning existence are founded on the relation of cause and effect; that our knowledge of that relation is derived entirely from experience; and that all our experimental conclusions proceed upon the supposition that the future will be conformable to the past. To endeavour, therefore, the proof of this last supposition by probable arguments, or arguments regarding existence, must be evidently going in a circle, and taking that for granted, which is the very point in question.

…It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance…Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that, for the future, it will continue so. Continue reading

More Monotonous Musings on Meillassoux: Factiality

And now another alliteration, anyhow, to continue with my (monotonous) reading of Meillassoux’s After Finitude, I’ve just now reached the end of Chapter 3, “The Priniciple of Factiality” and have read through Ch 4 “Hume’s Problem,” but I will focus on the former for the most part. There was a section that really caught my attention towards the end of Ch. 3, in which Meillassoux writes:

Philosophy is the invention of strange forms of argumentation, necessarily bordering on sophistry.  To philosophize is always to develop an idea whose elaboration and defense require a novel kind of argumentation, the model for which lies neither in positive science–not even in logic–not in some supposedly innate faculty for proper  reasoning.  Thus it is essential that a philosophy produce internal mechanisms for regulating its own inferences (77)…

This is no more evident than in the middle chapters of After Finitude. Continue reading

Philosophical Fanaticism: Reading Meillassoux Part 2

There is a strange little section in The Star of Redemption where Rosenzweig talks a bit about the fanatic and the pagan.  Here’s Rosenzweig:

The fanatic, the sectarian, in short all the tyrants of the kingdom of heaven, far from hastening the advent of the kingdom, only delay it…The ground prematurely cultivated by the fanatic yields no fruit. It does that only when its time has come. And its time too, will come. But then all the work of cultivation will have to be undertaken afresh. The first seeding has by then rotted, and to assert that these rotten remnants are “already” or “in reality” the same as that which later ripens into fruit is but the willful foolishness of pedants. Time and the hour are the mightier the less man knows them (Star of Redemption,  272)

In the closing section of the second chapter of After Finitude, “Metaphysics, Fideism, Speculation,” Meillassoux comments:

We are trying to grasp the sense of the following paradox: the more thought arms itself against dogmatism, the more defenseless it becomes before fanaticism. Even as it forces metaphysical dogmatism to retreat, sceptico-fideism reinforces religious obscurantism (48-emphasis mine-SO).

This is quite a statement, and I do like reading the Rosenzweig and Meillassoux quotes side by side, but as well shall see, Meillassoux has a good deal to say about the rotted out seeds of metaphysics. Continue reading

Grasping (at?) the in-itself: Reading Meillassoux

I picked up Quentin Meillassoux’s newly translated book, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, a while back and have finally gotten around to cracking open the cover.  I’ve only read the first chapter, but I was struck by the direct and succinct presentation of his quarrel with Kant and post-Kantian critical philosophy.  Even the title is somewhat striking.  For someone like myself, who has read and invested in a great deal of the usual 20th century phenomenological suspects: Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida etc., human being/human finitude is the passageway from which all serious philosophical work emerges.  This is what Graham Harman has described as the philosophy of access and it has been a bit of a rallying cry up until this point in such circles.  An objective world in itself?  Hmmm—–impossibly un-graspable since Kant’s critique.  The title suggests (promises) a whole other story.  On the final page of the first chapter, Meillassoux writes:

The virtue of transcendentalism does not lie in rendering realism illusory, but in rendering it astonishing, i.e. apparently unthinkable, yet true, and hence eminently problematic (27).

It’s hard, given my phenomenological background, not to find this passage more than a bit jolting. Continue reading