Kant v. Rand

NickOtani's picture
Submitted by NickOtani on Thu, 2007-08-23 17:59

The key to understanding Immanuel Kant's philosophy is understanding terms like "analytic", "synthetic", "a-priori", "a-posteriori", "noumena", "phenomena", "transendental", "categorical", "conditional", "intuitive", "thing-in-itself", and a few combinations of the terms, like "synthetic a-priori". It also helps to know something about philosophers who preceded Kant, like Descarte and Leibniz; considered "rationalists"; and Locke, Berkeley, and Hume; considered "empiricists". The terms "analytic", "a-priori", and "noumena" fall into the rationalist camp, while terms like "synthetic", "a-posteriori", and "phenomena" refer to "empiricism".

Descarte is a rationalist because he searched his mind for truth unattached to personal experience. The "cogito" is an example of analytic, a-priori truth because it can be divided into parts, subject and predicate, and determined to be true without reference to any physical perception. Hume and other philosophers pointed out that such logical tautologies, like mathematical equations, may be true or false but do not tell us much about the real world. Only a-posteriori statements, like it is raining outside, statements which have to be tested empirically, tell us about the real world.

Kant tried to disagree with Hume and demonstrate that some statements are synthetic a-priori, true both rationally and emperically. In the statement 7+5 = 12, can it be said that 7+5 is the subject, while 12 is the predicate; and the truth of the statement can also be tested empirically? Does that sound too simple? It probably is. Kant made his case with Euclidean geometry, and it took him twelve years to figure out. Some aspects of his arguments are still being debated.

We usually think that empirical things are not universal. They are subjective, relative to each individual's personal experience. However, synthetic a-priori statements are universal, and they say something about the real world. Did Kant succeed in combining rationalism and empiricism? Well, what if mathematical statements are just an exception to the rule? Can anything else be synthetic and a-priori?

Kant did not really believe we could get to the real truth of something in the real world. He made a distinction between "noumena", the "thing-in-itself", and "phenomena," its appearances. We only deal with these appearances in the context of categories of space and time. This allows for "transcendental" knowledge of universal laws. Space and time are experienced. That makes them synthetic, but they are experienced the same by everybody. That makes them universal. It is as if everybody constantly wears the same colored glasses.

Kant poked holes in the traditional arguments for the existence of God. The Ontological argument was only an a-priori word game. Existence is not a predicate that was a property of the real world, so it is not synthetic a-priori. Synthetic a-priori and universal seems to be what Kant means by objective. Anything less would either not say anything about the real world or be subjective, relative to different experiences.

He did come up with his own argument for God and immortality. He had to inorder to insure justice in his ethical system, which did not consider such things in this life.

Kant's maxims eliminate any concern for self, happiness, or consequences. One acts only out of duty. It's okay if someone enjoys doing his or her duty, but he or she must do it whether he or she likes it or not. Many people remained on the Titanic, not because it would benefit them or even others, just because it was the right thing to do.

Thinking about utilitarian benefits can sometimes cause a person to do immoral things. If we say that we should act so that the greatest good can come to the greatest number, then it would be moral for someone to kill some rich old miser and distribute his wealth to the greatest number. This wouldn't be moral according to Kant. For Kant, if it is okay for one person to do something, then it has to be okay for everyone to do it. If I came up with a rule for myself saying that I should never talk to anyone until I am spoken to first, I have to imagine what it would be like if everybody did that. Hey, if everybody did that, then nobody would talk. So, I use the same reasoning to determine not to cheat or break promises etc. However, Kant did not consider the reasoning it took to reach these conclusions to be what we think of as reasoning. We are using an uncommon definition of what he calls "intuition".

Kant's moral maxims are on a par with the golden rule. They are universal. He believes in natural rights because he believes we should treat each person as an end in him or her self, but he doesn't do it to be more secure or to avoid harm. He does it for duty, even if it does cause unpleasantness or nasty consequences.

Again, did Kant successfully combine rationalism and empiricism avoiding the pitfalls of each while keeping the assets? Ayn Rand would say that he eliminated the assets and kept the pitfalls. She would say that Kant eliminated "self", "pleasure", and "reason" while leaving faith.

In "For the New Intellectual" Rand describes the two camps as: "those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge of the world by deducing it exclusively from concepts, which come from inside his head and are not derived from the perception of physical facts (the Rationalists)---and those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge from experience, which was held to mean: by direct perception of immediate facts, with no recourse to concepts (the Empiricists)."It was those who abandoned reality, or those who clung to reality by abanding their mind.

"Kant's expressly stated purpose," said Rand, "was to save the morality of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice. He knew that it could not survive without a mystic base---and what it had to be saved from was "reason." Kant did say, in the "Critique of Pure Reason," p.29, that he found it necessary to deny knowledge, inorder to make room for faith. In his ethics, he also found it necessary to deny happiness, in order to make room for duty.

Ayn Rand thinks that Aristotle's law of identity can be applied to reality and offer us real knowledge of the real world. Existence exists, she says, and it implies a corollary of causation. There is an objective reality, she maintains, which is reachable by man's mind if he chooses to use reason. Man is such that reason is necessary for his proper survival, as man, and each individual has a natural right, which is universal, objective, to employ reason in the pursuit of his or her goals. Unfortunately, unlike other living things which have automatic functions, man has a volitional consciousness which can be deceived by influences against reason, like faith and philosophies like that of Kant.

Both Kant and Rand are system-builders. According to the existentialists, starting with Neitzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus; systems are nice to look at but impossible to live in. They crumble when we need them the most. (And, Rand's system seemed to crumble for her when she had a personal crises.)

I think Kant was the much more careful and complete philosopher compared to Rand, but I agree more with Rand. However, I also agree with the existentialists and think there needs to be some combining of Rand's Objectivism with Existentialism. This is what I am trying to accomplish with NickOtani'sNeo-Objectivism.

bis bald,

Nick


( categories: )

Kant v. Rand

Stephen Boydstun's picture

I have finally completed my own study, answering Happiness and Character, beyond the sound answer given by Nick. My results are here: A, B, C, D, E

Kant's, Rand's, and my ethics

NickOtani's picture

What, if anything, do you find incorrect in the perspective that Kant proposes in this passage? What does Rand find objectionable in this approach?

As we know, Kant objects to a strict hedonistically driven ethics. We shouldn’t do things just because they make us happy, satisfy all our inclinations. The practical law which has this as its motive is what he calls pragmatism. Kant thinks the moral law should be concerned with duty, what one ought to do to be worthy of happiness. His ethics is deontological, means based rather than ends based.

Rand agrees that happiness should not be the standard for morality. The standard for morality should be man’s life. However, happiness is a symptom of a successful life. It should be a goal. Duty, to Rand, seems to be something we must do and not something which makes us happy. It is as if we should determine what makes us happy and do the exact opposite. If we enjoy what we do, it ruins the moral worth of our actions. (This is Rand’s interpretation of Kant, and Kant did make this statement.) A softer interpretation of Kant, though, would be that we may or may not enjoy doing our duty, but we have to do it anyway. If we are happy to tell the truth, that’s okay, but we must tell the truth whether we are happy or not. It is our duty. Kant would not lie even to save Anne Frank.

I find this a problem. I’d be a rational egoist, like Rand, and have a situational ethics which is egoistically pragmatic, utilitarian but not greatest good for greatest number.

bis bald,

Nick

Happiness and Character

Stephen Boydstun's picture

“Happiness is the satisfaction of all our inclinations (extensively, in terms of their manifoldness; intensively, in terms of their degree; and also protensively, in terms of their duration). The practical law issuing from the motive of happiness, I call pragmatic (i.e., rule of prudence). But the practical law that has as its motive nothing but the worthiness to be happy—I call moral (moral law). The pragmatic law advises [us] what we must do if we want to partake of happiness; the moral law commands how we ought to behave in order just to become worthy of happiness.” (A806 B834)

Critique of Pure Reason. Werner Pluhar, translator (1997, Hackett).

 

Nick,

What, if anything, do you find incorrect in the perspective that Kant proposes in this passage? What does Rand find objectionable in this approach?

Stephen

Existentialism and Objectivism

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Even Rand contradicts herself on all or nothing

NickOtani's picture

"It is all or nothing. Reality is a world of black and white. Even a little irrationality, a small breach of reason is life-threatening. If you truly understood the philosophy of Objectivism you would know that."

In the “Intellectual Ammunition Department” of The Objectivist Newsletter in July of 1962, Rand said, “There can be no compromise on moral principle.” There is always a good or bad, a black or white, answer to any question. To deny this is true is, in itself, an immoral gesture. However, she violates this principle when she says, “Under a two party system, the voter’s choice is and has to be merely an approximation—a choice of the candidate whom he regards as closer to his own views; often, particularly in recent times, a voter chooses merely the lesser of two evils.”

bis bald,

Nick

Strawmen

Nice strawmen and deflection. I called you out, not any category of people, nor have I called for you to be shot or called you immoral. You are wrong, mortally wrong but this does not effect me in any way other then the pollution you have been spreading on a website that is dear to me.

Wm

Nope

NickOtani's picture

I can understand when there should be no compromise. If someone wanted to cut my arm off, I wouldn't negotiate and allow him or her to cut off a few fingers. There are times when things are all or nothing. However, it is not the case that if some muslims are terrorists all of them are. It is not the case that if some black people rob banks, they all do. It is not the case that if some Japanese people are good in math, all of them are. It is not the case that if some white men can't jump, none of them can. And, it is not the case that if we disagree with some small part of Rand's philosophy we are totally irrational and immoral and must be shot because we are a danger to the lives of Rand's ditto-heads. (Even Rand contradicted herself a few times.)

bis bald,

Nick

It is all or nothing.

It is all or nothing. Reality is a world of black and white. Even a little irrationality, a small breach of reason is life-threatening. If you truly understood the philosophy of Objectivism you would know that.

Wm

I do not reject reason.

NickOtani's picture

I use it as a tool.

You are committing the either/or fallacy. If I don't subjugate myself entirely to logic, as if it is a new God, you think I am rejecting it totally. This is not logical.

I think you are rejecting reason with your assuption that anyone who disagrees with you even a little is totally rejecting reason.

Also, my premises are stated clearly several places around here and in my Alice series, which you refuse to read. No communication is possible with someone who is willfully ignorant.

bis bald,

Nick

Experiment

I think you've done an excellent job of answering most of my questions in this post. I had asked you to state your premises clearly and this post makes it clear that you have none. You will not be pinned down to a metaphysics or an integrated philosophy because you don't think it is possible. For it to be possible you have to use reason, and you have already rejected that. There is no form of argument that can be made, no persuasion that can be had, indeed no communication is possible when someone rejects reason.

Wm

Synthesis

NickOtani's picture

You are seeking a contradiction.

I already found one. I'm seeking a solution, one that combines freedom with fixed natures. You'd know more about this if you'd read what you tell me you won't read.

bis bald,

Nick

Contradiction

You are seeking a contradiction.

Wm

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.