I pushed forward and have finished the Critique of Pure Reason. I won’t attempt to give anything like the close account that I had previously undertook but instead provide my thoughts on the journey so far. From where we left off, Kant goes on to quite lengthily set up his notion of the rules and canon of pure reason. In so doing, as a demonstration and explication all at once, he gives his refutation of various proofs of the existence of God and other metaphysical matters (nature of the soul, etc). In his analysis, each argument at some point relies upon an error in the use of pure reason. Generally, at some point an argument will leap from making use of pure experience to making use only of reason and sending it beyond its range. It will assert something it can in no way prove.
Each man can look at these arguments and decide for himself how he feels concerning them. I agree that when they are made in a vacuum and appeal only to pure reason, they are insufficient. But I do wonder to myself if there was ever a moment in pre-Kantian time when people really found the proofs of the various theologians to be in and of themselves without question and utterly persuasive. Somehow, it seems unlikely. In his book Hegel and Modern Times, Charles Taylor characterizes both the proofs that Hegel employs to give his system foundation and the proofs of Aquinas in arguing the existence of God as descriptions of beliefs rather than persuasive arguments. A good reminder that the purpose of theology is to regulate and describe and instruct in belief and to provide a common way of talking about God, just as much as it may be to rationally prove something. At any rate, whatever power they once had, to the contemporary skeptic these arguments are not enough by themselves to trigger the spontaneous conversion.
I have never heard of an experience with the belief in God that begins or ends with the proofs of reason alone, however. Experientially, such things are the smallest surface sliver of something with incomprehensible depth. Which leads to another fundamental issue at hand when dealing with this book and the idea of belief and knowledge and what those are: what is the nature of language? As was previously mentioned, our vocabularies aren’t exactly geared toward the perceptual (at least not in english) and we have a lot of trouble describing our exact states or delving into them. While reading this text it occured to me that we need probably five or so more words to describe our different kinds of knowledge and ways of knowing. It very quickly turns into a discussion of phenomenology, and Kant was the primary antecedent of just that school as Deleuze pointed out in his lectures. I don’t know enough about linguistics to have anything like a working theory of language that could be employed. I am working with general knowledge and some notions gotten from Derrida. But it is clear to me that our reading and thinking will need to move in that direction in a serious and disciplined way eventually.
Kant realizes that while reason alone isn’t enough to take him there, he still need to get there. And the end of the first Critique function as a sort of teaser for the Critique of Practical Reason. He explains why God, eternal life, and so on are practical postulates that one must affirm which stem ultimately from the moral law within each person which itself is located in one’s reason. It’s an important distinction from basic orthodox theism. For Kant, an action is morally right because of the categorical imperative which is directly a product of a person’s reason. Contrast this with Islam or much of Christian or Jewish theology (so far as I am aware) wherein you’ll find it written that actions are only as right or as wrong as God judges them to be. He is the arbiter and it is God that sent to us the sacred law and its foundation and authority are from God alone. There is no need for any recourse to any idea of human reason.
Placing morality within human reason is, for me, Kant’s biggest error thus far. I understand that it opened up for so many young German thinkers the notion of true freedom. They could then really imagine people with free will and absolute moral responsibility all emanating from their highest of faculties. It was radical and part of the birth of the Romantic movement. Kantian morality didn’t quite take off in the Anglo-American world, but for the Germans it exerted itself for some time. But it is completely counter to the Islamic understanding of morality and and skepticism about reason that roams without guidance. In my experience with the Islamic tradition, reason is seen as much more instrumental rather than the ultimate principle it was to become with Hegel. And even excluding Hegel, there is this sense at various times with various thinkers of the Western tradition that reason had become the golden calf and no one was profiting by it, as no one ever does.
If reason is the source of the ultimate moral law then that law can’t be universal. It will ultimately be whatever that person could will as universal. And though Kant identifies various other principles which would guide that action to an extent, it is not enough. Our personal morality and belief are commitments. Whatever the nature of choice and the will, we certainly have the experience of feeling that we choose and have chosen. We do not construct rational arguments until we find whats true or necessary or even just whats most pragmatic. We see the truth like a flaming tower distantly in front of us and we see the path to it and its narrowness and we see distraction and pleasure call to us from all sides and we make a decision about what we are going to do. Whatever we choose, ratiocination only follows. You either know what ethics you practice and why or you practice an ethics that you are only vaguely aware of and call it your own when in truth you have gotten its pieces here and there. Some of it may be the holdovers of older ideas of morality in current society, some of it may be supposedly righteous modern notions which serve merely as justification for egoism, and some of it may be obsessive responses to anxieties, and so on and so on. This is the way of it. For more, see Chesterston’s essay on the importance being aware of what you believe.
Next to the clear moral psychology of Al-Ghazali, a lot of these notions about the high station of unfettered human reason appear weak and deluded. To many thoughtful religious people the lies and traps of our everyday thinking are but old enemies now well understood. For too many philosophers, they are unable to see past even the clearest of their own self-ruses at times.
Near the end of text Kant spends much ink on elucidating the proper place of Reason and transcendental theology and so on within the great network of the sciences and you can really feel his energy and excitement for Newton and the spirit of the age. I think he could really envision that he was doing a part of that work and that one day there would be this beautiful system of sciences, kept from error by the correct use of reason. If much of today’s physical scientists had any inclination towards be reigned in by any rules regarding pure reason that were laid down by Kant they would certainly only increase in rectitude for it. But as it stands, such a system never came about. Philosophy became a specialist discipline, and quickly entered obscurity. The hard sciences rose to super stardom and detached themselves from the work of any careful censor. Theology is perhaps conversant with but still quite separated from the above fields. Things are more atomised than united and fail to benefit from one another. The scientific understanding that Kant was so intimate with has been shattered and complicated by subsequent paradigm shifts.
Still, Kant looms large over everything that has come after him. The fact that many were left unimpressed with his moral philosophy has little effect on that. The truth is that transcendental idealism is compelling. As of the end of the first Critique, I can say that it has some issues. Beyond the moral theory, which I shall never find correct or good, you get the feeling that everything is set up a little too neatly. The faculties all working with one another to create this world we perceive and everything divided into stuff I can know or experience and stuff that I can’t and by the end of the account you’re left feeling as though the world is robbed of any mystery and that a good deal of the unexpected and unknowable but still quite empirical and real has been elided. It feels very unsatisfying. But what is this?
But the whole analysis of the sublime, and the whole analysis of the symbol and symbolism, the English had analyzed the sublime before him, but the whole novelty of Kant’s analysis is obvious: it will be the Critique of Judgement, in his last book, as if to the extent that he aged, he became aware of the catastrophe. Of the double catastrophe of the crushing of the sublime, the sublime crushes me, and the irruption of the symbol, where our whole ground, the whole ground of our knowledge which we had constructed with syntheses and schemas, starts to shake….
… if we go on to one of Kant’s last works, where Kant goes deeper and deeper, which is to say if we effect a confrontation with the ultimate work, the Critique of Judgement, and if we see its effect on the Critique of Pure Reason, we realise that Kant reveals to us in the Critique of Judgement an amazing double adventure: how synthesis, as act of the imagination, can be overwhelmed by a fundamental experience which is the experience of the sublime; thus that there is an operation of extreme fragility in the synthesis: something which comes from the depths [le fond] puts ???? this operation at risk at each instant, drowning it.
-Deleuze, On Kant
Yes, it is the work that Deleuze calls “very great,” it is Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement. The passages above make it clear to us that there is much more Kant had for us. But that’s not all.
Kant, at the end of his life, compiles a book which will appear after his death. He begins a sketch of something which will be called the Opus Postumum. And the Opus Postumum is very strange because it’s a mix of everything. There are laundry lists, there are little impressions of everyday life, and then there is a wonderful page. In these texts near the end the idea that time is like the form of auto-affection appears more and more. It’s the form under which the subject affects itself. If anything is mysterious, that is. It would be clear for space, but he also says it of time. See how he divides things up: space is the form under which something exterior affects me and time is the form under which I affect myself. It’s even more mysterious than “the time is out of joint”.
-Deleuze, On Kant
I don’t know about you but this all has me feeling very excited. But, we have to read Critique of Practical Reason first. I should have it soon and hopefully will be posting on it within the week. In the interim, I have been reading Holderlin’s Hyperion which surpassed all expectation. If God wills, there will be a post going into that more as well.