Was Kant an Enlightenment liberal?

kant-silhouetteA discussion question, after a series of linked-to posts on Immanuel Kant:

On women — e.g., “woman betrays her secrets even though she is unable to keep those of others (owing to her love of gossip). Man is fond of domestic peace and submits easily to its governance so as to be unmolested in his business. Woman has no dislike for domestic war for which she is armed with her tongue …”

On Jews — e.g., the Jews are “sharp dealers” who are “bound together by superstition.” Their “immoral and vile” behavior in commerce shows that they “do not aspire to civic virtue,” for “the spirit of usury holds sway amongst them.” They are “a nation of swindlers” who benefit only “from deceiving their host’s culture.”

On war (and more fully here) — e.g., “At the stage of culture at which the human race still stands, war is an indispensable means for bringing it to a still higher stage.”

On race — e.g., “The mingling of stocks (due to great conquests), little by little erodes the character and it is not good for the human race.”

On education (and here) — e.g., “Above all things, obedience is an essential feature in the character of a child, especially of a school boy or girl.”

On reason (and more fully here [pdf]; HTML excerpt here) — e.g., “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.”kant-portrait

The question is:

Should Kant really be categorized as an Enlightenment liberal, as many standard historical accounts do?

Thoughts?

25 thoughts on “Was Kant an Enlightenment liberal?

  • March 9, 2014 at 11:59 pm
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    …and Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al implemented.

  • March 10, 2014 at 12:02 am
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    “Those who write clearly have readers, those who write obscurely have commentators.”
    – Albert Camus

  • March 10, 2014 at 9:40 am
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    The quote from Camus is apt. I recall being impressed with his succinct prose, which I read in French.

    As for Kant, we have to see him in perspective, that of his background and how his theses would have been received by a Prussian university. German is exact, one cannot misstate a thing, but its structure is ponderous, and can become cloudy. The worst example is that of Hegel, who seems more poetic than profound. Whereas Kant expounds a vast territory of metaphysic, Hegel floods a swamp. His own thesis versus antithesis seems (to me) admissive that he can’t write clearly.

    My take is that talking metaphysics is more uplifting and instructive than political philosophy, which tends to make predictions or evaluate events. I don’t think Kant intended to destroy human reason, but more or less, asked thinkers to “check their premises”, often in so complex a manner as to defy simple logic. He did claim to have solved all metaphysical issues at the end of one of his critiques. Perhaps he intended to take the superficial appeal of Berkely or Hume and use it to tweak other ratiocinative creatures. His categorical imperative in ethics is little more than the Golden Rule.

    Prof Hicks does marvelous well in his history of the Enlightenment and alleges that Kant makes the breach between faith and reason. But Kant, nor any philosopher, has the last word. How many brilliant men have proven little more than mouthpieces of their times? Whom would one choose as the Enlightenment thinker most exemplary? Isn’t the Enlightenment a transition between medieval spirituality and scientific modernity? Medieval thinkers made philosophy the handmaid of theology, and during the Enlightenment, in many respects, aren’t they all playing musical chairs? Faith no more negates reason than reason negates faith — unless we assume faith always to be blind, a crutch for the ignorant. One might argue that a thinker has faith in reason, only to be cornered in a series of definitions and proofs which serve the interest of the rationalist, the political radical, the philosopher-poetaster or the smart aleck.

    LaRochefaucault : “Arguments would not last so long, were the truth on one side only.”

  • March 11, 2014 at 3:51 pm
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    Though all may play a role in discovery scientists make careful distinction between intuition, conjecture, hypothesis, theory and knowledge. A claim to knowledge is based on rational criteria of proof. It is not a claim to omniscience or infallibility. This is substantially different from one who proclaims, “Muh Lord Jay-sus, ah buh-leeeeeeeeeeeve!!!!”

  • March 11, 2014 at 3:53 pm
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    Faith has often negated reason, e.g. Galileo and Bruno.

  • March 11, 2014 at 6:36 pm
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    I disagree with the examples you give. They are almost clumsy in their imbalance. Faith is “the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld” in Scripture, its only purposeful definition. Other definitions do not include the aspect of Hope. We may all pluck out of history Jimmy Swaggart stories or Inquisition horrors, all associated with “faith” but truly, with wicked perps of many stripes. What is Science to you? I would call Aristotle the founder of the scientific method, and that it almost always involves the repeating of an experiment. Omniscience has nothing to do with “science” [pun avoided]. Do you accept Social Science, Political Science, Psyhology, Industrial Science…even Biology as a science? (It is more a study, using scientific tools) Evolution as a “scientific” idea? (Original to Democritus, also ‘discovered’ by Wallace) It can hardly be repeated and depends for credibility on its huge scientific cloak. It is another religion, as in Richard Dawkins, “Darwinian Atheism.” In my book, science must be physics or chemistry, astrophysics — subject to mathematics and its governance. Science deals only with external reality, time, space, matter and energy. But kindly note, most scientists today pose as general gurus, as in cosmologists who assert that, for example, in string theory, there are eleven dimensions and many other universes. Science does not deal with morality, love, truth, values, or, hopefully, metaphysics.

    Some folks think it do!

  • March 11, 2014 at 11:36 pm
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    Jared Diamond in ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ says, “Science is often misrepresented as ‘the body of knowledge acquired by performing replicated controlled experiments in the laboratory.’ Actually, science is something much broader: the acquisition of reliable knowledge about the world.” To that end appropriate epistemological approaches must be developed.

  • March 12, 2014 at 12:20 am
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    To speak of faith as a synonym for hope, confidence, trust and dedication of spirit is one thing. But to predicate one’s life on a revelation given another is quite another.

    Let me to belabor the issue: Reason and reality are universal referents available to all to the extent of their interest and learning. Faith, based on revelation, is by definition esoteric. Direct access to the source of the doctrine is given only to one, or, at best, a few. Hence, as Thomas Paine noted, a revelation is a revelation to its direct recipient only: To all others it is hearsay.

    “What is asserted without proof,” said Christopher Hitchens, “can be dismissed without proof.” This is the inherent weakness of all faith based polities and the root of their ferocity. The first question necessarily faced by their promoters is: what is to be done about those unable or unwilling to make the leap? The answer history has resoundingly provided is: they will be dealt with by force. As Mrs. O’Connor noted, of necessity, in spite of all their protestations of love and brotherhood, the final argument of every faith based polity is, and must be: violence. As fragile ideological houses of cards they require extreme political and psychological repression to maintain. (Conversely this is why reason has also been the greatest liberator of the heart i.e. of feeling and spontaneity). When one can’t defend one’s doctrines by logic and evidence one must serve up threats and brutality in their stead e.g. lurid depictions of perdition and the Inquisition, perhaps their severity inversely proportional to their lack of proof.

    Empirical knowledge is apodictic in being based on rigorous method and utilizing every relevant fact. But the process is not infallible, nor does it claim to be. The scientist says in effect: with the evidence available to me and to the best of my thinking I have ascertained this to be true; if new evidence comes to light that challenges my position or an error in my logic or other methodology is pointed out, I will revise it accordingly. Though all may play a role in discovery scientists make careful distinction between intuition, conjecture, hypothesis, theory and knowledge. A claim to knowledge is based on rational criteria of proof, not a claim to omniscience or infallibility.

    This is what many modern philosophers brand dogmatic and “intransigent” and many religious commentators brand an alternate faith. But a scientist does not uphold belief to be uncritically accepted on pain of torture and death (when political circumstances allow). Rather he lays out his evidence and arguments before others for objective review, where they are free to accept or dismiss his conclusions. Looking at modern philosophy I can hardly fault scientists like Stephen Hawking for thinking the enterprise of science would be best jettisoning it. But unfortunately science is not a substitute for philosophy.

    We must remember that on achieving political power men of faith have always burned books written by men of reason, but one never hears men of reason burning books written by men of faith. And while fundamentalists accuse scientists of promoting a faith of their own one never hears scientists’ retort that fundamentalists are actually rational.

  • March 12, 2014 at 7:03 am
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    1. You have expanded science to suit your purposes. There is a “scientific method” in biology, or sociology, but they are not true sciences. Even theoretical physics, such as Hawking’s black holes, are so fraught with arguments they can’t be said to be utterly sound, like most astrophysics, or the “Big Bang” which is theoretical, but accepted as gospel.

    2. I have edited your text with comments. You seem to ignore Christopher Hitchens’ unfailing Trotskyite sympathies. He IS a brilliant entertainer and political gadfly, who, thank Goodness, tore apart Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Mother Theresa and — oops! — Ayn Rand.

    To speak of faith as a synonym for hope, confidence, trust and dedication of spirit is one thing. But to predicate one’s life on a revelation given another is quite another.
    [This jump in logic is unjustified. However, the “revelation given another” may be understood by all]
    Let me to belabor the issue: Reason and reality are universal referents available to all to the extent of their interest and learning. Faith, based on revelation, is by definition esoteric.
    [Not if it can be understood by most people]
    Direct access to the source of the doctrine is given only to one, or, at best, a few. Hence, as Thomas Paine noted, a revelation is a revelation to its direct recipient only: To all others it is hearsay.
    [It is not hearsay, when revealed to the one person?]
    “What is asserted without proof,” said Christopher Hitchens, “can be dismissed without proof.”
    [Examine this witticism, it is specious in its logic]
    This is the inherent weakness of all faith based polities and the root of their ferocity.
    [We agree that no one can be forced to accept another’s viewpoint, but nothing wrong with fervent belief]
    The first question necessarily faced by their promoters is: what is to be done about those unable or unwilling to make the leap?
    [Didn’t Lenin write a book ,”What Is To Be Done”?]
    The answer history has resoundingly provided is: they will be dealt with by force. When one can’t defend one’s doctrines by logic and evidence one must serve up threats and brutality in their stead e.g. lurid depictions of perdition and the Inquisition, perhaps their severity inversely proportional to their lack of proof.
    [Your example is selective]

    We must remember that on achieving political power men of faith have always burned books written by men of reason, but one never hears men of reason burning books written by men of faith. And while fundamentalists accuse scientists of promoting a faith of their own one never hears scientists’ retort that fundamentalists are actually rational.

    [Power corrupts all, the French Revolution prided itself on rationality and slaughtered thousands ; same with Marxism, Fascism. Wouldn’t you rather have lived in Calvin’s Geneva (assuming you could pass muster as a “Chrisitan”?) Solomon : “Man has dominated man to his injury”]

    Pax vobiscum!

  • March 14, 2014 at 5:14 pm
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    Mr. Dahl, a few remarks…

    True science doesn’t consist solely of knowledge, but includes less certain gropings e.g. hypothesis, theory, statistical projections – which are acknowledged for what they are. Anyone who treats the Big Bang theory as gospel is not being scientific.

    I’m fully aware of Hitch’s imperfections.

    That a revelation may be understood by all doesn’t preclude the possibility of its error. It is by definition esoteric in that its proofs are not objectively and independently verifiable.

    Mr. Dahl, should you persist in nay-saying me I shall be forced frown frightfully.

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