Kant & Hegel


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Kant & Hegel

  1. 1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is widely acknowledged by philosophers of all persuasions to have been one of the greatest thinkers of all time. He is also notorious for being one of the most difficult to understand. The complexity of his prose, however, is due not to any willful obscurantism. In reading Kant, one is aware of a thinker struggling to clothe in language ideas of the very highest level of complexity and profundity.
  2. 2. Born in 1724, Kant lived his entire life in the East Prussian town of Königsberg. He never married, though was a popular man who by all accounts led a life of the utmost order and regularity... so regular in his habits that locals used to set their watches by him on his daily walk
  3. 3. Kant said we constitute the world of our experience through basic, universal categories of the understanding . Synthesis: the act of putting different representations together, and of grasping what is manifold in them in one act of knowledge. • Considered pure if the manifold is not empirical. • Synthesis is what first gives rise to knowledge, i.e. it is not analysis. • It is an act of the imagination. Pure synthesis gives us pure concepts of the understanding. “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe... the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
  4. 4. Kant's Categorical Imperative "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." That is, each individual agent regards itself as determining, by its decision to act in a certain way, that everyone (including itself) will always act according to the same general rule in the future. This expression of the moral law, Kant maintained, provides a concrete, practical method for evaluating particular human actions of several distinct varieties.
  5. 5. He believed in something that seems like moral absolutism - his famous Categorical Imperative - but this tiny little man with a large head was anti-Puritan, kept a good (all-male) table, preferring to find his female companionship in the local "Puff" or brothel, the upper storey of a Koenigsberg boarding house. He lived as regular as clockwork until senile dementia took over. He died when he accidentally ignited his nightcap with a candle, a gruesome fact that led Elias Canetti very nearly to entitle his fictional masterpiece as Kant faengt Feuer - Kant catches fire. -“A Tribute to Kant” by A.N. Wilson Sapere Aude! "Have the courage to use your own reason!" -“What is Enlightenment?” (1784)
  6. 6. "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." "Sapere aude!" (Use your own reason.) Do you follow either or both of these Kantian injunctions? Do you sometimes find yourself saying "just this once..." and hoping that no harm will be done if you make an exception of yourself and act in ways that you hope no one else will act, with respect to some moral rule you profess such as honesty? Or, do you ever say: I'll just go along with what my friends or family say, and not question it? What would you say to Kant, if he scolded you for such behavior?
  7. 7. G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831). Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel viewed freedom as self-consciousness in a rationally organized community... he offered wide-ranging ideas about freedom, historical progress, the instability of self- consciousness and its dependence on recognition by others. Subject matter of ph’y: reality as a whole (The Absolute). Dialectic (thesis, anti-th., synthesis). Historical progress, ever-higher synthesis toward knowledge of Absolute spirit, mind (“geist”)... Hegel is a favorite target, on account of his convuluted style and conceptual obscurity, of American philosophers in particular – James made fun of him by writing while under the influence of nitrous oxide and calling the results (“his nonsense is pure onsense” etc.) “Hegelian.” But another American philosopher, Dewey, was deeply influenced by Hegel’s organic/biological metaphors (in contrast to the physical/mathematical emphasis of the rationalists). Knowledge and consciousness grow, on Hegel’s view, through conflict and opposition. Given the excesses of conflict in human history, this approach promises to redeem much that would otherwise seem irrational and hopelessly depressing in human affairs. That must be the meaning of Hegel’s motto that “the real is the rational, & the rational is the real.” Whatever happens, in other words, may contribute to our eventual progress... not because it conforms to a pre-established plan in the mind of god, but because out of every conflict (thesis- antithesis) comes a forward-moving synthesis, and so on and on and on.
  8. 8. John Dewey was also impressed by the strong social emphasis in Hegel. “...selfhood develops not through introspection but through mutual recognition... individuality appears only within an interpresonal context.” We all crave “mutual recognition,” and membership in “something much greater than ourselves.” That’s the role of spirit or Geist, a “cosmic soul that encompasses all of us and all of nature.” Hegel Society of America
  9. 9. English writer Michael Prowse confesses that he had gotten Hegel wrong, and had overlooked this “communitarian” sensibility at the heart of Hegel’s dense forest of jargon. “Hegel didn’t regard Geist as something that stands apart from, or above, human individuals. He saw it rather as the forms of thought that are realised in human minds... What Hegel does better than most philosophers is explain how individuals are linked together and why it is important to commit oneself to the pursuit of the general or common good” and not just one’s private interest and happiness. ( “My new friend Hegel,” Prospect 8.03).
  10. 10. The later Hegel (in saying that “the Owl of Minerva flies only at twilight”) implied that philosophic understanding comes only when historical events have already transpired... Should philosophers aspire to change the world, or just summarize and comment on it?
  11. 11. We all crave mutual recognition, and membership in something much greater than ourselves.” That's the role in Hegel's philosophy of spirit or Geist, a cosmic soul that encompasses all of us and all of nature. Are there other ways, religious or secular, of attaching yourself to something greater? Is it a reasonable goal to try and become so distinctive a personality that you don't feel any need to find something greater to belong to? Or is that selfish in a bad way?
  12. 12. Schopenhauer responds to Hegel, Mill, and Kierkegaard Hegel's State is a crock; especially considering he believed the State he lived in to be the ideal one and that has since fallen. Mill's utilitarianism is philosophically sound, but ultimately fruitless since there is little, if any, happiness to be found in this life. Kierkegaard's all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God is laughable; just look out the window at all the misery that abounds and tell me where all the beauty and happiness that should be there is. Life is suffering, and then you die.