Thursday, 25 November 2010

Second Day of Protests Against UK Education Cuts

There was a general day of action responding to the UK government's proposals to cut the teaching grant for most academic subjects and charge the full cost of delivery of these entirely to students yesterday. In addition, the government has proposed ending the Education Maintenance Allowance, a small sum of money that is paid to students who are studying for qualifications that are necessary to enter university. The day of action led to demonstrations across the country from London and Manchester to Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and Lancaster to such unusual hot-beds of activism as Bury! 

In addition to this a number of universities are currently undergoing occupations. The usual demands include a statement from the vice-chancellors of their opposition to the government proposals and an opening of the books of the institutions, two very good demands. One of the latest to go into occupation is Roehampton University though it is has to be said that the situation is currently very mutable with occupations spreading by the day and it being virtually impossible to entirely keep up with the news. In the demonstration in London 10,000 people took part which, on a day when activities were happening across the rest of the country, is no mean number and led the police to adopt "kettling" techniques which mean enforced ways of "containing" protestors by not allowing them to leave narrowly defined areas, often for hours at a time. This practice was condemned just last year by one of the parties now in government as a gross infringement of human rights. 

In other news another blog recording news and views against the government approach has emerged: it is called Storm Breaking Upon the University and is worth following.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Report on UEA Kant Workshop on Analogical Reasoning

I've recently returned from this workshop that was run on 20th November at the University of East Anglia and that was organised by Angela Breitenbach. The focus of the workshop was analogical reasoning and reflective judgment. Breitenbach gave the opening paper which broached the old topic of Kant and the "as if". In this paper Brietenbach looked at the different uses of "analogy" in Kant's work, contrasting the way he speaks about it in the Lectures on Logic with how it is discussed in the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Judgment. In the first of these, according to Breitenbach, analogy is discussed as a "heuristic" or regulative guide for empirical enquiry, something quite different from the account of analogy in the Analogies of Experience. Both are also distinct from the notion of analogy used when Kant discusses the "symbol" in the Critique of Judgment.

The Lectures on Logic relate analogy to induction and present both as always revisable, associated with a regulative account of the unity of nature and as having purely subjective validity. In using analogy we say something about how we look at an object, not something about the object itself. By contrast, the Analogies of Experience of the Critique of Pure Reason belong to the systematic account of experience. Breitenbach referred here though to the intriguing question of why Kant refers to these analogies as, in one sense, "regulative" and, in another sense, "constitutive". Two kinds of relation are compared by Kant when he introduces these "analogies", one from mathematics in which if three relations are given the fourth can also be given, which means "constructed". By contrast, philosophy deals with qualitative relations in which if three relations are given only the relation to a fourth can be given, not the fourth member itself. Due to this difference the Analogies of Experience are "constitutive" of experience as such but not, Breitenbach suggested, of individual perceptions. This account leads Breitenbach towards a "weak" reading of the analogies suggesting that they contain no reference to causal laws. Empirical concepts of laws are taken, following the work of Gerd Buchdahl, to be analogous of the transcendental sense of laws.

Symbolic presentation, by contrast to the previous two forms of analogy, is one in which something is given that can only be presented indirectly. Breitenbach concluded by suggesting that the distinction between reflective and determinant judgment did not map on to that between regulative and constitutive as there are senses in which a reflecting judgment can be "constitutive" of the intuitive grasp of something.

A surprising and welcome aspect of this workshop was that each paper was followed by a structured response in the form of a "comment" by another speaker and Breitenbach's paper was responded to Fiona Roxburgh, a doctoral student at UEA. Roxburgh's comment focused on the relationship of Kant's use of analogy to the philosophy of science and she suggested that analogies are means by which the Regulative Idea of unity can both be applied and rendered comprehensible for us in the first place. The general conception Roxburgh presented was that the regulative idea of unity is the boundary notion of a unified or fully complete science.

John Callanan gave the next paper which focused on the view that transcendental idealism is best seen as a form of "meta-philosophy". The key to this paper's contribution to the workshop was the view that thinking is best viewed as analogous to cognising in a Kantian sense. Callanan is interested in the question of what is involved in providing a philosophical account of anything and suggests that this concern is central to the Critique of Pure Reason. Callanan discussed Henry Allison's contrast between theocentric and anthropocentric standpoints which connected the first to transcendental realism and the second to transcendental idealism. On Allison's view ontological interpretations of transcendental idealism have to involve a distinction between levels of reality and this distinction must lead to seeing phenomenal reality as not "really" real.

The notion of "objective" is viewed by Callanan as reached by starting from some judgments (such as those given in mathematics) and then moving to the conditions of them. Callanan regards Kant's Copernican Revolution as consisting in an inquiry into what makes some judgments "cognition-apt" as we inquire what it is for something to be cognition apt prior to investigating what kinds of things there are. On this view we can have no account of what really is that does not also tell us what the essence of things is so the collapse of the distinction between metaphysics and ontology is cardinal for transcendental idealism. The ways we have of presenting things-in-themselves is through symbolic constructions and talk of these "things-in-themselves" should only be seen as symbolic.

The "comment" on Callanan's paper was provided by John Collins. Collins argued that philosophy and the sciences should be seen as continuous. On Collins' view noumenal thinking is neither contradictory nor dialectical so long as we take it to be indeterminate. Since thought is not answerable to noumena there is no sense in which transcendental idealism is less than true. Collins pointed out that on Callanan's view transcendental philosophy becomes analogical thinking but that there is a problem with this which is that the type of analogy involved in thinking transcendental idealism would need to be distinguished from the type of analogy involved in thinking things-in-themselves.

The next paper was given by Ido Geiger who focused on reflective judgment and the problem of empirical knowledge. Geiger opened by pointing out that there are two distinct problems identified in the introduction to the Critique of Judgment, the problem of relating theoretical and practical reason (a "unity of reason" problem) and the separate problem of describing the transcendental conditions of our particular empirical experience of the world and knowledge of its laws. The second problem was the focus of Geiger's attention who also pointed out that a better title for the Third Critique would have been the "critique of reflective judgment". 

The second problem on which Geiger focused can be captured by saying that laws, for Kant, have to include necessity but that what is strictly "empirical" is not necessary so there seems a problem with describing empirical laws as "laws". Further we have no "experience" of the necessity of empirical laws. In response it was the burden of Geiger's argument to suggest that the assumptions of the aesthetic and the conceptual purposiveness of nature are jointly transcendental conditions of empirical experience and knowledge. This depends on the general view that the purposiveness of nature gives necessity to empirical laws.

Geiger briefly spoke about the specific principle of the logical or conceptual purposiveness of nature arguing that the point of the critique of teleological judgment was to argue that for discursive intellects teleological judgment is a necessary transcendental condition of any empirical experience and knowledge. However this did lead him to claim that the universality of empirical concepts and the necessity we attribute to empirical laws are, in an important sense, "assumptions". The origin of these "assumptions" was argued to rest on a "general" regulative idea that nature is made to be known by discursive intellects.

Geiger spent much more time on the principle of the aesthetic purposiveness of nature than he had on the logical or conceptual purposiveness of nature. Again, the aesthetic purposiveness of nature was presented by him as a transcendental condition of experience. Aesthetic judgments were taken to express a feeling of harmony or "fit" between understanding and imagination despite the fact that no concept is applied to a manifold in these judgments as they present no cognition of objects but, suggested Geiger, they do present conditions of cognition.

The fundamental problem Geiger tackled was that whilst aesthetic judgments are non-conceptual that experience and knowledge are conceptual for Kant. This creates the problem of how aesthetic judgments can, as Geiger had suggested, be part of the conditions of empirical experience when they don't seem to fit Kant's general conditions of such experience? In reply to this question Geiger pointed to Kant's statement in the "First Introduction" to the Critique of Judgment that the principle of reflection on "given objects of nature" is that for all things in nature "empirically determinate concepts" are available (Ak. 20: 211-212). This was taken by Geiger to entail that we sort nature into like objects and natural kinds according to their spatial form alone (hence in an aesthetic way).

Geiger subsequently argued that the "Appendix" to the Transcendental Dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason importantly pre-figured the argument of the critique of teleological judgment. In the former Kant argued for an analogue of the schema that is given to intuition by means of reference to the maximum of division and unification of the understanding's cognition in one principle. By this reference Kant suggested that the idea of reason is an analogue of the schema of sensibility although the latter is only a rule of principle of the systematic unity of use of the understanding (A664-5/B692-3). The difference between this argument and that presented in the third Critique is that the latter work argues that the aesthetic purposiveness of nature supplies the sensible or aesthetic aspect that was missing from the notion of the analogue of a schema of sensibility. 

It follows from Geiger's reading that some philosophically interesting elements of the Critique of Judgment are not of high systematic importance with the accounts of the organism, art and the sublime being less important than is often suggested when seen from the standpoint of Kant's system. However Geiger argued that his reading enables us to view the third Critique as a single coherent work and that this should be the desideratum of any reading of the work. (For a similar conception, if argued rather differently, I could also refer here to my own first book, Kant and the Ends of Aesthetics.)

Sacha Golob presented the "comment" on Geiger's paper and stated that the key questions to ask where what did this paper "add" to our understanding and what was the status of what was being added? On Golob's view reflective judgment is an abstractive process, a conception he took from the Lectures on Logic to which Breitenbach had earlier referred. Golob presented a series of questions and problems for Geiger's view. Firstly, Golob asked why Geiger's solution was better than the view that what produced unity in space and time was nothing other than the schema of pure understanding? Golob also questioned whether the texts Geiger had cited were sufficient to reach the conclusion suggested.

Golob's second alternative to Geiger's view concerned the status of the necessity of empirical laws, suggesting, in contradistinction to Breitenbach as well as Geiger, that the status of the Second Analogy could be seen as relatively "strong" and justifying the principle of "same effect, same cause" (SCSE). Even on this reading you could still say that particular laws needed more determinate filling out and for this reflective judgment was required but this would be a more moderate use of reflective judgment. Golob also argued that Geiger's reference to "natural kinds" was far from equivalent to a notion of "basic" judgments as natural kinds are a pretty theoretical notion. Further, the notion of pre-conceptual "grouping" seems strange since the activity of grouping appears to involve consciousness. 

Another alternative to Geiger's view is presented, according to Golob by Beatrice Longuenesse's notion that there is a schema that is understood in such a way that there are no experiences available to us that do not involve concepts. Finally Golob also pointed to the fact that Geiger's notion of pre-discursive synthesis was indeterminate with regard to the models available for such a notion, models that range from Husserl's conception of passive synthesis to Hanna's idea of bodily synthesis and that articulating some notion of this level of synthesis should involve continuity between human and animal experience.

The last of the papers given was by Alix Cohen who spoke about Kant's view of moral feelings, a view that she mentioned, citing my book on practical philosophy, as a "well- kept secret amongst Kantian scholars". One of the reasons Kant's account of such feelings is such a "well-kept secret" is, she stated, due to the continuing lack of attention given by writers on Kant to the Metaphysics of Morals and, in particular, to the Doctrine of Virtue. A second reason why there might well be continuing reluctance to engage with the area could also be that Kant seems to use the term "feeling" in this area in more than one sense.

Cohen started by saying that the current consensus view is that feelings can't play a motivational role in actions done for the sake of duty as otherwise we will be led to a conception that is heteronomous. This leads to a problem, however, which is that Kant refers very specifically to the "feeling" of respect for the moral law and we need some account of what role this feeling plays in his view. Cohen argued that the feeling of respect is functionally equivalent to feelings of pleasure and pain and that it is a feeling as it is connected to the faculty of desire, is a subjective ground of activity and it produces an interest.

However this "feeling" of respect is a peculiar kind of feeling as it is rational, being produced solely by reason, being cognised a priori and giving rise to an intellectual pleasure. So the status of respect needs some work and Cohen provided a typology of the treatments of this feeling in contemporary readings of Kant, suggesting there are currently four models of how to view it. On the first model, which she associated with Andrews Reath, the agent's reason is viewed in terms of the law, as is their motivation, and the connection between respect and the law is simply that there is a phenomenological effect of the law in terms of respect. The second model, taken from Karl Ameriks, sees reason and motivation in the same way as Reath, but views the connection between respect and the law in terms of an affective accompaniment.

The problem with both these first two views is that respect has no proper function in them. By contrast, on the view of Thomas McCarthy, law and respect are operative in the agent's reason and respect in his motivation with the connection being that respect provides affective motivation for the law. Finally, a further view would take law to be operative in the agent's reason, law and respect in their motivation and the connection to be one in terms of the effective force of the law. These second two accounts provide a function for respect and explain how it is possible to be moved to act for the sake for the duty.

However, whilst the second two accounts appear better than the first, the problem with them, according to Cohen, is that motivation implies a kind of Humean picture as it gives a theoretical account of what it is to be practical. We should give, she stated, not an explanation of respect, but a transcendental argument concerning its role. By contrast to these accounts Cohen used the Doctrine of Virtue to suggest that what the notion of respect helps us to see are the conditions of receptivity to duty on us. In the Doctrine of Virtue respect, moral feeling and conscience are all discussed in terms of natural predispositions "for being affected" or being put under obligation. 

The more restricted sense of "moral feeling" that Kant discusses as a specific type of "feeling" in the generic sense is listed alongside conscience as a "subjective condition of receptiveness" to duty as they provide us with a practical interest in the law. The problem that might be thought to relate to this view is that, in stressing this idea of receptivity, it could subtract from our essentially autonomous and spontaneous relationship to morality. However, Cohen stressed, that instead this account preserved this notion of autonomy and made us aware of our awe of the moral law. On her view the agent's reason is governed by the law but we do not attempt to fill in their motivation and the connection between respect and the law is explained by stating that respect is the effect of the law on our sensibility and the cause of our awareness of the law. 

Cohen argued that the point of moral feelings was to make us aware of certain "objects" we ought to treat as persons from the practical standpoint rather than merely explain or experience as things from a theoretical standpoint. Practical spontaneity is enabled, on her account, by the transcendental conditions of an aesthetic of morals.

Sasha Mudd provided the "comment" on Cohen's paper and opened by asking the question whether the feelings all work together or are some feelings constitutively prior to others. She also asked how the feelings come together with the categorical imperative in synthesis (if that is how we are to take the analogy). Suggesting that the feelings make a moral demand on us could easily lead us back to heteronomy she cautioned. Mudd also had a problem with seeing what could be gained by thinking of persons as "objects" since Kant refers to ends that are constructed as "objects" and does not refer to persons in this way. The claim of the primacy of practical reason also puts pressure on the view that there is a cognitive role for feeling in practical reason.

The conference also included much lively discussion and marked an occasion when a set of topics that are routinely marginalised in Kantian study came out forcefully. It was a great occasion and produced, as I hope this report has shown, much food for thought!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Maimon and Sensible Objects

In my last posting on Maimon I looked at the ways in which his view of quality marked an important departure from the argument of the Anticipations of Perception in the Critique of Pure Reason. Now, staying within the second chapter of the Essay, I want to look next at how Maimon begins there to present a distinct account of sensible objects.

Maimon starts by comparing the sensation of two colours and asks how the difference between them (one red and one green) is to be treated. Maimon thus assumes that identity and difference (concepts of reflection for Kant) are pure concepts of understanding. There are reasons for thinking that Kant himself has to accept this as I set out in the fourth chapter of my book Kant's Transcendental Imagination but it is not Kant's "official" position. But clearly the difference between the sensible qualities can't have emerged from the qualities themselves so must be grounded on something else. Rather than mentioning here that Kant has the concepts of reflection Maimon refers instead to an explanation based on the a priori forms of space as the Kantian account. This is then contrasted with Maimon's own appeal to the differentials.

The contrast between appealing to differentials on the one hand and a priori forms of space on the other is only the first stage in Maimon's account. It is followed up by another direct reference to the Anticipations of Perception when Maimon declares that the understanding can only think of "objects" as flowing. This is a peculiar statement since when Kant describes "flowing magnitudes" in the Anticipations it is clear he is speaking of sensations and has not yet arrived at a concept of the "object" in any full-fledged sense. However Maimon defends this view of the understanding's grasp of objects by reference to what Kant has stated concerning the operation of a rule by the understanding.

The understanding produces unity in the manifold states Maimon, summarizing Kant. This is then interpreted as follows: "it can only think an object by specifying the way it arises or the rule by which it arises". Given this view the understanding cannot take the object as having arisen but only as arising. However, if we take the former part of the conjunctive claim here, we can state that the understanding shows the manner of possibility of the combination that produces the object and in that way specifies what it is to say that there are objects. The condition of possibility is grasped (which is the process by which arising can take place) and having been grasped the conceptual operation can place itself at the conclusion of the process (thereby showing an object given as such). Maimon cannot see it this way as he identifies the rule of arising of the object with the differentials that underlie the objects and so, given the manner he has of expressing the distinction between objects through differentials it is a result of his view (and not of Kant's) that the understanding cannot give a concept of an object as other than something arising.

Maimon next regresses to the genesis of the process by which an object is given on his differential view. There is an intuition and a rule which determines it and this latter is not itself given as something flowing but as given "all at once". Although the rule is given this way, the intuition is not so given as it rather flows. An example follows that helps to make clearer why Maimon presents it like this. The example concerns the triangle. In general if two sides of a triangle are given we get the instantaneous rule concerning the third part and how it has to be given. However, this is a process in general and if we are  relating to a particular determinate triangle the relations and proportions are not determinately given by the generic rule. The determination can clearly be distinct in different triangles. So the particular construction, whilst it follows a general rule, is itself flowing which seems to mean its execution is not determinately something that can be stated by expression of the universal rule.

The problem having been stated by means of the understanding is next set out from the side of the intuition. Intuitively we have been given a magnitude which conforms to rules but the manifold of intuition itself is not something that comprehends rules. So intuitively we have given something that is, not something that is becoming. Another way of putting this point is to say that intuitively the synthesis of apprehension (A99) is quite sufficient: this gives us a line or point. However, to comprehend the line we have to have more than this, we need to be able to show the manner of construction and this dependence on showing the manner limits understanding to the standpoint of becoming. So, in intuition we have being without an account of becoming but in understanding we have an account of becoming that explains being but never arrives at a stable comprehension of being. I'll follow up further aspects of this argument of Chapter 2 in future postings.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Resources For Campaigners Against the Education Cuts

Some further sites have come to my attention in relation to campaigning against the general attempts to cut higher education and the humanities in particular. Although it seems rather centred on London the Education Activist Network gives lists of activities and events. Humanities Matter have launched a national petition against cuts in the humanities. Finally, students at Sussex University are the latest to have occupied buildings of their campus in protest against the government's proposals. It is being widely reported that a national day of action is planned for 24th November. 

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Defend Arts and Humanities

In the wake of the demonstration in the UK this week it is encouraging to note that people are beginning to link up arguments being carried on in different places around the same kind of end. In this light the news of struggles being carried over at a new blog devoted to defence of the arts and humanities is one good sign.

Similarly, a recent report in the Guardian shows that the struggle around the defence of the universities in the wake of austerity cuts is winning support amongst general trades unions and this indicates more ways in which the struggle is spreading and being generalised. This is the time to intensify struggle on these questions as this is the only way to reverse the decisions of governments and university heads.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Protest and Survive

Yesterday there was a solid demonstration in London against the approach of the UK government towards higher education. As discussed previously the general approach involves abandonment of direct government responsibility for funding of higher education by abolishing the teaching grant to the vast majority of subject areas saving only a select few so-called "priority" areas. Over 50,000 people gathered yesterday to protest and the day climaxed in the take-over of Millbank, the building in which the Conservative Party is housed. The general passion of the crowds gathered was very impressive, the turn-out was twice what the National Union of Students had predicted and the atmosphere was one in which the sell-out of the Liberal Democrats was particularly high-lighted by protestors. The day was generally successful in showing the beginning of a mobilised resistance against the government plans and NUS plans to specifically target Liberal Democrat MPs given that they are currently intending to break an election pledge.

It has to be said that all this is deeply encouraging, showing, as it does, that many people are passionate about education and angry with the government. Protesting the proposed policies is essential to maintaining an education system worthy the name in which education is understood as a public good and not merely a private "investment". It is now essential to maintain the pressure as is being done by these students at Manchester University.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Maimon and Kant on Quality

Salomon MaimonImage via Wikipedia
It's been sometime now since I discussed Salomon Maimon, whose Essay on Transcendental Philosophy I promised to go through and, indeed, I did discuss some topics from Chapter 1. In this posting I want to start addressing Chapter 2 though the difficulty of doing so ensures this cannot be done in one posting.

Maimon somewhat provocatively opens this second chapter by distinguishing quality from quantity, thus expressing a methodological view that counters that at work in Kant's Critique. In the Critique Kant schematizes the category of quality in the Anticipations of Perception and the effect of this treatment is that we arrive at the notion of intensive quantity. Whilst intensive quantity is something different from "extensive" quantity and involves a surprising departure from the structures of space and time as it is revealed here that specific intensive quantities can be apprehended "in an instant" (though to relate specific ones to each other we require continuity) there is still the clear result here that schematizing quality has led to its representation as a form of quantity.

So when Maimon opens the chapter by considering quality in itself or "abstracted from all quantity" he is aiming directly at a different mode of viewing quality than is given in the Critique. Further, in a note on the first page, Maimon also describes "magnitude" qualitatively. This representation of quality is done by imagining colour as a physical point or, as Maimon also expresses it, as "the differential of an extension". Sensible differentials are distinguished from what is given to consciousness and Maimon here provides us with a genetic story concerning how it is that we move from these differentials to consciousness. The story is presented in the following passage:

Just as, for example, with an accelerated movement, the preceding velocity does not disappear, but ever joins itself on to the following ones, so that an ever increasing velocity arises, so equally the first sensible representation does not disappear, but ever joins itself on to the following ones, until the degree necessary for consciousness is reached. This does not take place by means of the comparison of these sensible representations (because the imagination does not compare) nor by insight into their identity (as occurs later by means of the understanding when it has already achieved consciousness of different objects), but takes place merely in accordance with the universal Newtonian law of nature, namely that no action can be eliminated of itself without an action being opposed to it (that is, we are not conscious of any comparison in us, although it must proceed obscurely because comparison is a condition of unity in the manifold, or of a synthesis in general, by means of which an intuition first becomes possible).
In this quote Maimon makes a number of fascinating points. Firstly, the comparison of the genesis of consciousness to the nature of accelerated movement, a comparison whose pointed character becomes even more manifest when the process of generation is said to take place in accord with the "universal Newtonian law of nature". Secondly, the process of this connection in terms of how the differentials are continuously related to each other, a process that enables the accumulation of connections to relate to the process of increases of velocity. Thirdly, the way in which the continuous unconscious comparison is assumed to be underway. The connection of this picture to the way in which Deleuze reads Leibniz has been commented on elsewhere.

The next stage of the genesis is indicated to include the intervention of the understanding and reference to the categories so the opening stages of Maimon's genetic account are to be understood as preceding the action of understanding and to thus show quite a bit of activity (albeit receptive activity) prior to the operation of understanding. Maimon presents the differentials as noumena by contrast to the "objects" of awareness which are phenomena. This sense of noumena is one that suggests a response to the "problem of affection" often broached concerning the reference to affection at the very beginning of the Transcendental Aesthetic. What is affecting prior to the sense of objects? Maimon has an answer in the shape of the differentials. The differential is equal to zero (as Kant indicated in the Critique that intensive magnitudes had a limit point in zero) as we are not conscious of it by its very nature. However, despite this, there are relations between differentials.

When Maimon explicates the role of the differentials in his account he first refers to them as "ideas of reason" though he later distinguishes them from what Kant refers to under this name and prefers instead the notion of "ideas of understanding". The pure concept of the difference between two colours expresses the relation between the differentials that makes possible the conscious presentation of each of the colours and hence the ability to distinguish and identify (cardinal for experience in general) is taken to reside in an appreciation that is first given to receptivity prior to active spontaneous understanding. In this way Maimon follows Leibniz in articulating a sense of innate ideas and, like Leibniz, views these ideas as functional unconscious capacities that make conscious representation possible.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Humanity, Rationality and Value

In my last posting I discussed the Kantian conception of respect for persons. Some time ago I also replied to some understandings of the formula of humanity that lead to that formula being viewed in such a way that one either produces consequentialism or a view that, whilst acknowledging the "absolute" status of humanity still effectively treats humanity as similar in kind to all other ends. In this posting I want to bring together the account of respect with the sense of the formula of humanity that treats the latter not as stating a "value" but as being part of the Kantian conception of rationality.

In order to get at the argument I want to arrive at I am going to contrast it with a pattern exemplified in a statement from Christine Korsgaard. Korsgaard writes in The Sources of Normativity: "Since you cannot act without reasons and your humanity is the source of your reasons, you must value your humanity if you are to act at all". Here Korsgaard brings together the sense of action with humanity by the connecting notion of reasons and then stresses the view that if there is a source of reason then it is right to "value" that source in order to act. The argument is presented by Korsgaard as a "transcendental" one.

The notion that humanity is a "value" requires commitment to a certain conception of humanity in which it represents some kind of self-standing source of normativity even though Korsgaard wishes to stress that what makes it so is its reflective capacity. So, in a sense, this conception of value is one in which the ability to be able to look at our capacity to reflect (hence a self-reflexivity) is the source of value as such. Implicit in this conception is, I think, a view somewhat like that stressed on occasion by Onora O'Neill who sees reason as the ultimate "value" of Kantian philosophy.

Now, if reason and humanity are connected in the sense that the basis of humanity is the ability to be self-reflective and this ability is treated as a "value" then an important question emerges about how this "value" is related to the process of formal universalisation at work in Kantian ethics? If you take the view of Wood then the lack of apparent connection between the process of formal universalisation and the "value" of humanity points to the need for adoption of the "value" at the expense of the process of formal universality. One of the problems with resolving the unearthed conflict in this way is that if we drop the process of formal universality we are moved to a conception of moral philosophy that seems far from Kantian. Further, if the adoption of a value is the key to moral thinking, then, it would seem, this value is simply set in competition with others that other thinkers happen to hold and there is no evident way of deciding the argument between them.

Rather than follow the thought-pattern underlying the citation from Korsgaard I want to propose a different way of relating humanity to rationality, a way that does not presuppose some conception of "value" that is left unarticulated (and, in any case, is not clearly connected to the process of formal universality). Kant's general argument for respect for persons, expressed in my previous posting, distinguishes humanity from "price" indicating that humanity has "dignity" but no "price". This distinction between "dignity" and "price" is based on a sense that humanity is not commensurable with other things. This lack of commensurability is what leads Korsgaard and others to treat it is a "value" though thinking in terms of "value" in fact presents a sense of commensurability (since values can be "maximised" for example). 

The sense of humanity as that which has no "price" is related to the notion looked at in the last posting that there are ends that are not "goals" to be realized. Looking back to the justifications Kant gives of the categorical imperative on the one hand, and the formula of humanity on the other, in the Groundwork helps here. The categorical imperative itself (given in the formula of universal law) is arrived at by contrast with hypothetical imperatives as the latter presuppose certain ends that are already assumed to have value. In contrast, the categorical imperative assumes no pre-given value or any specific end other than what can be prescribed by the law itself.

By contrast to the justification of the categorical imperative the argument in favour of the formula of humanity is grounded on a specific notion of universalisation where what is taken is what is "necessarily an end for everyone" (Ak. 4: 428). This end is the sense of rational nature but it was through the process of rationality that we arrived at the categorical imperative in the first place. Hence there can be no "value" in the formula of humanity that was not present in the categorical imperative. Respect, the notion that was highlighted in the last posting, attaches to humanity since it is in the persons of humanity that we see the law exemplified. Persons are what give examples of morality and in giving respect to persons we acknowledge the law they exemplify so such "respect" is part of the process of formal universality and should not be set against it or assumed to involve a "value" that is distinct from it.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Reflections on Respect for Persons

The Kantian notion of respect for persons is related to the presentation of the formula of humanity although the notions are presented in distinct works. The Groundwork discussion of the formula of humanity brings out a number of distinct features concerning what our attention should be concerned with when we are dealing with humans (who stand in for rational beings generally and hence persons). The point of the formula of humanity is to identify persons as being distinct from anything that can simply be used as a means. It is not that persons are incapable of being morally related to as means. It is rather that any such moral relation to persons has to incorporate the sense that they are also ends in themselves.

One of the key elements of relating to persons as such ends in themselves is the sense in which it requires an alteration of what is involved in the notion of "end". It is natural for contemporary philosophers to use the term "end" as something to be realized or achieved. So we think of an "end" in this respect in the sense in which Kant formulates hypothetical imperatives. But such a sense of "end" is far from being the only one with which we standardly work. It is also the case that we have a sense of "end" that looks not towards an achievement that is aimed at but simply at respecting something that is given. This is not an arbitrary construct of Kantian theory but something that everyday moral concern already recognises.

To take a standard example from the notion that is said to belong to the ethics of care: what is involved in caring for another? To care for someone involves treating them in such a way that their welfare is of direct concern to us. This does not mean that there is an end that we wish to bring about here. There are cases that seem to involve such an end, as, for example, when the caring relation of nursing might be thought to aim at helping someone become well. However, nursing often is not engaged with that but rather with helping someone come to terms with the kind of illness they have. In this latter case the "end" is not some kind of state (since this requires dealing with the illness in a long term way, i.e. in living differently) as rather an alteration of focus.

In taking persons seriously we have to act in such a way that they are realities to us. It is easy not to view them as realities but as part of projects of our own. That second way of relating to them replicates the sense that they are "ends" only as means of ours. And this helps us to see that the Kantian sense of ends in themselves is part of ordinary moral concern since to only treat persons as ends of our own is to act towards them in such a way that there are no human relationships as such but only instrumentalities of engagement.

When Kant discusses the example of promising in the Groundwork the nature of acting towards persons as ends in themselves becomes clearer as here we see that the action of maintaining a promise is not primarily something to be undertaken due to hypothetical questions of the lack of confidence that might ensue if promises were routinely broken. It is rather that the engagement with another that is a promise is one in which reciprocity is affirmed as the basis of action. Such reciprocal concern as is involved in maintaining a promise to another is acting with the other in view (as if their consent to one's action or the possibility of such consent mattered to one).

When Kant discusses respect in the Critique of Practical Reason he does so with the aim of showing that respect for the other person is the most direct way of showing respect for the moral law. There are obscurities to this connection that I will leave to a future posting. For now what I want to emphasize about this connection is that the other person's conduct shows the law in action for me as well as the other person being the one for whom I act when I act morally. It is, as it were, the other within to whom I am indebted. The other within is the one that calls me to morality and the transcendence of mere self-valuation. It is difficult not to see the other as the moral law commands in a sense. This is the sense in which, if the other is real, then my conduct is necessarily such as is mirrored in their response and in their acts towards me. Respect is discussed by Kant as a tribute paid to merit and the merit of the other is that they show to me what it is to be moral but they not only do this in the case of examples as he stresses but also in being such as transcends instrumental relation. This is the sense in which the experience of the other is moral experience as such, something that perhaps suggests a closer connection between Kant and Levinas than some have tended to grant.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Sellars and Kant on Intuition (V)

It's been a little while since I blogged on this topic: the last posting concerning it looked at the fourth section of the first chapter of Sellars' book Science and Metaphysics. That section uncovered the way in which Sellars' realist conception was distinct from that of contemporary physicalists and opened the way for delimitation of more characteristics of sense impressions. In this posting I want to look at the fifth section of the first chapter in which Sellars does not specifically refer to Kant.

This section opens with Sellars pointing out that, on the view set out in the fourth section, we can begin to understand the general temptation that exists to assimilate sense impressions to minimal conceptual representations due to the fact that the sense impression of something does not possess the typical qualities of that thing any more than a conceptual representation does. Having opened with this point Sellars rapidly proceeds to a distinct second one. This concerns the fact that "sense impressions" have only an analogical relationship to perceptible attributes of physical objects. 

This point about the analogical relationship of the impression to the perceptible attribute is discussed in terms of the point that to speak of the impression "of" a red rectangle when the impression itself is neither red nor rectangular involves using the terms "red" and "rectangle" in an odd way. Sellars terms this use "adjectival". The point that he wishes to get at with this apparently purely verbal reference is that the general acceptance of the notion of "sense impressions" is as part of a causal story and in this causal story the sensory impression is taken to be a non-conceptual state which has a red and rectangular physical object as its standard cause. Sellars objects to this rendering of the sense of the "sense impression" as this requires it to be understood as a definite description through causal connections rather than as an analogical use of predicates and leads in the direction, once again, of "crude" (as Sellars now terms it) physicalism.

The third point that Sellars makes builds on this second one. Now Sellars points out that the causal story is also one that incorporates a kind of typical reference (what kind of cause could be expected) but that this is also odd in the case under consideration. After all, if the suggestion is that the sense impression of the red rectangle is, typically, produced by a physical surface that is red and rectangular then we reduce the description of the impression to a discussion of what it is that has produced it and, further, do so in a way that assumes that a certain feature of the physical surface can be basically identified with the sense impression (an odd assumption in many respects).

Sellars' fourth point is that when we say we have a conception "of" a red rectangle we are not making the same kind of reference to "physical object predicates" as we are when we speak about the sense impression "of" a red rectangle. This is followed by the fifth point that the temptation we are under when we conflate sense impressions with minimal conceptual episodes (something Sellars has consistently argued against in this chapter) is one relating to the impressions as if they were conceptual items of our "inner speech".

The final point of the fifth section concerns the fact that what is in common between "impression of" and "conception of" is that both are logically intensional as neither can lead to a direct inference that there are any objects of the sort "referred to" around. This intensional equivalence does not lead to an intentional connection as only the conception has intentionality. (This last point leads already to considerations that Sellars will take further in the second chapter of Science and Metaphysics.)