Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Sunday, August 24, 2014

BRIEF REPLY TO COMMENTS

1. JR, I would be very interested in taking a look at those papers.  Are they accessible on-line, at least for reading if not downloading?  I have access to journals on-line through Duke.

2.  Timothy, first help me out.  What is the "metaphysical argument for induction" that is now thought to be successful?  I am a little bit clueless.  My account of Kant's reply to Hume is in Kant's Theory of Mental Activity.  Indeed, most of the book is devoted to explicating that reply.  Once I know what I am talking about, I will craft a response.

As for how Kant can handle the first problem, my complete account is in The Autonomy of Reason:  A Commentary to the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals [don't you hate it when people keep referring you to their own books?  Like they think nothing else exists in the world!]

The brief story is this:  Kant is a strict determinist of the old school.  As Laplace famously wrote, "We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes."

Which means that it is for Kant [and for Laplace] impossible for the noumenal self to step into the flow of events and by an act of free will re-direct that flow, choosing, let us say, not to kill someone even though the forces of nature have determined from time immemorial that [the phenomenal appearance of] that noumenal self will commit murder. 

However, according to Kant in the First Critique, the mind is "the lawgiver to nature." The causal laws that it finds in nature it has, through its own synthesizing activity, placed there.   And time itself is merely one of the two forms in which things appear to us sensibly, not a characteristic of things in themselves.

Which means [this is the strictly consistent but incredible part] that the noumenal self can, when it synthesizes the entire world order, choose to synthesize it in such a manner that it [or its appearance in the realm of phenomena] obeys the Moral Law rather than violates it.

Which perhaps helps to explain why Kant is so much more interested in universal moral principles whose bindingness on us is knowable a priori and not so interested in individual in situ moral choices [although of course, since he wrote about everything, he wrote about that too.]

3 comments:

Timothy said...

When Kant was writing they would not have used these terms, but now there's a distinction between the "epistemological" problem of induction, which is how you structure inductive inferences if you're going to do them, and the "metaphysical" problem of induction which is how you can say you know any induction could possibly work, even to provide probabilistic knowledge - since, as Hume points out, using its past success as a justification would be circular. Both are present in Hume's "Treatise on Human Nature" (though he didn't draw the distinction explicitly - nor did he use the term induction, for that matter).

Regarding Kant, I've had classroom exposure only to his ethical works, so I'm just a novice here and I certainly don't mind your name-dropping your books! After I've worked through my current backlog I'll pick it up since your discussion is by far the most accessible I've seen. But it's unclear to me how confining Newtonian physics to the phenomena could help to justify induction - even if the noumena is timeless, there would still be the issue of induction within the phenomena*. How could there be an assurance the construction of the phenomena wouldn't radically change to subvert our inferences concerning what the phenomena "look like"? And it seems it's contingent on accepting Kant's theory of mind, no?

Your argument on ethics is very creative. One question. Since I have no memory of my noumenal self synthesizing the phenomenal world, what is the connection between the phenomenal self and the noumenal "self"? Did Kant discuss this matter? The noumenal self seems almost like another person.

*(And I take it, that's the origin of the word "phenomenological." Who'da thunk it was from there?)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Oh lord, Timothy, all of those are very good questions, to which I have devoted books! At the moment, I am crafting a reply to Andrew Blais' questions. Let me deal with those and then I will -- briefly -- indicate the shape of the answers to your questions. The entire core argument of the CRITIQUE is an extended and very deep reply the question in your middle paragraph. The issue you raise of the relation of the noumenal to the phenomenal self is the subject of an enormous literature, some of which I have written. To anticipate briefly, that is not a subject on which Kant gave [in my opinion] satisfactory answers.

By the way, the deep problems involved there help to explain why Hegel went the route of distinguishing the individual self from the world soul. But that really is another matter entirely.

Timothy said...

While I look forward to your posts, don't feel any obligation to break your back. I should've realized that with Kant, no answer could be short - and I do plan on buying at least your "Mental Activity" book. (Thank you once again!)