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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Friday, October 31, 2014

A REPLY TO TIM


Tim poses two questions raised by my brief post about Kant.  Here they are:

1)      why does human agency entail that I must take de jure possession of some portion of the external world, rather than de facto possession of it?

2) What does this kind of argument establish about the character of the property arrangements supposedly necessitated by the conditions of rational agency? Presumably, Kant is right that rational agency necessarily involves the private consumption/use of some portion of the external world. But isn't that different from it entailing that I should thereby acquire a private property right in the thing - which involves my right to dispose over and exchange the thing as I see fit?

The first question, I am afraid, arises simply because of the brevity with which I summarized my essay.  The full answer, which can be found there, involves Kant’s distinction between what he calls sensible and intelligible possession – what might also be called possession de facto and possession de jure.  Roughly, he thinks that the rational requirement of universality of willing entails that intelligible possession is possible only insofar as I allow to others the equal right to claim intelligible possession of some portion of the material world.  Since reason demands that I adopt as my maxim only that rule that could be a universal law for all rational agents, it follows, he argues, that I must ground my actions on intelligible possession, not mere sensible possession.  The latter is of course possible, but it is not in accord with the dictates of reason.

The second question is very interesting indeed, and raises all manner of issues.  Even though Kant died in 1804, at a time when capitalism had not yet come to the Prussia in which he lived his entire life, Kant’s political theory is an extremely abstract theoretical rationalization of capitalist social relations of production.  Just as he argued in the First Critique that there must be some system of pure mathematics knowable a priori, and simply assumed that that meant Euclidean Geometry, the mathematics with which he was familiar, so when he argued that reason requires some system of property, the only form of that social institution that he could imagine was private property of the robust sort required by capitalism. 

As Tim correctly observes, the necessity under which we stand of appropriating portions of the material world for the pursuit if our ends in turn entails that some legal institution of property is required, if we are to emerge from the pre-contractual strife of “the war of all against all,” in Hobbes’ famous phrase.  But nothing in that general requirement implies that property must be held by individuals, rather than collectives.  And it most certainly does not entail that the means of production on whose employment we all depend for our survival must or even should be privately owned.  A factory owned by the workers who labor in it is a piece of the material world whose specific use by those workers requires that they be in a position to exploit it for their collective purposes and equally exclude others from appropriating it.  It is, in that sense, their property.  But nothing in the general analysis of the concept of property dictates how a piece of property should be owned, or against whom those property rights are correctly asserted.

So all you socialist Kant-lovers out there, be reassured.  You can set The Collected Works of Immanuel Kant next to The Collected Works of Marx and Engels next to one another on your shelves, as they are on mine, without fear of contradiction.

3 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

Are Kant's views on property considered as or used as a critique of Locke's?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I am not aware that they are, but I really am not up on that literature.

Tim said...

I appreciate you taking the time to reply, thanks!