Immanuel Kant Verified Account
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The Starry Heavens and the Moral Law

In what may be his single most famous passage, the first sentence of which was even inscribed on his tombstone, Immanuel Kant concluded his Critique of Practical Reason (1788) thus:

Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. The first starts at the place that I occupy in the external world of the senses, and extends the connection in which I stand into the limitless magnitude of worlds upon worlds, systems upon systems, as well as into the boundless times of their periodic motion, their beginning and continuation. The second begins with my invisible self, my personality, and displays to me a world that has true infinity, but which can only be detected through the understanding, and with which...I know myself to be in not, as in the first case, merely contingent, but universal and necessary connection. The first perspective of a countless multitude of worlds as it were annihilates my importance as an animal creature, which must give the matter out of which it has grown back to the planet (a mere speck in the cosmos) after it has been (one knows not how) furnished with life-force for a short time. The second, on the contrary, infinitely elevates my worth, as an intelligence, through my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the entire world of the senses, at least so far as may be judged from the purposive determination of my existence through this law, which is not limited to the conditions and boundaries of this life but reaches into the infinite.

Paul Guyer

1.52M GSRs

Newton As Philosopher

What does it mean to treat Newton as a philosopher? We cannot identify any overarching philosophical position with Newton, as we identify dualism with Descartes, monism with Spinoza, or even classical empiricism with Locke. Newton never wrote a systematic philosophical treatise of the order of the Meditations, the Ethics, or the Essay. This was a significant choice, for he was perfectly familiar with such treatises, having already analyzed some in his youth. Even in his voluminous correspondence, and in his most important unpublished manuscripts, we do not find a systematic engagement with metaphysical issues akin to Descartes’s. Newton positioned himself as a strong critic of Cartesianism, but his response to Descartes is significant as much for its lacunae as for its central claims. Thus these canonical philosophical figures, with their canonical texts, cannot serve as a model here.

To treat Newton as a philosopher might simply be to avoid an anachronistic characterization of his intellectual milieu. As scholars of the early modern period regularly note, the intellectual categories and disciplines of Newton’s day – which ranges, roughly, from 1660 until 1730 – differ radically from our own. What we would consider to be separate fields of study – for instance, aspects of what we categorize as philosophy, especially metaphysics and epistemology, the physical sciences, and even theology – were interwoven into one overarching field called natural philosophy.

Hence to treat Newton as a philosopher in a historically accurate way might be to treat him as a natural philosopher, rather than more narrowly as a scientist, physicist, or mathematician. Since Newton’s magnum opus is called The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, there is little doubt that this attitude reflects his own self-conception. tle doubt that this attitude reflects his own self-conception.

Yet this is only the beginning of the story. Newton certainly conceived of himself as a natural philosopher, among other things, but a brief glance at his Principia – including its full title – reveals the fundamental importance of the fact that his principles are“mathematical.” Newton titled his work to establish a replacement for Descartes’s Principles of Philosophy, first published in Amsterdam in 1644, a text that Newton read carefully and kept in his personal library. The differences between the two works are stark: whereas Descartes’s text is familiar to historians of modern philosophy, with its focus on broadly conceived epistemic and metaphysical issues, Newton’s text is a highly technical mathematical work that apparently ignores such issues altogether. Whereas Descartes’s Principia attempts to account for an immense range of phenomena – tackling everything from global skepticism about human knowledge to God’s immutability to the nature of heat, light, weight, and so on – Newton’s text focuses specifically on the mathematical analysis of motion and the forces that cause it. The audiences of the two works differed accordingly: Descartes was comprehensible to anyone with a decent education in the codified Aristotelian corpus, or late Scholastic natural philosophy. In contrast, Newton’s Principia was comprehensible only to the most sophisticated mathematicians. Descartes thought that metaphysics and physics could follow the same humanistic methods, but for Newton physics was essentially mathematical. Although both works belong to the seventeenth-century canon in natural philosophy, then, they represent two fundamentally distinct traditions.

Newton eschews many of the issues that Cartesians placed at the center of natural philosophy, but not all of them. There is a danger of his overwhelming influence on physics in the eighteenth century blinding us to his own conception of how a mathematical investigation of natural phenomena might intersect with broader metaphysical concerns, such as God’s relation to the physical world. Of course, one of the primary aspects of the Principia’s intellectual impact in the eighteenth century was the separation it effected between technical physics on the one hand, and philosophy on the other. In the hands of figures like Laplace and Lagrange, Newton’s work led to the progressive development of Newtonian mechanics, and its practitioners embraced a conception of their discipline in which philosophical matters played little role. Yet these facts obscure Newton’s own conception of his work. As he said repeatedly throughout his career, investigating the first cause is a proper part of natural philosophy.

Thus the key to treating Newton as a philosopher lies in discovering how the mathematical treatment of force and motion forms part of the same enterprise as an investigation of seemingly separate metaphysical issues, such as God’s relation to the world.

Yet even this characterization remains too narrow: Newton tackled numerous “metaphysical” topics separate from an analysis of the divine being. He did so, perhaps, as a matter of necessity. The astonishing success of Newtonian mechanics in the eighteenth century – a fact confronted by most of the major philosophers of that period – should not mislead us into thinking that Newton’s work was immediately accepted by those in a position to assess it. On the contrary, the theory of gravity in the Principia, which first appeared in 1687, was not merely challenged on narrow mathematical or empirical grounds, but fundamentally rejected for its violation of the norms established by adherents of the mechanical philosophy, such as Leibniz and Huygens. Thus in his correspondence after 1687, in the queries to the Opticks, and especially in the second edition of the Principia (1713), Newton was forced to defend his mathematical treatment of force and motion on fundamental metaphysical grounds. These elements of Newton’s work are crucial to the account in this book.

Andrew Janiak
6.58M GSRs

Philosophy, Religion and Spirituality

1. The role of philosophy

Philosophy has long been a contested subject, and there have been, and still are, many different and often conflicting conceptions of its proper scope and aims. But if we go back to how its founding father, Socrates, conceived of the philosophical enterprise, we find one element which has continued to be central to much if not all subsequent philosophizing, that of critical scrutiny or examination (in Greek exetasis), encapsulated in Socrates’ famous pronouncement at his trial, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. For Socrates, such ‘examination’ meant, in the first place, a careful scrutiny of the meaning of our concepts: What do we really mean by justice, or piety, or courage? Can we define these notions?; Do we really understand the criteria for their use? … and so on. And of course this basic feature of philosophizing remains central today. Philosophers continue to be preoccupied with language, and with the correct analysis of concepts, both in general use and in the specialised disciplines; indeed, for a fair time during the latter part of the twentieth century, it was held that the analysis of language was the only proper object of philosophy.

Yet alongside what may be called this technical or professional concern with meaning and language, philosophers have very often also had a commitment to ‘examination’ in a deeper sense: they have felt a powerful drive to stand back from our day-to-day preoccupations and concerns and to inquire into the overall direction and purpose of our lives, and the significance of our human existence. This deeper project of examination also has its roots in Socrates, who was patently committed, like many of his successors in the Classical and Hellenistic philosophical worlds, to the search for a life of integrity and virtue. The wording of Socrates’ famous pronouncement at his trial should remind us that philosophical ‘examination’, for Socrates, involved not just a series of abstract conceptual puzzles but a critical scrutiny of the entire character of one’s life (bios). What is more, as is made clear in the Apology, Socrates’ philosophical vocation was linked with an unwavering allegiance to the dictates of his conscience, the ‘god’, as he put it, whose inner voice demanded his obedience. Socrates reproaches his Athenian accusers for being very concerned with things like wealth and reputation, but not having the faintest concern for the improvement of the most precious part of themselves – their souls. And he goes on to explain that the very activity for which he was famous – engaging his interlocutors in philosophical dialogue – was explicitly designed to ‘induce young and old to make their first and chief concern not for their bodies or their possessions, but for the highest welfare of their souls.’

This last aspiration evidently takes us beyond the narrow confines of philosophy construed as a specialised academic discipline and moves us out into the general territory of ‘spirituality and the good life’ which is the subject of the present volume. In thinking about spirituality in this paper, I shall aim to follow the Socratic model in both the ways indicated above. I shall begin at the linguistic or conceptual level, by looking critically at what is meant by the terms ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’, particularly as they figure in our contemporary culture. I shall then move on to ask about the deeper significance for human life of that cluster of experiences and practices that are commonly grouped under the heading of the spiritual. By the end of the paper I shall hope to have thrown some light on the relationship between ‘spiritual’ concerns of the kind that Socrates emphasises, to do with the conduct of life and the ‘care of the self’ (or ‘care of the soul’), and on the other hand the spiritual concerns that have typically been important to religious believers of the traditional theistic sort. Can one be spiritual without being religious? How far do the two domains overlap? And can there be a valid form of spirituality adapted to the secularist temper of our times? Can one preserve what is important about the Socratic ideal of care of the soul, while subtracting the traditional theistic framework for understanding the spiritual domain which became entrenched in Western thought with the rise of Christianity?

2. What do we mean by ‘spiritual’?

Let us, then, start our ‘examination’ at the linguistic level. A brief perusal of the relevant entry in the Oxford English Dictionary reveals that the term ‘spiritual’ has a wide variety of meanings and uses. In one of the senses listed there, it has a distinctly dualistic flavour, meaning ‘of the nature of a spirit … incorporeal, immaterial’; and under this heading are cited Milton’s lines, ‘millions of spiritual Creatures walk the Earth/ Unseen …’ These immaterialist connotations, present in the root noun ‘spirit’, are particularly prominent in the use of the cognate term ‘spiritualism’, which covers activities once popular in the early twentieth century, but now largely discredited, such as attending séances and attempting to communicate with the ghosts of the departed. But in contemporary usage, the terms ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ are, or can be, entirely free from such ‘spooky’ connotations. The slogan ‘I'm spiritual but I’m not religious’ has become a cliché of our time, and those who employ it normally intend to dissociate themselves from any belief in supernatural entities (as well as from institutionalized religion, which they take to be committed to such entities, or to be objectionable for other reasons).

John Cottingham
96.3M GSRs

Mochlos; or, The Conflict of the Faculties

If we could say we (but have I not already said it?), we might perhaps ask ourselves: where are we? And who are we in the university where apparently we are? What do we represent? Whom do we represent? Are we responsible? For what and to whom? If there is a university responsibility, it at least begins with the moment when a need to hear these questions, to take them upon oneself and respond, is imposed. This imperative for responding is the initial form and minimal requirement of responsibility. One can always not respond and refuse the summons, the call to responsibility. One can even do so without necessarily keeping silent. But the structure of this appeal to responsibility is such — so anterior to any possible response, so independent, so dissymetrical in its coming from the other within us — that even a nonresponse is charged a priori with responsibility. And so I proceed: what represents university responsibility? This question presumes that one understands the meaning of ‘university,’ ‘responsibility’— at least if these two concepts are still separable. The university, what an idea! It is a relatively recent idea. We have yet to escape it, and it is already being reduced to its own archive, to the archive of its archives, without our having quite understood what had happened with it. Almost two centuries ago Kant was responding, and was responding in terms of responsibility. The university, what an idea, I was just wondering. This is not a bad idea, says Kant, opening The Conflict of the Faculties (Der Streit der Fakultäten, 1798). And, with his well-known humor, abridging a more laborious and tortuous story, he pretends to treat this idea as a find, as a happy solution that would have passed through the head of a very imaginative person, as the invention, in sum, of a fairly rational device that some ingenious operator would have sent to the state for a patent. And, in the West, the state would have adopted the concept of this very ingenious machine. And the machine would have marched along. Not without conflict, not without contradiction but, perhaps, simply, due to the conflict and the rhythm of its contradictions. Here is the opening of this short work that I wanted to invite to our commemoration, with that sense of vague disquiet that arises when, responding to the honor of an invitation from friends, one brings along, as an afterthought, some parasite with a weak command of table manners. But for this symposium, finally, it is not Socrates, it is Kant, and he says:

It was not a bad idea [kein übeler Einfall], whoever first conceived and proposed a public means for treating the sum of knowledge (and properly the heads who devote themselves to it [eigentlich die derselben gewidmeten Köpfe]), in a quasi industrial manner [gleichsam fabrikenmässig], with a division of labor [durch Vertheilung der Arbeiten] where, for so many fields as there may be of knowledge, so many public teachers [öffentliche Lehrer] would be allotted, professors being as trustees [als Depositeure], forming together a kind of common scientific entity [eine Art von gelehrtem gemeinen Wesen], called a university (or high school [hohe Schule]), and having autonomy (for only scholars [Gelehrte] can pass judgment on scholars as such); and, thanks to its faculties (various small societies where university teachers are ranged, in keeping with the variety of the main branches of knowledge), the university would be authorized [berechtigt: Kant is being precise, the university receives its legitimate authorization from a power which is not its own] to admit, on the one hand, studentapprentices from the lower schools aspiring to its level, and to grant, on the other hand — after prior examination, and on its own authority [aus eigner Macht, from its own power] — to teachers who are ‘free’ (not drawn from the members themselves) and called ‘Doctors,’ a universally recognized rank (conferring upon them a degree) — in short, creating [creiren] them.

Kant underlines the word ‘creating’: a university is thus authorized to have the autonomous power of creating titles. The style of this declaration is not merely one of a certain fiction of origin: the happy idea of the university, one fine day, at some date, passing through someone’s head, with something like the fictive possibility of an anniversary — this is what Kant seems to be evoking here. Indeed, further on in his text, after dropping the rhetoric of an introduction, it is his first move to set aside the hypothesis of a somewhat random find, of an empirical, even an imaginative, origin to the university. Certain artificial institutions, he goes on to say, have as their foundation an idea of reason. And the university is an ‘artificial’ (künstliche) institution of this kind. Kant begins by recalling this fact for those who would like to forget it, believing in the naturalness of the place and the habitat. The very idea of government is founded on reason, and nothing in this respect depends on chance. Says he,

For this reason it must be said that the organizing of a university, with respect to its classes and faculties, was not just a matter of chance, but that the government, without showing any special wisdom or precocious knowledge for doing so, was, from a particular need that it felt (for influencing the people through various teachings), able to fasten a priori upon a principle of division that harmonizes happily [glücklich] with the principle currently in force.

Jacques Derrida (Translated by Richard Rand and Amy Wygant)
4.18K GSRs

Treatise of Human Nature

All the perceptions of the human mind fall into two distinct kinds, which I shall call ‘impressions’ and ‘ideas’. These differ in the degrees of force and liveliness with which they strike upon the mind and make their way into our thought or consciousness. The perceptions that enter with most force and violence we may name ‘impressions’; and under this name I bring all our sensations, passions, and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul [= ‘mind’; no religious implications]. By ‘ideas’ I mean the faint images of the others in thinking and reasoning: for example, all the perceptions aroused by your reading this book—apart from perceptions arising from sight and touch, and apart from the immediate pleasure or uneasiness your reading may cause in you. I don’t think I need to say much to explain this distinction: everyone will readily perceive for himself the difference between feeling (·impressions·) and thinking (·ideas·). The usual degrees ·of intensity· of these are easily distinguished, though there may be particular instances where they come close to one another. Thus, in sleep, in a fever, in madness, or in any very violent emotions of soul, our ideas may become like our impressions; as on the other hand it sometimes happens that our impressions are so faint and low that we can’t distinguish them from our ideas. But although ideas and impressions are fairly similar in a few cases, they are in general so very different that no-one can hesitate to classify them as different and to give to each a special name to mark the difference.

Another division of our perceptions should be noted; this one cuts across the line between impressions and ideas. It is the division into simple and complex. Simple perceptions— that is, simple impressions and ideas—are ones that don’t allow any distinction or separation ·among their parts·. Complex perceptions, on the contrary, can be distinguished into parts. Though a particular colour, taste, and smell, are qualities all united together in this apple, it’s easy to perceive that they aren’t the same as one another and can least be distinguished from each other—·and so one’s total perception of the apple is complex·.

Having through these divisions ordered and arranged our subject-matter (·perceptions·), we can now set ourselves to consider more accurately their qualities and relations. The first fact that springs to my attention is that our impressions greatly resemble our ideas in every respect except their degree of force and liveliness. Perceptions of one kind seem to be, in a way, reflections of perceptions of the other kind; so that all the perceptions of the mind do double duty, appearing both as impressions and as ideas. When I shut my eyes and think of my study, the ideas I form are exact representations of the impressions I felt ·when I was in my study·; every detail in one is to be found in the other. And I find the same resemblance and representation when I survey my other perceptions: ideas and impressions seem always to correspond to each other. This remarkable fact holds my attention for a moment.

Surveying the field more accurately, I find I have been swept along by how things first appeared to me, and that I must—with help from the simple/complex distinction—limit this general thesis that all our ideas and impressions are resembling. I observe that many of our complex ideas never had impressions that corresponded to them: I can imagine a city such as the New Jerusalem, with golden pavements and ruby walls, though I never saw such a thing. And I observe that many of our complex impressions are never exactly copied by ideas: I have seen Paris, but I can’t form an idea of that city that perfectly represents all its streets and houses in all their detail.

So I perceive that although there is in general a great resemblance between our complex impressions and ideas, it is not true across the board that they are exact copies of each other. Now let us consider how the case stands with our simple perceptions. After the most accurate examination I am capable of, I venture to say that here the rule holds without exception: that every simple idea has a simple impression that resembles it, and every simple impression has a corresponding idea. The idea of red that we form in the dark differs only in degree ·of intensity·, not in nature, from the impression ·of red· that strikes our eyes in sunshine. You can satisfy yourself that I am right about this by going over as many of your simple impressions and ideas as you like; it’s impossible to prove my point by going over all of them! But if anyone should deny this universal resemblance ·between simple impressions and simple ideas·, I don’t know how to convince him except by asking him to show •a simple impression that doesn’t have a corresponding idea, or •a simple idea that has no corresponding impression. If he doesn’t answer this challenge—and it’s certain that he can’t—then his silence and our own observation will suffice to establish our conclusion.

Thus we find that all simple ideas and impressions resemble each other; and as the complex are formed from simple ones we can say generally that these two sorts of perception exactly correspond. Having uncovered this relation, which requires no further examination, I am curious to find some of the other qualities ·of impressions and ideas·. Let us consider what brings them into existence: as between impressions and ideas, which are causes and which are effects?

David Hume
24.6M GSRs