The philosophy of Kant Pt.2

Kant’s philosophy of mind is situated in-between that of Newton and Leibniz. Newton believed that space and time are absolute and objective, separate from our mind and wholly deterministic. This determinist outlook did not appeal to Kant, since with this view Kant believed he could not argue in favour of freedom, morality, or God. At the opposite end is Leibniz, who believed that everything has a soul with a ‘set of God-given perceptions’. The universe is essentially many enclosed and isolated souls. Kant sat between these two viewpoints, and argued that time and space are wholes composed of parts, and that time and space are faculties inside our minds, like containers, and are empty, needing to be filled with sensory experience. To have any experience, time and space must exist.

As seen before in part 1, Kant was heavily influenced by Aristotle, and took from him the concept of the nature of humans as well as Aristotelian logic. Kant, like Aristotle, held that humans are by nature rational. The faculties of sensibility (responsible for ‘intuitions’) and understanding (responsible for ‘concepts’) work together to create reality. Kant relies on truth being stable, and creates categories, or pure concepts, which correspond to forms of logical judgement.


The Philosophy of Kant Pt.1

Immanuel Kant was born in Honisberg in 1724, and was brought up in a Pietistic family. His earliest influences were Newtonian physics and his philosophy professor, Professor Knutzen. He is know to have first formulated the nebular hypothesis (that the universe was at one time a primitive cloud), but it is debated that it was in fact Emanuel Swedenborg who first proposed this. Kant was a believer in the natural law, an idea he took from Aristotle, and used the idea that humans are logical and rational by nature in his philosophy. To the questions he thought were out of reach and unanswerable, he called this the use of ‘speculative’ reason, a part of our reason which desires to know that which is not knowable, so speculates about answers without any real rational argument to support them. Kant described his Critique of Pure Reason as the ‘Copernican Revolution’, since he set out to show that the mind is like a solar system.

Kant rested upon the assumption that truth is stable, and that logic is perfect and complete. He took the Platonic idea that concepts are greater than what is physical and built on it. A lot of his work rests on the concept S is P. S is the subject, and P is the predicate or quality (e.g. the sky is blue). This will be developed later.

Kant rejected empiricism, a philosophy made famous by David Hume, which proposed that causality does not exist, and that it is our own subjective minds which make the mistake of assuming cause and effect: aRb where R is psychological and subjective, and represents the idea of causality. Kant rejected this, as well as Locke’s idea of a ‘tabula rasa’, arguing that logic and rationality are imprinted into us before we are born. This too will be developed later.

Kant is perhaps most famous for his development on Hume’s ‘relations of ideas and matters of fact’. Kant formulated the idea of analytic and synthetic judgements. Analytic judgements don’t tell us anything new (e.g. a bachelor is an unmarried man)-they are true but uninformative. All analytic judgements are a priori. Synthetic judgements are informative and can be either a priori (universal, necessary, and before experience-7+5=12) or a posteriori (after examination-sky is blue). Kant’s idea of S is P is resurrected here. S=intuitions, and are experienced through the faculty of sensibility. P=concepts, and the faculty of understanding is responsible for concepts.



The answer is within

An argument greatly in favour of religion is the one which claims that it enables us to be moral, and that without it we would become immoral human beings. People claim that morality comes from God. Everybody recognises today that the Bible is not a moral book-it is literature, rather than a guide on how to live. A common phrase is that without God or religion, how could we be good? How could we even know what was good? Religion has made a fundamental mistake here. It claims morality came from elsewhere and was put into our minds by God. But in fact it is the opposite-morality came from our minds and was then put into religion. What a religion dictates to be right and wrong is not divine revelation or Biblical quotation (although, sadly, some of it is), but is based on what appears to be reasonable. It is thus right reason which dictates to us what is truly right and wrong, rather than God or any so-called religious authority. There is one basic law of morality, and that is to treat others as you would wish to be treated. This comes in different versions, from the Buddha to Jesus to Kant, and it is a law formed by reason. Kant said that two things awed him most: the starry sky above him and the moral law within him. Moreover, he said that great minds think for themselves. This isn’t true because Kant said so, however. It is true because it is reasonable, based on right reason and natural law. The answer about what is right and wrong is not out there, in the external in the forms of dogma or the Bible or religion, rather it is inside us, but only when we allow our right reason to govern our minds through the course of the natural law.

Is life meaningless? Pt.3

Is death our final end?

What if death is the end? What if there is no afterlife, we die, and that’s it, we cease to exist? If death is indeed the end, then life is no doubt, objectively speaking, pointless. We live until we die would be the case. Can there even be any true justice if death is the end? No, it seems there cannot be such a thing.

But what if there is life after death? Immanuel Kant thought that due to practical reason, there must be a God, and an afterlife, if there was to be any real justice. If there is life after death, then there surely must be some kind of objective purpose to existence, even though we may not be able to know or perceive such a thing now. Could there be, however, an afterlife, yet life here on earth still remains meaningless? Perhaps, but we cannot know for sure. Nevertheless, it seems that even with an afterlife, many of the trivial things we do every day and take seriously and view as important may not be so. One thing we can almost say for certain is that material possessions will have no value if such an afterlife exists. It appears to be the case that who we are, rather than what we own, will matter. How we treated others, not how ‘successful’ we were, will matter. Sometimes, it seems, we need to remind ourselves that one day we will die, and that little things, like whether we own the latest gadget, do not really matter.

If death is the end, then we must make life on earth, it seems, more just and we must remind ourselves frequently how short our lives really are, so that we can seize the moment and make a difference in the brief period of our lives. The problem with this is that one may take the view that nothing is worth doing or nothing is right or wrong. However, just because there may be no life after this one does not mean this life here and now is not worthwhile. Our lives on earth being worthwhile is not dependent on whether there is life after death. Furthermore, acting virtuously merely for reward after death is not really virtue after all. People are treated as means, rather than ends, and so acting out of fear of punishment, or for reward from God is not a worthy reason to be ‘good’. What is a worthy reason is another question altogether, although I will mention the thought of Jean-Paul Sartre here, which may be likened to Kant’s idea of a Categorical Imperative. Sartre said that when we choose to act upon something and make a decision, we are choosing for humankind also. If we choose to get drunk on a Saturday night, we are effectively saying that we think this is the way everyone should spend their Saturday evenings. Kant taught that we should live ‘as though your every act were to become a universal law.’

It is clear that life would have no intrinsic meaning if this life is the end (although an afterlife may not mean this life was in fact meaningful), but this does not mean that life is not worth living, or that we are unable to create purpose for ourselves. Regardless of the fact that there is an afterlife or not, one should, it seems, act as if deciding for mankind, and to focus one’s life on what really matters. When you die, people will not care about the things you own, they will care about the person you have become, and the difference you have made. With an afterlife or not, surely this must be what matters.