Charting Kant

October 20, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon for today's post.

Kant's Science of Right takes time to read. In the Science of Right, Kant explains the interaction of theory with practice when defining ownership, rights, and equity. I find it difficult to pull short sections from his writing because all of his arguments build upon one another. I also find it nearly impossible to study a single quote with the hopes of gaining a better understanding to his arguments because, again, the arguments are so inextricably linked. It's almost incestuous. However, I will do that very thing today while grappling with the idea of equity. I find it helpful to chart my understanding of Kant's arguments, so I have shared a few of my visual aids in hopes that they may enhance our understanding and conversation of his principles.

Merriam-Webster's first entry for equity is “justice according to natural law or right, specifically freedom from bias or favoritism”. Likewise, Kant's entire argument rests upon the idea of categorical imperatives, or a Kantian type of natural law (see figure 1), which makes this section fantastically interesting (and dense).

Figure 1

Figure 1

The following selection from the subheading of “6. Deduction of the Conception of a Purely Juridical Possession of an External Object (Possessio Noumenon)”, offers a glimpse of a very Kantian argument. He bases theory on the practical, which actually proves how practice is more theoretical than empirical. In other words, what we think of as concretely “mine” is actually an abstraction from one of Kant's categorical imperatives. He claims that categorical imperatives form the base of our societal structure, and in so doing, he explains how we function via free will. From that, I hope to gain an understanding of how abstraction functions and also what we might be able to gain from the idea of a temporary unification of two divergent wills.

Section 6 reads:

“It has been shown in the Critique of Pure Reason that in theoretical principles a priori, an institutional perception of a priori must be supplied in connection with any given conception; and, consequently, were it a question of a purely theoretical principle, something would have to be added to the conception of the possession of an object to make it real. But in respect of the practical principle under consideration, the procedure is just the converse of the theoretical process; so that all the conditions of perception which form the foundation of empirical possession must be abstracted or taken away in order to extend the range of the juridical conception beyond the empirical sphere, and in order to be able to apply the postulate, that every external object of the free activity of my will, so far as I have it in my power, although not in the possession of it, may be reckoned as juridically mine.

“The possibility of such a possession, which consequent deduction of the conception of a non-empirical possession, is founded upon the juridical postulate of the practical reason, that 'It is a juridical duty so to act towards others that what is external and useable may come into the possession or become the property of some one.' And this postulate is conjoined with the exposition of the conception that what is externally one's own is founded upon a possession, that is not physical. The possibility of such a possession, thus conceived, cannot however be proved or comprehended in itself, because it is a rational conception for which no empirical perception can be furnished; but it follows as an immediate consequence from the postulate that has been enunciated. For, if it is necessary to act according to that juridical principle, the rational or intelligible condition of a purely juridical possession must also be possible. It need astonish no one, then, that the theoretical aspect of the principles of the external mine and thine is lost from view in the rational sphere of pure intelligence and presents no extension of knowledge; for the conception of freedom upon which they rest does not admit of any theoretical deduction of its possibility, and it can only be inferred from the practical law of reason called the categorical imperative, viewed as a fact.”

Figure 2

Figure 2

The following ideas fascinate me the most. First, the inverse relationship between the theoretical and practical seems to counteract one another, but actually they reinforce each other. Kant uses the same process to found both arguments, but they create a labyrinthine inverse of the other (see figure 2). In other words, theory enables possession, but likewise, possession enables theory. Second, Kant states that these events happen independent of space and time, but also that they depend upon successive events. Therefore, there is a chronological structure to ownership, which instantaneously merges and then separates again. I wonder if, in some sense, the idea of time is what is "added" to the object in question?

Figure 3

Figure 3

Finally, figure 3 depicts the idea of ownership as a transfer in which two separate wills momentarily converge. This idea fascinates me - that two separate beings actually unite in a single point connected by an abstracted object mid-transfer, as if runners handing off a baton during a relay - seems so straightforward and logical. Only free will doesn't always act logically. This juridical assessment of transfer only makes me want to know what we can learn from a societal construct able to unify the wills of more than one human being. Kant demonstrates that each transaction involves a meeting of wills. In other words, two wills converge instantaneously in an agreement at which time an object changes ownership, according to the categorical imperative underlying transfer. And then they separate. Their relationship exists as a point on our chart for only one, small, already-disappearing instant.

What can we learn about individual or universal will from Kant's parabolic structures?

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Paradise Lost, Part II, Predestination

May 8, 2015

There is a fascinating scene in The Matrix Revolutions when Neo (Keanu Reeves) bursts into the Oracle's (Gloria Foster) kitchen. The Oracle and a little girl, Sati, are making cookies. The Oracle says, “Oh, I was hoping to have these done before you got here.” Why is this fascinating? Well, so much can be read into the Oracle's words because she is, in part, able to foretell the events that will come. So, why does she want the cookies to be done before Neo arrives? Maybe that scenario presents the strongest likelihood (such as appropriate dimensions and circumstances regarding Neo's growth and education, or as related to space-time events, or the computer's combination of new and old rules) to allow Neo to save the world. Or, maybe she just wants Neo to be pleased by a warm, freshly baked cookie. Either way, she was hoping for another eventuality.

The idea of predestination presents innumerable and often circular problems. For example, in Book III of Paradise Lost, God discusses man's impending doom with the Son. He knows that man will fall, as tempted by Satan and has seen this coming. Predestination, however, does not change the importance of His love for man. In fact, it may be precisely the point. Untested love contains little moral worth. When writing Paradise Lost, Milton desired to explain the ways of God to man. Obviously, this is a tremendously difficult task. But, it would seem that Milton achieved his aim, if we think of the way that love is characterized throughout the poem. Milton humanizes deities in order to guide humans into thinking about the deities themselves. They have struggles to overcome, balance to maintain and a larger picture than just themselves. For some reason, it seems odd to say it, but God must think about every one of his creations before he thinks about Himself. And Satan's temptation of man places God in a very awkward predicament: how to evidence His love.

In Book IV, when Satan sees the innocence of Adam and Eve, he nearly reconsiders his destructive path. However, Satan decides that all hope is lost to him. He says, “For never can true reconcilement grow/Where wounds of deadly hate have peirc'd so deep: / Which would but lead me to a worse relapse,/ And heavier fall” (lines 98-100). These enigmatic lines imply that Satan is fated to fall, that there is something contained within his own being (or God's) that would cause Satan to fall, regardless of circumstance. (On a side note, how could he have a worse fate than the one he currently lives out?)

Satan's view of Adam and Eve is also interesting because the reader finds a basic contradiction: that of complete innocence with that of absolute knowledge. Why does Satan, one who possesses knowledge of the creator and creation, oppose love as offered by God, especially when offered a view of God's love? One wonders what Satan thinks he is doing. Satan's action can only be interpreted as tempting God to react with something other than love. But it also implies that Satan, who has knowledge and some sort of original link to the creator, may not know the outcome of this battle of wills. If Satan knew that God will punish but then pardon man, why would he pursue their fall?

Think for a moment about the predestined path of Satan. If he is predestined to fall, refused reconciliation, then in what way can he access free will? Likewise, think about the predestined path of the Son. If he is an angel predestined to redeem mankind's evils, does he actually know enough to claim that he acts out of free will? Does this type of love lack a spirit of true freedom?

In The Confessions, Augustine says, “[W]hat a person does against his will is not to his own credit, even if what he does is good in itself.” The Son certainly did not act against his own wishes, but it is unclear whether or not he instigated the thought of sacrificing himself. This question is probably not answerable. Milton views the Son's offer as an extension of the love that God created and maybe there is nothing more to it than that. But, just like the Oracle's cookies, I doubt it is merely that simple.

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