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Essay on Kant and science

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Kant's Role in the War between Philosophy and Science

In my experience, some Objectivists accept Ayn Rand's essentialization of Kant without thinking through how Ayn Rand reached her assessment based on the evidence. Since Kant himself would protest against much of Ayn Rand's essentialization, this leaves some intellectuals with the (unfair) view that most Objectivists do not bother to study Kant for themselves and take him seriously. (I strongly disagree with the implication of such criticisms that all Objectivists have a duty to be experts in the history of philosophy.) Whereas Ayn Rand claims that Kant argues that men suffer from a mass delusion, for example (see For the New Intellectual), Kant explicitly denies that he claims this (see his first Critique). My recently completed essay on Kant's philosophy of natural science, which you can read below, is a more in-depth consideration of some of the issues involved than I have seen anywhere else. Among other values, the essay offers a vindication of Ayn Rand's assessment of Kant.

[MODERATOR's NOTE: This essay has been removed at the request of the author for personal reasons. For an electronic copy of the essay, please contact forum member danielshrugged directly. Please note that removal of posts is not in general accord with THE FORUM policy, but we acknowledge special circumstances in this case and have obliged.]

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Kant's Role in the War between Philosophy and Science

[...]

Before you get to the essay itself, I need to set the context.  The paper is highly technical in places, and I'm not sure I would be able to understand all of my own paper if I had not spent the past five months reading Kant and thinking about these topics. This is not, in my view, a fault of my paper or of my inability to communicate. It is Kant's fault for being so damned difficult to understand.

Daniel, thank you for contributing this essay. I began reading it and soon realized that it deserves to be printed out and read carefully, pen in hand. Your writing is clear and flowing, but Kant's Rube Goldberg metaphysics (ontology and epistemology) is indeed extraordinarily difficult.

Would you like to have questions and constructive comments from individuals who have made some study of Kant's work, even though only in translation?

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Would you like to have questions and constructive comments from individuals who have made some study of Kant's work, even though only in translation?

Definitely, that would be wonderful!

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Daniel's paper is about one aspect of Kant's philosophy: the metaphysical foundations of specialized sciences, particularly physics. I know from my own readings of Kant, that Kant's obscurity is directly proportional to the fundamentality of his subject matter. Metaphysics (which in Kant's time meant ontology and epistemology) is the foundation of philosophy. That is the area where Kant uses his most devious techniques, such as sentences so long they boggle the mind, unannounced changes in the meaning of key terms, and neologisms.

Daniel has written a clear paper about an obscure subject. He wisely uses a first-person viewpoint, noting his own experiences as he ventures into the swamp of Kantianism.

Daniel's approach is the proper approach for an Objectivist philosophy student to take: an inductive approach. He does not preach, that is, he does not start with Objectivist principles and then tell other people to apply them. Instead Daniel starts with examining Kant's own work, and then, making certain assumptions (explicitly or implicitly), draws conclusions from it.

Daniel courageously tackles the problems Kant presents. He does so by boldly detecting connections among Kant's various seemingly unconnected comments. Daniel also connects Kant's philosophical positions and their actual effects on science. Further, Daniel makes historical connections, for example, between Hume's skepticism (the belief, in some form, that knowledge of reality is impossible) and Kant's supposed "answer" to that skepticism for the purpose of saving science and making room for faith.

I like Daniel's description of the cognitive status of his own conclusions. Sometimes the reader of Kant's work can only guess at Kant's meaning, and in at least one instance, Daniel openly states that his own conclusion is a guess. I have learned, from some study of Critique of Pure Reason, that in dealing with Kant, a master disintegrator, guesses are sometimes necessary for bridging the chasms between one Kantian claim and another.

A further benefit of Daniel's paper is that it identifies some of Kant's major magic tricks. One example is using need-based arguments. Where Daniel discusses Kant's solution to the problem of his wanting to make an assumption of God's existence and not make it at the same time, Daniel points out that Kant's solution to this dilemma is to reject the assumed idea (God's existence) as unproven, but to also say we need it to make the rest of our knowledge intelligible, so we will use it even though we can't prove it.

Any well written essay makes a central point (its theme) about its subject, and no more. Such a paper, however, also stirs an attentive reader to wanting more on secondary topics. In my case, I hope that if Daniel turns his paper into a full book, he will explain terms such as the "Copernican Revolution," "necessity," "pure," "intuition," "a priori,"and "possibility," as Kant uses or misuses them.

Most of all, I like Daniel's ending statement. Daniel concludes that Kant was not, as he pretended to be, a defender of science. In effect, Daniel's ending statement sweeps Kant aside to make room for a philosophy of reason as a foundation for science. Objectivist readers know what that philosophy of reason would be 150 years after Kant's death in 1804.

P. S. -- MINOR CORRECTIONS for future editions of the paper. First, I have inferred from Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, editors and translators Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, p. 705, note 1, that the numbers in the standard nomenclature for referring to passages in Kant's CPR -- for example, CPR B3 -- refer to the page numbers in the original German editions, not to line, paragraph, or section numbers. Apparently the original German books had small pages. That is why, in a modern English translation, two standard citation numbers (such as B78 and B79) often appear in the margin of one English page. If this inference is not correct, please tell me.

My second suggestion is typographical. A dash -- as when used to mark a major break like this one -- should be a wide "M-space" mark rather than an "n-space" mark because-as you can see here-the narrower n-space mark looks like (and is) a hyphen combining two words. For even greater clarity, I place a blank space before and after the dash (" -- xxxxx -- "), though other editors do not use the spaces.

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P. S. -- MINOR CORRECTIONS for future editions of the paper. First, I have inferred from Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, editors and translators Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, p. 705, note 1, that the numbers in the standard nomenclature for referring to passages in Kant's CPR -- for example, CPR B3 -- refer to the page numbers in the original German editions, not to line, paragraph, or section numbers. Apparently the original German books had small pages. That is why, in a modern English translation, two standard citation numbers (such as B78 and B79) often appear in the margin of one English page. If this inference is not correct, please tell me.

Yes, that is right. The part of my note which calls the citation numbers "line numbers" was, at least, not a part of the essay itself. I added it when posting the essay to this forum. I'll be sure not to make the mistake in the future. Thanks.

My second suggestion is typographical.

I copied and pasted my essay from Microsoft Word, which resulted in my em-dashes being turned into en-dashes. Sorry for the added difficulty which that causes.

Thank you also for your many positive remarks about the paper. It is helpful to see fully explicit formulations of strategies of thinking and writing which, in some cases, I performed more or less subsconciously.

As for expanding my essay into a full book, the subject matter would clearly permit me to do so. Whether I could find the motivation any time soon is another story. Writing about Kant was ultimately very rewarding to me, but much of the process felt like a hateful duty (my need for self-motivation is one reason why I spent a lot of time in my essay motivating the reader).

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