Sunday, December 25, 2011

Kant Biography : Intellectual Growth

Kant is considered as one of the greatest philosopher of all time. He himself in the preface of his magnum opus, first published in 1781, ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ says, that in this book, there is not a single metaphysical problem which has not been solved or the solution of which the key at least has not been supplied.

In preface to the second edition he compares himself to Copernicus and says that he has brought a Copernican revolution in philosophy.

In fact if we are to measure the worth of a philosopher by his influence on future generations then Kant certainly deserves his fame. However, many young students and sometimes professional philosophers tend to measure the worth of a philosopher by his work. I personally consider this as bad approach to philosophy. There is something very unbecoming of a man, who seeks knowledge, to treat the work of any philosopher with contempt and derision, just because his work proved to be a bundle of bad ideas. 

Ignorance or false beliefs are the necessary and inescapable stages of learning in our pursuit of knowledge. Out of ignorance grows true knowledge. From true knowledge I mean understanding of the most up-to-date, latest and, advanced information on any subject. Thus even though works of Hume and Rousseau may not be considered as the best philosophical treaties, but it certainly influenced many people living in their time and most of all Kant. 

Day is Beautiful, and Night is Sublime CC
Kant admits that he was awakened from his dogmatic slumber after reading Hume, even though it was temporary and he relapsed in to the bliss of his soporific ignorance. Later, he considered Hume as an adversary to be refuted rather than embraced. However, same was not the case with Rousseau. Kant as we all know was a man of regular habits. In fact everything in his life moved like a clock. His time to eat, time to study, time to go out for a walk, and time to go to bed was all set. He was so regular in his habits that people could set their clock as per his daily activities. But when he started reading Rousseau his daily routine was disturbed for many days. In his own words Kant says , “I have to read Rousseau again and again because at first reading the beauty of style, prevented me from understanding the matter." Thus Rousseau had the most profound impression on Kant.

Kant’s initial work was more concerned with physical geography and science rather than philosophy. He speculated on the direction of wind and its affect on rotation of Earth. He made the discovery that Earth’s period of rotation was retarded due to the frictional affect of wind and tidal currents. For his significant work and important discovery he was awarded Berlin Academy Prize in 1754.

In the field of science he came up with the Nebular Hypothesis in which he explained that our Solar System was formed from a big cloud of gas. However, a Nebula came out of God himself. Some of his ideas were amazingly true, while others merely proved to be speculative and false, like all planets similar to Earth are inhabited by living beings, and the planets farthest in time and space are inhabited by more advanced form of life; an idea that still finds its place in Hollywood and western society. The aliens who come to our planet are far more advanced than us and always land in a developed country rather than a poor underdeveloped banana republic.

However, Kant was not just obsessed with science and geography but also mysticism. He read the work of Swedenborg which he regarded as beautiful, interesting and very sublime, but in the end rejected it as nothing but traditional metaphysics of a theologian. 

Later he published his own work, 'Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime' in 1764 in which he explored the idea of sublime and beautiful. It appealed to layman and general populace who read philosophy for leisure and lacked the patience of academic audience.

According to Kant Sublime and beautiful are feelings aroused at the sight of a certain thing or event in nature.

Anything that aroused a pleasant feeling of joy was beautiful; on the other hand anything that aroused feeling of joy along with fear was sublime.


Day was beautiful, and night was sublime

Women were beautiful, and men sublime

Land was beautiful, and sea sublime.

Kant was truly a genius. He was by nature a perfect blend of a reasoning mind and a feeling heart.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kant's Objection Against Ontological Argument

Anselm’s ontological argument in fact wholly depends on the definition of God. Thus, even if a single attribute can be denied to God, then the whole argument collapses. Thus an atheist has to just find out one single attribute and prove that God cannot have it, and it would be sufficient to reject the whole idea of God as a mere fantasy.

But before we find loop holes in Anselm’s argument let’s see how another influential philosopher Descartes came up with his own ontological argument. This is how he argues his case for existence of God.

Premise 1: God is a perfect being.

Premise 2: Existence is perfection

Conclusion: God must exist.

Now, how good is this argument and how it is different from Anselm’s argument?

Here again everything rests on what perfection is.

Descartes was aware of the fact that merely conceiving something is not a proof for the existence of the same thing in reality. 

Thus instead proving that God exist in reality (which no one has ever been able to prove) Descartes said that existence which is real is perfect, and since perfection is one of the attributes of God, God must exist. Sounds like reverse engineering!

Like if you accept the existence of a triangle, then you will also have to accept that it has three sides and three angles.

But as we can see that instead of telling us more about his idea of perfection on which his whole argument rests, he is merely trying to prove that we will have to accept existence of God if we accept perfection of existence. 

Thus it is more or less same argument only thing is that it rest on premise, 'Existence is perfection.'   

The most valid and strong objection against ontological argument came from the great German philosopher, 

Immanuel Kant ( 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) from Konigsberg. He did so through his most famous and influential work ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ published in 1781. Kant believed that through this work he has solved all the problems of metaphysics or at least has given a key to solve any metaphysical problem. 

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) CC
Kant simply reduced the size of Anselm’s God by telling that if something exists in our mind, and if it also exists in reality then by no means can we conclude that what exist in reality is any better than what exist in our mind. What exists in reality is only an affirmation of what exist in our mind.

To explain it better he used the idea of one hundred coins.

Kant said that an idea of a pile of 100 coins that exist in my mind and the pile of 100 coins that exist in reality will have the same worth. Thus adding existence to the idea will not make it any better but will only affirm of what is.

Thus existence is not a predicate, or existence in reality is not a special attribute of God, because it virtually adds nothing to the idea of God.

Now, coming back to Descartes’s ontological argument Kant attacks the very premise on which the whole argument rest i.e. Existence is perfection.

Kant says, “How do we define perfection? How do we measure perfection? and if something is perfect then there must exist something that is imperfect. Same can be said about existence. If something exist we cannot say anything else about it, but only that it exist. How do we form the concept of non existence?

Kant accepted that if one accepts the existence of a triangle then one will also have to necessarily accept its three sides and also its three angles. But, however, logically speaking it is possible to reject the three sides of a triangle and the triangle itself.

In fact Kant questioned the attributes themselves. Like saying that from where these three sides came and why do they have to join in such a manner that they form three angles. Thus if you cannot explain the origin of three sides and why they should join as you say, first, then you cannot form a concept of a triangle either.

Thus if we reject the entire concept of God that is all His attributes then, existence is also denied.

In his own words Kant's answer to Anselm is,

“It always remains a scandal of philosophy and universal human  reason that the existence of things outside us ... should have to be assumed merely on faith, and that if it occurs to anyone to doubt it, we should be unable to answer him with a satisfactory proof.”
Thus existence of God cannot be assumed merely on faith.