30 Aug 2013

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20 minute workout at 6:35 AM: 200 lowrise steps, with only one hand for balance to see if balance has improved: 250 supine weight gestures.

A beneficial side effect of mastering a very difficult text such as the Critique of Pure Reason is that less difficult texts are pleasantly more readable. Johansen’s History of Ancient Philosophy, for example, which was originally written in the relatively minor language Danish and translated to English by way of a grant from Denmark’s queen, is a real treat after the Transcendental Deduction of Kant’s Critique as is a daily newspaper. Even the “Transcendental Aesthetic” chapter of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is easier to read because Kant is applying later methods of logic.

Started to take the Open Courseware (OCW) class in Ancient and Mediaeval Philosophy as taught by David O’Connor of the University of Notre Dame to accompany my reading of Johansen and get my money’s worth of my purchase of this expensive book. Started re-reading Plato’s Republic in the required Jowett translation posted as part of the OCW materials.

Philosophy contrary to jejune opinion does make progress. This is indicated by my example of Kant’s Whopper (cf. p 613 of the Cambridge University Press Critique), in which Kant takes 150 (German) words to explain in one sentence something that would take far fewer words, in one or more sentences, to explain had Kant only had a clear idea of the distinction between constructive and non-constructive infinity, which Brouwer and Heyting based on their studies of…Kant. Clearly, the replacement of poor Kant’s confused Scholastic logic by modern logic (with preservation of the best of the old tradition such as the classification of syllogisms) was real progress.

Likewise, Kant’s invention of the taxonomy of synthetic apriori, analytic aPriori, and synthetic aPosteriori proved to be useful for later generations.

Philosophy makes progress, however, chiefly in the way each philosopher must engage the past, at a minimum to find out if she’s “reinventing the wheel”…altho there’s not the total ban on wheel reinvention in philosophy as there is in engineering.

Two twentieth century philosophers who seem to have ignored tradition and who risked reinvention of the wheel are GE Moore and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Moore simply wanted to think things through as his brilliant essay The Refutation of Idealism shows. Without the gibbering ghosts of former idealists such as Berkeley, or philosophers seduced by idealistic talk such as Descartes, Moore came up with a strikingly original thesis: that the results of philosophy could not contradict common sense, indeed, common sense was the empirical data for the philosopher as physical reality is for the scientist; common sense can falsify the most beautiful philosophical theories.

This point is remote from Kant yet anticipated in Kant.

Although Moore (like Wittgenstein) fails to credit older thinkers, in Moore’s case Kant, whose distinction between what I call “metaphysics” (the creation of nonsense entities) and how I use “ontology” (the analysis of experience into constituent immanent thingamawhats) really authorized Moore to want to discard elaborate idealistic theories about really real reality as opposed to the rag and bone shop of our experience. This inspired in turn the Moorean “Oxford” school of “ordinary language” philosophy which eschewed references to the philosophical tradition in favor of pub bore discussion of matters best left to scientific linguists, dictionary writers and other harmless drudges.

Even more so than Moore, Wittgenstein, who was educated as an aeronautical engineer and who then renounced his share of the considerable Wittgenstein financial legacy, meaning that he had to work for a living, which he did, was the real Noble Savage of 20th century British and Austrian philosophy. When Bertie Russell heard Wittgenstein defend his philosophy for a formal credential, Russell basically overrode the rules (as a Lord Russell could do in that era) to give Wittgenstein his credentials.

Yet even less so than in Moore, and ordinary language philosophy, do we find references to an older philosopher in Wittgenstein. Of course, Wittgenstein based the calculus of the Tractatus on Gottlob Frege’s Begriffschrift (conceptual notation), but this is a mere technical calculus, of the sort Wittgenstein must have taken-to.

“The world is what is the case” taken together with “The world is the totality of facts, not of things” echo Hume’s final conclusion and I’ve no doubt that Wittgenstein read Hume, who’s engaging and easy to read (altho too tiresomely bouncy at times), but Wittgenstein, like most Kantian scholars until very recently, doesn’t seem to have comprehended the central part of Kant, that is the 1787 Books I and II of the Transcendental Doctrine of Elements.

An additional tribulation of the reader of Kant, beyond the confusion of translations and the lousy bindings of the best edition in terms of translation and thorough research (Guyer and Moore, Cambridge 1998) is the chaotic layout of the Critique.

Basically, the central and most difficult part of Kant is where he leaves off boring you on *Raum undt Zeit* (the “transcendental aesthetic” of time *undt* space) and where starts up boring you on the “analytic of principles” (the Kantian attempt to ground Newtonian mechanics, which impressed Kant as much as relativity and quantum physics impressed the Logical Positivists): two really hard chapters which reward the seven read-through Kant wonk only with further confusion in most cases, and to which, one bids a hearty “farewell” at the end, only to find that the reading has changed your life.

The two “books” (numbered I and II but only in relationship to their containing material) must be comprehended by the serious Kant scholar or anyone aspiring to teach a class on Kant. And in their own atonal way, these two “books” present the reader with an alpine challenge of living in a world without the usual handwaving and excuses of life at sea-level one in which we have to understand when we cannot understand, and where we have to keep on climbing when we cannot, a sort of Everest littered as Everest is today with the bodies of philosophers who didn’t get it.

I make the above claim about Wittgenstein (and beg the reader’s forgiveness for digressing so on Kant: I am still snow-blind and dazzled by my intensive reading of Kant) only because Wittgenstein like most 20th century logicians, doesn’t seem to see the need for a “transcendental” logic setting for the preconditions for a philosophical dialog. But there was a move in this direction in the Philosophical Investigations.

However, as in the Tractatus, there’s what literary theorists call “the anxiety of influence” in Wittgenstein, the Freudian fear that the father might show up and spoil the fun. The strings “Kant”, and “Spinoza” do not appear in the Investigations. Instead, we can do Fun projects based on the Investigations.

More later…too sleepy to write coherently.

Edward G Nilges, Grantham Hospital, Hong Kong, 30 August 2013


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