Kant's Philosophy. A Perspective.
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
Pure reason is limited. This is what Immanuel Kant said more than 200 years ago. He was being a Shiva figure. He was trying to destroy the age of enlightenment idea of reason, like the natural fire in the forest. This fire burns, so new generation of plants and trees thrive as a result. He tried to prune the tree of reason, so it would grow better. He was still a rationalist, however. He argued that with limited pure reason we cannot know God, if there is one, my true Self, if I have one, and a thing in itself, namely, beyond its appearance, if there is any. If it is the case that pure reasons were limited, then this would also include my own reason too. If my reason was also limited, then how could I know whether reason is limited? To measure anything, we need a calibrating tool. To know what is short, we would need what is not short. We would have to have some kind of a standard whereby we could measure. Even Aristotle warned us not to criticize the foundation of logic, because we have agreed that this would be our standard. We have to start somewhere.
Reason, as Kant argued, divides in terms of either/or. When it comes to reason, either it is limited or is not limited. However, how would I know it is limited, unless I know about the unlimited reason? How would I know Joe, is short, unless I know about someone who is tall? How do I know motion exists, unless something is at rest? Unless there is an unlimited Reason, it would be very difficult to come up with a statement which says: “reason is limited.” On the other hand, if all statements are limited, then the above statement is also limited. If this is so, then how can we have any truth in this matter any way?
We’re not playing with words here. We just want to know that in this world where everything is relative and imperfect, such a statement as ‘reason is limited’ makes any sense at all.
Reason is not intellect. It is through the intellect that Kant could make such a statement. When Rene Descartes (1596-1650), the French philosopher said: ‘I think, therefore I’m’, Kant criticized him. He argued that Descartes identified himself with the ‘I’, while he was not supposed to. This is the very conclusion Descartes came to, which was to get him out of uncertainty. He doubted everything except the fact that he doubted. And since he doubted, he must have been thinking. And since he was thinking, he must have been. Then he came to conclude that: ‘I think, therefore, I’m.’What Descartes didn’t realize was the fact that there was an awareness prior to what he concluded. Descartes in reality is saying: ‘I thinks, therefore, I is’.
In the Bhagavad-Gita or the song of the Lord, Jnana Yoga (joining together) or Jnana Marga (the way) is one of the ways to reach the Ultimate Reality. In this particular discipline, a novice with intellectual bent is taught to put a wedge between his or her ordinary self and his or her true Self. He learns to avoid using ‘I’ in his conversation. For example, instead of saying, ‘I’m thinking’ he would say, ‘I is thinking’.
This is exactly what Descartes should have done. This is perhaps what Kant criticized Descartes for. This very awareness itself is an indication of existence. So you don’t need thinking to be. If you were not, you wouldn’t even be able to utter ‘I think, therefore, I’m’. This awareness is not your true Self. Neither is it your ordinary self. But the very fact that you’re aware is a proof of your very existence.
Kant speaks of his Copernican revolution. If you remember, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), the Polish astronomer, discovered that it was not the sun which was revolving around the earth, but vice versa. This has a mystical meaning come to think of it, namely, the Ultimate Reality is the Sun around which not only the earth, but also man circumambulate.
However, what Kant did with this discovery was far from being a mystical. Kant made use of this astronomical discovery and argued that in the past our minds reflected the world like a mirror. While in reality it is the world that reflects the categories our minds like a mirror. In the past we passively reflected the world. But now we actively impose our categories on the world. The world is now our construct. Before I was the mirror reflecting the world. But today the world is the mirror reflecting our minds.
This is very interesting. While Copernicus removed the earth from the position of centrality, and replaced it with the sun, Kant brought back the dignity of man over the universe by letting the world be a passive reality reflecting our categories. It seemed as if he revived the notion of ‘man is the measure of all things’ of the renaissance.
The starry above and the moral law within was Kant’s mother’s words to him before she died. Little did she know the cosmos was soon to be nothing but the projection of man’s mind, which was the Newtonian project?
With Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the British mathematician and physicist, the universe became mechanistic and metaphorically, every time God’s hands were to stop this insanity, they were completely ignored by Him. Of course, he shed tears for what he had done before he died but it was a little too late. He was, however, Kant’s favorite scientist.
Did Kant believe in the natural law? What is natural law anyway? It is a principle or body of laws considered as derived from nature, right reason, or religion and as ethically binding in human society. (College Dictionary). In other words, this is a theory which asserts that the morally right action is the one that follows the dictates of nature…. People are supposed to live in accordance to natural law, which means they are to fulfill their rightful, natural purpose. (L.Vaughn, Doing Ethics, p.71, third edition.). Positive laws, on the other hand, ought to correspond to natural laws, which in turn correspond to the Divine Laws, according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
If the world were my construct, then how can the natural law be a source of values and morality for me? Kant is a non-consequentialist philosopher in ethics. In other words, it does not matter what outcome an action may have, as long as it is the right one. Whether you lie or tell the truth, the results of your actions are of no consequences for Kant. You ought not to lie and you should tell the truth regardless. ‘Mendacity’ was the word, Tennessee Williams (1911-83), the great American playwright, used in his best work, ‘cat on A Hot Tin Roof’. This word simply means, habitual lying or untruthfulness. It comes from the Latin mendax “lie”. This term was also used by historian H. S. Commager in regard to Watergate and Nixon administration. (Morris dictionary of word and phrase origins, by W. Morris).
Natural law also involves non-consequentialism. Double effect theory comes as a result of Kant’s conflict of duties. For example, what Robin Hood did in the story by Howard Pyle was not morally justified. He robbed the rich to feed the poor. This, of course, is against the natural law, even though he did it with good intention. If, on the other hand, one performs a good act, with good intention, but ends up with a disaster or a tragedy, this is approved by the natural law. Because the act itself is morally correct. This is supposed to help us with Kant’s absolutism.
However, the point that is worth mentioning here is the difference between what appears to be a common factor between Kant’s non-consequentialism and that of the natural law. Natural law is an objective reality based on which we pattern our morality. In untouched or virgin nature, things are the way they ought to be. The society of Socrates at the time was not the way it ought to have been. This was very much the case during the life of Confucius in China. In other words, there was a huge gap between is and ought. The hierarchy of values, for instance, among animals, was missing in his culture while it existed in nature. Natural law existed independent of man’s mind. It was not subjective, in other words. But with Kant it becomes subjective. Because he simply would let the world reflect our categories of thoughts. Let us say, he projected his idea of causality on the world. He is imposing it on nature. So the world acts accordingly. It reflects our thoughts on causality. It echoes whatever we shout in the valleys. How can this be objective? It reminds us of a trained parrot.
He followed David Hume who argued that we can never have a direct and immediate perception of causality. Being an empiricist, Hume couldn’t experience the connection between cause and effect. Hume was attacking rationalism when he asserted this. It is the trick of the mind to put one thing after another so we think we have a cause and effect phenomenon here. Our mind juxtaposes cause and effect. However, there is no connection between the two events. Does this mean Hume was denying the idea of cause and effect? The answer is ‘no’. But the mind rushes to conclude that the event which came before in time and space was cause and the one that followed it was the effect. A vertical causality, that is, God’s interference has no meaning in Hume’s philosophy. However, it was advocated by a Persian Arab philosopher called Al-Ghazzali (1058-1111).
He used cotton and fire as an example. Once fire reaches a piece of cotton, the cotton burns. Apparently Hume also used the same example, which makes us wonder if he had ever read Al- Ghazzali’s works. After all he was a good historian and knew about Al- Ghazzali through the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless, this is not our problem here. What we’re interested to know is the fact that Hume being an empiricist thinker would naturally want to experience the world for true knowledge. But on the one hand, he criticizes the rationalists for relying too much on reason, especially when it comes to causality. On the other hand, he needs to experience to reach the truth. However, once he leaves the realm of the mind and logic, he confronts the outside world. Things are happening all around us and we’re constantly looking for cause or causes, which bring about those effects. Our mind is not helping us here. Because, we go from one cause to another with the hope of finding out the real cause or causes, to no avail. On the other hand, if there are causes and effects out there, we cannot experience them. So Hume is said to have taken British empiricism to the grave yard of skepticism.
Given such a chaos over causality, Kant argued that we cannot do science unless we believe in causality as our starting point. But he was unable to look deeper into the water in which he saw his own reflection in the first place. There is one thing to see your reflection; there is another, when you really want to know what is at the bottom of the pond. There are times when we look at the mirrors in front of us and see ourselves in them. And there are also times when we see only the surface of the mirror and not our reflections in them. In the former example, we need to go deeper and see the bottom of the lake. In the latter example, we should look at our reflections and not the surface of the mirror. Given Hume’s skepticism, Kant was consistent to concentrate on the category of causality which the world is reflecting. He couldn’t penetrate deeper to find out the reality of those causes. His natural law is finally his own mind. Did he really remember his mother’s near death advice?
Reason, once separated from the Intellect, creates individualism and arbitrariness. (Logic and transcendence, by F. Schuon, Trans by P.N. Townsend, p.34). He is telling us reason is limited, while his own is also limited. He does not seem to realize that he is now in the same position where Descartes was. He criticizes Descartes that he didn’t understand the pre ‘cogito ergo sum’ fact of awareness. In other words, ‘I thinks, therefore, I is’ indicates a prior awareness. While he himself forgets that, unless you speak from the point of the Intellect, which is unlimited, you cannot make a statement that pure reason is limited. I’m not an Immanuel Kant scholar. But I only see what I see.
While a rationalist himself, he rejects “dogmatic rationalism”. Although this kind of rationalism is rejected by Kant, his critical philosophy is rationalism par excellence. This shows us how contradictory he could be in his own way.
Plato divided our world into two realms: Transcendence and immanence. Immanence is not necessarily the opposite of transcendence. But here we use it to create two levels of existence. One is where Plato’s Forms are located, which is the abode of perfection. All Forms, universals, paradigms, essences, and archetypes are perfect. This is where being is. Our world, however, is where imperfection manifests itself. The former is permanent and the latter is impermanent. Yes, the former is being and the latter is becoming. This world is the place of change, motion, and movement. The former is the house of Parmenides and the latter is the home of Heraclitus. The former believed what is, is and there is no change. In fact, change is an illusion. The latter maintained that there is nothing which is not subject to change and becoming. The former is where unlimited reality is the fact. The latter is where limited reality is the fact. Perfection is unlimited, while imperfection is limited. When Kant makes such a statement like ‘pure reason is limited’, he is bound to fall into what is called, self referentially incoherency. In other words, we can easily ask: ‘does this include your statement too’? If Kant’s answer is ‘yes’, then this means his very statement is also limited being in the realm of the limited phenomena. Once his statement is limited, then it cannot be universally true. In fact, two limited realities, like two negatives, are determined to cancel each other. For him there is no difference between reason and intelligence. Well, once those two limited phenomena cancel one another, this would automatically mean intelligence cannot be limited.
Kant’s critical philosophy does not see metaphysics as the science of the Absolute and of the true nature of things, but as the “science of the limits of man’s reason”.
The early organizers of Aristotle’s works put all his books on spiritual matters after physics. ‘Meta’ means both after and beyond. However, this word became known as the branch of philosophy which deals with first principles seeking to explain the nature of being or reality called ‘ontology’ (New World Dictionary).
This pure reason (Vernunft), for Kant, is identified with intelligence pure and simple. The Intellect or Atman in Hinduism is treated as if it is the same phenomenon as pure reason, which is totally a contradictory axiom. The intelligence cannot limit itself because by its very nature and in principle it is unlimited or else it is nothing. Supposing the intelligence is limited, and then what guarantee do we have that it would function properly when it comes to critical philosophy? In reality, its operations are not valid. (Schuon,Trans Townsend, p.34).
Let us for a moment leave Kant’s philosophy and discuss his practical science or ethics. He was a non-consequentialist, namely, he didn’t regard consequences or results as necessary aspect of his categorical imperative. For instance, you ought not to lie regardless of its consequences, whether good or bad. You ought to tell the truth also, regardless of its consequences, whether good or bad. When we lie, we initiate a cause whose effects are not what we should rely on. Hypothetical imperative, however, are about results and consequences. They deal with ‘If’ and ‘Then’ statements. Effects are taken seriously. For example, if you study hard and smart, then you’re bound to have good grades at the end of the semester. They’re conditional as you can see. But if we’re willing to negotiate with such a country unconditionally, this is an example of a categorical imperative. However, I could say, unless the president of such a country cooperated with us on certain issues, we would not go to have a normal relation with him or her. This is an example of a hypothetical imperative. So we now know the difference between categorical imperative and hypothetical imperative. To repeat, categorical imperative is non- conditional, whereas, hypothetical imperative is conditional. The former involves non- consequentialism, while the latter deals with consequentialism.
Natural law, on the other hand, also represents non-consequentialism, as if it is an agent. Now a question might be asked as to whether Kant also believed in the natural law? After all, both Kant and the natural law have something in common. They both are non-consequentialists. Natural law, however, is an objective reality, while Kant’s view is subjective.
Natural law is what ‘karma yoga’ is in Bhagavad-Gita, which resembles Kant’s categorical imperative. It is also what is believed in Taoism when it comes to nature in which the Tao manifests itself. Natural law is the realm of God, according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Cause and effect are also parts of the fabric of the universe. Great figures, all the way from prophets and philosophers, to outstanding characters like Buddha, firmly believed in the principle of causality.
Horizontal causality is what we see happening all around us. Nevertheless, it is the belief in the vertical one that matters in the symbolism of the cross. A loom consists of hundreds of vertical threads and horizontal ones. A carpet is weaved on a loom. It is this whole reality, which is the result of this project. Causality is woven into the carpet of the universe. Vertical cause was the transcendent Reality and horizontal one what we observe in this world.
If you recall, Kant’s Copernican revolution was in fact to bring back the centrality of man, in spite of the fact that it was lost after Copernicus discovered it was the earth, which had been revolving around the sun and not the other way around. Kant, by the way, seems to have missed the mystical symbolism of this fantastic astronomical revelation. Instead of thinking we’re in fact nothing before the Ultimate Reality, he tried to revive the importance of man in the universe. After all, it takes a lot of humility to see the world this way. We ought to humble ourselves and understand that we’re like the rays of the sun to the sun. Man’s superiority over the world loomed large in his mind. He argued that we can no longer be the mirror of the world reflecting what is out there. It is about time the world started reflecting the dictates of our minds and their categories. The sun should once again begin revolving around the earth, that is, us. Remember, in the Old Testament the sun does not stand still. After all, Kant must have been more religious than we thought he was. Of course, no sarcasm is intended here. But I hope you understand what I mean here.
Now that the world becomes my mirror, I’m more reminded of Plato’s allegory of the cave. My mind’s categories have been dancing in front of the bonfire imposing their images on the movie theater’s screen. Those who have been watching them cannot see anything beyond the wall. The screen has been reflecting our categories. Whatever we see are what the world is all about. We watch the world through those categories. In this world the sun rises and sets. The world is flat. Who knows? Let us give Kant the benefit of the doubt. But let us also find out whether this reflecting world is the real world.
One of the categories of our mind, according to Emmanuel Kant, is causality. Otherwise we cannot do science. In natural law causality is an undeniable reality. However, in Kant’s philosophy it is only a category which the world is reflecting. Imagine there is a huge board stencil, which has the words ‘cause and effect’ cut out of it such that light can go through it. We hold this before a bonfire, which is set up on a higher level at night. There is a white wall in front of in a distance. Once the light of the fire penetrates the board, we can then see those words on the wall. The wall symbolizes the world in Plato’s allegory of the cave. For Kant this is the reflecting world, which is our construct. Plato thought Socrates unchained himself and found out about the bonfire and eventually managed to get out of the cave. Once he saw the sun, he was enlightened. Then he returned to rescue others and finally lost his life over it. But it seems Kant is locked up in the cave of his own mind and is unable to get out of it. If the world is nothing but the projection of your own mind and you can’t see anything except the reflection of yourself in the water, not the bottom of it, then how can you possibly know beyond the phenomenon? Well, with his pure reason, which is limited, he cannot know God, his true self (Self), and the reality beyond the phenomenal world.
By the way, how can Kant’s non-consequentialism be the same as the one in the natural law? Kant felt that science cannot function without the category of cause and effect. This was his answer to David Hume. So effects matter in science but not in ethics? After all, Kant uses Aristotelian logic of either, or when it comes to morality. This is what Aristotle himself avoided as much as he could. Now how can I be a non- consequentialist, on the one hand, and a believer in cause and effect on the other hand? I mean, don’t you think results or consequences are the same as effects? When I lie, I lie to achieve something. What I get as a result is the effect of my lying. Isn’t it? If I tell the truth, I also receive something. However, in Kant’s categorical imperative, there is no room for consequences and results. But this does not mean cause and effect don’t exist. Both Kant and the natural law believe that causality is an undeniable fact.
Let us not forget the fact that, for Hume, ‘ought’ cannot be inferred from ‘is’. Kant agrees with Hume on this. However, this is not true in the natural law. Cause and effect represent ‘is’ from which ‘ought’ can’t be inferred. After all, Kant operates in the realm of the mind in which logic is the master. Causality brings about determinism in science and Kant knows that very well. Thus, he argued that ‘ought’ is autonomous. It doesn’t depend on ‘is’. In the natural law, however, ‘is’ and ‘ought’ are together. In nature things are the way they ought to be. Causality, in natural law, doesn’t convey determinism, which is the result of horizontal causality.
Being both non-consequentialists, however, they maintain that we shouldn’t dwell on the effects or results, because they’re often unpredictable. So in general we ought not to rely on the consequences. With hypothetical imperative, according to Kant, we deal with this phenomenon of conditionality of statements that are consequential. But both Natural law and Kant, without denying the reality of cause and effect, hold that we shouldn’t cause anything with the hope of receiving something in return. We ought to emphasize the action or cause rather than thinking about what I get out of it. You may get exactly what you want sometimes and you may not. Results and effects are matters of future. That is why it is hard to predict the future. For Hitler was a disaster because he invaded Russia thinking he wouldn’t experience what Napoleon had gone through. Hume once wrote we can never predict the future based on the present and the past. However, Santayana, Spanish American philosopher, argued that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat again. So as you can see, there are problems here. Hume, as a philosopher historian, knew there was something wrong with causality. He felt there was no connection between cause and effect whatsoever. Being an empiricist, he had to experience the world to know and understand and have knowledge. But it was very much possible that Hitler would have been successful in conquering Russia.
There’re times our predictions come true and there’re also times they don’t. In Genesis God told Adam and Eve not to touch certain tree and eat from it or else they would die. None of them died. It sounds like God was using a hypothetical imperative statement here. However, we don’t know what God really meant there. Also we should differentiate between these facts and prophesy, which is done by divine’s power. Perhaps we can now understand why both natural law and Kant avoid results. After all they are not prophets. In case of Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood, who robbed the rich to feed the poor, natural law doesn’t accept his action, even if it was done with good intention. No matter how successful he was in his plan, both Kant and the natural law still would reject his action. What if I, with good intention, donated a lot of money to an organization only to find out that the money was channeled into a top official’s bank account? Both Kant and the natural law approve of such an act, even though it ended up in disaster.
The only problem here is the natural law. This phenomenon is objective. It is not reflecting the categories of man’s mind. It is against Kant’s absolutism.
It sounds as if what Kant considers the natural law is not the natural law at all. Starry above are nothing but the categories of the mind shining in the sky of our minds. If Kant regards the reflection in the water the natural law, then this is nothing but his own mind’s categories. He said it is not true that all knowledge comes from experience, as empiricists had claimed. So it seems he admitted that some do. He finally held that knowledge begins with experience but it does not come from it. So experience matters in knowledge. When I see a tree falling as a result of a fire, I immediately experience this. But this does not mean my knowledge comes directly from my experience. My knowledge starts with this experience but it does not come from it. Because my reason quickly takes this experience and put it in the right category so it would make sense. Fire is the cause and falling of the tree is the effect. Hume would say that you got your knowledge of causality from this experience. Kant would disagree with him and argues that the very reason I can have such an experience it is because this isn the way the categories of my mind are structured. These are innate parts of my mind. My mind was not a tabula rasa or clean slate, as Locke had thought it was. Remember, Locke was an Aristotelian. In contrast, Kant was a bit closer to Plato when it comes to the idea of innateness.
Immanuel Kant doesn’t have to get his knowledge from what happens in the world. The world is his construct. He has no reason to take Hume’s advice. And even if he did, all he would do is follow his own categories. After all, he only sees the world that has been reflecting his mind. The world, for Hume, is not reflecting his mind. Hume might not have a way of knowing the world beyond. However, the world out there is not reflecting his mind. So how can Kant believe in the natural law when the world is his own making? In fact, he is communicating with himself when he looks at the world. Then what is the difference between his non-consequentialism and natural law’s? Kant’s category of cause and effect doesn’t go far enough to the world beyond this one. It doesn’t reach the realm of the noumenon, which is beyond the world of phenomenon. The vertical aspect of the cross is missing here. He showed the limitation of the pure reason, so there would a room for faith. Which faith? Faith in what? Faith in a broken cross? How about faith in the unlimited reason?
How can he come up with such a thing as ‘categorical imperative’, which stands for non-consequentialism? Aristotle followed the natural law. His ethics was very different from Kant’s. Aristotle, unlike Kant, didn’t use his either, or logic in his ethics. Because he knew science was different from morality. Kant made use of Aristotelian logic in his ethics as if ethics was like science. Aristotle knew there was always a gray area in matters of morality in the natural law. But Kant wasn’t dealing with the real natural law. He was very much locked up in the cave chained and busy watching the reflections of his categories. For natural law, there is a cause for every effect and vice versa. This is a fact and has nothing to do with non-consequentialism advocated by the natural law. Natural law understands that there are good consequences for what Robin Hood does. There is no gap between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ in the natural law when it comes to morality. Nature acts the way it ought to act. Of course, this came to an end with David Hume. Causality stands for ‘is’ and the natural law for ‘ought’. But there is no split between the two. Natural law acknowledges the fact of cause and effect. It is aware of Robin Hood’s good work. Nevertheless, it takes issue with Robin Hood over whether his act, even with good intention, was right. Robin Hood here is involved with the hypothetical imperative. Natural law would say that it is alright. But your initial act was not moral. It is the matter of emphasis here. Results are often unreliable and unpredictable. But causes are more important. Aristotle’s pure Form was unmoved mover and uncaused cause. Kant’s absolutism runs into the conflicts of duty. Taoists also believed in the natural law. They held that as long as your acts and intentions are good, it does not matter what the consequences might turn out to be. For Kant, who followed Hume, there was a split between ‘is’ and ‘ought’. Although Kant believed in cause and effect, he was uncompromising when it came to results and consequences. Causality stands for ‘is’ but ‘ought’ cannot be inferred from is for Hume. Kant’s ‘ought’ was autonomous. He wanted to rise above causality which would bring in determinism.
Kant argued that you ought not to lie regardless because lying is, in and of itself, a contradictory fact. When you lie, you know you’re lying. You’re aware of not being truthful to the person you’re lying to. Besides the very fact that you’re using your boss, teacher, parents, and co worker, you’re contradicting yourself. Why were you absent yesterday? I was sick. While you know very well you were not. So how can you be sick and not be sick at the same time and in the same relationship? How can something be true and not true at the same time and in the same relationship? If I lie in order to achieve something, then I’m already in the hypothetical camp in which consequences are very important. Kant maintained his first principle that you should act only on that maxim, so when you will, it becomes a universal law for everyone in the world. We become like law makers in the congress. Nevertheless, there’re those to whom it does not matter, even if they’re lied to. Therefore, Kant came with his second and third principles. Once they’re solidified, it reads, don’t use anyone, and don’t let anybody use you. In other words, the kingdom of ends is at hand. Don’t turn me into a means to your end. I should also not let you use me for your end. I also ought not to use you for my end. This is very much expressed in a song by Annie Lennox called, ‘Sweet dreams are made of this’. The name of the band was or is ‘Eurhythmics’.
Kant was called a Shiva figure or the destroyer of the enlightenment idea of reason. However, we can also name him as a unifier of empiricism and rationalism, like Aristotle who unified Plato’s Forms and matter. Kant came up with a philosophical project, namely, he tried to explain what these four terms are: Analytic, synthetic, and a priori, a posteriori. A statement is analytic when the predicate doesn’t add anything to the subject. It is like, all triangles have three anglers. As you can see, the second part of this statement is redundant or unnecessary. A synthetic statement is the one in which the predicate adds something to the subject. Like, I just bought a three-bedroom house. A house is a house. But other information qualifies this house. A priori (before experience) statement is the one before experience. In ‘all bachelors are unmarried people’ we don’t need any observation or examination to know that they’re unmarried. A posteriori (after experience) statement is based on observation or experience. Till I saw with my own eyes, I didn’t believe how much you have lost and how thin you’re now.
Picture in your mind that the word, ‘Analytic’ is on the left hand side of your black board, from your point of view, which corresponds to the term, ‘Synthetic’ on the right hand side of the black board. Right under the word, ‘Analytic’ we have the term ‘A priori’ and under the word, ‘Synthetic’ we see the term, ‘A posteriori’. On the left hand column, stands ‘rationalism’ and on the right hand, the term ‘empiricism’. Kant tried to create a connection between the words ‘Synthetic’ and ‘A priori’ and came up with ‘Synthetic A priori’. In fact we can consolidate the two words on the left and the right and come with ‘A priori’ and ‘Synthetic’ and finally ‘Synthetic A priori’ statement. He believed we can have such a statement which deals both with experience and reason. Causality was one of his examples. My knowledge begins with experience but doesn’t come from it. When there is a fire in the forest, mind goes to different directions to look for the causes. It could be arson or nature. Either way, it is not so important for our purpose here. My first hand awareness is the fact that there is a fire in the forest and animals are running for their lives. Immediately my rational power house uses its categories to make sense of the event. Kant would argue that we cannot ignore the role of experience here. Experience, seems, to induce labor for delivery of knowledge. Given the fact that our mind is well equipped with the categories among which is causality, we come to the conclusion that the forest is on fire. ‘Synthetic A priori’ is telling Hume that we don’t learn by just experiencing the fire. Our rational meat grinder then tries to make sense out of this event. You only induced the labor. Mother namely, reason has to do the rest.
Hume would say that we can never have a direct and immediate (without medium) perception of causality. Cause and effect are not connected here because this connection is not experienced. Kant would answer by saying that in my category of causality there is a connection between the two. After all, my causality comes from the world reflecting my mind any way. My mind was hardwired, as I was born, with categories of thoughts. Thus, I see the world as I’m supposed to. If I see the world green, it is because I came to this world with green contact lenses. Amazingly, he seems to be so close to Plato’s ideas, but only to a point. If I didn’t have these lenses, I wouldn’t be able to understand causality, for instance, in the world. My mind is structured such that I can only perceive things accordingly. This means I cannot have any knowledge of the reality beyond their appearances, if there is one. But what about my unlimited reason, which you Mr. Kant, have identified with pure limited reason? Well, you now need to ethics to find out about it. Wow! So now ethics has become my life saver with a God that is only a postulate?
When I introspect, I am unable to know who I really am. In other words, I’m unaware of my true Self, if there is such a Reality at all. I also don’t have the power to know God, if there is such a Reality. Well Mr. Kant perhaps the library you have using in your little town doesn’t have enough resources so you would read about other cultures besides your own to know that there’re alternative ways when it comes to have knowledge of the world beyond. Perhaps you could have stepped out of this town of yours and gone to Istanbul’s library, like your friend Copernicus and opened your horizon a bit so you wouldn’t decide for the rest of the world what life is all about. Please don’t take it personally. This is simply an academic adventure. You really didn’t have to wait till Hegel comes along to tell you there’re other cultures besides your own.
‘God exists’ is an analytic statement, meaning existence doesn’t add anything to God. In other words, it doesn’t provide me with any information about Him or Her or It. So then how can we know noumenon, which is beyond phenomenon? How can we know God? Well, through ethics and morality. What happens to God? Nothing really. God whom we god rid of through our pure reason, now appears out of nowhere as a postulate or an assumption, though It doesn’t even exist. Are we treating God like Santa here? Then we blame Fried Nietzsche why he said God was dead? I’m being sarcastic here, if you don’t mind. What a way to turn metaphysics into a scientific enterprise! Sorry, this seems to be the only way I can calm down my frustration.
Using scientific method to measure that which is not a thing by nature, namely, reason is practically impossible. Intellect, in and of itself, is unlimited. For Kant reason and intellect are the same. What a travesty of justice?
Ethics would never be able to help you reach to the bottom of the lake by passing through your reflection in it. Unfortunately, Kant was not in touch a mystical figure in his life time like Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), who was a scientist, mystic as well as religious philosopher. This mystic could have taught him as to how he could reach the bottom of the pond. However, there must be a thirst, so you would look for water.
Buddha’s first lesson in the 8 steps to Nibbana (Pali) or Nirvana (Sanskrit) is right thinking or knowledge.
Kant remained a rationalist for the rest of his life and Hinduism and Buddhism were discovered by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) through a translator friend of his. By showing the limitation of pure reason, Kant maintained, he had created more room for faith. Not only did he not help Christianity and faith in Christ, but by limiting the illimitable, he went along with the science of his day and paved the way for its success philosophically. On this scale, as science moved up, faith moved dawn.
Let us create a hypothetical situation. Perhaps there was a time when ordinary believers saw a meteor or a shooting star and thought this must have been St. Mary visiting Jesus. However, this was scientifically explained later that every time a meteoroid passed through earth’s atmosphere, we could see a bright trail or streak in the sky. Imagine what must have happened to their faith then, had this been a true story. Science hadn’t advanced for such a thing to happen. Nonetheless, once science had its way, gradually people lost their faith, thanks to Mr. Kant.
Did Kant save Christianity? If he didn’t, he must have tried to show us that the rebellion of the protestant reformation against the Catholic Church didn’t get us anywhere. Perhaps ignoring the branches while trying to get back to the roots was not such a good idea after all, knowing that the reform movement had already started in the Catholic Church any way.
It is also possible that, unknowingly, he revolted against the God of Abrahamic Religions. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt.
As we know, he refuted Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God. Perhaps he thought we were better off transcending this personal God in order to reach the Ultimate Reality, which does not exist at all because it is beyond being and non-being. May be he was trying to convey a message that we really don’t need a personal God. Was he getting intellectually closer to Chinese Religions, namely, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, in which there are no personal Gods? It sounds like we’re giving Kant the benefit of the doubt. Why not?
Who is this personal God any way? Is it a thing? Is it immaterial? If it is not a thing, then it is no-thing. But it cannot be nothing either. Nothing introduces duality, that is, its opposite is something. So it must be beyond being and non-being. Is it immutable or unchanging? It cannot be. Because it’s opposite is changing. Kant was a Shiva figure. Wasn’t he? On the one hand, he tried to destroy the glorification of the Enlightenment idea of reason. On the other hand, he felt he had to do away with the concept of a personal God all together. He possibly went against the God his parents had faith in. Then who was Jesus to him anyway? Well, he was only an Avatar or incarnation of Vishnu. Perhaps all prophets were Avatars. May be he went against the decision of the Church fathers in 300 A.D, which led to the elevation of Christ to the level of God the father. But does it matter who they were? The question is, who are we? We’re only relying on our reason to know the mystery of being. We want to discover the secret of the universe and us in it. Naturally we can’t do it. We need more than our ordinary reason to see the bottom of the sea. Kant should have made a difference between pure reason and intelligence. This reason of ours divides itself into limited and unlimited. However, by indentifying the two and putting limitation on it, he created a great problem for the philosophical community. You can limit your speed but we cannot limit that which we cannot see and touch. Reason is like pain. We can feel its presence but we cannot experience it as we experience everything else. Let us think with our empiricists friends a little. This is just pure reason, let alone the Intellect, which is like the ray of the sun within us. The Intellect is not created. It is Atman in Hinduism. Kant’s subjectivism didn’t allow him to experience noumenon. It seems he acknowledged its presence as a postulate but he was unable to experience it. Perhaps he missed the significance of Copernicus’ discovery. Man circumambulates the sun because he is connected to the sun. What did Kant experience after he died? Death by no means guarantees he would have known the truth. We, nevertheless, have no idea what he went through. Buddha experienced enlightenment when he was 35 years old. He sat under a pipal tree, which is a kind of fig tree, and after a while he became enlightened. He knew it was not going to happen after death. Nor was it to take place while he was sleeping. It was a here and now moment.
Immanuel Kant, however, ought to be admired for the simple fact that he cleared the ground from all the misconceptions and misinterpretations, which had changed the course of western Christianity in Europe.
Remember, Roman Empire had been divided into two, Eastern and Western. Once Christianity became the Religion of this Empire, then we had Eastern and Western Christianity. The former somehow survived the destructive avalanche, which at one point threatened the very existence of this faith. However, the nature of Jesus was still a mystery for both branches. As entered the Roman Empire, however, the latter received many wounds. It was attacked by the humanism of the pre Socratic philosopher Protagoras who said: “Man is the measure of all things”. It was also challenged by its rival, Neo-Platonism. This was when the Greek intellectuality made a comeback after centuries of silence. This came, in the form of a synthesis, which was the result of perhaps a dialogue between Plato (thesis) and Aristotle (anti-thesis), in the person of Plotinus (synthesis). It was also likely that the Greek naturalism was one of the reasons Christ was looked at as a super natural phenomenon, which gradually made nature devoid of spirituality.
As centuries went by Islam, as the last Abrahamic Religion, emerged as a power to reckon with in 600 A.D. In the holy Qur’an, the person who was crucified beard a close resemblance to Christ but it was not him. Because God had already lifted him up to Him. It so appeared to the people who were present as if it was him but it was not. In other words, no power in the whole universe could have touched him. The logical complexities of the early church fathers regarding the nature of Jesus never existed for the Muslims. Neither was he divine. He ascended to Heaven just like Elijah. Therefore, the problem of Trinity and Jesus being fully man and fully God didn’t have to complicate the matter further. Just as he performed many miracles, his birth and death were also miracles.
It was very hard for the Christians to accept what the holy Qur’an had to say concerning who Jesus really was. Islam came about 200 years after St. Augustine. So he didn’t have a chance to react to the claim of Islam on this matter. Although St. Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th century, learned a lot from the Islamic philosophers, he never seems to have shown any reaction to the message of Islam about Christ. Perhaps he worried about its ramifications for the Catholic Church and his future in the Holy Roman Empire. Being Aristotelian, he told his followers to accept the decisions of the church fathers by faith. Regarding the idea of Trinity and Christ being fully man and fully God, he must have advised them to use paradoxes, which have appearances of contradictions but there’re not contradictory. Buddha was also asked as to whether he a god or just a man? He simply said that I’m neither, but all I know is that I’m awaken.
With the rise of Renaissance (rebirth), Reformation (Protestantism), Science, Rationalism, the age of Enlightenment, the God of Christianity became subject of great scrutiny. The other Abrahamic Religions didn’t have the names of their founders involved in what they were called. However, the question was: Who is the God of Christianity? What is true Christianity regardless of Egyptian, Persian, and Greek influences?
The narrative of God in the philosophical, scientific, and religious activities of the west goes through changes since, Descartes, the father of modern rationalism, Spinoza, Leibniz and three empiricists, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Then comes Emmanuel Kant to make sense of whatever had gone before him.
In ancient India man’s relation with the gods was a karmic one. By that we mean, it was based on cause and effect. It was a business relationship. I need rain; therefore, I sacrifice an animal for you. By the time we come to the Upanishad period, we’re no longer encouraged to engage in a karmic relation with the deities. We’re now asked by the Avatar (incarnation) Krishna, to consider karma yoga, in the Bhagavad-Gita. If karma was based on consequentiality, karma yoga was a non-consequentialist phenomenon. In the latter, we’re not involved in a business relationship with the gods anymore. When we offer them sacrifices, it is not because we expect them to give us anything in return. We don’t give in order to receive. This is totally a selfless act.
Buddha inherited the idea of karma yoga from the Upanishad and made it part of his teachings. This is where we see a similarity between What Buddha did and Kant tried to do in his ethics of categorical imperative. Buddha denied the existence of God while Kant didn’t think existence added anything to God in ‘God exist’. They both seem to have come to some kind of commonality between them. In his categorical imperative, Kant argued that here we deal with things in themselves. Lying, for instance, is in and of itself wrong. Truth telling is in and of itself right. Buddha didn’t approach this issue the way Kant did. However, both believed in non-consequentiality. They both advocated the non-conditionality of giving. We don’t do things for each other because there is something in it for us. This is amazing that somehow Kant had reached his own Upanishad awareness rationally, whereas Buddha had learned this directly from his Hindu past. Krishna teaches Arjuna about karma yoga. But Kant seems to have gone against the notion of a personal God, which had been tossed around in the past. He wants a clear ground on which he can build a philosophy which can function without the authority of the gods. It is astonishing that he rationally came so close to Buddha’s teachings on this subject matter. Perhaps that is why Schopenhauer became fascinated with Buddhism.
Kant brings God as a postulate or assumption into his ethics, while Buddha didn’t think God or gods can help us at all. In fact, he believed they need our help. Kant was agnostic, namely, he had no knowledge of God. Buddha was tired of people’s ideas or opinions of them. For Kant ‘God exists’ is an analytic statement, like square has four equal sides and right angles. Existence here does not give us any information about God. Buddha would regard this a waste of time. Why? It is because God is only a title. Besides, what are we proving here anyway? We’re trying to prove people’s ideas or opinions of a Reality which resists being subject to any duality. It is beyond being and non-being, rest and motion and cannot be named, nor can it be defined. If this is what Kant had in mind, then he was on the right track. Buddha would add that we simply can’t know this Emptiness or Shunyata by just thinking. Thinking can get us only so far. We need to experience the Ultimate Reality. We should smell its perfume. We must pierce through the clouds of thought and reach the sun.
Perhaps this was the difference between Plato and Aristotle. Plato felt we had to get out of the cave in order to see the sun. Whereas Aristotle thought by just using our logic we can have the knowledge of reality.
Immanuel Kant is said to have opened the door but never entered the garden of the Ultimate Reality. For Buddha we can never get there by Kant’s practical reason alone. There’re moral precepts to be followed prior to the actual psycho- physical practice called Patanjali yoga. Buddha tried this yoga, which is also named Ashtanga yoga or Raja yoga and subsequently he became enlightened.
Remember, ethics became very important with the advent of Protestantism. Kant, indeed, is the epitome and the end result of this historical event, which shook up the Catholic Church. But little did he know that by just being morally good one cannot step outside this cave of ours. Some of us have been sleeping in our caves for centuries. Once we wake up, we realize our dreams were not the real world. When Buddha was asked as to whom he was, he simply answered: I’m awakened.
There was a mother who always left her little one in a ground or wall baking oven, when it wasn’t used, which looked like a barrel made of clay. Her child got so used to being there that she felt after mother’s womb, this was her second home. While growing up, she still wanted to remain there. She finally was able to move out of it and see the real world.
Kant’s subjectivism is about being in a cave in which he watches his own reflections thinking those are the real world. If the world is reflecting the categories of your mind, then this is the cave you’re in.
Just as we need to be out of our mother’s womb, we have to face the reality head on. Socrates’ mother was a mid-wife. So he would go around Athens trying to deliver people from the bondage of being in the womb. The world is not my construct as Kant thought. Just watching your own images in the pond is not enough. We ought to dive in and see the bottom of it. Once we get rid of those images, then we can see the reality as it really is. We can’t achieve this through pure reason for sure but by the power of the Intellect.
If you had 100 % good karmas, in Hinduism, the best you could become is a deity. However, this helium inflated balloon can only last a short time by being attached to the ceiling. Once the helium runs out, then it will start heading towards the floor. No matter if I had the best Karma, I still would come back into the cycle of Samsara or death and rebirth. To be completely out of this cycle we need to practice Patanjali yoga. This is where ethics is no longer of any use. We should go beyond moral precepts and sit in meditation. This is exactly where Kant failed to take us to. We must transcend the Jacob’s ladder all the way to the Ultimate Reality.
In the New Testament Jesus talks about himself as if he is the Jacob’s ladder upon which angels ascend and descend. At the end of this vertical reality there is an experience of Oneness between Atman (individual Soul) and Brahman (the Ultimate Reality). In other words, the ray (Atman) of the Sun (the Ultimate Reality) and the Sun are (is) One. Once there is such an experience, there is Moksha or liberation from which there is no turning back.
Emmanuel Kant died in 1804. In 19th century Romantic period, there were other philosophers, poets, and writers who struggled to find a way into the world of noumenon. Hindu/Buddhist philosophies became common place in Europe. Religious existentialism became secular by the time we reached Friedrich Nietzsche. He finally closed the chapter on the idea of God by saying He was dead. He in reality said that the title God is dead. In a British comedy we read on the wall: ‘God is dead’ signed Nietzsche.’ Right under it reads: ‘Nietzsche is dead’ signed God. Once you analyze this, we naturally come to the conclusion that we cannot deny the fact that Nietzsche died in 1900. However, it sounds as if Nietzsche is warning us that we ought to renew our ideas about God and start pursuing rather than possessing.