Thursday, January 22, 2009

Idealistic Enlightenment

Kant's arguments for the enlightenment of humanity appears to be heavily idealized in that he foresees a time in which all of humanity will become enlightened through the process that he describes in these writings. The formation of this end society reminds me of the transition from The One to the many. The process occurs because it has no other option. If there were an option, that, too, would have to be fulfilled in some capacity (I think). However, for Kant, there is only one path or method and through our agency we are able to facilitate the process by becoming enlightened ourselves (i.e. start thinking about things and applying our thought to our actions). I like the idea of motivating people to think about things, but doing this through governance seems contradictory to any real world governmental model (even ours).

Kant's ideas are too narrow for my taste. While I can appreciate his opinion, he is too bold in his assertions. Call me a product of a post-modern society, I guess. The teleological talk just sends me spinning; it rigidly dictates the nature of humanity in such a way that is too constraining for the advancement of new ideas and opportunities that we may happen upon. Again, I'm reading this from my day and my time. I find it very hard to fuse my horizon with a world that is just coming to view reason as critical to advancement (or even advancement as something possible).

While I'm highly critical of Howard Bloom in many ways (e.g. I'm certainly no subscriber to the ideas of strict sociobiology), he does make a few good points in his book The Lucifer Principle. One of these (from memory) is that studies of ant colonies show that even these societies have lethargic and lazy ants that don't seem to accomplish very much while others are dramatically engaged and active in doing the work of the colony. The interesting thing is that when the engaged ants disappear, the "lazy" ants become engaged and the whole colony reforms with a portion being engaged and another portion becoming lazy. To me, this represents a parallel to any social or communal society. Is this because we are driven by our DNA to act in this fashion? Are there psychological issues going on that determine this kind of behavior? Or, is it possible that the very communities that we live in instill this kind of behavior in some epiphenomenal way? I dunno, but it's certainly interesting.


  1. How is motivating people to think about things through governance contradictory to any real world model? I guess I don't know what it means to say that something is "contradictory to a real world model." This seems to be a misuse (or at least non-standard use) of the world "contradictory") It seems possible to motivate thinking through governance and it even seems plausible that many of the current governmental systems are more successful at this than other current governmental systems.

    I'm also not seeing how Kant is either too narrow or too bold (let alone both). I don't see him rigidly dictating anything. Any more than my knowing that people are not going to be sitting outside eating dinner tonight is rigidly dictating anything. This is simply the way humans are when it's this cold outside and they have no pressing (say, making a political statement) reason to suffer.

    Your last paragraph certainly suggests more determinism than it seems Kant is committing himself to.

  2. Rather than contradictory, I would say, perhaps, disillusioned. While in terms of politics, given that more people have access information and rights (in "developed" countries). However, if politics has progressed, and I think that we can safety say, based on the critea above, that we have, then, according to Kant, we should also have become more mature in all faucets of life, and I don't think that has happened, thus, there seems to be a discord in Kant's assumed connection between "progress" and enlightenment.

  3. I suspect that Kant is not using "progress" to mean the forward motion of time. Further, on what grounds are you claiming that we aren't more mature, as a group, than, say, 100 years ago?

    It seems to me that you are correct that there's a connection btwn progress and enlightenment but it's definitional. Progress simply means becoming more enlightened. This goes back to my suggestion that Kant isn't using "progress" to mean the forward march of time (which, to my mind, would be an inaccurate use of the word "progress")

  4. When I talk about real world governance models as contradictory to enlightenment I'm talking about the practical consequences of the system in which we live. I specifically use our current governance system as an example because it is the one of which I have the most knowledge.

    We live in a world where politicians are asked to be as non-verbose as possible (by their own staff, party, etc.). The consequence of not doing so is to reduce the clarity of a political vision that they strive so hard to build in the first place (in many cases). If they start talking about the issues in detail and the philosophies that are the foundations for their platform, it's considered to be to complicated for the common man to understand and hence "clouds" the perception of potential voters.

    This obscurity, I believe, leads to politics as a kind of sporting event. Each side has its own uniforms and slogans that are trumpeted from the halls of their faction. There is often a lack of a broader understanding of the difficulties and dangers of their ideas. Politicians may even decidedly create campaigns to maintain this type of obscurity for fear of making a statement that can be construed by their constituency in the wrong way (whatever way may lose votes).

    One might make the case that this promotes people to think, but I beg to differ. I feel the more forthcoming anyone is about their ideas promotes thought and dispute that ultimately brings about a better system. This simply doesn't seem to be the case in our current government. To hide one's political agenda in the shadow of generalities so as not to confuse the masses is to reduce the opportunity of enlightenment.

    As for Kant's rigidity and narrowness: they both refer to Kant's teleology. For Kant to say that the end of the human project is a U.N.-like centralized global government is to create a philosophy that becomes more and more rigidly locked onto a path as one comes closer to realizing the goals of the philosophy. There aren't opportunities to reform and reshape this view written into the philosophy itself. This is the way it must be. If you want to read Kant as just a political opinion or some normative commentary, then I wouldn't apply these labels. However, when I read philosophers I take them to be saying that this is what the world is or this is the way it should be. While I ultimately wouldn't say that Kant is positively wrong, I wouldn't say that his world view is necessarily correct.