Friday, October 24, 2008

Review of Wood's Kantian Ethics

A critical review of Allen Wood's Kantian Ethics (Cambridge, 2007) appeared in the Time Literary Supplement. The review is by Michael Rosen (Harvard). Here is an excerpt to entice you:
Kantian Ethics is an important and challenging book. The position that it presents is original and its argument is supported by an exceptional knowledge of Kant’s thought, of the Kantian literature and of ethical theory more broadly. It is not, however, a particularly attractive one to read. The tone in which Wood criticizes those with whom he disagrees is hectoring and dyspeptic. They show “a deplorable tendency to think in terms of entrenched prejudices”; they commit “whoppers”, have a “tin ear” for Kant, say things that are “strangely arbitrary and nonsensically extreme”, and so on. Philosophical texts are exceedingly complex, and to enter into their world is not easy. When someone feels that they have grasped what others have missed it is perhaps understandable that they should come to think that, as Wood puts it, “what Kant is trying to say is not making it past the censorship of their philosophical prejudices”. I can appreciate this, not least because I found myself thinking similarly about Wood himself. It seemed to me that his grave-robber’s passion for using Kant to support his own moral convictions had sometimes led him to overlook dimensions of Kant’s theory to which, as an archaeologist, he should have given greater weight. But this thought does not diminish the admiration I feel for the seriousness and erudition with which he sets about his task.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New Kant Book on Embodiment

Angelica Nuzzo (Brooklyn College/CUNY Graduate Center) has published a new work titled Ideal Embodiment: Kant's Theory of Sensibility (Indiana University Press, 2008). Here is the publisher's description:
Angelica Nuzzo offers a comprehensive reconstruction of Kant's theory of sensibility in his three Critiques. By introducing the notion of "transcendental embodiment," Nuzzo proposes a new understanding of Kant's views on science, nature, morality, and art. She shows that the issue of human embodiment is coherently addressed and key to comprehending vexing issues in Kant's work as a whole. In this penetrating book, Nuzzo enters new terrain and takes on questions Kant struggled with: How does a body that feels pleasure and pain, desire, anger, and fear understand and experience reason and strive toward knowledge? What grounds the body's experience of art and beauty? What kind of feeling is the feeling of being alive? As she comes to grips with answers, Nuzzo goes beyond Kant to revise our view of embodiment and the essential conditions that make human experience possible.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Terry Pinkard's Papers

Terry Pinkard (Georgetown) has posted a number of his recent papers on his site. There are some interesting papers on Hegel and spirit and Sellars and Post-Kantianism. He has also posted a draft of his new translation of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, which will be published by Cambridge. It is about time a new translation of the Phenomenology appear, and as I have mentioned before, the translation of Fichte's Science of Knowledge, published many years ago by Cambridge, is due for a major revision.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fichte's Proof that p

Fichte: P self-posits itself as p, therefore p.

More here, here, and here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New Hegel Book (Book Review)

At NDPR there is a positive review of Nathan Ross's book, On Mechanism in Hegel's Social and Political Philosophy (Routledge, 2008).

Here is a description from the publisher:

On Mechanism in Hegel's Social and Political Philosophy examines the role of the concept of mechanism in Hegel’s thinking about political and social institutions. It counters as overly simplistic the notion that Hegel has an ‘organic concept of society’. It examines the thought of Hegel’s peers and predecessors who critique modern political intuitions as ‘machine-like’, focusing on J.G. Herder, Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis. From here it examines the early writings of Hegel, in which Hegel makes a break with the Romantic way of thinking about ethical community. Ross argues that in this period, Hegel devises a new way of thinking about the integration of mechanistic and organic features within an organizational whole. This allows Hegel to offer an innovative theory of modern civil society as a component in ethical life. The second half of the book examines how Hegel develops this thought in his later works. It offers an in depth commentary on the chapter on mechanism in the Science of Logic, and it demonstrates the role of these thoughts in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. On Mechanism in Hegel's Social and Political Philosophy offers a critical response to debates over communitarianism by arguing against one of the central figures used by scholars to associate Hegel with communitarian thought, namely the notion that society is organic. In addition, it argues that Hegel political theory is deeply informed by his formal ontology, as developed in the Science of Logic.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Pippin Book on Hegel

A new Robert Pippin book is coming out on November 30. The book is called: Hegel's Practical Philosophy: Rational Agency as Ethical Life.

Book description:
This fresh and original book argues that the central questions in Hegel's practical philosophy are the central questions in modern accounts of freedom: What is freedom, or what would it be to act freely? Is it possible so to act? And how important is leading a free life? Robert Pippin argues that the core of Hegel's answers is a social theory of agency, the view that agency is not exclusively a matter of the self-relation and self-determination of an individual but requires the right sort of engagement with and recognition by others. Using a detailed analysis of key Hegelian texts, he develops this interpretation to reveal the bearing of Hegel's claims on many contemporary issues, including much-discussed core problems in the liberal democratic tradition. His important study will be valuable for all readers who are interested in Hegel's philosophy and in the modern problems of agency and freedom.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What the Fi@#te? (Part 3)

In his "Some Lectures concerning the Scholar's Vocation", Fichte writes:
You can see how important it is not to confuse society as such with that particular, empirically conditioned type of society which we call 'the state.' Desire what a very great man has said [Kant], life in the state is not one of man's absolute aims. The state is, instead, only a means for establishing a perfect society, a means which exists only under specific circumstances. Like all those human institutions which are mere means, the state aims at abolishing itself. The goal of all government is to make government superfluous. Though the time has certainly not yet come, nor do I know how many myriads or myriads of myriads of years it may take...there will certainly be a point in the a priori foreordained career of the human species when all civic bonds will become superfluous. This is hat point when reason, rather than strength or cunning, will be universally recognized as the highest court of appeal. I say "be recognized" because even then men will still make mistakes and injure their fellowmen thereby. All they will then require is the goodwill to allow themselves to be convinced that they erred and, when they are convinced of this, to recant their errors and make amends for the damages. Until we have reached this point we are, speaking quite generally, not even true men [1].
Is Fichte an anarchist? He got into a bit of trouble for saying these things, in part because some conservatives in his audience claimed he was asserting "in ten or twenty years there will be no more kings or princes" [2]. Commentators on Fichte often take these conservative interpretations to be misrepresentations. Breazeale writes, for instance, "though this rumor was obviously designed to undermine Fichte's position with the court, he in fact enjoyed the firm support of the duke and his advisers, who regarded the rumor as a transparent piece of malicious slander" [3]. Goethe quickly caught wind of these rumors and in response Fichte sent him the manuscript of his lectures and published them so as to counter once and for all the claim he was denouncing kings and princes.

But it seems to me the claim is much stronger than most have taken it, though this might be the result of some distance from a certain contexts. Fichte says there will one day be no civic bonds, government will not be needed, and since the state only plays a functional role, its function ought to be geared toward undermining its own necessity. Marx thought something like his. I guess it's not really a form of anarchism insofar as Fichte does designate some role for the state, but it sure sounds like the form of life he has in mind is some kind of anarchism.

Slight change of subjects now: I, like most of you, have been spending too much time following the present political and financial crisis in the US. I have nothing interesting to say about it, and there are plenty of good blogs covering the issue, but this Thomas Friedman line in a recent column at The New York Times did make me laugh:
I've always believed that America's government was a unique political system--one designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots. I was wrong. No system can be smart enough to survive this level of incompetence and recklessness by the people charged to run it.
[1] Fichte, "Some Lectures concerning the Scholar's Vocation" in Fichte Early Philosophical Writings, trans. and ed. Daniel Brezeale (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988) pp. 156-7.

[2] ibid., 139.

[3] ibid.