Friday, April 28, 2017

Immanuel Kant

The first thing that must be pointed out is that Kant’s epistemology is an attempt to overcome some of the aspects of Hume’s epistemology. Hume said that there are two sources of knowledge: relations of ideas (analytical) and matters of fact (synthetic).[1] One of them is that the knowledge comes from drawing out the definition; in contrast, the other one, sense experience, adds to the knowledge we have--particular facts. Because of this there is not a place for cause and effect and uniformity of knowledge, but just as considered as custom or habit. To overcome this Kant adds his categories or transcendental ideas which are known as synthetic a priori judgments.[2] So, Kant distinguishes be tween the thing-in itself and appearances, and he argues that we can never know the thing in itself.[3] However, he does acknowledge that we can know that it exists. It seems similar to Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God. We cannot know from reason the essence of God, but we can know that He exists.
            It seems that Kant has more than one definition of appearances. There is the definition that appearances are affected by the thing-in-itself, and through knowing the appearance that we indirectly know the thing-in-itself. On the other hand, the appearance can be considered as completely separate from the thing-in-itself, so, how can we know that what we know is similar to the thing-in-itself?
Another issue that is different from the philosophers who preceded him is how we get our ideas. Philosophers before Kant argued that the ideas or forms come from external objects.  Kant, however, thinks that extended objects are known by us, but we know them only through the grid of the categories of mind. These categories enable us to know the extended objects of the world around us, but only by way being “filtered” or shaped by the mind’s categories which enable us to “grasp” the objects. It is through these ideas that the person knows what exists outside of themselves. One thing is that these ideas serve as a filter for what comes in. Instead of the mind conforming to the external world, the external world has to conform to the mind.[4] This idea seems similar to the idea that the ideas exist in God, and from these ideas He creates all that exist.
            Kant doubts the possibility of metaphysics.
[5] He did not see it as being supported by reason. He thinks not even a “single” metaphysics has been proven. Kant did say he denied knowledge to “make room for faith.” Kant thinks that knowledge must be certain. He thinks that a “real science must reach conclusions that are known with absolute certainty.”[6] Because arguments for God’s existence does not produce certainty, Kant thinks they have no value. The standard for a certain knowledge seems unwarranted since most of our knowledge is based on probability and even scientific theories are overturned. Evans asserts, “the fact that rational arguments for God’s existence do not lead to a final certain knowledge hardly gives us a reason to regard these arguments as philosophically worthless.”[7] 
So, the mind is active in Kant’s epistemology creating the knowledge it acquires through interaction with the external world. One wonders if Kant did not cause a greater problem than Hume. Did Kant make a bad turn? There does seem to be truth in what Kant is saying. The mind is active, and it is not a blank slate receiving knowledge from the outside. In some sense, the mind influences how we see the world. Everything that comes in our mind is shaped by our mind.

[1] Hume, Enquiry, 839.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason in Classics of Western Philosophy edited by Steven M. Cahn (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2012), 1047.

[3] Ibid., 1061.
[4] Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 1065.

[5] Ibid., 1053.

[6] Evans, Faith Above Reason, 74.

[7] Ibid.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

David Hume

Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is his moral philosophy or “science of human nature.”[1] He distinguishes between two types of philosophy. One of them “considers man as chiefly born for action and influenced in his measures by measures and taste and sentiment, pursuing one object and avoiding another according to the value which these objects seem to possess.”[2] Hume seems to be speaking of a practical philosophy. The other philosophy “consider man as a reasonable rather than an active being and endeavor to form his understanding more than cultivate his manners.”[3] Hume is referring to theoretical philosophy. He seems to be saying only the latter type of philosophy is based on reason. This shows his view of reason is more limited than the understanding of it by Medieval philosophers. This point is confirmed when he says: “Man is a reasonable being and as such, receives from his science proper food and nourishment. But so narrow are the bounds of human understanding that little can be hoped for”[4] in the living of daily life. He believes that man is a reasonable being, a social being, and an active being. It seems the intellect only applies to being a reasonable being. He thinks that reason touches only a small part of life. For example, he says, “Be a philosopher, but, amid all your philosophy, be still a man.”[5] Hume is saying that the practical necessities of life still require you to pay heed to them as opposed to being consumed with esoteric thought removed from the ordinariness of everyday life.
            Hume seems to follow Locke in his ideas about the origin of ideas. He is a strong empiricist like Locke. He thinks the mind copies ‘the perceptions of the senses”[6] to form its ideas. He thinks, however, that ideas are weaker than the original senses. He does think that the impressions from the senses are a faithful copy of external objects. Hume does not think we have any innate ideas. He thinks all of our ideas come via the senses. He is quite skeptical of metaphysical ideas since they do not come from the senses. This is due to his being a strict empiricist allowing no other means by which one can claim knowledge. He envisions himself as being more of an empiricist than Locke.
            Hume thinks there are only two objects of knowledge: “relations of ideas and matters of fact.”[7] Only the first is “demonstratively certain;” the other is only probable. He reflects doubt on the connection of cause and effect. Cause and effect is not discovered by reason, but by experience.[8] Therefore, arguments from cause and effect are only probable because they are not substantiated via our senses. He thinks that we know these things through “custom.” He states that “all inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom, not of reasoning.”[9] This confirms what we said earlier about how Hume separates practical reasoning from theoretical reasoning and does not even consider it reason. He sees the knowledge from custom as probable, but he does think it is a “great guide of human life. It is that principle alone which renders our experience useful to us and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those that have appeared in the past.”[10] Hume adds that “Without the influence of custom we should be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond what is immediately present to the memory or senses.”[11] It seems that custom serves a similar role for Hume as practical wisdom served for Aristotle.
            Hume thinks knowledge comes only from the senses or are implied in the definition. He states, “If I ask, why you believe any particular matter of fact which you relate, you must tell me some reason; and this reason will be some other fact connected with it. But as you cannot proceed after this manner in infinitum, you must at last terminate in some fact which is present to your memory or senses or must allow that your belief is entirely without foundation.”[12] Based on this statement, Hume would think of religious belief or metaphysics without foundation. It cannot be considered knowledge or reliable.

[1] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in Classics of Western Philosophy edited by Steven M. Cahn (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2012), 834.
[2] David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 834.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 835.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.
[7] Hume, Enquiry, 842.

[8] Ibid., 843.

[9] Ibid., 849.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 849-850.
[12] Ibid, 850.

Monday, April 24, 2017


Descartes searched for a method that would enable knowledge to be certain. He looked at the sciences, especially mathematics to based this method. Descartes begins by doubting everything. He asserts, “And thus I realized that once I raze everything to the ground and begin again from the original foundations, if I wanted to establish anything firm and last in the sciences.”[1] He began by doubting everything as a methodology to achieve certainty except for the validity of such a method of doubting everything. This was different from philosophers who preceded him whom accepted common beliefs until they were shown to be unreliable.
            Descartes thought the senses could not be trusted. They did not give a certain knowledge, but only a probable knowledge. So, his method would need to be deductive. He concluded that he needed to doubt everything that could be doubted and rebuild only the beliefs that had “valid and considered reasons.”[2] In other words, beliefs must have evidence to support them. He decided that he would put “aside everything that admits of the least doubt. . . I will stay on this course until I know something certain.”[3] He discovered that thought alone was certain.  He also had great confidence in his “natural light”, that is, his natural capacity to think clearly and logically. He thought he could not separate thought from himself. Because he thought; he existed. From this foundation, he would build his knowledge base. He thought of himself as something that thinks. He was also a “thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and also imagines and senses.”[4] He is not his body; he is his mind. He restores our knowledge of the world of extended things (that is, the world of everything beyond his mind, including his body), but only as extended objects that can be known by way of measurement.

[1] Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, in Classics of Western Philosophy edited by Steven M. Cahn, 8th ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2012), 533.

[2] Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, 534.

[3] Ibid., 535.

[4] Ibid., 537.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason

Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio: On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason

What is faith? What is reason? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Pope John Paul II addressed this issue in his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio. The letter is divided into seven chapters. The chapters cover revelation, faith seeking understanding, understanding the creed, the relationship between faith and reason, the role of the magisterium, the interaction between philosophy and theology, and current requirements and tasks. The pope sees faith and reason mutually benefiting each other. In describing faith and reason, the pope asserts, "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth--in a word, to know himself--so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves" (1).

The pope states that the "desire for knowledge is characteristic of all people" (16). He believes there is "an indissoluble unity between the knowledge of reason and the knowledge of Faith." There does not need to be any competition between reason and faith because "each contains the other, and each has its own scope for action." Faith and reason belong together and humanity is harmed by separating them. Each of them have their place in the search for truth.

The pope thinks that it is the "nature of the human being to seek truth." This pursuit is not only for truths which are partial, temporal, scientific, and empirical; but the ultimate good. He urges philosophers not to forget the important questions. Some of these questions are: what is my purpose? What gives meaning to life? What is good? What is evil? He states, "Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute."

The pope narrates a history of the relationship between faith and reason and concludes: "The fundamental harmony between the knowledge of faith and the knowledge of philosophy is confirmed. Faith asks that its object be understood with the help of reason; and at the summit of its searching reason acknowledges that it cannot do without what faith presents." In other words, faith needs reason and reason needs faith. They are friends, not enemies.

There are many other important truths in the Pope's letter. He sees the relation of faith and reason to be mutually beneficial. "A life without faith is too narrow a place to live." Faith needs reason in its search for understanding.

Jean-Paul Sartre's Existentialism and Human Flourishing

How might Sartre's existentialism aid human flourishing (full human development intellectually, culturally, etc.) and how might it hinder human flourishing?

First, Sartre emphasizes personal responsibility. He asserts, "Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself" (1323). Sartre is saying that we cannot blame others for the life we are living. We must get rid of excuses and choose what we want to become. He emphasizes action over thinking about something. We must act. Second, he states that existence precedes essence. In other words, he does not believe we are born with a certain essence. What we will become is what we choose to become. He states that "man first of all is the being who hurls himself toward a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future" (1323). This reminds me of Heidegger. Sartre is saying the future is open; it is not determined. We choose what we want to be. Life is a blank sheet that we fill out. Sartre states that existentialism makes "every man aware of what he is and to make full responsibility of his existence rest on him" (1323). So, Sartre is saying we are responsible for our lives.

He states that the existentialist "thinks it is very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with him" (1324). He condemns those atheists who want to keep the moral law. He states that "everything is permissible" since God does not exist. It is up to us to create our own values. His overall worldview come form a postion of atheism: "Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position" (1323). He believes this is the truth and our worldview must be consistent. Sartre does not think that we can find "some omen by which to orient himself" (1325). Instead, man is "condemned to be free" (1325). It is up to him to choose what he values and how he wants to live his life.

Sartre emphasizes both subjectivity and intersubjectivity. He agrees that the first truth is that "I think; therefore, I exist" (1328). He states that we are aware of ourselves. In some sense, we transcend our environment. He thinks it is wrong to treat man as an object. He believes man has dignity. He states, "We definitely wish to establish the human realm as an ensemble of values distinct from the material realm" (1329). He charges materialists with treating humans as objects. He sees us being connected to others. We are not isolated individuals seeking truth like Descartres and Kant; instead, "we reach our own self in the presence of others, and the others are just as real to us as our own self" (1329). This seems to be stating that at the foundation is a relationship with others. I cannot know truth with others. Even when we choose, we choose universally. We make choices that we want everyone to make. He wants everyone to achieve their potential and not blame circumstances for not achieving in life. In addition, he thinks the other is essential for our knowledge and existence. We are responsible for ourselves, but we need others. 

He believes there is not a universal human nature, but he does believe there is a universal human condition. He thinks this human condition is similar for different people at different times and different countries. He means by condition the "a priori limits which outline man's fundamental situation in the universe" (1329). He does think there are differences in historical situations, but what does not vary is "the necessity for him to exist in the world, to be at work there, to be there in the midst of other people and to be mortal there" (1329). I assume this is what he thinks it is to be human. He thinks we can choose what we want to become in relationship with others. We are not isolated from others. He thinks it is not possible not to choose. Even when we do not choose, we still choose. In our choosing, we involve others.Sartre argues that "man will fulfill himself as a man, not in turning toward himself, but seeking outside himself a goal which is just this liberation, just this particular fulfillment" (1333). We must choose goals to realize our values. Life does not come with meaning, but we create meaning.

We have seen that Sartre's existentialism will aid human flourishing by emphasizing the importance of choosing, by taking responsibility for our own life, be creating our lives in relationship with others, and by choosing goals that give our lives meaning. It seems many of Sartre's ideas are prominent in current society. One often hears that we need to create our own values, we must choose goals to give our lives purpose, and we must be involved in this world, not a world after this life. Are there things that might hinder flourishing? There does seem to be some problems which the view proposed here. The creating of values seem quite subjective, and no way to judge between values. It does seem that there is a human nature and a moral law and we reject these things to our own harm. Sartre's ideas provide little guidance on building a good human life. He just says that we must choose, but not what we shall choose. What we choose might hinder human flourishing.