Thursday, July 29, 2021

Twelve Rounds with Kant (Part 9)

Roberto Montenegro, The Double (1938)

Picking things back up from a month ago...

The Critique of Pure Reason (1781–7) left me in awe, regardless of all the points on which I disagreed with Kant. Its ideas, insofar as I can say I understand them, continue to tantalize me.

What about the Critique of Practical Reason (1788)?

I began reading the first Critique with a sense of curiosity and fascination. My overall mood when delving into the second was one of excitement, even hope.

I'll be honest. I don't want to be an atheist, but I can't slot humanity in a position of teleological significance to the world, nor can I anthropomorphize the cosmos. At the same time, I can't deny the spiritual anemia I feel as a nonbeliever among other nonbelievers in a society that considers humanity the sole end in a universe of means and mere incidentals. I also would prefer that the facts didn't place me in the situation of assuming a hard determinism with regard to human behavior, but that's what seems most plausible. I can't simply will myself to believe something that's incompatible with everything I've come to recognize as fact. Even before reading the first Critique's exposition of the transcendental ideas as products of coherence-seeking behavior forming relations with objects that can never be given to human experience, I had an inkling that if I was ever going to come back again to believing in God and free will, I would have to be convinced of the necessity of those beliefs on the basis of their following from some other body of propositions I'm constrained to hold as true, at least provisionally.

And there are very good reasons to believe both. Studies suggest that religious people are happier, less isolated, and at least more generous than nonbelievers. A person fully convinced of the autonomy of his will is better equipped to take charge of his life than someone who has internalized the belief that he is completely at the mercy of forces beyond his control. Optimism can make a practical difference in one's affairs.

Sure, yes, the old criticisms are still warranted. Religion can be a hothouse for imbecilic textual literalism, sectarian groupthink, and the rejection of data in favor of dogma; the sanctity in which American culture holds the amorphous ideal of "freedom" was instrumental in eroding any sense of social responsibility or serious consideration for the collective good in the United States. But religion can also inspire humility and purpose, while the idea of freedom is a prerequisite for the concept of agency.

I went into the Critique of Practical Reason with the same hope that sold me on Hartshorne's Beyond Humanism (1937), sight unseen. I was looking for an loophole by which I could, at least for myself, reconcile the apparently incontrovertible facts of the situation with certain subjective necessities of belief. Hartshorne, as we've seen, left something to be desired. What about Kant?

Roberto Montenegro, Aztec Head (1965)

I've been leafing through the second Critique, rereading my notes, taking new ones, and peering at a few secondary sources. More than once I began writing here, and ended up deleting three or more paragraphs after interrogating the text and realizing I'm arguing with a point Kant isn't actually making. His reasoning takes a few questionable turns, certainly (especially in the Dialectic of Pure Reason), but on the whole this is an exceedingly tight and well-reasoned document, and I surprise myself by saying so about a book that makes such bold claims about moral objectivism and the coexistence of free will with the inviolable law of causal connection in nature.

Although the claim that reason can act as an efficient cause is a pillar of the second Critique, Kant expounds on the idea in much more detail in the first Critique (which he expects his audience to have already read). His explanation runs a little spooky.

Since it is only in the world of appearances that causal connection determines sequences of events, it's not impossible (Kant says) that the inaccessible noumena beneath the phenomena we perceive behave differently—maybe freely, or at least according to some other set of rules we cannot know. Moreover, as rational beings, we perceive ourselves as both sensible objects (bodies in time and space) and intelligible subjects, knowing ourselves through means which mere transcend sense-perception. This aspect of us may not be beholden to the inviolable laws of appearances, since it does not exist in space or time. Materially (physiologically) our bodies do what they do because of a complex but fundamentally orderly procedure of muscular contractions, nervous impulses, and so on—but our intelligible selves seem to act through a volition independent of simple cause and effect:

Hence no given action (as it can be perceived only as an appearance) can begin absolutely of itself. Of pure reason, however, we cannot say that the state in which it determines the will is preceded by another in which that state itself is determined. For since reason itself is not an appearance, and is not subject to any of the conditions of sensibility, there occurs in it, even in reference to its causality, no succession of time; and so the dynamical law of nature, which determines the succession of time according to rules, cannot be applied to reason.

Reason is therefore the constant condition of all voluntary actions under which the human being appears. Even before it happens, every one of these actions is predetermined in the empirical character of human beings prior to becoming actual. With regard to the intelligible character, however, of which the empirical charter is only the sensible schema, there is no before or after; and every action, without regard to its relations in time to other appearances, is the immediate effect of the intelligible character of pure reason. Hence reason acts freely, that is, without being determined dynamically in the chain of natural causes by outer or inner grounds preceding in time. 

Spooky. That's the best word for it. Kant permits reason to be, on the one hand, a system we contain or enact in ourselves (in our brains?) tending automatically toward "producing rules of the understanding according to principles" and "bringing the understanding into thoroughgoing unity with itself;" and on the other hand, it can in and of itself be a cause which effectuates events events through the body though it is not of the body. ("We do not regard the causality of reason merely as a concurrent agency, but as complete in itself...") Kant writes many abstruse and fastidiously considered pages explaining how this makes sense, but I remain unconvinced. All throughout the first Critique, Kant admonishes us not to think of appearances as things-in-themselves; but to my mind, he does precisely this by hypostatizing the faculty of reason, treating it as a unitary entity rather than as a description of coherence-seeking procedures we all perform as verbal animals.

The whole matter may hinge upon how we feel about the mind: either it is an epiphenomenon arising from physical events in the body, or it is otherwise a transcendent something which emerges from physiological activity, and can by virtue of itself push back against and influence actions of the body which gives rise to it, but from which it enjoys some degree of independence. Kant's reason, understood in the first sense, is something of the body which we partially observe as systematic patterns in our own outward and inward behavior, but that order is no different from that of nature itself, witnessed from a most peculiar vantage point.¹ (Kant profoundly and vehemently disagrees—but these are doctrinal differences. Where we choose to lock away the ineffable is necessarily a dogmatic matter.)

The epiphenomenal view of the mind is what makes the most sense to me; though I believe it to be true, I admit that my belief is provisional. Disproving, to everybody's satisfaction, the reality of the mind as a nonphysical existent or attribute that exerts causal power upon the material body of the organism can't be done. Partisans for mentalism and physicalism alike can only adduce circumstantial evidence in support of their claims, and I find the physicalists' evidence more least for now.

 It is considerably harder for us moderns than it was for Kant to detach "reasoning" from physiology in an age where we can trace the mechanisms of decision-making through the methods of neurobiology. Given the complexity and obscurity that make mental behavior so difficult to pin down for an objective description, categorizing types, stages, or processes of cognition as the products and/or constituents of defined faculties is necessary for conceptualizing and communicating intimate matters of fact. We still do it. But a philosophical argument that hinges on reifying reason as something of a person—though which exists independently of time and space—remains tenable only so long as biology has nothing conclusive to say about psychology.

However—I come out of the second Critique eager to be persuaded of Kant's moral objectivism. Inseparable as it is from his doctrine of free will, can I accept it?

Let's try.

Roberto Montenegro, Hand Holding a Red Pitahaya

What if we assume that Kant was wrong about reason's displacement from the continuua of time and space, but also propose that he didn't necessarily need to be right?

We could recast the faculty of reason as an innate capacity or tendency of the neurotypical member of Homo sapiens to recognize certain fundamental relations in nature (as per the Transcendental Analytic) and to integrate them into relational networks in a uniform way, irrespective of individual or cultural idiosyncrasies. If certain cognitive procedures and perceptual rules are universal to human beings—one plus one is always two, visual objects always diminish rather than increase with distance, p cannot be not-p, etc.—maybe if every "typical" human being (i.e., not suffering from any debilitating cognitive impairments) implicitly recognizes a priori relations in the world, the universality of those relations, in making their ingression into moral considerations, tend towards universal principles regarding what one ought to do in a given circumstance.

According to Relational Frame Theory, human beings are singularly capable of acquiring such far-reaching abstract verbal behavior as comparing a hypothetical case involving another person to a concrete situation pertaining to ourselves. Aristotle and Kant considered man a "rational animal;" we say somewhat the same thing in calling him a relational animal. Mathematics lies in the recognition that three leaves, three stones, three birds, and three fingers all have something in common; morality could similarly be characterized as isolating certain acts from all particulars and regarding them as generally right or wrong, good or bad. Relational Frame Theory holds that the learned behavior of "sense-making" is reinforcing in and of itself; as we navigate a physical world of objects and events implicated in multidirectional verbal relations, many of them highly abstract, we seek coherence in these relations, or endeavor to make them coherent.

Despite employing different jargon and assuming different mechanisms, Kant's description of the source of the transcendental ideas in the first Critique largely comports with this tenet of Relational Frame Theory. We can meet Kant in the middle and say that, sure, these constant relations have their basis in the schematisms through which the human perceptual apparatus makes intelligible the sense-data bombarding us from without and within. (After all, in a manner of speaking, object p only becomes different from an object not-p through the involvement of some extraneous event or agent.) We can quibble with Kant about the extent to which the world "constructed" by the rational observer resembles nature as it independently goes about its own business, but I don't think that's important here.

Despite Kant's declaration that the content of the moral law "stands of itself altogether a priori and independent of empirical principles," he actually makes a few presuppositions about the circumstances under which it can operate. Socialization and language acquisition can reasonably be assumed of most any human subject, but neither is assured in every possible case. A so-called "feral child" can be expected possess little impulse control and virtually no capacity for the introspection which moral behavior demands. Practical reason must be learned.

Not only do we need a subject whose behavior with regard to other people has been programmatically (though seldom consistently) shaped through rewards and punishments, but one equipped with language. (The first virtually always entails the second.) Weighing one's own conduct against an abstract standard requires that an actor not only be capable of extrapolating relations without explicit training for each instance, but is able to understand concepts like "right" and "wrong," and frame them in relation to people's actions. It is by virtue of verbal behavior, for instance, that children can learn not to steal, even though they may never contact the social consequences for doing so.

A fourteen-year-old with a sweet tooth and no cash in his pockets walks past a candy display at a convenience store. He has no money, but he'd really like a candy bar. His inclination to reach for one is delayed by a verbal process: "I can't pay for this, so I'll be asked to return it if I take it to the cash register. What if I put it in my pocket, walked past the counter, and walked out the door?" After another moment of introspection wherein the things he's heard about punishments for stealing (maybe he noticed a "shoplifters will be prosecuted" sign or passed through a scanner gate at the entrance), stimulus function of the Three Musketeers bar is temporarily augmented in this context, and he finally backs away and moves on.

But this isn't at all the kind behavior Kant wants to see. Our would-be delinquent acted in conformity with the moral law, not from it. His self-repression was effectuated by verbal functions insinuating undesirable consequences. It stands to reason that if he was certain he could swipe a candy bar without getting caught, he might have gone through with it. On the other hand, if what stayed the kid's sticky little hand was the self-directed rule "stealing is wrong" overpowering and subverting his orientation towards the candy display, Kant would be satisfied that a moral law was indeed the determining ground of the boy's will in this instance.²

There may be something more to this than the simple "internalization of rules" that Freud conceptualized as the superego, and which Skinner sought to demystify with a description of the emotional predispositions (guilt) aroused by circumstances concomitant with a history of punishment (including verbal threats, which themselves acquire their aversive properties from antecedent occasions where punishment has been received). Evolutionary biologists have been saying for years that as Homo sapiens, a socially behaving species of ape, we are genetically primed for empathy for its utility in promoting cooperation and group coordination.

We most likely aren't born empathetic, but we are as eminently capable of learning to empathize as we are of learning to derive novel stimulus relations—of acquiring language and logic, in other words. "Moral" behavior of the sort in which we deny our own gratification may not always entail frustration, resentment, or any of the other kinds of aversive self-stimulation contingent on a history of punishment for socially proscribed actions. While a congenital proclivity for group-oriented behavior may not be the cause of our deferring from expedient pleasure, it may facilitate it.

After all, we aren't blank slates: our genetic endowment determines the range of our potential as a species. Chimpanzees, our close cousins, grieve for dead friends. Hammerhead sharks do not grieve, and they do not have friends. A human being may find it eminently reasonable to turn down an opportunity for material gain, in spite of the hard logic of the leger, if seizing it would harm others or threaten the integrity of his personal relationships.³

Our capacity for derived relational responding is as much a part of our genetic inheritance as our predisposition toward cooperative or altruistic behavior.⁴ Roughly speaking, it is not unthinkable that our being pre-formatted for "shared intentionality" or "super-sociality" acts in tandem with our tendency to seek coherence and consistency to make us moral animals.

Assuming the epistemology Kant laid out in the Transcendental Analytic of the first Critique is more or less correct, we recognize fundamental relations in experience prior to our acquisition of language, or even in its absence. With verbal training we may abstract these relations from experience and articulate them without reference from any particular occasion (as we do with numbers); we may also discern other synthetic a priori truths which are not apparent until a (verbal) community identifies them, but which are ever afterward regarded as universally valid. For instance, the fact that a circle inscribed on a flat plane can be understood as the locus of all points equidistant from the center may not have been patently obvious to our Paleolithic ancestors—but wherever this was observed, it was registered as truth veritably mystical in its certainty.

Roberto Montenegro, Mascaras (1939)

The socialized, verbal human being may derive similarly ironclad relations in the structural dynamic of the group to which he belongs and how he conducts himself as a member. These relations may not partake in the ineffable "purity" of those nonarbitrary ones which we are biologically wired to discriminate (causal connection, variance in magnitudes, the delineation of discrete objects in space, etc.), and of the "higher" axioms of mathematics, geometry, and logic, but they can be treated as absolute in effect once they have been identified. In making this distinction we keep pace with Kant, who draws a line between "speculative" and "practical" reason, only to later rub it out and conclude that both are aspects of "pure" reason, applied from different perspectives.

Even if the individual cannot identify these relations in the abstract, he is goaded into following their outlines through his untrained emotional responses to exchanges between himself and other group members, and though his learned behavior of empathizing, which capitalizes on his genetic predisposition for emotional responses precipitated by events befalling others. He feels anger when somebody lies to, cheats, or steal from somebody else; when a person who has done good for him makes him happy, he becomes happy; he feels sorrow when somebody he cares about suffers misfortune (and has probably learned through experience that the aversive emotional response to their pain can be mitigated by lending them comfort and aid). And so on.

These relations appear to us with crystalline sheen of immutable fact not because they reflect universal constants in the physical world, but because in them we discern our necessities as members of Homo sapiens, a social animal whose survival, both on the level of individual and group, has depended on group cooperation since the primeval dawn of our species. We are not hammerhead sharks, we are not solitary cats, we are not even like flocking birds. Any one person, whether he lives in a tribe of hunter-gatherers, in a rural village, or at the heart of a grand metropolis, can only fulfill his needs through the mediation of others. Obviously there are exceptions—the fabled infant raised by wolves or suckled from a deer, or the archetypical hermit who willfully separates himself from society and sustains himself completely from what he grows, catches, and builds himself—but both are aberrations (and the first is probably pure fantasy).

As a member of a group trained through rewards, punishments, and verbal instruction to recognize behavior in himself and others that is either beneficial or harmful to others, taught to empathize, and to feel pride and shame for his own actions, the individual derives a multitude of relations between himself and the group, himself and individual group members, between other group members, between subgroups and the larger group, etc., etc. Many of these will be locally particular, and only applicable to specific people or within a given culture or geographical region. But owing to the effective universality of human needs, capabilities, and life-cycle stages—and to their intersection with environmental elements that are equally universal, for all intents and purposes—many of the derived relations can be expected to occur with apparently total ubiquity, wherever one cares to look. "I" and "you." "Me" and "them." "Mine," "yours," "theirs," "ours." "Right" and "wrong." "Good" and "bad." "Should" and "should not." And so on.

Given all of these constants that can be abstracted from any particular occasion and set in relation with each other, it may be possible to identify a fundamental rule for how the human social animal ought to act. As we are all of us inveterate coherence-seekers, we might expect to find such a rule articulated in almost as many cultural milieus as demonstrate mathematical knowledge. The ubiquity of the Golden Rule doesn't cinch our case, though it confers some measure of corroboration.

True, Kant's categorical imperative (which he asserts to be the a priori basis of all moral laws) is not identical to any specific expression of the Golden Rule, nor is it fungible with "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We can make the case, however, that it abstracts from the golden rule and more purely expresses its intention. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" presupposes an immediate recipient of one's actions, which hardly exhausts the number of occasions in which one of two (or more) prospective actions serves only the actor's personal gratifications, and another is in self-denying conformity with what the actor understands to be "what you would have [others] do." Surely the mythical Jesus quoted by Matthew and Luke didn't intend that what the "the Law and the Prophets" demand should be considered only in instances where the consequences of one's actions are brought directly to bear upon another party. Confucius, the Hindu sages, Gautama, and Zoroaster would certainly scoff at the idea that moral duty applies only to men confronting each other face-to-face. We could make the case that Kant's categorical imperative unpacks the golden rule, making explicit something "do unto others" and all its classical variants only imply.⁵

Roberto Montenegro, Untitled (Sic Transit Gloria Mundi)

Just to make sure we're all on the same page (read: that I'm on the same page as myself), let's review. 

Our revised version of Kant's moral consciousness, which we propose on a totally pro tem basis (and just for the sake of engaging with Immanuel here), adduces Homo sapiens' congenital propensity for group cooperation and altruistic behavior (though these may be either "activated," left undeveloped, or extinguished by environmental factors), alongside the possibility that certain ubiquitous constants can be identified and relationally framed in any conceivable environment that produces and sustains verbal human beings. We hypothesize that any society of verbal humans will be equipped to derive relations between the self and others, right and wrong, etc. that tend towards an understanding between a given self and given others that can be expressed by the abstract form of the categorical imperative as a self-directed rule. It is by no means certain that this will come about, but given stability, time, and an environment conducive to introspection, a culture (or some members of it) will approach the rule as reliably as any civilization comes to discern and put to use the facts of geometry.

Well, okay. How would the ramifications of this revision—tentative as it is—affect the upper stories of the Kantian edifice?

First: we've done here is sacrificed a doctrine of moral realism for one of moral potential. For Kant, human beings are not simply formatted for moral consciousness; the ethical software comes preinstalled with the reasoning faculty:

[T]he moral law is given, as it were, as a fact of pure reason of which we are a priori conscious and which is apodictically certain....

[B]esides the relation in which the understanding stands to objects (in theoretical cognition) it has also a relation to the faculty of desire, which is therefore called the will and is called the pure will insofar as the pure understanding (which in this case is called reason) is practical through the mere representation of a law. The objective reality of a pure will or, what is the same thing, of a pure practical reason is given a priori in the moral law, as it were by a fact——for so may we call a determination of the will that is unavoidable even though it does not rest on empirical principles....

[T]he moral law strikes down self-conceit. But since this law is still something in itself positive——namely the form of an intellectual is at the same time an object of respect inasmuch as, in opposition to its subjective antagonist, namely the inclinations in us, it weakens self conceit; and inasmuch as it even strikes down self-conceit, that is, humiliates it, it is an object of the greatest respect and so too the ground of a positive feeling that is not of empirical origin and is cognized a priori. Consequently, respect for the moral law is a feeling that is produced by an intellectual ground, and this feeling is the only one that we can cognize completely a priori...

Our revision, which speculates that moral consciousness is something that must be (and most usually is) acquired and cultivated through socialization, loosens the fetters of the moral law by making it contingent on experience. This is anathema to Kant: a moral empiricism that grants humans are moral beings for all intents and purposes still taints his moral law with a degree of a posteriori arbitrariness. Moreover, the evidence we cite, however plausible it may or not seem, contains a great deal of conjecture. We can't properly call this conception a moral law if we're not certain of it. 

Second: by jettisoning the transcendent, noumenal dimension of reason from Kant's scheme, we sacrifice the grounds on which Kant safeguarded the sanctity of persons and the a priori necessity of doing right by them. If you recall, the second Critique predicates the end-in-itselfness of the individual human being on his status as a rational and free actor:

It is...freedom and independence from the mechanism of the whole of nature, regarded nevertheless as also a capacity of a being subject to special laws——namely pure practical laws given by his own reason, so that a person as belonging to the sensible world is subject to his own personality insofar as he also belongs to the intelligible world; for, it is then not to be wondered at that a human being, as belonging to both worlds, must regard his own nature in reference to his second and highest vocation only with reverence, and its laws with the highest respect....In the whole of creation everything one wants and over which one has any power can also be used merely as a means; a human being alone, and with him every rational creature, is an end in itself...

What are we left with? Respect for persons because we're all members of the same species? Respect for persons on the basis that we understand them when they speak, and can empathize with them when they exhibit joy or pain? Respect for persons because we've been conditioned to treat them a certain way? Are these grounds too arbitrary to support the weight we should expect of a moral theory? Or do we need to temper our expectations regarding what's possible for a moral theory that doesn't erect any of its pillars of justification in the spooky?

Third: our revision of the moral law does not have anything to say about free will. We no longer have a human being pulled on either side by animal impulse and the urgings of an ineffable, noncorporeal spark of rationality, but an organism in whom behavior strengthened by one kind of stimulus (say, an unattended wallet in a gym locker) "competes" with another response process strengthened by another (say, the private recitation of the self-directed rule "stealing is wrong"). Any moral doctrine that makes freedom extraneous to morality would be rejected by Kant, sight unseen, because personal agency is impossible without it.

Can morality have any meaning without the concept of agency?

This post has already gone on too long. I'm going to take a week or so to think things over.

1a. That vantage point is ineffable, in fact.

1b. What appears to us as "coherence-seeking," which is often accompanied or defined by vivid mental imagery or "internal dialogue" is, according to the epiphenomenalist, a kind of mirage produced by state-changes in the complex inner relations of our organism. (In other words, the experience wherein we envision where we left our car keys matters less to our finding them than the physiological events at the mental imagery's substratum.) To say this is all too subtle and complex to belong to the meat of our bodies seems to me to give that astonishing meat much too little credit. 

2. "Behavior controlled by antecedent verbal stimuli" is Hayes and Hayes' [sic] condensed definition of rule-governed behavior in Relational Frame Theory: A Post-Skinnerian Account of Language and Cognition (2003). Their full exposition of rule-following behavior as a subset of verbal regulation is four pages long, and I'm not typing it up. (By Kantian standards, however, this is wonderfully concise.)

3. Side note: sociopathy and psychopathy are evidently of some genetic provenance.

4a. Kant believed human beings are compelled towards morality through the influence of the rational faculty on their sensibility. Incidentally, so did Thomas Hobbes. From Leviathan (1651):

[The fundamental law of nature:] And consequently it is a precept, or generall rule of Reason, "That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre"” The first branch, of which Rule, containeth the first, and Fundamentall Law of Nature; which is, "To seek Peace, and follow it."

Hobbes' fundamental law of nature is man's inborn bent (again, by dint of his reason) towards lawful behavior for the preservation of peace (which he intuited some two centuries before the theory of evolution made possible an examination of self-abnegating, group-first behavior on the basis that it helps ensure survival and reproduction). However, Hobbes maintains that this tendency is bootless until a community codifies laws predicated on "morall Vertues" and upholds them with the threat of deprivation and violence: 

The Law of Nature, and the Civill Law, contain each other, and are of equall extent. For the Lawes of Nature, which consist in Equity, Justice, Gratitude, and other morall Vertues on these depending, in the condition of meer Nature...are not properly Lawes, but qualities that dispose men to peace, and to obedience. When a Common-wealth is once settled, then are they actually Lawes, and not before; as being then the commands of the Common-wealth; and therefore also Civill Lawes: for it is the Soveraign Power that obliges men to obey them. For in the differences of private men, to declare, what is Equity, what is Justice, and what is morall Vertue, and to make them binding, there is need of the Ordinances of Soveraign Power, and Punishments to be ordained for such as shall break them; which Ordinances are therefore part of the Civill Law. The Law of Nature therefore is a part of the Civill Law in all Common-wealths of the world. Reciprocally also, the Civill Law is a part of the Dictates of Nature.

Kant evidently wasn't a fan of Hobbes, but may have had more in common with England's most famed cheerleader for autocracy than he'd have liked to admit

4b. The Atlantic article mentions tests that show human toddlers capable of cooperative behavior that adult chimpazees can't acquire in any natural setting. Perhaps not totally coincidentally, Relational Frame Theory cites other experiments which found that human toddlers can perform feats of derived relational responding, while grown chimps cannot.

5. If, for the sake of argument, we grant all this to be true—that there exists an effectively universal and fundamental relational construct against which all altruistic and harmony-promoting behavior can be gauged, that it is roughly articulated by any number of versions of the golden rule, and that Kant's categorical imperative specifies that construct more perfectly—then why should Kant arrive at a truth which the great prophets and sages of antiquity could only approximate? It may not be that Kant was so much a greater genius than Confucius, but that he lived his life and embarked upon his career in a time and place dominated by print culture. If you remember your McLuhan, you'll recall that habits of perception and cognition promoted by print media facilitate abstraction. Such a mindset is conducive toward arriving at ever more abstract generalities from particulars, but evidently not so good for synthesizing knowledge into a integrated whole. Confucius is taken seriously today by many more people than Kant, perhaps because his philosophy stands at fewer degrees of abstraction from the concrete affairs of people's lives. (Obviously his centrality to the intellectual tradition of the world's most populous nation doesn't hurt, either.)

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