Monday, June 27, 2016

Reading a Poem by Michael Ondaatje: "Letters and Other Worlds"

Michael Ondaatje is a poet and novelist who’s authorial voice focuses on an individualistic perspective that spans great and small lengths of history and geography. His work’s worldliness and integrative nature perhaps stems from his singular background. He was born in Sri Lanka, raised in the UK, and later immigrated to Canada. Ondaatje’s narratives bear a unique sense of lyricism and description that one might describe as, “lyrical collage.” His oeuvre includes the collections of poetry, There’s a Trick with a Knife I’m Learning to Do, The Cinnamon Peeler, Handwriting, the novels, In the Skin of a Lion, The English Patient, and my personal favorites, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, a book of prose and poetry, as well as the novel Divisadero. “Letters & Other Worlds” is a poem that has been anthologized since its 1979 publication, wherein Ondaatje addresses his father’s alcoholism in a free verse form.

The poem begins with an unattributed quote followed by two indented stanzas of five and four lines respectively. The quote reads like a sentence fragment, in that it has no capitalization to signal a sentence beginning, nor a period to end it; “for there was no more darkness for him and, no doubt like Adam before the fall, he could see in the dark”. The similarities of the pronouns, he and him, and the biblical Adam between them, along with dark and darkness, create an arch that is first stationary, then falls, and finally rises. In the first and second lines of the indent, Ondaatje uses parallelism and repetition to invoke the poem’s title; “My father’s body was a globe of fear / His body was a town we never knew”. The words “globe” and “town” refer to the “Other Worlds” of the title. In the fourth line, “His letters were a room he seldom lived in” the poet repeats the “Letters” of the title while “room” is the “World” mentioned in a spatially, shrinking manner. The next stanza uses the same devices of parallelism and repetition with the same words as stanza one, although adding a tainting “fear” to the structure. The quote and two indented stanzas function as a preface to the narrative of the poem.  

The third stanza begins with one end-stopped line announcing the death of the father; “He came to death with his mind drowning.” Ondaatje further describes the condition of the body, and the relations between blood, gin, brain, fluids, compartments, and finishes with the phrase, “a new equilibrium.” This is meant to communicate the physical state of the father in contrast to the next stanza which declares, “His early life was a terrifying comedy / and my mother divorced him again and again.” The poetic narrative regresses in this stanza by mentioning the father’s early life and “falling” as in the biblical Adam of the opening quote.

The sixth stanza provides a distractive element to offset the continued alienation of the father. This is achieved by having the entire stanza in parentheses, as if to exercise an aside to the primary theme of the poem. Ondaatje writes of his mother being a comically bad driver that was invariably stoned by the townsfolk whenever she was recognized.

The father returns in the seventh and eighth stanzas to an uneasy balance with the mother. Ondaatje writes of their marriage, “he or she was the injured party.” A definite opposition is made implicit when, on a dock and waving goodbye to a newlywed couple sailing away, the distraught and “jealous” father jumps in the water and swims after his two friends. The mother is embarrassed and “pretending no affiliation” yet later is compelled to write a note of correction to The Ceylon Times when the paper published a sentimental story on the incident, “saying he was drunk / rather than broken hearted at the parting of friends.”  
The format of the short ninth stanza is one of transition to the last portion of the poem. It begins with “his last years” and in contrast to the outward display of emotion noted earlier, the father has now become a “silent drinker.” The dynamic between the physical body and place Ondaatje mentioned at the initial, indented section, has returned; “disappeared into his room with bottles / and stayed there until he was drunk / and until he was sober.”

“There speeches, head dreams, apologies, / the gentle letters, were composed.” So begins the final and longest stanza. The poet documents a reprieve that operates as the start of a denouement; “With the clarity of architects / he would write of the row of blue flowers / his new wife had planted,”. Interestingly an effect of the phrase “new wife” is of implied alliteration, in that the phrase rhymes with “new life.” This functions as a subtle misreading that, whether intended by Ondaatje or not, stops and confronts the reader with the suggested meaning of the word “wife.” The father has a new wife, and therefore the reader might participate in the story’s interpretation as to assume he also has a new life. New developments like, planned “electricity in the house,”, and a half-sister that “fell near a snake / and it had awakened and not touched her.” continue the theme of renewal of conscious life. However, the seemingly benevolent snake is “awakened” and ignores the half-sister while reminding the reader of Adam’s fall in the Garden of the initial quote. Again, the author poses a gentle question to the sensibilities of the reader. Then the father’s letters or literary creations, and awareness are expressed with a strong polysyndeton; “Letters in a clear hand of the most complete empathy / his heart widening and widening and widening”. All this juxtaposed against the rhetorical reminder of the biblical fall, “while he himself edged / into the terrible acute hatred / of his own privacy / till he balanced and fell”. The fall proves to be the father’s last, and Ondaatje patterns the last four lines with the oppositions and repetitions that have by now, become familiar to the reader; “the length of his body / the blood entering / the empty reservoir of bones / the blood searching in his head without metaphor.”     

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Notes From the Existential: Søren Kierkegaard

I. The Aesthetic Aesthete:
To live in the moment is to be a sentimental fool and deny the complexity of the human condition.

In Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophical text Either/Or (EO), the writing is done in a pseudonymous fashion. In the portion entitled, A Fragment of Life; Part I Containing A’s Papers, Kierkegaard uses the characters Victor Eremita, the poet A, and Johannes to elucidate the first stage of his dialectical progression of individual development. This initial stage concerns the aesthetic approach to existence. Kierkegaard begins with an announcement stating an editor named Victor Eremita has found anonymous manuscripts that he then attributes to a poet he calls “A.” Eremita describes the papers as the product of a “witty, ironical, disillusioned young aesthete” (EO I, 2). These papers authored by A are meant to convey the essence of an aesthetic life, and Kierkegaard uses the character of A to communicate indirectly and haphazardly the nature of the aesthete to the reader.

A begins with a polemical argument that tells of the misery an artist experiences in life. “What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music” (EO I,3). A claims that his present cultural atmosphere (Denmark 1843) is unhappy because the overall climate is one without passion. He writes of the boredom and meaninglessness of life, and appeals to the work of Shakespeare and the writings of the Old Testament for consolation; “There one still feels that those who speak are human beings; there they hate, there they love, there they murder the enemy, curse his descendants through all generations – there they sin” (EO I, 13). Contrasting the despair of ordinary existence, aesthetic works of supreme pathos speak to the informed aesthete. A writes of sunshine penetrating his dark apartment as he hears a piece of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and goes on to explain the nature of music and its relationship to language as a form of language. For A, artworks that can be heard are the highest form of art and possess a sensuous quality. This is to say that aesthetic pleasure is a hedonistic solution to the problem of boredom. Later in the first half of EO, the character of Johannes writes of romantic seduction and the pleasure found in its planning.

Through the characterization of A and Johannes, Kierkegaard displays the whimsical and intense nature of the aesthete. While Johannes’ thoughts are more distilled and concentrated, A’s thinking is diffused and repetitious. He employs irony and wit but is ultimately “disillusioned” as Victor Eremita first attests. Through A, Kierkegaard evokes a capricious attitude toward life. A embodies the aesthete that is only concerned with the present moment and pursues the present to avoid the complacency of boredom and the misery of recollection. In this way, A has achieved a version of happiness that he thinks is the pinnacle of existence. However, Kierkegaard implicitly conveys the limitations of A’s conclusions to the reader. A is unable to realize anything beyond the aesthetic realm. He falsely believes that by living in the moment and experiencing aesthetic pleasure, he has overcome the problem of boredom that infests the culture around him.        

According to A, boredom is “corrupting” and “the root of all evil” (EO I, 258). This knowledge is not known to the common person and A purports to know this by way of his aesthetic or experiential immersion in boredom; “for like is only recognized by like” (EO I, 21). Humanity suffers boredom and is boring, yet the enlightened aesthete has achieved a redemption of the kind that is so often central to religious doctrine. Thus “idleness” is bliss and the answer to boredom; “[idleness] is a truly divine life, if one is not bored” (EO I, 261). A calls this solution the, “rotation of crops” (EO I, 263). He likens the phrase to a farmer continually changing his soil to promote new growth. Likewise, the individual who seeks constant change will be free of boredom. This is to live in the moment and eschew notions of hoping for the future and remembering the past. “Not until hope has been thrown overboard does one begin to live artistically... hope was one of Prometheus’ dubious gifts; instead of giving human beings the foreknowledge of the immortals, he gave them hope” (EO I, 264). The careful, selective choice of what to remember and how, is the outcome of experiencing the present and constant change; “The more poetically one remembers, the more easily one forgets, for to remember poetically is actually only an expression of forgetting. When I remember poetically, my experience has already undergone the change of having lost everything painful” (EO I, 265).

Also important to the “rotation of crops” is a commitment to non-attachment. The denial of friendship and romance in one’s life is tantamount to the successful aesthete. A calls this non-attachment a “social prudence” (EO I, 268). Attachment to others, according to A, is problematic to the enjoyment of the present and the pursuit of an arbitrary existence. Of friendship he writes, “A friend is not what philosophy calls the necessary other but the superfluous third” (EO I, 267). Of marriage, A contends that it will inevitably produce faithlessness and pain. The aesthete is to focus on themselves by only living for individual experiences of pleasure. This can come through the sensuousness of the arts and erotic hedonism. And finally, A declares “Arbitrariness is the whole secret” (EO I, 270). To be arbitrary is to live unattached and to constantly rotate the crops. For Kierkegaard’s A, this is the way to eradicate boredom and succeed at the aesthetic level.    

II. The Ethical Being:
Facing the truth and challenging individual awareness.

In the second half of Either/Or; Part II Containing the Papers of B, Letters to A, Kierkegaard uses the character of B, or more frequently dubbed Judge William, to respond to the claims of aesthetic superiority made by A in Part I. B writes two letters to A: the first is a defense of marriage and the second is a call for balance between an aesthetic and ethical way of life. Judge William admits to A that the aesthetic stage is valuable, but ultimately a skewed and unstable way to live.

In his letter The Esthetic Validity of Marriage, Judge William tactfully accuses A of speaking in generalities. The judge posits that this method of aesthetic justification invalidates any claim to individuality A might seek. The judge then writes of inner and outer histories that flow in opposite directions, and how the two function dialectically within an individual. Outer history is related to conquering nature, while the inner form possess nature intrinsically. Comparatively, the outer history of conquering nature, as in experiencing nature in an aesthetic way, is related to A’s conception of living in the present. The judge uses the concept of pride to illuminate the aesthetic lifestyle; “what is essential in pride is not sequence but intensity in the moment” (EO II, 123). This is contrasted with humility and the gradual accumulation of experience that humility of the inner history requires.

Humility is harder to portray precisely because it is sequence, and whereas the observer needs to see pride only at its climax, in the second case he really needs to see something that poetry and art cannot provide, to see its continuous coming into existence, for it is essential to humility to come into existence continuously, and if this is shown to him in its ideal moment, he misses something (ibid).

Judge William then connects the immediate of the outer to the slower growth of inner history, respectively, to erotic lustful passion, and marital love and passion. He concedes that eroticism is better conveyed to the aesthete, but is not as aesthetically gratifying as marital love because the latter requires time and living to achieve a superior aesthetic quality; “Marital love, then has its enemy in time, its victory in time” (EO II, 126). All this is meant to show that both inner/outer or immediate/gradual aspects aestheticism are vital to the ethical level of the individual Judge William is advocating.

In his second letter to A, The Balance Between the Esthetic and the Ethical in the Development of the Personality, Judge William pursues the ethical stage while maintaining the importance of the aesthetic. More specifically the judge writes that the ethical stage is when “a person becomes what he becomes” and further that this stage “does not want to make the individual into someone else but into the individual himself; it does not want to destroy the esthetic but to transfigure it” (EO II, 227). Kierkegaard wants to communicate that the aesthete individual who is caught in the aesthetic stage is really no individual and is merely a loose amalgamation of partial roles. The aesthete in their immediate and unattached position is no one. They have only made aesthetic choices and “an esthetic choice is no choice” (EO II, 151). The individual, the judge argues, needs to doubt themselves willfully and then reach a nadir of despair. Once this despair is felt, they realize a more critical choice of their ethical nature. “The only absolute Either/Or is the choice between good and evil, but this is also absolutely ethical” (ibid). Once the choice and hence knowledge of an ethical self is known, the individual progresses farther into their inner history which B mentioned at the beginning of the letter; “Inner history is the only true history” (EO II, 122). The despaired individual has now felt the choice of the ethical that further leads toward personal inner awareness; “In choosing the personality declares itself in its inner infinity and in turn the personality is thereby consolidated” (EO II, 152).

III. The Knight of Infinite Resignation:
Surrender to despair, and to the death of the self.

Kierkegaard furthers his concept of inwardness in his text Fear and Trembling (FT). From the aesthetic sphere of A to the judgment of A by Judge William (or B), FT continues this path of individual awareness to the hierarchical religious stage Kierkegaard has outlined. The author once again assumes a pseudonymous character of Johannes de Silentio to symbolically and ironically communicate his philosophy.

In the section of FT titled, Repetition; Exordium, Johannes sets out to understand the Biblical story of Abraham and his son Isaac found in The Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. Johannes attempts to understand the story in four sections (I – IV), but ultimately is perplexed by the logic of the situation. Briefly the story tells of God commanding the leader of the Hebrews, Abraham, to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering to examine faith. Isaac was given to Abraham and his Sarah by God when the couple were very advanced in age. God wants to test the faith of Abraham by commanding the elderly man to kill his only son as a sacrificial offering. Abraham sadly follows the word of God and takes Isaac to Mount Moriah where he is to be sacrificed. At the moment just before Abraham kills Isaac, an angel appears and offers a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son. Abraham’s faith is tested in multiple ways: 1) he follows God’s command and prepares to sacrifice his son, 2) Abraham’s faith inwardly tells him that God would never make him do this and will stop him at the final moment, 3) Abraham is to believe the angel as a rightful messenger of God.

Toward the end of the next section, Eulogy for Abraham, Johannes writes of Abraham’s struggle with faith and metaphorically invokes the notion his possible failure in the word “flight.”

If Abraham had doubted as he stood there on Mount Moriah, if irresolute he had looked around, if he had happened to spot the ram before drawing the knife, if God had allowed him to sacrifice it instead of Isaac – then he would have gone home, everything would have been the same, he would have had Sarah, he would have kept Isaac, and yet how changed! For his return would have been a flight, his deliverance an accident, his reward disgrace, his future perhaps perdition (FT III, 74).

When Johannes uses “flight” he means Abraham after having escaped the test of faith, he would essentially lose his faith. The flight is a flight away from faith after Abraham’s presumed failure. If Abraham had seen the ram before he killed his son, he would have known the whole process was a ruse to test his faith. In this way, Abraham’s faith would never have been tested, and in fact failed with the knowledge of God’s true plan. Abraham would take flight from his God and faith to live out his days in secure, but quiet failure.

IV. The Knight of Faith:
Surviving personal death.

Kierkegaard’s system of inwardness begins with the aesthetic, then moves to the ethical realm, followed by extreme despair and angst to realize the the religious stage. This last stage before infinity is dived into knights of infinite resignation and knights of faith, with the latter being the highest known form of Kierkegaard’s spiritual attainment.

Johannes describes this path as different for every individual. Thus the path of Abraham to the ultimate knight of faith cannot be duplicated. An individual must face their own stages of individuality and despair to reach their unique positions of faith. Johannes begins with a physical description of a knight of infinite resignation; “[they] are easily recognizable – their walk is light and bold. But they who carry the treasure of faith are likely to disappoint, for externally they have a striking resemblance to to bourgeois philistinism, which infinite resignation, like faith, deeply disdains” (FT III, 89). These knights for Johannes are what monk and nuns are to the Christian faith. They have resigned themselves to the infinite, to worship and acceptance of their faith. These knights have no attachments in relationships or material possessions, yet they are beyond common philistinism in that they are able to deeply feel the pathos of art and culture. The knight of infinite resignation is exemplified in Abraham as he resigns himself to God. He follows an ordered love that realizes God as the zenith of love. Once Abraham has reconciled this to himself, he has thus placed himself, Isaac, Sarah, and every other kind of love below that of his love for God. He has resigned himself to a life of the infinite.

Johannes then proceeds to describe the ascendance of the knight of faith, which happens simultaneously with the infinite resignation stage but is superior. He writes; “Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so that anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith, for only in the infinite resignation do I become conscious of my eternal validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith” (FT III, 97). This passage exemplifies Kierkegaard’s descriptions of the stages of individual inwardness. The knight of faith is an individual of the highest individual awareness because they have renounced absolutely everything for a belief or faith in something. As Abraham resigns everything he cherishes to the infinite in the service of his faith in God, he then loses himself. He has lost himself in a death-like despair, to become his ultimate self. Johannes calls a “paradox of existence” (ibid). Abraham as a knight of infinite resignation and then faith, realized in his actions and commitment to God that “he can be saved only by the absurd, and this he grasps by faith” (ibid).

V. Suspension:
Transcendence of ethics and morality.

In attempting to understand the story of Abraham and Isaac, Johannes asks himself and the reader if there is suspension of the ethical realm in this story. It is perplexing that on an ethical level, Abraham is an evil murderer while in the religious level he is considered to be the father of Christian faith. Johannes believes that in this way, the ethical and religious realms cannot function properly together.

This inability to understand superior levels of individual inwardness resembles the previous inability of the aesthete to understand the guiding principles of the ethical stage. A assumes to himself and others that he has in fact reached the highest form of individuality in his immersion and understanding of aesthetic experience. The ability to believe that this view could be mistaken lies outside of his aesthetic self. Judge Williams’ letters to A are hopeful and optimistic in the attempt to explain this to A. However, no amount of explanation could convince A of the superiority of the ethical over the aesthetic. Instead A has to experience a deep personal crises and loose himself to an ethical choice. To choose the ethical, A realizes its existence and in turn moves into a universal ethical realm. If he denies the ethical, he wallows in the despair of its existence and the failure of the aesthetic stage to deliver him from the knowledge of the ethical. Similarly, Abraham as man in the ethical realm must face an even greater test of angst and despair to realize and to understand faith.

For Johannes, the ascendance to a knight of faith requires a betrayal of the ethical stage. He asks, “Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical?” (FT III, 104). Johannes compares Abraham’s story to a modern day scenario wherein a churchgoing father takes a this sermon describing a test faith literally and then goes home and murders his son. Johannes wonders if the murder is justified as a suspension of the ethical to serve a higher unknown understanding to faith. The test of faith would be to believe this suspension is necessary to attain faith – even if the religious realm is unknowable to the ethical man. So the teleological or purposeful suspension of the ethical does not happen. Abraham and the modern churchgoer are seen as vile murderers on the ethical level.

This paradox reveals itself in the dichotomy of infinite resignation and the knight of faith. Abraham had to resign everything and Isaac to the infinite, while at the same time having personal faith that Isaac would not be lost.     

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Late Cold War Sonnet

In ’77, détente was gone
Soviet SS-20s pointing west
Brezhnev sees Afghanistan like a Khan
Carter says, the US won’t be your guest.
Then came Reagan and shit hitting the fan
Pynchon and DeLillo’s visions came true
KGB, RYAN, were Andropov’s plan.
SDI then Chernenko’s quick death knew
Change was coming, yet missiles still pointing.
In ’85, Gorbachev smiled
Perestroika and Glasnost anointing
Changes that would leave Lenin defiled.
And so, the USSR then failed
And all the cold warriors wept, and wailed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Russia & The Economist

When reading international news, a reader is ideally presented with facts and then compelled to form an opinionated judgment based on impartial information. This process being a form of non-passive discourse that takes place in the mind of the reader as they assess information. While this scenario might be the lofty ideal of objective journalism, it’s rarely seen in international reportage. Instead news predominantly serves an ideological means to communicate certain information to a specific demographic, with the objective ideal only functioning as a comparative reference point. This format positions the reader as a passive spectator of subjective and agreeable news that has inherent value not in impartial truths but in simple limited truths. Aware of the disproportion between representations of the complexity of the ideal and degrees of the actual, readers have sought out media strongholds that have historically been reputable sources of unbiased news.  
One such source is the British publication, The Economist. The weekly print and online magazine was founded in 1843 on the basis of 19th century liberalism and utilitarianism, and was politically described as “the extreme centre” by mid 20th century editor Geoffrey Crowther. This established position is appealing to discriminating readers of a Western, First World mindset seeking an equitable source of international news. Though the veracity of The Economist’s centrist position is questionable when examined through non-Western ideological perspectives. This is not entirely unforeseen, in that the magazine or newspaper as its called in the UK, is a product of and for Western society. And while open-minded cultural sensibilities to non-Western viewpoints are appreciated by an informed public seeking the “extreme centre,” in practice this has proven to be a complicated area for The Economist’s journalists. Namely representations of the Second World of the Soviet Bloc, or now the Russian Federation and its sphere of influence. Over time Russia has been depicted as a threat to Western interests, an ideological enemy, and as a confused entity that’s occasionally enlightened with Western values, that cumulatively amounts to an overall negative gestalt. These notions lead to the question of Russia being simply misunderstood or unjustly portrayed in the discourse of The Economist.
The first discursive point is the anonymity of most of The Economist’s articles. The publication’s website “About Us” page states:
Why is it anonymous? Many hands write The Economist, but it speaks with a collective voice. Leaders are discussed, often disputed, each week in meetings that are open to all members of the editorial staff. Journalists often co-operate on articles. And some articles are heavily edited. The main reason for anonymity, however, is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it. As Geoffrey Crowther, editor from 1938 to 1956, put it, anonymity keeps the editor "not the master but the servant of something far greater than himself. You can call that ancestor-worship if you wish, but it gives to the paper an astonishing momentum of thought and principle."
By adhering to this principle, the magazine simultaneously realizes an aggregate ethos and a nullification of journalistic ownership. In the former, this allows The Economist to maintain a generic discourse that aids hard content rather than personal authorial flourishes. The magazine is able to move slower and more conservatively through current events that possibly turn into significant historical occurrences. The banal yet opinionated “collective voice” is most likely a component in its continuing longevity, and is what the website designates as “plain language,” while additionally 19th century editor Walter Bagehot describes it as a “conversational” writing style that’s used in the “most direct and picturesque manner.” This voice of The Economist is a device that’s able to weather ideological shifts in history while also playing a part in the creation of preserved epistemic history, or what Michel Foucault might term an épistème to define a set systematic and related events that characterize a historical period.
This épistème may be suspected of being something like a world-view, a slice of history common to all branches of knowledge, which imposes on each one the same norms and postulates, a general stage of reason, a certain structure of thought that the men of a particular period cannot escape – a great body of legislation written once and for all by some anonymous hand (Foucault, Archeology of Knowledge).
Events preserved in The Economist, no matter the validity or the point at which the “extreme centre” happens to be at the time, are a priori pieces of discursive information. As a priori knowledge, the articles are not written from a perspective of direct experience, as in a participant or witness to an event, but rather from a position that enables an opinion, inductive or deductive reasoning, or imagines an event that has or hasn’t happened. In this way, journalistic discourse operates in a speculative fashion as opposed to a definitive record of information. This allows the magazine to take authorial license in the creation of historical knowledge regarding a traditional ideological foe like Russia to the West. 
Regarding journalistic ownership, authorial voices are eliminated to account less for individual viewpoints that could damage the publication’s reputation or hijack it altogether in the service of a few notable journalists. This discursive practice places greater emphasis on the interpretive abilities of the reader. It allows for multiple interpretations of a text thereby insuring a varied overall comprehension that would rarely extend to the polemical. With this method, the magazine manages to sustain an objective or “extreme centre” philosophy in its reportage. Hence The Economist uses a discursive construct more known to Literary Fiction than media journalism. The approach recalls Roland Barthes’ concept of “Death of the Author,” where the mind of the journalist is less an individualized viewpoint and more of a channel in which language distills a zeitgeist that is only truly complete with the receiving perceptions of the reader. The Economist does possess a definitive comprehensive standpoint that makes ideological shifts, though this fact is confounded by the anonymous nature of its discourse.
If The Economist can be said to have a Western bias, this does not mean its articles are false. In an article called “Crisis of Confidence” dated May 8th 1943 concerning the status of Poland during WWII, a Western leaning, conciliatory stance is established. The beginning of the piece mentions the need for “the Great Powers” (USA, UK, and USSR) to restore order to war-torn Europe after the then current war. The last sentence of the introductory paragraph reads;
The avowed principles of Britain, Russia and America on such matters as peace, disarmament, co-operation, neighbourly relations between states and respect for the rights of other nations very largely coincide; and however clear sighted the British people may be about the need for understanding, their major premise is always that it must be firmly rooted in justice and good will.
Textually, the sentence exaggerates the uniting “avowed principles” of the nation-states. These embellishments mark a desperate tone that’s not meant to communicate literal truths. Instead the text’s “principles” function to assuage an audience and call for an end to the war, regardless of conflicting ideologies. It was known then, as well as now, that the absolute uniting principle in the European theater was the defeat of Germany. Later in the article, The Economist questions unreferenced statements from the Russians. “The Russians want a ‘free and independent’ Poland. They have said so. Yet is it absolutely certain that the terms are not being used ambiguously? Could ‘free’ mean ‘Soviet’? Could ‘independent’ mean free only to opt for inclusion in the Soviet Union?” This works in the intertextual realm to establish Russian intentions because the magazine gives no indication as to where, when, or how contextually the paraphrased statements originated, making the resulting questions function as rhetorical accusations. This discourse would satisfy a Western audience that realizes cooperation with the USSR is necessary, but views the country as backward and dangerous. Though as time progressed through the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War, The Economist’s prophetic discourse turned out to be correct.
At times the language and discourse in The Economist are portentous and excessive, and exploits limited truths to misrepresent authenticity. In an article extravagantly titled, “The view from the Kremlin: Putin’s War on the West” from February 14th 2015, partial truths are utilized to invoke sentiment and subjective morality.
For Mr. Putin the only good neighbour is a weak one; vassals are better than allies. Only the wilfully blind would think his revanchism has been sated. Sooner or later it may encompass the Baltic states—members of both the European Union and NATO, and home to Russian minorities of the kind he pledges to “protect”. The EU and NATO are Mr. Putin’s ultimate targets.
In the first sentence of this section, the magazine inculcates that Vladimir Putin wants subservient nation-states as partners in a modern Russian feudalism. The next sentence attempts to qualify the first statement by invoking an ad hominem fallacy on a potential disagreeing party. It suggests someone, be it reader or one with differing views on the matter, is purposefully denying the previous claims as well as the cause of Russian irredentism or retaliatory expansionism out of willful ignorance. Then the language forewarns of potential consequences along the lines of crying wolf with boisterous claims and concludes with a reiteration of the article’s title. Comparing this writing from The Economist to a similarly anonymous piece in Al Jazeera called, “The Baltic and the Bear” dated July 29th 2015, the same issues are discussed;
For months, NATO has been building up its military presence in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania amid fears that, after the Russian sponsored separatist conflict in Eastern Ukraine, their turn may be next.
But have these nations, part of the Soviet Union until the early 1990s, been adding to the tension by discriminating against their large ethnic-Russian minorities?
The tone here is less harsh but just as suggestive. Instead of insinuating revenge incited expansionism, this article implies the statuses of four former Soviet republics may be linked through a faulty generalization. It also implies irredentism as the cause, but additionally gives a possibility for the fear generating rhetoric. Contextually these article excerpts discuss the same subjects, but in clearly different attitudes. Both fail to mention the historical scope of NATO as a Western military alliance created to thwart a Soviet attack, along with the condition in 1990 of German reunification and NATO membership that the USSR had been assured by US and West German governments that NATO would never expand eastward. NATO has not only expanded eastward but has member states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) formerly belonging to the USSR and Warsaw Pact, the Eastern Bloc’s military alliance created to counter NATO. While this history is fairly well known, the articles portray NATO as an innocent victim of Russian aggression. Qatar based Al Jazeera has Western ties that are subtly represented, while The Economist is naturally aligned to the West and yet uses saber-rattling language more akin to propaganda to sensationalize and exaggerate an unlikely Russian threat. The Western bias is so salient and overbearing that it disqualifies the content and ultimate veracity of the The Economist’s editorial voice.  
            The original neutral intentions of The Economist have been whittled down to narrow representations through the gradual internalization of a pro Western stance. This should not be surprising, but since the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a unipolar world order that has been equated as a triumph of Western values, it has become harder to realize and then document an objective view. When ideological power shifts and generational time erodes past ethical values, a new tradition becomes the projection of moral good that seems to be the pinnacle or accumulation of all previous eras. In this cycle the origin is lost, though objectivity appears to reside with the holder of power. Jean Baudrillard defines this further; “The circularization of power, of knowledge, of discourse puts an end to any localization of instances and poles... The ‘power’ of the interpreter does not come from any outside instance but from the interpreted himself” (Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation). Essentially the original mid 19th century “collective voice” of a multipolar word order has had to adapt to a singular voice that serves a new version of normality. This can lead to reactionary and invective discourses that cease to be intellectually valuable. In an article titled, “What Russia wants: From cold war to hot war” dated February 14th 2015, The Economist states; “Anti-Americanism is not only the reason for war and the main pillar of state power, but also an ideology that Russia is trying to export to Europe, as it once exported communism.” This claim concerning the Ukrainian civil war is bold and once again rhetorically invokes Europe as a victim of Russia’s ideologies that could possibly require a Truman Doctrine-like response from the West. In the same article, a different Russian past is recalled; “Mikhail Gorbachev’s revolution consisted not in damping down Marxism but in proclaiming the supremacy of universal human values over the state, opening up Russia to the West.” This sentence grandly equates human dignity with the West and recalls the positioning of the “Other” in constructions of historical knowledge. For The Economist, Russia is the primary “Other” of the modern era that demands a transformation of itself in a way similar to Edward Said’s representations of Oriental (Middle Eastern) transformations through Western constructs;
One ought again to remember that all cultures impose corrections on raw reality, changing it from free-floating objects into units of knowledge. The problem is not that conversion takes place. It is perfectly natural for the human mind to resist the assault on it of untreated strangeness; therefore cultures have always been inclined to impose complete transformations on other cultures, receiving these cultures not as they are but as, for the benefit of the receiver, as the way they ought to be (Said, Orientalism).
The linguistic discourse in The Economist suggests the view of a Russia and its people desiring to be more democratic and Western-like. This is the narrow normality the magazine is functioning through. In this mindset, it seems ridiculous to think any culture would not want what the West can bestow.   
            Misunderstanding of the Russian psyche figures prominently into the deconstructive discourse of historical interpretation and prediction found in The Economist. As has been said, this misunderstanding doesn’t mean the magazine is incorrect. It means rather that The Economist in misunderstanding Russia conveys an unjust representation of that nation-state. This in fact hurts Russia very little in the reality of hard/soft power relations, and does more to damage the overall view of Western interpretive analyses of the non Western world. The notion that The Economist embodies the “extreme centre” further marginalizes the magazine into skewed journalism that survives by selling sensation. With this discourse in mind, the mission statement-like claim that the editorial voice is “not the master but the servant of something far greater than himself” construes a very different meaning than what was originally and now currently intended.     

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Eight Brief Interpretations of Immanuel Kant's Philosophies

I. Transcendental Realism and Idealism
II. Knowledge and Judgment
III. Space
IV. Time
V. Intuitions and Concepts
VI. Threefold Synthesis
VII. Moral Law and Human Nature
VIII. Moral Law as a Categorical Imperative

I. Transcendental Realism and Idealism

When Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) published his first and second editions of the Critique of Pure Reason in the late 18th century, science was having a growing influence on philosophy. Kant was influenced by the science of Isaac Newton and ultimately wanted to apply modern science to metaphysics. At the time in philosophy, there were two perspectives; a teleological and mechanistic worldview. Teleology functions to explain a purpose with an end in mind. It employs the four Aristotelian causes as; Material (matter), Formal (the essence or form), Efficient (the origin of a cause), and Final (the purpose of an end). The teleological perspective is concerned with priorities being final, causality, and events being forthcoming or in the future. The mechanistic view is that of modern science with no place for metaphysics, that focuses on priorities being efficient, causality, and events being post or after. In regard to Epistemology, there were two contending approaches in the forms of Rationalism and Empiricism. Kant associated these two perspectives with Transcendental Realism, which he sought to eliminate by merging Rationalism and Empiricism.
            Before the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant was somewhat influenced by the Rationalist philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 – 1716) and Christian Wolff’s (1659 – 1754) interpretation of Leibnizian thought. Though later he would claim that the Empiricism of David Hume (1711 – 1776) helped him to see Leibnizian Rationalism as dogmatic. Kant viewed Rationalism and Empiricism as limited philosophical approaches that were insufficient on their own, in that neither could provide a means to obtain knowledge that is necessarily true (a necessary truth is one in which it is impossible to be untrue or produces a contradiction in negation, e.g. 3+3=6). Kant sought to combine elements of both into one philosophic perspective that possessed necessary and substantive knowledge without a reliance on dogmatism. For Kant, the respective ideas of Leibniz and Hume on Rationalism and Empiricism fell into a conceptual apparatus known as Transcendental Realism. 
            In Transcendental Realism, the subject (our minds) and object (the world) are completely separate. Objects in the world, and the world itself, exist without the necessity of a human mind to interpret them. In the rationalist Leibnizian view, there are two epistemic ways to understand the world; Truths of Reason and Truths of Fact. In Truths of Reason, the use of reason explicitly establishes a necessary truth by way of a contradiction being impossible. The statements, “all squares have four sides” and “all squares are squares” cannot be contradicted. In Truths of Fact, the quality of truth is known through human senses and is contingent (a contingent truth is not necessarily true and possibly false, e.g. the statement “grass is sometimes green” might be true or false and is therefore a contingent truth). Kant sought to disprove that Truths of Fact can be known through human senses. In the empiricist views of Hume, there are two variations of belief; Relations of Ideas and Matters of Fact. In the former, “relations” refers to the structural relationships of thought itself. This is the realm of mathematical and logical processes that produce necessary truths without the need for an external reference. Hume considers Relations of Ideas to be vacuous truths (a vacuous truth is a truth disqualified of meaning by a another purported truth, e.g. “When pigs fly, Stafford plays guitar exactly like Eddie Van Halen.” Since pigs don’t ever fly, Stafford will never play exactly like EVH [even though he is greatly influenced by his original approach to the instrument, Stafford has never wanted to play like EVH even if pigs are flying, and has more appreciated the idea of playing or making art in the original way EVH does]). Matters of Fact are substantive and contingent truths that describe objects or events as they seem to be through human sense experience. The belief in scientific thinking for Hume falls into beliefs that are Matters of Fact. He proved this to be contingent by using the example of the Sun that will always rise tomorrow. Hume said this belief is based on our past experiences of causal connections, as in scientific reasoning and that the event has never not happened in our empirical experience. However this is not enough to convincingly believe that the Sun will indeed rise tomorrow because the belief is based solely on past observation and experience. For these reasons Hume is a skeptic because no external experience can ever be 100% true.
            For Kant, these philosophic perspectives of Leibniz and Hume embodied Transcendental Realism. He associated Truths of Reason and Relations of Ideas to knowledge that’s independent of experience, while associating Truths of Fact and Matters of Fact with contingent knowledge based on experience. When combined together, the resultant doctrine of Transcendental Realism provides a clear demarcation between the human mind (subject) and the world we know (object). In the first two Leibnizian and Humean views, Kant claims the mind can only examine itself using necessary truths that cannot be contradicted. Similarly by applying the Truths of Fact and Matters of Fact, Kant claims the mind can only ever receive information about the world passively. In this way, our minds have no influence on how the world is interpreted and merely records sensory data. The world would exist as we know it without a human mind or indeed any humans to experience it. This transcendentally real perspective is paradigmatic in human thinking, and in fact can be said to be “common sense” but Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, claimed this view was false. He was motivated to construct a new framework that combined necessary and substantive knowledge without a reliance on dogmatism. Kant proposed a new way of understanding the relationship of mind and world, while also going so far as to claim it to be a “Copernican Revolution” in philosophy. This was his theory of Transcendental Idealism.            
            In Transcendental Idealism, the subject (our minds) and object (the world) are not separate but have an interdependent relationship. The human mind, according to Kant, is constructed of 14 structuring principles (two of which are space and time, and I’ll get to them later) that institute order in regard to how humans interpret the world. In fact, through these Transcendentally Ideal structuring principles, the world exists as it is known to us only because our minds perceive it that way. In this doctrine, our mind as subject is ideal, while the world as we know it is only objectively real. In this sense, the world would not exist outside of the influence of a human mind. This Transcendentally Ideal perspective views the world, as Kant calls it, as the phenomenal or representational realm, which is dependent on a human mind to know the phenomena humans experience through senses. Likewise the part of the world that is unknown through the filter of a human mind is the noumenal realm. The Kantian view of Metaphysics (concepts that exist outside of scientific reasoning like; God, freedom, immortality) holds that the limits of the human mind prevent us from knowing these concepts completely. He acknowledges that they are indeed part of our reality but exist as what he calls noumena or alternately as “things in themselves” that are not accessible to a human mind. In articulating this concept in the preface to his second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant wrote, “I therefore had to annul knowledge in order to make room for faith” (B xxx).
            Kant realized his Transcendental Idealism was counterintuitive, but nevertheless correct. In re-conceptualizing the subject/mind relationship in philosophy, Kant likened this impact equal to the change Nicolaus Copernicus initiated in astronomy. Recall that before Copernicus the Sun and planets of the solar system revolved around the Earth as a geocentric model. After the Copernican Revolution, the solar system including the Earth revolved around the Sun as a heliocentric model. Before Kant and his Transcendental Idealism, the subject (our mind and intellect) was dependent on the object (the world). And after Kant, the essence of the objective world is now dependent on our subjective mind.

II. Knowledge and Judgment

            Kant distinguishes between two types of knowledge as, a priori and a posteriori. Traditionally a priori refers to knowledge that is independent of experience, while a posteriori is knowledge attained empirically or with experience. Kant describes a priori as non-innate knowledge that is necessarily true. Further he defines a posteriori as contingently true knowledge. In both types of knowledge, his criteria for assessing the veracity of truth is experiential. If knowledge is experientially irrefutable, then it is necessarily true and a priori. If knowledge is experientially refutable, then it is contingently true and a posteriori.
            Similarly Kant differentiates between two types of judgments when applied to propositions (statements that are either true or false) as analytic and synthetic. In analytic judgments, the predicate is within the subject or is entirely the subject, e.g. respectively “squares are four sided” or “squares are squares.” For Kant analytic judgments have the potential to be “elucidatory” (B 11) In synthetic judgments, the predicate is not within the subject but nevertheless attached to the subject in what Kant communicates as “expansive” (B 11). An example of a synthetic judgment would be, “the square is red.” In this mode of judgment, a denial of the statement is not a contradiction.
            To further differentiate Transcendental Realism and Transcendental Idealism, Kant describes the possible combinations of knowledge and judgments of the two doctrines. In Transcendental Realism, Kant uses Hume’s Relations of Ideas and Leibniz’s Truths of Reason concepts of necessary truths to qualify analytic judgments to known a priori knowledge. In this first combination it’s important to note that if a judgment is analytic, then it will be known with knowledge that’s a priori. Though a priori knowledge does not imply analytic judgments. The analytic known a priori combination functions as a Transcendentally Real concept, thus making it acceptable to Kant, because it favors a Rationalist perspective. Rationalism uses this combination to have an irrefutable judgment that deduces knowledge without experience. A second combination is also possible in Transcendental Realism using Hume and Leibniz’s respective Matters of Fact and Truths of Fact that describe contingent truths as synthetic judgments to known a posteriori knowledge. This combination is Empirical in that a judgment’s contrary is not self-contradictory while possessing knowledge that’s completely derived from experience. For the Transcendental Realist, these two judgments to knowledge combinations function because they embrace Rationalism and Empiricism independently. 
Kant establishes a new synthesis of judgments to knowledge in his Transcendental Idealism. He does this by coupling synthetic judgments to known a priori knowledge. In this way, Kant imparts that humans know and are aware of the world through empirical senses but only realize an understanding of it through a rational intellect. This is only possible by applying the Transcendentally Ideal structuring principles to interpret conceptual apparatus like space and time relations as a product of a priori knowledge unknown to experience and synthetic judgment that is dependent on experience. 

III. Space

In the section of the Critique of Pure Reason entitled Transcendental Doctrine of Elements, Part I, Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant establishes his notions of intuition, sensibility, and concept. He states, “In whatever way and by whatever means a cognition may refer to objects, still intuition is that by which a cognition refers to objects directly, and at which all thought aims as a means” (A 19/ B 33). Kant communicates that objects of intuitions are the result of direct experience. He later goes on to write;
The capacity (a receptivity) to acquire presentations as a result of the way in which we are affected by objects is called sensibility. Hence by means of sensibility objects are given to us, and it alone supplies us with intuitions. Through understanding, on the other hand, objects are thought, and from it arise concepts (A 19/ B 33).
In summation, Kant states that sensibility allows for direct experience that leads to intuitions, objects that are given affections, and receptivity.
            In Section I of the Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant presents a metaphysical exposition of space. He begins, “By means of outer sense (a property of our mind) we present objects as outside us, and present them one and all in space” (B 37). As a form of outer experience, Kant goes on to establish space as an a priori intuition with four arguments.
            Argument 1 initiates that “Space is not an empirical concept that has been abstracted from outer experiences” (B 38). Essentially space cannot be known to humans as an empirical abstraction or as something derived from an experience. Also space cannot be presented in a way that relates objects to one another, because this too would be an empirical experience. This leaves space as an a priori necessary truth.
            Argument 2 puts forth that “Space is a necessary a priori presentation that underlies all outer intuitions” (A 24/ B 39). Kant goes on to admit that humans can conceive of there being no objects present in space, but ultimately there can never be an object or objects without space. He conveys that space is a necessary condition for there to be any possibility of an appearance of an object. Kant also proves space to be an a priori intuition by using the geometric principle of the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If space were to be an a posteriori construct, then contingent truths through empirical perceptions would reveal the possibility of there being more than one way to have a straight line between two points. And this scenario cannot exist in a space that is known to be three dimensional, therefore space can only be an a priori construct.
            At this point it is necessary to proceed to argument 4 in order to establish the difference between intuitions and concepts. Kant first writes that space is presented “as an infinite given magnitude” (B 40). Space is an a priori intuition because it is something that is of infinite magnitude and something that possesses “boundlessness in the progression of intuition” (B 40). In that space has no limits, it can be divided into infinite parts that Kant states, “all parts of space, ad infinitum, are simultaneous” (B 40). This is to say space is an individual thing that comes before its infinite parts, but the parts of space cannot exist outside of itself (space) and only within space. So in difference to an intuition, Kant writes “every concept must be thought as a presentation that is contained in an infinite multitude of different possible presentations (as their common characteristic) and hence the concept contains these presentations under itself” (B 40). This means a concept, say e.g. the notion of structures as in buildings, can have infinite instances of independent and different buildings “under” it but not within it as part of it (a concept) as it is for space. He concludes the argument by asserting, “Therefore the original presentation of space is an a priori intuition, not a concept” (B 40).   
            Going back to argument 3, Kant states that space as an individual whole thing precedes the parts or other spaces in which the whole is made. Space as a whole precedes the parts of spaces, and space as a whole is not dependent on its parts within it. Kant states;
first, we can present only one space; and when we speak of many spaces, we mean by that only parts of one and the same unique space. Nor, second, can these parts precede the one all-encompassing space, as its constituents, as it were (from which it can be assembled); rather, they can be thought only as in it (A 25).
Also other particular individual things that aren’t space, are composed of parts that precede the whole and the whole thus, is dependent on its parts. E.g. the parts of a structural building precede the building, and as such, the building is dependent on its parts.
            Following this metaphysical exposition of space that concerns ordinary experience of outer objects, Kant argues a further transcendental exposition of space that employs geometry in its justifications. He uses geometry because, “[it] is a science that determines the properties of space synthetically and yet a priori” (B 41). Kant posits that geometry can only exist in space as a priori knowledge and synthetic judgments. He writes, “Our explication of the concept of space is, therefore, the only one that makes comprehensible the possibility of geometry as a kind of synthetic a priori cognition” (B 41).
For these metaphysical and transcendental reasons, space is a Transcendentally Ideal construct. Kant’s construct of space has shown to operate on synthetic a priori judgments that apply geometry to prove a necessary truth in regard to the capabilities of three dimensional space. 

IV. Time

In Section II of the Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant presents metaphysical and transcendental arguments that present time as an a priori intuition in a similar manner as that of space.
He begins the first metaphysical argument by stating, “Time is not an empirical concept that has been abstracted from any experience. For simultaneity or succession would not even enter our perception if the presentation of time did not underlie them a priori” (B 46). Thus, time is not known by any means of empirical abstraction. And the presentation of time as an a priori necessary condition is inferred by temporal experience.
Argument 2 dictates that time without any objects (appearances) is conceivable, but objects without or outside of time are inconceivable. Kant writes, “Appearances, one and all, may go away; but time itself (as a universal condition of their possibility) cannot be annulled” (A 31).
As in the argument for space, it’s necessary to continue to Kant’s fourth argument to differentiate between time as an a priori intuition and a concept. He starts off by claiming, “Time is not a discursive or, as it is called, universal concept; rather, it is a pure form of sensible intuition. Different times are only parts of one and the same time; and the kind of presentation that can be given only through a single object is intuition” (B 47). Like space, time is an infinite whole with an infinite number of divisible parts (individual particulars) that exist within the whole of time. Time is an individual thing that precedes its parts. Likewise, a concept in relation to time is different in that a concept, such as the notion of structures that are buildings, can have infinite instances of independent and different buildings apart from it but not within it as part of it (a concept) in the way that it is for time.   
Argument 3 for time establishes that time as an individual whole entity precedes the sequential parts in which the whole is made, as well as this whole is not dependent on its parts of time within it. In proving that time is indeed an a priori intuition, Kant states, “Time has only one dimension; different times are not simultaneous but sequential (just as different spaces are not sequential but simultaneous). These principles cannot be obtained from experience” (B 47).
A fifth argument for time begins, “To say that time is infinite means nothing more than that any determinate magnitude of time is possible only through limitations put on a single underlying time” (B 48). Kant then communicates that if something like time and the parts within it can be shown through limitations, then a whole conceptual display is impossible because concepts only incorporate fractional presentations.
In Kant’s transcendental exposition of time, he address the notions of change and motion within time. He claims that without an inner a priori intuition like time, no concept would allow for the possibility of change in place, as in motion, to a human understanding in time’s one dimensional, sequential direction. Time puts forth the opportunity to know synthetic a priori cognition through motion.
Kant shows that time is a Transcendentally Ideal construct by proving that it is understood by way of a priori synthetic judgments. Further, the temporal axioms or science of time exist in a one dimensional realm. Like the geometry of space, the sequential nature of time allows for a conceivable (synthetic) placement of a human in different parts of the time sequence, but ultimately it proves to be not possible (a priori).

V. Intuitions and Concepts

In part two of the Transcendental Doctrine of Elements, titled Transcendental Logic, Kant explains how the human mind understands representation. He begins, “Our cognition arises from two basic sources of the mind. The first is our ability to receive presentations; the second is our ability to cognize an object through these presentations” (A 50/ B 74). In the first source he assigns the term “sensibility” to define the mind’s ability to receive presentations. The rules of sensibility, is the science of aesthetic. This is the mind’s function of intuiting data in the spatiotemporal. The second source is “understanding” which is the ability of the mind to produce presentations. The rules of understanding, is the science of logic. This is the mind’s function of conceptualizing objects through Kant’s 12 categories of understating. Sensibility and understanding correlate to one another in that, “Without sensibility no object would be given to us; and without understanding no object would be thought” (B 76).
            Kant then differentiates between two forms of logic. The first is “logic of the understanding’s general use” that he equates as elementary. This formal logic is used for rules of thought that are necessary for understanding, or a proper process of abstract thinking. The second is “logic of its[understanding] special use” or transcendental logic. This logic is a system of understanding rules of thought pertaining to phenomenal objects, or rather objects that are physically available to human senses and not of the metaphysical.
            One aspect of logic stipulates that there are intuitions and concepts. To distinguish between the meanings of the two words Kant invokes this comparison, “Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind” (B 76). In this way intuitions are the mind’s raw perceptions with no organizing device to discern meaning from the perception. The intuition is an observation of something singular and immediate at a place and time. Most objects have more than one immediate defining feature in that an object is composed of many intuitions. Kant’s term for more than one intuition perceived together is a manifold. Concepts are the organizing devices in which intuition or a manifold of intuitions are observed, and specifically empirical concepts are necessary for experience. The concepts give no information as to when or what happens before or after a sequence but instead link the intuition to characteristics that make the object what it is.
            An example of a physical object like a baseball can be used to further illustrate the meanings of intuitions and concepts. As an intuition the baseball would not be a baseball, but rather an empirical object that is experienced at a point in time and as a presence in a space. Space and time are both pure intuitions. The object is an immediate empirical intuition. It exists in a space and time with no other knowledge known to the mind’s representation. A concept is a shared characteristic that is experienced through sequences of intuitions. The white surface, spherical shape, and protruding red stiches of the intuition are concepts that make links of meanings into a framework to know what the intuition is. As Kant wrote “intuitions without concepts are blind” likewise the intuition is needed to verify the validity of the applied concepts. This synergetic process of synthesis between intuition and concept happens simultaneously in the mind.
            For Kant, once an intuition is conceptualized, the intuition acquires objective status. In the case of the Transcendental Idealist, objective status means an intuition as the object or event does in fact exist and has really happened. This is opposed to subjective status, where an intuition as the object or event only seems to exist and has only seemed to happen. Further objective status is dependent on the human mind to understand, whereas subjective status is completely independent of the mind’s interpretation. It’s also important to note that for the Transcendental Realist, the objective view would be mind independent and what really happened to an object, while the subjective view would be mind dependent and only what seemed to happen to an object.
            To demonstrate an intuition’s acquisition of objective status by way of empirical concept, the baseball example can be used. Suppose there is an object rolling off a ledge at one point in time. An observer perceives this and then blinks. After blinking the observer now sees, at a second point in time, the object unattached to anything and in a free-fall. Another blink and now the object is on the ground at rest at a third point in time. During the blinks between the points in time and space, the observer has applied a concept to frame the three events together. The concept known to the observer through empirical experience that an unattached object will fall in a straight line toward the ground by way of gravity, links the three spatiotemporal instances. The interruptions caused by blinking do not interfere with the progression of intuitions in the spatiotemporal events to be three separate events, because the aforementioned empirical concept has unified the intuitions into an objective status. In this way the human mind has taken part in the experience of the object falling off a ledge, free-falling, and then hitting the ground. The experience is not raw data hitting the mind. The experience is dependent on the symbiotic relationship between mind and world, or the subject/object interdependent relationship. Likewise the object in question is linked by characteristics to be a particular type of physical object. It is three-dimensional, spherical, predominantly white in color, and has protruding red stiches. These characteristics are concepts in themselves and through rules that bring them together as an intuition, the resulting tandem concept/intuition becomes a recognizable object (a baseball) in a spatiotemporal realm.

VI. Threefold Synthesis

For a complete understanding of an object in its spatiotemporal condition to human cognition, Kant argues that a synthesis must take place. Again general logic is used to abstract empirically, while transcendental logic is concerned with rules in relation to a priori content. Within the synthesis are the previously mentioned intuitions and concepts that Kant further divides into the a priori and empirical(a posteriori), “Only pure intuitions or concepts are possible a priori; empirical ones are possible only a posteriori” (B 75/ A 51). In the synthesis an intuition cannot be alone, it has to be part of a manifold of intuitions. Also a pure intuition needs to be objectified by situating it under the structure of a pure concept. Kant writes; “By synthesis, in the most general sense of the term, I mean the act of putting various presentations with one another and of comprising their manifoldness in one cognition. Such synthesis is pure if the manifold is given not empirically but a priori (as is the manifold in space and time)” (B 103). Kant’s threefold synthesis is: 1. Synthesis of Apprehension 2. Synthesis of Reproduction 3. Synthesis of Recognition.
            In the synthesis of apprehension the manifold of intuitions is held together as a series of united intuitions. Both pure and empirical intuitions are linked as manifolds. The pure intuitions of events in time are synthesized into pure temporal manifolds. The pure intuitions of time are more fundamental to the process than are the empirical intuitions of places in space. To illustrate this, imagine separate instances or points in time. These points in time are linked in a linear progression of time. The human mind synthesizes each of these pure points of time into a linked manifold of sequential intuitions. Similarly spatial or empirical events are linked on the basis of the pure intuitions. Imagine an object falling off a ledge as one empirical event. Next the object will be in a different position as it falls, and this is the second empirical event or intuition. Finally the object is at rest on a surface and this is the third intuition. Like the pure intuitions of time, these spatial events are linked as a progression on the basis of time to form an empirical manifold. The synthesis of apprehension holds the pure and empirical manifolds together.
            In the synthesis of reproduction, the mind actively remembers pure and empirical intuitions. The succession of intuitions follow rules that allow the mind to interpret past points in time as well as positions in space. The succession becomes a manifold of intuitions by adhering to rules. The recalling of spatiotemporal instances is the reason the sequence makes logical sense to the mind. If there was no memory of previous times and positions, the mind would interpret each spatiotemporal intuition as separate unique and new intuitions. To exemplify this process, imagine the linear time dimension. Each pure intuition is at a point in time that proceeds in a linear fashion. The synthesis of reproduction allows the mind to recall previous points in the history of the progression. If an object was on a ledge and is now on the ground, the mind remembers the temporal intuitions that preceded the intuition in which the object is at rest on the ground. This is similar to thinking of a progression as having a beginning, middle, and end. Since time never stops and only proceeds in one way, it’s possible to know the object has a sequential history by the time the end intuition is present. In the same fashion, empirical pasts are also remembered in this synthesis of intuitions. The first intuition has the object on the ledge, the next has it free-falling, and the final intuition has it on the ground. In remembering the position in space the object was, the mind synthesizes the memories together to form knowledge of the present position of the object. This how the mind understands that the same object on the ground was once on the ledge. This synthesis of pure and empirical intuitions allow the manifold to exist as a connected series of remembered spatiotemporal intuitions.
            In the synthesis of recognition, the mind understands the difference between present pure and empirical intuitions in regard to past spatiotemporal intuitions. The mind understands that a present intuition has necessary previous intuitions, and that these previous intuitions are not the same as a present intuition. Empirical concepts are the rules that group the pure and empirical intuitions and allow the mind to understand the sequential progression of prior necessary spatiotemporal intuitions. In a pure temporal example, imagine the sequence of previous intuitions as a first point in time, a second point, and then third actual point. This synthesis makes possible the understanding that the first point came before the second, and not say, the first was directly previous to the actual intuition. Kant himself likens this synthesis to counting, “If, in counting, I were to forget that the units now hovering before my mind were added up by me little by little, then I would not cognize the amount’s being produced through this successive addition of one [unit] to another; nor, therefore, would I cognize the number” (A 103). Similarly the sequential progress of empirical intuitions allows the mind to know that the necessary previous intuition of a falling object came after the intuition where the same object was on the ledge. In the actual present spatial intuition, the order of this series is understood by the “recognition” aspect of this synthesis.
            It follows that these three syntheses are mutually dependent on one another’s functions for the whole threefold system to work. In the first two, syntheses of apprehension and reproduction, there are only pure and empirical intuitions at work. In the third synthesis of recognition, empirical and pure intuitions are at work with the pure intuitions being put under the rules of pure concepts in which space and time themselves behave. In this way, the pure concepts make it possible to discover empirical concepts and manifolds that govern the sequential recognition of the third synthesis.    

VII. Moral Law and Human Nature

In 1785 Kant published the Groundwork of Metaphysical Morals detailing his ethical theories. He positions himself against and the utilitarianism of consequentialism. The ethical theory of consequentialism holds that a moral judgment is made based on the the consequence of an action. For example if one were to take a man’s money to buy food, this would be okay. The consequences of the robber allow him to be in a better place than he was (he didn’t have food before, now he has money to buy food) no matter what becomes of the man he robbed. Kant says this ethical position is wrong. He situates himself instead as a deontologist. In this ethical theory a person is bound by rules that determine the morality of an act. The outcome of an action is insignificant and what’s important is that duty based principles are adhered to. An example would be lying is never good, even if a lie has a positive outcome. If a thief said he was going to steal a car and he asked someone where the car was, the answer could not contain a lie even if it prevented the car being stolen.
            In Kant’s view there are two ways that originate in interpreting morality. The first is the way of natural science. This is the world of cause and effect having consequences. These can be referred to as natural laws and are how things happen in the world. The second is the way of ethics. This is the science of the noumenal world that is concerned with laws of freedom that lead to moral laws and the determination of free-will. These moral laws can be broken. Kant assigns two words to each division; “is” refers to the natural laws or how things happen, and “ought” refers to the moral laws and how things ought to happen.
            Natural laws give the world unbreakable laws like gravity and the first law of thermodynamics. As a subset of natural law are laws of desire, or inclinations. These are scientific laws that produce inclinations as in being hungry and then pursuing food or needing sleep and then seeking sleep. These laws can be broken in that one doesn’t have to eat just because of hunger. However humans normally make choices according to the laws of desire. To act in accordance with moral law, one has to ignore the natural laws of desire. If a desire is sated then the action that led to it is not moral. For Kant, to be morally good is to act based on duty and motives, and rational choice presupposes a moral act.
            The problem that Kant saw was the conflict between moral law and laws of desire. Humans make decisions based on natural laws that can be both unbreakable (gravity) and breakable desires (hunger). It is for this reason that Kant found a conflict between moral law and natural law, and why moral law cannot be derived from human nature. Moral law is also breakable. This ultimately was the problem of prior ethical theories. For Kant the conflict is evidence of the difference between moral and natural law. In this way, morality is this difference of “is” and how things happen, and “ought” and how this should happen.
            Kant argues that prior ethical theories were mistakenly based on human morality, which as he points out is breakable. A mistake is deriving moral principles from human nature in two ways. The first is through the empiricism of practical reason, in which humans as embodied through physical hedonism and eudaemonism act to self preserve and pursue happiness in a utilitarian manner. The second is the mysticism of practical reason in which humans as Platonic rational souls seek a higher purpose than fulfilling physical desires. In both of these cases Kant says desire is used to determine moral law and is thus confusing the “is” and “ought” of desire. These scenarios treat the human as a phenomenal object of the natural world where human behavior would always be motivated by different forms of desire. This would leave out free-will which is equated with morality. In these forms of ethics with a foundation of desire, natural law based morality leads to the cause and effect of consequentialism. 

VIII. Moral Law as a Categorical Imperative

Kant believes moral law is conveyed as an imperative or command. There are two types of imperatives; hypothetical and categorical. As to the former Kant writes, “Hypothetical imperatives declare a possible action to be practically necessary as a means to the attainment of something else that one wills (or that one may will)” (82). In this sense, the imperative or command is done because good wants to be done. An example would be giving money to a charity. If one wants to be or feel good, then the imperative states that something like money needs to be given to an organization that needs it. The result is good for the charity but the good that was wanted by the giver was motivated by desire, and morality cannot be the result of a desire. The command obeyed was at the request of an instrumental good. This can be shown to be morally empty when the same person bestows money unwilling to a charity and then doesn’t feel good because he did not desire to feel good. Kant then goes on to explain “A categorical imperative would be one which represented an action as objectively necessary in itself apart from its relation to a further end” (82). Instead good wanting to be done as with the hypothetical, good is simply just done. There are no other motivations dictating a reason that something should be done. An example would be if someone had the opportunity to steal money knowing they’d never be caught and that it’d be a good benefit to them, and then does not steal the money because it is wrong. They are operating on their duty to do good, or not do wrong. This would be intrinsically good because the objective itself is good.
            For Kant, moral law must be stated as a categorical imperative because morality then becomes the end in itself with no other influencing factors. One way to understand this is with the universal maxim principle. Kant describes this as, “I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become universal law” (70). In this fashion a maxim is a principle that one follows to be capable of morality. However, morality can only be understood if the maxim is in accordance with a universality. Meaning a conception (maxim) that can be applied to the entire population of the planet, or just a fair amount of people, without generating a self-contradiction. An example would be lying. If lying were to be tested universally as a maxim, then the liar would have to ask, “If everyone on the planet lied, would or wouldn’t this produce a self-contradiction?” This would produce a self-contradiction because if everyone lied there would be no such thing as “the truth” and no one would believe each other. Or if the liar went ahead and lied despite the knowledge of it being a self-contradiction, then the liar would have to reject themself, thereby failing the categorical imperative. A universal maxim is something that would not produce a self-contradiction. It also accomplishes the duty without the dependence of the consequence of the action, making Kant’s morality a deontological theory. The categorical imperative is the testing tool for moral law.