July 22, 2010

Kant, and Fun with Counterfactual Hypotheticals

This is an old post (Dec 2009) of mine from a different blog, but I like the passage so much I thought I would share it again. If anyone reads this, maybe you will have a more interesting way to interpret it?

This excerpt is from a strange little section of Kant's Second Critique called "On the Wise Adaptation of the Human Being’s Cognitive Faculties to His Practical Vocation". He is imagining what it would be like if could somehow peer into the noumenal realm:
Instead of the conflict that the moral disposition now has to carry on with the inclinations, in which, through after some defeats, moral strength of soul is to be gradually acquired, God and eternity with their awful majesty would stand unceasingly before our eyes…[H]ence most actions conforming to the law would be done from fear, only a few from hope, and none at all from duty, and the moral worth of actions, on which alone in the eyes of supreme wisdom the worth of the person and even that of the world depends, would not exist at all. As long as human nature remains as it is, human conduct would thus be changed into mere mechanism in which, as in a puppet show, everything would gesticulate well but there would be no life in the figures.
The phenomenal realm is law-governed, and, as such, our freedom is not found in this realm. If we could see into the noumenal (which we can't), there too we would not find the locus of our freedom. Instead, Zizek suggests that the interplay between the two is where our freedom is operative. I prefer to see the noumenal as the "Real" void of the phenomenal, an excess. Since moral worthiness is a matter of determining the will according to duty for duty's sake instead of determining the will according to inclination, something must account for this choice, and the freedom to make this choice ex nihilo. Since the noumenal realm, and god and the afterlife for that matter, is a necessary thought without positive (perhaps very minimal) content, then why not locate spontaneous freedom to self-determine the will on the side of the noumenal -- again as a necessary thought -- rather than the interplay Zizek prefers? I don't see what is gained from Zizek's take, other than that it fits nicely with his "parallax".

Reading Kant makes me happy.
I also added this gem to the comments on that blog post:

While we're talking Kant... I recall reading this joke from Kant's third Critique. (I grabbed it from wiki this time.) He says, "Laughter is an effect that arises if a tense expectation is transformed into nothing." Here is Kant's 219-year old joke and his analysis:

An Englishman at an Indian's table in Surat saw a bottle of ale being opened, and all the beer, turned to froth, rushed out. The Indian, by repeated exclamations, showed his great amazement. - Well, what's so amazing in that? asked the Englishman. - Oh, but I'm not amazed at its coming out, replied the Indian, but how you managed to get it all in. - This makes us laugh, and it gives us a hearty pleasure. This is not because, say, we think we are smarter than this ignorant man, nor are we laughing at anything else here that it is our liking and that we noticed through our understanding. It is rather that we had a tense expectation that suddenly vanished...

Kant really does make me happy!

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