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I see the word "collective delusion" in Kant's epistemology and "duty" in his morality but I have a hard time identifying the bridge, if one exists.

Or is this question too general requiring an answer too broad for this forum?

asked Jan 31 '13 at 02:25

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Jan 31 '13 at 13:03

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Greg Perkins ♦♦

In the history of Western philosophy, there have been two main attempts to bind a morality of sacrifice to a deeper epistemological and metaphysical foundation: Plato's approach and Kant's approach. Plato put forth the idea of a second, supernatural realm of existence apart from, in addition to and superior to, the natural, earthly realm known to man through sense-perception and conceptualization traceable to sense-perception. The natural realm was seen as an imperfect, approximate reflection or projection of the supernatural realm which, however, man cannot know in anywhere near the degree of detail and precision that he can achieve, through reason, in his knowledge of the natural realm. The supernatural realm is nevertheless regarded as inhabited and ruled by powerful forces and/or beings who also wield considerable, formiddable power over the natural realm and man, and which man is duty-bound to serve and pay homage to -- i.e., to sacrifice himself for them.

Note that the supernatural forces or beings have nothing to accomplish by commanding man to "adhere to natural reality and use reason exclusively to gain knowledge of reality." That would be completely out of character for the supernatural realm and its ruling forces or beings, who demand homage to the supernatural realm without "puny little man" even trying to ask any questions that might challenge the whole idea of a supernatural realm. The supernatural realm demands that man have faith in its existence, and faith is the opposite of reason. Likewise, the supernatural realm cannot command man to pursue his own rational self-interest and reject sacrifice, for then again why would he need to believe in a supernatural realm at all? (More about the psychological motivation of Platonic philosophers and intellectuals -- the psychological appeal of mysticism and altruism to mystics -- in a moment.)

Kant's approach was very similar to Plato's as a form of what Objectivism calls the "primacy of consciousness," but Kant's approach focused on man's consciousness and its alleged self-limitations. Kant's undercutting of reason was so thorough and effective that subsequent philosophers were readily able to reject Kant's view of a Platonic "noumenal realm" and proceed rapidly ahead with the denial of any objective realm at all, holding instead that all knowledge is necessarily subjective, "contingent," fluid, changeable -- leaving ample room for faith for anyone who wants something supernatural to believe in. The essence of Kant's approach was thorough-going selflessness, war against the "self" in any form. The bridge from selflessness in cognition to selflessness in valuing is simply that: selflessness. Selflessness in values means eschewing values; giving them away if you have them, and not seeking them -- but keeping them if they are handed to you by others without you having done anything to seek or earn them.

Note that selflessness inherently is the antithesis of reason in cognition, and of valuing in ethics.

Why, then, would anyone be attracted to mysticism, selflessness and sacrifice? What could possibly be its psychological appeal? Ayn Rand answered this question in many mutually reinforcing forms throughout her writings. Nearly five pages of excerpts can be found in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Mysticism." One of the excerpts from Galt's Speech begins:

A mystic is a man who surrendered his mind at its first encounter with the minds of others. Somewhere in the distant reaches of his childhood, when his own understanding of reality clashed with the assertions of others, with their arbitrary orders and contradictory demands, he gave in to so craven a fear of independence that he renounced his rational faculty. At the crossroads of the choice between "I know" and "They say," he chose the authority of others, he chose to submit rather than to understand, to believe rather than to think. Faith in the supernatural begins as faith in the superiority of others. His surrender took the form of the feeling that he must hide his lack of understanding, that others possess some mysterious knowledge of which he alone is deprived, that reality is whatever they want it to be, through some means forever denied to him.

This excerpt goes on to explain what happens to the emotional state of a mystic, and why he genuinely does feel "the existence of a power superior to reason." The "power" is actually the minds of others who are not mystics. The excerpt continues:

A mystic is driven by the urge to impress, to cheat, to flatter, to deceive, to force that omnipotent consciousness of others. "They" are his only key to reality, he feels that he cannot exist save by harnessing their mysterious power and extorting their unaccountable consent.... To control the consciousness of others becomes his only passion....

There is an even larger collection of excerpts in the Lexicon topic of "Kant, Immanuel." The opening excerpt (from FNI) explains:

Kant's expressly stated purpose was to save the morality of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice. He knew that it could not be saved without a mystic base -- and what it had to be saved from was reason.

The "Ethics" subsection of that Lexicon topic begins:

As to Kant's version of morality, it was appropriate to the kind of zombies that would inhabit that kind of [Kantian] universe: it consisted of total, abject selflessness.

More broadly, the link from metaphysics and epistemology to ethics (and politics) in any philosophy is man's metaphysical nature, one's view of what man is and where he is -- whether he is rational and survives by using reason to gain and keep values that sustain his life, or is only a selfless zombie; whether he lives in a natural reality that is open for him to learn how to deal with, or is a helpless pawn of supernatural forces beyond his control, or lives trapped within his own consciousness with no means of knowing anything that might exist independently beyond it. A synopsis of Objectivism's view of man (contrasted with some key alternatives) can be found in the Lexicon topic of "Man."

answered Feb 02 '13 at 18:04

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Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Jan 31 '13 at 02:25

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Last updated: Feb 02 '13 at 18:04