If Kant couldn't do better, can we?

Eric Schwitzgebel has an interesting post about wildly insane ideas in Kant (lookie here, you'll enjoy it).  Just quirky and amusing, but so what?  He thinks not. 
First, from our cultural distance, it is evident that Kant's arguments against masturbation, for the return of wives to abusive husbands, etc., are gobbledy-gook. This should make us suspicious that there might be other parts of Kant, too, that are gobbledy-gook, for example, the stuff that transparently reads like gobbledy-gook, such as the transcendental deduction, and such as his claims that his various obviously non-equivalent formulations of the fundamental principle of morality are in fact "so many formulations of precisely the same law" (Groundwork, 4:436, Zweig trans.). I read Kant as a master at promising philosophers what they want and then thowing up a haze of words with glimmers enough of hope that readers can convince themselves that there is something profound underneath.
Okay, well that's taking him down a notch!  But now he draws conclusions about us.
Second, we cannot expect ordinary people to be better philosophical moral reasoners than Kant. Kant's philosophical moral reasoning appears mainly to have confirmed his prejudices and the ideas inherited from his culture. Therefore, we should be nervous about expecting more from the philosophical moral reasoning of people less philosophically capable than Kant. 
Here's the thing, though.  Kant is grandiose.  You can practically hear the trumpets blaring in the background.  There's a lot of systematizing and beholding the amazingness of mankind, and heavy breathing amid all the brilliance. Perhaps the trumpets etc. got in the way of clear thinking.   So--take heart!  When we're thinking more plainly about moral matters, it's not impossible that we do better than Kant, despite Kant being ... Kant.


Faust said...

Or we could consider the fact that grandiose ideas or no: most intellectuals most of the time are engaged in extremely sophisticated confabulation.

Or not ;)

amos said...

Most thinkers rationalize or give reasons for the ethical zeitgeist or status quo. A few, for example, Nietzsche, criticize the ethical status quo, which is another way of affirming it. At times thinkers represent what Marx
would call a "rising class" and go one step beyond the ethical zeitgeist: for example, those of the early enlightenment, Spinoza, Hume, Voltaire, but no one is ever two steps beyond the ethical zeitgeist.

Wayne said...

I agree that there is a lot of "gobbledy-gook" in Kant, but I'm not sure that its right to be dismissive of Kant when we're looking at some of these particular pieces of gobbledy-gook.

I mean, if you look at Aristotle, he says some pretty awful things about women as well. Most people just look past it and apply his larger theory to women in general.

Kant's application of the C.I. is pretty horrendous, but that doesn't make the C.I. gobbledy-gook. But I think it does serve to remind us that we really have to think deeply about our own biases and prejudices and aim to let them not influence our moral positions, but rather good reasoning.

Jean Kazez said...

I don't think ES is really entirely dismissing Kant. He's saying the glaringly bad stuff should make us suspicious of the more subtly bad stuff...and then he's saying "if Kant often bad at moral reasoning, what hope is there for us?" He could make that entire argument and still think there are brilliant passages in Kant.

Wayne said...

I don't know... that part about the master throwing up glimmers of hope in a haze of words doesn't sound entirely complimentary.

On the subject of moral reasoning and the lay person... I don't think we have to expect any more or less from lay persons than philosophers on moral positions.... moral arguments are another story. I'm not sure that people can be experts at moral judgments.... I can be well educated on abortion, and all the arguments for or against, but that doesn't make my judgment that abortion should be permissible an expert judgment does it? I keep wondering what makes me all that different from the non-philosopher.... Maybe I can argue far better than most... But that certainly doesn't make me a better person than most.

T. said...

Acc. to Kant, only Salomon Maimon really had understood him. Here an old text I once wrote (for my own use) on him, maybe amusing.