On opposition to Gay Marriage (and a Kantian thought)

It’s 8am, I’m very tired at the start of the day. I am still recovering from the two prongs of having worked late and went to sleep later. I got up only to check emails on my phone. I saw a message following an ongoing email discussion about the recent news of the legalisation of Gay Marriage and I suddenly had a surge of intellectual thought. I shouted out “AUGUSTINE!” and then thought to myself: this is a victory for Kantian philosophy. Okay, so many that bit most people won’t understand, I don’t think most people understand the things I shout out in public anyway. However, I thought I’d venture to explain myself further. A single word expresses about 1600 years of literature.

The orientation of my thoughts are around a certain story of current affairs, namely, the legalisation of same-partner marriage in England and Wales (but not Northern Ireland, and not yet Scotland). I find several things objectionable all at once, and I thought I’d go through them systematically.

Bad arguments

I think one of the things that I thought notable was the television coverage summarising the issue. One view was an old Conservative MP whose background of edcuational and cultural priviledge gave him the wisdom of the following proclamation: marriage is between a man and a woman, it has been so historically for years and should continue to be so.

That’s not really a reason, or an argument. It’s an old man stating his view in the guise of a discussion of implementing a legal measure. I think that’s what Aristotle called demos kratos. I found an interesting piece from the New Humanist from Jason Wakefield effectively debunking what are thinly veiled layers of anti-gay bigotry. Arguing from the premise of tradition or the status quo is bad for democracy, is bad for rational argument and insulting to the idea of progress. I do think however, there has been a good rational case following the likes of Mark Vernon to be wary about imputing the historic standards of marriage as an institution to what is effectively a newly emerging acceptance of wider sexual difference. Of course acceptance of difference (overcoming bisexual erasure, transgender issues and non-monogamy) is a battle of many fronts, of which same-sex marriage is one particular front.

For the purposes of this post I shall not go into those issues in particular. Instead, I shall consider some of the appeals of the kinds of attitudes that would be inclined to reject homosexual marriage and I shall take these into more philosophical consideration.

‘Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman’ – essentialism

I hold this claim to be an essentialist appeal to the meaning of the term. By essentialist I would take it to mean a broadly Kripkean view that there is a certain ‘this-ness’, or natural kind appeal. This kind of appeal would assert that there is a point at which the object of marriage has been (excuse the pun) Christened in a brute way, as say me pointing to a glass of water and saying: THIS is water.

There are two kinds of ways of replying to this essentialist appeal. The first way is through permutation, and the second is to reject that it is essentialist. Let’s consider permutation. If we followed the thought experiment that christening some object and claiming some ‘this-ness’ to the criterial nature of the thing, as if we just point to something and say: THIS is marriage (like say, pointing to a couple arguing; buying furniture at Ikea on a saturday afternoon; appearing as a legally recognised couple in the eyes of the law etc). We can say that the ‘this-ness’ of what it means to be a couple (or coupledom) will still hold even in different conditions.

Permutation of a condition like, say, the recognised gender of either party in a marriage may still preserve many of the aspects of putative coupledom. Perhaps the essence of a marriage is in something else than its gendered membership: things like having arguments about what colour to paint the spare room; whether to take on parental responsibilities; buying furniture from sofa-world or being in love with each other. We can turn this case on its head and say, if we look at putative cases of opposite-sex marriages and find some element missing (like say: a married couple not having parental commitments/buying furniture together/being in love), would we still essentially call it a marriage? I will leave that question open. The kripkean essentialist account, as I understand it, can reasonably account for permutation. The seeds of a watermelon grown on mars that tastes salty and takes a square shape, is still a watermelon according to this essentialist view. Absurd maybe, but I don’t think the argument against same-sex marriage can take essentialist appeals as a rational option.

‘Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman’ – social construction

An alternative view to the thesis that marriage is traditionally supposed to be between a man and a woman is to look at social construction, essentially (excuse the pun) a contrasting ontological perspective. Namely that of social construction. There is an overwhelmingly good case to consider the historicities of institution of marriage. To see marriage as a tradition is correct, but to quote Eddie Murphy’s character in Coming to America, it is also tradition that times must, and do change, my friend. To canonise history is a mistake, to canonise tradition as fixed is also an insult to our understanding of social construction, and perhaps to make an embarrassing ontological mistake. This is a bad reason to make an appeal against gay marriage, not least because it raises more questions than it would purport to answering an issue.

Historical reflections I: Natural Law (Thomism)

Some Catholics may be familiar with this kind of view. Natural law is the basis of many Catechistic principles. Natural law is a notion which has a large basis in Aquinas that through Reason we can see the work of God, and through His nature we can see his will, which in turn informs our moral understanding.

This issue is important from a perspective of faith, because there are many ethical issues that are not addressed in Scripture, and so another recourse is needed to create a religious persepctive. Natural Law appeals to lookings at purported facts of nature and imputing that seeing the teleology (or design/intention) of the natural world suggests God’s will. Perhaps a neat caricature of this view is the Flanders and Swann line: “If the Juju had meant us not to eat people, he wouldn’t have made us of meat!”.

Natural law has an interesting set of applications, this is not to speak of whether it is agreeable or disagreeable. Natural law has a philosophical utility in the kinds of conclusions it makes under the assumption of telos: for example: because humans and other animals have incisors, we are supposed to eat meat. Because of the female reproductive system, only procreation between a man and a woman is permitted. However this kind of view is so strong it would be against a whole lot of things: cybernetic implants and other post-humanist implantations to extend human ability and human life; vegetarianism is immoral. Not least a whole gamut of other philosophical problems: the naturalistic fallacy (which is a whole big issue in itself); the problem of interpreting God’s nature correctly (another big theology issue); the role of socialisation being undermined as ‘human nature’ is overemphasised, and perhaps most intuitively, the desiderata of an ordinary moral theory is to preserve certain things like: murder is wrong or the wrongness of sexual violence. . Natural law would seemingly have the same kinds of problems that sociobiology would have in taking an ambivalent acceptance to the these cases of nature. Not least to say that same sex relations actually happen in non-human mammals as part of a social ritual. Wouldn’t it then be considered natural? (or within nature’s repetoire?). Let’s go back to natural theology later.

Historical reflections II – Separate but Equal

The appeal of separate but equal has been a justification for a variety of contexts. When I googled the phrase earlier, it referenced a misquotation to the attitudes of the Jim Crow era in the USA. The rationality is that many hold there already to be an institution (the civil partnership) for same sex couples, which fulfills the function of marriage. However, it is the point it doesn’t, and to introduce a tier system which essentially is on the basis of sexuality is to establish a level of segregation that forms a barrier to equality.

I think that this rational strategy could be established more, and this may pose an interesting avenue for non-homophobic opposition to gay marriage. However, there is something prima facie suspicious when we introduce an idea of tiers about legally recognised relationships, and the fear that civil partnerships (which heterosexual couples are legally allowed to have) reflect both an aysmmetry (thus suggesting a tiered aspect) or a perception among some of the public that civil partnerships are marriage-lite’’. Which is essentially the fear that Mark Vernon expressed.

Historical reflections III – biblical references

Ah, now if we are taking a Christian perspective, we could appeal to the scriptures. Particularly 1 Timothy, and Romans. These are the writings of St. Paul, who is generally accepted as a scriptural ground for opposition to homosexuality. Then of course there is Leviticus 18 in the ‘Old Testament’/Jewish Scriptures. But then again, if we read into it, Leviticus also forbids tattoos! I do wonder sometimes when I watch the God channel on freeview digital television if some of these cool looking evangelicals who hold to the literalness of scripture know about Leviticus.

Without even taking to account the fact that in a secular environment, this statement of belief is not admissible in a public discussion on the level of Government. We could challenge the canon of the Bible itself. To do this we must consider the historical organisation of the library that is the Bible. Why are the synoptic gospels canonical over others, or do we have any reason to doubt their historicity?

Closing: The victory of Kant’s moral religion

I consider the issue of gay marriage a victory for the broadly Kantian project, of elminating the cultus from religion, from separating ritual from value. The Kantian perspective on religion (which has lots of details) was deeply influential in beginning the historical Jesus project of research, commonly associated with what is called liberal theology.

One way we can see the issue of gay marriage in England and Wales, is to see it as undermining aspects of doctrinal Christianity. Slowly and slowly we are finding moral communion and consensus towards the acceptance of same-sex partnerships through a non-religious and public conversation. We are moving away from the likes of scriptural justification for the basis of our ethical values and moving towards public reason – perhaps.

Lately I have been reading Bart D. Ehrman’s ‘Jesus, Interrupted’, we might review this book at a later time, but one of the overarching theses of the book is the point that there are good grounds to doubt the literalness of the way that the books of the New Testament have been established. The organisation of the books of the Bible are a result of disputes in Early Christianity during the late-antique period, and following Kant’s perspective on philosophical anthropology (an issue I based my MA dissertation on), there are grounds on which we can sympathise with other moralities from different cultural origins, on the basis of their historical basis. Strip away culture and historicities, and we can find a better basis of our ethical values.

How about, say, the formula of humanity: to perceive rational beings as ends in themselves. Human agency as the basis of our respect towards others by virtue of being human, or by virtue of being a moral agent (I take these two to be interchangeable for now). I think its fair to say that those who may be opposed to their views are entitled to practice their cultural heritage within reason, and this measure should not be seen as an affront to their beliefs. I also think that this kind of discussion is the kind of thing that is another feather to the bow of liberal theology, and the subsequent way in which it undermines many of the precepts of fundamentalist and literalist belief.

In closing. I thought it was odd that I didn’t have a philosophical opinion about this issue, but then I realised I did have a dog in this fight. Trust me to show the relevance of Kantian philosophy in any social issue.

Michael (in conversation with Destre)

The Public Use of Reason

Lately I’ve been thinking about what some people refer to as freedom of the pen, or what Kant specifically calls the public use of reason. It is apparently flagrantly ignorant of me to believe that the reasons that people give for things are the reasons that they believe it to be the case, in a public fora. Many current affairs issues, political, social, economic or cultural rely on providing views as rationalised ideals and negotiable, subject to a truth or falsity, or part of the forum of rational discussion. However, it would be ignorant to suspect that more isn’t going on. Engaging in public discussion, whether this is a presence on the print media, bloggosphere, television or other form of video discussion, or even dare I say it, comments pages, often rely on a point of view that is backed up by a form of reasoning. The notion of a public use of reason presumes a communicability of our values to a wider audience, however there is an extent where privately, our values are not so communicable.

In this post I shall consider the distinction between private and public reasons; the application of public reason in ethics, aesthetics and finally some epistemic and normative considerations about communicability and the public use of reason.

Private and public use

What is a private appeal, or a private reason as opposed to the public use of reason? One may be to say that arguments against gay marriage for some people a thinly veiled prejudice against social change, or their inherent lack of acceptance of sexual difference. Another may be how I have encountered people who claim to be considered socialists who enjoy stating their point, but any appeal to conservatism by name (as in conservative thought and its history , or current party issues) will brand you as a party to right-wing tarnishing where their priming automatically inclines them to disagree. Often our public reasons are different to our private reasons. We cannot convince an agnostic audience of our view if we are basing it upon an unjustified fear, or an unquestionable conviction. However that said, I can often find a segregation of views, in that discourses may emerge where everyone is in broad agreement and the level of argumentation is poor because the vocabulary is non argumentative, and presumptive.

Just say a few words like ‘priviledge’ or ‘globalisation’ and our audience can be presumed. The appeals to private reason becomes a shorthand of an argument enthymatic. We cease to argue, and simply claim the assent of our listeners. If we disguise public reason as a private reason we undermine the role of the public forum, and we segregate those who disagree with us. By excluding those who disagree with us, we have no argument, simply we repeat views. Eventually if we are around enough repeaters, the shorthand for our reasons loses any form of reasoning. This to me looks like a form of populism.


To have a private reason does not undermine that we have this conviction. However, it may be that we cannot convince our audience of an argument, or the veracity of a claim, or a political/ethical position through it. In Kant’s own time, the role of Reason was an appeal against religious moralistic kinds of reason in addressing issues of public and ethical importance. It is one thing to hold a moral conviction, or one based on a religious insight, but it is inadmissable in a public discourse to assume that others will come from this background or form of conviction. In order to appeal to a wider audience we must appeal to a universal kind of language that appeals wider.

I suppose this is where my catholic leanings betray me. It was the view of many Catholic thinkers from Aquinas to the 19thC that our reasons should appeal beyond the convictions of faith, but using a wider language of reason. The truths of the world would be revealed through in their terms, not just the scriptural revelation of the Bible, but also through the observable and grasping empirical world. The emphasis on rational thought as well as a faith conviction is understood to be one of the differences between Catholic (rational theology, or analogia entis) and protestant (revealed, analogia fides, sola scriptus) Christianities.

For individuals to engage outside of their own community of conviction they must appeal to argumentation, or facts that support their convictions. In the public context, this may be through empirical studies, secondary anaylsis of existing data, or some other form of scientific appeal. It is not enough to communicate an ethical or political conviction on the basis of a feeling, and even if it were, it would not be reasoning but a form of rhetoric. Unfortunately, Rhetoric is very popular these days, when democracy is built on consensus and the confidence of the public. This isn’t necessarily to conclude that democracies are poorly suited to rational discussion, but rather it may suggest the importance of an informed and well reasoning populace.  By well reasoning, I mean those who can distinguish between reasons which are convincing to others beyond themselves.


When it comes to aesthetics, communicability is a bit of a difficult one for me. Why is it, you might ask, that a public form of reasoning could ever be important to justify what one’s favourite poem is, or why such and such a guitar riff is so powerful. I also consider it a point of asymmetry with ethics. In ethical and political discourse, it is considered a good to appeal to reasons of communicability, however when it comes to our experience/aesthetics, how could we appeal to anything but the subject-ive, or in other words, our response to the object?

Someone like MIchael or Destre would try to convince you that the reason to enjoy Bach is because of its formal beauty, but they themselves (Michael especially) would be personally highly emotively moved by the 48 preludes and Fugues, but could not possibly use this as an appealing reason to convince someone why they might like Bach. Appeal to private reasons I have stated resort to dispositions and temperaments that one already has, but how can we appeal to our sentiment of art and music when it is our personal response? The only way it would seem, is that if another agent we are talking with also has that engendered response. So I could only talk with other fans of Pearl Jam about my love of the ‘Ten’ album, and in this respect we are merely assenting agreement. This is not a form of communicability, only an assent to agreement or disagreement.

If political discourse worked this way, or ethical consensus, we would end up simply hanging around people we agreed with all the time. I think that this is in fact what happens in a lot of online discourse. People who tend to agree with each other camp together, and this may not be in political spheres but social spheres, the comedian Kate Smurthwaite has pointed out how a certain kind of comedian is commercially viable and popular due to the way that the industry of comedy orients towards favouring late-night comedy, where a certain kind of audience who enjoy a certain kind of joke are roused by samey routines that enable audiences to let off some steam.

Epistemic considerations

I think that communicability is a good way of trying to justify our beliefs. Instead of relying on our feelings and what we hold to be true as a brute fact (some epistemologists such as Williamson over the past decade have tried to encourage the merit of brute fact type reasons, or ‘primitives’ over epistemic schemes). Are we convinced of our beliefs if we can communicate it with others? I remember one piece of editorial advice I got from blogging here which was ‘if you can’t communicate it in simple words, you don’t have a valid idea’, communicability is quite a good epistemic benchmark for humbug arguments or reasons. In a sense, it is the first hurdle, the necessary benchmark but not one sufficient for being convinced of our beliefs. I propose this from a position that is unconvinced that epistemic primitives (such as the brute fact of our believing or percieving of some thing) are prima facie convincing.

Normative considerations

This whole proposal about the public use of reason is presumptive, I am for example presumptive of the fact that within public discourses, our believes must answer to some form justificatory schema and not brute reasons which command assent or disagreement among those whom there is no form of discussion, but simply appealing to what they already believe. This is what I would take to be a populism. So lets go back to our values. The public use of reason is what I would take to be a starting point in points of discussion, whether these are current issues or issues of political ideology. I would take it to be an epistemic norm and an epistemic good to hold to the ideal of the public use of reason.

Coda: current issues

I’ve been led to thinking about the public use of reason from a variety of stories that have emerged lately. The phenomenon of trolling, or specifically the appeal to derogatory and defamatory language as a form of silencing, undermining and derailing reminds me of the public and private distinction I have made. News services in the Gaming industry IGN and to a lesser extent, Machinima display a level of journalism which is outright misogynist at times and is unapologetic, this I think reflects the fact that a certain type of male gamer is so visible as the archetypical gamer, who casually swears, enjoys trash talk and wouldn’t think twice about the symbolism of using sexual violence analogies to describe playing a game. Gamers feel so strongly about this behaviour as a form of entitlement that they would go so far as to defame and troll a Kickstarter project forged by Anita Sarkeesian on Gender and gaming.

Likewise I have heard numerous stories of journalists and writers who have experienced campaigns of trolling and defamation for speaking out on various issues. Judith Butler had a petition against being awarded the Adorno Prize for her views on Israeli politics, her response was nuanced and pertinent to this distinction. I’ve also recently explored a website called Reddit, which has a bizarre mix of private reasons and public reasoning. There is one extreme where all of the threads are mostly reactionary and highly rated comments are those that refer to people as fagets in full caps lock, while others involve informed debate where people are open minded enough to disagree or willing to change their mind. The internet age was initially considered as a democratising force for creating an informed public who had a forum for public reasoning, but the way that customisation and orienting around ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’ surrounds an internet user simply around people and environments in which they would agree. It’s like going to a party and only hanging around with people you know: you don’t need to cover any new ground, being around those you agree with or share the same sentiments simply fosters a shorthand of discussion, where little is actually elaborated and everything is simply agreed upon.


Kant’s First Critique: The Transcendental Analytic

Kant’s chapter on the Transcendental Analytic is concerned with the positive role of reason. The cognitive psychology of Kant’s epistemology is of a large mental architecture which seems quite complicated for textual reasons as well as its own consistency. The idea of the big scheme is so prevalent in the Kantian philosophy, that even the exposition of this idea takes place within (wait for it)…a big scheme.

The essence of the Transcendental Logic was to point out that underlying most everyday experience is an underlying scheme, the Transcendental Analytic is, in Kant’s terminology, the explication of this scheme. Analytic, as a term means something akin to ‘taking apart’, which is what Kant attempts to do for the non-empirical component underlying of everyday experience. Another idiom of Kantian termology is that ‘deduction’ means something more akin to ‘demonstration’ or ‘proof’ of the items of Kant’s analysis. I note this because it is part of Kant’s critical philosophy to consist of an analytic to precede a deduction.

Kant establishes a few terms as part of his architecture. The Understanding contrasts to Intuition. Thought contrasts to Sensibility. The Understanding exists as an independent role from Sensibility.  An everyday perception would be the unity of the Understanding with the empirical component.

The Understanding

One feature of the Understanding is that it exists as an entirely independent entity from Sensibility, even though it co-opts with sensibility in the construction of everyday experience. A fundamental idea of the Understanding is that it is organised in a system. Because of Kant’s strict notion of the understanding of apriorism, he maintains that the understanding must form a system and the workings and relations of this system is discoverable a priori.

Logical features

To discover the workings of the fundamental aspects of this cognitive architecture, Kant essentially boils everyday perceptions idealised as propositions, to find the categorial features of what underlies them. In this way, it seems, Kant discovers the fundamental logical structure of the understanding. I’ve used the word ‘logical’ here, and I relate to my view (and Destre’s) understanding of what logical means.

It is in my view, as well as Destre, that the notion of ‘logical’ refers to what really means ‘categorial’, by categorial, I understand the fundamental aspects of reality which are so fundamental that they consist of constraints upon our understanding. It is for instance, the case that we understand terms as true or false, or even in between; we understand alethic modal terms, or other kinds of modes such as temporal terms or intentional terms. The one thing that unifies all formal logics is that they attempt to bank on a collection of fundamental categories. Alethic logic uses terms such as necessity; deontic logic pertains to intention while we might say that classical logic commits to the bivalence of the world being organised into true and false propositions. I consider this sense of ‘logical’ to be important because it is in my view that preseves a body of knowledge in a tradition spanning Aristotle to Frege, if we look at logic as a notion of the fundamental categoricity of reality, we subsume it as a form of metaphysics, and modern logic would continue as the ‘analytic’ of those terms.

The rule of three

One thing that really confuses me is that Kant organises the categories as a table, and each category has three branches. The table of elements is resoundingly similar to Aristotle’s categories and Kant acknowledges this. Kant considers Aristotle’s categories to be flawed however, where Aristotle elicits 10 categories, Kant expresses 12. Kant links the categories through distilling empirical linguistic claims and in doing so forms a table of judgments, these then have a more fundamental rooting on an isomorphic table of categories. The categories and judgements consist of genii: quality, quantity, relation and modality, within these are three specii.

What I find interesting about this table structure is that it exemplifies itself in some ways. The categories exemplify unity and plurality, Kant noted earlier in the Analytic, that unity is a fundamental idea to the understanding, but is it the most fundamental? Is it possible for instance, that one category precedes the structure in importance, or constrains it?

If we are to agree with this structure of the categories, it would essentially detail the structure in which we study metaphysics. Kant says that his intention of philosophy was to classify these notions but not to go much further with them. If we understand the archictecture of reality, there is still much more work within it to bring out its details. Another way to describe this is that we could say that Kant is creating a demarcation of subjects, in the same way that say, we understand the demarcation between pure and applied mathematics; astrophysics and microbiology, and even though we see their differences and appreciate why they are so fundamentally different, there is still much work to be done in the individual areas of pure mathematics, or microbiology. It is hardly the case that once we know the structure of reality or metaphysics through the table of categories, there is nothing more to be said about say, necessity or parthood, but what could be said by virtue of the table, is that those metaphysical features form part of a greater system.

With regard to the specific categories and judgments elicited in the table, I cannot get my head around the motivations for some of them. I would grant the importance of modality or perhaps quantity, but ‘relations’ could be realised in several other ways, and each particular branch should have, if we are to be convinced of this system, a description of why we should be motivated for the specific categorisation, instead of another one which may explain multiple categories all at once, the category of ‘community’ or ‘reciprocity between agent and patient’ seems the most arbitrary, and Kant does little to convince us of why this should be a category. Even if we accept Kant’s category scheme, there is a rational burden to convince us why each category should be considered on individual merits, instead of by its weight in place of the system.

Michael (following conversations with Destre)

[disclaimer: This was incredibly hard for me to read and more still to understand. My post serves as a set of notes for my own indulgence and hardly any definitive kind of reading, I am all very likely to change the way I’m reading Kant as I gain more insight or read it again and I do not assert this reading with any confidence at all, this chapter was a beast to read.]

Taxonomies and ‘the Reichenbach rule’

This post is more for informational purposes and not so much making my mind up about something. Lately I’ve come across differing notions in the taxonomical organisation of life forms in contemporamous biology, as opposed to the Early Modern Period which I normally make reference to. The role of taxonomy is an issue which relates to an aspect of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of science which I see having a big importance. I will consider a specific case of dispute in biology, brought to my attention by Samir Okasha (2002).

While virtually all biologists maintain the veritude of a system of ordering life forms. I say life forms as the most general taxon term to include as robust a set from viruses to bananas. What some quibble over, however, is the ordering system of these life forms. In a contemporary context, there are differing notions of classifying species. One concerns addressing ancestry, and so a life form is ordered in a taxonomical structure in relation to its ancestral species. Cladistics is the approach which looks at organisms by organisation of their ancestors and descendants, and nothing more. This may allow for a family or ‘clade’ of species to emerge from any given ancestor. Cladistics can be distinguished from earlier ‘Linnaean’ approaches which emphasis specific classification schemes like ‘phylum’ and ‘genus’, in order to reflect the complexity of genealogy. It is said that Cladistics is a more parsimonious approach to the traditional Linnaeus taxonomical scheme, because taxa are used sparingly in the former approach by its appeal to ancestry.

By contrast there is another notion of taxonomy: Evolutionary systematics. Systematics is an approach which varies from Cladistics in that it identifies and organises organisms not by ancestry, but by accounting for evolutionary heritage (let’s call this vertical ordering), as well as preserving a form of ‘horizonal’ classes of species akin to the traditional Linnaean approach. This approach varies in its emphasis on trying to merge the 18thC Linnaean scheme, with the 19thC notion of natural selection. Instead of looking at individual organisms, the focus for systematics are the emergence of groups of species, such as dinosaurs, and their descendants. In some respects the approach of systematics allows for more flexibility in the organisational scheme, and is less rigorous.

These two approaches of systematics and cladistics vary in the way that they cut across organisms to create taxonomies, to invoke a philosophical phrase, they quibble on how they ‘carve nature at its joints’. It gets philosophical when we consider the role of the notion of a ‘common ancestor’. A taxonomical scheme can be said to be monophyletic if there is a common ancestor to a group. The two approaches construe the notion of of common ancestry in different ways. Systematics approaches hold that a grouping has a similar ancestor, while Cladistics holds that the whole ancestral group is a common ancestor of a given group.

Why is this important for someone thinking about Kant?

This is potentially an example of how systematicity, a dictum about the nature of science, actually works in practice. The one thing that is not disputed in any way, is that there needs to be a taxonomical system. New evidence, and differing approaches allow for the system to be refined, expanded and even significantly re-ordered. Yet, the idea of Kant’s system is distinctly a priori. The potential area that needs more work in my view, if the claim that biological taxonomy is an actual example of Kantian Systematicity, is the role of the monophyletic, or the common ancestor. in Kant’s view, the ‘higher genus’ concept required that in principle there is a single highest taxon or entity to give rise to its ‘lower’ concepts. I used to think that this meant an a priori claim that there was a potential single taxon at the highest level, even if it is not discovered.

The case of Reichenbach’s critique of Kant’s metaphysics of space and time come relevant here. Kant was criticised severely on the basis that his rational geometry was fundamentally Euclidean, which was the basis of his metaphysics and epistemology of time and space. Spacetime, as the physicists have come to know it, is a much more complicated affair than Kant had come to know it the 18thC. If a philosophical theory makes a claim that is subject to empirical review, then the evidence of whether the claim stands up to empirical scrutiny makes the theory stand or fall, on the basis of the evidence. I shall call this the Reichenbach rule. To what extent is there an issue of Kant violating ‘the Reichenbach rule’ in Kant’s theory of systematicity in relation to the issue of taxonomy. I think that it relies heavily on what the taxonomical approaches hold in relation to the notion of the common ancestor, and how it is possible to interpret biological taxonomy in terms of systematicity.There are other issues as well as the Reichenbach rule, which also weighs of importance to compare, namely: whether a theory can change its components and structuring, while maintaining some aspect of truth to it, or the a priori ‘necessity’ of structure and also whether the fact ‘that there is a system’ is preserved through the differing contemporary theoretical perspectives to taxonomy.


The Kantian Popper (or the Popperian Kant?)

I’ve mentioned in many posts that I have been leisurely reading Popper’s ‘Logic of Scientific Discovery’. The further I go into it, the more I come to see his Vienna roots.

I admit something. I don’t know too much about Popper. I’ve always heard of Popper from second hand admirers among my sociologist friends who see him as one of the great heroes of LSE’s philsophical heritage (also included in that list are Lakatos and Feyrabend). I think perhaps I have misapprehended popper as a mid-late 20thC philosopher of science, the not-so-distant ancestors to the philosophers of science I had come to know in Bristol.

My Kant scholar approach is informed by a very minor understanding of the Vienna philosophers; I see them as having a distinctly Kantian heritage, despite their apparent anti-Kantian character. This route also follows the scholarship of the likes of Ernst Cassirer; who was for one note contemporamous to the great Vienna men. A more contemporary historian pertinent to this issue is Michael Friedman (I should add a tag as to how many references to Friedman this blog has).

I believe that Reichenbach’s notion of the constitutive a priori directly relates to what is understood as Kant’s ‘regulative a priori’ in his body of philosophy of science. As I have also considered; I think that the ‘foundations’ approach is a step forward and the supreme example of this, Carnap’s Aufbau, is a superior attempt at the philosophical foundations of what I think Kant’s desiderata for any future scientific theory must amount to. Did Kant anticipate a Carnap? That’s a question for another post.

For various exegetical reasons, I have maintained that Kant has set a series of conditions for what he called ‘science proper’ which included:

1. Reductionism: all propositions of science must relate to another by means of a higher order system to explain the principles of the lower order. Applied physics requires theoretical physics, theoretical physics requires calculus and calculus in turn requires certain metaphysical/mathematical foundation assumptions to allow the conditions of such to susue.

2. Relata by laws, higher and lower. A revised way of stating the above is to note that Kant (may have) believed that the relata of this higher lower ordering system that justifies higher and lower discourses takes place by explicitly formal laws; these laws must be formal insofar as they actually apply.

3. Systematicity, or the unity of science. These principles must form a system that relates one kind of physical phenomenon with anohter. A general physics must account for all of its constituent parts; matter, heat, sound, energy, motion etc. If we had a theory of planetary motion (such as astrology) that made predictions and claims about a person’s wellbeing and future; it would only be a respectable theory (well, one reason at least) if it had something to say or relate to say, the notion of elements; heat; energy; conservation of mass, and they all in turn were candidates or subsets of a higher formal system; say, a mathematics of change (calculus) or general principles that took place over it as a genera, and yet formed the foundations of the given discourse astrology.

Popper’s vision of science seems distinctly Kantian as he says the following:

1. We must understand scientific principles as universal claims; and even thought there are doubts about the validation of every instance of F=ma (due to the limitations ofthe universe and our own means  of testability – namely, we can’t live forever and there is a great dataset of cases that we can no longer verify because they belong in the past). It is better, to crudely state it; to be a universals advocate of the sentences of science and to underlay them as a formal substructure of sentences; than to take the empiricist vision of dealing only with particulars.

2. Particulars cannot take us far enough with induction. Induction has its own epistemological and psychological problems. Which is our motivation to take a more rationalist ‘foundations’ approach.

3. The formal structure of science seems to take great precedence in Popper’s theory. It does not matter that our formal laws cannot map to real observances, or even that real observances cannot map to their porpositional expression. An example of the latter is this: to say ‘I am hurt’ is of very detached relevance to the felt experience of pain. The very fact of your reading this shows that this message is coded in a propositional format. Perhaps the best way to communicate the fundamental inexpressability of those things that propositions relate to would be to make an example of a non-propositional utterance (‘ouch’), or to hit you.

4. The ‘alms ob’ premise. Kant takes to the notion that while we may always have doubts about whether the actual formalisation of science maintains true of the world; we must take to the transcendental assumption that the world as it appears to us is just that; we must take some things for face value, or understand things in the way that we are forced to understand it; because of the brute fact natureo f our understanding to make us think it so. The categories of the understanding such as causation or orientation are things we understand just because they are so; but it is always valid to question them.

Popper takes quite well to what some commentators (I think it’s Bennett and HW Cassirer) call the ‘as if’ premise. If we are to take to certain assumptions or theorisations of science as idealisations or things we may imagine are ‘as if they were true’.

5. The conditions of possibility. Popper holds that the systematisation of science requires what I’ll call a mother premise, namely; that there is one fundamental condition at the top of a scientific theory which acts as a decider of what the other norms are. In a sense, Popper provides the notion of what I sometimes call a metanorm; a norm that decides norms.

I’ve specifically interpreted systematicity to be a metanorm; although Popper does not seem to be directing systematicity; he does make one proviso that relates to it; that we have an ordering langauge that makes sense of instances of particulars by instituting language terms that denote them as type. If we are to pose ‘marsupial’ as a universal we will always have the problem that universals cannot be justified by every instance; but the admission of this objection seems to be treated by popper as some kind of merit of his theory; as it is the same problem that induction has, but induction does not pretend to aspire to universals, because it cant. Some form of idealisation, or a language of types that in turn are ordered by ranking principles; e.g. the Linnaean hierarchical taxonomy.

Popper makes a point of not confusing universal types with sets and classes; perhaps this is something a Kantian theory of science may benefit from. We may have entities that have one class description; but fit multiple classes and sets. Kangeroo is a marsupial >> mammal; but it is also under classses and sets such as ‘australasian’; creatures that keep their children in pouches; ‘cute and cuddly’ or ‘parodied in family guy’ and they can be classified as such without inconsistency.

The relationships with Kantian systematicity and Popper’s vision of science are very intricate and subtle. I’ve just written this post to acknowledge just some of the potential issues and exegetical similarities that they have.

I’m also pleasantly surprised of Popper’s outlook; perhaps I may take his scientific character to be more Viennese than I thought.

6. Demarcation as the condition of science. Like Kant, Popper talks about ‘proper science’ (but not in those words). The problem of science is not of induction (contra Humean thinkers); but demarcation; namely, the separation of science and non-science; science and metaphysics; epistemology qua knowledge and scientific method qua pseudo/philosophical psychology.

Demarcation acts as a methodological primary premise in a similar manner to how Kant’s notion of ‘conditions of possibility’ works.


Verstehen truths

Who is the real Destre? Some people say it’s Michael, others, one of the other areopagites repeated, but, what does it really matter? Oscar Wilde wrote on the importance of deception and face management as a way of portraying some kind of other reality of a person.

When Liberace died, many were curious about the nature of his death. Liberace was a beloved celebrity in the United States and beyond, representing a certain kind of mindset or kitcsh. For many, he was a cultural icon, for a certain demographic, he was the face of a new wave of technology that was otherwise unfriendly and inaccessible. The legacy of Liberace, unlike that of Sinatra, will not last, and did not last with much warmth after his death.

Why was this? A large speculation is that many peole inquired into the cause of his death. A media frenzy then came of this issue, of how, or why he died. It then became that the man’s reputation, which he took his life to build, was destroyed by the suggestion that he was a homosexual. With that, his career ended in a way that not even his own could have taken away. I see today in the news of some rumours about John Lennon; all interesting for the newspapers to get us buying and watching.

It got me to consider the whole importance of face management in social interactions. In many professions, and to the identity of many social individuals, reptuation, and image, is everything. Perhaps it is that impetus to understand our fascination with trying to find celebrities with their pants down (figuratively and literally). Those icons who work hard to their eminent status and those individuals who have by means of their own effort and goodfill have achieved a status, or did a service, or entertained in ways few people could ever do, are those individuals we are so fascinated in dishing the dirt about.

A galpal once told me, and I think is apt. Everyone has dirty laundry. I was with Michael at the time and he just kept sniggering about a certain person in the room, who had notably dirty laundry. Immaturity aside, the serious point is that we could all find something shambolic and embarrassing about others, perhaps the shambolic and embarrassing thing can be that they have no interesting lives.

If there is an image that can be shattered, the pieces of its shattered glass clearly show that the image was not a false one. The shaming of individuals is mere self-indulgence. Because truths about the self are truths of a different domain of facts than those normal ones we think of. To say there are ‘truths’ about a person is not to speak in a domain of facts, but within an ellipsis. It is, to invoke a pun. A verstehen turth of a person that may or may not be truth-apt, bit far from it is it to assume truth-aptness as a tacit and necessary condition.

Antisophie (and Sinistre*)

The antiomies of the foundations

There is a distinct contradiction, and yet, agreement, in the following two propositions:

P1. Mathematics cannot be shown to be complete
P2. We cannot but conceive of Mathematics, properly construed, as ideally composed of a set of axioms such that all and any system of mathematics can be reduced to a common simple system, or set of axioms such that shows a common genus to all mathematics.

This view, I maintain, is a Kantian view of mathematics. Kant’s constraints upon the proper conduct of science is that there ultimately originates a primary concept, but, that this concept is knowable or discoverable, or even actual, is not relevant, nor should we be too concerned if we never find it.

For science to be proper, Kant says, it must fit an ideal of knowledge, but such an ideal is projected (this entails the ideality of natural kinds) and not real. Such an ideal also seems to suggest that we use a bit of elipsis in our explanations and descriptions of science. A Kantian view of science also would set as a desideratum that there were a formalisability/mathematicisation constraint on anything if it is to be proper science at all.

The ideal is a projection, and is an “as if it were real” constraint (that is the ellipsis to which I speak of). Because it is a projection, our kinds and entities and laws within the scientific frame work not only can be subject to change, but desirably so, are they changeable, for scientific theories could always change, and are not rigidly set.

Rigidity is still present in the Kantian conception of science, however, in the desideratum of the constructability of formal langauges upon which we describe our phenomena. Consider the difference between ‘Water’ (h20) and water (that stuff we drink). Most, if not all the water we come across is not ‘water’, perhaps in some ways, ‘water’ does not exist, HOWEVER. Water necessarily presupposes ‘water’, in virtue of its ideality. For what makes water1 the same as water2 other than h20? Nothing.

H20 is criterial of water, but in a way, its pure form is never to be found in water, only ‘water’, which projects onto all thigns called water, makes sense of our empirical concept in such a way to be science. But, because ‘water’ is a priori regulatively ideal, it is also subject to change. The contradiction is, then, how is water necessarily h20, yet only indexical to our scientific understanding?

The answer to this lies in the conception of necessity. Necessity here, is defined as a criterial relation. Therefore, to say that “2 is a number” is necessarily true is to state a criteria. Necessity is criteria. But then, is not necessity similar to possibility? For criteria presupposes the conditions, and conditions is construed in the Kantian system as possibility. It would seem then that necessity can only take place as a concept where possibility is first defined, such that in a sense, necessity is only possible if, possibility allows, and this is necessarily so.

Destre (and Michael)