Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kant’s Great Hope

(This was written in February 2005).

In the Will to Power, Nietzsche wrote, “The supposed instinct for causality is only fear of the unfamiliar and the attempt to discover something familiar in it.” Immanuel Kant looked out on the world of 1784 and saw challenges to Newtonian science and Enlightenment ideals. The world of dignified freedom Kant so desired, and with which he had so familiarized himself, appeared to be lost. Kant saw a chaotic world and wishes to impose upon it a familiar sense of order.

Kant’s ninth thesis expresses this need: “It [a universal history] will also clear the way for a comforting view of the future.” Instead of an apocalyptic end indicated by man’s unsocial nature, a chiliastic vision is possible, because underneath the chaotic façade, purposive Nature is at work, causing a movement towards freedom and Enlightenment. The world for Kant is not anarchic or ruled by chance, but is governed by laws which are apparent when one looks into the annals of history, but largely unnoticed by mankind; a governance moving towards a clear end. This idea for a universal history provides men with hope, some peace of mind with regard to the future of mankind.

Ignoring this end leads to a life of chance, the fate of which is barbarism – a lawless freedom, the return to a Hobbesian state of nature, similar to the state of war observed throughout the history of Europe, especially during Kant’s lifetime. Rather than give men an option to return to wild freedom, which he believed they would do, Nature acts without men’s knowledge to create a cosmopolitan state. Free choice presents problems for the plan of Nature, because it leads to randomness, making difficult the discovery of the universal history across the disparate actions of mankind, but Nature does not allow man’s free choice and randomness to divert from the desired end. Throughout these disparate actions, there is a common thread, or at least, this is what Kant would have us believe, because we must believe. We must believe in the end to produce the perpetual peace which gives us hope – to provide motivation for bringing about the cosmopolitan state.

Kant’s Enlightenment ideal required a purpose and order for all things, and Kant transfers his familiarity with this sense of purpose to the chaotic world. Like an organ which is not intended to be used, any man who does not fulfill his purpose in meeting the end is a contradiction and lives outside of reason. This end is posited, and Kant himself admits it cannot be proven, so perhaps there is no end. But if the man, like the organ is not intended to be used, then perhaps this is its nature: there is no end or grand design to be fulfilled. This is what Kant fears most, so he connects the disjointed realm of human history into elaborate scheme of Nature.

“It is natural to give a clear view of the world after accepting it must be clear,” writes Camus in the Myth of Sisyphus. That there may be no end is not an option for Kant. Kant assumes the world must have a rational meaning and purpose, some end to achieve, so he sets about to provide us with an understanding of this end.

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