John Dewey, Philosophy, and the German Aggression

(This is a paper I wrote in 2013. It has accumulated about 1650 reads at Objectivism Online, where I posted it. I imagine readers come across it there by the link to it and other articles of mine in “About Me” in my Profile there. // Irfan saw the link to it I posted on FB today, a century after WWI Armistice, and thought it might find interested readers here. So here I’ll try to post it now.)

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Dewey and Peikoff on Kant’s Responsibility

Part 1 – Transcendental Idealism v. Experimental Pragmatism

John Dewey delivered three lectures in February 1915 that were published later that year under the title German Philosophy and Politics (GPP). Dewey attempted in this work to trace the contribution of some abstract philosophical ideas to the currents of German thinking that had contributed to bringing the world to its present situation. The Great War had been on for seven months. Hundreds of thousands had died already. Eight and a half million would die, and twenty-one million would be wounded, by the end of the war.It is understandable that Dewey examines mainly German philosophy and war politics rather than French, Russian, or British philosophy and war politics. It was Germany who had violated the neutrality of Belgium, in order to advance toward France for conquest. I do not know whether Dewey was in favor of American entry into the war against Germany as of the time of his lectures.

Americans were overwhelmingly against entry at that time. Irish-Americans and anti-Czarist Jewish-Americans were fervently opposed to entry on the side of the Allies. Swedish- and German-Americans were pro-German. President Wilson was quietly complicit in British violations of American neutrality, complicit in Britain’s blockade of private American commerce (foodstuffs and cotton) with Germany. In the subsequent escalations of civilian-killing policies at sea and in ports between Germany and Britain, Wilson would turn loudly sensitive to neutrality when its requirements were unfavorable to Germany’s war making (Karp 1979, 171–87, 250–63). In May 1915, Germany torpedoed the British liner Lusitania, which was bearing over a hundred American passengers (and some munitions). It took nearly two more years, but Wilson was eventually able to win enough support to enter the war on the side of Britain and France and their allies. This he accomplished by pumping up a putative right of Americans to travel on vessels of belligerents and by declaring as his motive for entry: bring an end to the war, and then proceed to universal disarmament.

Turn back to Dewey in February 1915 and to his thoughts on the Germany that had lead to the mass killing and suffering in Europe. Dewey rejects the Bergsonian conception that history is moved by our instincts, that our intelligence is only statement after the fact. He rejects also the Marxist conception that history is moved inevitably by economics, that social institutions, art, literature, science, and philosophy are only byproducts.

Preliminary to examining the bearings of some modern German philosophy on German war politics, Dewey lays out his own view of the influence of general ideas upon practical social questions. He maintains there are abstract ideas, vital and genuine, that have practical influence, although one must be careful not to exaggerate their influence.

He does not think that pure ideas, or pure thought, influence human action. There are in truth “no such things as pure ideas or pure reason. Every living thought represents a gesture made toward the world, an attitude taken to some practical situation in which we are implicated” (GPP 8; further 1910, 19; 1929, 133–34). Although ideas may have not originated with a view to altering practical conditions, sometimes they “are congenial to a situation in which men in mass are acting and suffering. They supply a model for the attitudes of others; they condense into a dramatic type of action. They then form what we call the ‘great’ systems of thought” (GPP 8–9). Philosophic ideas, along with art, can become settled into men’s “permanent dispositions of action.”

Most folks would concur that some ideas influence action and the subsequent course of events. But most tend to suppose that philosophic theories are only leisurely speculations. People tend to think their own particular general ideas affecting their conduct of life are normal and inevitable. “They forget the extent to which these ideas originated as parts of a remote and technical theoretical system, which by multitudes of non-reflective channels has infiltrated into their habits of imagination and behavior” (GPP 9-10; also 1929, 56–58).

I would take issue with that qualifier “non-reflective.” In the national schools of Germany in the preceding decades, students received catechism instruction from an early age. When they had graduated from those schools, if not before, at least in the cities, they would be exposed to the live ideas of the atheists Marx, Haeckel, and Nietzsche. The young person’s continuance in or revision of his old school beliefs would be quite reflective. A good many of his long-standing ideas could come up for reassessment.

Dewey thought the philosophers had been largely mistaken about what they were doing. They thought they were seeing into and reporting “ultimate reality, or the essential nature of things.” In fact they had been telling of “nature and life and society in terms of collective human desire and aspiration as these were determined by contemporary difficulties and struggles” (GPP 10–11). I would say Dewey is straining what philosophy had been to force it into a mold of what he now—having turned from Hegelianism to Pragmatism—thought it should be.

I notice that that conception of philosophy, and of ideas in general would tend towards dampening whatever responsibility for the present calamity an influential philosopher might bear on account of the influence of his ideas in bringing about the calamity. To the extent that a philosopher was a voice of what people in his culture already thought, perhaps inchoately, his responsibility would be mitigated. To the extent that the conscious aim of his thought was truth regardless of practical consequences, his moral responsibility for the present killing fields would be further mitigated. On the other hand, Dewey thought that philosophers looking for ultimate reasons in existence and locating them in super-sensory realms was a way of off-loading responsibility that would and should come from engaging in practical experimental philosophy (1910, 17–18). Though he does not say so explicitly, that would suggest that the intellectual irresponsibility of rationalistic and otherworldly philosophers is of practical, moral consequence.

How Dewey would see the history of philosophy and its role in the history and current problems of mankind would likely have changed somewhat as his own philosophy changed from Hegelianism to Pragmatism. Rand’s views differed from Dewey’s concerning the history of philosophy, its role in history, and what reforms in philosophy are needed. Objectivism is not Pragmatism. I should stress that errors by a philosopher—whether Dewey or Rand or Peikoff—about the history of philosophy or errors concerning specific causation of specific human suffering and mass killing does not necessarily show the erring philosopher’s philosophy to be incorrect. To show that error in the philosophy of P is implied by a particular error E by philosopher P in his or her historical account of philosophy or account of its specific influences in specific historical episodes, one would need to show that the particular error E is necessitated by the philosophy of P.

Returning to February 1915, Dewey is correct in the following point: Abstract ideas can be taken up far away from the circumstances of their origin and put into operation in a different situation. Time may unfortunately not put right, but may very well “accentuate the evils of an intellectual catastrophe—for by no lesser name can we call a systematic intellectual error” (GPP 12). Remember, I say with Leibniz, that the term evil is used for physical evil (an earthquake killing people), moral evil (fraud in seismic qualifications of a building), or both together.

Within responsibility, I think we should keep track of the distinction between causal responsibility and moral responsibility. Remember that lines of causal responsibility must be established between thought and deed to establish any moral responsibility (or even for there to be any morally neutral liability in tort). With causal lines of responsibility for a physical evil identified, lines of culpability by intentions or complicity need to be determined following the causal lines.

The moral culpability of a thinker for the morally evil actions committed years later by individuals and by institutions of organized force under the remote thinker’s influence can be only specific, not also particular; it can be only of like kind, not self-same in occasion.[1] It is the actor who held the ideas and enacted them in the deed on the particular occasion. With causal responsibility established between remote thinker T and ideas of culpable actor A, the culpability, if any, of the thinker would be by way of specific identity between A and T in respect of idea and intent or specific identity between A and T in respect of idea and complicity.

Observe that if a thinker T’s only motive for an idea were truth—discernment of identity, existential or formal, which is wider than Dewey’s definition of truth—then his or her responsibility in culpable acts of A later on would be at most causal, not also moral. Where also moral, the moral culpability of T can be only a shadow culpability. T should not be held liable (were he living), for in the nature of the case, the act requirement for criminality fails. Moreover, the way in which T’s idea can have a causal role in the crime of A is only as a causal circumstance (like a handy hoe or shotgun), as an objective of the criminal act, or as an incitement to the criminal act. Those are listed in increasing order of similitude between specific, shadow culpability and particular, actual culpability. The sole remediation concerning culpability of T is this: By analysis along the lines of Dewey’s, one might discern and correct T’s errors, innocent or motivated, and better know the importance of philosophy.

Dewey acknowledges that for an account of German intellectual history one would need to go back to at least Luther. Dewey elects, however, to begin with Kant. “In Protestant Germany his name is almost always associated with that of Luther. That he brought to consciousness the true meaning of the Lutheran reformation is a commonplace of the German historian. One can hardly convey a sense of the unique position he occupies in the German thought of the last two generations” (GPP 18–19).

In Germany and the Next War (1911), Friedrich von Bernhardi had written:

Two great movements were born from the German intellectual life, on which, henceforth, all the intellectual and moral progress of man must rest: the Reformation and the critical philosophy. The Reformation, which broke the intellectual yoke, imposed by the Church, which checked all free progress; and the Critique of Pure Reason, which put a stop to the caprice of philosophic speculation by defining for the human mind the limitations of its capacity for knowledge, and at the same time pointed out in what way knowledge is really possible (73).

Dewey recurs to that book of Bernhardi’s in his 1915 lectures. Bernhardi’s book had been issued in English translation in 1914.[2] Bernhardi had been the first cavalry officer to ride through the Arc de Triomphe when the Germans entered Paris in 1870. He later served in the General Staff. At age sixty, writes Barbara Tuchman, “Bernhardi assembled a life-time’s study of Clausewitz, Treitscheke, and Darwin, and poured them into the book that was to make his name a synonym for Mars” (1962, 25).

Bernhardi enlists the name of Goethe in making his case for German imperial expansion and its requirements for the nation and state. Goethe, Kant, and Luther were settled names of German cultural identity and pride. Appeal to their authority was appeal to very widely accepted voices of deepest truth and right.[3] Appeal to them was conservative, and Bernhardi aimed to have their weight and a conservative gloss on his program, notwithstanding the circumstance that the views of none of these icons were compatible with his core philosophic rationalization for such war.

For Bernardi’s program, there is one popular Kant essay whose plain contradiction with Bernhardi’s position could not be left unaddressed. That is Kant’s “Towards Perpetual Peace” (1795), which sets out the duty to work towards perpetual peace by international federalism. Bernhardi squarely acknowledges his opposition to that Kantian outlook, which was championed by European liberals at the time of Bernardi’s writing.

Bernhardi proclaimed that it would not be desirable “to abolish war entirely, and to deny its necessary place in historical development.” That would be “directly antagonistic to the great universal laws which rule all life. War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind which cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilization. ‘War is the father of all things’ (Heraclitus). The sages of antiquity long before Darwin recognized this” (1911, 18).

The names Haeckel and Nietzsche would shatter Bernhardi’s pretense that his warmongering is a smooth graft onto conservative German philosophy and theology. Naturally, Bernhardi does not mention those two names. It is in fact those two counter-traditional thinkers who supply Bernhardi’s core philosophic rationalization for waging a war of aggression. (I notice the quote from Heraclitus used by Bernhardi appears also in Nietzsche’s text GS 92.)

By the time of Bernhardi’s book (1911), Friedrich Nietzsche’s books had been flying off the shelves for about two decades (Safranski 2002, 318–26; Aschheim 1992, 29–84, 101–27; Tuchman 1966, 349–51; Thomas 1983). “At the beginning of the war, Nietzsche was already so popular that 150,000 copies of his Zarathustra were printed in a special edition and handed out to the soldiers at the front along with Goethe’s Faust and the New Testament” (ibid. 329).

There are some sayings glorifying unreasoning war in the sections of Zarathustra “On War and Warriors” and “Conversation with the Kings” (§2), although the former also contains elements subversive of the organized collective action that is war (see further Pippin 2006, xi; Aschheim 1992, 128–48; Thomas 1983, 103–4). I think Bernhardi was silent on Nietzsche because of the latter’s loud atheism. Then too, notwithstanding the common merit the two see in war per se, Nietzsche’s individualism could undermine actually making war (HH I 481; GS 5).

Ernst Haeckel was the premier champion of Darwin’s theory of evolution in German lands. Darwin’s Origins of the Species (1859) had come into German translation in 1860. Haeckel mastered the theory and soon embraced it. Some of Haeckel’s work in biology provided significant evidence for the theory beyond evidence mustered in Origins. In that work, Darwin had withheld judgment on whether humans were descended from other animal species. Since the eighteenth century in Germany, there had been speculations concerning the development of life from hypothetical amorphous forms into the greater articulation and ramification seen in species today. Thinkers such as Herder and Schelling had included in these pre-Darwinian accounts of species transformation speculations of how human kind had arisen. Haeckel charged immediately from Origins to the conclusion that humans descended from other, less perfect animals, and he alleged in print new implications for human nature and society. In 1871 Darwin would publish his own evolutionary conclusions and conjectures concerning humans (see Richards 1999, 135–45).

Haeckel wrote popular accounts of his evolutionary ideas in 1868 and 1874, which became best sellers. Three decades later, he issued three more popular books on his evolutionary ethics, or social Darwinism. One of them The Riddle of the Universe (1899) sold a hundred thousand copies in its first year. “It quickly became Germany’s most popular philosophic work” (Gasman 2004, 14). In this book, Haeckel staunchly defends atheism, proclaims a scientific morality based on evolution, and derides Kant and much of Christian morality.

Neither Haeckel nor Nietzsche had been promoting war with France. It is Bernhardi’s voice leading that chorus, but part of his rationale is reasoning from Haeckel and Nietzsche (HH I 477; Z – above; GM II 24). The quotation of Bernhardi above continues:

The struggle for existence is, in the life of Nature, the basis of all healthy development. All existing things show themselves to the result of contesting forces. So in the life of man the struggle is not merely the destructive, but the life-giving principle. “To supplant or to be supplanted is the essence of life,” says Goethe, and the strong life gains the upper hand. . . . / The nation is made up of individuals, the State of communities. The motive which influences each member is prominent in the whole body. . . . / That social system in which the most efficient personalities possess the greatest influence will show the greatest vitality in the intrasocial struggle. In the extrasocial struggle, in war, that nation will conquer which can throw into the scale the greatest physical, mental, material, and political power, and is therefore the best able to defend itself. War will furnish such a nation with favorable vital conditions, enlarged possibilities of expansion and widened influence, and thus promote the progress of mankind. . . . Without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy budding elements, and a universal decadence would follow. (1911, 19–20)

I have not been able to find that quote in Goethe, and I notice that other scholars have also not found it. For now its accuracy and context remain unknown. My doubt over of the fidelity of Bernhardi’s quotation of Goethe in support of an evolutionary struggle for existence is increased when I open Goethe and Darwin (1906) by the scholarly theologian Rudolf Otto. He writes that the principle of natural selection through the struggle for existence belongs exclusively to Darwin’s theory, that it is by all means alien to and contrary to Goethe’s way of thinking according to potentiality (9).

Perhaps Bernhardi was paraphrasing somewhat Goethe’s biological law of compensation: “One part [in an organism] cannot be added to unless something is taken from another” (quoted in Richards 2002, 416; also 447, 456). Bernhardi’s picture of the effective and efficient intrasocial organization fits fairly well the picture of the organism put forth by Haeckel’s student, the embryologist Wilhelm Roux, whose 1881 treatise The Struggle of the Parts in the Organism was a crucial influence on Nietzsche in divining will to power as the essence of all life (Moore 2002, 37–38, 78–79).

I conjectured that one reason Bernhardi omitted credit to Haeckel and Nietzsche in his core philosophical justification for war, whether defensive or aggressive, was to give the appearance of having the imprimatur of conservative German culture for his program. Doubtless there are reasons for such a subterfuge and its special laudation of Kant. We shall come to that.

In addition to the names Luther, Kant, and Goethe, Bernhardi drops the iconic name of Wilhelm von Humboldt as he pays lip service to ideals of individual freedom within the intrasocial organization. Immediately thereafter he goes on to argue the necessity of countering individual freedom; he calls for increasing domestic power of the state. Dewey is adamantly opposed to the autocratic state.

What are the reasons for Dewey’s sleight of the influence of Haeckel and Nietzsche in the German atrocity of 1914? There can be no realistic weighing of the influence of a philosopher’s ideas in bringing about a war without assessing the comparative influence of the ideas of other philosophers, and ideas of other sorts of intellectuals, in facilitating the parties of war. There can be no judgment of causal, thence moral, responsibility without weighing of influence.

Dewey was definitely aware of the influence of Nietzschean ideas in German war thinking. He observed that many had been saying it was the philosophy of Nietzsche that explained Germany’s atrocious behavior (on those voices, see Aschheim 1992, 128–48). Dewey curtly dismisses Nietzsche’s influence as “a superficial and transitory wave of opinion” (GPP 28).

Perhaps Dewey found no way profoundly telling of national character by which Haeckel’s German version of social Darwinism differed from Spencer’s British version. Certain it is that the license to war, indifferently defensive or aggressive, drafted from the social Darwinism of Haeckel and sayings of Nietzsche (promoted, for example, by Alexander Tille) was not Dewey’s candidate philosophic idea for most weighty influence upon German national character in contrast to British or American national character.[4]

Dewey brings to the fore one idea of Kant’s as solidifying German character conducive to militarism in the modern world: Kant’s segregation of morals and science, segregation of the supersensible world of moral duty and moral freedom and the sensible, spatial world of science (GPP 20–23; also 1929, 47–49). Reason gives law to the material of sense and in this way constitutes nature, but reason is itself supersensible, above sense and nature. There is “command in man to act for the sake of what ought to be—no matter what actually is . . .” (GPP 24; A802 B830). This in man is Kant’s proof of the operation of supersensible reason within human experience. The command of reason’s law from within is addressed to a free moral will, which also belongs to the supersensible realm.

Dewey quotes Kant as saying “I have found it necessary to deny knowledge of God, freedom, and immortality in order to find a place for faith.”[5] Dewey takes faith here to be a moral act (GPP 26). That is correct in Kant. I should stress, however, that although the act of faith for the Lutheran, Reformed, Pietist, or Catholic has moral import, that act first and foremost act is connection to God, the degree and character of the connection being various among these predominate Christian denominations (Otto 1917, 106–12). The faith Kant warrants directly is only rational faith (Vernunftglaube), which is not logical inference of reason, but is an issue from reason and not contrary to reason (A822 B850, A825–830 B853–58). He did not share the traditional mystical faith of his culture (Kant 1793; Kuehn 2001, 34–40, 338–40, 344, 350, 361–72; Michalson 1999). He hoped his work would stop, on the one hand, intellectual threats to the religiously devout from science and from highly rational philosophies (under influences of Spinoza and Wolff) and on the other hand, existential threats to free rational inquiry from church and state (A744–54 B772–82).

Dewey saw the root idea of Germany’s national life in Kant’s doctrine of two independent realms, “one outer, physical and necessary, the other inner, ideal, and free” (GPP 28). The latter for Kant has primacy over the former. “The chief mark of distinctively German civilization is its combination of self-conscious idealism with unsurpassed technical efficiency and organization in varied fields of action” (GPP 28). Dewey makes clear that although this is a realization of what is found in Kant, he is not saying that Germany’s marvelous advances in science, industry, and the military were caused by Kant. He means, rather, “that Kant detected and formulated the direction in which the German genius was moving, . . . [and] that his formulation has furnished a banner and a conscious creed which in solid and definite fashion has intensified and deepened the work actually undertaken” (GPP 28-29).

Concerning advances made by German scientists, that last statement by Dewey floats vaguely near the truth in the case of biology to the 1840’s (Lenoir 1982; Richards 2002, 229–61, 309–12, 407–9, 427–30, 488–91; Richards 2008, 31–36, 120–22, 459–60). However, what influence Kant had on German biology in the nineteenth century was mainly on account of his general characterization of organism life and his characterization of biological understanding in Critique of Judgment. His characterization of teleological judgments as strictly regulative (virtually hypothetical and immutably so), a doctrine well suited to his critical and transcendental idealism, was immediately pushed aside by German biologists. They took Kant’s teleological judgment to be essential in their advancing discipline, but they took teleology to be, in one form or another, a governing principle really operating in the physical domain of life, independently of our requirements for scientific explanation.

Advances in German science were not on account of Kant’s particular form of idealism and his situation of science within it. In the case of chemistry and physics, in Germany after Kant, his doctrines sometimes furnished “a banner and a conscious creed,” but it is not the case that they “intensified and deepened the work actually undertaken.”

Kantianism, says Dewey, “has helped formulate a sense of national mission and destiny” (GPP 29). Kant’s formulation of the two realms and their relationship illuminates why German consciousness has not been taken over by its material endeavors, “but has remained self-consciously, not to say self-righteously, idealistic” (GPP 29). Positivism, materialism, and utilitarianism are kept in minority by Kant’s successful doctrine of the two realms, the material one to be developed ever more, beneath and for the sake of the ideal and supersensible one. “There is no people so hostile to the spirit of a pragmatic philosophy” (GPP 30).

Dewey draws attention to Kant’s emphasis on the a priori in his idealism (GPP 39–44; cf. 1910, 17–18). The unitary forms necessary for any and all sensory experience are, in Kant’s view, space and time. These two are irreducible forms and are ineluctable a priori contributions from the mind of one having experience. A priori means not derived from experience. Kant proposed that taking space in experience to be a priori is necessary to explain how the deductive discipline of geometry, applicable to all outer experience, is possible. Time is an a priori form applicable to all experience, inner and outer. All sensory material is made into experience by these two fundamental forms, space and time (A22–49 B37–66; B66–73; A165–66 B206–7).

All concepts, mathematical or empirical, can be logically entered into judgments having twelve different irreducible forms to which there correspond twelve fundamental concepts, or categories. These categories, such as limitation or causality, are given a priori. These categories apply to judgments pertaining to our processes of consciousness as well as to judgments pertaining to objects and processes in the outer world of our experience (A76–83 B102–9; B109–69).

Though the twelve categories of the understanding and the sensory form that is time apply to inner experience, they are about what is. Our inner life is not only about what is. It is about what ought to be, what ought to be in character and action. In Kant’s ethics, what ought to be is governed by a priori law following from the unconditional end in itself that is rational nature (A841 B869; G 4:407–21).

Dewey maintains that a Kantian way of analyzing the world into a fairly small number of a priori concepts, “rational concepts which are legislative for experience,” greatly simplifies (too greatly simplifies) comprehension of real events (GPP 41–42). Habits of conforming the world to the dictates of a practically divine a priori Reason, Dewey suggests, predisposes the German people to imagine that in imposing their will on other peoples they are instruments of a deified Reason (GPP 43).

Dewey is on the right track in stressing the repercussions of the obsessive a priori in Kant’s philosophy. I should say, however, that it is not plausible that the rational organization of concepts for research by the great German physicists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was in accord with the a priori gloss Kant attempted in his pretentious rewrite of Newtonian mechanics in Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786). Helmholtz, Mach, Einstein (Martínez 2009), and other luminaries of physical science had their particular stands on Kant. But Kant’s claim of the a priori nature of such things as the principle of inertia was silliness to them as it is to us. In his elegant text on mechanics, Hertz (1899) gave steady supplication to the Kantian a priori character of the kinematical prerequisites of dynamics, but he really had reverted to the pre-Kantian notion of the a priori. Although Hertz took what we would now call Galilean kinematics to be insusceptible to empirical test for correctness, he maintained that its value or worth hangs on whether the dynamics in which it is used coincides with experience. There is no such vulnerability to experience for Kant’s a priori principles of dynamics. In stark contrast to Kant, Hertz regarded the principle of inertia, his Fundamental Law of dynamics, to be “inferred from experience” (1899, 144). (Michael Friedman’s 2001 concept of the relative a priori in the work of science is a concept radically different from Kant’s a priori.)

Dewey’s 1915 effort to find philosophical roots of Germany’s disastrous attitudes and behavior in the sharp differences between the critical philosophy of Kant and his own philosophy of pragmatic experimentalism (or empiricism) goes overboard. Dewey thinks dangerous “the mental habitudes generated by attachment to a priori categories” (GPP 40), dangerous that “no moral, social, or political question is adequately discussed in Germany until the matter in hand has been properly deduced from an exhaustive determination of its fundamental Begriff [concept] or Wesen [essence]. Or if the material is too obviously empirical to allow of such deduction, it must at least be placed under its appropriate rational form” (GPP 41–42). It is plain that “the whole modern liberal social and political movement has allied itself with philosophical empiricism” (GPP 44). Think of Locke or Mill. “A hierarchically ordered and sub-ordered State will feel an affinity for a philosophy of fixed categories, while a flexible democratic society will, in its crude empiricism, exhibit loose ends” (GPP 44).

It might be argued—and this may be an underground assumption of Dewey’s—that Kant saved rationalism and idealism in Germany, by his original and influential reform of them together with his mighty counter to empiricism and materialism. It is plausible that without Kant’s critical and transcendental idealism, the idealisms of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel would not have come about. Nevertheless, I expect these three men would have made philosophies, even had Kant never existed. Without Kant, these three might well have made new ways in philosophy, and it is reasonable to suppose they would have sprung their creations not from the empirical tradition in Germany (Sassen 2000; Kuehn 1987), but from the Leibnizian-Wolffian tradition. Then too, it is plausible that these three would have had the relations they did have to the Romantic movement in Germany. Goethe and Schiller were happening, Kant or no. Goethe was a realist, not an idealist. He put spirit into nature and that nature into man. Goethe’s only reliance on Kant was in biology, and like the other German biologists, unlike Kant, he took teleology to be in nature. The German enlightenment, the fideist reactions to it, and the German romantic movements in the arts and philosophy, would have happened without Kant.

It is true that Kant’s a priori elements yield a grand organized structure of the phenomenal world. But it is not a resulting organization any more grand and unified than was taught by Kant’s contemporaries such as the Leibnizians Moses Mendelssohn and Johann Eberhard or than would be taught by a Thomist philosopher anywhere in the world. Grand system providing a rational location of most anything in its relationship to everything else is not a peculiarity of German philosophy as distinct from French philosophy. In addition to Scholastic philosophies in France, there had been the comprehensive systems of Descartes, Malebranche, D’Alembert, Cournot, and Bergson. Notice that Nietzsche’s philosophy, whose influence Dewey mentioned only to disregard, is like Dewey’s in not being a systematic (cf. A832–41 B860–69).

Dewey’s analysis is defective in its focus on the contrasts between German and Anglo-American philosophy to the neglect of contrasts (and similarities) between German and French philosophy. It was Germany’s long conflicts with France, not with Britain, that eventuated in the German aggression of August 1914. The German regime resented Britain’s standing in colonial power and her command of the seas, but it was not spoiling for a fight with Britain in this offensive, the bluster from Moltke notwithstanding. To fully assess the factor of dominant-philosophy differences in war-making differences among the belligerent nations of the Great War, one must not neglect France. Thanks to a lead from Bernhardi, Dewey does not neglect differences in French and German philosophy altogether, as we shall see in the sequel.

More important than systematic character in philosophy, whether a priori or entirely grounded by experience, would be Kant’s refashioning of the concept of the a priori. William Tait (1992) has argued persuasively: for Leibniz and Plato the a priori discipline of geometry had been the study of a type of structure whose truths hold independently of whether that structure is exemplified in the physical world; for Kant a truth of geometry is a priori true of the physical world. This facilitates casting the fundamental organization of the phenomenal world as issuing from something deep inside mind.

Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel inherit and transform the Kantian a priori power of structuring the world, for use in their various editions of idealism, their various versions of Innerlichkeit. Dewey claims that “the Germans, more readily than other peoples, can withdraw themselves from the exigencies and contingencies of life into a region of Innerlichkeit [inwardness, or subjectivity; profoundness]” (GPP 46). We shall evaluate this claim in the sequel.

Greatest within any possible importance of Kant’s a priori for the historical nightmare of the Great War is the role of the a priori in Kant’s renovation and central placement of duty in his ethics. That ethical realm, in Kant’s picture, is the realm of inner rational being. It is shielded from fundamental bases in the phenomenal world, outer and inner, by Kant having rendered the basic form of the phenomenal world fixed a priori by the sentient subject and by having free will completely compatible with the phenomenal world even while accepting that no free will is possible in the phenomenal world alone. The fact of free will is a testimony of the existence of the noumenal world, a touch of it within the rational self.

As the sun rose at Cape Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, the British fleet was arranged in two successive lines for battle. The Franco-Spanish fleets were silhouettes against the eastern sky. With the two opposing fleets closing for the fury, Admiral Nelson made a signal to all his ships: “England expects every man to do his duty.” This duty was nothing new in human history, and it had no dependence on ideas of the late sage of Königsberg (d. 1804).

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To be continued. In the next installment, I shall complete discussion of Dewey 1915. I shall assess Dewey’s account, to World War I, of the influences of Kant’s doctrines of two separate realms and of moral duty.

In 1942 Dewey issued a second edition of German Philosophy and Politics, adding a large Introduction in which he applied his earlier analysis to the rise of Hitler and the new world war. I shall discuss Dewey’s extended account and the criticisms of his account made by two Kantians shortly after World War II. Then comes Leonard Peikoff 1982.

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Notes

  1. The distinction of particular and specific identity is mine and is as follows. Particular identity answers to that, which, where, or when. Specific identity answers to what. Every existent consists of both a particular and a specific identity (Boydstun 1991, 43–46, and 1995, 110).
  2. Germany and the Next War was reviewed in the November 1914 issue of Moody’s Magazine 17(11):553–54.

 

  1. In Chicago, in the corner of the lakefront park at Sheridan and Diversey, there is a serene and strong statue erected in 1913 by Germanic Americans. Inscribed on its base is “To Goethe, the Master Mind of the German People.

 

  1. On German social Darwinism, see Gasman 2004, 90–92, 147–51; Thomas 1983, 112–14; Aschheim 1992, 122–25. On Haeckel and WWI, see Gasman 2004, 126–31; Richards 2008, 432–35.

 

  1. This is evidently from an 1882 English translation by John Watson of Critique of Pure Reason Bxxix–xxx. This old translation draws together in one sentence what is placed in separate sentences by translators today, but it remains true, all the same, to Kant’s statements in that part of the Introduction to the second edition of KrV.

 

References

Aschheim, S.E. 1992. The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany 1890–1990. California.

Bernhardi, F. 1912. Germany and the Next War. A.H. Powles, translator. 1914. Longmans Green.

Boydstun, S. 1991. Induction on Identity. Objectivity 1(3):1–56.

——. 1995. Volitional Synapses. Objectivity 2(3):105–29.

Darwin, C. 1859. On the Origin of Species. John Murray.

——. 1871. The Descent of Man. John Murray.

Dewey, J. 1910. The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy. Henry Holt.

——. 1915. German Philosophy and Politics. Henry Holt.

——. 1929. The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action. In John Dewey, V4. J.A. Boydston, editor. 1984. Southern Illinois University.

Friedman, M. 2001. Dynamics of Reason. CSLI – Stanford.

Gasman, D. 2004 [1971]. The Scientific Origins of National Socialism. Transaction.

Haeckel, E. 1899. The Riddle of the Universe. J. McCabe, translator. 1900. Harper & Brothers.

Hertz, H. 1899. The Principles of Mechanics. Macmillan.

Kant, I. 1781, 1787. Critique of Pure Reason. W.S. Pluhar, translator. 1996. Hackett.

——. 1785. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. M.J. Gregor, translator.

In Practical Philosophy. 1996. Cambridge.

——. 1786. Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. M. Friedman, translator. 2002. In Theoretical Philosophy after 1781. Cambridge.

——. 1790. Critique of Judgment. W.S. Pluhar, translator. 1987. Hackett.

——. 1793. Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason. G. Giovanni, translator.

In Religion and Rational Theology. A.W. Wood, editor. 1996. Cambridge.

——. 1795. Towards Perpetual Peace. M.J. Gregor, translator.

In Practical Philosophy. 1996. Cambridge.

Karp, W. 1979. The Politics of War. Harper.

Kuehn, M. 2001. Kant – A Biography. Cambridge.

——. 1987. Scottish Common Sense in Germany. McGill.

Lenoir, T. 1982. The Strategy of Life. Chicago.

Martínez, A.A. 2009. Kinematics – The Lost Origins of Einstein’s Relativity. Johns Hopkins.

Michalson, G. 1999. Kant and the Problem of God. Blackwell.

Moore, G. 2002. Nietzsche, Biology and Metaphor. Cambridge.

Nietzsche, F. 1878. Human, All Too Human. R.J. Hollingdale, translator. 1986. Cambridge.

——. 1882. The Gay Science. J. Nauckhoff, trans. 2001. Cambridge.

——. 1883–85. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. A. Del Caro, trans. 2006. Cambridge.

——. 1887. On the Genealogy of Morals. W. Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale, trans. Vintage.

Otto, R. 1906. Goethe und Darwin / Darwinismus und Religion. Vandenhoeck & Kuprecht.

——. 1917. The Idea of the Holy. J.W. Harvey, translator. 1923. Oxford.

Peikoff, L. 1982. The Ominous Parallels. Stein and Day.

Pippin, R. 2006. Introduction to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. A. Del Caro, translator. Cambridge.

Richards, R.J. 1999. Darwin’s Romantic Biology: The Foundations of His Evolutionary Ethics. In Biology and the Foundations of Ethics. J. Maienschein and M. Ruse, editors. Cambridge.

——. 2002. The Romantic Conception of Life. Chicago.

——. 2008. The Tragic Sense of Life. Chicago.

Sassen, B. 2000. Kant’s Early Critics. Cambridge.

Safranski, R. 2002. Nietzsche – A Philosophical Biography. S. Frisch, translator. Norton.

Tait, W.W. 1992. Reflections on the Concept of A Priori Truth and Its Corruption by Kant. In Proof and Knowledge in Mathematics. M. Detlefsen, editor. Routledge.

Thomas, R.H. 1983. Nietzsche in German Politics and Society 1890–1918. Manchester.

Tuchman, B.W. 1962. The Guns of August. Dell.

——. 1966. The Proud Tower. Bantam.

18 thoughts on “John Dewey, Philosophy, and the German Aggression

    • Thanks for getting me set up for posting again and for the cleanups. I had eliminated that first note also in attempting some formatting in Edit. That note is only: “The distinction of particular and specific identity is mine and is as follows. Particular identity answers to that, which, where, or when. Specific identity answers to what. Every existent consists of both a particular and a specific identity (Boydstun 1991, 43–46, and 1995, 110).”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. In “Conversations with Eckermann,” Goethe says, essentially, that he favours the ECONOMIC unification of Germany — e.g., the elimination of internal customs barriers and passport controls — but worries that the POLITICAL unification and centralisation of Germany will lead to a homogenisation of culture. So at least in that respect he makes a poor poster child for German nationalism:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=-vEnAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA350&dq=we+then+spoke+of+the+unity+of+germany&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiL_8i-j87eAhXnTN8KHVbdA68QuwUINDAB#v=onepage&q=we%20then%20spoke%20of%20the%20unity%20of%20germany&f=false

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    • I don’t know Goethe’s views on this, but I suspect that the aftermath of World War I made it difficult to distinguish clearly between political and economic unification as regards Germany–Goethe’s worry had by that time become a sort of (justified) paranoia and self-fulfilling prophecy.

      The Austrians wanted union; the Germans were prepared to accept union; the principle of national self-determination demanded union. The fact that the Allies forbade union remained a constant source of bitterness in Germany and condemned the new ‘Republic of German-Austria’, as it was known, to two decades of conflict-ridden, crisis-racked existence in which few of its citizens ever came to believe in its legitimacy. (Richard Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p. 63).

      The same issue or dynamic arises in discussions of Palestine. One faction, termed “neoliberal” by those to its left, wants a “one-state solution” to the Israel/Palestine dispute, primarily because it sees that as the key to peace and prosperity understood in capitalist terms. Another faction wants a “one- state solution” to the dispute on what it regards by contrast as “principled grounds”: everyone should have, and be guaranteed, equal rights under a non-sectarian state. But one of those rights is supposed to be a “right of self-determination” that entails collective ownership of “national resources,” along with its fair distribution. The first faction doesn’t want collective ownership, and the second doesn’t want private ownership. The first faction is then accused of neoliberal complicity with the forces of capitalism, while the second is regarded (on the left) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian struggle for equal rights, and (on the Zionist right) as representative of the “collectivism of Palestinian society.”

      It tends to be difficult if not impossible to break out of this false dichotomy. I’ve made the attempt, before befuddled Palestinian audiences in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Maybe two or three people out of a hundred or so will walk up to me after the lecture and tell me how much they liked it. Then you find out that they’re Americans (whether Jewish/Israeli or Palestinian). Everybody else sits there, and says, “WTF?”

      To my mind, it’s the same confusion as the German one, and arises from the same basic dynamic. The sad result is that when non-far-left Israelis encounter either view, they think: Auschwitz. And clamp down on the occupied territories to prevent history from repeating itself.

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      • It might have been more accurate for Evans to say “The great preponderance of Austrians wanted union.” When I see the near-total percent who voted for it in 1938, I think of the national vote for Saddam a year or so before the US takeover, which was about 97% as I recall, even with such a large Shite population. A sort of “Don’t believe everything you read in the funny papers” deal. While Walter and I were in Vienna years ago, we found the Old Jewish Cemetery within the Central, and we always remember our somber walk through an unattended part, just the green of nature taking over, in which the markers did not go beyond 1938.

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~

        I remember how swiftly West and East Germany got going with Reunification. I was really stunned at the swiftness, and so was Jerry. As I recall, the other countries of the world were a pretty reluctant go-along. Thankfully, the political organization of the West predominated the outcome. In the 90’s, I met a German man visiting a mutual friend in Milwaukee. He owned a pastry café in Frankfurt, and he told me that people who had grown up in East did not want to work.

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  2. Here are two puzzles from the earlier part of the essay.

    The first one:

    It is understandable that Dewey examines mainly German philosophy and war politics rather than French, Russian, or British philosophy and war politics. It was Germany who had violated the neutrality of Belgium, in order to advance toward France for conquest. I do not know whether Dewey was in favor of American entry into the war against Germany as of the time of his lectures.

    Why does Dewey focus on German philosophy rather than focusing more broadly on nationalism, German or otherwise? Germany may have violated the neutrality of Belgium, but strictly speaking, the war began in Sarajevo in the context of Balkan nationalist agitation against the Austro-Hungarian empire. It’s not obvious that because Germany made the first major move toward world war, German philosophy must be the central driving force behind the war. World War I was a world war, and there couldn’t have been a world war had there not been an alliance system, German and non-German, that created one. That can’t all be explained by way of German philosophy, or if it somehow can, the explanation involved needs some way of getting from the specifically German to the more broadly global context. Even if German philosophy explained every last thing the Germans did, that doesn’t entirely explain why the war took the form it did.

    The second one:

    There are in truth “no such things as pure ideas or pure reason. Every living thought represents a gesture made toward the world, an attitude taken to some practical situation in which we are implicated” (GPP 8; further 1910, 19; 1929, 133–34).

    I’m curious whether, as an engineer (or former engineer), you agree with that when it comes to mathematics. Maybe it’s true of some parts of mathematics, but is it true of all of mathematics? Do professors of mathematics, or even college math majors, go into mathematics because it represents “an attitude taken to some practical situation in which we are implicated”?

    That strikes me as either implausible, or involving so revisionary or eccentric a conception of “practical situation in which we are implicated” as to render the phrase meaningless. From what I’ve seen of them, people go into math because they enjoy doing math, full stop. They enjoy the sheer aesthetic elegance of mathematical formalisms, or enjoy the distinctive kind of thinking involved. In some cases, I’m led to suspect that they’re attracted to math for reasons that seem to contradict Dewey’s claims: like art, it offers a release from the tedious practical concerns of the world. Maybe “the desire to escape from practical concerns” counts as “an attitude taken to some practical situation in which we are implicated,” but either way, it’s hard to make out what Dewey is trying to say.

    I say that despite the fact that I got a lot out of reading the one book of Dewey’s that I’ve ever read, Experience and Education, which changed the way I think about pedagogy. That one book aside, though, I haven’t read enough of Dewey to really know the characteristic patterns of his thought.

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  3. One more puzzle, this time about the material toward the middle and end of the essay:

    Greatest within any possible importance of Kant’s a priori for the historical nightmare of the Great War is the role of the a priori in Kant’s renovation and central placement of duty in his ethics. That ethical realm, in Kant’s picture, is the realm of inner rational being. It is shielded from fundamental bases in the phenomenal world, outer and inner, by Kant having rendered the basic form of the phenomenal world fixed a priori by the sentient subject and by having free will completely compatible with the phenomenal world even while accepting that no free will is possible in the phenomenal world alone. The fact of free will is a testimony of the existence of the noumenal world, a touch of it within the rational self.

    I find Dewey’s account of Kant’s influence on World War I baffling to the point of being incomprehensible. I’m not sure I even understand, even at the most basic level, what he’s trying to say. The closest approximation I get is: Kantian a priorism contradicts the assumptions of British empiricism, but empiricism rather than a priorism is the more sensible (to so speak) or justifiable epistemology. Since ethics and politics depend on epistemology, the inadequacies of Kant’s epistemology entailed inadequacies in his ethics and politics, which somehow led to World War I.

    Even if we grant everything up to the claims about Kant’s ethics and politics, the connection of those claims to Germany’s role in World War I is totally obscure. How do we get from “Kant’s ethics and politics are inadequate” to Germany’s role in starting World War I, much less a full account of the war above and beyond Germany’s role?

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  4. Irfan, I want to try to post a link to Dewey’s GERMAN PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICS (1915) here for reference. https://archive.org/details/germanphilosophy002600mbp/page/n3

    As you may have noticed, I never finished my planned series of papers that were together to compose “Dewey and Peikoff on Kant’s Responsibility” beyond this one, first installment. Looking into my paper files for that project, I see that this one paper had to have been written at least ten years ago, as I found my Xeroxing from Dewey 1915 was from the Chicago Public Library, and we moved away from Chicago in 2009. Fortunately the entire text of this book is available online now at the archive.org link above. Like Peikoff 1982, Dewey goes on to trace the particular transformations of Kant in Fichte and in Hegel in coming to his representation of the main philosophic river flowing in the German people and their dominant attitude towards the German state at the time of its instigation of WWI. Still, Dewey took Kant to remain the philosopher of Germany, Kant’s empty content of a morality of duty filled out in the years since Kant by obedience to the German State.

    I’ve come across a paper through JSTOR from the Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society by James Campbell titled “Dewey and German Philosophy in Wartime” (2004). Campbell relates 1915 criticisms of Dewey’s book, criticisms in The Philosophical Review and in The New Republic. They found any necessary thread from Kant to German militaristic philosophy, such as in Bernardi, quite implausible. One even opined that the actions of Germany showed little of their idealistic heritage and should more accurately be described as pragmatism. In January 1918 C. I. Lewis wrote against the Dewey picture of the course of philosophy in Germany especially in political philosophy. Lewis maintained that the roots of contemporary political philosophy in Germany were not in Idealism, but in Feuerbach, Stirner, and Marx. Lewis concluded in the spirit of two of your three queries, Irfan: “If we are concerned about the issues between idealism and pragmatism or idealism and materialism, why drag in the war? And if we are concerned about the war, we shall not need to find its important causes in any philosophic movement of a century ago.”

    Campbell goes on to examine writings of the German-American psychologist Hugo Munsterberg starting in 1913 concerning the situation of the German nation in its relations with its neighbors. Munsterberg also connects Kant and his teachings on the moral will—in a positive, noble way—with present German national moral will. Campbell concludes that Dewey 1915 “was not completely misinformed in its interpretation of Germany and the War. Munsterberg (and Bernhardi) presented a version of Kant’s thought that was present in at least some circles of Germany (and America).”

    Dewey writes in his 1915 that he does not mean “Kant’s teaching was the cause of Prussia’s adoption of universal military service and of the thoroughgoing subordination of individual happiness and liberty of action to that capitalized entity, the State. But I do mean that when the practical political situation called for universal military service in order to support and expand the existing state, the gospel of Duty devoid of content naturally lent itself to the consecration and idealization of such specific duties as the existing national order might prescribe. . . . Individuals have at all times, in epochs of stress, offered their supreme sacrifice to their country’s good. In Germany this sacrifice in times of peace as well as of war has been systematically reinforced by and inner mystic sense of a Duty elevating men to the plane of the universal and eternal. / . . . A gospel of duty separated from empirical purposes and results tends to gag intelligence.” (52–54) Dewey’s story seems to recognize there is more to bringing Germany to its aggression (or earlier, to its military conscription) than philosophic and religious influences.

    I have a tantalizing book I may never get to titled THE GAMES OF JULY – EXPLAINING THE GREAT WAR by Frank Zagare (2011). It is a game-theoretic strategic analysis. Certainly this is a level of explanation central to what happened. The word ‘philosophy’ and the name Kant do not come up there, but having the war history and strategic game-theoretic characterization in hand, one might then productively turn to factors of culture and philosophy.

    I hope to write a note tomorrow, Irfan, concerning your question about how Dewey’s conception of knowledge can be applied to pure mathematics. For that I look into Dewey’s 1938 LOGIC: THE THEORY OF INQUIRY, which I’m studying anyway for my further installments at Objectivism Online on Leonard Peikoff’s Ph.D. dissertation and a bit for my book in progress. Peikoff’s dissertation advisor Sidney Hook championed Dewey, and in Dewey’s Preface to LOGIC, he wrote: “Dr. Sidney Hook has read the several versions of all the chapters of this book and I have profited immensely by his suggestions and criticisms, both as to manner and substance of what was contained in these chapters.” This book was Peikoff’s source for his dissertation presentation of Dewey’s account of logic. (Chapter 20 of LOGIC is “Mathematical Discourse.”) It is possible that Hook introduced Peikoff to Dewey’s book of 1915 (adapted in 1942 to address regime of the Nazis), to which Peikoff would later (1982) pen his alternative, Objectivist rendering of the same topic.

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    • Thank you–that’s very interesting and helpful. I’m sympathetic to this line of thought:

      when the practical political situation called for universal military service in order to support and expand the existing state, the gospel of Duty devoid of content naturally lent itself to the consecration and idealization of such specific duties as the existing national order might prescribe. . . .

      As I think we both agree, however, even if true, this doesn’t really imply that the content of Kant’s ethics explained German militarism. It implies that, whatever the cause of German militarism, the version of Kantian ethics widely accepted in German society was inadequate to stem the tide. This is a substantive and interesting thesis, but it’s a problem for Kant only if the version of Kantian ethics widely accepted in German society was fundamentally and authentically Kantian, and that its inability to stem the tide had to do with the fact that Kant’s ethics was unable to respond in a useful way to the situation on the ground.

      This has bearing on certain trends in Objectivist thought re Kant and the Nazis. The standard Objectivist view is that Kant’s ethics “caused” Nazism. But the thesis seems ambiguous as between “The content of Kant’s ethics was proto-Nazi,” and “Kant’s ethics was inadequate to stem the tide of Nazism.” Half-way between these, I guess, is the claim that “Kant’s ethics left people morally disarmed before the Nazi onslaught.”

      Even apart from these ambiguities, there’s little serious effort to show that Kant’s ethics, however envisioned, was actually the one that the relevant causal actors really believed. And if someone holds the weakest of the three explanatory theses–“inadequate to stem the tide”–one can only hold Kant responsible for that if one supposes that a philosopher has to fashion a philosophy capable of stemming the tide of the worst thing that can happen to human beings.

      What I found odd in all of my years of involvement in Objectivism is that while everyone held Kant to these standards, no one ever held Ayn Rand to them. No one ever demanded that either Rand produce a philosophy actually capable, in fact, of stemming the tides of irrationality, envy, collectivism, and statism, on pain of procliaiming her a philosophical failure. Instead, one would hear dire claims about the terrible direction of the “culture,” followed by bemoanings of the fact that the world had not converted to Objectivism.

      But if Rand had been held to the standards to which Objectivists held Kant, we’d have to conclude that if her philosophy had been out there for decades, and the world was getting worse, clearly she had failed, and her philosophy itself was a failure. Objectivists blamed Kant for the failures of German culture, but never blamed Rand for the failures of North American culture. The same Objectivists who insist that Rand would have hated Trump insist that Kant would have loved Adolph Eichmann. Meanwhile, as left-liberals insist that Trump’s “selfishness” echoes Rand’s, Objectivists react in a spirit of outrage and disbelief. It’s almost like listening to a debate between John Dewey and Leonard Peikoff!

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      • Eichmann admitted to the interrogator that by the time they were actually doing the assembly-line mass murder, he realized he was going against Kant.

        I think a nation’s people have to have a very widely shared esteem for the concept of individual rights against the mob and against the state to keep out such state atrocities against its own citizens. Making the concept clear is a help philosophers and other intellectuals might contribute. Making the concept attractive would also be a help. Kant’s idea that each person should be treated as an end in himself or herself would seem a good support of individual rights, at least if one is not exempting the state to the end-in-himself dictum. Rand was able to explain why treating people as ends in themselves was the good way; it’s because that’s what their nature in fact is, and it’s justice to treat people as the kind of character they are. She may have bolstered the concept of individual rights and its attractiveness in the US, and that’s good. And she certainly applied it not only to how individuals should treat each other but how the government should treat people.

        I’ve found it usually very difficult to project what a deceased person would think about a social development that comes up, even when I knew the person very well. I’m sure my father long deceased would have disliked the massive campaign rallies of Obama and the way Obama could inspired the crowd (I loved them). I’m unsure my father would have supported the Trump-Pence ticket. On the one hand, he would approve greater military spending, but on the other hand, he’d think Mr. Trump an ignorant blowhard. I’m clueless as to whether he’d have bought into the massive vilification of H. Clinton. I’m pretty sure he had supported the Wallace-LeMay ticket of 1968. I’d bet Ayn Rand (whom I didn’t know personally) would have seen Trump much like she saw Wallace in ’68: proto-fascist, for a set of specific reasons. To this day, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Mr. Trump say the phrase “individual rights”, although he does readily concede to the power of the judiciary in our society on issues in that area and every area.

        Since at least Socrates, philosophers have stressed how important their field is to making good lives and characters and to making good states (or walled-up Epicurean gardens). They exaggerate greatly on this point.

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        • I’m inclined to think that almost all counterfactual claims of the form, “If X were alive today, he would have thought such-and-such about issue so-and-so…” are either incoherent or fatally underspecified. It’s one thing to say that X accepted some principle P (or P1…n), which has such-and-such application to issue so-and-so. It’s another thing to claim to know the sum total of the practical considerations operating in a given person’s mind, especially in the distant past, and then apply that to something happening at another time. When people do this (whether with Rand or with James Madison or Jesus), I think they’re assuming that they have an exhaustive sense of all of the practical considerations/principles that the person in question would use to evaluate a situation, so that they can infer what he or she would think about this.

          But I’m very skeptical anyone can actually do that for a real person. One complication is whether we imagine the person to have been alive since the time of their actual death. Rand actually died in 1982; for purposes of asking what she’d think about Trump, do we imagine describing Trump to her in 1981, or imagine her having lived to see it herself? This is a do-able task for a fictional character, maybe, but not for actual people. Or at least: there are diminishing returns to the attempt as time goes by.

          I’m inclined to think that the Rand who died in 1982 would hate Trump, but what if Rand had survived past 1982, been frightened into thinking that Obama’s support for the ACA was a harbinger of all-out socialism, thought that socialism was a harbinger of Soviet-style concentration camps, and thought that Trump was the only available means of resistance? You never know. People are weird. Principles less so–unless they’re weird principles. Personally, I’m perennially surprised at encountering supposed Objectivists of the second variety, but they’re all over the place. Meanwhile, ARI has taken the first, “Rand would have been against Trump” line:

          https://ari.aynrand.org/blog/2017/11/06/the-anti-intellectuality-of-donald-trump-why-ayn-rand-would-have-despised-a-president-trump

          I couldn’t have imagined this situation back in 1991, when I first got involved with Objectivism.

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            • My first TA assignment in grad school was for the inimitable T.V. Morris:

              Which is when I decided to put wisdom in the driver’s seat on this whole wacky historical counterfactuals thing.

              “If Bruce Lee were alive today, he’d produce a video whose audio was as out of sync with its video as this one.”

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          • Dear god, that was awful.

            Entertaining Morris’s hypothesis for a moment: hmm, how would an ancient Greek with a disdain for both productive labour and profit-making run General Motors? I assume he would resign. If not, I reckon he would run it badly.

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  5. Yes, I see now your thinking, Roderick. “A further kindness is that which benefits the nation also, for example, buying back captives from slavery and enriching the poor. . . . [Therefore, capping and trading emission levels] is the mark of a serious and great man”(II.72). Moreover, “all those who control public affairs ought to plan for there to be a plentiful supply of necessities [such as habitable earth]. We need not discuss how these tend to be or ought to be acquired, for that is obvious enough” (II.74). DE OFFICIIS

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