Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Kant and Hegel - Seminar Summary

Our second seminar of the semester saw us delve into the world of Kant and Hegel. First, lets take a look at Kant, the founder of German Idealism.

Born in the East Prussian town of Konigsburg in 1724, Kant was the writer of the 'Critique of Pure Reason', a text with some particularly interesting ideas surrounding the concept of reason. Unlike Descartes, Kant didn't write for the general public. Instead, his works were both inspired and written for fellow philosophers, which could go some way to explaining why some of the concepts he covers are fairly complex. Above all, Kant seemed focused on the concept of time. Time, he said, is not external to the human mind. It was, in fact, a part of the way the human mind organised and came to understand sensory impact. Kant's early work actually dealt more with science rather than philosophy, which is where we can go into further detail.

Philosophy in the 18th century was dominated by British Empiricists, among which included Hume, Locke and Berkeley. Kant was considered a liberal with regards to his views on politics and theology. Striving for progress and reform, the German philosopher had a clear love of freedom. He stated: "There can be nothing more dreadful than the actions of a man should be subject to the will of another". It is here we can draw a link between Kant's views of freedom and the views of a typical romanticist. Freedom, for example, is a typically romantic concept. It's all about freedom of expression, the cultivation of emotion and being unbound by society and law. As Russell himself states in his book 'The History of Western Philosophy': "The whole of German idealism has affinities with the romantic movement".

A nice humorous overview of Kant's philosophy. It's definitely worth exploring the YouTube channel this video comes from. There's alot of useful and funny content on there that's relevant to the course

Kant's most prominent book is titled 'The Critique of Pure Reason', exploring the idea of experience. Kant's book aims to prove that, although none of our knowledge can transcend experience it is partially 'a priori (based on hypothesis rather than fact) and not inferred inductively from experience. That was a fairly long-winded sentence wasn't it? Put simply, you have to experience something to have knowledge of it. Knowledge can't 'exceed' experience. It is from this idea that we realise time and space are relevant to the argument. Time and space are both concepts that don't technically exist externally, meaning they can't be learnt from experience. According to Kant, the 'outer world' causes only the matter of sensation. It is our own mental apparatus that orders this outer world in time and space and supplies the concepts that are relevant. Time and space are not concepts, they are examples of 'intuition', Kant argues.

'Perpetual Peace' by Kant explores the idea of freedom further. In the text, he advocates the federation of states, which links into what I said earlier in the post when I mentioned Kant's views on forced will. "Reason condemns war", he writes. Perhaps we could tie this idea of mans will with the concept of 'general law'. Anything you do, you have to be willing for it to become a general law. This could have modern-day examples. Christianity, for example: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". This idea echoes what Locke says in many ways. That is, the idea of natural, inalienable human rights. Russell says it's possible to interpret Kant's views as 'each person should be counted equally'.

Now we move onto Hegel. Complex bloke, I must say. The sort of guy I can imagine nodding my head dismissively as he tried to explain one of his new, crazy ideas to me.

Although Hegel criticised Kant, it's clear that his system could never have arisen had Kant's not existed. Towards the end of the 19th century, a large majority of philosophers were Hegelian, proving that Hegel had a significant impact on the philosophical world.

Hegel discusses the idea of 'the absolute'. It is through relentless change that we become absolute. We get there, as a race, through the dialectic process. The dialectic method of argument is commonly split into the categories of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. This method argues that progress is achieved through the conflict of opposites.

Thesis? - Think of it as an idea, a concept or a historical movement

Antithesis? - Think of it as a direct reaction towards the thesis
Synthesis? - Think of it as a way of seeing what is similar between the thesis and the antithesis, and then having the ability to form a new idea through these findings

You could  draw a similarity between the concept of the absolute and an entity that encompasses everything. God, for example. Hegel states that we move this way because of a spirit, the 'Zeitgeist' - 'the spirit characteristic of an age or generation'. So what exactly is the Zeitgeist in simple terms? A sense of the time. Right now, for example, the zeitgeist is revolution. Recent events in Libya and Egypt have proven this. For Hegel, change is a good thing and something that we should always strive for.

In his book, 'The Philosophy of History', Hegel describes how 'the state is the actually existing realized moral life'. Essentially, the state is an individual and its purpose is not merely to uphold the life and property of citizens. Interestingly, Hegel is against the idea of forming institutions for the simple reason that doing such a thing would help prevent conflict! War is good, Hegel argues. He refers to it as 'The condition in which we take seriously the vanity of temporal goods and things'. Conflicts of states, for example, can only be decided by ear. Hegel also shows support for this idea in his 'Doctrine of State', where he justifies 'internal tyranny and external aggression'.

This video may also prove useful. It's a lecture on some of Hegel's ideas.


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