Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kant on Critique


Kant and the Subject of Critique: On the Regulative Role of the Psychological Idea. By Avery Goldman. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2012. Pp. 249. Paper $27.95, ISBN: 978-0-253-22366-1.

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Kant needs little introduction. No doubt, the significant influence of his Critique of Pure Reason (1781/87) alone stands to testify to his monumental stature in philosophy, not the least of which because of the widespread reception the text continues to receive. These varying accounts cause diverging rifts in the interpretation of Kant’s philosophy, often due to the highly technical nature of Kant’s writing. One problem that continues to hover over Kant’s text concerns the nature of criticism itself. Commentators have suggested that if the critique intends to expel the dogmatic use of reason, then there should be a method in place to ensure that this criticism is also safeguarded from such abuse. Avery Goldman’s Kant and the Subject of Critique: On the Regulative Role of the Psychological Idea proposes that such a method has been discovered. His book opens with a problem: the purported cognition of appearances requires a metaphysical claim regarding the status of finite cognition (1). As readers of Kant will recall, Kant argues that the claims of dogmatic metaphysics regarding the determination of the objects in themselves are completely unknowable. While Kant aims to criticize previous metaphysical theories by arguing that we can only determine objects of sense insofar as they are appearances, Goldman argues that, nevertheless, there must be an unconditioned idea of reason that guarantees this determination. The method of criticism employed by Kant halts these kinds of dogmatic claims, and yet, Kant never actually tells us what this so-called method of criticism entails.

The William Desmond Reader


The William Desmond Reader. Edited by Christopher Ben Simpson. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012. Pp. xvii+257. Paper $29.95, ISBN: 978-1-4348-4292-1.

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The renowned American philosopher, John Caputo, opens his forward to The William Desmond Reader with substantive praise: “[Desmond] is best known as an original philosopher in his own right, having been at the forefront over the years in cultivating a singularly contemporary style of metaphysics (vii).” Just as Bertrand Russell remains generally positive with regard to Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language in his introduction to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Caputo’s introduction seems to acknowledge similarly the significance of Desmond’s achievement as that which “no serious philosopher can afford to neglect.”1 Despite the celebrated overture to the selected writings of the contemporary thinker, there are two challenges facing the meaningful publication of so-called ‘readers’: (1) to offer a text with an organic unity, and (2) to find an appropriate length for the representation of a thinker. I would like to reflect on these challenges in discussing this work.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Spinoza on Monism


Spinoza on Monism. Edited by Philip Goff. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. x + 295. Hard Cover $90. ISBN: 978-0-230-27948-3.

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At its inception, Analytic philosophy had always maintained a certain distance from Spinoza. In the sense of method, Spinoza’s systematic rationalism seemed worlds apart from the more positivistic approach of the Analytic thinkers of the early 20th Century. There was, perhaps, no element of Spinoza’s philosophy more responsible for this distance than his radical substance monism. Like the great German mathematician of Spinoza’s day, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, Analytic thinkers held in suspect Spinoza’s claim that “there must follow infinite things in infinite ways [modis]” from a single substance.1 Not only did this fly in the face of empirically-grounded scientific method, but it arguably defied simple, common sense. A. J. Ayer’s “Solutions of Outstanding Metaphysical Disputes,” provides an excellent example of the former criticism, prevalent at the time:
The assertion that Reality is One, which it is characteristic of a monist to make and a pluralist to controvert, is nonsensical, since no empirical situation could have any bearing on its truth.2
What is more, there is a sense in which certain prejudices about Spinoza and monism were carried over from the days of German Idealism—viz., that monism did not just transform the world of finite things into modes but, rather, it abolished their reality altogether. This is clearly visible in Bertrand Russell’s essay, “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism,” wherein he states:
I share the common-sense belief that there are many separate things; I do not regard the apparent multi-plicity of the world as consisting merely in phases and unreal divisions of a single indivisible Reality.3
While Spinoza has come to play a greater role in the development of Analytic thought, these early criticisms continue to hold a powerful sway. Whether from Jonathan Bennett’s critique of the third kind of knowledge,4 or Donald Davidson’s conclusion that Spinoza may have indirectly shown us that a monist psychology was, in fact, “impossible,”5 one cannot help but wonder if these are signs of a lingering prejudice against monism.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bibliographia, Vol. 1

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Iris Murdoch’s Philosophy for Living


A Philosophy to Live By: Engaging Iris Murdoch. By Maria Antonaccio. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. 276. ISBN: 978-0-19-985557-5.

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It’s been said that the history of philosophy is simply a series of attempts to resolve the original conflict between Plato and Aristotle. It is precisely this problem which is at the heart of this fascinating exploration of the philosophy of Iris Murdoch by Bucknell religion professor, Maria Antonaccio. Antonaccio explains that Murdoch saw human nature in terms of a tension between the “one-making” impulse of Platonic metaphysics and the “unsystematic attention to varied ideas and perceptions” (62–63) that drives Aristotelian empiricism. Taken in this way, Murdoch’s philosophy would arguably be a middle path through this ancient Greek opposition. Within the book, Antonaccio does an excellent job of making Murdoch’s thought both interesting and accessible by weaving together scholarly discussions of Murdoch’s metaphysics, her religious philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, and controversial personal life. Indeed, if Antonaccio’s goal was to generate deeper philosophical interest in Murdoch, then I would say that she has achieved her aim admirably.