For … non-Kantian philosophers, there are no persistent problems — save perhaps the existence of Kantians.
— R. Rorty[i]
What do you think of the following argument?
(i) E.T. is a fictional philosopher.
(ii) E.T. is an alien of indeterminate gender who is personally biased against women, non-white races, non-Europeans, and blind people.
(iii) Therefore, E.T.’s metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, and moral theology are all morally bad and objectively false.
As a philosopher in particular, and as a critical reasoner more generally, there’s a flashing light going off in your mind saying:
Non sequitur! Non sequitur! Non sequitur!
For obviously, it’s a shining example of the classical ad hominem fallacy — the illegitimate inference from facts about a person to facts about the views held by that person — now updated in a specifically contemporary, philosophical multiculturalist version, right?
No matter what our morally critical views about E.T.’s regrettable moral character might be, they couldn’t be rationally based on her/his/their merely being an alien of indeterminate gender, since s/he/they had no control over that, NOR could any morally or critical conclusions we would be rationally entitled to draw about E.T.’s philosophical views in step (iii) be based EITHER on personal characteristics over which E.T. had no control OR on her/his/their regrettable moral character.
Correspondingly, in “Taking Down Descartes: The Canon Wars,” and “Canon Wars, Round 2: The Multi-Culti Critique of Western Philosophy,” I pointed out that the recent spate of books and articles on misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and many other bad, bad things in the history of Western philosophy are, mostly, based on what I called The Multi-Culti Ad Hominem Fallacy, and therefore are, mostly, fallaciously argued and philosophically wrongheaded.
— Especially insofar as those rationally bad arguments conclude by either implying or outright demanding, with professional academic coercive backing, that all contemporary professional academic philosophers should now and henceforth be thinking about, reading, discussing, researching, writing about, or teaching this or that officially Multi-Culti-certified philosopher or philosophical topic, book, essay, or whatever, as opposed to what they themselves, as philosophers, upon serious reflection, dare to think is worthy of study, discussion, research, writing about, or teaching.
But there is also something else of some meta-philosophical importance going on here.
For now let’s consider the following argument —
(i) Immanuel Kant is a real philosopher.
(ii) Immanuel Kant is male, white, European, short, prone to frequent chest pains, and personally biased against women, non-white races, non-Europeans, and blind people.
(iii) Therefore, Immanuel Kant’s metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, and moral theology are all morally bad and objectively false.
Why are so many contemporary professional academic philosophers, and others, strongly tempted to believe that ARGUMENT 2 is an acceptable bit of reasoning, when they wouldn’t have even the slightest temptation to believe that ARGUMENT 1 is rationally acceptable?
For example, in “Western Philosophy Is Racist,” Bryan W. Van Norden writes:
Kant himself was notoriously racist. He treated race as a scientific category (which it is not), correlated it with the ability for abstract thought, and — theorising on the destiny of races in lectures to students — arranged them in a hierarchical order:
1. ‘The race of the whites contains all talents and motives in itself.’
2. ‘The Hindus … have a strong degree of calm, and all look like philosophers. That notwithstanding, they are much inclined to anger and love. They thus are educable in the highest degree, but only to the arts and not to the sciences. They will never achieve abstract concepts. [Kant ranks the Chinese with East Indians, and claims that they are] static … for their history books show that they do not know more now than they have long known.’
3. ‘The race of Negroes … [is] full of affect and passion, very lively, chatty and vain. It can be educated, but only to the education of servants, ie, they can be trained.’
4. ‘The [Indigenous] American people are uneducable; for they lack affect and passion. They are not amorous, and so are not fertile. They speak hardly at all, … care for nothing and are lazy.’
Those of us who are specialists on Chinese philosophy are particularly aware of Kant’s disdain for Confucius: ‘Philosophy is not to be found in the whole Orient. … Their teacher Confucius teaches in his writings nothing outside a moral doctrine designed for the princes … and offers examples of former Chinese princes. … But a concept of virtue and morality never entered the heads of the Chinese.’
Kant is easily one of the four or five most influential philosophers in the Western tradition. He asserted that the Chinese, Indians, Africans and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are congenitally incapable of philosophy. And contemporary Western philosophers take it for granted that there is no Chinese, Indian, African or Native American philosophy. If this is a coincidence, it is a stunning one.
Similarly, in “Why Don’t Philosophers Talk About Slavery?,” Chris Meyns writes:
Few things will be able to shatter Kant’s standing as one of the most influential moral theorists of the modern age. But Kant, piggybacking on Hume, launched racist anthropology. Kant accepted polygenesis. Kant proclaimed that in the hierarchical order of human species, only whites could attain freewill, and full moral and rational abilities — be genuine persons. Kant’s moral egalitarianism had a quantifier domain restriction, as it only applied to whites. His prominence allowed these ideas to become entrenched in the classification of humanity until deep into the twentieth century. (Kant’s overt racism is an outlier, as it has by now attracted some scholarly attention.)
Some of our beloved “core” early modern figures absorbed white supremacist ideas into their philosophies, lending them philosophical credibility, and so contributing to propagating them onward for centuries….
And again, to much the same effect, in “When Your Favorite Philosopher is a Bigot,” Peter Adamson writes:
We seem to be living in a time when people are willing to overlook bigotry. Donald Trump looks at a crowd of white supremacists and sees the ‘very fine people’ among them. Trump’s own sexist remarks provoke nothing worse than exasperated sighs among his supporters. Across Europe, the frank racism of far-right parties doesn’t stop people from voting for them as an expression of unhappiness with the government. No doubt genuine racism and sexism play a role here, but it also seems that people who would be horrified to be accused of prejudice themselves are willing to ignore or forgive prejudice in others. The intelligentsia tends to be outraged by this, but I wonder, are we really so much better?
Or rather, I wonder, am I myself so much better? As a historian of philosophy, I devote much of my life to the careful and sympathetic exegesis of thinkers who were, almost to a man (and they were mostly men), outrageous bigots by today’s standards. Nearly everything Aristotle says about women consists of unfavorable comparisons to men. His ‘natural slave’ theory has been a historical bulwark of racism; and it was echoed two millen[n]ia later by Immanuel Kant, who was adamantly opposed to interracial marriage, and who claimed that “negroes cannot govern themselves, and can serve only as slaves.”
The usual way philosophers have of dealing with this is akin to many Trump supporters’ attitude towards his misogyny: they don’t really approve of it, but also don’t think it matters so much. Similar[ly], the argument goes, … Kant’s ideas on race can be detached from the rest of their teachings, treated as a few unfortunate sentences in the midst of an otherwise valuable body of work. As historians, we usually take great pains to read various passages in light of one another; but here we do the reverse, engaging in a kind of interpretive quarantine by reading the rest of the book as if the (mercifully brief) wince-inducing bits weren’t there at all.
But is their bigotry so easy to contain?….
At first glance, it might seem to be simply gob-smacking that contemporary professional academic philosophers who would instantly spot the occurrence of an ad hominem fallacy in ARGUMENT 1, would be almost completely oblivious to its occurrence in ARGUMENT 2.
So what’s going on here?
What explains the rationally unhealthy attraction of contemporary academic professional philosophers to ARGUMENT 2?
Surely, it couldn’t be merely because, unlike the fictional philosopher E.T., Kant is actual, male, white, European, short, and prone to frequent chest pains.
— Because that, of course, would be racist, sexist, xenophobic, sizeist, and ableist.
Not to mention actualist.
My own view is that the ad hominem–based philosophical multiculturalist critique of Kant is also driven by a much older and deeper trend in late 19th, 20th, and 21st century philosophy: anti-Kantianism, or anti-Kanti for short, by which I mean a bias against, or perhaps even a phobia about, Kant’s and Kantian philosophy.
As Rorty very correctly and wittily noted in the 1980s, anti-Kanti was a characteristic feature of the emergence and development of mainstream Anglo-American philosophy in the 20th century.
How did anti-Kanti come about?
Well, as everyone knows, at the very beginning of Anglo-American analytic philosophy, at the turn of the 20th century, Moore and Russell explicitly rejected Kantian/neo-Kantian transcendental idealism and Hegelian/neo-Hegelian absolute idealism.
I won’t rehearse or criticize those familiar arguments here.
And for the purposes of this little essay, I will grant that Moore’s and Russell’s anti-idealistic arguments are, at the very least, non-fallacious, reasonable, and prima facie compelling.
But even granting that, the mere existence of some rationally legitimate anti-idealistic arguments in analytic philosophy wouldn’t, in and of itself, explain anti-Kanti.
For, of course, there also were and are some rationally legitimate criticisms of those anti-idealistic arguments, and they didn’t and don’t, in and of themselves, produce a widespread bias against, far less a phobia about, analytic philosophy.
Now as many philosophical historians of analytic philosophy have noted, the conceptual foundations of the analytic tradition also retained significant residual Kantian/neo-Kantian elements, ditto significant residual Hegelian/neo-Hegelian elements.
This is especially true of Frege (whose philosophy of geometry is explicitly Kantian), early Wittgenstein (who explicitly admitted being heavily influenced by Schopenhauer), and Carnap (whose Aufbau is clearly a logical-constructivist version of — gasp! — phenomenal subjective idealism) .
Moreover, after World War II, and in the midst of McCarthyism in the USA during the late 1940s and through the 50s, in mainstream Anglo-American professional academic philosophy, virtually all German philosophy (other than early-analytic philosophers like Frege, Wittgenstein, Carnap, and other members or associates of The Vienna Circle, that is) was morally tainted-by-association with the aura of Nazi-style fascism, just as virtually all Marxist-influenced European philosophy was morally tainted-by-association with the aura of Russian, Stalinist-style communism.
Hence, I believe, anti-Kanti is the triple result of:
(i) the rationally legitimate rejection of idealism by some leading Anglo-American analytic philosophers, PLUS
(ii) an anxiety of influence within Anglo-American analytic philosophy about its own Kantian/neo-Kantian origins and doctrinal backsliding, PLUS
(iii) Kant’s and Kantian philosophy’s moral taint-by-association with the aura of Nazi-style fascism, in mainstream professional academic philosophy after World War II .[ii]
Now it’s obvious that anxiety of influence and moral taint-by-association are not good reasons for disliking Kant’s or Kantian philosophy —indeed they’re nothing but the causes of mainstream Anglo-American philosophers’ bias against, or perhaps even a phobia about, Kant’s and Kantian philosophy, when taken together with a rationally legitimate rejection of idealism.
But if the core of anti-Kanti is indeed an anxiety of influence and moral taint-by-association, then those, taken together with the contemporary popularity and trendiness of Multi-Culti philosophy, would seem to provide a plausible explanation of the rationally unhealthy attraction of contemporary academic professional philosophers to ARGUMENT 2.
So Multi-Culti philosophers need to wake up, dare to think for themselves, turn the page, and rationally get over The Multi-Culti Ad Hominem Fallacy and their anti-Kanti.
I’ll conclude with a closely related worry.
If Multi-Culti philosophers DON’T rationally get over The Multi-Culti Ad Hominem Fallacy and their anti-Kanti very soon indeed, THEN—
(i) just as if you were repeatedly presented by your professional academic colleagues with a photograph of, say, the fictional philosopher E.T., immediately alongside a photograph of, say, Hitler, Mussolini, or Donald Trump, you’d find that, merely by the power of psychological association, you’d more or less involuntarily begin to have a sense of moral and professional aversion, embarrassment, and shame directed at the very idea of thinking about, reading, discussing, researching, writing about, or teaching E.T.’s philosophy,
(ii) so too, I think, Multi-Culti philosophers’ rationally unhealthy attraction to ARGUMENT 2, via The Multi-Culti Ad Hominem Fallacy and their anti-Kanti, will very soon produce (and perhaps already is producing), especially in young philosophers, more or less involuntarily, a sense of moral and professional aversion, embarrassment, and shame directed at the very idea of thinking about, reading, discussing, researching, writing about, or teaching Kant’s or Kantian philosophy.
In short, many or even most professional academic philosophers, especially the young ones, will be simply gaslighted into avoiding and depreciating Kant’s or Kantian philosophy.
And that would be a philosophical tragedy, or a philosophical farce, or both at the same time.
— Still, as per Rorty’s bang-on witticism, gaslighting Kant’s or Kantian philosophy out of professional academic existence would also very conveniently solve non-Kantian philosophers’ one “persistent problem,” wouldn’t it?
[i] R. Rorty, “Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida,” in Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1982), pp. 90–109, at p. 93.
[ii] Insofar as the moral taint-by-association strategy was applied to Kant after World War II, it built on an already-existing philosophical tradition that blamed Kant, post-Kantian German idealism, and Nietzsche for the rise of German militarism culminating in World War I. See, e.g., G. Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy (London: J.M. Dent & Sons/New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915), available online at URL = <https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Egotism_in_German_Philosophy>. It would be interesting to do a three-way critical comparative and contrastive study of the (i) “Kant-to-Kaiser-Wilhelm” argument, the (ii) “Kant-to-Hitler” argument, and the (iii) Multi-Culti-anti-Kanti argument.
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