The Rational Human Condition 1, Preface and General Introduction, Section 1.4 –Works of Philosophy vs. Philosophical Theories: Presentational Hylomorphism and Polymorphism.

“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker/Prison Arts Coalition

THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION is a five-part, four-book series, including:

PART 1: Preface and General Introduction

PART 2: Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge

PART 3:  Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics

PART 4: Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy

PART 5:  Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise

Its author is ROBERT HANNA:




Section 1.0  What It Is

Section 1.1  Bounded in a Nutshell

Section 1.2  Rational Anthropology vs. Analytic Metaphysics, the Standard Picture, and Scientific Naturalism

Section 1.3  Philosophy and Its History: No Deep Difference

Section 1.4  Works of Philosophy vs. Philosophical Theories: Presentational Hylomorphism and Polymorphism

Section 1.5  Analytic Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, and Rational Anthropology

Section 1.6  What is a Rational Human Animal?

Section 1.7  An Important Worry and a Preliminary Reply

Section 1.8  The Biggest Windmills

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Section 1.4  Works of Philosophy vs. Philosophical Theories: Presentational Hylomorphism and Polymorphism

In the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant says that there are “aesthetic idea[s],” by which he means,

[a] representation of the imagination that occasions much thinking though without it being possible for any determinate thought, i.e., concept, to be adequate to it, which, consequently, no language fully attains or can make intelligible…, [and] [o]ne readily sees that it is the counterpart (pendant) of an idea of reason, which is, conversely, a concept to which no intuition (representation of the imagination) can be adequate. (CPJ 5: 314)

In other words, an aesthetic idea is a non-empirical, metaphysical representation, like an “idea of pure reason,” but also non-discursive and non-conceptual, hence linguistically inexpressible by means of concepts, propositions, or Fregean “thoughts,” precisely to the extent that it is a product of human sensible imagination.

Kant himself does not make this point, but I think that the doctrine of aesthetic ideas has profound meta-philosophical implications: philosophy need not necessarily be theoretically expressed.

Correspondingly, I think that there is that there is a fundamental distinction between (i) works of philosophy and (ii) philosophical theories, such that the category of “philosophical works” is essentially wider and more inclusive than the category of philosophical theories — and more generally, philosophical theorizing is only one way of creating and presenting philosophy, as important as it is.

The aim of philosophical theories, according to rational anthropology, is to provide philosophical explanations that lead to essential, synoptic insights about the rational human condition, guided by the norms of propositional truth and logical consistency, by means of conceptual construction and conceptual reasoning.

A similarly open-minded conception of philosophical theorizing, in the tradition of connective conceptual analysis, was developed by Robert Nozick in his influential book, Philosophical Explanations.[i]

But I think that Nozick’s conception is still too much in the grip of the deeply wrongheaded, scientistic idea that all philosophy must be modeled on natural science, mathematics, or logic.

According to rational anthropology, the aim of philosophical works, as such, is to present insights about the rational human condition and the larger world around us, with synoptic scope, and a priori/necessary character, tracking categorical normativity and our highest values, with the ultimate goal of radical enlightenment.[ii]

Nevertheless, this can be achieved even without concepts, propositions, arguments, or theories, in an essentially non-conceptual way, by presenting imagery, pictures, structures, etc., that have strictly universal and strongly modal implications, and categorically normative force.

These essentially non-conceptual insights could also be called “truths,” if we use the term “truth” sufficiently broadly — as in “the truth shall set you free.”

My basic point is that philosophy should be as much aimed at being inspiring and visionary, as it is at being argumentative and explanatory.

Pivoting on that basic point, here is a proposal for five disjunctively necessary, individually minimally sufficient, and collectively fully sufficient criteria for something W — where W is a “work,” any intentional human product, whether an object (material or intentional), or performance — to count as a “work of philosophy” —

(i) W provides a philosophical theory or a visionary worldview (or both),

(ii) W negatively or positively engages with earlier or contemporary philosophical ideas,

(iii) W expresses and follows a philosophical method,

(iv) W contains an explicit or implicit “philosophy of philosophy,” a metaphilosophy,

(v) W deals with some topic or topics germane to the rational human condition, within a maximally broad range of issues, encompassing epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, history, culture, society, politics, aesthetics, art, formal and natural science, religion, and so-on.[iii]

Given how I defined the term “work,” by my use of the term “works” in the phrase “works of philosophy,” I mean something as broad as its use in “works of art.”

So there is no assumption or presupposition whatsoever here that works of philosophy must be written or spoken texts, although obviously many or most works of philosophy have been and are written or spoken texts.

Correspondingly, I want to put forward two extremely important metaphilosophical theses of rational anthropology:

(i) the thesis of presentational hylomorphism in works of philosophy (PHWP), and

(ii) the thesis of presentational polymorphism in works of philosophy (PPWP).

PHWP says:

There is an essential connection, and in particular, an essential complementarity, between the presentational form (morphê) of philosophical works and their philosophical content (hyle).

“Content” here is cognitive-semantic content, but this content can be either (i) conceptual or (ii) essentially non-conceptual,[iv] and also it can be either (iii) theoretical content or (iv) non-theoretical content, including, aesthetic/artistic, affective/emotive, pragmatic, moral, political, or religious content.

Also, (i) and (ii) cross-cut with (iii) and (iv).

Hence there can be conceptual content that is either theoretical or non-theoretical, and there can be essentially non-conceptual content that is either theoretical or non-theoretical.

The first thing that PHWP implies, is the intimate connection between truly creative, ground-breaking works of philosophy, and truly creative, original forms of literary and spoken philosophical expression.

Thus Socrates created philosophical works entirely by conversation; Plato did it by writing dialogues; Aristotle did it by presenting (it seems) nothing but lectures; Descartes wrote meditations; Locke and Hume wrote treatises; Kant wrote the Critiques; Kierkegaard wrote strange pseudonymous books; Nietzsche wrote poetry and aphorisms; Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations, both of them completely original, completely different, and equally uncategorizable; and so on.

The second thing that PHWP implies is that since all works of written and spoken philosophy are essentially connected to their literary style and expressive vehicles, then it is a mistake to impose a needlessly restrictive stylistic and expressive straight-jacket on works of philosophy, e.g., the standard professional “journal essay,” “200+ page book,” and “philosophy talk.”

And a third thing that PHWP implies is that since the standard view of philosophical content in the analytic tradition — whether as logical analysis, linguistic analysis, conceptual analysis, analytic metaphysics, or scientific naturalism — is that the content of philosophy is exclusively conceptual and theoretical, then recognizing the essential non-conceptuality and non-theoreticality of philosophical content, completely opens up the way we should be thinking about works of philosophy, in three ways.

First, all written and spoken philosophy is in fact shot through with imagery, poetry, rhetorical devices, and speech-acts of various kinds.

Second, philosophy need not necessarily be presented (exclusively) in written or spoken form.

There could be works of philosophy that are cinematic, diagrammed or drawn, painted, photographed, musical (instrumental or voiced), sculpted, performed like dances or plays, etc., etc., and perhaps above all, mixed works combining written or spoken forms of presentation and one or more non-linguistic forms or vehicles.

Third, if philosophical content is as apt to be essentially non-conceptual or non-theoretical as it is to be conceptual or theoretical, then there are vast realms of philosophical meaning that very few philosophers, even the most brilliant and great ones, have ever even attempted to explore.

Therefore, in full view of PHWP, we also have PPWP:

Philosophy can be expressed in any presentational format whatsoever, provided it satisfies PHWP.

From the standpoint of rational anthropology, and looking towards the philosophy of the future, this is a truly exciting thesis.


[i] See R. Nozick, Philosophical Explanations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1981).

[ii] See R. Hanna, “Radical Enlightenment: Existential Kantian Cosmopolitan Anarchism, With a Concluding Quasi-Federalist Postscipt,” in D. Heidemann and K. Stoppenbrink (eds.), Join, Or Die: Philosophical Foundations of Federalism (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), pp. 63–90.

[iii] I’m grateful to Otto Paans for proposing this basic list of criteria in e-mail discussion.

[iv] See R. Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), esp. chs. 1–3.

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