Saturday, December 10, 2011

Great Courses:  Jay Garfield regarding Kant

This is a series of lectures on various philosophical and religious ideas throughout history.  As part of our weekly get together at work, we listened to his lecture on Kant.  I was looking forward to this to get a different take on Kant and wasn't disappointed.

The first thing that really demands a comment is Garfield's claim that there were no teaching philosophers in the West from the time of Aristotle to Kant.  Huh?  That covers more than 2,000 years, but I think we can argue the exact opposite:  From the time of Aristotle to Kant there was no period without teaching philosophers.  In the classical era, the pagans had such professional teaching philosophers as Seneca, Epictetus and Plotinus.  Early church fathers all studied and taught philosophy along with theology.  For those who would claim that philosophy and theology are distinct, Aristotle most adamantly denies this in his Metaphysics.  It is only in the modern era that such a notion has been peddled, while even professor Garfield makes no such distinction as he deals with Eastern religious teachers.  We needn't, however, spend so much time on those things as to consider a graduation ceremony where the professors put on some medieval style robes and the most distinguished students are awarded the Philosophiae Doctor (Doctor of Philosophy), or Ph.d.  The European university system developed from the 11th to 13th centuries for the purpose of teaching philosophy, while Kant lived in the 18th and 19th century.  Clearly professor Garfield is lecturing from an alternate dimension!  A distinguishing mark of the modern era, however, is that most recipients of the Doctor of Philosophy will never have taken a single class on philosophy nor will they have read a single work of a philosopher.

Having laid a foundation of error, Garfield then proceeds to construct an edifice on top of it as he explains Kant. The work that he focuses on is What is Enlightenment? Kant rants against religions as being forces of dogmatic ignorance in this work while calling on people to use their brain independently of everyone else.  Fast forwarding to our current era, we can note that religious dogma has been removed from the schools.  At the same time, our current era has the greatest level of philosophical ignorance since the illiterate barbarians swept away Rome.  In spite of this, political correctness still demands conformity of opinion to its dogmatisms while encouraging people to challenge everything else.  Atheism insists that it alone possesses philosophy, apparently referring to such great atheist philosophical republics as North Korea.  My final observation is that only the most dogmatic of the western dogmatists, the Catholics, have several philosophy classes as a requirement both to get a college degree at a Catholic school and as a prerequisite for theology programs.

At this point I should link to Ramana's post on Idiot Culture along with the article that described Idiot Culture.  It seems to me that Kant and Garfield have taken the traditional modernist line that everyone who wrote before The Enlightenment was an ignorant dogmatic fool.  I tend to view the earlier thinkers as people who made some contributions within the constraints of human frailty.  By dismissing them while offering nothing as an alternative, the enlightened Modernists are the ones who paved the way to our current Age of Idiocy.  Yet here I am falling into the opposite error:  From the time of the misnamed enlightenment, reason has degenerated into nothing but dogmatic ignorance with professors waving their credentials to defend their views rather than providing sensible arguments.

2 comments:

Delirious said...

I think there is much to learn from philosophy, but I worry when people try to base their religion on it. Philosophy discounts inspiration, and revelation.

It is interesting to see how some philosophical thoughts built a foundation that spurred new thoughts in others. I think our problem today is that not enough people study past philosophy, so aren't contributors to modern thought. I admit I am one of those, but it is mainly because my brain can't cope with the tedious passages. lol

Looney said...

I too think that the Bible takes priority.

Then I don't worry too much about those who haven't studied it. Philosophy means Love (Philo) of Wisdom (Sophia), which formal learning seems unable to achieve. God sprinkles wisdom around to people of all intellectual abilities.