Defending Kant From His Friends and His Enemies.

Mr Nemo
9 min readMay 27, 2024

By Robert Hanna

Vladimir Putin (right) and Gerhard Schröder (left) at Kant’s grave in Kaliningrad in 2005 (FT, 2024)

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Defending Kant From His Friends and His Enemies

Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies. (Wikiquote, 2024)

2024 is the 300th anniversary of Kant’s birth. Kant’s Critical Philosophy has always had its enemies — the longstanding tradition of anti-Kantianism (Hanna, 2020) — but sometimes Kant’s friends are more problematic than his enemies. For example, as I’ve argued, the Vatican’s championing of the broadly Kantian concept of human dignity is at best a metaphysical, moral, and sociopolitical mixed blessing (Hanna, 2024a).

But infinitely more problematic is the fact that Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, in a stunning display of political hypocrisy and ideological opportunism, has repeatedly claimed that he’s a follower of Kant:

Putin has been known to praise and quote Kant, even suggesting in 2013 that the philosopher should be made an official symbol of [the] Kaliningrad Region.

During a meeting with university students in Kaliningrad in January [2024], Putin called Kant “one of the greatest thinkers of both his time and ours,” and said the philosopher’s call “to live by one’s own wits” is as relevant today as ever.

“A country must live by its own wits… This does not mean that we do not care about the interests of others… but we will never allow Russia’s interests to be neglected. In some countries, among our neighbors, this thesis has been forgotten. Many live by someone else’s wits. This will not bring them any good, Putin stated. (TPU, 2024)

How can Kant be defended from his friends and his enemies alike? In “Why The World Needs a Creatively Revised-&-Updated Kant” (Hanna, 2024a), I briefly describe seven creatively revised-&-updated Kantian ideas that, if widely disseminated and adopted, would significantly benefit humankind. But if push came to shove, and my opportunities for bringing something to public attention were either extremely limited or virtually non-existent — as indeed they in fact are — during my 15 minutes of Warholian future fame, I would try to state as clearly, distinctly, and succinctly as possible, the three fundamental Kantian ideas most likely to win (authentic) friends and influence (ordinary) people for the better or even the best:

1. weak transcendental idealism, the anti-skeptical epistemological and metaphysical idea that the manifestly real world we correctly and directly perceive through our senses necessarily conforms to the innately specified structure of our cognitive faculties (see, e.g., Hanna, 2001, 2006, 2015a, 2017a), as per this famous Kant text:

I should think that the examples of mathematics and natural science, which have become what they are through a revolution brought about all at once, were remarkable enough that we might reflect on the essential elements in the change in the ways of thinking that has been so advantageous to them, and, at least as an experiment, imitate it insofar as their analogy with metaphysics, as rational cognition, might permit. Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but all attempts to find out something about them a priori through concepts that would extend our cognition have, on this presupposition, come to nothing. Hence let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition, which would agree better with the requested possibility of an a priori cognition of them, which is to establish something about objects before they are given to us. This would be just like the first thoughts of Copernicus, who, when he did not make good progress in the explanation of the celestial motions if he assumed that the entire celestial host revolves around the observer, tried to see if he might not have better success if he made made the observer revolve and and left the stars at rest. (Kant, 1781/1787/1997: p. 110, Bxv-xvi)

2. moral dignitarianism, the anti-egoistic, anti-utilitarian, and anti-relativistic universalist ethical idea that every rational human animal possesses dignity, i.e., an absolute, non-denumerably infinite, intrinsic, objective value or worth, beyond every merely hedonistic, self-interested, instrumental, economic, or utilitarian value, which entails that we always and everywhere ought to treat everyone as persons and never as mere means or mere things, and therefore always and everywhere with sufficient respect for their dignity, no matter what merely prudential reasons there are to do otherwise (see, e.g., Hanna, [2018a], 2023a, 2023b), as per this equally famous Kant text:

In the realm of ends everything has either a price or a dignity (Würde). What has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; what on the other hand is raised above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent has dignity. What is related to general human inclinations and needs has a market price; that which, even without presupposing a need, conforms with a certain taste, that is, with a delight in the mere purposeless play of our mental powers, has an affective price (Affectionpreis); but that which constitutes the condition under which alone something can be an end in itself has not merely a relative worth, that is, a price, but an inner worth, that is, dignity. Now, morality is the condition under which alone a rational being can be an end in itself, since only through this is it possible to be a lawgiving member in the realm of ends. Hence morality, and humanity insofar as it is capable of morality, is that which alone has dignity. (Kant, 1785/1996: p. 84)

3. political dignitarianism, the anti-despotic, anti-totalitarian, and anti-Hobbesian-liberal yet also liberationist, radically enlightened idea that all social institutions based on coercion and authoritarianism, whether democratic or not-so-democratic, are rationally unjustified and immoral, and that in resisting, devolving, and/or transforming all such social institutions, we ought to create and sustain a worldwide or cosmopolitan ethical community beyond all borders and nation-States, consisting of people who who think, care, and act for themselves and also mutually sufficiently respect the dignity of others and themselves, no matter what their race, sex, ethnicity, language, age, economic status, or abilities (see, e.g., Hanna, [2015b, 2016, 2017b, 2018b], 2023c).

Given the truth of weak transcendental idealism (WTI), it does not follow that the manifestly real world cannot exist without any rational human minds that are actually cognizing it, nor does it follow that if all rational human minds went out of existence, then the manifestly real world would go out of existence. On the contrary, according to WTI, the manifestly real natural world can exist, and actually did exist for billions of years, without any rational human minds actually cognizing it, and if all rational human minds were to go out of existence, then the manifestly real world would continue to exist just as it is. All that follows from WTI is that the nature and structure of the manifestly real world is necessarily connected to the nature and structure of human minds. This necessary connection, in turn, is built into the natural universe from the get-go, which entails what I call a Moderate Anthropic Principle for physics (Hanna, 2022). Broadly Kantian metaphysics and epistemology are therefore thoroughly realistic and anti-skeptical.

Even more importantly, however, in view of broadly Kantian moral and political dignitarianism, it’s patently immoral to oppress or kill innocent people for any reason whatsover, especially including aggressive war. Hence Putin is one of the contemporary world’s most immoral politicians (which is really saying something), and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is fully rationally justified in accusing Putin of wilfully “poaching” and “misrepresenting” Kant’s ideas:

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has lashed out at Russian President Vladimir Putin for quoting iconic German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Speaking on Tuesday at an event marking the 300th anniversary of Kant’s birth, Scholz accused Putin of trying to “poach” the great thinker as well as misrepresenting his ideas. (TPU, 2024)

Now, if my Warholian 15 minutes of future fame were reduced to 5, and if I had to choose just one of these three ideas, it would be broadly Kantian moral dignitarianism, since (i) metaphysics and epistemology are ultimately less important than moral theory and political theory — as Kant himself pointed out somewhere,[i] no one would be prepared to die in defence of the a priori truth that 2+2=4, lovely as it is, and (ii) political dignitarianism also follows immediately from moral dignitarianism when it’s applied to social institutions. Indeed, if the one worldshaking idea of broadly Kantian moral dignitarianism could be effectively widely disseminated and adopted during 2024, then not only would it significantly benefit humankind, it would also show that contemporary philosophy isn’t irrelevant (Hanna, 2018c).[ii]

NOTES

[i] Unfortunately, at the moment, even after much searching, I can’t find this particular text.

[ii] I’m grateful to Robert Abele and Scott Heftler for thought-provoking conversation or correspondence on and around the main topics of this essay, and especially to Robert Abele for drawing my attention to (TPU, 2024).

REFERENCES

(FT, 2024). Ypi, L. “Kant and the Case for Peace.” Financial Times. 19 April. Available online at URL = <https://www.ft.com/content/c7432bdc-3449-421e-8045-701ac16a3d07>.

(Hanna, 2001). Hanna, R. Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press. Also available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2006). Hanna, R. Kant, Science, and Human Nature. Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press. Also available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2015a). Hanna, R. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge . THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 5. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2015b). Hanna, R. “A World With Persons But Without Guns Or The Death Penalty,” Oxford University Press Blog (29 November 2015), available online at URL = <http://blog.oup.com/2015/11/world-without-guns/>.

(Hanna, 2016). Hanna, R. “A World With Persons But Without States.” Oxford University Press Blog. 3 January. Available online at URL = <http://blog.oup.com/2016/01/world-without-states/>.

(Hanna, 2017a). Hanna, R. “Kant, the Copernican Devolution, and Real Metaphysics.” In M. Altman (ed.), Kant Handbook. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp. 761–789. Also available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2017b). Hanna, R. “Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature,” Con-Textos Kantianos 5 (2017): 167–189, available online at URL = <https://revistas.ucm.es/index.php/KANT/article/view/89975>.

(Hanna, 2018a). Hanna, R. Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 3. New York: Nova Science. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2018b). Hanna, R., Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 4. New York: Nova Science. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2018c). Hanna, R. “How to Escape Irrelevance: Performance Philosophy, Public Philosophy, and Borderless Philosophy.” Journal of Philosophical Investigations 12: 55–82. Available online at URL = <http://philosophy.tabrizu.ac.ir/article_7982_en.html>.

(Hanna, 2020). Hanna, R. “The Kant Wars and The Three Faces of Kant.” Contemporary Studies in Kantian Philosophy 5: 73–94. Available online at URL = <https://www.cckp.space/single-post/2020/06/15/CSKP5-2020-The-Kant-Wars-and-The-Three-Faces-of-Kant>.

(Hanna, 2022). Hanna, R. ) “Can Physics Explain Physics? Anthropic Principles and Transcendental Idealism.” In L. Caranti (ed.), Kant and The Problem of Knowledge in the Contemporary World. London: Routledge. Pp. 136–145. Also available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2023a). Hanna, R. “In Defence of Dignity.” Borderless Philosophy 6: 77–98. Available online at URL = <https://www.cckp.space/single-post/bp6-2023-robert-hanna-in-defence-of-dignity-77-98>.

(Hanna, 2023b). Hanna, R. “Dignity, Not Identity.” Unpublished MS. Available online at URL = <https://www.academia.edu/96684801/Dignity_Not_Identity_February_2023_version_>.

(Hanna, 2023c). Hanna, R. “Dignitarian Post-Capitalism.” Borderless Philosophy 6: 99–129. Available online at URL = <https://www.cckp.space/single-post/bp6-2023-robert-hanna-dignitarian-post-capitalism-99-129>.

(Hanna, 2024a). Hanna, R. “What the Vatican Got Right About Human Dignity and What It Got Wrong.” Unpublished MS. Available online HERE.

(Hanna, 2024b). Hanna, R. “Why The World Needs A Creatively Revised-&-Updated Kant.” Unpublished MS. Available online at URL = <https://www.academia.edu/117588647/Why_The_World_Needs_A_Creatively_Revised_and_Updated_Kant_April_2024_version_>.

(Kant, 1781/1787/1997). Kant, I. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. (1781 or A edition: Ak 4: 1–251; 1787 or B edition: Ak 3)

(Kant, 1785/1996). Kant, I. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In I. Kant, Practical Philosophy. Pp. 43–108; Ak 4: 387–463).

(TPU, 2024). Updates. The Press United. “German leader tells Putin he can’t quote legendary philosopher.” 23 April. Available online at URL = <https://thepressunited.com/updates/german-leader-tells-putin-he-cant-quote-legendary-philosopher/>.

(Wikiquote, 2024). “Voltaire: Misattributed.” Wikiquote. “Garantissez-moi de mes amis, écrivait Gourville proscrit et fugitif, je saurai me défendre de mes ennemis.” (Gabriel Sénac de Mailhan, 1788, quoting Jean Hérault, Baron of Gourville, misattributed to Voltaire.) Available online at URL = <https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Voltaire#Misattributed>.

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.