Sunday, January 6, 2019

Thinking twice about Kant and correlationism

In my recent readings of Kant, in particular the lectures on anthropology as well as his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, I came across a well known passage toward the end of the text where Kant discusses the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and its role in understanding human nature.
The highest concept of species may be that of a terrestrial rational being, but we will not be able to describe its characteristics because we do not know of a nonterrestrial rational being which would enable us to refer to its properties and consequently classify that terrestrial being as rational. It seems, therefore, that the problem of giving an account of the character of the human species is quite insoluble, because the problem could only be solved by comparing two species of rational beings on the basis of experience, but experience has not offered us a comparison between two species of rational beings.
He then goes on to develop the distinction between (non-human) animals that are rational, and rational beings. 

It struck me how the age-old (by now) charge of correlationism and anthropocentrism against Kant may be misguided if we take the above into account.  As Heidegger during the '30s for example formulated Daseyn as a "more than human" although encompassing-of-the-human prototype, I see in Kant something similar as he struggles to define the nature of so-called "rational beings."  A sort of transcendending- the-anthropos toward a true non-human rational form of universality which nevertheless encompasses the human but is also beyond the human is in order, according to his project. Perhaps more clearly put, he is struggling to wrestle with a metaphysical ecology of the cosmos and its "Others" vis-a-vis the human yet simultaneously beyond the human.  And so while quite a few today bash Kant in the name of correlationism, his focusing upon the "human-all-too-human" (Nietzsche said Kant did not go far enough) is a paradox as it is none other than Kant who went furthest in speculating upon the Descolian Ecology of Others.

In order to "sketch the character of the species" in its truly universal form, an extra-species or non-human rational being species is desirable to compare, said Kant.  And thus we are forced to move toward a "cosmopolitics" or exo-political notion of what non-human rationality means for rational beings as such.  It is the "as such" part which forces us beyond the terrestrial landscape, for Kant is seeking the truly universal character of what it means to be a "reasoning being" sui generis.

This is quite interesting, I think. For as much as Kant is taken to be a correlationist par excellance' given his categories of the mind and so on, it is nevertheless his drive for universality that seeks to include the content and form of a species of rational beings within experience. This experience, paradoxically, opens up and extends beyond the merely human in its scope.

THIS article had an interesting take on what this might mean for Kant's ethics.  Kant himself had an idea when he speculated of how there may be a race of beings who are unable to think and express a thought unless the thought is spoken verbally.  That is, unless it is outwardly uttered the thought cannot be formed.  This would make lying impossible.  He then uses this speculation as a way to claim that as we human beings are morally perfectable, we ought to struggle toward that perfection and do good (which includes not telling lies, etc.)

As an aside, I thought of extra-terrestrial beings who may be telepathic.  If there is no private I or thoughts which are private, telling a lie would be impossible if these beings are able to remain aware of the contents of anothers' thoughts. Further, I wonder how these beings would regard brutal honesty? Having "heard" it all in the minds of others I am wondering if there is anything which would shock them or cause them dismay. Without anything being hidden there is only brutal honesty.

Regardless, THIS 90-page document was interesting, "Kant's Aliens: The Anthropology and its Others."