Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Critique Of Impure Reason

OK. I have read half a speech by Cicero and have started to read Poul Anderson's "The Critique of Impure Reason" (IN Anderson, Kinship With The Stars, New York, 1991) before turning in.

Humorous touch: Robot IZK-99 is addressed as "'Izaak.'" (p. 132)

I am fairly sure that I have not read this story before. (When I was reading "Among Thieves," it seemed completely unfamiliar but, as I approached the conclusion, I began dimly to remember how the story would be resolved. However, I think that I have skipped past "Impure Reason" on previous occasions.)

The title is a reference to Immanuel Kant's philosophical trilogy:

The Critique Of Pure Reason;
The Critique Of Practical Reason;
The Critique Of Judgment.

Because I changed courses twice at University, I badly missed out on Kant although I really got into his successor, Hegel, which is why I mention syntheses occasionally. (If anyone is interested in my academic career, it was:

one year Law;
three years English, History and Philosophy;
two years Philosophy;
one year postgrad Philosophy;
two years postgrad Religious Studies;
later, two separate years of professional training.)

However, I think that Kant's distinction between pure and practical reason is helpful although it probably will not impact much on Anderson's "Impure Reason," which I will have to finish reading tomorrow. For practical, moral and legal purposes, we treat "reasonable beings," people, as if they could have done otherwise. Thus, someone found guilty of committing a crime could have refrained from committing it. (If not, then he is not guilty but mentally unwell and must be treated, not punished.)

To be able to act or refrain from acting is to be free so freedom is absence of constraint. However, every event, including every human action, is either caused or random. If all our choices, decisions and actions result either from earlier causes or from random events, then we could not have done otherwise. That is pure or theoretical reasoning. (I am not sure whether I am using these terms exactly in Kant's sense but this is an important distinction in any case.)

Because we want to influence the future actions of ourselves and others, we have to continue to apply practical reason, thus to continue treating people as if they could have done otherwise. It follows, I think, that on this issue, theory and practice are unsynthesizable antitheses.

This post was written in response to Anderson's title but the story following the title will probably be a different matter - and that will be another post.

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