Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

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Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby Xunzian » Mon Sep 12, 2011 3:48 am

If I may slightly reformulate Kant in line with Kane's interpretation, he said that there are three questions a philosopher can ask:

1) What can I know?

2) How should I live?

3) What should I aspire to?

In a pre-modern context (and this includes philosophers like MacIntyre) these questions aren't really separable but instead should be understood as a single question that the human mind needs to break down into more manageable bites. But with the sunderings of modernity, the three questions have become different questions whereby one can be understood in terms of another, so for example rationalists try to understand the second question in terms of the first whereas idealists attempt to understand the second question in terms of the third. That, of course, isn't as serious as post-modernity where the three questions are seen as completely unrelated (and possibly uninteresting) and the sundering is complete.

So I would ask you how you understand the relationship between those three questions with respect to your tradition and how you feel you should proceed from that understanding. I ask because I've been thinking about it a lot. A philosopher whom I admire (to the point where I view my disagreements with him as failings of my own philosophy as opposed to failings in his) has clearly been influenced by two relatively polarized philosophers, one rational and one idealist. I've decided that he is more in line with the idealistic tradition (something I already suspected) so I'm doing my best to try and understand how I ought live with respect to that. But it has gotten me thinking that the divide between many of the posters here could be the two forms of modernity. I say that because I don't see too many post-modernists in the religion section (most of the questions apt to be discussed here don't make sense in a post-modern context) and since pre-modernity has been all but killed even those who find a great deal of appeal in that system are still biased by their previous model of viewing the world.

I mean, for me as a scientists I feel I ought be more in line with the rationalist position. But my views on epistemology at the end of the day drive me away from that position somewhat -- but more importantly, my own intuition drives me away from that position. "What can I know" related quite directly to the efficient cause, there is no argument there, but I do not think it can be related to the final cause nearly as easily if at all. And what is philosophy if not a discussion of final causes?

So, anyway, where do you stand and why?
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby Stoic Guardian » Mon Sep 12, 2011 10:41 am

Yes; the modernists and post modernists won't take too kindly too Idealisim, the philisophical equivalent too romanticism. I used too think I was an Idealist because out of the philosophers i've read about they seemed to be good people then I thought maybe I was a rationalist because of my skepticism but then I realised how little I could accomplish being so overly skeptical. Now I lead much more towards Stoicism and Socrates's simplicity an humility and the fact that he didn't shack up with any particular philosophical school.
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby Only_Humean » Mon Sep 12, 2011 10:38 pm

Xunzian wrote:If I may slightly reformulate Kant in line with Kane's interpretation, he said that there are three questions a philosopher can ask:

1) What can I know?

2) How should I live?

3) What should I aspire to? ?


Interesting formulation... from my viewpoint, I guess I'm premodern; How I live determines what I know; what I know determines what I aspire to be, which determines how I live. I don't know where to break the chain and step in.

Practically speaking, though, philosophy has had the most effect on my understanding of 1 and the least on 3; my rational distrust of romanticism outweighs my idealist distrust of reason. Although it has led me to think that aspirations are more the preserve of politics than philosophy...
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby Chester » Sat Sep 17, 2011 6:20 pm

"1) What can I know?

2) How should I live?

3) What should I aspire to? "

I can know my thoughts (without doubt).

I should live in the way I feel is best.

I should realise that I am not the arbiter of truth ,and that (therefore) I should be willing to seek the truth in order to learn what is the best way to live.
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby without-music » Sat Sep 17, 2011 7:20 pm

Xunzian wrote:1) What can I know?

2) How should I live?

3) What should I aspire to?

There seems to be, for me at least, an intimate relationship between the second and third questions. I believe, however, that the third precedes the second. That is: I must first decide what I ought to aspire to, before I can decide how to live, how to properly realize such an aspiration. To this extent, the first question is completely unrelated, and, I'm tempted to say, uninteresting. This might be the post-modern in me speaking, though. As an outspoken Nietzschean, it should be mostly self-evident what my answers to the third and second questions will be.
...how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature.
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby Uccisore » Sat Sep 17, 2011 9:33 pm

I think the second and third questions are closely related enough to be nearly synonymous- what you ought to aspire dictates how you should live. What you can know I see as sort of an island by itself compared to the others- you really don't need to know that much to be the kind of person you should be, depending on your role in society. Questions of what's certain and what isn't are almost (but not quite) irrelevant to how you should live- except for the philosopher (and maybe some others) who takes upon themselves a special burden. For them, all things must be questioned, nothing must ever be held as completely certain, and thus, what you can know will have a strong influence on how you take the answers to 2 and 3.
So then, I think a philosopher ought to be a rationalist (1 dictating 2 and 3), but this is not the only or even best way to live. A philosopher is just another type of person, one of many that can make a good civilization into a great one.
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby Sauwelios » Sun Sep 18, 2011 8:36 pm

Xunzian wrote:1) What can I know?

2) How should I live?

3) What should I aspire to?

Logically, the first question is prior to the others, because the others are futile if we cannot know how we should live or what we should aspire to. But even as logic rests on axioms that are pre-logical, the first question already presupposes that the others are answered, albeit not rationally:

"How should I live?"
- "Aspiringly."
"What should I aspire to?"
- "Finding rational answers."

without-music wrote:There seems to be, for me at least, an intimate relationship between the second and third questions. I believe, however, that the third precedes the second. That is: I must first decide what I ought to aspire to, before I can decide how to live, how to properly realize such an aspiration. To this extent, the first question is completely unrelated, and, I'm tempted to say, uninteresting. This might be the post-modern in me speaking, though. As an outspoken Nietzschean, it should be mostly self-evident what my answers to the third and second questions will be.

I, conversely, think the first question is central to the Nietzschean project, the three questions taking this order:

Irrational question: "What should I aspire to?"
Irrational answer: "Finding rational answers."
Irrational question: "What can I know (i.e., what questions can I rationally answer)?"
Rational answer: "As far as I know, only what I aspire to (i.e., what my will is)."
Rational question: "How should I live (i.e., how do I aspire to live)?"
Rational answer: "Seeking rational answers."

From this chain of questions and answers follows the whole Nietzschean project. For if I should devote my life to seeking rational answers, and the only question I can rationally answer, for all I know, is what I aspire to, and I already know that I aspire to finding rational answers, then my life's work is already complete! But I still, irrationally, aspire to finding rational answers, and therefore I step beyond the absolute difference between rational and irrational, into the difference between more rational and less rational. Thus Lampert describes the task of political philosophy as "making a place for the more rational in the midst of the irrational" (Lampert, Nietzsche's Task, page 1, emphasis added); and Nietzsche himself says:

"It is not the victory of science [i.e., knowledge] that distinguishes [auszeichnet] our nineteenth century, but the victory of scientific method over science." (Nietzsche, The Will to Power, section 466, entire.)

Compare:

"A powerful seduction fights on our behalf, the most powerful perhaps that there has ever been---the seduction of truth... Truth? Who has forced this word upon me? But I repudiate it; but I disdain this proud word: no, we do not need even this; we shall conquer and come to power even without truth. The spell that fights on our behalf, the eye of Venus that charms and blinds even our opponents, is the magic of the extreme, the seduction that everything extreme exercises: we immoralists---we are the most extreme..." (ibid., section 749.)

I contend that these two sections essentially point to the same thing: not truth, not knowledge of the truth, not science, but extreme scientific-methodicality! Most notable example: Nietzsche's Occam-esque transference of the only thing he knew, his will, to the entire realm of the Unknown: see BGE 36 and WP 569.
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby finishedman » Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:43 pm

Every individual is seeking certainty for himself and therefore there can be no certainty in this world. It is not that I am pessimistic or cynical, but that is the reality of the world. What you have tried up to now has done you no good at all!

That's my point of view, so why do you keep busy and hoping that in some way or another, maybe with someone's help or some miracle happening it might become possible for you to be at peace with yourself? That’s your goal. I don’t care how you disguise it. You try different things, there are so many systems and techniques offered by so many people, isn't that so? They might very well all be professional do-gooders and want the best for you, but nothing has actually helped you.

What's going on? WHY DON'T YOU PLACE A BIG QUESTIONMARK HERE? Maybe there is something wrong with them? Because you can't always just put the blame on yourself, punish yourself and remain feeling paltry. Maybe it is the entire system, including all the teachers that are responsible for it that is at fault! At least keep the possibility open that they may have grabbed the wrong of the stick. I am telling you: they are wrong, they are not good, because their techniques don't work. Do you actually realize that?

You are not honest with yourself. You can be dishonest in this world, that will probably deliver some small advantages, but you can't be dishonest with yourself.

What the intellectual guides and experts all tell you does not work. But still, you hope that you will get it together next time some way or another. In the meantime you are just the opposite: 'Tomorrow you will be a friendly man full of love and compassion...' When? TOMORROW!

So, it is exactly what you are hoping and trying for that is responsible for its opposite, today's misery. Do you understand that? It is just an unhappy person who wants to become happy; a happy person does not have the wish to become happy. So the question of being unhappy does not arise as long as you don't search for happiness.

Our nervous system cannot bear any sensation longer than the natural duration of the sensation. Whether they are pleasant or painful sensations you try to extend the duration of certain sensations by thinking about them. But you can never succeed in that. That way you create a problem for this body! Therefore all our attempts to solve our problems at the level of psychological or religious thinking is the very cause of the problem. In fact they are physiological problems.
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby Fixed Cross » Sat Dec 03, 2011 11:41 pm

"What can I know?"

Can I know what I can know?
Can I know if I can know what I can know?

This seems to be an impossible question to answer, and to have no place in philosophy... the terms are perhaps tautological. The ability to know indicates a frame for experience, which in turn indicates a subject.

"I am what I can know".
" The strong do what they can do, the weak accept what they have to accept. "
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby Moreno » Sun Dec 04, 2011 12:39 am

Xunzian wrote:If I may slightly reformulate Kant in line with Kane's interpretation, he said that there are three questions a philosopher can ask:

1) What can I know?

2) How should I live?

3) What should I aspire to?
What can I know leads to a specific epistomology. Then other epistemologies are seen as incorrect, less effective, misleading. So the scientist attains a 'neutral' meta-truth or set of truths, their epistemology. Then knowledge leads inevitably to behavior (technology, descriptions of the real, denials of the reality of certain things or processes). Despite scientists talking about their aspirations and morality, these are seen as separate from knowledge - a social mammals projections on reality found within a mere epiphenomenon and utterly determined (or partially indetermined if the scientists has integrated QM). So while the scientists may, in fact, try to aspire to things and be good people, these have a quasi status. Other people are really complicated biomachines with interchangeable parts and 'irrational' biases which we have limited. Once capital gets behind this, the model is pressed into all of us, with romantic modifications to manipulate us. I do not see this stopping at present.

Soon the combination of capital and the naked epistemology (scientific empiricism) will be pressing for the end of all species. All with be tweaked, improved, modified genetically. The gm nanocyborgs are coming and.....

they will be designed by not carefully thought out values from questions 2 and 3

for us

by those with capital.

So what we see in the current plastic surgery freaks is just a taste of the widespread horrors to come.

(I'm in a dystopian mood)
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby pxc » Sun Dec 04, 2011 2:28 am

I don't understand how ‘idealism’ is being used here. Isn't rationalism, as opposed to empiricism, idealistic? Am I mistaken in thinking that idealism in philosophy generally refers to metaphysical idealism? How is that equivalent to ‘romanticism’ for philosophers?
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby lizbethrose » Mon Dec 05, 2011 3:27 am

What can I know? Probably, very little, which is why I continue to strive to learn.

How should I live? According to my ethical and moral codes, which are the results of what i was taught and what I've learned through my interactions with my world.

What should I aspire to? To continue my answers to 1) and 2)

As you can see, I can't really categorize myself according to any one philosophy. My mind works very closely to the dividing line between left- and right-brain thinking. In that sense, I'm a rational idealist. I'm two people in one--a real bargain! :wink:
"Be what you would seem to be - or, if you'd like it put more simply - never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."
— Lewis Carroll
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby pxc » Mon Dec 05, 2011 8:45 pm

lizbethrose wrote:What can I know? Probably, very little, which is why I continue to strive to learn.

How should I live? According to my ethical and moral codes, which are the results of what i was taught and what I've learned through my interactions with my world.

What should I aspire to? To continue my answers to 1) and 2)

As you can see, I can't really categorize myself according to any one philosophy. My mind works very closely to the dividing line between left- and right-brain thinking. In that sense, I'm a rational idealist. I'm two people in one--a real bargain! :wink:

Aren't you sort of then leaving your moral principles up to chance? Isn't there a difference between an ethical imperative and a mere moralistic tradition?
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Re: Rationalism vs. idealism in philosophy

Postby lizbethrose » Tue Dec 06, 2011 4:45 am

pxc wrote:
lizbethrose wrote:What can I know? Probably, very little, which is why I continue to strive to learn.

How should I live? According to my ethical and moral codes, which are the results of what i was taught and what I've learned through my interactions with my world.

What should I aspire to? To continue my answers to 1) and 2)

As you can see, I can't really categorize myself according to any one philosophy. My mind works very closely to the dividing line between left- and right-brain thinking. In that sense, I'm a rational idealist. I'm two people in one--a real bargain! :wink:

Aren't you sort of then leaving your moral principles up to chance? Isn't there a difference between an ethical imperative and a mere moralistic tradition?


I don't think so, since I've internalized a lot of what I've learned, either through religious teachings or through the empirical evidence my experience has shown me. Plus, I don't think of my codes as anything other than my own; ergo, they're not 'imperatives' in that other people should share them. I don't think it's moral to hurt other people's feelings; I do feel it's ethical for me to own up to it, if I find I have, inadvertently, done so. I may no longer practice an organized religion, but that doesn't mean I haven't retained what I consider are the 'good' aspects of that religion--I didn't throw the baby out with the bath water.

I'm not talking about Kant's categorical imperative here, by the way--although I do agree with Kant on some things. For example, I believe a firm ethical code follows from a firm belief in a personal moral code.

That said, I'd make a lousy soldier. This doesn't mean I would serve if I were called upon to do so; it just means I'd work out my term of duty as a consciences objector--doing office work or whatever in an area that had nothing to do with any sort of formal conflict.

Thanks for bring that up--I've learned from your question.
"Be what you would seem to be - or, if you'd like it put more simply - never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."
— Lewis Carroll
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