Kant, and the Mind of Man Shaping Reality

(This is a modified version of my sci-fi blog post. Just stripping out the sci-fi parts.)

Preamble

In this blog article, I go about reframing some of Immanuel Kant’s work, as conveyed in Gary North’s Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition.

Why? Because I can.

Consider it an educational exercise for my fellow believers, who are even more unaware of Kant’s importance among academics than they are of Keynes’ importance. Time to understand the foundations of modern secular culture!

“Umm… why, exactly, are you so interested in uncovering the foundations of modern secular culture?”

<Puts the call to Foundation Breakup and Removal, Inc. on hold.>

“Oh. Well, like every Responsible Citizen, I only seek to Earn the Approval of Our Expert Leadership. How can you love what you don’t understand? How can you appreciate what you aren’t even aware of?”

“Well then. Carry on.”

Who the Hell is Kant? And Why Should I Care?

As Kant has been the dominant philosopher of the West for two centuries, this post can serve as a quickie introduction to his work.

Immanuel Kant has been the dominant philosopher in the West for over two centuries. His intellectual categories shape social philosophy, including economic theory. He was a cosmic evolutionist. He wrote Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens in 1755. He wrote it anonymously. In the Preface, he declared: “I accept the matter of the whole world at the beginning as in a state of general dispersion, and make of it a complete chaos. I see this matter forming itself in accordance with the established laws of attraction, and modifying its movement by repulsion.” Out of chaos comes order through unbreakable laws. The universe is self-created. It is autonomous. Man is therefore autonomous. Modern Big Bang cosmology is essentially Kant’s with equations.

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

“Chaos first, then order rising from the chaos.” The view of the origin of the universe for all beliefs that don’t subscribe to the cyclical universe or eternal universe view point… but still prefer to avoid the “ex nihilo” position of the Bible.

How does predictable order arise from complete chaos? Unknown.

For chaos to exist, it has to exist on something. If you see a chaotic pile of rocks, that pile of rocks has to come from somewhere. Where did it come from? Unknown.

How does something create itself? Impossible.

Few social theorists understand the extent to which they are Kant’s disciples. Nonexistent is the textbook and rare is the treatise that discusses the author’s assumptions regarding epistemology, which is the question of what men can know and how they can know it. The treatise by Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (1949), is an exception. Mises devoted the first hundred pages to epistemology. He did not discuss the fundamental issue of epistemology, namely, the relation of external reality to the minds of men. What is the nature of the connection? He did not bring up this topic. He did not discuss his reliance upon the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. He did not cite Kant in his books. He did not attempt to defend Kant’s epistemology or even explain it.

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

Compared to the vast majority of (almost universally atheistic) economists, von Mises was one of the good guys, defending human freedom by grounding his economics in the action of free individuals (“Human Action“), rather than something like “the Will of the Collective” or “Efficient distribution of Resources”… as determined by the Right Sort, as usual.

But von Mises, a convinced Kantian, did not touch on the core issue of epistemology, “What can man know? How can they know what they know?”

Other related questions: “Why can the non-physical mind of a man know about the physical universe, and even create useful laws regarding the outer universe? How is this possible?”

Most atheistic scholars — a redundancy, so far as Modern Academia is concerned — don’t bother worry about such difficult questions, assuming that someone else has already answered them.

But no one has. There is no resolution: at least, not until Van Til showed up. But his answers are not appreciated by the Right Sort.

Natural Law: A Long-Rotting Corpse

[Cornelius Van Til made] a revolutionary defense of the faith. He broke with almost two millennia of Christian philosophical tradition. He refused to invoke a common logical ground between covenant-breakers and covenant-keepers.

[…]

Despite the philosophical weakness of anti-Christian critics, Christians have become victims of an epistemological inferiority complex. This has been going on for almost 2,000 years. They take seriously the claims of their critics. They feel compelled to defend the Bible, but they do not defend it on the basis of its own self-revelation and self-testimony. They attempt to defend its teachings by adopting arguments that were developed by some philosopher prior to Kant. For example, they invoke natural law theory. First, they are completely unaware that natural law theory was developed by Roman philosophers who were attempting to justify the rule of the Roman Empire: a judicially unified empire ruling over the local gods, laws, and customs of formerly autonomous subject cultures. They invented a supposedly common logic for political purposes. Second, they are unaware that virtually no one in the modern world accepts natural law theory. Kant refuted it decisively. Christians are attempting to resurrect a dead horse in a world of tanks.

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

Why are Christians focused on some dead Roman corpse, while pointedly ignoring the Law-Word of the Resurrected Christ, I will never know.

[Notices a broad fascination with Classical Rome. Even to the extent of transporting the Roman style of governance into a far-future, interstellar setting.]

Ah… now I see: the Love of Roman Power and Roman Law is the key.

Which really means: the Power of Man, and the Law-Word of Powerful Men.

Isn’t it forbidden for Christians to worship idols, including the Idol of Power?

The Two Realms, Falling Apart

Van Til emphasized throughout his long career that modern thought is plagued by an epistemological dualism that can be traced back to Kant. Kant divided reason into two radically separate realms, the phenomenal and the noumenal. The phenomenal realm is the realm of scientific calculation, of measurable cause and effect. Effects have specific causes. In this sense, effects are determined by their causes. It is this determinism of the phenomenal realm that is the basis of all scientific investigations (except in the subatomic world of quantum mechanics, where there are crucially important effects which have no known or knowable causes—in fact, which are believed by scientists to have no physical causes).

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

Newtonian Mechanics (“up here”) is the normal world, and Quantum Mechanics (“down there”) is where Things Get Weird.

With respect to subatomic physics, there really are no known answers to these questions. There is no causation such as Newtonian physics postulates. There are only statistical patterns. Physicists find that cause and effect (unity over time) does not operate at the subatomic level in the same way that it does “up here.” Causes can produce effects over distance simultaneously in the subatomic world. Physicists have known this since the mid- 1960s: Bell’s theorem. You and I do not spend time thinking about Bell’s theorem, but physicists do. The stable world of Newtonian physics has not been with us for many decades. We may think that it is with us, but only because we operate up here. But down there, it is long gone.

Why does Newtonian physics operate up here? Why do we think of our world in terms of the metaphor of the machine? Is the world more like a machine or like an organism? Or is it really like neither one? These are not trick questions.

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

The materialists got fooled into locking himself into the mechanical metaphor: “Humans are nothing but meat machines! Our brains are nothing but meat computers! Ethics are nothing but a way to increase population size!”

(Our Betters do love dehumanizing everyone and despising every law outside the Chosen Circle, don’t they? I wonder why….)

Such reductionism is useful when lying to (and beating down) the rubes, but doesn’t cut it with people in the know.

In the phenomenal realm there is no choice. There is no responsibility. Everything is determined. Yet Kant proclaimed the legitimacy of ethics. He did so by affirming another realm, which he called the noumenal. But he could not show how the two realms were related. They were autonomous. Van Til called this the science/personality dualism and the nature/freedom dualism. If nature’s causation is governed by unbreakable law, then so is man. Man is the product of nature. But if man is determined by scientific cause and effect, he does not possess freedom. Kant put the problem this way in The Critique of Pure Reason: “We have, therefore, nothing but nature to which we must look for connection and order in cosmical events. Freedom—independence of the laws of nature—is certainly a deliverance from restraint, but it is also a relinquishing of the guidance of law and rule. For it cannot be alleged that, instead of the laws of nature, laws of freedom may be introduced into the causality of the course of nature. For, if freedom were determined according to laws, it would be no longer freedom, but merely nature.”

[…]

The crucial intellectual problem for the humanist is this: neither Kant nor any philosopher, neither the psychologist nor the social theorist, has been able to describe or explain the link between these two realms. To the extent that the noumenal can be classified, defined, and described rationally in terms of phenomenal realm’s logic, it loses its character as a realm of pure indeterminism. Yet Kant said that this pure indeterminism must be present in order for there to be a realm of human choice, of human action as distinguished from determined human response. For all post-Kantian thought, man without the noumenal becomes an automaton. He does not act. He merely responds to stimuli.

[…]

The key unanswered problem is this: “How is the life of man’s spirit related to his visible walk?” Humanist thought has no solution.

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

Our Betters have attempted to create a strictly materialistic universe, to successfully elude all limits to their power: but such mental constructs collapse in a mass of self-contradictions.

How can a pile of atoms create a theory of anything? Why should any theory be of value? How can a meaningless universe convey useful information? Why should information even exist in a world where we are all automations? How could it exist? And on what basis should an automation, a meat-computer, be held responsible for anything it does?

A crisis in general epistemology produces crises in specific epistemologies. Ultimately, of course, it is a crisis in ethics, for ethics in the Kantian worldview is governed (yet somehow not determined) by the noumenal.

Virtually all modern humanistic scholarship relies on two foundations: the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the evolutionary worldview of Charles Darwin. This fact is never discussed at the beginning of a college-level textbook in any academic discipline. There is no mention of philosophical foundations. There is no mention of the presuppositions undergirding these foundations. Students are introduced to the field on the assumption that there is no debate over the reliability of these philosophical foundations. I would not call this a self-conscious strategy on the part of the textbook authors. Rather, it is part of the ongoing comprehensive naïveté of modern scholars. They are never taught the basics of epistemology in their college careers. They are also not taught the connections between these foundations and the methodological assumptions of their academic discipline. They naïvely assume what they need first to prove. They are incapable of proving it, but they get away with this because no one calls their bluff.

I have introduced this material in order to strengthen your self-confidence in pursuing the field of economics is a Christian scholar. Humanistic economists are like Goliath facing David. They look invincible. But they have a weak point in their armor. Their reliance on the philosophy of Kant is this weak point.

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

Lots of folks are handling Darwin, at Uncommon Descent, Creation/Evolution Headlines, and Evolution News. Few are dealing with Kant: his name is mentioned here and there, but not many scholars care to dig into his work.

They should: once you get past the German over-complicated double-talk, you’ll find some serious flaws… and quite a number of flat-out delusions.

(And I have a suspicion that Kant’s complex verbiage is used in the same way that Keynes used obscuring language: to hide what is obviously ridiculous — “build debt to build wealth!” in Keynes’ case — from public view.)

“WE Create Reality!”

[…] if man is in some unstated and undefinable way distinct from nature, and therefore not completely determined by nature’s unbreakable laws of impersonal, purposeless causation, there is no way to explain logically how man can control any aspect of nature from outside of nature. There is no point of contact. There is therefore no lever of control. He loses power. On the other hand again, if he does somehow gain power over nature, then he is in principle subject to other men’s power over him, since they may be able to manipulate nature more efficiently than he can. It’s “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” This is Kant’s legacy to modern man.

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

Thus, the Kantian-inspired drive to gain power over other men, as demonstrated by our Kantian-following academics. Call it “Power Worship: Flavour #8642”

Why this Kantian need to control men: not only what they own or what they do, but also what they say or — the final target of our Statist Overlords — what they think, via the schools, universities, mass media, and the Demands of Polite Society?

Let’s find out!

Kant offered no scientific or logical way to explain how the mind of man gains access to the external world’s laws of causation. It does, obviously, but Kant could not explain why or how. He did not believe that these laws exist independently of the mind of man. Michela Massimi, an expert on Kant, wrote “Kant and the Laws of Nature” for Oxford Bibliographies in 2016. His view is representative of most experts in Kant’s thought. “When it comes to theoretical philosophy (and in particular, to Kant’s philosophy of nature, which is our topic), the main question is how it is possible for us to come to know nature as ordered and lawful. Where does the lawfulness of nature come from? In the Critique of Pure Reason and in the Prolegomena, Kant held the view that our faculty of understanding is the primary source of nature’s lawfulness because the a priori categories of the understanding ‘prescribe laws to nature’—that is, they play the role of constitutive a priori principles for our experience of nature.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Strip out the academic jargon —“constitutive a priori principles”—and the paragraph really is as nutty as it sounds. Massimi is arguing that Kant believed that man’s mind (whose, exactly?) imputes coherence to nature. Man’s mental categories are the only source of nature’s coherence as far as we can ever know. Let me boil this down in three words: man is God. Man’s subjective imputation of coherence to nature is definitive and binding on nature. Whether the universe is inherently coherent or not, a question that Kant dismissed as unanswerable, man’s subjective imputation provides order to the universe. Kant’s lengthy and highly detailed arguments for this bizarre conclusion do not bother Kantian philosophers. They would bother anyone with a trace of common sense, assuming that people with common sense would bother to read Kant’s two unreadable major books: Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and Critique of Practical Reason (1788), which is as impractical a book as you will ever not read.

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

“Your mind makes it real.”

So, control over what people say and think actually helps to shape reality, so far as the Kantian crowd is concerned.

Wow.

Or, phrased differently: The power of the Creative Word, transferred from God, and given to Men, by command of the State, Our Only TRUE Lord and Master.

(And why this adoration of the State? Nothing to do with truth and justice, of course, and everything to do with the power to kill, to steal, to inflict harm and pain.)

Well, Kant, I serve a different God than you do — will you stop admiring yourself in the mirror for once! — so I choose to give the nod to the mind of Christ as the Shaper of Reality, rather than your mind… or the thinking of the majority (as directed by the media/academia complex)… or the mind of the politically powerful… or of certified academics.

But at least I can understand why there was a fascination with psionics — “the vast POWER of the MIND!” — throughout science fiction. Most definitely including the flareup in the 1970s, when the Traveller Science-Fiction Roleplaying Game was being written.

Or with out-and-out witchcraft and astrology today. Or — for the politically devoted — with government laws proclaiming that men are women if that man merely says so. That hurting my feelings becomes an offense punishable by law.

Power-worship, indeed!

“But if we control the minds of the masses, we can actually shape REALITY!”

No, you can’t. That isn’t the way reality works.

Too bad for you, Kant.

And too bad for your accursed followers, too.

Unspoken Lies and Special Pleading

My main point in Part 1 is this: humanists have not been forthright in specifying their intellectual starting points, which are based on unproven and unprovable presuppositions. These presuppositions are not based on the rigorous logic that humanists insist is binding on scientists.

This is surely the case in economic science. I have used economists as illustrations of a universal trait among humanistic academics. They hide their presuppositions from their readers. I think most of them hide their presuppositions from themselves. They are not trained to think in terms of presuppositions. They presume what they need to prove, as self-proclaimed scientists, by means of their supposedly neutral logic. If they were more forthright about specifying their ultimately religious presuppositions, which are not shared by most citizens, they would reveal themselves as special pleaders for humanism. This would threaten their acceptance. This would in turn threaten their funding. They have zero self-interest in doing this. So, they remain mute. They do not discuss sovereignty, authority, law, sanctions, and time. They implicitly assume the humanist worldview’s presuppositions regarding these issues, but they do not mention them, let alone defend them.

It is intellectually mandatory that Christian scholars in every academic discipline begin their treatises with a detailed discussion of these five principles as they apply to their respective disciplines. Christian scholars should become self-conscious about their disciplines’ foundational principles. They should identify and then challenge the humanists’ versions of these five principles in their fields.

Gary North in Christian Economics: Scholar’s Edition

Odd, that no priest or monk, pastor or preacher, theologian or philosopher bothered to do the 30+ years of intellectual labour, to put muscle behind this demanding call for Christian action.

When a Christian society is rebuilt, it will owe nothing to fearful, submissive and studiously irrelevant Men of the Cloth.

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