Friday, November 7, 2008

Strauss on Kant and "Theoretical Consciousness"

Strauss mentions in the Heidegger lecture that he began as a "doubting and dubious adherent of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism." In NRH he describes neo-Kantianism (a stand in for Nietzsche) in this way, in the discussion of Weber:

"Reality is an infinite and meaningless sequence, or a chaos, of unique and infinitely divisible events, which in themselves are meaningless: all meaning, all articulation, originates in the activity of the knowing and evaluating subject. Very few people today will be satisfied with this view of reality, which Weber had taken over from neo-Kantianism." (77). 

At the start of his first book, on Spinoza, he begins by attacking Kant: 

"Must the difference between positive science, which offers no possibility of criticism of religion, and metaphysics, which in principle permits criticism of religion, be defined as it has been defined by Kant in his transcendental dialectic, namely by the statement that this difference has its basis in theoretical consciousness?"
"Theory" seems to always have a pejorative sense for Strauss. His pejorative use of "theory" is consistent with NRH, in the chapter on Weber: Indifference to the choice between "God and the devil" or between "excellence and baseness" is the product of a "purely theoretical attitude toward the world of action. That theoretical attitude implies equal respect for all causes; but such respect is possible only for him who is not devoted to any cause." 

The criticism of Kant and Weber is the same as the criticism of American social science:

"The new science uses sociological or psychological theories regarding religion which exclude, without considering it, the possibility that religion rests ultimately on God's revealing Himself to man; hence those theories are mere hypotheses which can never be confirmed. Those theories are in fact the hidden basis of the new science. The new science rests on a dogmatic atheism which presents itself as merely methodological or hypothetical."
Wolin and Schaar, in their reply, say they are "haunted" by this charge of atheism. What do studies of voting behaviour have to do with atheism? What are these "theories" that serve as the "hidden basis of the new science"? Here we get to the bottom of Strauss's criticism of "theoretical consciousness": theory always rests on a "dogmatic atheism with presents itself as merely methodological or hypothetical." 

In order to understand this "dogmatic atheism" it helps to trace the origin of this putatively "methodological" naturalism from Kant back to Christianity:

". . . A case could be made for the view that it was reflection guided by the Biblical notion of creation which ultimately led to the doctrine that the world as created by God, or the "thing in itself," is inaccessible to human knowledge, or to the idealistic assertion that the world as far as we can understand it, that is, the world as studied by human science, must be the "work" of the human mind." *8 8. See Kant, Kritiik der Reinen Vernunft, ed. by Vorlander, p. 131, and Kritik der Urteilskraft, SS 84 ff. 

"Work" of the human mind is, I think, a reference to Locke.

Putting all of this together, Strauss is equating three things: modern idealism ("all meaning originates in the subject"), "methodological" naturalism, and dogmatic atheism. What all have in common is a rejection of the pre-Kantian idea that criticism of religion is, in principle, possible. In other words, Strauss is advocating a return to pre-Kantian philosophy and the critique of religion. All that stands in the way is the dogmatic atheism that rejects metaphysics and accepts the modern distinction between science and metaphysics.

To better understand this connection between Kant and modern, dogmatic atheism, we need to turn to the chapter on Locke in Natural Right and History and try to understand why Strauss paired it with the chapter on Weber, "The Distinction between facts and values." 

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