Friday, November 7, 2008

Strauss on Kant

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. Consider the criticism, more than thirty five years later, 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"? I think the clue is to be found in this footnote from the 1946 review of John Wild, which points in the direction of Kant.

". . . 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. 

 
Strauss is making the same objection to American social science that he made to neo-Kantianism thirty years earlier. Both are based on the dogmatic assumption 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," or that "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."

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

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