Darwiniana

History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

Darwiniana header image 2

Laws of history and Kantian antinomies

April 10th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Post at History & Theory listserve on the ‘laws of history’ debate, and Kantian antinomies:
The antinomies here are actually a staged debate, so I am delighted in your excellent response, and welcome the vigorous effort to sense the original meaning of Kant’s essay, and to really consider the implications of the Third Antinomy (which the paragraph from Kant’s essay resembles).

You are right: I may not be quite faithful to Kant, who I take as proposing a challenge.
(Also his essay also diverges from its stated form in its pursuit of what calls ‘asocial sociability. More on that some other time).
There is a problem here because this essay arrives in the wake of the First Critique of Kant, where freedom of the will and the antinomies thereof are discussed in terms of human psychology. But now we are talking about ‘Universal History’ where the existence of laws and the already posited reality of free will by Kant suggests a possible contradiction. We have to find a way to find laws and respect assumptions about free will.
Thus I equivocate slightly here, and also because interpreting Kant versus asserting my own interpretation are slightly different perspectives. I have approached the issue in different ways, but in one way I agree with you that we are looking for laws of history (Kant suggests how to solve the historicism problem of Popper, two centuries before him), but these must reflect the issue of free will as Kant implies. In that regard I looked at the idea of a ‘science of freedom’ (first invented by such as Hegel with his outlandish ideas which I don’t support), and pointed to situations where this is meaningful.

I find spectacular examples of this, once the search is started for examples. The phrase ‘X causes freedom’ is the key, at once a shortcircuit, yet the other pole of the antinomy, at once a contradiction, then to our surprise a key to interpreting certain phases of world history. I will discuss those examples later, but a canonical situation where causality and freedom are mixed is my example in the abstract (not from history) of a computer GUI and a user with a mouse. There are two cases, a causally deterministic computer program, and a (no doubt causally deterministic) program that honors the ‘choices’ of a user that are input to the program which branches in different outcomes depending on input. Those choices may not be free, but they are choices, as the situation shows branching divergence in two or more directions. (It is worth studying the computer code for a mouse to see this difference: the system alternates between the user and the system, as it idles to wait for input). Thus this example shows that the phrase ‘causality of freedom’ is at least meaningful, whether or not we consider that ‘true’ freedom or not, free will or not. The user forces the deterministic system to branch in different outcomes.

Incidentally, we have discovered the requirements for a ‘differential equation’ that must satisfy the ‘laws of history’ premise for a ‘causality of freedom’. It can alternate between high system action, and high human action. Any signs of such a thing in history??? Lots!!! (if we know where to look)
In one form, which resembles our computer mouse example, we have a system with two modes, i.e. human action and ‘historical action’ (??), and a context where the ‘historical action’ phase idles as the ‘human action’ phase comes to the fore. That seems like a bizarre way to look at history, but, mirabile dictu, we can see this actually happening in history (more on that later).

But in general, you project to stick to your guns and find the ‘laws of history’ is completely allowed by the nature of the case, despite the objection of Popper, and I have suggested one way to realize that search for laws of history even as they reflect the issues of freedom, freedom of the will or not.

You post has a lot more good stuff, so I can comment further. This post is a bit long.

Meanwhile I will try to show that my ‘differential equation’ (an in principle nonesuch so far on a paper napkin) reflects real historical situations where ‘freedom is generated’ in a larger ‘causal’ context.

In general, to recite my other canonical situation for ‘causality and freedom’ mixed, take an ocean liner, a causal system, and the passengers, whose relative free action on the ship mixes their ‘freedom’ (real or not) and the causal system.
History is a lot like that: it generates situations causally, but the interior of those situations can show relative free action of the individuals in those situations.

John Landon

In a message dated 4/8/2010 8:53:51 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, hist-thr@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU writes:
From: “Zaman, Frederick L Civ USAF AFMC 516 SMXS/MXDED”
Date: April 7, 2010 10:30:00 AM EDT
Subject: History’s SOUL: “Socially Operant, Ulterior Laws”

Repeating Landon’s quotation of Kant below on the freedom of the will
and human history:

“Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view,
concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are
human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by
universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is
concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if
we attend to the play of the freedom of the will in the large, we may be
able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex
and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of
the human race as a whole to be steady and progressive through slow
evolution of its original endowment.”

Landon indicates Kant’s essay on history “is a bit confusing,” but the
above quote-let us call it ‘A’, seems clear enough. Contrary to what
Landon indicates Kant has said above, this quotation in no way indicates
that Kant believes all is lost in attempts to discover universal laws of
historical cause and effect. Indeed, in the above quotation, the
contrary clearly is true. Based on the above, one has reason to believe
that the “antimony” below cited by Landon, let us call it ‘B’, would in
Kant’s mind be a false dichotomy:

1. There must be a causal science of history, therefore freedom is
unreal.
2. There cannot be a causal science of history, because freedom is
real..

Kant in A above clearly does not support Landon’s supposed paradox B.
Contrary to Landon, the antimony B does not swirl around A. Indeed, Kant
in A doe ask that “the issue of free will and causal laws to be taken
together; but as a project to be pursued in the hope for a future
science of history, rather than a paradox which logically defies
resolution.

Tags: History · Kant

1 response so far ↓

Leave a Comment