Then let us again examine, Euthyphro, whether that is a sound statement [ -- if said truly], or do we let it pass, and if one of us, or someone else, merely says that something is so, do we accept that it is so? Or should we examine [ ] what the speaker means? [ -- what the speaker says?]
Socrates, Euthryphro 9e [G.M.A. Grube translation, Plato, Five Dialogues, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo, Hackett Publishing Company, 1981, p. 14]
The professor of philosophy who forgets that philosophy is about wisdom may still be a real lover of knowledge, may still be a great creative scholar, and may even still be a very good person, but he will not really be a philosopher. When he speaks, especially on moral, practical, or political matters, his words may represent nothing but the most dangerous folly, without the Socratic perspective and drive to correct it. All too often, brilliant fools seem to be the stock-in-trade of academia and the intelligentsia -- remembering George Orwell saying that some things are so absurd, that only an intellectual would believe them.
This page is intended as a brief description of ideas and principles characteristic of the Friesian and other modifications of Kantian philosophy editorially recommended in the Proceedings of the Friesian School, Fourth Series. More detailed explanations will be found elsewhere at the site. For brevity, familiarity with certain philosophical issues and theories is often presupposed, so these descriptions may not be as accessible as the essays listed on the Home Page under "Topics and Essays on the Site".
Kantian epistemology is foundationalist and rationalistic in a qualified sense. Kant allowed that there were synthetic a priori propositions in mathematics, grounded in "pure intuition," in metaphysics, grounded on the Principle of the Possibility of Experience, and in morality, grounded on Pure Reason acting as the Moral Law. Fries and Nelson modified Kantian epistemology, first, by clarifying that synthetic a priori propositions are not proven by Kantian "Deduction," second, by clearly distinguishing immediate knowledge, which is the ground of synthetic propositions, from mediate knowledge, which is expressed in propositional form and may be justified by immediate knowledge, and, third, by distinguishing intuitive from non-intuitive immediate knowledge.
On Friesian principles, the common argument against the existence of immediate knowledge, that it would require us to claim that certain synthetic propositions are infallible and incorrigible, which today no longer seems credible, fails. Immediate knowledge as the ground of synthetic propositions may in some sense be infallible and incorrigible, but the expression of any propositions themselves, as items of knowledge, is mediate. Mediate knowledge presupposes many things that are not part of immediate knowledge, e.g. the meanings of words in natural languages, or items of implicit knowledge. Thus, mediate knowledge is always fallible and corrigible. This allows Friesian epistemology to accommodate a hermeneutic dimension of interpretation and reinterpretation, with the common sense limitation that the interpretations of synthetic propositions must be recognized as grounded by immediate knowledge in order to be true.
If synthetic a priori propositions are not grounded in intuitive immediate knowledge, where the ground need merely be shown ("demonstrated" in Friesian terminology) for fallible and corrigible justification, then they can only be grounded in non-intuitive immediate knowledge. Such a ground cannot be "shown." The difference between discovery and justification then becomes significant. Discovery is handled by Nelson's theory of Socratic Method. But while Nelson's theory of Socratic Method as "abstraction" is intuitionistic and inadequate, the theory is easily reformulated in terms of Popper's theory of falsification, which winnows out inconsistent items. Popper's theory of scientific method, where theories are imaginatively generated, may thus be coupled with the Socratic injunction, "Say what you believe," to recover what Kant called the "quid facti" of rational knowledge.
The theory of non-intuitive immediate knowledge frees the Kantian epistemology of synthetic a priori propositions from the narrow confines of the Principle of the Possibility of Experience and from vague appeals to Pure Reason as the ground of the Moral Law. Instead, independent axiomatic systems become possible for varieties of non-empirical knowledge, not just metaphysics but also the multiple value systems of morality, aesthetics, and religion. However, a difference remains, as follows in the next section, between phenomena and things-in-themselves which, among other things, limits mathematical knowledge from application beyond phenomenal reality.
Friesian epistemology is basically an internalist theory of knowledge. "Externalist" theories, based on some external relationship, like causality, to account for knowledge, are rejected on the principle that the difference between knowledge and opinion can only be distinguished on the basis of some internal evidence. No external relationship is available for internal examination as evidence for knowledge. On the other hand, Kantian metaphysics, as follows, holds that external relationships are internal in that the objects of experience are phenomenal contents of consciousness. Thus Friesian epistemology in fact can subsume externalist considerations within itself. (However, note well, the treatment in "Ontological Undecidability" and elsewhere shifts the meaning of "external" and "internal" so that Kant-Friesian epistemology is neither externalist nor internalist.)
Similarly, Friesian epistemology combines both the coherence and the correspondence theories of truth: the coherence of mediate with immediate knowledge, but then the correspondence of mediate knowledge to the empirically real phenomenal objects that are present in immediate knowledge. This avoids traditional criticisms of coherence, that it allows for no relationship to reality, since reality is in immediate knowledge, and traditional criticisms of correspondence, that it posits a ground of truth inaccessible to knowledge, since phenomenal objects are within consciousness.
Thus, on several fronts, Kant-Friesian epistemology passes over into metaphysical considerations.
Kantian metaphysics recognizes the difference between phenomena and things-in-themselves. Schopenhauer thought this was the most important thing about Kant's thought. Nevertheless, Kant's phenomenalism is often mistaken for some kind of subjectivist, conceptualist, or psychologistic theory. The key point about it all, therefore, is that Kant's phenomenalism is a theory of empirical realism, according to which we are directly acquainted with real external objects in space and time. Unlike the familiar case of Descartes, what Kant would call "transcendental realism," we are not merely acquainted with the internal and private contents of our minds, though phenomena are that too (see "Ontological Undecidability"). Instead, we are justified in our common sense attitude towards the world, whereby Dr. Johnson refuted Bishop Berkeley by kicking the table. This implies that the real objects of experience are present in our perception, and Kant's theory is that this is correct. Such a theory precludes the Cartesian threats of scepticism or solipsism.
On the other hand, there are things-in-themselves. Traditionally these could be interpreted as the "real" objects ("transcendental realism"), turning Kant's "transcendental idealism" into just another version of Descartes or Berkeley, raising the same classic Cartesian problems of knowledge, mind and body, etc. Schopenhauer realized the most clearly the mistake involved in that interpretation; and, since he didn't think that plurality applied beyond perceptual objects, he always carefully referred to the "thing-in-itself" rather than to "things-in-themselves." The scruple is not necessary, but it does reveal that things-in-themselves are not a parallel order of objects over and above phenomenal objects. They are just the transcendent aspect of those very same phenomenal objects. They are indeed things (as we see them) "in themselves."
The transcendence of phenomenal objects encompasses different things:
Kantian metaphysics, with some minor clarifications and modifications, thus accomplishes a great deal, especially in providing a sort of "phase space" for matters of value, although much the same thing had originally been done by Plato. See also "A New Kant-Friesian System of Metaphysics" and "Meaning and the Problem of Universals, A Kant-Friesian Approach."
Kant's desire to derive the ultimate principle of morality, and really of all value, from the pure form, universality, and rule making function of reason itself was not well conceived, successful, or persuasive. Nevertheless, his project can be sympathetically interpreted and reformed. The Moral Law, as a synthetic a priori proposition, actually cannot be derived from anything, let alone some logician's version of what reason is. Nelson was correct that Socratic Method would be the means to the discovery of such propositions, though, as I have noted, the logic of Socratic Method must be clarified through Popper's insights into falsification. The Moral Law, indeed, may be formulated rather like Kant's own "means and ends" version, though Schopenhauer claimed not to understand what this was supposed to mean.
The other problem with Kant's project was its moralism: The view that morality is ultimately the only form of value, which is implied by the idea that morality is the direct dictation of the form of reason itself. Following Schiller's denial of this, Nelson ultimately developed a complete theory of ethical "Ideals" that were not merely moral ideals. This kind of theory is here labelled the Polynomic Theory of Value, and is elaborated beyond Nelson to specify that there are six "domains" of value that are axiomatically independent of each other. This allows for a realistic view of aesthetics, as suggested under "Metaphysics" above.
A conspicuous thing about the lives of both Fries and Nelson was their political activism. In both cases, this was not always to good effect. In the long run, Fries may be said to have been on the "right side" in resistance to Prussian and Austrian Reaction, but this also involved a promotion of German racialist nationalism that ultimately very much became the "wrong side." Nelson, in turn, was forthrightly opposed to the nationalism that would eventually motivate Germans to draw much of Europe down into a living hell of tyranny, war, and mass murder; but he also mistakenly subscribed to socialist principles that helped promote totalitarian regimes and also introduced corrupting and dangerous influences even into the democracies, the consequences of which, with the election and reëlection of Bill Clinton in the United States in 1992 and 1996, and the return to power of the British Laborites and French Socialists in 1997, and German Socialists in 1998, have still not played out entirely.
The Friesian tradition, however, leads to classic and brilliant defenses of capitalism. Popper's understanding of falsification inspired his friend F.A. Hayek in his formulation of the principles of Austrian Economics originally developed by Ludwig von Mises. In retrospect, the Austrian theory that the free market serves to coördinate limited and diffused knowledge may be assimilated to a Popperian reformulation of Socratic Method, in that each is a means of dealing with our own ignorance, a self-aware Socratic Ignorance. Similarly, Nelson's suspicions of democracy can be set aside on the same principles. The defense of capitalism may also be assimilated to the Polynomic Theory of Value; for capitalism on the Austrian interpretation requires that the values exchanged in the free market be relative and different: Parties A and B exchange goods X and Y because X really is more valuable to B than to A and Y really is more valuable to A than to B. That is why the exchange takes place. Thus, the relativity of non-moral ethical value ("hortative" value here) is distinct from the absolute requirements of moral value ("imperative" value ever since Kant).
The Friesian tradition has long been playing catch up with Adam Smith, but fortunately, with F.A. Hayek, it caught up and went ahead. In the Proceedings of the Friesian School, Fourth Series, the tradition may now be fully integrated into the great heritage of Classical Liberalism. As Karl Popper and Julius Kraft moved the focus of the School to Britain, it is appropriate that the English language continuation of the School in this journal should more fully assimilate the Liberal content of the English tradition, which is at once so characteristic of it and at the same time so different from the hostility to Liberal principles that marked Germany and German philosophy in the days of both Fries and Nelson (e.g. Hegel and Heidegger) and even still today (when Heidegger has been turned into "deconstruction" and "post-modernism" -- both bywords for trendy leftism, as in the case of Richard Rorty).
Fries's view of religion had added an aesthetic dimension to Kant's moralistic "religion within the limits of reason alone." Nelson's associate Rudolf Otto, however, recognized that religion contained even more than this: The sense of the "sacred" or the "holy" was not just a matter of moral judgment, as Kant had thought, nor even also just a matter of aesthetic judgment, as Fries had added, but was special and sui generis in its own independent modality. The only argument Otto needed for this was a descriptive and phenomenological one based on historical religions. That God might ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, or that Jesus might take the sins of the world upon himself in the Crucifixion, or that Salvation might be by "faith alone," as separately taught by Luther and Shinran, are all aspects of religion that could not be captured either by morality or by aesthetics. The traditional response of philosophers, ever since Xenophanes and Socrates, was to ignore or dismiss them as immoral or unedifying; but this clearly fails to "save the phenomena." Only Otto, on the basis of Friesian epistemology and metaphysics, could realize their significance. "Salvation" as a religious concept, whether in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism, is independent of morality and aesthetics. Even in Judaism, "walking in the ways of the Lord," clearly involves obeying regulations for ritual purity and distinctive behaviors that cannot be given either a moral or aesthetic justification. While the bien pensants at the beginning of the 20th Century figured that religion would wither away in the face of scientific enlightenment, this did not happen; and at the beginning of the 21th Century the danger of religious fanaticism feeding large scale wars is greater than it has been since perhaps the Thirty Years War. While this has enabled frank atheists (e.g. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins) to again blame human evils on religion, they are in the awkward position of explaining why their alternative has remained so unpopular (or, for that matter, was associated with ideological mass murder in the 20th Century). Instead, people have understood all too well that a world merely of science, without religious transcendence, is a bleak Existential desert, devoid of meaning. With the addition of Otto and Hayek, the Friesian School hopefully achieves a broad, enlightened, and non-reductionistic approach to all the problems of philosophy and of the human condition.
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