Kantian Journal

2018 Vol. 37. No. 1

Kant and the Problem of Optimism: The Origin of the Debate

Abstract

Kant scholars have rarely addressed the notion of optimism as it was interpreted by the Königsbergian philosopher in the mid-18th century. The notion originates from Leibniz’s Theodi­cy and from debates over whether the actual world is the best of all possible worlds. The first of a two-part series, this article studies the historical context in which appeared Kant’s 1759 lecture advertisement leaflet entitled An Attempt at Some Reflections on Optimism. The study describes the requirements of the 1755 Berlin Academy of Sciences’ competition for a comparison of G. W. Leibniz’s and A. Pope’s systems and an assessment of optimism. Another focus is the philological difficulties of translating Pope’s proposition “Whatever is, is right” into the French language — which was part of the competition task. The author considers the ways the proposition was translated into the Russian and German languages. The article shows the contribution of Voltaire and his Poem on the Lisbon Disaster and Candide: or, Optimism to the post factum changes in the perception of the competition results and to the emergence of new shades of meaning in the concept of optimism. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 had a profound effect on Europe and on the perception of optimism and of the idea that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds. However, Kant’s epistolary legacy leads one to the conclusion that the philosopher examined the problem in the framework of a polemic on Crusian philosophy. This article presents Crusius’s arguments against the theory that this is the best of all possible worlds and in favour of the theory that there are several good worlds. God’s choice of the actual world owes therefore to the freedom of contradiction (libertas contradictionis) and to the freedom of contrariety (libertas contrarietatis), which are eliminated in the teaching of optimism.

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Consequences and Design in General and Transcendental Logic

Abstract

In this article, I consider Kant’s dichotomy between general and transcendental logic in light of a retrospective reconstruction of two approaches originating in 14th century scholasticism that are used to demarcate formal and material consequences. The first approach (e. g., John Buridan, Albert of Saxony, Marsilius of Inghen) holds that a consequence is formal if it is valid — because of its form only — for any matter. Since the matter of a consequence is linked to categorematic terms, its formal validity is defined as being invariant under substitutions for such terms. According to the second approach (e. g., Richard Billingham, Robert Fland, Ralph Strode, Richard Lavenham), the validity of a formal consequence stems from the formal understanding of the consequent in the consequence’s antecedent. I put forward the hypothesis that in his logical taxo­nomy, Kant attempted to reconcile the substitutional interpretation of formal consequences and a formal analysis of the transcendental relations of objects of experience. However, if we interpret the limi­tations imposed by transcendental logic on the power of judgement in the spirit of the scholastic ontology of transcendental relations, it would contradict Kant’s critique of dogmatic ontology. Following in Luciano Floridi’s path, I thus propose to consider transcendental logic, not as a system of consequences equipped with ontologically grounded transcendental limitations, but rather as the logic of design. The logic of design has the benefit of enriching traditional logical tools with a series of notions borrowed primarily from computer programming. A conceptual system designer sets out feasibility requirements and defines a system’s functions that make it possible to achieve the desired outcome using available resources. Kant’s project forbids a dogmatic appeal to the transcendental relations and eternal truths of scholasticism. However, the constitutive nature of the rules of transcendental logic in regard to the power of judgement precludes the pluralism of conceptual systems that can be interpreted within possible experience. Thus, the optimisation problem of finding the best conceptual design from all feasible designs is beyond the competence of transcendental logic.

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