God the Postulate

March 13, 2009

Okay, so I looked at the paper that I wrote for Vernon the other day and can now report back on the 2 forms of freedom that Kant talks about. The first is negative freedom. This freedom is attached to the letter-writing example, i.e. even if you do write a letter to condemn someone to save your own life, you very well could not right that letter. That is, you could go against your natural inclination to save your skin and refuse to right the letter. This is freedom from the noumenal as the realm of causality. The second, positive,freedom is the positing of a universal maxim – i.e. the ability to come up with a moral law that (attempts to) conform to the categorical imperative. Positively defined freedom is the ability of any rational will “to determine their causality by the representation of rules” and to act upon them (CoPrR, 29).

So, as SB was saying, this second freedom is probably linked to the supposed freedom of one who has acted. I.e. at some point there must have been a ‘primal choice’ made which can be read into your present actions.

Another thing I found that I had forgotten about is that Kant talks about Freedom as an historical development, and he starts with the Greeks – more specifically, the stoics. Kant argues that the stoics were able to conceive of freedom, but they did so without being able to include happiness (read: pleasure). So, the stoics had to be free but not happy, and held themselves to be divinities beyond contentment. It’s Kant’s contention that the question of pleasure is only able to come into contact with the question of freedom with the advent of Christianity – i.e. the ability to posit a noumenal cause for the world in place of us (i.e. God) as well as an infinite soul and heaven. The Lacanian overtones here are clear: God, the soul and heaven are postulates (and not fundamental concepts) that support the will to be ethical (i.e. the freedom of positing a universal moral law) and enable us to both be ethical and have pleasure (read: enjoyment).

Here’s the summary I wrote in my paper:

There is in the end one categorical imperative and three postulates: immortality, freedom and God. The postulate of freedom is the necessary supposition of independence from the sensible world (negative freedom) as well as the capacity to determine the will through the moral law (positive freedom) (Kant, 110). The will and the moral law consequently imply each other. The postulates of God and the immortal soul are also necessary: Kant defines a postulate as “attached inseparably to an a priori unconditionally valid practical law“, and so those of God and the immortal soul cannot be left aside (Kant, 102).

I wish I could remember Hegel’s critique of this, but instead I’ll say this: It seems to me that the end of analysis would look like a dialectical return to the stoics – i.e. we don’t need a God/Other; the divine is returned to the human (Christ); we are then free to ‘not enjoy’…


5 Responses to “God the Postulate”

  1. beyondthephallus said

    BG, you wrote in your first paragraph here, “this is freedom from the noumenal as the realm of causality.” Did you mean this is freedom from the phenomenal as the realm of causality. I’m assuming that you meant this instead, unless I’m missing something, since in the part of your essay you posted you wrote, “The postulate of freedom is the necessary supposition of independence from the sensible world (negative freedom) as well as the capacity to determine the will through the moral law (positive freedom).” This sounds right on to me. The negative aspect of freedom is freedom from the causality of the sensible phenomenal realm, while there is also a positive aspect of what constitutes, conditions, or grounds this freedom from causality, or freedom from conditions altogether – hence the unconditioned noumenal realm. The positive aspect of the free will is in its access to the noumenal realm that provides knowledge of the moral law. This goes nicely with what was posted previously about the two ‘I’s in Descartes ‘I think therefore I am’ – “one is the void of the subject, the other covers this void. Z’s argument is that Kant’s take on Descartes opens up the possibility of approaching the empty subject, but quickly covers it up again…”

    So freedom is grounded in the noumenal realm as distinct and free from natural necessity, and which posits a law, and it also involves, and applies to, the phenomenal realm, specifically the will, which is also within the realm of phenomenal causality. So I guess then that the will has both phenomenal and noumenal aspects to it, if the freedom that conditions it (as the possibility of being self-caused) has both of these aspects. (I’m thinking of Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals when I refer to the will causing itself). I guess it doesn’t make sense though to say that the freedom “has” a phenomenal aspect, but rather that freedom, as the form of the law, “applies” to the phenomenal realm. There still might be a better, or rather, a more Kantian way of putting this. It helps me learn this stuff by writing it out like this.

  2. beyondthephallus said

    Second line of thought, or circle, or maybe a square… This is just something I was left wondering after Vernon’s class last week that I invite anyone with a thought on to respond to…
    Why is immortality one of the three postulates? (funny parapraxis: when I first wrote this out I wrote immorality here instead of immortality). Freedom and God as practical postulates make more sense to me, and seem sufficient unto themselves in providing the support for an ethical will. I can understand how the categorical imperative and the “endless progress” Kant speaks of in the CoPR require the postulate of freedom to cause oneself, to be conditioned by nothing phenomenal when thinking the moral law. I can also get why we should postulate God, i.e. something that is perfectly “holy” or perfectly identifies with the noumenal realm and the law, which humans as finite beings cannot do, or we’d become puppets, robots, etc. Some quotes to elaborate:
    “The holiness of will is nevertheless a practical idea, which must necessarily serve as a model to which all finite rational beings can only approximate without end and which the pure moral law, itself called holy because of this, constantly and rightly holds before their eyes; the utmost that finite practical reason can effect is to make sure of this unending progress of one’s maxims toward this model and of their constancy in continual progress, that is, virtue; and virtue itself, in turn, at least a naturally acquired ability, can never be completed…” (p.30 CoPR).
    “This endless progress is, however, possible only on the presupposition of the existence and personality of the same rational being continuing endlessly (which is called the immortality of the soul). Hence the highest good is practically possible only on the presupposition of the immortality of the soul, so that this, as inseparably connected with the moral law, is a postulate of pure practical reason…” (p.102 CoPR).
    I can’t seem to wrap my head around why we must presuppose the existence of the “same” being continuing endlessly. The combination of freedom and God as postulates seems sufficient for “endless progress” – we’d have a direction, or knowledge of perfect “holiness” and the “highest good” while having the free will to attempt to actualize this is the phenomenal world. So why do we need to postulate that we have within each of us a noumenal aspect that continues disembodied after death, i.e. an immortal soul. BG, you mentioned in a previous post how heaven is the place where the soul gets to continue the work. Can you speculate on why Kant thinks we need to imagine this? Why can’t we just think that other wills will continue the work, on the basis of the freedom and God postulates? Are these two postulates not enough to “support the will to be ethical”?
    I think the answer to these questions might be something like: postulating the immortal soul is the only way to suppose that we have access to the noumenal realm at all. And if this aspect of us died with our bodies then it would never have been properly noumenal in the first place. Any thoughts?

    Perhaps this relates to the “paradox of the authentic Kantian position” that Z refers to in chapter 2 of Ticklish. BG, this passage might help with remembering Hegel’s criticism of Kant. On p.97-98 of the new edition (last paragraph before ‘the speculative identity’), Z writes:

    “What Hegel criticizes as inconsistencies (the fact that Kant’s moral theory posits the necessity of ethical activity, while simultaneously making a true ethical act impossible to accomplish, etc.) is precisely the paradox of the authentic Kantian position… The Hegelian answer to this would be: true, but Kant is not able to acknowledge, to state openly these paradoxes that provide the very core of his philosophical edifice, and far from adding anything to Kant (say, the ‘higher’ capacity of Reason that is able to move beyond the Kantian opposites of noumenal and phenomenal, of freedom and necessity, etc.), Hegel’s critique simply openly states and assumes the paradoxes constitutive of Kant’s position.”

    I’m not sure what this means for understanding Z’s chapter on Hegel, or Hegel himself, but it directly states the paradox of Kant as the necessity of ethical activity met with the impossibility of this being realized – which points to the problem with the phenomenal/noumenal division, i.e. how freedom and the will can be posited as both, and yet never fully in either one – which, from my reading, is the contradiction that Hegel takes up in the Phenomenology.

  3. battleofthegiants said

    “I can’t seem to wrap my head around why we must presuppose the existence of the ‘same’ being continuing endlessly.” – I think it is related to the idea of pleasure (happiness)- i.e. I get to continue my work in heaven so that I get to enjoy the pleasure of having completed my moral duty: it assumes a non-Humean (i.e. Cartesian) subject.

    (I don’t know much about all that, but Vernon insists that Kant found the solution to the antinomy of Empiricism and Rationalism and their perspectives on what it was to be a subject…which is why Zizek doesn’t talk of a strictly Cartesian subject, but Kant and Hegel’s versions of it. I’m pretty in the dark on that stuff though, to the extent that I don’t even know if any of these three (beyond Hegel) actually use the word ‘subject’!)

    When I took Vernon’s class it occurred to me, too, that other wills could continue the work of morality (and not ethics – that’s Lacan’s take on it, and to which Hegel dedicates a different moment of his dialectic.) i.e. your children as your soul, a ‘great historian’ who would write your people’s history when you’re all dead as God, the socialist utopia as heaven, where all your children get to bask in the light of dis-alienation… The logic remains the same, however, and is still based on a belief in the noumenal – i.e. the relation between pleasure and ethics is misconceived as a moral task…

    I.e. ethics is taking a personal, pathological element and refusing to give up on it to the detriment of the rest of the social world and its mores, while morality is concerned with the maintenance of the moral community (think of Kant’s examples: not going to a bordello, not telling lies about your fellow citizens, the existence of banks predicated on everyone being honest…)



  4. battleofthegiants said

    And I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be “noumenal” and not “phenomenal” – (“this is freedom from the noumenal as the realm of causality.”) Zizek brings it up in several places, writing that if we were directly motivated by the noumenal we would be merely puppets of God, and not free…

    But I might be wrong. I haven’t read the CPrR in a while… but I sent you my paper. Maybe it’s clearer in there.

    • sonnyburnett said

      Boy, you two are at work here!

      Two thoughts come to mind: Z’s logic calls for conceiving Transcendental Freedom as neither in the phenomenal nor the noumenal realm. He says that Kant’s philosophy not only calls for this, but that Kant himself knew this, but couldn’t completely embrace it, so his works are peppered with statements that implicitly & at times explicitly place Trans Freedom in the noumenal realm.

      The other thought is that the postulate of immortality must necessarily be thought together with the postulate of God, when thinking about the highest good. Sure, we postulate the immortality of the soul so as to give us the idea of the possibility of an infinte progress toward the highest good (I think of an asymptote to conceptualize this). But even with an infinite soul, we’ll never get access to the highest good. What makes it possible is from God’s point of view – from His perspective, that infinite progess can be conceived as a whole.

      These two postulates have to be linked to the regulative ideas, which show that while Understanding cannot see the entire picture, it can do so thru Reason (ie, ‘the way the Understanding sees itself being seen by Reason,’ just like with the Ego-ideal, where it is ‘the way I see the Other seeing me’). This scenerio, by which the Understanding is busy with creating concepts & never able to see the totality it builds, but is nevertheless able to from the point of view of reason, becomes personified with the two postulates. The subject is busy striving for the highest good, never seeing the resultant totality it is building, but is able to do so by postulating someone who can: God.

      The immortality of the soul (really based on the immortality of the body – think of the Sadean fantasy) places time & space outside of time and space and it does so precisely thru this postulate of God. They have to be thought together.

      Sorry if these two thoughts are obvious or that you both implied them in your discussion – I only had time to scan quickly & picked up on two signifiers (Kantian freedom and immortality) & vomitted forth what I can recall is the Zizekian take on them.

      I’ve saved a copy of this discussion on a memory stick (i’m in the public library) and will take a closer look when I get home. I love this stuff!

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