The Transcendental Pretense

  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Metaphysics
  3. » The Transcendental Pretense

Get Email Updates Email this Topic Print this Page

Reply Wed 17 Feb, 2010 01:59 am
"Modern philosophy, particularly the modern philosophy of the self, for all its variations, may be summarized as an exposition and extrapolation of what Robert Solomon calls the "transcendental pretense." Solomon writes, "The leading theme of [the story of Continental philosophy after 1750] is the rise and fall of an extraordinary concept of the self. The self in question is no ordinary self, no individual personality, nor even one of the many heroic or mock-heroic personalities of the early nineteenth century. The self that becomes the star performer in modern European philosophy is the transcendental self, or transcendental ego, whose nature and ambitions were unprecedentedly arrogant, presumptuously cosmic, and consequently mysterious. The transcendental self was the self - timeless, universal, and in each one of us around the globe and throughout history. Distinguished from our individual idiosyncracies, this was the self we shared. In modest and ordinary terms it was called 'human nature.' In must less modest, extraordinary terminology, the transcendental self was nothing less than God, the Absolute Self, the World Soul. By about 1805 the self was no longer the mere individual human being, standing with others against a hostile world, but had become all-encompassing. The status of the world and even of God became, if not problematic, no more than aspects of human existence."


"The exalted sense of the importance of the self arose from the subtle shift Kant introduced into Descartes's proposal. In the Kantian system, the Cartesian self became not just the focus of philosophical attention but the entire subject matter of philosophy. Rather than viewing the self as one of several entities in the world, Kant envisioned the thinking self in a sense "creating" the world - that is, the world of its own knowledge. The focus of philosophical reflection ever since has been this world-creating self.
The universalizing of the self readily followed. Underlying Kant's philosophy was the presumption that in all essential matters every person everywhere is the same. When Kant's self reflected on itself, it came to know not only itself, but all selves, as well as the structure of any and every possible self.
The transcendental pretense evident in Kant's philosophy helped produce "the white philosopher's burden." Kant's presumption that all selves resemble each other led some philosophers to conclude that they should be able to construct a universal human nature. Even thinkers (like Kant) who never left their hometowns should be able to make authoritative pronouncements on human nature and morality.Waving or Drowning?: March 2004 Archives
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 17 Feb, 2010 03:00 am
@Reconstructo,
I am sure the transcendental ego is entirely real, but can't be the subject of investigation (because it is transcendental).

My hunch is that this came in via Schopenhauer as some kind of misapprehension of the Vedantic doctrine of Atman which was systematized by Adi Shankara. But as it was entirely divorced from the spiritual milieu within which it was intelligible, and through which it could be realised, it became pretty much what Solomon (whoever he was) said it was. Which is a pity, because it is a rejection based on a misunderstanding. At the core of it there is something very important but it is unlikely to be approached with a lot of sympathy by the typical reader.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Wed 17 Feb, 2010 02:10 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;129287 wrote:
I am sure the transcendental ego is entirely real, but can't be the subject of investigation (because it is transcendental).

My hunch is that this came in via Schopenhauer as some kind of misapprehension of the Vedantic doctrine of Atman which was systematized by Adi Shankara. But as it was entirely divorced from the spiritual milieu within which it was intelligible, and through which it could be realised, it became pretty much what Solomon (whoever he was) said it was. Which is a pity, because it is a rejection based on a misunderstanding. At the core of it there is something very important but it is unlikely to be approached with a lot of sympathy by the typical reader.


I can't help but embrace this transcendental "pretense." I've read a good book by Solomon and he's not really a partisan on the matter. He just wanted to find the essence of the Enlightenment. Or what he thought it was. The middle class used the notion of universal humanity to gain political ground, to create an ideology that made them equal to the nobility and the clergy. The pretense is a leveler.

But surely Kant, for instance, "caught on" because his arguments were strong. Not flawless, of course, but strong. It does seem that Newton was assimilated by philosophy. Man wanted a universal psychology, to match his universal physics.

I think the transcendental ego connects directly with Heidegger's Being. Consciousness is Being is "Nothingness?" (Written under erasure.)
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 17 Feb, 2010 02:23 pm
@Reconstructo,
However it is conceived, it sounds awfully like the soul.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Wed 17 Feb, 2010 02:33 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;129406 wrote:
However it is conceived, it sounds awfully like the soul.


It does. And at the same time like non-dual. Wittgenstein noted that likeness of naive realism and solipsism. If the self is the limit of the world, it is also consciousness and Being. Kojeve (my man of the hour, I know) also talked of this. Man is Time and Time is a nothingness carving history on space. But Time has to be understood in a Heidegger sense. Human time, where the Future takes precedence.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Fri 19 Feb, 2010 12:36 am
@Reconstructo,
You might say that the entire enterprise of Western Philosophy is grounded on a transcendental pretense. We assume that our vision of reality can be the truth for others. In general, philosophy has sought at least ethnocentric if not universal truth. And of course the "universal" truth of the Enlightenment has been accused of being a sneaky ethnocentrism.

If we wanted to extend this line of attack, we could say that philosophy, to the degree that it conceives itself as non-fiction aimed at listener, rests on a trans-personal pretense. We assume that our personal truth is bigger than us, that it should be exposed if not imposed on an audience/victim. Why is this a pretense? Do we "prove" anything? And yet we parade our personal visions as if they were universal. Just like I'm doing now.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 19 Feb, 2010 01:17 am
@Reconstructo,
well but it USED to be rooted in the vision of the Ancient Greeks (for example). There you had corpus of literature, speculation, reasoning, and so on, which has proven over centuries that it is indeed true for very many. What I am hearing in this post is the plight of postmodernism wherein the individual him or herself has to more or less invent their entire raison d'etre (or whatever). We are so much today islands of consciousness in the vast suburban sprawl. It is quite a predicament, don't you think?

I don't think we can re-invent ourselves so easily. My quest has been to find some truth that IS greater than my own machinations. That is what I have found in Buddhism and other types of Eastern philosophy. It illuminates some aspects of the Western tradition as well. But I am a refugee from secular modernism. I am happy to play a role in it, and adapt to it, but it is no longer my spiritual home.
 
Alan McDougall
 
Reply Fri 19 Feb, 2010 01:23 am
@jeeprs,
Can I add something?

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Transcendental_ego

The Transcendental Ego (or its equivalent under various other formulations) refers to the self that must underlie all human thought and perception, even though nothing more can be said about it than the fact that it must be there.

The notion of an Ego or self that precedes all experiences and makes them possible by creating the unity of consciousness has fascinated many modern philosophers. In medieval philosophy, the certainty of existence and knowledge rested on the certainty of God as the origin of all things. With the collapse of that certainty, statements based on faith in God came to be challenged as dogmatic.

The Ego, or "I," from which all experiences begin replaced God as the starting point of certainty. This transition towards the self did not necessarily mean that belief in God was abandoned. However, if God was still to be the Alpha and Omega of all things, this could only be acknowledge through the door of human consciousness.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Fri 19 Feb, 2010 03:07 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;129912 wrote:
well but it USED to be rooted in the vision of the Ancient Greeks (for example). There you had corpus of literature, speculation, reasoning, and so on, which has proven over centuries that it is indeed true for very many. What I am hearing in this post is the plight of postmodernism wherein the individual him or herself has to more or less invent their entire raison d'etre (or whatever). We are so much today islands of consciousness in the vast suburban sprawl. It is quite a predicament, don't you think?

I don't think we can re-invent ourselves so easily. My quest has been to find some truth that IS greater than my own machinations. That is what I have found in Buddhism and other types of Eastern philosophy. It illuminates some aspects of the Western tradition as well. But I am a refugee from secular modernism. I am happy to play a role in it, and adapt to it, but it is no longer my spiritual home.


Yes, I see what you mean. I think the necessity for self-invention is exaggerated. I doubt I would be capable of playing with such skepticism if it were 100% sincere. One is a man first, and a philosopher second. I think of the skeptic Hume who lay unworried on his death bed. He had faith that death was nothing. No proof, just faith. Skepticism is the toy of those who are well grounded, even if this grounding is sub-verbal or trans-verbal. This ties into the "impossibility of closure as closure" idea.

Also, I think the skeptic has never been answerable in the first place. From the beginning I think we humans have lived by faith. Some hate this word but oh well. They can find a synonym. We are not primarily rational but mythological animals. Something o' that!
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 19 Feb, 2010 11:51 pm
@Reconstructo,
I wonder about Hume. I think he lacks the very first quality I seek in a philosopher. He is exceedingly clever, but lacking in wisdom.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 20 Feb, 2010 01:48 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;130191 wrote:
I wonder about Hume. I think he lacks the very first quality I seek in a philosopher. He is exceedingly clever, but lacking in wisdom.


What is it he does not think is true that you think is true?
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sat 20 Feb, 2010 02:24 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;130191 wrote:
I wonder about Hume. I think he lacks the very first quality I seek in a philosopher. He is exceedingly clever, but lacking in wisdom.


I wonder if he had a sort of private wisdom, that he did not make public. He was well loved and a cheerful fellow, if memory serves. This always earns points with me.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 20 Feb, 2010 04:45 pm
@Reconstructo,
not saying he wasn't good bloke. He was also obviously brilliant. If one were debate him on his own terms, I am sure you would end up on the mat, every time. But to me it is the beginning of the sulfuric acid of modernist skepticism. Stripping away any sense of depth. But I have to confess something. As it comes across in the Forum, I have become something of an enthusiast (an amateur enthusiast, I will admit) for 'classic metaphysics'. Now probably if I had been of an earlier generation, someone who had all that material beaten into me by a school cane, I would hate it all, and love David Hume for liberating us from it. At the time he wrote his text, it was heroic in many respects, because the 'volumes of divinity and school metaphysic' that he consigned to the flames had become a suffocating orthodoxy. But I think the purgative of modernism has done its job. We have seen the world, shorn of all metaphysical depth and echoes of the sacred. Now it is time to look back again, and find out what those great traditions really did understand - and I am sure they understood something very important that we have completely lost. Hume can always win an argument because it has always been true that the metaphysical dimensions of existence cannot be demonstrated with reference to empirical experience. But I think classical civilization had a kind of compact, an implicit agreement, and a source of shared values, which provided a framework within which these subtle truths could be discussed and debated. Hume was at the vanguard of those who completely destroyed this agreement. Now if you stand up in a modern university and say any of the things we talk about on the Forum, you are laughed out of court. Hume has really held sway ever since in many minds and is a universal solvent for anything deep in philosophy. 'Bothered by metaphysical doubts? Spray it with Hume. That will dissolve the toughest stains.'
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sat 20 Feb, 2010 04:57 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;130394 wrote:
not saying he wasn't good bloke. He was also obviously brilliant. If one were debate him on his own terms, I am sure you would end up on the mat, every time. But to me it is the beginning of the sulfuric acid of modernist skepticism. Stripping away any sense of depth. But I have to confess something. As it comes across in the Forum, I have become something of an enthusiast (an amateur enthusiast, I will admit) for 'classic metaphysics'. Now probably if I had been of an earlier generation, someone who had all that material beaten into me by a school cane, I would hate it all, and love David Hume for liberating us from it. At the time he wrote his text, it was heroic in many respects, because the 'volumes of divinity and school metaphysic' that he consigned to the flames had become a suffocating orthodoxy. But I think the purgative of modernism has done its job. We have seen the world, shorn of all metaphysical depth and echoes of the sacred. Now it is time to look back again, and find out what those great traditions really did understand - and I am sure they understood something very important that we have completely lost. Hume can always win an argument because it has always been true that the metaphysical dimensions of existence cannot be demonstrated with reference to empirical experience. But I think classical civilization had a kind of compact, an implicit agreement, and a source of shared values, which provided a framework within which these subtle truths could be discussed and debated. Hume was at the vanguard of those who completely destroyed this agreement. Now if you stand up in a modern university and say any of the things we talk about on the Forum, you are laughed out of court. Hume has really held sway ever since in many minds and is a universal solvent for anything deep in philosophy. 'Bothered by metaphysical doubts? Spray it with Hume. That will dissolve the toughest stains.'


Well said. I also like metaphysics. Hume is a sort Flatland prophet. This made me wonder about his politics. Was he using skepticism against the ugly side of metaphysics/religion? Was religion his real target? Did he attack the rationalists in the name of the passions? Here's some info on his politics. He's a good figure to look at.
It is difficult to categorize Hume's political affiliations. His thought contains elements that are, in modern terms, both conservative and liberal, as well as ones that are both contractarian and utilitarian, though these terms are all anachronistic. His central concern is to show the importance of the rule of law, and stresses throughout his political Essays the importance of moderation in politics. This outlook needs to be seen within the historical context of eighteenth century Scotland, where the legacy of religious civil war, combined with the relatively recent memory of the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite risings, fostered in a historian such as Hume a distaste for enthusiasm and factionalism that appeared to threaten the fragile and nascent political and social stability of a country that was deeply politically and religiously divided. He thinks that society is best governed by a general and impartial system of laws, based principally on the "artifice" of contract; he is less concerned about the form of government that administers these laws, so long as it does so fairly (though he thought that republics were more likely to do so than monarchies).
Hume expressed suspicion of attempts to reform society in ways that departed from long-established custom, and he counselled people not to resist their governments except in cases of the most egregious tyranny[65]. However, he resisted aligning himself with either of Britain's two political parties, the Whigs and the Tories, and he believed that we should try to balance our demands for liberty with the need for strong authority, without sacrificing either. Neil McArthur (2007, p. 124) characterizes Hume as a 'precautionary conservative': whose actions would have been "determined by prudential concerns about the consequences of change, which often demand we ignore our own principles about what is ideal or even legitimate" [66] , He supported liberty of the press, and was sympathetic to democracy, when suitably constrained. It has been argued that he was a major inspiration for James Madison's writings, and the Federalist No. 10 in particular. He was also, in general, an optimist about social progress, believing that, thanks to the economic development that comes with the expansion of trade, societies progress from a state of "barbarism" to one of "civilisation". Civilised societies are open, peaceful and sociable, and their citizens are as a result much happier. It is therefore not fair to characterise him, as ****** Stephen did, as favouring "that stagnation which is the natural ideal of a skeptic".[67]
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 20 Feb, 2010 05:10 pm
@Reconstructo,
those last few sentences are particularly telling. I am sure David Hume contributed something very important to the establishment of democratic liberalism. Metaphysics is not egalitarian. It is naturally conservative and supports a hierarchical society of the type Plato idealised. But philosophically, where I think Hume has done really major damage, is in his attitude to causality. I am writing something up on that.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 20 Feb, 2010 06:02 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;130397 wrote:
Well said. I also like metaphysics. Hume is a sort Flatland prophet. This made me wonder about his politics.


You needn't wonder. He was a Whig, and he wrote the best known Whig history of England of his time. In fact, he was much better known as an historian than as a philosopher.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sat 20 Feb, 2010 11:19 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;130401 wrote:
those last few sentences are particularly telling. I am sure David Hume contributed something very important to the establishment of democratic liberalism. Metaphysics is not egalitarian. It is naturally conservative and supports a hierarchical society of the type Plato idealised. But philosophically, where I think Hume has done really major damage, is in his attitude to causality. I am writing something up on that.


Sounds good. And I think you are right on the money in this post. I know you're not a Nietzsche fan but this was a theme of his. He saw philosophers as ideally creators of values. Of course I think he overestimate the originality of the values he associated himself with, but that's another thread.

Esoteric knowledge offends the all-are-equal ideologue. The erosion of hierarchy -- that was a big theme for Nietzsche. Also for Blake: "one law for the lion & ox is oppression."
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 20 Feb, 2010 11:21 pm
@Reconstructo,
Check out this great essay

Nietzsche, God and Doomsday by Henry Bayman
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sat 20 Feb, 2010 11:31 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;130518 wrote:


I've just been skimming it. Seems to touch the essential themes. I would say it emphasizes the darker side of Nietzsche at the expense of the brighter. At the same time it notes his significance as a turning point. He smelled the fish that was stinking before the rest. Or before most.

I find Z to be Nietzsche least likable book. I prefer him as an ironist, as a critic of other philosophers.

Personally, I am happy without the concept of God, but I am aware that the Self archetype (one could describe it in other terms) is a battery that powers me, or a magnet that draws me on. Atheism is never godless. Man is never godless. Godlessness serves as a god. Humanism. Egoism. Etc. Permutations of the mask. It seems that some manifestations of the archetype are more personally and socially viable than others.
 
groundedspirit
 
Reply Sun 21 Feb, 2010 11:16 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;130191 wrote:
I wonder about Hume. I think he lacks the very first quality I seek in a philosopher. He is exceedingly clever, but lacking in wisdom.


Ok.........
And how would YOU define "wisdom" ?

GS
 
 

 
  1. Philosophy Forum
  2. » Metaphysics
  3. » The Transcendental Pretense
Copyright © 2019 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.03 seconds on 02/17/2019 at 12:37:38