Sunday, July 8, 2012

Beiser on some neo-Kantian and historicist dudes

From Brian Leiter's blog, I learned that Frederick Beiser has a new book out: The German Historicist Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2011). It looks truly great. Of its thirteen chapters, one is devoted to Johann Gustav Droysen and one to Heinrich Rickert (about whom, surprisingly, there are no entries in either the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Herder, Max Weber, Simmel, and Dilthey (among others) also get chapter-length treatments. A law professor, Marc DeGirolami, has a post about Beiser's book.

Beiser finds in this German tradition some intriguing anticipations of more recent Anglophone, analytic philosophers' themes. E.g., his chapters on Windelband, Rickert, and Emil Lask are relevant to some recent debates about normativity. (Beiser argued for the relevance of these neo-Kantians in an earlier article [2009].) I find especially interesting Beiser's characterization of one of Rickert's failures:
The chief problem with [Rickert's] theory ... is that it cannot account for how actual thinking conforms to norms, or for how we act according to norms in the concrete historical world. Rickert has to be given credit for seeing this problem; yet he argues that it is impossible to solve it. He not only admits but insists that reason does not have the power to explain the connection between the normative and the natural. He declares it an irresolvable, eternal mystery that actual thinking could conform to norms, and that moral purposes could be realized in the empirical world. (Beiser, p. 441)
Shades here of some of the problems that have beset recent philosophies of mind, such as Donald Davidson's anomalous monism, a similarity that seems closer when Beiser says (p. 407) that Rickert took natural laws to be applicable to each particular event but not to each property of each event. Unlike Davidson, Rickert's doubts about the completeness of natural laws with respect to all properties seem to have stemmed from doubts about the applicability of natural laws to qualitative properties. According to Beiser, Rickert took natural laws to capture only the quantitative features and to omit all "the intrinsic qualitative properties of a thing." (Beiser, p., 407)

In the chapter on Max Weber, Beiser spots another case of Anglophone philosophers re-inventing a wheel. He says:
The position Weber arrived at by 1914 was indeed well ahead of its time. Collingwood ... arrived at a position close to Weber's only in the 1940's; but then it had all the weaknesses of the early formulations of the doctrine of Verstehen that Weber had already seen and eliminated by the early 1900's. The rational core of Collingwood's theory was rescued in the 1960's and 1970's by Anglophone philosophers ... by using normative concepts akin to those Weber had already proposed in 1914. (Beiser, p. 514)


Anonymous said...

Droysen: a vastly neglected and underrated figure. I came across him some 20 years ago and was very impressed:

praymont said...

Thanks for the link to your Droysen post. I was drawn to him tradition after finishing my dissertation on mental causation. I grew more interested in mental explanation and saw that there were relevant debates in the philosophy of history and in the philosophy of the social sciences. This led me eventually back to Dilthey, and it was while reading about him that I learned of Droysen.

David Auerbach said...

Somehow I missed this post of yours until now. I really like Beiser's work and would love to read this one, since neo-Kantianism is an interest of mine in particular, but it's way out of my price range.

praymont said...

Yes, it is expensive. I used a library copy, but someone recalled it. Now I'm waiting for the paperback.