Thinking the End in Itself: a Critical Study of First Principles in Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, and Kant
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What is truth? What is untruth? Or is there no truth or untruth? Is the mind trapped, as Hume concludes, between false reason and no reason? In my dissertation I show that Hume’s conclusion is inevitable only when we reduce moral reason, founded on the biblical ideal of love, to the law of contradiction and sense perception, the twin engines of ancient Greek teleology. To defend the above, I argue that there is no consciousness of either truth or untruth in ancient Greek thought. That is why its two greatest expositors, Plato and Aristotle, teach that human beings are ignorant of the end in itself, the highest good (or telos) that all men seek. For the end is, in itself, not relative (related) to consciousness which is not (the) good but to appearance only. The ancient Greeks, I show, have no alternative but to employ deductive logic and inductive logic as the indemonstrable bases of demonstration. This leads them into inescapable contradictions. Kant demonstrates that sense perception and logic are each worthless unless they serve moral ends. This insight, he shows, is biblical. “Christianity” reveals that the truth cannot be thought except as existing and cannot exist except in thought. For the “categorical imperative” to love your neighbor (the stranger, your friend, your enemy …) as yourself by treating her as you would want her to treat you, i.e., always as an end and never as a means, is a priori. This means, Kant sees, that there is no possibility even of thinking of anything that is absolutely good, in the world or out of it, except a good will. In the dissertation that follows I distinguish between two incommensurable ontologies: the ancient Greek, in which human beings are ignorant of the end in itself, and the biblical, in which the moral will is the end in itself. I show that to conflate these standpoints is to conflate reason with logic and sense, bad will (evil) with ignorance, and, in so doing, to create the contradictions that necessarily follow whenever we seek the truth in things that we cannot will.