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Lazzarone

zizek frames kritik as the struggle to think

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traditional policy debate = kant's 'private use of reason'; kritik debate = kant's 'public use of reason'.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=MiX7wK-csfY

 

@3m:45s, zizek says,

 

what should you do? you should do what immanuel kant called 'public use of reason' as opposed to 'private use of reason'. for kant, private use of reason is purely expert knowledge: some authority tells you, 'we have this problem'; you propose solutions. public use of reason is something more radical, where you don't just solve problems, but think about a larger scope of, first, is the problem itself formulated in the right way? is this the true problem? why do we have this problem? you know, you don't just accept...

 

zizek goes on to suggest that educational institutions are still important sites to lay the foundation for authentic revolutionary struggle. riffing on the examples of immigration and ecological crises, zizek argues that the task today is to fight the dangerous reduction of the public use of reason to an expertism which serves capital and the state "without questioning the basics". he contends that we must turn around marx's 'theses on freurbach' ("Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."), claiming that "in the 20th century we were maybe trying to change the world a little bit too fast; maybe it's time to interpret it more radically".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

http://www.cross-x.com/vb/showpost.php?p=1789956&postcount=261

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this is a very good framework argument, thanks alot. I wonder if he touches on it at all in his new book.

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this is a very good framework argument, thanks alot. I wonder if he touches on it at all in his new book.

He does, but not enough to matter, and I don't think enough to really cut cards out of it. I'll look when I get home, though I could be wrong.

 

The new book isn't very good.

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He does, but not enough to matter, and I don't think enough to really cut cards out of it. I'll look when I get home, though I could be wrong.

 

The new book isn't very good.

 

what do you dislike about his new book? I haven't read it yet.

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what do you dislike about his new book? I haven't read it yet.

I think it's unfocused. There's not a lot of meaty content for me to care about.

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well that book does appear to be the first one in which zizek has written about 'dark knight'. anybody wanna scan it into 'books & articles'?

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Sorry, but I haven't read nearly as much Kant as I should have as a philosophy major: Does this distinction between the "public" and "private" use of reason align with his distinction between dogmatic and critical thought? From my knowledge of Kant, it would make a lot of sense in that passage to replace "private use of reason" with "dogmatism" and "public use of reason" with "critique."

 

Then again, perhaps both would fall under dogmatic - rather than critical - thought.

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They are different. When Kant talks about "dogmatism" (especially in the first Critique), he is talking about earlier metaphysicians like Christian Wolff. This is a special use of the term dogmatic. He calls them dogmatic because they dogmatically insist that reason has the capacity to answer certain questions that Kant thinks it can't answer (what he calls the antinomies). So when you see "dogmatic" in Kant, you have to place it in that context.

 

There can be private uses of reason, however, by people who don't follow dogmatic philosophy. It makes sense to think of "private" reason as a sort of "deprived" reason because it has to submit to institutionalized authority (legal, religious, and so on). It does so when the person exercising that type of reason is acting in a particular capacity, such as a government bureaucrat or priest.

 

There can also be public uses of reason that are dogmatic. Kant thinks that there has to be a debate between dogmatic thinkers and critical thinkers, and this debate requires public reason. He thinks that the critical thinkers will come out on top because, well, he thinks they're right.

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Also, I'm not particularly impressed by Zizek's reading of Kant on this point. Onora O'Neill's Constructions of Reason makes similar, though I think better, arguments about Kant.

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They are different. When Kant talks about "dogmatism" (especially in the first Critique), he is talking about earlier metaphysicians like Christian Wolff. This is a special use of the term dogmatic. He calls them dogmatic because they dogmatically insist that reason has the capacity to answer certain questions that Kant thinks it can't answer (what he calls the antinomies). So when you see "dogmatic" in Kant, you have to place it in that context.

 

There can be private uses of reason, however, by people who don't follow dogmatic philosophy. It makes sense to think of "private" reason as a sort of "deprived" reason because it has to submit to institutionalized authority (legal, religious, and so on). It does so when the person exercising that type of reason is acting in a particular capacity, such as a government bureaucrat or priest.

 

There can also be public uses of reason that are dogmatic. Kant thinks that there has to be a debate between dogmatic thinkers and critical thinkers, and this debate requires public reason. He thinks that the critical thinkers will come out on top because, well, he thinks they're right.

 

This is pretty much on point. If you wanted to take a peek at a passage, I would suggest "What is Enlightenment?" (http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html)

 

Starting from "This enlightenment requires nothing but freedom--and the most innocent of all that may be called "freedom": freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters." to "It is worse when he debases his sovereign power so far as to support the spiritual despotism of a few tyrants in his state over the rest of his subjects."

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That's awesome, thanks for the response from both of you. I understand the very particular historical meaning of "dogmatic" and "critical", and I've read a fair amount of Kant. Like I said, I'm a philosophy major and I've read a lot of his writing, including "What is Enlightenment". My discrepancy is that his meaning of "critical" is in the concern with the subject itself versus the object of critique. To steal a quote from wikipedia:

 

We deal with a concept dogmatically ... if we consider it as contained under another concept of the object which constitutes a principle of reason and determine it in conformity with this. But we deal with it merely critically if we consider it only in reference to our cognitive faculties and consequently to the subjective conditions of thinking it, without undertaking to decide anything about its object.

 

It seems like the sort of "dogmatic" discussion you describe is in fact a "critical" discussion of what the object of knowledge ought to be. For example, "critiquing", as a verb, seems to be what he's calling for in this distinction between the "public" and "private" uses of reason.

 

I have to thank both of you, a lot, though, in indulging me and engaging what this might mean.

-Scott Koslow

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I went through the book again, and short of maybe a paragraph that I've missed somewhere, 90% of Zizek's application of Kant in Living in the End Times is devoted to Kant's essay "Perpetual Peace."

 

Also, the discussion of The Dark Knight is only a page. He then segues into a discussion of The Mask and the various remakes of I Am Legend. All of this takes place in the section titled "Hollywood Today," which I thought was pretty damn boring.

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That's awesome, thanks for the response from both of you. I understand the very particular historical meaning of "dogmatic" and "critical", and I've read a fair amount of Kant. Like I said, I'm a philosophy major and I've read a lot of his writing, including "What is Enlightenment". My discrepancy is that his meaning of "critical" is in the concern with the subject itself versus the object of critique. To steal a quote from wikipedia:

 

 

 

It seems like the sort of "dogmatic" discussion you describe is in fact a "critical" discussion of what the object of knowledge ought to be. For example, "critiquing", as a verb, seems to be what he's calling for in this distinction between the "public" and "private" uses of reason.

 

I have to thank both of you, a lot, though, in indulging me and engaging what this might mean.

-Scott Koslow

I'm confused by what you mean here. Kant's remarks in that quotation seem to be in keeping with the basic thrust of his general critical project and not all that out of the ordinary. Perhaps you could clarify a bit more.

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This may make me sound incredibly lazy, but can someone write down what Zizek is saying so that I can cut it into card? Right after he finishes saying what the OP posted, he becomes a bit incoherent. (Please don't post something about how I need to "flow", it would really be helpful if someone could do this for me).

 

Thanks

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in plain english, zizek is saying (for our purposes) that traditional policy debate has privileged a particular kind of reasoning - experts rendering judgments on policy problems. kant calls this (ironically) 'the private use of reason', and it takes problems for granted. say an extinction-sized asteroid is heading toward earth: this is a quintessential case of when expertise is most needed; we need to know how to stop the asteroid from hitting earth. now consider a different type of problem: say that the crime rate goes up. the number of criminals in society is not an objective fact, as an asteroid is. were we to repeal the anti-drug laws, for instance, millions of people who are now criminals would become citizens in good legal standing - but we couldn't alter our social norms and expect an asteroid to divert its course. policy discourse thus runs two quite different types of problems together, and this is why kritik debate doesn't stop at asking, 'what's the best way to solve this problem?', but asks, 'is this a real problem? is the way we're approaching this problem part of the problem?' - and thereby investigates the conceptual lenses through which we see the world. kant calls this 'the public use of reason'. it's "critical", while policy debate is "dogmatic" in this technical sense. such dogmatic behavior expresses itself most nakedly when one argues that kritiks are in the 'wrong forum' or that the topic should be taken at face value, with the framers' intent obediently observed. in contrast, kant argues for the "freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters". this means questioning the underlying assumptions of any and all accepted discourses and de-privileging the role of experts in deciding ethical-political matters.

 

educational institutions are still important sites to lay the foundation for authentic revolutionary struggle. [from] immigration [to] ecological crises, ... the task today is to fight the dangerous reduction of the public use of reason to an expertism which serves capital and the state "without questioning the basics".

 

and that's why this humble framework argument has forum-wide ramifications which outweigh illusory fiat-based thought experiments. pretty standard stuff, really.

 

 

i agree with maxpow that there are more erudite kantian scholars on this, but simplicity has its merits, no?

Edited by Lazzarone

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First, private reason is not defined by experts rendering judgments on policy problems for Kant. For example, Kant claims that a citizen can act in accord with civic duty and make public use of reason in a scholarly criticism of tax policy (as long as that person continues to pay required taxes). If your (and Zizek's) claim about how Kant defines private reason were correct, then Kant would not be able to consistently put forth that claim about criticizing tax policy. Private reason is characterized by a restriction a person has on their reason in virtue of an arrangement that person has with an authority or under a contract, and Kant thinks that these arrangements can often be legitimately enforced ("the private use of reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted, without otherwise hindering the progress of enlightenment"). One may disagree with Kant on these points, but it's quite clear that he is not opposed to private reason as such nor does he define it like you (and Zizek) are defining it here. What Kant wants, in addition to the private use of reason, is the public use of reason.

 

Second, as I noted earlier, the public use of reason and the critical use of reason are different for Kant. There can be public uses of reason that are dogmatic and public uses of reason that are critical (see above post). Again, "dogmatic" is a technical term for Kant that describes flawed epistemological position on metaphysical subjects (see Kant's discussion on the antinomies of reason in the first Critique for more on this). Because of this, your claim that "policy debate is 'dogmatic' in this technical sense" is incorrect, or at least it's based on a bad interpretation of Kant by Zizek.

 

Additionally, I think there is some faulty reasoning behind your rejection of "wrong forum" arguments on the basis that Kant called for "freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters." Having freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters does not imply having freedom to make public use of one's reason on those matters at all times, in all roles, or in all places. Again, as noted above, Kant writes that there are times when there can be legitimate restrictions on the use of reason: "Thus it would be disastrous if an officer on duty who was given a command by his superior were to question the appropriateness or utility of the order. He must obey." What is needed against "wrong forum" arguments is not Kant's quotation, but an argument that debate is a place for public reason.

 

I am not objecting here to the position that we should think for ourselves in such-and-such matters, question assumptions, interrogate experts, etc. I am objecting to the move to try to establish an expansive view of those positions on the basis of a flawed interpretation of Kant. If one wants to make those claims, I think it is more honest (or at least more accurate) to note disagreements with Kant, and then to proceed from there. This is why I think it's probably wise to turn to better readers of Kant (e.g., Onora O'Neill) than to listen to Zizek on this matter.

Edited by maxpow

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concede "a bad interpretation of Kant by Zizek" - or at least one that's over-simplified. as long as we remove any authority from name-dropping kant, however, i think much of the framework argument still holds.

 

that said, i don't think zizek or myself is guilty of restricting private reason to experts, or of rejecting private reason outright. i agree that the concept is broader, and perhaps better thought of as role-specific or functionary reason.

 

and yes, zizek probably reads his own ideas into kant a bit, but he's picking out those features which he hopes will help maintain a subversive edge to the concept. zizek views the project of protecting the public use of reason in light of everything that has happened since kant, and he also believes in reading the spirit of a thinker against the letter of that thinker's written body of work - or of being true to that in kant which kant himself tried to water down.

 

to the details, there are citizens and there are citizens: a citizen can still be seen as a functionary, and i think both kant and us communists would agree with adopting a more global perspective that's not limited to one's particular national identity. second, policy debate is 'dogmatic' in its insistent that "reason has the capacity to answer certain questions [...] it can't answer". in response to this self-certain policy-making/hammering disposition, critiques can be said to introduce antinomies (which is not to say that dogmatism isn't also a problem for kritik debate as well). lastly, debate does not occur "at all times, in all roles, or in all places", but typically at educational institutions - even the universities which zizek explicitly mentions as important sites for (what he takes to be) the public use of reason. when we limit criticism, we let creep in the suspicion that if critiques were allowed, it might expose the shakiness of our presuppositions. or the man himself:

 

reason must in all its undertakings subject itself to criticism; should it limit freedom of criticism by any prohibitions, it must harm itself, drawing upon itself a damaging suspicion. nothing is so important through its usefulness, nothing so sacred, that it may be exempted from this searching examination, which knows no respect for persons. reason depends on this freedom for its very existence. for reason has no dictatorial authority; its verdict is always simply the agreement of free citizens, of whom each one must be permitted to express, without let or hindrance, his objection or even his veto.

 

policy debate therefore depends on kritik debate "for its very existence". :)

Edited by Lazzarone

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My problem isn't with maintaining a "subversive edge" to the concept; it's misreading Kant—saying that his work or thought has a particular "subversive edge" it doesn't (though it might be subversive in other ways)—to give one's own ideas a bit of extra weight. I think it's silly for Zizek to misread an author and then to claim on his behalf that he is just "reading the spirit of a thinker against the letter of that thinker's written body of work." The "spirit of a thinker" seems to be whatever Zizek wants it to be, and I don't think that's a particularly good defense of an obvious misreading. The way to read the "spirit of a thinker against the letter" (though I think those terms are not the greatest) is just to make explicit the thinker's premises and then say that they lead elsewhere, but that plainly isn't what Zizek is doing here. He's introducing a new set of premises and definitions, and it's no wonder that he therefore comes up with a supposedly more radical conclusion! Zizek might do his sort misreading regularly, but I see no need to defend his practice of it just because it's his "style."

 

There's too much appeal to authority in the whole thing for me… Why not just say, "So-and-so said this, but I disagree with some parts but agree with others. Here's a better argument"? I don't need Kant or Zizek to be right to define my terms and then to make an argument that debate should be a place for public, critical reason (with those terms understood in a certain way).

 

I didn't claim that citizens cannot be functionaries, nor am I sure what impact adopting a global perspective would have. What I claimed was that there can be people—scholars or "experts"—who offer their opinions on policy issues, and, according to Kant, this can be a use of public reason, not private reason. If Zizek's interpretation of Kant were correct, this would be a plain contradiction for Kant. Now Zizek could offer his own definition of public/private reason and argue against Kant, but he doesn't and that's where my problem is.

 

Even if the two dogmatisms share certain features (i.e., not being able to answer certain questions), they are nonetheless different (scope of the questions, reasons why they can't be answered, and so on). I don't necessarily object to someone defining "dogmatism" more expansively than Kant, but that person should not pretend that they are just lifting the definition from Kant.

 

With regard to "at all times, in all roles, or in all places": My point here is not that debate shouldn't be a site for the use of public reason, but that Kant's quotation does not provide sufficient ground for an argument for it. For example, someone making a "wrong forum" argument can say, "I agree that public reason should be used in all matters, but not in all places. This is a place where a certain type of public reason should be excluded." That's consistent with Kant's quotation in the earlier post, and so you're going to need something more. That is, my point was that the use of public reason on all matters doesn't entail the use of public reason in all places/roles/times, and you need a separate argument to justify it for debate. Now, I don't think that argument is particularly hard to make, but it needs to be made.

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took some notes for a reply, but was wondering how this extrapolation struck you - from 'the monstrosity of christ', page 293:

 

This is why, with regard to the opposition between Catholicism and Prot-

estantism, I am effectively on the Protestant side. Recall the difference between

the standard liberal notion of "private" and Kant's paradoxical notion of the

"private" use of reason as religion: for liberals, religion and sate should be

separate, religion should be a matter of private beliefs with no power to in-

therevene directly with authority in public matters; while for Kant, religion is

"private" precisely when it organized a hierarchic state institution with

jurisdiction in public matters (controlling education, etc.). For Kant, religion is

thus much closer to the public use of reason when it is pracited as a "private"

belief outside state institutions: in this case, the space remains open for the be-

liever to act as a "singular universality," to reach the universal domain directly

as a singular subject, bypassing the frame of particular institutions. This is why

Kant was a Protestant: Catholicism, with its links between religious and secular

power, is Christianity in the mode of private use of reason, while Protestant-

ism, with its subtraction of the collective of believers from the institutional

"public" space, is Christianity in the mode of public use of reason - every

singular subject has the right to a direct contant with the divine, bypassing the

Church as an institution.

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Zing.

 

It strikes me as a more plausible view than the previous one. In this passage, "private reason" is more-or-less defined as reason that is subordinated to state authority, and "public reason" is more-or-less defined as reason that is not subordinated to state authority. That's a good bit closer to what Kant has in mind than the previous view we were talking about, though I'm not entirely sure that private reason is exclusively limited to subordination to state authority. The Catholic Church, in some ways, appears to act quite a bit like a state--even beyond the Vatican. It has canon law, complex bureaucracies, aid agencies, and so on; in the Vatican, it operates as a state complete with some force capacities. So, then, it seems like Zizek's comments about private reason and the Catholic Church hold to some degree in the contemporary situation; they hold in some historical situations where state and religious power were more extensively combined. (But they also hold for certain varieties of Protestanism, both contemporarily and historically.)

 

But I think that there are a number of problems in the passage. I'll present my criticism with the caveat that I have not read The Monstrosity of Christ.

 

First, it appears that Zizek is attempting to perform a sort of dialectical critique here. Note, for example, his use of the term "paradoxical" to describe Kant's notion of private reason. Teasing out contradictions and paradoxes is a pretty common technique for that sort of critique. I think there is the appearance of a paradox because of overlapping terms. Zizek uses two sets of terms in this passage: (1) the ordinary liberal senses of "public" and "private" and (2) Kant's technical sense of "public" and "private" as they describe reason. We might formulate the paradox something like this: public actors exercise private reason and private actors exercise public reason; the act of exercising reason is what makes them actors in the first place; therefore, we have public actors constituted by a private act and private actors constituted by a public act. (We might need to add qualifications to get it a bit more precise, but I think that's about right.) It's not at all clear to me that there is a genuine paradox in Kant's notion of private reason, even in this quite general formulation. If we add some clarifying mechanisms to the terminology, it's a bit easier to see why. Let's call the terms as they are used in the ordinary liberal sense (i.e., with relevance to the state) as public[1] and private[1], and let's call the terms, as they are used in Kant's technical sense as they apply to reason, public[2] and private[2]. We can reformulate the apparent paradox like this: public[1] actors exercise private[2] reason and private[1] actors exercise public[2] reason (a bit more precision would be needed to make this rigorous, but that's the summary of it). So, then, we don't have public[1] actors exercising private[1] reason as public[1] actors (we don't have to bother we the question of how could they be public[1] actors if their constitutive component--i.e., public[1] action--is private[1]). So I think that we can discount the "paradoxical" description Zizek offers.

 

Second, I think this sentence is slippery: "for Kant, religion is 'private'[2] precisely when it organized a hierarchic state institution with jurisdiction in public[1] matters" (adding my clarifiers). Perhaps in this sentence religion is private[2] in the sense that its officials exercise private[2] reason, but it's obviously not private[1]. It would be a little bit clearer to say that, "for Kant, religion requires the exercise of private[2] reason precisely when it is operating through public[1] institutions of a hierarchic state." So that's a bit of a quibble. But a more important one, I think, is that it's unclear just what "precisely when" is supposed to be doing in this sentence. Let's say that "precisely when" functions as a conditional, and let's use the clearer version of the sentence I created. In that case, we get something like "religion requires the exercise of private[2] reason if [religion] is operating through public[1] institutions of a hierarchic state." Now I'm going to agree with this, but I'm not sure that it can be what Zizek means. This is because Zizek's distinction between Catholic and Protestant Christianity is based on the fact that there is an overlap between religious and secular power in Catholicism and there is not in Protestantism. (For Zizek to make the distinction he attributes to Kant operative as a premise in his argument, he's going to have to identify secular power with the state in some regard, but that's left unstated.) But we can think of other instances of private[1] Protestant institutions where there is the operation private[2] reason: for example, a church hires a pastor and tells the pastor to teach according to such-and-such doctrine. But Zizek needs to exclude that somehow to make a really broad distinction between Catholicism and Protestantism. So we've got to have a biconditional: "religion requires the exercise of private[2] reason if and only if it is operating through public[1] institutions of a hierarchic state." But then we only get part of the Catholic Church--the Vatican State. Outside the Vatican, the Catholic Church operates as a private[1] institution, not as a state. In that case, Zizek's argument fails to apply to large bits of Catholicism (at least as long as he's using the biconditional, which he needs to distinguish Protestantism from Catholicism in the way he's doing.)

 

But then it gets a little more slippery. So, as I mentioned earlier, Zizek moves from "state" to "secular"… but doesn't Protestanism have as some similar sort of sway in "secular" affairs? Even if we just limit it to the State, the rise of the religious right in the US indicates some sort of overlap. So that's not quite a good distinguishing feature. But, even more broadly, Zizek claims that Protestantism does not have "the collective of believers [in] the institutional 'public' space" as does Catholicism. But wait a minute! In what sense is he using "public" here? Well, if we're associating public with the state, it can't really be that outside the Vatican (but, again, Zizek needs that for his argument); if we're associating public with reason, then it can't really be that, since Zizek denies that possibility for Catholicism. So, then, we get public[3], which can be characterized by instances of private[1] actors in private[1] institutions acting in a shared (or generally accessible; i.e., public[3]) sphere of discourse, belief, practice, and so on. Well, by this point, it seems like it's all starting to break down for Zizek. We've got private[1] Catholic actors participating in public[3] discourse in almost the exact same ways that he says we've got private[1] Protestants participating in public[2] reason. And that's seems about right. I think it's quite wrong to say that there aren't important parts of Catholicism, such as liberation theology, that are quite strongly characterized by the use of public[2][3] reason. We've also got Zizek saying that public[3] characterizes Catholicism when he really needs to have public[1] in order to get to the conclusion that there's private[2] reason subordinated to a public[1] institution.

 

But, uh oh, one more problem. In the last sentence, we've got the "public use of reason" turning into "the right to direct contact with the divine"… but what in the world does direct contact with the divine have to do with public reason? At the very least, Zizek doesn't appear to make the connection in this passage--he just asserts contact with the divine as some sort of use of reason; in the Catholic case, the contact with the divine is mediated by the Church and thus it's private reason; in the Protestant case, the contact with the divine is not mediated by the Church and thus it's public reason. Now this is altogether a new view that is no where supported by any chain of reasoning in the passage. Why should the directness of contact be the (or even a) determining feature for public and private reason? Even if an explanation can be offered, I certainly don't see it in this passage.

Edited by maxpow

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i appreciate that you interpret kant strictly, but i think you're interpreting zizek too strictly by reading exclusive clauses where there are none. sure, an expert can contribute their opinion publicly in a non-functionary way, but that doesn't reprieve *expertism* - the default authority granted to experts over what are essentially moral questions - of endangering the public sphere. the argument isn't that we can't listen to any experts. the argument is that their opinions should be given as much credence as anyone else's when debating topics which expertise alone can't decide for us. while i'm certainly not here defending 'productive misreadings', i hesitate to say zizek has been caught "misreading" kant, when we could take him to be saying something closer to 'you should do what i've drawn from what kant called the public use of reason' in saying, more concisely, 'you should do what kant called the public use of reason'.

 

My point here is not that debate shouldn't be a site for the use of public reason, but that Kant's quotation does not provide sufficient ground for an argument for it. For example, someone making a "wrong forum" argument can say, "I agree that public reason should be used in all matters, but not in all places. This is a place where a certain type of public reason should be excluded." That's consistent with Kant's quotation in the earlier post, and so you're going to need something more.

 

and a key problem with the excerpt i quoted earlier from kant to defend the indispensability of kritiks for policy debate is that kant wouldn't necessarily endorse the practical value of philosophical questioning which attempts to go 'all the way down' to our founding presuppositions, thus someone could argue consistently that kritiks in debate 'go too far'. ...but does this address the argument in the quote, or the author of the quote? should we be adding extra weight to claims simply because kant wrote them? do you think zizek thinks we should? and on what grounds can we accuse zizek of appealing to authority? if he's at fault for misrecognizing a concept, that's shoddy scholarship, but he's not necessarily committing a logical fallacy.

 

so when you ask, "Why not just say, 'So-and-so said this, but I disagree with some parts but agree with others. Here's a better argument'? I don't need Kant or Zizek to be right to define my terms and then to make an argument that debate should be a place for public, critical reason (with those terms understood in a certain way)", i'll try to sketch out a reason below, but why isn't the simplest explanation that he's unaware of your objections or has better reasons than i do for dismissing them?

 

for the record, although zizek said we ought to do what kant called 'public use of reason', it's zizek himself who makes the timely connection to educational institutions as still being valuable sites to preserve the practice. so even though the hypothetical argument you mention may be consistent with kant's quotation, it would contradict the advocacy of the world's leading public intellectual. =P

 

in any case, the above youtube video doesn't really serve as a good focal point for extended discussion, so permit me this excerpt from 'philosophy in the present' (page 71) - an interview book between zizek and badiou:

 

I'm tempted here to rehabilitate the too often lightly taken Kantian concept of cosmopolitan civil society. This concept, I believe, must be brought into connection with Kant's differentiation between public and private use of reason, whose particularity consists in running contrary to intuition: what Kant names the private use of reason regards the work of civil servants in the state apparatus. Intellectual debate, even when they are conducted in private, he calls on the other hand the public use of reason. What is Kant getting at? The private is for him, I believe, in the first instance the particular community rooted in a palce. Kant's idea, however, is that we as intellectuals should engage in the position of the singular universal; thus a singularity that immediately participates in universality, since it breaks through the idea of a particular oder. You can be a human immediately, without first being German, French, English, etc. This legacy of Kant is more relevant today than ever. The idea of an intellectual debate that breaks through the particular order belies the conservative doctrine according to which only the complete identification with one's own roots makes it possible to be human in the emphatic sense of this word. You are completely human only when you are completely Austrian, Slovenian, French, and so forth. The fundamental message of philosophy, however, says that you can immediately participate in universality, beyond particular identifications.

 

while i'm not sure what zizek's response to the points you raised would be, based on the sweep of his writing, perhaps he'd say that in order to maintain a subversive edge to the concept - that is, to make it cut against the grain of our society in a way similar to that envisioned by kant in his own time (or, even more cheesily, to 'practice philosophy in the present') - it's necessary to reconceptualize kantian universality. when discussing four possible antagonisms that are strong enough to prevent capitalism's indefinite reproduction, zizek wrote - http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2779:

 

It is, however, only the fourth antagonism, the reference to the excluded, that justifies the term communism. There is nothing more private than a state community which perceives the excluded as a threat and worries how to keep them at a proper distance. In other words, in the series of the four antagonisms, the one between the included and the excluded is the crucial one: without it, all the others lose their subversive edge. Ecology turns into a problem of sustainable development, intellectual property into a complex legal challenge, biogenetics into an ethical issue. One can sincerely fight for the environment, defend a broader notion of intellectual property, oppose the copyrighting of genes, without confronting the antagonism between the included and the excluded. Even more, one can formulate some of these struggles in terms of the included threatened by the polluting excluded. In this way, we get no true universality, only ‘private’ concerns in the Kantian sense. Corporations such as Whole Foods and Starbucks continue to enjoy favour among liberals even though they both engage in anti-union activities; the trick is that they sell products with a progressive spin: coffee made with beans bought at ‘fair-trade’ prices, expensive hybrid vehicles, etc. In short, without the antagonism between the included and the excluded, we may find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian, fighting poverty and disease, and Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist, mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire.

 

What one should add here, moving beyond Kant, is that there are social groups which, on account of their lack of a determinate place in the ‘private’ order of social hierarchy, stand directly for universality: they are what Jacques Rancière calls the ‘part of no part’ of the social body. All truly emancipatory politics is generated by the short-circuit between the universality of the public use of reason and the universality of the ‘part of no part’. This was already the communist dream of the young Marx—to bring together the universality of philosophy with the universality of the proletariat. From Ancient Greece, we have a name for the intrusion of the excluded into the socio-political space: democracy.

 

it'd be easy to argue that this excerpt demonstrates that zizek is opposing kant's concept to ranciere's, thereby showing that he has conflated the two concepts elsewhere. but note that word "short-circuit": it's only when we cross the wires between 'the part of no part' and 'the public use of reason', says zizek, that emancipatory politics gets accomplished. a classic example would be when a member of an excluded group takes the floor and speaks a singular-universal truth to those in power. not that this is a particularly new idea...

 

in fact, it doesn't seem very far from foucault's statement before the international congress at the united nations in geneva, july 1981 - http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:rXBOEuQvt_QJ:www.mail-archive.com/edebate%40www.ndtceda.com/msg09424.html:

 

Then who mandated us? No one. And it is precisely that which gives us the right to speak.

It seems to me we have to bear in mind three principles...

 

1. There is such a thing as an international citizenship which has its rights,

which has its duties and which implies a commitment to rise up against any

abuse of power, whoever its author, whoever the victims. After all, we are

all governed and, by that token, our fates are bound up together.

 

2. Because they claim to look after the happiness of societies, governments

arrogate to themselves the right to draw up profit-and-loss accounts for the

human misery which their decisions provoke, or which their negligence causes.

One of the duties of international citizenship is to reveal human misery to the

eyes and ears of government, as it is not true that they are not responsible

for it. Human misery must never be the silent residue of politics. It founds an

absolute right to rise up and to address those who hold power.

 

3. We must reject the division of labour we are so often offered: it is up to

individuals to think and to act . . . Amnesty Intenational, Terre des Hommes

and Medecins du Monde are the initiatives which have created this new right:

the right of private individuals to intervene effectively in the order of

international policies and strategies. The will of individuals must be inscribed

in a reality over which governments wish to have a monopoly, a monopoly

which we must wrest away from them, gradually and day by day.

 

(kant via zizek would replace this "right of private individuals" with the right to the public use of reason - an inversion that seems more consistent with the thrust of foucault's speech.) or take gordon mitchell's citation of habermas in 'argumentation and advocacy' in the fall of 1998 - http://www.cross-x.com/vb/showpost.php?p=1019101&postcount=1:

 

The undercultivation of student agency in the academic field of argumentation is a particularly pressing problem, since social theorists such as Foucault, Habermas and Touraine have proposed that information and communication have emerged as significant media of domination and exploitation in contemporary society. These scholars argue, in different ways, that new and particularly insidious means of social control have developed in recent times. These methods of control are insidious in the sense that they suffuse apparently open public spheres and structure opportunities for dialogue in subtle and often nefarious ways. Who has authority to speak in public forums? How does socioeconomic status determine access to information and close off spaces for public deliberation? Who determines what issues are placed on the agenda for public discussion? It is impossible to seriously consider these questions and still hew closely to the idea that a single, monolithic, essentialized "public sphere" even exists. Instead, multiple public spheres exist in diverse cultural and political milieu, and communicative practices work to transform and reweave continuously the normative fabric that holds them together. Some public spaces are vibrant and full of emancipatory potential, while others are colonized by restrictive institutional logics. Argumentation skills can be practiced in both contexts, but how can the utilization of such skills transform positively the nature of the public spaces where dialogue takes place?

 

For students and teachers of argumentation, the heightened salience of this question should signal the danger that critical thinking and oral advocacy skills alone may not be sufficient for citizens to assert their voices in public deliberation. Institutional interests bent on shutting down dialogue and discussion may recruit new graduates skilled in argumentation and deploy them in information campaigns designed to neutralize public competence and short-circuit democratic decision-making (one variant of Habermas' "colonization of the lifeworld" thesis; see Habermas 1981, p. 376-373). Habermas sees the emergent capacity of capitalist institutions to sustain themselves by manufacturing legitimacy through strategic communication as a development that profoundly transforms the Marxist political dynamic.

 

By colonizing terms and spaces of public dialogue with instrumental, strategically-motivated reasoning, institutions are said by Habermas to have engineered a "refeudalization" of the public sphere. In this distorted space for public discussion, corporations and the state forge a monopoly on argumentation and subvert critical deliberation by members of an enlightened, debating public. This colonization thesis supplements the traditional Marxist problematic of class exploitation by highlighting a new axis of domination, the way in which capitalist systems rely upon the strategic management of discourse as a mode of legitimation and exploitation. Indeed, the implicit bridge that connects argumentation skills to democratic empowerment in many argumentation textbooks crosses perilous waters, since institutions facing "legitimation crises" (see Habermas 1975) rely increasingly on recruitment and deployment of argumentative talent to manufacture public loyalty.

 

doesn't this passage resound with (what zizek takes to be) the conflict between the public and private uses of reason? and i feel this is what is concretely meant by 'the struggle to think' in debate today.

 

when you find foucault, habermas, and zizek making a similar point, you can bet someone big made it before them.

all are admirers of kant.

Edited by Lazzarone

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I think this "exclusive clauses where there are none" line is non-sense. Zizek says, "for Kant, private use of reason is purely expert knowledge," and this is false. People can offer expert knowledge as a subject and, according to Kant, this is a public—not private—use of reason. That's enough to show that this specific bit of work is faulty. It may be the case that there is a problem with "expertism," but that's not the argument Zizek expresses here. The only way I can think of to get to that argument is to read implicit exclusive clauses into the scenario derived from his definition (i.e., expert states a problem, you state a solution—and that's all you can do), but you've noted that reading exclusive implicit clauses into Zizek is a bad idea. Let's say that we've got a problem—there is a complex line in the tax code that makes taxes too high on the poor—and a tax expert shows why this is a problem, and then a bunch of citizens freely get together and propose a solution and publicize this solution. Is this a use of private reason? It doesn't strike me as one, and expert knowledge, in this case, was and contributed to the use of public reason.

 

In the Monstrosity quotation you posted, Zizek says that "religion is 'private' precisely when it organized a hierarchic state institution with jurisdiction in public matters." As I noted, "private" there could only mean private[2] (i.e., the technical sense of "private reason" in Kant). I'm skeptical of limiting "private" to State authority only, but Zizek relies on this link between the State and private[2] reason to make his point about Catholicism; however, in the earlier passage, he wants a really expansive reading of private[2] reason—one that not only applies to the State, but that applies to sundry experts and authority relations not necessarily backed by the State. These two definitions of "private reason" are quite inconsistent. Either Zizek has to give up one line or the other.

 

I don't even disagree with the claim that creeping "expertism" can be a problem for a robust public sphere, but there seem to be a few problems in laying that view at Kant's feet. In the preface to the first Critique, we even get a line like this: "[Examples and illustrations] are necessary only from a popular point of view; and this work can never be made suitable for popular consumption." So what's my point? My point is that one is going to have to depart from Kant in order to get the robust view of public reason that you want, and that it's best to make that departure explicitly.

 

Mikhail Bakunin made this point about expertism in 1882, and I think he makes it quite a bit better than does Zizek.

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting a single authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognise no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.

 

If I bow before the authority of the specialists and avow my readiness to follow, to a certain extent and as long as may seem to me necessary, their indications and even their directions, it is because their authority is imposed on me by no one, neither by men nor by God. Otherwise I would repel them with horror, and bid the devil take their counsels, their directions, and their services, certain that they would make me pay, by the loss of my liberty and self-respect, for such scraps of truth, wrapped in a multitude of lies, as they might give me.

 

I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed on me by my own reason. I am conscious of my own inability to grasp, in all its detail, and positive development, any very large portion of human knowledge. The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labour. I receive and I give - such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.

 

---

 

"Wrong forum": My point here was this: There is a premise of an argument in the Kant quotation about exercising reason on all matters, but it's incomplete for your purpose without other premises. Those other premises need to be supplied. So, for example:

Premise 1: People should exercise public reason if they are discussing an issue [i.e., in all matters a la Kant] in an educational setting that calls for free argumentation.

Premise 2: In a debate round, debaters discuss issues in an educational setting that calls for free argumentation.

Conclusion: Therefore, debaters should exercise public reason.

Something along the lines of that really simple sort of syllogism would have been sufficient. My view is that we should not read more into quotations than we can actually find.

 

----

 

On the last part, there's really not much of an argument for me to make. In the NLR quotation, we get Zizek issuing an explicit critique of Kantianism. Fine enough—he should have done it in the earlier quotation. One can agree or disagree with him on the matter, but at least he was more honest about "moving beyond Kant."

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since the original video has been removed, here's another instance of Zizek's idiosyncratic use of Kant's notion of "the public use of reason": https://youtu.be/H0uqUnOgwzI?t=6m31s; this Zizek advocates as a defining characteristic of intellectual life, as opposed to turning institutions of higher learning into "factories for experts".

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