Heraclitean Critique of Kantian and Enlightenment Ethics Through the Fijian ethos

Cosmos and History 12 (1):143-165 (2016)
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Kant makes a much-unexpected confession in a much-unexpected place. In the Criticism of the third paralogism of transcendental psychology of the first Critique Kant accepts the irrefutability of the Heraclitean notion of universal becoming or the transitory nature of all things, admitting the impossibility of positing a totally persistent and self-conscious subject. The major Heraclitean doctrine of panta rhei makes it impossible to conduct philosophical inquiry by assuming a self-conscious subject or “I,” which would potentially be in constant motion like other thoughts. For it rules out the possibility of completely detached reasoning which necessitates an unchanging state of mind. In this paper, Kaplama uses panta rhei to critically examine the philosophical shortcomings and contradictions of Kantian and Enlightenment ethics. In his examination, he specifically focuses on the teleological nature of Kant’s principle of freedom and ideal of moral autonomy which have dominated the Enlightenment thought. By doing so, he argues that it is essentially inaccurate to posit Überlegenheit (the state of being superior to nature) as the foundation of philosophical inquiry mainly because this would contradict the Enlightenment’s claim to constitute a rupture from classic and medieval metaphysics and would render Enlightenment a mere extension of Christian metaphysics. As in Christianity, Überlegenheit presupposes two separate realms, the actual (contingent) and ideal (pure) realms of thought and assumes that the transcendence commences from the level of the late metaphysical/teleological construction of the ‘subject’ who is completely persistent, self-conscious and immune to change. He then substantiates these points with reference to the philosophical roots of ethnic prejudice displayed by the post-Enlightenment colonialists and the missionaries in Fiji and the Pacific. This brief critical examination of the post-Enlightenment ethnocentrism will be conducted under the following three points: a) On the Enlightenment’s teleological and universalistic understanding of humanity and the concept of progress versus the Fijian concepts of the continuity of life, regeneration, and reproduction b) On the Enlightenment’s ideal of the free-willing and independent individual subject versus the Fijian ideas of 'the cord', reciprocity, and vanua, and c) On the Enlightenment’s (and Christianity’s) strict dualism between physics and metaphysics, nature and human mind, body and soul versus the Fijian bio-centrism, the sanctity of vanua and the cosmological concept of mana.

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Erman Kaplama
Yasar University

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References found in this work

Kant and the exact sciences.Michael Friedman - 1992 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
The birth of tragedy.Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche - 1872 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Oscar Levy & William A. Haussmann.
Enlightenment.William Bristow - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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