Exploring the World of Human Practice

Exploring the World of Human Practice: Readings in and about the Philosophy of Aurel Kolnai

Zoltán Balázs
Francis Dunlop
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 355
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  • Book Info
    Exploring the World of Human Practice
    Book Description:

    Aurel Kolnai was born in Budapest, in 1900 and died in London, in 1973. He was, according to Karl Popper and the late Bernard Williams, one of the most original, provocative, and sensitive philosophers of the twentieth century. Kolnai's moral philosophy is best described in his own words as „intrinsicalist, non-naturalist, non-reductionist", which took its original impetus from Scheler's value ethics, and was developed by using a natural phenomenologist method. The unique combination of linguistic analysis and phenomenology yields highly original ideas on classical fields of moral theory, such as responsibility and free will, the meaning of right and wrong, the universalisability of ethical norms, the role of moral emotions, internalism vs externalism, to mention a few. The volume presents a selection of essays by Kolnai, including his main political theoretical work, What is Politics About, available in English here for the first time. The second half of the book Kolnai's work is analyzed in a series of essays by eminent scholars

    eISBN: 978-615-5211-10-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Zoltán Balázs and Francis Dunlop
  4. About the Contents of This Volume
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    For some time now there have been a small number of Hungarian philosophers, historians and other academics who know something of the life and work of Aurel Kolnai (1900–1973),¹ but it cannot be said that Kolnai is as yet well known in his native land, despite the efforts of Zoltán Balázs, György Litván,² Endre Kiss and others. There is, firstly, the fact that most of Kolnai’s relatives and friends from his youth were victims, direct or indirect, of Hitler’s Final Solution, since his family was Jewish. Secondly, Kolnai moved to Vienna before his twentieth birthday, only returning occasionally to...

  6. I. Papers by Kolnai

    • What Is Politics About?
      (pp. 17-44)

      1. There was a time when “politics” simply meant the way a country is governed, or, as an object of study, the theory of the state. Today the discriminating usage of the intelligentsia receives full confirmation from the systematic disciplines, and there is a general concern for a sociology of politics. This is definitely not supposed to be about constitutional law, the art of government or reasons of state, but about the mysteries of politics in the most confined sense. Carl Schmitt, whose work² has become a model for the most recent studies of this kind, has even tried to...

    • A Note on the Meaning of Right and Wrong
      (pp. 45-58)

      Do we prefer, morally, the “high-principled” or the “virtuous” man: the scrupulous duty-performer of Kant or the Aristotelian virtuoso of “prudence” for whom doing the good has become “second nature”—who, in other words, is habitually pursuing “his” good in the perfect way that renders it identical with “the” good?

      No unequivocal solution is possible to this puzzle. Absolutely speaking, the second type of “good man” may appear preferable. For, obviously, he who does the good with ease, with all or most of his “inclinations”² harmoniously assenting to his course of action and participating in the tracing of his conduct,...

    • Erroneous Conscience
      (pp. 59-82)

      (a) On the common-sense suppositions that moral judgements are true or false and that, therefore, conscience can be correct or erroneous, whereas on the other hand it is morally right to follow and wrong to disobey one’s conscience, we seem to be faced with a paradox in ethics. That some kinds of conduct are morally right while some are wrongful and blameworthy is presupposed in moral discourse and in conscience itself (“I am ashamed of having broken my promise”; “My patriotic duty commands me to…”); yet if the agent is doing what he, in entire “good faith”, thinks to be...

    • Are There Degrees of Ethical Universality?
      (pp. 83-94)

      Moral discourse presupposes, and moral experience connotes, a constitutive reference to universal concepts as standards of morally right or wrong conduct, of duty and breach of duty, of morally good or bad conduct, intention, motive and character. This is inseparably bound up with the descriptive contentual or material element of moral appraisal (Hare)¹, as distinct from its prescriptive or formal element of pro or con appraisal, that is, the act of approval or disapproval, of commendation or condemnation. In other words, moral judgement cannot but imply a reference to universal concepts in virtue of its being judgement: that is, of...

    • The Concept of Practical Error
      (pp. 95-108)

      The concept of Practical Error (PE) is, on the face of it, nonsensical. Nevertheless, there are two reasons why it may be worth while investigating what it might possibly mean. First, the central position it occupies in Aristotelian ethics, which is bound up with the naturalistic confusion between a person’s good (i.e. what is good for him) and a person’s moral goodness: that confusion has something irrepressible about it, and, in however oblique and distorted a fashion, the Aristotelian doctrine may at least hint at a real problem and suggest one way towards its solution.¹ The second reason, unconnected with...

    • Actions and Inactions
      (pp. 109-122)

      Although my interest in this theme is primarily ethical, the theme itself is not. Rather, it has its place in the orbit of the “Philosophy of Mind”, or the “Description of Actions”, or again the “Logic of Practice”.

      By Action I mean what is usually meant by it. In recent philosophy much attention has been paid, and rightly so, to the ambiguities latent in the concept of action and, closely linked therewith, the element of arbitrariness inherent in our description of actions. As early as about the beginning of this century, the Hungarian humorist (later playwright) Ferenc Molnár makes a...

    • Agency and Freedom
      (pp. 123-142)

      Moore, in Ethics (1912), chapter VII, writes—if I understand him right—that our basic experience of free-will resides in our certain feeling, in regard to our past actions, that we could have acted differently if we had so chosen; more exactly, that we should have acted differently if we had so chosen, which precisely means that we could have acted differently. He adds the qualifying adverb “sometimes”; I think we may well say “always”, keeping in mind, of course, (i) that we are only concerned here with “actions” proper, as contrasted with involuntary movements, twitchings, starts, fits, etc., and...

    • The Indispensability of Philosophy
      (pp. 143-154)

      Man needs philosophy because he cannot stop thinking, just as the art of cooking is indispensable because he cannot do without food. In the latter case, the only possible choice is between eating well or badly; that is, his nourishment will depend on a culinary art that is rudimentary or developed, debased or perfected—not to mention variations naturally brought about by climate, custom and individual taste. Thus, the neglect of philosophy will not result in a simple, practical life deprived of a luxury which one might indifferently acquire or do without, but in philosophical error and a life subject...

  7. II. Papers about Kolnai’s Work

    • 1. Introductory

      • Kolnai’s Mature Political Philosophy
        (pp. 159-166)

        On November 25, 1940, Aurel and Elisabeth Kolnai boarded an American ship in Lisbon and set sail for the New World. They were to pass the ensuing four and a half years in New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I was”, Kolnai subsequently observed, “a misfit in America”, in part, no doubt, because he was so pitifully unsuited for gainful employment. Eventually he did secure some translation commissions from the Office of War Information, but it was largely due to Elisabeth, who sewed buttons on military uniforms, designed goods to be sold in handicraft shops, and laboured in factories, that they...

      • The Ethical Theories of Aurel Kolnai
        (pp. 167-176)
        JOHN D. BEACH

        Apart from those who knew him personally, it is doubtful that many attribute to Aurel Kolnai the importance that the penetration and fineness of his thought merited. To a degree this may have been the case because he lacked, by choice and by chance, an enduring group identity—doctrinal, ideological, cultural and national. Born in Budapest of Jewish parents in 1900, he was throughout the Great War strongly pro-Ally. Following the war he went to the University of Vienna, where he earned a D. Phil. from both the philosophy and history faculties (Schlick, Gomperz and von Mises were among his...

    • 2. Politics and Utopia

      • The Democratic Subversion of Political Liberty and Participation
        (pp. 179-192)
        John P. Hittinger

        Aurel Kolnai made a significant contribution to political philosophy through a series of articles in which he unmasks the ideological core of modern liberalism, retrieves the basic principles of an authentic “conservative” political philosophy, and defends liberty and constitutionalism. He fruitfully develops the notion of political “participation” from a metaphysical perspective in order to unveil those tendencies of democratic ideology which in fact subvert the possibility of political participation and liberty itself.¹ This metaphysical perspective is not that of an a priori system, nor is it a detached abstract system which he brings to bear on politics; rather, we find...

      • Liberty, Equality, Nobility: Aurel Kolnai and the Moral Foundations of Democracy
        (pp. 193-206)

        The Hungarian-born moral and political philosopher Aurel Kolnai (1900–1973) was among the twentieth century’s most philosophically minded conservative critics of “progressive democracy”. In his writings in political philosophy, he was an independent, even idiosyncratic thinker, indebted most especially to the broad spirit of classical and medieval thought, and to the phenomenological school’s desire to “let the phenomena speak”, to recover the “sovereignty of the object”. He particularly identified with “conservative-liberal” thinkers such as Burke and Tocqueville (and a host of lesser-known nineteenth- and twentieth-century critics of mass society) who recognised the ultimate dependence of modern liberty on premodern traditions...

      • Aurel Kolnai: A Political Philosopher Confronts the Scourge of Our Epoch
        (pp. 207-218)

        As early as the middle of the eighteenth century, it was possible for Adam Ferguson to write that we had entered “the age of separations”.¹ Ferguson’s is one of the first and most striking formulations of an idea that has become a commonplace to us, and conveys as much satisfaction as disquiet—satisfaction at the advance of knowledge, which makes possible the division of labour, especially intellectual labour; disquiet at the impossibility of a synoptic grasp of the scattered elements of human learning. There are many separations. If there is any that arouses more disquiet than satisfaction, it is the...

      • Aurel Kolnai and Utopia
        (pp. 219-230)

        1. The familiar criticism of utopias is that they are wildly impracticable; or, slightly more interestingly, that the pursuit of utopias, however wildly impracticable each utopia may manifestly appear, constantly deflects people into unwise, ruthless or extreme courses of action they might never, in the absence of utopian thinking, have undertaken. Thus Thomas Nagel, in his book Equality and Partiality, sees the evil of utopianism as the twin of the evil of hard-nosed realism.¹

        Kolnai would not have disagreed with the observation that the idea of something that is in fact impossible can all too easily have practical and sinister...

    • 3. Ethics

      • Aims in Games and Moral Purposes
        (pp. 233-250)

        In “Deliberation is of Ends”,¹ Aurel Kolnai argues against what he takes to be a fundamental doctrine of Aristotle’s ethics, that deliberation is of means, of means for the attainment of the supreme final end, which in turn could be glossed as happiness.² But there is no such final end. Deliberation is, instead, of the “conspectus” of autonomous ends that might be more or less permanently present in our lives.³ Concerning the ethical “side” of this issue, Kolnai claims that “morality turns on cherishing one sovereign right end”, that is, the virtuous man desires to lead a morally good life...

      • Kolnai and Kant on (Human) Dignity
        (pp. 251-266)

        The concept of human dignity is one of the most frequently used and widely applied moral concepts in contemporary Western political discourse. Rightists and leftists, believers and non-believers alike rely on it, on the assumption that its core is undisputed and commonly accepted by every mature human person. But a lack of dispute may well turn out to be a lack of reflection. In fact, the concept of human dignity is quite often defined and circumscribed, but the concept of dignity is not, though, obviously, the former concept must be derived from the latter.¹

        Kant’s contribution to making the concept...

      • Kolnai’s Dissertation Der ethische Wert und die Wirklichkeit: A “Completion” of Scheler’s Value-Ethics
        (pp. 267-280)

        Readers of Kolnai’s ethical writings cannot fail to notice the charge of “immoralism”¹ which he frequently levels en passant at various kinds of ethical Naturalists and some other kinds of moral theorists. This habit of Kolnai’s derives from his early conviction that ethics cannot be a purely theoretical activity. As he says in the introduction to his dissertation: “The man who tells me what is good awakens some of the powers at work in me and urges them on; in the last analysis he does nothing else.”² Then, in the “Concluding Remarks”, he argues that false theory and immoral practice...

      • The Nature and Scope of Ordinary Morality: Some Reflections in the Spirit of Aurel Kolnai
        (pp. 281-296)
        M. W. F. STONE

        After many decades of unwarranted neglect, the seminal ethical writings of Aurel Kolnai are finally receiving the attention they merit. Due to the selfless efforts and estimable tenacity of his literary executors, and the long-standing patronage of a select band of prominent thinkers in the field of contemporary ethics, Kolnai’s sophisticated body of work can now be used as a stimulus to further reflection on a broad range of topics of human interest. As far as the current orientation of moral philosophy in English-speaking countries is concerned, Kolnai’s salutary proposal that there is neither a pressing nor a self-evident need...

    • 4. Feeling and Emotion

      • Is Love Intertwined with Hatred?
        (pp. 299-312)

        In 1935, Aurel Kolnai published “Versuch über den Haß”, “An essay on hatred”, in the German periodical Philosophisches Jahrbuch.¹ The coincidence of author, subject matter, year and country of publication is remarkable in several ways. It is remarkable, to begin with, that two years after Hitler had been elected chancellor, a Jew² was able to publish at all in Germany—and not in some marginal journal but in what was, as it still is, considered one of the most distinguished philosophical periodicals. The reason seems to have been that Philosophisches Jahrbuch is edited by the Görres-Gesellschaft. It was the Catholic...

      • Kolnai’s Idea of Emotional Presentation
        (pp. 313-326)

        What I would like to gain from the brief study I am about to present is insight into Kolnai’s idea of emotional presentation. The expression “emotional presentation” comes from Alexius Meinong, whose work Über Emotionale Präsentation was published in 1917. However, I shall bracket possible questions about the relation between Meinong and Kolnai, and concentrate my effort on understanding the latter. My interest in Kolnai is part of a broader interest in cognitivist axiology and ethics, and my particular interest in the idea of an emotional presentation derives from a hope, so far encouraged, that it may be of help...

      • Aurel Kolnai’s “Disgust”: A Source in the Art and Writing of Salvador Dalí
        (pp. 327-332)

        In his essay “The Object as Revealed in Surrealist Experiment”, published in This Quarter (an English-language journal based in Paris) in September 1932,¹ Salvador Dalí compiles a list of propositions for new surrealist actions or “experiments”, and includes the following suggestion:

        Collective Study of Phenomenology in subjects seeming at all times to have the utmost surrealist opportuneness. The method which can most generally and simply be employed is modelled on the method of analysis in Aurel Kolnai’s phenomenology of repugnance. By means of this analysis one may discover the objective laws applicable scientifically in fields hitherto regarded as vague, fluctuating...

  8. About the Contributors to This Volume
    (pp. 333-334)
    (pp. 335-343)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 344-344)