Outline of a Critical-Realist Philosophy
Ulrich Walter Diehl
1. Philosophy – according to its original European paradigms – is a Socratic discipline, i.e. a mostly cognitive, reflective, dialectic, communicative and cooperative search for the truth about human beings, about their place in the universe and about the meaning of life. Since human beings do not only ask factual and scientific questions, but also aesthetic and ethical, legal and political, philosophical and religious questions, the truth that philosophers are striving for cannot be understood only in a narrow positivist manner, but must encompass all important human affairs. Therefore, philosophy can also be a preparation of faith in God (preambula fidei) for all men and woman consciously or unconsciously seeking God.
2. My approach to philosophy is critical in a Kantian sense, i.e. neither sceptic in denying the possibility of achieving objective knowledge about human beings and the world nor dogmatic starting from metaphysical beliefs about God, the soul and the world. Philosophy attempts to be compatible with scientific methods as much as possible. Nevertheless, philosophy is a cognitive enterprise sui generis and cannot be reduced to any formal, empirical or theoretical science. Furthermore, philosophy is primarily methodological and holistic in an Hegelian sense, i.e. philosophy is neither basically or primarily logics nor semantics nor epistemology nor transcendental analysis or transcendental phenomenology, but based on complex and manifold reflections involving logical, semantic, cognitive, epistemological, phenomenological, pragmatic, ontological and metaphysical reflections.
3. Philosophy is the opposite of any ideology as a non-dialectic way of thinking about human beings, their place in the universe and about the meaning of life being based on prejudice, overly simple or even false principles. Philosophy is a rigorous and a self-critical common search for objective truth and self-evident principles. Therefore,
it is more than just a personal or common world view (Weltanschauung), but a common intellectual inquiry searching for insights into the basic structures of the human mind and for some self-transcendent understanding of the most fundamental ontological structures of the world. Unlike the adherents of ideologies, philosophers accept cognitive aporias (sokratische Unwissenheit), even as they seek some reliable synthetic conceptions and synoptic models nevertheless.
4. Philosophy cannot be satisfied with theoretical philosophy alone, but must also compass practical and even poietical philosophy as well, as at first suggested and realized by Aristotle. Neither can practical philosophy be reduced to theoretical philosophy as in some forms of pre-Socratic metaphysics or as in some modern forms of positivism and naturalism, phenomenology or existentialism. Nor can theoretical philosophy be reduced to practical philosophy as in some forms of pragmatism. Finally, poietic philosophy cannot be reduced to either of them because it is unifying theoretical knowledge and practical insights by creating new artefacts, events and processes in complex situations and structures of the world (Lebenswelt).
5. Any philosophy necessarily starts with one's own personal existence in the common world of everyday life, and therefore starts with common sense, but it is not dogmatic in defending it only, because common sense is always formed and partially distorted by some blind spots and inadequacies of the spirit of the time (Zeitgeist). My approach is Kantian in the sense that philosophy cannot be satisfied with making explicit the implicit assumptions of common sense only, but it is anti-Hegelian in the sense that philosophy is neither merely an expression of the spirit of the time (Zeitgeist) nor the last culmination of the spirit of the world (Weltgeist) moving through history of mankind.
6. Philosophy is able to achieve some metaphysical insights into the most fundamental ontological structures of the world we
live and act in (Lebenswelt). My own position is a form of critical realism that rejects and argues against all forms of metaphysical monism, such as naturalism and materialism
or phenomenalism and idealism. Critical realism (as opposed to naive realism and to metaphysical realism) accepts that human beings cannot achieve a timeless “view from
nowhere”, neither in science nor in philosophy or theology. But critical realism insists that objective truth can be achieved nevertheless. Philosophy is also able to achieve some
epistemological insights into the cognitive potentials of the human mind. My own position ties in with Kant's critical philosophy rejecting not only all forms of Scepticism and
Dogmatism, Empiricism and Rationalism, but also the logical empiricism or positivism of early analytic philosophy as well as all forms of (transcendental) phenomenology denying the possibility of
rational ontology and of descriptive metaphysics.
7. In philosophical anthropology, I hold and defend a holistic anthropological conception of the human person as a dynamic
personal unity of body, soul and mind. Each human being begins to exist as a new and biologically independent psycho-somatic individual with its birth and ends with its death as a complex and
manifold personal unity of body, soul and mind. Thus, although I reject the Platonic view of an immortal soul or an eternal spirit within human beings surviving corporeal death, I accept the
Aristotelian, Cartesian and Kantian conception of an immaterial intellect (noûs – intellectūs – Vernunft) that is with regards to content not fully determined by the dynamic and
interactive unity of the human body and soul. Therefore, I also reject naturalist or materialist reductionism according to which the human mind and "the I" are nothing but a function or
product of bio-electro-chemical processes within the biographically and socially conditioned human brain. The human soul with its emerging internal cognitive, motivational, emotional and
sensual faculties is not merely a function of the subjective human living body (Leib) or even of the objective biological organism (Körper). Similarly, the human mind
and the “I” with their various mental activities and emergent forms of consciousness are not only epiphenomena or mere functions of the human brain and its nervous system. They are emerging
mental forces of potentially autopoietic and with regards to content independent meaningful “software”, although functionally and energetically dependent on the biological “hardware” of the
physiological brain and its subpersonal bio-electro-chemical processes. As a person I can use some of my immaterial conscious thoughts and intentions to rearrange and reshape some of the
circuits and activities of my brain in diverse learning processes. Hence, I am not a mere passive product of my brain – neither of the more stable neurophysiological “hardware” of my brain nor of
the more plastic already established neurological channels and trails in the neuronal processes of my brain nor of my own current and fluid cognitive and motivational “software” activities in my
brain. Rather, although my brain carries my mind, I can conduct my own mind by self-reference and through self-consciousness and by doing so I can also to some extent change and reform some
neurological processes in my own brain at will, by feedback or in dialogue with others.
8. In philosophy of mind, I hold and defend a strong non-reductionist philosophy of mind and spirituality in accordance with Karl Jaspers, Nicolai Hartmann and Carl Gustav Jung. Language as the faculty to communicate and think in complex combinations of words synthesized according to socially acquired semantic intuitions and rules of syntax is based on the unique human ability to generate and understand abstract concepts largely independent from the immediate behavioural setting and concrete circumstances. Animals and plants are not able to communicate in these ways and we do not know of any other intelligent living beings on our planet Earth or in the observable universe who also share these capacities. However, the human mind is not only based on linguistic abilities, but also on various other psychological abilities, such as sensation, motivation, emotion, intuition, remembrance, anticipation, self-consciousness, self-reflection, self-knowledge, symbolization and idealization. Therefore, the human mind is a very complex, but also highly vulnerable living mental force based on the dynamic human soul and carried by the organic human body of an individual person among other persons. All human cultures have brought about some kind of spirituality mostly bound up with their religions based on rituals and symbols, narratives and myths and sometimes also bound up with philosophies based on abstract systems of ideals, principles, values and norms.
9. In the philosophy of will and action, I hold and defend a compatibilist conception of the contingent possibility of a socially
learned psychological faculty of freedom of the will in accordance with Karl Jaspers and Nicolai Hartmann. This faculty belongs to healthy minded persons in thinking, speaking, judging,
deciding and acting on the basis of some actual personal realm of potentially conflicting motivations. This contingent personal faculty of free will is weaker or stronger dependent on
the personality and character of a person as acquired in the course of life, and it can be slightly infected by the personality, severely damaged by bad habits or even almost completely lost by
loosing mental health, as in various forms of psychopathological illnesses, such as addiction, depression, mania, obsession, paranoia, schizophrenia, etc. Hence, freedom of the will is
not a timeless necessary psychological reality independent of the life and circumstances of a person, but a contingent and acquired faculty which comes in several grades of inner freedom since it
is dependent on the complex and dynamic structure of the personality and the life story of a person. While the body, brain and its nervous system work according to inborn vital functions
and culturally acquired habits, they are in constant interaction with other people and various circumstances in the world and they can respond to art, film and music, communication, education and
information, medication, psychotherapy and neuromodulation, landscape, climate and weather, etc. However, adults have learned to choose, discriminate, value and respond to other people and
various circumstances in the world in a personal manner. Hence, they may not always have a free will with respect to the motivational drives of their innate vital functions and culturally
acquired habits, but they may have a free will to veto them to some extent, when they think to have good reasons or decide intuitively that it is ethically adequate or morally
10. In ethics I hold and defend a complex general philosophical ethics based on (a.) cardinal virtues (or good habits), such as prudence, justice, moderation and courage (Plato and Aristotle) combined with (b.) some pragmatic axioms of rational choice (Brentano), (c.) some vital or instinctive value preferences, e.g. for life and health (including for the basic vital needs for fresh air, clean water, healthy food and adequate shelter), knowledge and liberty, joy and happiness, self-love and love of ones relatives and friends, (d.) moral duties of self-perfection and benevolence towards other human beings (Kant), and (e.) some highest moral principles, like respect for personal dignity (Kant) or the Golden Rule, that are independent of religious beliefs about the will of God. Since the central and ultimate cognitive virtue is phronesis or the faculty of intuitive judgement (Urteilskraft) (Aristotle and Kant) from the standpoint of an impartial spectator (Adam Smith) this ethics is a form of situation ethics which leaves choices in concrete situations (of ethical and moral conflicts) partially to the free choice and responsibility of individual persons. In this way general ethics is compatible with a large variety of different forms of professional ethics, such as economic, juridical, medical or political ethics. Since nobody is perfect, all human beings have to learn by making mistakes and are bound to become guilty. Therefore, some Judeo-Christian virtues like humility, faith, love and hope need to be incorporated into philosophical ethics in order to fulfil the deep human longing not only for truth and justice, but also for mercy, compassion, solidarity, forgiveness and atonement.
11. In philosophy of law I hold and defend a complex philosophy of law based on a cognitive ethics of law (Kant and Brentano), civil rights and human rights. Human rights are based on human nature, i.e. its inborn potentials and acquired faculties, just as much as animal rights are based on the nature of various higher animals. To claim that human rights are based on human nature does not answer the question of how they can be validly recognized. The recognition of human rights arises from human intelligence, i.e. from a complex cooperation of experience, intuition, conscience, empathy, imagination and reflection. Therefore, human rights are not simply given by nature or by religion or by the state. There were and still are many human cultures and religions without any conception of inalienable human rights. The idea of inalienable human rights originates from stoic philosophy, from jewish and christian faith and from roman law. It flourished in the era of enlightenment when traditional theological conceptions of natural law had been secularized and were transformed into reasonable rights (Kant and Hegel) and finally into human rights. The idea that the legal state of modern democracies ought to guarantee, legislate and execute basic civil and inalienable human rights was only established after World War II with reference to modern constitutions (originating from the French and American Declarations of Human Rights) and the human rights conventions of the United Nations. Each positive or established given law can be good or bad, i.e. morally fair or unfair, ethically just or unjust, pragmatically effective or ineffective, etc. Therefore, any legal system should contain a coherent maximum of good laws, i.e. at best only fair, just and effective laws. Since nature and societies are changing in history, no legal and established system of laws can be perfect and adequate forever. And since, all positive legal systems are institutions grown on cultural traditions and social conventions
they need constant reforms by correcting and improving the established system of laws. However, any adequate, decent and coherent system of laws has to respect basic civil rights and inalienable human rights as well as some universally valid legal ideals, such as human dignity, freedom and justice, equality of citizens before the law and solidarity of equal chances for a decent life, pragmatic security and effectiveness, etc. Moreover, any good system of law incorporates some higher self-evident categorical principles of legislation and jurisdiction (Kant and Otfried Höffe) such as, e.g. no arbitrary laws, no punishment without a law, no guilt without accountability, no accountability without freedom of choice, any guilt is individual, no legal sentence without a fair trial, no fair trial without a lawyer, no self ad-ministered justice, no legitimate power against people and goods unless legally executed by organs of the legal state, etc. These legal ideals and self-evident categorical principles of legislation and jurisdiction have a dignified and higher constitutional status and have to be safeguarded from ordinary legal reforms through the legislative powers of democratically elected governments and parliaments and are subject to higher legal organs of the legal state, such as constitutional courts and their interpretation of the constitution, their legislation and jurisdiction, only.
12. In political philosophy I hold and defend a philosophy of a social-ecological liberal-conservatism that strives for the
goal of realizing equal chances (Ralf Dahrendorf) for living a preferably self-reliant good life protecting life, health, liberty and human dignity according to one's own real talents,
virtues, convictions, ideals and goals. However, since young people need decent education and since disabled, chronically ill and old people need sufficient support not only from their families,
but also financial and medical support from public institutions, there has to be a strong national system of public solidarity with respect to education, health care, housing and
retirement financed through sufficient taxes, preferably high taxes on income through financial speculations rather than income through decent work and fair trade, but also high taxes on the
consumption of raw materials and luxury goods. Otherwise, the overarching political goal of equal chances (as opposed to equal outcomes) cannot be realized. Under the changing
real-life conditions and the remaining limits of social, economic and political life equal chances for the greatest possible number of human beings can only be achieved by common efforts of a
large manifold of diverse and effective centres of economic, political and governmental activities. The best political system to achieve this political goal is normally a modern nation
with a parliamentary democracy, a legal state, a welfare state and a social market economy, i.e. pragmatic Ordoliberalism as opposed to dysfunctional Neoliberalism and to dogmatic Keynesianism.
Democratic governments requisite the political power and strong legal institutions in order to safeguard the presumed best interest of the people of a nation and the democratic will of
the people as expressed by regular free and discrete elections. The national market, the common public infra-structure and the natural conditions of future life need to be conserved by sufficient
regulations to prevent overly exploiting tendencies of global and local markets. Civil rights and human rights should be guaranteed by a modern constitution and a legal state
free from corruption, from the political domination of the democratic majority and from economic lobbying harmful to the majority of producers and consumers. The national constitution
and the legal state should not be fully subject to the influence of the strongest party and to the will of the government, but they should be commonly respected as being largely above
party politics and particular interests. Since no legal state and no national constitution can create the necessary conditions of its own sustainment (Ernst-Wolfgang Boeckenfoerde) there have to be regulations to conserve a manifold of legal, economic, medical, religious and educational institutions and traditions. Since any legal
state must have a monopoly over the violent power of its police and military forces it has the permission to control anti-democratic and violent upheavals of the masses either from right
wing totalitarian nationalism and violent racism or from left wing totalitarian socialism and violent anarchy. Non-violent resistance in the form of public demonstrations and social
movements against unfair and repressive policies not respecting the common will of the people and the reliable outcomes of valid democratic elections however can be a morally correct form of
civil disobedience and then have to be respected by any legal state. Political education, open access to informations, discussions and cultural events as well as sufficient transparency
about parliamentary and governmental procedures belong to the basic civil rights of the citizens of a modern democracy with a sound legal state and welfare state.
13. In aesthetics and the philosophy of arts I hold and defend a complex post-Kantian and post-Hegelian conception of philosophical aesthetics and the arts. Aesthetic judgements about what is beautiful or ugly, sublime or kitschy, interesting or boring, holy or profane, fascinating or horrifying seem to be very subjective, depending on the personality, character and temperament, cultural background and education of individual people. Emotional judgements about what someone finds pleasant or unpleasant, tasty or disgusting, exciting or boring, comic or tragic, funny or sad, etc. definitely are very subjective, but they do not only depend on the personality, character and temperament, cultural background and education of individual people, but often also on deeper affective responses and even vital instincts common across human cultures and social groups. Kant was basically right that aesthetic judgements about nature or about cultural artefacts are largely indifferent with respect to personal interest in the object (interesseloses Wohlgefallen) and usually imply an expectation of agreement by others. Nevertheless, aesthetic judgements can be reflected in good education and refined by cultivation, because conceptual differentiation in describing and evaluating aesthetic phenomena can be learned from a reliable tradition of qualified examples and proven paradigms which have stood the test of times. Hence, the faculty of aesthetic judgement (Urteilskraft) must not be considered to be subjective in the sense of being completely relative and without any reliable common and communicable standards. There may be well educated critics and proven experts in various fields who have learned to judge well about cultural artefacts by their refined intuitions and who are also able to justify their judgements with good reasons among other critics or experts in the same field. Nevertheless, there is no absolute or only commonly accepted hierarchy of the arts, as Hegel claimed, and there is no absolute judge or judgement in aesthetics matters about nature, cultural artefacts or the arts. This is why in modern societies the arts and cultural artefacts tend to fall prey to changing fashion, to political ideologies or to the current market. Moreover, they tend to become mere commodities and signals of group identity and social status. In this way they tend to loose their original status and inherent value as works of art and their special aura. Therefore, in modern societies religions, confessions and other identity groups need to defend their common aesthetic standards and emotional preferences – together with their faith, ethics and world view – against the inclinations and prejudices of the masses, against post-modern individualism and against neoliberal economic totalitarianism. (Theodor W. Adorno and Pierre Bourdieu) Nevertheless, an intercultural common sense of the beautiful and the sublime is possible as in the folk art, folk music, folk songs and fairy tales of humanity (Gottfried Herder). Although the modern freedom of the arts needs to be protected, a broad consensus of judgements about aesthetic matters is also possible, as e.g. about the adequate proportions in architecture, design and urban planning (Roger Scruton).
14. In philosophy of religion, I hold and defend a panentheist conception of God as the ultimate ground and seemingly
intelligent being which created the whole universe expanding in space-time, the evolution of life on earth in natural history and the evolution of human beings as intelligent living beings in
cultural history. Hence, God is an all-encompassing and eternal, immutable and necessary, self-reliant and perfect being, which is mysterious and not fully comprehensible for human
beings with their human concepts and intuitions. Since God is separate from the contingent and largely intelligible spatio-temporal world, God is not identical with all things, neither with
nature nor with the world, as in various forms of pantheism. However, the contingent world depends on God and exists in God and because of the infinite creative and sustaining power of
God. As the creator of the universe and of the whole of humanity, God transcends all cultures, religions and confessions. The problem of theodicy, e.g. of how to reconcile common
theistic conceptions of God as an all-mighty and all-knowing personal being who is also kind (i.e. loving, just, benevolent and merciful) is mainly solved by overcoming supranatural, mythological
and anthropomorphic conceptions of God. In this way panentheism is compatible with the best current scientific theories of the beginning of the universe (based on the self-evident
principle of ex nihilo nihil fit), with the still mysterious emergence of life on Earth, with the still not sufficiently understood evolution of intelli-gent life on Earth and of the
rise of the cultural history of homo sapiens.
15. Since philosophy is mainly an intellectual enterprise and essentially a reflecting search for truth allowing for deep aporias, methodological scepticism and tough questions, it is neither a rival nor a substitute for a religious faith, such as e.g. the Jewish, Christian or Islamic faith. Rather, philosophy can be a preparation of faith (preambula fidei) and a personal search for faith in God. Since religious faiths are considered to be based on some revelation speaking more directly to the hearts and minds of its truthful believers, they are essentially different from philosophy. Therefore, there are many other ways to faith and the way of philosophy is only one of them. Since the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith entail some truth claims about God and about Jesus (Yeschuah or Isa), that are essential for their central beliefs, but mutually incompatible, philosophers have to make up their minds about them when confronted with them. However, this is exactly the moment where philosophy ends and where theology begins.
Heidelberg, October 31th 2019