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Raymond Geuss


Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge, is a political philosopher and scholar of 19th and 20th century European philosophy.
Raymond Geuss
Kantians, of course, will think that I have lost the plot from the start, and that only confusion can result from failure to make these essential, utterly fundamental divisions between “is” and “ought,” fact and value, or the descriptive and the normative, in as rigorous and systematic a way as possible, just as I think they have fallen prey to a kind of fetishism, attributing to a set of human conceptual invention a significance they do not have. ... In some contexts, a relative distinction between the facts and human valuations of those facts, or norms, might be perfectly useful. But the division makes sense only relative to the context, and can’t be extracted from that context, promoted, and declared to have absolute standing.
Geuss quotes
The idea that all problems either have a solution or can be shown to be pseudo-problems is not one I share.
Geuss
In its origin, liberalism had no ambition to be universal either in the sense of claiming to be valid for everyone and every human society or in the sense of purporting to give an answer to all the important questions of human life. ... The ideal of liberalism is a practically engaged political philosophy that is both epistemically and morally highly abstemious. That is, at best, a very difficult and possibly a completely hopeless project. It is therefore not surprising that liberals succumb again and again to the temptation to go beyond the limits they would ideally like to set for themselves and try to make of liberalism a complete philosophy of life. ... In the middle of the twentieth century, Kantianism presented itself as a “philosophical foundation” for a version of liberalism, and liberals at that time were sufficiently weak and self-deceived (or strong and opportunistic) to accept the offer.




Geuss Raymond quotes
A Theory of Justice begins with this assertion: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust .... Truth and justice are uncompromising”. How, one might ask. do we know that justice has this preeminence? Rawls’s second basic claim is that we have a particular kind of access to this preeminence: we have an “intuitive conviction of the primacy of justice” over all other considerations including welfare, efficiency, democratic choice, transparency, dignity, international competitiveness, or freedom, and, of course, over any rooted moral, philosophical, or religious conceptions. There is no account of where these intuitions came from, whether they might be in any way historically or sociologically variable, or what role they play in society.
Geuss Raymond
One of Nietzsche’s most important legacies to us … is his claim that it is desirable and possible to dismantle the Platonic apparatus of Forms, Absolute Truth, the Idea of the Good, etc. and its historical derivatives, such as Kant’s transcendental philosophy, and that this can be done without fear of falling into “relativism.”
Raymond Geuss quotes
Although Aristotle may have been right to claim that a desire to know is part of the fundamental constitution of human nature, ... Nietzsche is also correct to emphasize that the impulse to evaluate our surroundings, our fellows, and ourselves is at least as deeply rooted in our human nature as is any natural “desire to know.” “Der Mensch ist ein abschätzendes Tier.”
Raymond Geuss
The notion of being an “enlightened” person does not reduce simply to that of being a person who has highly developed cognitive abilities or disposes of a vast stock of knowledge; neither does it reduce to the idea of being a morally good or socially useful person. “Enlightenment” is not a value-free concept because it is connected with some idea of devoting persistent, focused attention to that which is genuinely important in human life, rather than to marginal or subsidiary phenomena, to drawing the “correct” conclusions from attending to these important features—whatever they are—and to embodying these conclusions concretely in one’s general way of living. It involves a certain amount of sheer knowledge, an ability to concentrate and reflect, inventiveness in restructuring one’s psychic, personal, and social habits; but to be enlightened is not to “have” any bit of doctrine, but to have been (re)structured in a certain way.
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Neither the good nor the true is self-realizing, so it is not generally a sufficient explanation of why people believe that X that X is true, or of why people do Y that Y is good.
Geuss
An imagined threat might be an extremely powerful motivation to action; and an aspiration, even if built on fantasy, is not nothing, provided it really moves people to action. ... Even illusions can have effects. The realist must take powerful illusions seriously as factors in the world that have whatever motivational power they in fact have for the population in question, that is, as something to be understood. This is compatible with seeing through them, and refusing steadfastly to make them part of the cognitive apparatus one employs oneself to try to make sense of the world.
Geuss Raymond
The pure normative standpoint that Kant’s ethics tries to occupy, a standpoint in which we consider only the normatively relevant features of a possible world, abstracting strictly from the real world and the empirical accidents of concrete situations, is an expression of what Dewey called “the quest for certainty.” In an insecure world, weak humans struggle convulsively to reach some kind of stability; the a priori is an overcompensation in thought for experienced human weakness. This is one of the origins of Kant’s notorious rigidity, his authoritarian devotion to “principles,” and his tendency to promote local habits of thought to constituents of the absolute framework in which alone (purportedly) any coherent experience was possible; thus, Euclidean geometry is declared the a priori condition of human experience, and sadistic remnants of Puritanism become demands of pure practical reason. Classical liberalism rejected Kant’s practical philosophy, but perhaps this is not enough. Perhaps one should also reject the very idea of a pure normative standpoint.
Raymond Geuss
When Catullus expresses his love and hate for Lesbia, he is not obviously voicing a wish to rid himself of one or the other of these two sentiments. Not all contradictions resolve into temporal change of belief or desire.




Raymond Geuss quotes
It is an assumption that there is always one single dimension for assessing persons and their actions that has canonical priority. This is the dimension of moral evaluation; “good/evil” is supposed always to trump any other form of evaluation, but that is an assumption, probably the result of the long history of the Christianisation and then gradual de-Christianisation of Europe, which one need not make. Evaluation need not mean moral evaluation, but might include assessments of efficiency, ... simplicity, perspicuousness, aesthetic appeal, and so on.
Raymond Geuss
In many of the cases of conceptual innovation, ... creating the conceptual tools is a precondition to coming to a clear understanding of what the problem was in the first place. It is very difficult to describe the transition after it has taken place because it is difficult for us to put ourselves back into the situation of confusion, indeterminacy, and perplexity that existed before the new “tool” brought clarity and this means it is difficult for us to retain a vivid sense of what a difference having the concept made. We can just barely imagine ourselves in a world in which there are no states, as opposed to local barons, warlords, clans, primitive communal forms of village organisation, etc.
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Some forms of Kantianism put great weight on “what we can imagine” holding that this can be a source of insight into necessary connections. Thus various of Kant’s arguments about space and time depend on the purported fact that it is impossible for us to imagine certain things: we can know, Kant claims, a priori that space has only three dimensions because we cannot imagine it as having more than three dimensions. History in the form of non-Euclidean geometry and modern physics has put paid to that particular line of argument, but in general we should beware of depending too much on “What we can imagine?,” especially in politics. As Nietzsche puts it somewhere, sometimes the fact that you can’t imagine a situation in which things are very different from the way they are now is not an especially good argument for the claim that they must be as they now are, but, rather, represents a failure of your powers about which you should feel mildly apologetic.
Geuss Raymond
When we use a tool in everyday life, it usually remains a detached instrument under my control and activated only when, where, and how I decide. ... In contrast, conceptual innovations often “stick,” escape our control and become part of reality itself. Once Hobbes invents the idea of the “state” this idea can come into contact with real social forces with unforeseeable results. The “tool” develops a life of its own, and can become an inextricable part of the fabric of life itself.
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A major danger in using highly abstractive methods in political philosophy is that one will succeed merely in generalizing one’s own local prejudices and repackaging them as demands of reason. The study of history can help to counteract this natural human bias.
Raymond Geuss
We do not wish to “judge” or assess out surrounding merely as a kind of expressive activity carelessly projected onto the world, but we wish to evaluate the world “correctly,” i.e., in according with that it truly is, and the desire to know is directed at determining what the world truly is.
Raymond Geuss quotes
Humans in modern societies are driven by a perhaps desperate hope that they might find some way of mobilizing their theoretical and empirical knowledge and their evaluative systems so as both to locate themselves and their projects in some larger imaginative structure that makes sense to them. ... Furthermore, many modern agents would like it to be the case that the form of orientation which their life has is, if not true, at least compatible with the best available knowledge.
Raymond Geuss
Asking what the question is, and why the question is asked, is always asking a pertinent question.
Geuss Raymond
Intellectual honesty requires that one reflect on the contribution one’s theory makes to the class struggle, and acknowledge it openly. One does not have to accept the specific claim that there are two, and only two, mutually exclusive worldviews, to one of which any theory must commit itself, to accept the general claim that entertaining, developing and propounding a theory are actions, and as such they represent ways of taking a position in the world. This means that any kind of comprehensive understanding of politics will also have to treat the politics of theorization, including the politics of whatever theory is itself at the given time being presented for scrutiny, as a candidate for acceptance.


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