Exploring the World of Human Practice
Readings in and about the Philosophy of Aurel Kolnai
Publication Year: 2015
Published by: Central European University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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This volume took its original impetus from the first international conference to be held on the work of Aurel Kolnai, the “Aurel Kolnai Memorial Conference”,which was sponsored by the Central European University, Budapest, and the Lajos Batthyány Foundation. It was held at the university on 8 and 9 December 2000, a few days after the one-hundredth anniversary of Kolnai’s birth at 10 Báthory Street, Budapest.We are glad to have this opportunity of repeating our thanks to the sponsors in print...
About the Contents of This Volume
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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...
I. Papers By Kolnai
What Is Politics About?
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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...
A Note on the Meaning of Right and Wrong
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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...
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(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...
Are There Degrees of Ethical Universality?
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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...
The Concept of Practical Error
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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...
Actions and Inactions
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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...
Agency and Freedom
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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...
The Indispensability of Philosophy
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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...
II. Papers About Kolnai's Work
Kolnai’s Mature Political Philosophy
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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...
The Ethical Theories of Aurel Kolnai
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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 Democratic Subversion of Political Liberty and Participation
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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...
Liberty, Equality, Nobility: Aurel Kolnai and the Moral Foundations of Democracy
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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...
Aurel Kolnai: A Political Philosopher Confronts the Scourge of Our Epoch
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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...
Aurel Kolnai and Utopia
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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
Aims in Games and Moral Purposes
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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...
Kolnai and Kanton (Human) Dignity
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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...
Kolnai’s Dissertation Der ethische Wert und die Wirklichkeit: A “Completion” of Scheler’s Value-Ethics
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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 Nature and Scope of Ordinary Morality: Some Reflections in the Spirit of Aurel Kolnai
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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 longstanding 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...
Is Love Intertwined with Hatred?
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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...
Kolnai’s Idea of Emotional Presentation
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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...
Aurel Kolnai’s “Disgust”: A Source in the Art and Writing of Salvador Dalí
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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...
About the Contributors to This Volume
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Page Count: 355
Publication Year: 2015