Kant’s Epicurean Exceptions

In The Critique of Pure Reason, on the topic of causation and freedom, there’s a moment near the end of “The Antinomy of Pure Reason: Third Conflict of the Transcendental Ideas”, where Kant gives exception to the Epicurean school with regard to his argument:

This requirement of reason to appeal, in the series of natural causes, to a first beginning from freedom is fully confirmed if we see that, with the exception of the Epicurean School, all philosophers of antiquity felt obliged, for the sake of explaining all the movements of the world, to assume a prime mover, that is, a freely acting cause which, first and by itself, began this series of states. For they did not attempt to make a first beginning comprehensible by an appeal to mere natural (411).

It’s interesting to find Kant’s thoughts on the lack of freedom posited in Epicureanism. I have been thinking about this problem for a few months now, although through a somewhat convoluted path from contemporary philosophers. Specifically, I was thinking about Alain Badiou’s inheritance of Louis Althusser’s aleatory materialism, which Althusser gets from Epicureanism. Badiou’s Events and Truth Procedures seem to come from Althusser’s Encounters, all of which end up leaving little room for subjectivity. Badiou himself makes a similar point about Althusser in Metapolitics (2005): “there is no theory of the subject in Althussser, nor could there ever be one. For Althusser, all theory proceeds by way of concepts. But ‘subject’ is not a concept. […] ‘Subject’ is not the name of a concept, but that of a notion, that is, the mark of an inexistence. There is no subject, since there are only processes” (59). But for both Badiou and Althusser, these processes develop at layers or moments beyond the manipulation of individuals. In a sense, this is true that individuals cannot immediately grasp all relations of the world. However, Badiou puts such a great distance between individuals and change in the world that the only thing left for militants is to keep an open mind in order to think the possibility of change, so that if an “Event” occurs, they’re not too blind to recognize it.

The passages in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason on causation, the conditioned, and the unconditioned are some of my favorite parts so far. More on that late.

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