The Conflict of Konigsberg

Posted by Anirudh Sridhar at Dec 17, 2013 05:57 AM |
Immanuel Kant’s “Conflict of the Faculties”, written in Konigsberg was a daring publication under the censorious watch of the Prussian totalitarian state. In it, he argues for open argument and mutual respect among the state endorsed and free reigning faculties in the University. This blog will explore a modern day conflict among the faculties under the clutches of a different kind of regime. Although the organization has radically shifted, the conflict has escalated to a battle (much like the one that tore Konigsberg apart during World War II) and the regime overseeing it may be more insidious than before.

Max Weber said that “all sciences of culture are doomed to eternal youth.” R. Aromi said that “sociology seems to be marked by an eternal quest for itself”.ii Sciences of culture or the application of scientific principles to the study of humans and their behavior in societies have been constantly passed around in a game of hot potato while the music of scholarly history has been stopping and playing. Today we have reached a stage of atomization and animosity between the humanities and the sciences in which the latter has clearly won. However, the current landscape of academia doesn’t accurately represent their trussed and humble existence in early university organizations.

Immanuel Kant’s The Conflict of the Faculties which was published in 1798 depicts a world of radically different organization and power structures in academia while projecting relationships and debates that remain salient today.iii Only 50 years ago, professors of science were paid twice as much as their counterparts in the humanities. At places like Berkeley University today, the division between STEM fields and the humanities has tripled.iv The impacts of this division are varied and problematic in three important ways. Kant said that the free reigning and critical element of the philosophy faculty was necessary to question and check the static faculties of theology and the law that claim immense authority through their mass appeal and state patronage. A possible united front of Wissenschaft against the anti-intellectual forces in society today that attack as a hydra of Kants higher faculties of theology and the law is greatly undermined by the shaft that is wedged between the sciences and the humanities. v

Secondly, the success of the modern day sciences is based on a utilitarian pitch of hedonistic and economic benefits which appeals to the same baser elements of humanity and mirrors the success of the higher faculties in 18th century society just entering into the enlightenment. The people, as Kant speculated, wanted to know how to live like scoundrels and get the 11th hour ticket to heaven, break the law and still win the case and abuse their body and still live a long life which led to the mass propitiation to cassocks, suits and white The answers to these desires are mostly fulfilled by science and technology today and hence their promotion from the lower faculties. The principles of ranking therefore remain eerily similar. Take the principle behind ranking medicine as a higher faculty for example. The rules of the medical practice, from the Hippocratic Oath to the principle of fiat experimentum in corpora villi were pre-conceived and imposed by a body of pre-approved knowledge.vii Its existence, proliferation and direction remained immune from the scrutiny of the lower faculties because of its imposing power dynamic. Similarly, the modern day study of engineering remains extraordinarily doctrinaire in its pedagogy and its raison d’être remains far beyond the reproach of the humanities. When Kant answered “was ist aufklarung?” he probably did not foresee that after 200 years of scientific progress, man would still not have emerged from his “self-incurred immaturity”.

Finally, while totalitarianism ensured the faculties that allowed the King to be divine, his laws to be edicts and his labor force to be healthy were the higher faculties before, Capitalism today has similarly elevated the STEM fields while marginalizing or co-opting disciplines and value systems that are alternatives to it. The markets have brought education to its feet by forcing it to operate based on its model of success, thereby producing nations of employees instead of citizens. Teaching, or the imparting of knowledge can only have arisen and continue to be a pillar of human societies if it leads to the development of autonomous human beings that develop and broaden their judgments to become better political animals who are capable of seeking what betters us and subverting what worsens us. The fact that this process produces skilled labor can only ever be secondary or even incidental, to that primary purpose.viii

According to Kant, the lower faculties were split among historical knowledge (history, geography, philology, the humanities and the empirical knowledge of the natural sciences) and pure rational knowledge (pure mathematics, pure philosophy and the sciences).ix Though the fissure between the humanities and sciences in this organization is deeper than the tenuous connection, there is a long history of enlightenment thinkers who have tried to establish a kinship between the two. Notice how the connection in the Conflict of the Faculties is in a form where the natural sciences are viewed from a humanities perspective similar to a history of science department we find today. An important byway of the enlightenment, however, has been the effort to apply scientific methodologies and tools to social studies.

Howard Jensen once said that the “historian of sociology can focus on the development of the scientific method of investigating social facts.”x When Giovanni Vico first read Bacon’s scientific method, he decided that it would be possible to apply the scientific method to the study of human societies and history. In Principles of a New Science, Vico says “The nature of things is nothing other than that they come into being at certain times and in certain ways. Wherever the same circumstances are present, the same phenomena arise and no others.”xi Many before had observed causation in the natural world, but he said “the social world is certainly the work of men; and it follows that one can and should find its principles in the modifications of the human intelligence itself.”xii His model of determinism, however, was cyclical so he was still a medieval thinker in that his ideas hadn’t fully submitted to the progressive nature of the enlightenment.

Montesquieu, writing more in the blooming fervor of the enlightenment in Spirit of the Laws, said “I began to examine men and I believed that in the infinite variety of their laws and customs they were not guided solely by their whims. I formulated principles, and then I saw individual cases fitting these principles as if of themselves, the history of all nations being only the consequence of these principles and every special law bound to another law, or depending on another more general law.”xiii The sciences had been observing and analyzing phenomena from an understanding of laws that govern them but social phenomena were merely documenting observations. However, Montesquieu tried to change that by lobbying for the shift from appearances to principle and diversities of empirical shapes to forming forces. For example, he believed that Republics rest on civic virtue, Monarchy depends on honor and Despotism on fear.xiv These aren’t universal but ideal types which form the principles that allow us to study these forms. Louis de Bonald later corroborated this idea when he wrote that all forms of knowledge are essentially expressions of the society which produces them.xv He saw literature arising from the moral aspects of society and art as a collective product thereby positing a social genesis of ideas as Montesquieu did and viewing the individual as a part in the machinations of a physically, socially and technologically determined universe.

During the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume said “there is a general course of nature in human actions, as well as in the operations of the sun and the climate. There are also characters peculiar to different nations and particular persons, as well as common to mankind. The knowledge of these characters is founded on the observation of an uniformity in the actions, that flow from them; and this uniformity forms the very essence of necessity.”xvi He also thought it was impossible to know the essence of any entity, but only to know its features. If we don’t come to know the things themselves but only of the ideas that people have about them, the study of human nature rises violently in the ranks of importance. Indeed, Scottish Enlightenment thinkers were all in agreement that the science of human action deserved the same status as the natural sciences. We must keep Irving Zeitlin in mind as we exit the 18th century as he said “the 18th century thinkers began more consistently than any of their predecessors the study of the human condition in a methodic way, constantly applying what they considered to be scientific principles of analysis to man, his nature and society.”xvii

During the 19th century, as branches of science like biology were entering into a phase of revolutionary progress, the methods of entry for the humanities became more sophisticated. Herbert Spencer, writing in the Darwinian era of biology, posited that the study of sociology is the study of evolution in the most complex form and that sociological behavior was more subject to the cutting edge of natural selection in advanced civilization than physical aspects.xviii The radical progression in the coadunation of the humanities and the sciences, marked interestingly by a sharp elevation of the humanities in an age of unprecedented scientific progress is probably why sociologists are less interested in their discipline’s history than other disciplines are in theirs. Much of what exists in its history has now been appropriated in terms of content by other disciplines like economics. This emergent trend in sociology is another point of coincidence with science in that the latter is also interested in its history only for facts.

These grandiose prognostications of the importance of the humanities in the past stand vindicated today in that they have done more to actively incorporate members of the historically disadvantaged than the STEM fields. The “studies programs” such as women’s studies, LGBT studies and black studies are a salient example of this. Though they have tackled the chaotic, dangerous leftovers of the quantitatively governed sciences, the humanities still exist physically and theoretically on the periphery.xix David Hollingerxx says “The human sciences are at the borderlands between Wissenschaft and opinion, between scholarship and ideology. Here, in the borderlands, the demographic and cognitive boundaries of the entire academic enterprise have been the least certain; here it is the greater challenge to act on the great Kantian imperative to dare to know, to have the courage to actually use one's understanding instead of running from all that messiness back to less risky inquiries.”xxi

While the invisible hand of Adam Smith holds STEM high and close in society, their salaries are higher even in academia despite their market value outside and their ability to earn from the market simultaneously.xxii The scholars of humanities, destined forever to the towers of higher learning are left behind when this kind of devotional loyalty has morally earned them more just desserts. The humanities are slowly adapting to this now trite ‘crisis of the humanities’ by entering the technology realm with the advent of the digital humanities. However, apart from such few commensal attempts at rising in social standing the way they have risen in intellectual circles, there hasn’t been much vinegar in their fight. In the recent report of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences to buoy the humanities, it referred to itself as "a source of national memory and civic vigor, cultural understanding and communication, individual fulfillment and the ideals we hold in common."xxiii This is a serious step backward from Hume’s or Spencer’s reasoning of the importance of the humanities.

As a society, we need to transcend the habit of ranking faculties on their baser lure and develop more capacious visions of life and grandeur in our pursuit. The modest pitch (albeit transgressive in the deictic sense) of the Conflict of the Faculties was for the lower faculties to keep the conflict going forever from the left side of the parliament of learning to prevent the divined wisdoms and vested interests from establishing a position of unquestioned athanasia. The humanities would do well to listen to these formative dictates of the Aufklarung today.

i Raymond Arom was a French philosopher, journalist, sociologist and political scientist. He shared a lifelong friendship with Jean-Paul Sartre.


ii Ringer, Fritz. Max Weber's Methodology: The Unification of the Cultural and Social Sciences. Harvard University Press, 2000. Web.


iii Kant, Immanuel. The Conflict of the Faculties (Der Streit Der Fakultaten). University of Nebraska Press, 1992. Web. <>.


v See citation 5


vi See citation 4


vii See citation 4


ix See citation 4






xii See citation 12


xiii Montesquieu, . The Spirit of the Laws. 1748. Web.


xiv See citation 15


xvi Hume, David. SECTION I.: Of liberty and necessity. - David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature. 1739. Web.<>


xvii Zeitlin, Irving. Ideology and the development of sociological theory. Prentice Hall, 2001. Web.


xix See citation 5


xxi See citation 5


xxii See citation 9