Sunday, September 25, 2011

on Kant

Now, unlike Descartes, whom, despite myself, I disliked with a vengeance, I respected Kant's ideas. You know what they say about people we do not like; we do not like them because of something we dislike in ourselves. That might very well me the reason why I disliked Descartes, since in order to think ecologically I have to get rid of Cartesian thinking that I'm so accustomed to, which still remains to be a daunting task for me. Anyway, back to Kant.
I read Kant's introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, the introduction written by Allen Wood on Kant, Kant's What is Enlightenment article, Isaiah Berlin's The Roots of Romanticism, Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and some sections of Terry Pinkard's German Philosophy 1760-1860: The legacy of idealism. Admittedly this is not enough reading in order to understand Kant's or Hume's philosophy, however, I have to do what I can in the limited time I have.
Pinkard's book seemed unnecessarily complicated to me, or maybe beyond my current level, so I did not read the entire book. Berlin's book, on the other hand, offers a much more accessible account of Kant for me. Berlin, I think, has the gift of presenting the most complicated ideas in a simple way without simplifying the issues, which I like a lot.  Reading Kant was delightful and stimulating, Hume was interesting too. I'm afraid I do not have the time to elaborate my thoughts on these sources, but I can share my personal notes reflecting my humble, and probably mistaken and incomplete, understanding. I'm sorry that I do not have specific page numbers and citations but as I said there are the notes I took for myself. I hope you will forgive my mistakes and correct my misunderstandings since philosophy is not my area of expertise. So here it goes and I think these notes would only make sense to those of you who had read the sources I mentioned above.

Kant important themes

  • Freewill, progress, individual (self-directed and free), distinction between public and private realms, conservative about change (one should not demolish something until s/he has something better to replace it).
  • The main problems of pure reason are: God, Freedom, Immortality. He does not develop these though, only freedom. Reading Kant made me wonder who he was addressing as the proponents of pure reason, scholars of traditional metaphysics or people like Descartes.
  • A priori knowledge does not add anything new to our knowledge it just separates and arranges and works unconsciously. I found this part interesting because I think Kant's other ideas are not in line with this statement. I wonder if he is referring to analytical knowledge rather than a priori knowledge here.
  • Natural science (physica) contains synthetical judgments a priori as principles. (not quite sure what this means. Metaphysics, on the other hand, is not just for analyzing what is assumed to be a priori analytically but to expand out knowledge a priori so its focus/domain is the synthetical judgments a priori.
  • Analytical judgments A contains B (identity, no new knowledge, containment, whole part relationship (maybe?) necessity deterministic and thus does not leave room for freewill).
  • Synthetical judgments A is related to B without identity new knowledge (expansion) all empirical judgments, judgments related to experience, are synthetical, all mathematical judgments are synthetical (?) because it is based on the relationship of contrast not containment or maybe because it requires intuition (?) but they are synthetical judgments a priori same goes for geometry. It is interesting that Kant puts mathematics and geometry, two fields that were assumed to be in the realm of pure reason and thus analytical, in the category of synthetical apriori judgments not analytical judgments.
  • Since natural science and mathematics exist then a priori knowledge has to exist so I guess this means Hume's criticism was not valid for Kant, at least it applied only to analytical judgments not a priori synthetical judgments.
  • How can we enlarge our knowledge a priori synthetically? That is the main problem and domain of metaphysics, not analytical judgments. I thought a priori knowledge could not add anything to our knowledge.
  • He uses transcendental, as far as I can tell, as not about objects but about our a priori knowledge of objects so our relationship to the phenomenal world is indirect (p. 38-39)
  • Estimating the philosophical value of knowledge in addition to asking questions about epistemology, is that what Kant is trying to do?
  • He hated romanticism yet he is the father of romanticism (ah the gods have a sense of irony)
  • Humans’ tragedy is not being torn between duty and desire we are all free. What makes us human beings and what distinguishes us from other animals is that we choose. Choosing and being committed to our chosen value is the ultimate goal more important than the value of the merit we choose. We are free of causality, not determined. How is doing the right thing is a merit if you are not free to choose the good in the first place. Know no guardian he says, reminding me very much of Foucault. There is no intrinsic value in things (quite a revolutionary idea)
  • I do not quite understand how emotions and psychical derives are external for Kant. Maybe I misunderstood this part.
  • Nature is the enemy because Kant thinks it is deterministic. Humans are above nature and thus have the right and maybe even the obligation to dominate nature. But I wonder how can nature be causal (Kant) and chaotic (Schiller) at the same time. I don’t quite follow. For Kant the dichotomy is between the human (reason) and nature, for Schiller between nature and art
  • The tension between the individual and the society
  • Natural science is not self-sufficient but requires metaphysical support


  • the idea of constant questioning/criticizing, still within the boundaries of Enlightenment (enshrining reason at the expense of emotions) though Kant can be considered to be a critic of Enlightenment—since he emphasizes the limits of human reason—I believe he is reforming it rather than demolishing it, philosophy seems to be an individual enterprise for both
  • Equalitarian Descartes states that everyone can think and similarly Kant thinks just free the public and everyone can do it (but progress comes slowly and he does not seem to support a revolutionary stance). Basically they both seem to think that all men (sic) are equal.
  • Self-knowledge issue (for Descartes the knowledge comes from within and for Kant reflection and acknowledging the limits of reason are crucial, perhaps even an obligation. These are not quite the same thing but I think Descartes and Kant write on the same theme).
  • They both seem to seek perfect certainty (something free of error and free of pure experience) and Descartes pursues that ultimate first principle whereas Kant wants to name that realm as a priori synthetical (something beyond experience).
  • Anti-authoritarianism
  • Science and theology are not contradictory

The significance of will

Against guardianship and emancipation. 
Taking responsibility and taking away responsibility

Alienation as crime


Like Kant he is interested in the operations of the mind
We can extend our knowledge by experience
Distinction between fact and inference
distinction between a priori vs. experience
Human limitations by being aware of and acknowledging our limitations we create a merit (modesty in our presumptions) quite similar to Kant’s view
Deduction does not apply to matters of fact


what critical thinking means
Kant’s approach is more practical (and closer to action) than Descartes’s pure intellectual approach
Is what Kant writes about analytical judgments against Descartes’s position? I’m not sure
Men are chooser of acts so they differ in what they see in actions. For Descartes action is trivial.

attacks analytical judgments and Kant seems to be trying to save the synthetical a priori judgments from skeptics like Hume. They seem to agree on the experiential knowledge issue to me. I think Kant criticizes Hume for focusing on only causal synthetical judgments and concluding that a priori judgment is impossible
Hume denies Kant the very domain he chooses for metaphysics. It is a serious challenge and Kant takes this challenge seriously.
Hume is anti metaphysical

Marx’s model is very deterministic and this model is not in line with Kant’s obsession with free will. It’s funny Kant seems to think that we have to have free will, it’s like an assumption not something that needs proof.
If we are talking about freedom, humans should have the right to choose between duty and nature. For Kant we have to choose duty over natural inclinations. If you think about it, Schiller is more consistent.
Liberation by art (for Kant by freedom)

Thoughts vs impressions (reverses the Platonic ideals and makes the thoughts and ideas less vivid and derivative of impressions) a different distinction compared to Kant's
Mind synthesizes for Kant but for Hume there are three specific connections resemblance, contiguity in time or space and cause and effect How do these relate to Kant’s ideas? I'm not sure.
Cause and effect can only be a result of experience? But I guess Kant would say cause and effect are subjective, a function of how our minds work and how we experience time and space.
Nature will always maintain her rights, and prevail in the end over any abstract reasoning whatsoever says Hume on p. 609. I like that. I'm kind of bored seeing nature as the bad guy in philosophy and seeing claims about how we are above nature not part of it.
Custom or habit is a positive thing for Hume (inference as custom or habit). Kant, on the other hand, rebels against tradition.

Central themes
Relations of ideas vs. matters of fact
How the mind works
Action is important (it seems to me that the distinction between the mind and the action is already in effect here)
Cause and effect connection/relation is arbitrary
Resemblance probabilistic science

What is enlightenment?
1. All genuine questions can be answered and if a question cannot be answered it is not a question
2. All these answers are knowable by learning and teaching
3. All these answers/virtues are compatible

The first crack
Montesquieu we all seek happiness but how we define happiness might be different, relative, culture bound (relativity)

The second crack
The causal relationship is in our minds only. There is no necessity only probability
You cannot prove the existence of the external world with mathematical certainty (unlike Descartes)

“If all the things which at present you hate and fear could be so represented as to flow by necessary logical chains from everything else that there was, you would accept them as being not only inevitable but reasonable, and therefore delightful" says Hume on p. 33 which is very much against Kant who is disgusted by determinism. I have to agree with Kant. Besides what Hume finds delightful is I think how hell must be like. Such a terrible scenario! I would rather die.

The most important blow by Johann Georg Hamann
Influenced Herden, Goethe, Kierkegaard
You know by faith not by intellect (like Hume?)
The only way to discover what human beings were like was by speaking to them, by communicating with them, and by watching a man’s face, and by watching the contortions of his body and his gestures, by hearing his words, and in many other ways which you could not afterwards analyse, you became convicted, a datum was presented to you, you knew… so against generalizations that French philosophers liked so much, not general but particular. 
There is a flow of life, and the attempt to cut this flow into segments killed it (ah quite an ecological idea. How delightful!) against the traditional view of science. Generalizations is not what humans really seek the ideal man of the Enlightenment is a dead man dead harmony dead peace
I think I like this guy.
The bliss of the human soul is rooted in the untrammeled realization of its powers (like Nietzsche)
There is no thought prior to language or separate from it

backward Germany—inferiority complex leads to retreat into oneself
pietism-personal relationship with god, contempt for learning and ritual and form hatred of the intellect (for them Descartes would be atheist since they would say you cannot grasp god by the intellect)

To understand German philosophy, we must remember, as Hegel said, that the truth is the whole, that ideas and social structure do not neatly separate into different compartments, and that they both belong together, sometimes fitting one another comfortably, sometimes grating against each other and instigating change—and change was indeed in the air in “Germany” at the time. To understand German philosophy is to understand, at least partially, this “whole” and why the contingent forms it took ended up having a universal significance for us. (p. 3)

[for Enlightenment all that is needed is freedom] Kant’s words captured a deep, almost subterranean shift in what his audience was coming to experience as necessary for themselves: from now on, we were called to lead our own lives, to think for ourselves, and, as if to inspire his readers, Kant claimed that all that was required for this to come about was to have the “courage” to do so. (p. 19)

Traditional metaphysics studied those things that were “transcendent” to our experience in the sense that we were said to be “aware” of them without being able in any pedestrian way to experience them. Thus, so it was said, while we might empirically study stones, grass, the seas and even our own bodies and psyches in a directly experiential way, traditional metaphysics claimed to study with necessity and certainty a realm of objects that were not available to such ordinary experiential encounters, such as God and the eternal soul, and thus, metaphysics was said to be a discipline employing only “pure reason” unfettered by any connection or dependence on experience. The judgments of metaphysics were therefore dependent on what “pure” reason turned up and could not be falsified by any ordinary use of experience.
Kant was treading on some fairly controversial territory, and he very deftly raised the issue of the authority possessed by such “metaphysics” (as the non-empirical study by pure reason of such transcendent objects) by laying out and examining a typology of the judgments that we make. There are two ways, Kant suggested, that we look at judgments: on the one hand, we can regard the form of the judgment (how the subject is related to the predicate); and, on the other hand, we can regard the judgment in term of how we go about justifying it. (p. 21)
Forms of judgment (analytic and synthetic)
Mode of justification (a priori, a posteriori)
Time and space, Kant therefore concluded, were “ideal” since they could not be objects of direct sensory experience and therefore had to be available to us only in our “pure” representation of them. (p. 25) [meaning that time and space were subjective]
There could be no direct intuitive knowledge of anything, even in mathematics and geometry; all knowledge required the mediation and use of concepts deployed in judgments. In fact, our most elementary acts of consciousness of the world involved a combination of both intuitions and concepts (each making their own, separate contribution to the whole), and, prior to that combination, there is no consciousness at all. (p. 26)

Kant’s line of thought first of all implied that the mind cannot be understood as merely a passive entity of any sorts; in becoming aware of the objects of experience, we do not merely passively see or hear something, nor do we stand merely in any kind of causal relation to an object; our cognitive relation to objects is the result of the active stance we take toward them by virtue of the way in which we combine various elements (intuitive and conceptual) in our experience.
Second, our representations cannot be conceived as “mirrors of nature” …things in nature are simply are, and they do not, outside of our activity of taking them in a certain way, represent or “stand for” anything…
Nor, third, are our representations merely internal episodes going on within the confines of our private mental lives, as we might at first naively think; they are rule-governed active “takings” of experiential elements by acts of “synthesis” that produce the various unities necessary for us to have any experience at all—in particular, the unity of the thinking subject and the unity of the objects of experience. For me to make a judgment is for me to be oriented by the rules that would count for all judgers; they cannot be my private rules, since such private rules would not be “rules” at all, but merely expressions of personal proclivities and dispositions. They are the rules necessary for (as Kant puts it) a “universal self-consciousness,” that is, for all rational agents.
Fourth, the kinds of objects of which we could be conscious had to be objects in space and time, since space and time were the forms of any possible intuition…
Fifth, the representational content of thought could not be explained by patterns of association or by naturalistically understood causal patterns; the cognitive content of thought is constituted entirely by the norms of governing judgmental synthesis itself. (pp. 34-35)

With one fell swoop , so it seemed, Kant had dismantled both rationalist and empiricist trains of thought. The empiricists had made the mistake of thinking that concepts were only abstractions from sensory experience when in fact we could not have any conscious sensory experience at all without our already being in the possession of certain very basic, “pure” concepts. Those concepts were, moreover, not innate but were generated by the spontaneity of the human mind itself as it shaped experience into judgmental form. The empiricist had also confused psychological explanations of how we come to have certain patterns of association with the normative considerations of how we adjudicate judgments as being true or false. Likewise, the rationalist had made the mistake of thinking that, since the senses were only confused modes of intellection, we could produce substantial doctrines about the existence and structure of supersensible metaphysical entities without any independent check by sensible experience, they had failed to understand that concepts are only rules for the synthesis of experience, and that abstracted out of that role they were completely empty, were merely the logical forms of judgment, and could not serve to provide substantive doctrines of anything. (pp. 36-37)

I think this turned out to be a very long entry. Thanks to those of you who managed to read this far ^_^. Now its your turn. Tell me what you think.

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