I've posted about Kant before, and I've even given what may be the best Kant joke I've ever heard. In fact, it has to be the best, because it's the only one I've ever heard.
The Critique is a long, heavy, complicated book, and Kant's prose has been excoriated by people like Walter Kaufmann. Kant's philosophy has been parodied and ridiculed by people such as Thomas Love Peacock in Nightmare Abbey, which is a thoroughly delightful portrait of some of the Romantics, such as Shelley and Coleridge, and which you should read.
When I was growing up and attending Catholic schools, I'd heard about Kant, as noted in the joke referred to, and I knew that he was on the Index of books that we weren't supposed to read. I think what I knew about him was that he had tried to disprove the existence of God. Well, that wasn't quite right as we shall see. Not to give too much away, but what he attempts to disprove are the
Kant, in the introduction to the first edition says:
"In my work I have chiefly aimed at comprehensiveness, and I venture to maintain that there ought not to be one single metaphysical problem that has not been solved here, or at least to the solution of which the key has not been supplied. In fact, pure reason is so perfect a unity that, if its principle should prove insufficient to answer any one of the many questions stated by its very nature, one might throw it away altogether, as an inadequate and unreliable response to any of the other questions. In saying this I fancy I observe in the face of my readers an expression of indignation, mixed with contempt at pretensions apparently so vainglorious and extravagant; and yet they are incomparably more moderate than those made by the writer of the commonest essay professing to prove, say, the simple nature of the soul or the necessity of a first beginning of the world. For while he pretends to extend human knowledge beyond all limits of possible experience, I confess most humbly that this is entirely beyond my power. I mean only to treat of reason itself and its pure thinking, comprehensive knowledge of which I do not have to look very far to find, considering that it is to be found within myself. Common logic gives an instance of how all the simple acts of reason can be enumerated completely and systematically. My question is what we can hope to achieve with reason when all the material and assistance of experience are taken away. ” ¹" What can we take away from this:
¹ Kant, 8 [Axiii, xiv]
- That every metaphysical problem is solved through his critique, or, failing that, the critique provides a means of solving metaphysical problems.
- Kant contends that his claims for his method are more modest than those of other writers who attempt to deal with metaphysical problems.
- He is only going to deal with
reason itself, and therefore he is not dealing with reasoning based on either experience or faith.
- That the acts of reason can be
enumerated completely and systematically.
practical reasonthe subject of the next critique.
In the introduction to the second edition Kant opens by discussing the
Schools, i.e., Scholasticism. Kant in discussing his philosophy appears to assert:
"Thus, and thus alone, can one cut off at the very root materialism, fatalism atheism, free-thinking disbelief, fanaticism and superstition which may become universally injurious, and finally also idealism and scepticism, which are more dangerous to the Schools ami only pass with great difficulty into the public consciousness.”¹" So we are not to take the critique as promoting atheism, but as somehow furnishing a rebuttal to it. One relatively famous sentence from Kant, famous because it is used in computer game, comes in his discussion of the
¹ Kant, 28 [Bxxxv, xxxvi]
Transcendental Doctrine of Elements:
"Without sensibility no object would be given to us, without understanding no object would be thought. Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”²" What exactly are we to make of this? Without sensibility, i.e., without the ability to perceive objects through the senses, we would not be able to grasp any object. Without what Kant calls
² Kant, 86 [B76, A52]
understandingwe would not be able to think about things. We cannot think without forming a thought about something.
Kant, at least here, in The Critique of Pure Reason, does not make the distinction between deductive and inductive reasoning that many of us are familiar with. He dwells on
pure reason, which is apparently synonymous with speculative reason. What Kant is dealing with is the limits of reason on its own, without any aid from experience.
"General logic is either pure or applied. In the former we abstract from all empirical conditions under which we exercise | our understanding, e.g. from the influence of the senses, the play of imagination, the laws of memory, the force of habit, inclination, etc., and therefore also from the sources of prejudice, and indeed from all causes that may give rise, or may seem to give rise, to this or that knowledge. For all these empirical conditions concern the understanding only under certain circumstances of its application, and experience is required in order to know these circumstances. A logic that is general but also pure has to deal only with a priori principles, and is a canon of the understanding and of reason, though only with regard to what is formal in our use of them, irrespective of the content (whether empirical or transcendental).” ³" Here is Kant on applied logic:
³ Kant, 87 [B76 | A52]
"What I call applied logic (contrary to the ordinary meaning of this expression, according to which it should contain certain exercises for which pure logic gives the rule) is a representation of the understanding and of the rules of its necessary use in | concreto, i.e., under the contingent conditions of the subject, which may hinder or help this use, and which are all given only empirically. It treats of attention, its impediments and consequences, of the source of error, of the state of doubt, hesitation and conviction, etc. Pure general logic stands to it in the same | relation as pure ethics, which contains only the necessary moral laws of a free will in general, stands to the proper doctrine of virtue; the doctrine of virtue considers these laws as under the influence of feelings, inclinations and passions to which all human beings are more or less subject. Such a doctrine can never constitute a true and demonstrated science, because, like applied logic, it depends on empirical and psychological principles. ”⁴"
⁴ Kant, 87 [B77, 78 | A53, 54]
What is truth? is an old and famous question by which people thought they could drive logicians into a corner, and either make them take refuge in a pitiful circular reasoning, or make them confess their ignorance and consequently the vanity of their whole art. These people took for granted, and presupposed, the nominal definition of truth, that it is the agreement of knowledge with its object. But they wanted to know the general and safe criterion of the truth of any and every knowledge." Kant refers to the Bible, but does not continue, as Bacon did, by referring to Pilate who does not stay for an answer. He gives a general definition truth,
“To know what questions may reasonably be asked is already a great and necessary proof of sagacity and insight. For if a question is absurd in itself and calls for unnecessary answers, it not only brings disgrace to the person raising it, but may prompt an incautious listener to give absurd answers, thus presenting, as the ancients said, the laughable spectacle of one person milking a he-goat, and another holding the sieve underneath.
“If truth consists in the agreement of knowledge with its object, then that object must thereby be distinguished from other objects; for knowledge is false if it does not agree with the object to which it is referred, even if it contains something which may be valid of other objects. Now, a general criterion of truth would be one that is valid for all knowledge, whatever its objects may be. But it is clear that such a criterion abstracts from all contents of knowledge (reference to its object), while truth concerns these very contents. It is impossible and absurd, therefore, to ask for a sign of the truth of such contents, and therefore a sufficient and at the same time general indicator of truth cannot possibly be given. ”⁵
⁵ Kant 88, [B82, 83 | A58, 59]
agreement of knowledge with its object,and accompanies that by an image of a fool milking a goat of the wrong gender. His argument then is that it is impossible to form a general concept of truth.
"In this manner there arise exactly as many pure concepts of the understanding which apply a priori to objects of intuition in general as in our table there were logical functions in all possible judgements. For these functions of the understanding are completely exhaustive and they comprehend its entire ability. We shall, with Aristotle, call these concepts categories, for our | intention is originally the same as his, though it widely diverges from his in its execution.”" Aristotle had previously postulated that there were 10 things that could be said of a subject, and he enumerated them as follows:
⁶ Kant 105 [B106 | A80]
- Qualification or Quality
- Relative or Relation
- Where or Place
- When or Time
- Being-in-a-position, posture, attitude
- Having or state, condition
- Doing or Action
- Being affected or Affection
"If I speak of a whole as necessarily consisting of simple parts, I understand by it only a substantial whole, as a real composite, that is, that contingent unity of the manifold which, given as separate (at least in thought), is brought into a reciprocal combination and thus constitutes a unit. We ought not to call space a compositum, but a totum because its parts are possible only in the whole, and not the whole through its parts. It might therefore be called a compositum ideale, but not reale. But this is mere subtlety. Since space is no composite of substances, not even of real accidents, nothing remains of it if I remove all composition in it, not even the point; for a point is possible only as the limit of a space (and therefore of a composite). Space and time, therefore, do not consist of simple parts. Whatever belongs only to the state of a substance, even though it possesses magnitude (as, for instance, alteration), does not consist of the simple; that is to say, a certain degree of alteration does not arise through the accretion of many simple alterations.” ⁷" Kant devotes about 30 pages towards the end of the Transcendental Dialectic to evaluating the arguments for the existence of God. My recollection of Aristotle's Metaphysics is that he argues from motion that there is an unmoved mover, and that mover is God. Aquinas, in The Summa gives five proofs for the existence of God. Moses Maimonides also gives several. Rebecca Goldstein published a novel called 36 Arguments for the Existence of God with an appendix that gives those 36 arguments. Kant, however, reduces all of the arguments to 3, the ontological, the cosmological, and the physico-theological (design) argument. He shows that existence is not a predicate, but a simple copulative, and that the ontological proof is reasoning in circle. He then demonstrates that the cosmological and physico-theological proofs include the ontological proofs, and therefore they fail to prove the existence of God. Now note that he does not say that he has proved the non-existence of God, only the inadequacy of the proofs. After he has demonstrated the inadequacy of the proofs he then moves on to pedagogical concerns.
⁷ Kant 400-1 [B466 | A438]
"He then sees no better way of showing that he is no longer a child than by ignoring all well-meant warnings and, accustomed as he is to dogmatism, swallowing the poison which destroys his principles by another dogmatism." Kant seems to be arguing here that the exposure to the critical philosophy will inspire young minds to think more clearly on the questions that he raises. At other places in the Critique it seems that he leaves room for what Kierkegaard would later call the
The very opposite of what is here recommended is the right course for academic instruction, provided always that it is founded on a thorough training in the principles of the critique of pure reason. For in order to apply these principles practically as soon as possible, and to show their sufficiency even when faced by the strongest dialectical illusion, it is absolutely necessary to allow the attacks, which seem so formidable to the dogmatist, to be directed against the young mind whose reason, though weak as yet, has been enlightened by criticism, so as to let him test by its principles the groundless assertions of his opponents one after the other. He cannot find it very difficult to dissolve them all into thin air, and thus alone does he begin early to feel his own power to secure himself against all dangerous illusions, which in the end lose all their illusory power over him. It is true, the same blows which destroy the stronghold of his opponent must prove fatal also to his own speculative structures, if he should wish to erect such. But this need not disturb him, because he does not wish to shelter himself beneath them, but still has before him a view over the practical field, where he may confidently hope to find firmer ground upon which to erect his own rational and beneficial system.
There is, therefore, no room for real polemic in the sphere of pure reason. Both parties beat the air and fight with their own shadows, because they go beyond nature, where there is nothing that they could lay hold of with their dogmatic grasp. They may fight to their hearts’ content; the shadows which they are cleaving grow together again in one moment, like the heroes in Valhalla, in order to disport themselves once more in these bloodless contests.
Nor can we admit a sceptical use of pure reason, which might be called the principle of neutrality in all its disputes. Surely, to stir up reason against itself, to supply it with weapons on both sides, and then to look on quietly and disdainfully while the fierce battle is raging, does not look good from a dogmatic point of view, but has the appearance of a mischievous and malevolent disposition. If, however, we consider the invincible obstinacy and the boasting of the dogmatic sophists, who refuse to be || moderated by any critique, then there really seems nothing left but to meet the boasting on one side by an equally justified boasting on the other, in order at least to startle reasion by a display of opposition, and thus to shake its confidence and make it willing to listen to the voice of criticism. But to stop at this point, and to look upon the conviction and confession of ignorance, not only as a remedy against dogmatic conceit, but as the best means of settling the conflict of reason with itself, is a vain attempt that will never give peace to reason. The most it can do is to rouse reason from its sweet dogmatic dreams, and to induce it to examine more carefully its own situation. Since, however, the sceptical manner of avoiding a troublesome business seems to be the shortest way out of all difficulties, and promises to lead to a permanent peace in philosophy, or is chosen at least as the highroad by all those who, under the pretence of a scornful dislike of all investigations of this kind, try to give themselves the air of philosophers, it seems necessary to exhibit this mode of thought in its true light.
The Impossibility of a Sceptical Satisfaction of a Pure Reason Disunited with ItselfThe consciousness of my ignorance ought (unless at the same time we recognize this ignorance as necessary), instead of forming the end of my investigations, to serve, on the contrary, as their strongest impulse. All ignorance is either an ignorance of things, or an ignorance of the limits of our knowledge. If ignorance is only accidental, it should incite us, in the former case, to investigate things (objects) dogmatically, and in the latter, to investigate the limits of possible knowledge critically.” ⁸
⁸ Kant 604–605 [B784–6 |A756–8]
leap of faith.Kierkegaard and his relation to Kant and to Hegel is a topic for later times and better hands.
Next up, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in its entirety, all 3,000+ pages of it.