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  • Transcendental forms and their objectivity

    Can someone who is more familiar with Kant than I am with my cursory reading of him, help me figure out why Kant believed we filter concrete reality through a priori forms and why these forms are objective representations of reality? What is his justification for positing a priori forms as objective advocates of external reality?

  • #2
    Kant writes (CPR, A111-112):
    [T]he possibility, indeed the necessity, of these categories rests on the relation in which our entire sensibility, and with it all possible appearances, stand to original apperception. In original apperception everything must necessarily conform to the conditions of the thoroughgoing unity of self-consciousness, that is, to the universal functions of synthesis, namely, of that synthesis according to concepts in which alone apperception can demonstrate a priori its complete and necessary identity. Thus the concept of a cause is nothing but a synthesis (of that which follows in the time-series, with other appearances) according to concepts; and without such unity, which has its a priori rule, and which subjects the appearances to itself, no thoroughgoing, universal, and therefore necessary, unity of consciousness would be met with in the manifold of perceptions. These perceptions would not then belong to any experience, consequently would be without an object, merely a blind play of representations, less even than a dream.
    Saying how this all is supposed to work is not easy. As I understand it, Kant thinks that the categories are conditions for the possibility of representation*, which we have. Even if things are not as we take them to be, we at least take them to be some way. Even if we are everywhere deceived, we have more than "a blind play of representation", because if we are everywhere deceived, then we are at least wrong about something. A mere blind play of representations cannot even be false. Predication is required for truth and falsity. It is by falling under the categories that predication is possible. Something in the category of substance is such as for things in the other categories to be predicated of it. So what Kant is trying to argue is that what is given in sensibility is already such as to stand in predicative relations, that what is given in sensibility already falls under the categories. As I understand him, when he says that the categories are "objectively valid," he means just that they purport to be objective, that they make possible the representing* of the world in thought, that they are such as to figure in judgment. I am not sure that he actually wants to say that we filter reality through them. However, I'm afraid it might be beyond my competence to say much more than this.

    *I am using "represent" in a way different from Kant in the quotation. In my use something is representational if it can be true or false. In Kant "representation" is the usual translation of Vorstellung, which is just something given in perception, which even if it is objectively valid need not itself represent anything in my sense.

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    • #3
      Thanks Greg this is incredibly helpful.

      I'm curious, though, why even devise a theory of knowledge that divides reality into that which is representational phenomena informed by a priori categories, and that which is the correlative mind-stuff, the noumenon? What was his motivation for severing the mind from reality, a reality that was previously regarded as metaphysically correlated to the mind? I'm just struggling to find the fundamental reasons for his epistemology. Was Kant captivated by some brand of empiricism or something?

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      • #4
        Kant wants to preserve the central nerve of empiricism, that nothing is in the mind that is not first in the senses (as he thinks rationalism is inherently dogmatic and rationalist metaphysics cannot attain to the status of a science). But he thinks that the usual empiricist way of working that out unravels thought itself (because if you understand Hume's skepticism about causality, you understand that a parallel argument can be made about all of the categories, and without the categories, there is no thought).

        I am not really sure what comes of the phenomenon-noumenon distinction in CPR. It's a very difficult topic. Note that the categories are supposed to encompass all of our possible judgment; we can judge of what falls under them. If that's so, then we're misled whenever we speak of what does not come under the categories, like the 'noumenon', as though it does (as though it were a kind of "stuff"). There's a case to be made that Kant is trying to say that 'everything' is included within possible experience. There's nothing left, there's nothing on the other side of the 'limit'. However on this topic I worry that I might be saying something stupid.

        Kant calls his transcendental idealism a formal, as opposed to material, idealism. A material idealism holds that the things of which we think are mental. A formal idealism holds that their forms, which for Kant are the categories, are. I think a lot of people read Kant as a material idealist, even though he argues against it.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by RomanJoe View Post
          Thanks Greg this is incredibly helpful.

          I'm curious, though, why even devise a theory of knowledge that divides reality into that which is representational phenomena informed by a priori categories, and that which is the correlative mind-stuff, the noumenon? What was his motivation for severing the mind from reality, a reality that was previously regarded as metaphysically correlated to the mind? I'm just struggling to find the fundamental reasons for his epistemology. Was Kant captivated by some brand of empiricism or something?
          I think that the opinions of Kant's time on the possibility of knowledge were either 1) it comes from sense experience alone, or 2) it comes from both sense experience and innates ideas. At least, those were the living options.
          Kant thought that 1 was too much skeptical, and 2 was problematic because of antinomies, notably. That said, he also thought there was some truth in both: so he argued that there was a necessary structure of rational cognition, and blablabla... You know the rest. Kant ultimately thought that both were wrong because transcendental idealism was correct, as he had shown.

          I probably said many errors: if anyone can correct, feel free to do so...

          Originally posted by Greg View Post
          I am not really sure what comes of the phenomenon-noumenon distinction in CPR. It's a very difficult topic. Note that the categories are supposed to encompass all of our possible judgment; we can judge of what falls under them. If that's so, then we're misled whenever we speak of what does not come under the categories, like the 'noumenon', as though it does (as though it were a kind of "stuff"). There's a case to be made that Kant is trying to say that 'everything' is included within possible experience. There's nothing left, there's nothing on the other side of the 'limit'. However on this topic I worry that I might be saying something stupid.
          If I understand you well, you seems to say that the concept of the "thing-in-itself" is empty. If that's the case, it doesn't seems what Kant is trying to say, or I'm far more mistaken than you are.
          For Kant, or at least what I think is Kant, God and the moral self are thing-in-itself. The point is rather that theorical reason can't speak about those things, but practical reason can

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          • #6
            In the CPR he says he is specifically worried about Hume's critiques affecting our ability to do science. How can we justify necessary a poteriori claims such as, gravity exists everywhere in the universe? It's not a priori true, but we do think it is a general, true statement about phenomena.

            Kant's system supposedly saves rationality and scientific thought, but it does so by severely restricting our thought to something like subjective categories. And said categories are restricted to phenomena, not God or the thing-in-itself, or anything "spiritual".

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Ouros View Post
              If I understand you well, you seems to say that the concept of the "thing-in-itself" is empty. If that's the case, it doesn't seems what Kant is trying to say, or I'm far more mistaken than you are.
              For Kant, or at least what I think is Kant, God and the moral self are thing-in-itself. The point is rather that theorical reason can't speak about those things, but practical reason can
              I think there's a problem of saying how to synthesize the doctrine of CPR with the practical writings, or of what it is supposed to mean that there is only practical cognition of God and the moral self. Kant is clear in CPR that the notion of a noumenon has a purely negative sense. That is, as a limit to sensibility: a noumenon is a phenomenon abstracted from the way in which it is given. It is impossible to conceive of a noumenon which is not a possible object of experience. How this is consistent with the idea that the postulates of practical reason are theoretical principles with necessarily practical reference is not really clear to me.

              Kant says this in the Critique of Practical Reason:
              In order to extend a pure cognition practically there must be a purpose given a priori, that is, an end as object (of the will) that, independently of all theoretical principles, is represented as practically necessary by an imperative determining the will immediately (a categorical imperative), and in this case that is the highest good. This, however, is not possible without presupposing three theoretical concepts (for which, because they are only pure rational concepts, no corresponding intuition can be found and consequently, by the theoretical path, no objective reality): namely, freedom, immortality, and God. Thus by the practical law that commands the existence of the highest good possible in a world, the possibility of those objects of pure speculative reason, the objective reality which the latter could not assure them, is postulated; by this the theoretical cognition of pure reason certainly receives an increment, but it consists only in this: that those concepts, otherwise problematic (merely thinkable) for it, are now declared assertorically to be concepts to which real objects belong, because practical reason unavoidably requires the existence of them for the possibility of its object, the highest good, which is absolutely necessary practically, and theoretical reason is thereby justified in assuming them. But this extension of theoretical reason is no extension of speculation, that is, no positive use can now be made of it for theoretical purposes. For, since nothing further is accomplished in this by practical reason that those concepts are real and really have their (possible) objects, but nothing is thereby given us by way of intuition of them (which can also not be demanded), no synthetic proposition is possible by this reality granted them. … In [reason's practical capacity] they become immanent and the necessary object of pure practical reason (the highest good), whereas apart from this they are transcendent and merely regulative principles of speculative reason, which do not require it to assume a new object beyond experience but only to bring its use in experience nearer to completeness. (5:134-135)
              I don't think I understand the balancing act.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Greg View Post
                It is impossible to conceive of a noumenon which is not a possible object of experience. How this is consistent with the idea that the postulates of practical reason are theoretical principles with necessarily practical reference is not really clear to me.
                I think the problem is how you interpret "conceive". We need to remember that for Kant, there's a difference between reason and understanding. Kant isn't saying that reason can't talk about God, for example, but that understanding can't give us knowledge of the unconditionned.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Ouros View Post

                  I think the problem is how you interpret "conceive". We need to remember that for Kant, there's a difference between reason and understanding. Kant isn't saying that reason can't talk about God, for example, but that understanding can't give us knowledge of the unconditionned.
                  I don't think that is correct. For Kant, the categories of reason are categories that apply to experience. If there's no understanding, then reason is misused. What's that famous phrase of his? Something like understanding without reason is dumb and reason without understanding is blind. That's the gist st least.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Brian View Post
                    I don't think that is correct. For Kant, the categories of reason are categories that apply to experience. If there's no understanding, then reason is misused. What's that famous phrase of his? Something like understanding without reason is dumb and reason without understanding is blind. That's the gist st least.
                    The dictum is: Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind. The first part is a way of formulating the basic empiricist commitment that nothing is in the intellect without first being in the senses; thought must be about possible experience, otherwise it is contentless. (Rationalism is rejected.) The second part is another way of putting Kant's claim that without concepts as determinations of the categories, intuitions would be a "mere blind play of representations". (Empiricism is rejected.)

                    But what you are saying about understanding and reason does still basically express Kant's view. The understanding is a faculty which issues in cognition and judgment of objects. Kant actually calls the categories pure concepts of the understanding, not of reason, because they are what objects must fall under to be combined/combinable into judgments. Reason is the faculty of inference, which has been used to claim all sorts of things (such as that God exists, that the soul is immortal, etc.). The first critique is a critique of pure reason in that it puts limits on what reason can do in abstraction from experience. Reason cannot in fact go beyond the bounds of possible experience, and that is basically because of Kant's dictum; if reason did go beyond the bounds of possible experience, it would only yield thought without content.

                    In regard to Ouros' suggestion that harmonizing Kant's theoretical and practical philosophy depends on rightly understanding "conceives", I think that is correct, but it may perhaps related to another distinction Kant makes between cognizing an object and thinking it. I confess to not being able to say what that distinction is, and unfortunately Kant is not an easy author to sift through. Someday I have to go back and figure this all out.

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                    • #11
                      It's my understanding that Kant believed true knowledge is synthesized out of a combination of sense experience and a priori categories, hence metaphysical claims merely reflect the constitution of the mind rather than external reality--consequently, reality becomes the noumenon, what the world is apart from epistemological synthesis. But, of course, an obvious objection is that Kant's claim concerning the nature of the mind is a metaphysical claim, one that purports to know the constitution of the mind, the thing in itself. Furthermore, what justification does he have for claiming not his mind, but all of mankind's is constituted by a priori concepts, and that these concepts are universally objective for all? Does he ever address these objections?

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by RomanJoe View Post
                        It's my understanding that Kant believed true knowledge is synthesized out of a combination of sense experience and a priori categories, hence metaphysical claims merely reflect the constitution of the mind rather than external reality--consequently, reality becomes the noumenon, what the world is apart from epistemological synthesis.
                        I think there are two distinct strands in Kant which you are conflating. Knowledge arises from a synthesis of concepts and gets its content from intuition, yes; this synthesis is possible because the categories are a priori valid, yes. That often engenders the worry from commentators that all of our legitimate cognition "merely reflects" the constitution of the mind rather than reality. To the extent that Kant is interested in talking about "metaphysical claims" as some sort of class, he is interested in talking about the claims of dogmatic metaphysics. Those are not mere projections in the sense that people worry cognition generally is, on Kant's view; they are claims that people are led to make only because they fail to appreciate the sense in which all thought is governed by the categories, because they go beyond the bounds of possible experience.

                        As far as the first worry, that even the thought that "the cat is on the mat," when one makes it, merely reflects the constitution of the mind, there are, it is true, a lot of commentators who have thought Kant was presenting that kind of view. I think he probably wants to suggest something else, because that seems similar to views he says he wants to reject. He would resist the "merely". He wants the forms of the understanding (the categories) to be the forms of the world. There can be knowledge because there is a match. (Part of what is misleading here is that Kant does not, I think, want to suggest that what gets translated "appearance" is, or needs to be at any rate, something less than an object in the external world.)

                        Originally posted by RomanJoe View Post
                        But, of course, an obvious objection is that Kant's claim concerning the nature of the mind is a metaphysical claim, one that purports to know the constitution of the mind, the thing in itself. Furthermore, what justification does he have for claiming not his mind, but all of mankind's is constituted by a priori concepts, and that these concepts are universally objective for all? Does he ever address these objections?
                        In the sense in which Kant is concerned to avoid 'metaphysical claims', he does not think his account of finite cognition is metaphysical. It is supposed precisely to be non-dogmatic. I don't think that he would admit that in CPR he is coming to defend theses about the "thing in itself" which is the mind. One of my professors urged that as one reads CPR one holds off as long as possible from forming an opinion as to what "noumena" are. It's very tempting to think that they are things onto which we project the a priori forms of space and time and the categories; but by the time we are conceiving them as things, we are thinking of them as substances, and thus not really thinking of them as things in themselves, in abstraction from any way in which they are given.

                        I would say, yes, Kant does attempt to address objections like these. That is largely the point of the whole CPR, and the project of saying what his replies are is the enormously difficult task of expounding Kant. For instance, the transcendental deduction is supposed to show that the categories are the forms of the understanding. The 'Refutation of Idealism' is supposed to explain why the 'idealisms' of Descartes and Berkeley are incorrect but his 'transcendental' or 'formal' ideal is correct.
                        Last edited by Greg; 01-27-2019, 02:13 AM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Greg View Post

                          He wants the forms of the understanding (the categories) to be the forms of the world. There can be knowledge because there is a match.
                          Is it? Isn't it because given the categories are a necessary presuppositions of any rationnal cognitions, the categories will be "universally intersubjective"?

                          Originally posted by Greg View Post

                          In the sense in which Kant is concerned to avoid 'metaphysical claims', he does not think his account of finite cognition is metaphysical. It is supposed precisely to be non-dogmatic. I don't think that he would admit that in CPR he is coming to defend theses about the "thing in itself" which is the mind.
                          I neither think that he would admit that: but it would still be the case, in my opinion. For if the mind, and his thoughts necessarily structured in some way, aren't part of reality in itself, then transcendental idealism doesn't make sense. He couldn't even say that transcendental idealism is true.

                          Originally posted by Greg View Post

                          One of my professors urged that as one reads CPR one holds off as long as possible from forming an opinion as to what "noumena" are. It's very tempting to think that they are things onto which we project the a priori forms of space and time and the categories; but by the time we are conceiving them as things, we are thinking of them as substances, and thus not really thinking of them as things in themselves, in abstraction from any way in which they are given.
                          True, but it's also hard to not say that Kant himself trapped himself with the noumena. First, because it seems that he says that noumena is a substance atemporal and aspatial which cause our representations. Second, because the thing-in-itself is a contradiction. I don't remember exactly the terms, or the one who say that, but it was one the first critics of Kant's system: "Without the thing-in-itself, I can't get in transcendental idealism. But when I have the thing-in-itself, I get out of it.".
                          To say that "There's a proposition which is necessary true for us, but not true in itself" cause a crack in our judgment, for we need to conceive something false in itself but necessary true for us, but that's impossible per the necessity of our judgment of it.

                          Let me be clear; I wan't to be charitable as much as possible. If I'm wrong, please, feel free to correct me. But for me, it will always seems the most problematic criticism we can make to Kant.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Ouros View Post
                            Is it? Isn't it because given the categories are a necessary presuppositions of any rationnal cognitions, the categories will be "universally intersubjective"?
                            I think that is part of it, but I don't think universal intersubjectivity is enough for his purposes.

                            Originally posted by Ouros View Post
                            I neither think that he would admit that: but it would still be the case, in my opinion. For if the mind, and his thoughts necessarily structured in some way, aren't part of reality in itself, then transcendental idealism doesn't make sense. He couldn't even say that transcendental idealism is true.
                            I'm trying to write a reply but I don't think I know Kant well enough to do it. I do think that people bring to the text conceptions of what "reality in itself" is and what it would be for an account of the mind to be an account of reality in itself. They then read the doctrine of the transcendental ideality of space and time in light of that conception, which tends to lead to more impositionalist readings of him: there are these things in themselves, and we impose space, time, and the categories on them. That seems to be a very bad philosophical view indeed, given Kant's aims. First of all it seems contradictory, because it seems to conceive noumena both as things and not as things. It further does not seem to quiet skepticism, because we are left wondering why imposition should enable us to make truth-apt judgments about things. And it looks a lot like the forms of idealism that Kant explicitly wants to reject.

                            I think there are ways to see Kant as proceeding more cautiously. He claims that the method of philosophy is elucidation. It is supposed to be possible to hear his initial glosses on what, e.g., a presentation or Vorstellung is as truisms, and the rest of the book is a working-out of these. Whether what he says is an account of the structure of reality in itself will depend on what it turns out we can say about 'reality in itself'.

                            Originally posted by Ouros View Post
                            True, but it's also hard to not say that Kant himself trapped himself with the noumena. First, because it seems that he says that noumena is a substance atemporal and aspatial which cause our representations. Second, because the thing-in-itself is a contradiction. I don't remember exactly the terms, or the one who say that, but it was one the first critics of Kant's system: "Without the thing-in-itself, I can't get in transcendental idealism. But when I have the thing-in-itself, I get out of it.".
                            To say that "There's a proposition which is necessary true for us, but not true in itself" cause a crack in our judgment, for we need to conceive something false in itself but necessary true for us, but that's impossible per the necessity of our judgment of it.
                            Lots of people have had the impression that a noumenon is a sort of atemporal and aspatial substance which cause our representations. Based on the other things Kant is committed to, that is, again, a disastrous thesis.

                            But does Kant believe it?
                            I call a concept problematic that contains no contradiction but that is also, as a boundary for given concepts, connected with other cognition, the objective reality of which can in no way be cognized. The concept of a noumenon, .i.e., of a thing not to be thought of as an object of the senses but rather as a thing in itself (solely through a pure understanding), is not at all contradictory; for one cannot assert of sensibility that it is the only possible kind of intuition. Further, this concept is necessary in order not to extend sensible intuition to things in themselves, and thus to limit the objective validity of sensible cognition (for the other things, to which sensibility does not reach, are called noumena just in order to indicate that those cognitions cannot extend their domain to everything that the understanding thinks). In the end, however, we have no insight into the possibility of such noumena, and we have an understanding that extends rather than sensibility problematically. The concept of a noumenon is therefore merely a boundary concept, in order to limit the pretension of sensibility, and therefore only of negative use. But it is nevertheless not invented arbitrarily, but is rather connected with the limitation of sensibility, yet without being able to posit anything positive outside of the domain of the latter.

                            The division of objects into phaenomena and noumena, and of the world into a world of sense and a world of understanding, can therefore not be permitted at all in a positive sense, although concepts certainly permit of division into sensible and intellectual ones; for one cannot determine any object for the latter, and therefore also cannot pass them off as objectively valid. (B310-311)
                            Whatever else Kant is trying to do, he is not trying to defend the thesis that noumena cause our representations. One can ask whether the doctrine of the transcendental ideality of space and time implies that they do, but I don't see why that is. Kant does say that time "is nothing at all if one abstracts from the subjective conditions of sensible intuition, and cannot be counted as either subsisting or inhering in the objects in themselves (without their relation to intuition)" (B52). But that does not imply that the concept of time is imposed on some essentially atemporal thing, for as he later argues we are not entitled to think there are any such essentially atemporal things.

                            Nor does it mean that time is only the form of our representations. What the parenthesis in the previous quote implies is that time can be counted as subsisting or inhering in objects with their relation to intuition. It is not just in relation to the objects of present intuition that time is objective. Hence we can say: "The senses represent objects to us as they appear, but the understanding, as they are, [if] the latter is not to be taken in a transcendental but in a merely empirical way, signifying, namely, how they must be represented as objects of experience, in the thoroughgoing connection of appearances, and not how they might be outside the relation to possible experience and consequently to sense in general, thus as objects of pure understanding" (B313-314).

                            Originally posted by Ouros View Post
                            Let me be clear; I wan't to be charitable as much as possible. If I'm wrong, please, feel free to correct me. But for me, it will always seems the most problematic criticism we can make to Kant.
                            I understand. It's very easy to walk away from the text with the traditional reading of Kant. But I've been persuaded that there are prospects for something less problematic. The real obstacle though is just that Kant is so difficult and if you want to check something it's not always clear where one should turn in the text.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Greg View Post
                              I understand. It's very easy to walk away from the text with the traditional reading of Kant. But I've been persuaded that there are prospects for something less problematic. The real obstacle though is just that Kant is so difficult and if you want to check something it's not always clear where one should turn in the text.
                              I just remembered that I forgot to ask: I suppose that this interpretation that you're thinking about is something you've read on some secondary sources on Kant. If that's the case, care to share?

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