And Now for a Moment in Kant’s Imagination…?

Bloody_Hell_32

From Asher Moore’s “Existentialism and the Tradition”:

In Kant’s synthesis, transcendence was prior, existence derivative.  There is one place in his thought, however, at which it looks like he might reverse this order.  This is the concluding section of the Dialectic.  Leibniz’ pretensions to knowledge of self, other selves, and God have just been disposed of.  We have not yet been told, except in asides, that those realities are still there, busy changing into their second-act costumes.  Here on this watershed, and for just a moment, there is a sense that God, self and other selves are indeed present, but present as absent, as ideals and lures, as almost empty memories.

If one were determined to find nothing new in existentialism, to hold it derivative through and through, I think one would derive it, not really from Hume–who, except to the eyes of fondest affection, is too one-sided–but from this particular moment in Kant–this moment when, in Kant’s imagination, Hume stands alone on the battlefield, the unchallenged victor, but suddenly and poignantly moved by the grandeurs he has struck down.  For existentialists, transcendence, the ontological dimension, is present, but taken in its own inner sense, per se, it is present as an ideal, a standard of comparison–something regretted or hoped for, heard or plighted–a brave, comic pretension.

Kant, Intuition and Direction of Fit

Nothing teaches better than teaching.  I’ve been trying to ease (!) my Intro students into Kant’s Prolegomena.  In the last class, we talked about directions of fit, world-to-mind and mind-to-world.  It had never struck me (clearly) that Kant’s story about intuition makes it the case that pure intuition enjoys one direction of fit, world-to-mind, while empirical intuition enjoys another direction of fit, mind-to-world*.  I suppose that is or ought to have been obvious to me, but it didn’t seem to be.  I may have missed it (if we need an explanation other than my not being overly bright or my being careless) because I had gotten so focused on the distinction between spontaneity and receptivity, and the differences in their respective directions of fit, and in thinking of the categories as spontaneous and intuition as receptive, that it hadn’t occurred to me that intuition could itself embody both directions of fit.

I guess we could say that intuition itself has a spontaneity (call it “anticipation”) and a receptivity.  Its having a spontaneity is what makes pure mathematics possible (since pure mathematics constitutionally involves the spontaneity of intuition).  –The Copernican revolution reaches all the way into intuition.  Huh.  It seems I had thought of it as reaching only into judgment, categorically.  I mean, of course I knew that intuition was both pure and empirical, but I did not (fully) see that as already thematizing the synergy of spontaneity and receptivity.  –Duh.

*I’ve edited the terminology here from the initial post.  I had reversed the use of the standard terms.  Apologies.

Getting Them Hooked

I begin Kant’s Prolegomena in my Intro to Phil class today.  Having students read the book is a stretch, but I rather like the way I excerpt it, and I think it provides a fitting capstone for the course (we also read Plato’s Theaetetus and Descartes Meditations)  As you might guess, the Ariadne’s thread through this maze is the notion of knowledge.  Today, we start Kant by talking about rationalism, empiricism and the antinomies, with emphasis on the antinomies.

I can’t read the Prolegomena without thinkng about a quip from my colleague, Roderick Long.  “‘Prolegomena’ is Greek for ‘gateway drug'”.

Completed Draft of New Talk

Since I posted bits of this already–its first part yesterday and its last part a while back–I thought I would go ahead and post the whole thing.  I find writing talks for audiences that will include both philosophers and non-philosophers especially hard.  I wish I were better at it.

Philosophical Investigations and Three Kinds of Illusion:  A Talk

Final Paragraphs of New Talk: Philosophical Investigations

[I’m unsure how much sense these paragraphs make without the preceding 15 pages or so. First draft material.]

Allow me to reiterate my thinking about the three illusions in PI As I have said, I think that transcendental illusions are central to PI, central to understanding its conception of philosophical problems. But I do not mean to deny that the other two types of illusion make appearances in PI. They do. If they didn’t, the other two readings of PI I have discussed would probably never have tempted anyone. But I do not think either of those other two illusions is central in the way transcendental illusion is central. Even more, although I do not have time to detail this now, I also think that the other two types of illusion can metastasize into transcendental illusions, and that what seems merely an empirical or logical illusion can itself be revealed to be or involve a transcendental illusion.

Still, I suspect at this point that you may be less interested in this nicety of housekeeping and more interested in the spirit-sinking midwinter bleakness of the picture of philosophical problems that I have been presenting. Haven’t I said that philosophical problems don’t get solved? —Yes. Haven’t I said that the best we can hope for is to cope with them, and that only temporarily? —Yes. Isn’t that an incredible downer? —Yes. —No. —Yes and no.

Let me revert to Kant once more, while also recalling my opening remarks. At least from his early 20’s, Kant is vexed by the uncanny fact that for so long and so often philosophers of equal education and gifts, each deeply serious and sincere, persist in apparently irreconcilable conflict. Kant regards this as a disgrace to reason. We can think of Kant’s entire philosophical career as driven by his passionate concern to settle conflicts in philosophy—not by entering a judgment in favor of either of the conflicting philosophers, but rather by entering a judgment on the conflict itself, by finding a way to end it. Kant first pictured these conflicts as between philosophers; but he later came to picture them as conflicts between arguments; and still later he came to picture them as reason in conflict with itself, as reason having fallen out of agreement with itself. This became Kant’s new picture of the uncanny fact: reason can fall into apparently irreconcilable conflict with itself.

Wittgenstein we can think of as accepting and, in a sense, extending this movement of Kant’s. He comes to see philosophical problems as manifesting my having fallen out of agreement with myself. It is this uncanny fact about me—and about you too of course—that is the mainspring of PI. Philosophical problems are all at once conceptual, i.e., invulnerable to the empirical, and also deeply personal, personal in the sense that I am at stake in them in various ways, personal in the sense that the problems encroach upon me. My desires and longings, my needs and fears, –my whole affective being potentially is part of the problem. Because it is, we cannot take a simply objective approach to the problems. We must instead always and everywhere approach the problem subjectively, attending to our mode of involvement in it. And there is always already one of those whenever we reflect on a philosophical problem. (Reflecting on a philosophical problem is not an empty holding of something, of the problem.) I am a part of, involved in, every philosophical problem that I take up, like it or not. You too are part of every philosophical problem you take up. The mode of involvement in the problem matters and is, in fact, itself a part of the problem. When we see this, we are also position so as to see what PI is showing each of us: I am susceptible to transcendental illusion. I can, with practice, develop a discipline of response to such illusions. I can teach myself—-with the aid of PI—-to push back against the pressures of transcendental illusion, to stick to ordinary realities. But learning this discipline neither ends philosophy itself for me nor ends any philosophical problem permanently. I have to recognize that I am tempted and I need to find a way of responding to the temptation other than yielding to it. And I have to recognize that there is no way simply to end temptation. I should expect to be tempted until my last breath. But none of this makes much sense if we think that philosophical problems can be independent of modes of reception. To care about illusion as Wittgenstein does is to care about modes of involvement and vice-versa: To use `illusion’ as a term of criticism as Wittgenstein does is to bring the mode of involvement in a philosophical problem into work on the problem.

Philosophy, as Wittgenstein teaches it to us in PI, is transcendental dialectic, but Wittgenstein’s transcendental dialectic is self-critique. Philosophy is self-critique. Philosophy is a form of self-knowledge. Is that a downer? No: there is philosophy to be done. There is always philosophy to be done. Self-critique has no endgame. Even more, there is progress of a sort that can be made. I can become better at resisting temptation, better at recognizing its onset; I can discipline myself to push back harder and for longer and with better focus. That is, I can come better to know myself in such a way that I become better at controlling myself. I cannot make myself impassible, invulnerable to temptation. But I can respond to it better, yield to it less often or less easily. Still, isn’t that a downer? Yes: since such self-knowledge is, face it, almost always bitter. (What I discover will not be things of which I have been ignorant, simply epistemically blank, but things I have refused to know, to acknowledge.) We would all rather not do philosophy as self-examination, self-critique. We would rather do it as distinct from the self, as objective investigation in which my self does not count. We would like to be the investigators of the investigation but not the investigated. We want to be neither shaken nor stirred.

One quick parting comment: We can understand the similarity and difference between Kant and Wittgenstein and their transcendental dialectics in this memorable way, even if it may be slightly misleading: for Kant, we see things aright philosophically when we come to see that the solutions to philosophical problems must be transcendental idealist solutions. For Wittgenstein, we become what we need to be philosophically when we become `transcendental idealists’ about the problems themselves. Wittgenstein’s Copernican Revolution (PI 108) revolves the problems—and, thus revolved, we can see past the apparent need for a solution to them. So, since I have been talking about downers, let me end with a hurrah: Vive la revolution!

Dick Moran Keeps it Real

There’s much to profit from in Moran’s recent interview at 3am magazine.  The section on Experimental Philosophy is a tour de force.

As to ‘experimental philosophy, I can’t claim to be very well versed in it, but it seems to be a research program in its early days. I think that by now, even its practitioners are beginning to realise that simply asking people, outside of any particular context, about their “intuitions” about some concept of philosophical interest is not really going to be informative since without any philosophical background to the question, the respondents themselves can’t really know just what question they are being asked to answer, what their responses are responses to. There are just too many different things that can be meant by a question like, “‘Was such-and-such an action intentional or not?”, for example. And without further discussion or further analysis, the experimenters themselves can’t know what answers they are being given by the respondents. It’s not good data. So I can imagine experimental philosophy evolving in a way to account for this, and starting to include some philosophical background to the investigation, perhaps even some philosophical history, to provide the needed context to the particular intuitions that they are trying to expose and test for. At that point, the experimental situation might also become less one-sided, with a researcher examining a respondent, and could allow for the experimental subjects themselves to ask questions of the experimenters, including questions of clarification and disambiguation, and perhaps even challenges to the way the experimenter has framed the questions.

Later it might be found useful to conduct such experiments in small groups rather than individually, with one experimenter and one subject, and instead the respondents could be encouraged to discuss the questions among themselves as well as with the experimenter. People could meet in these groups two or three times a week and perhaps some relevant reading could be assigned, to clarify and expand upon the question, and the respondents would be given time to do the reading, and asked to write something later on about the question in connection with the reading and the discussions they have had. Then the experimenter could provide “comments” on this writing for the experimental subjects themselves. I think grading the results would be optional in such an arrangement, and probably of no experimental interest, but other than that I think something like this could be the future of experimental philosophy. It’s worth trying anyway.

The Transcendental Way with Solipsism

A favorite passage from my teacher, Lewis White Beck.  It is from his book, The Actor and The Spectator.

Only A. C. Ewing, I think, has indicated a possible transcendental argument against solipsism.  He said, “If solipsism is true, there are no solipsists, since I am not one.”  This short way with solipsism, almost a throwaway that Ewing consigned to a footnote, seems to me to be profoundly important.

The solipsist position has never been maintained if it is true, because if it is true I alone could have maintained it, and I have not done so…

I believe this argument, invented by Ewing, is likewise usable by others and not discountable when extended to others.  This argument will carry no weight, of course, with another person if he is a genuine solipsist who knows his business.  But, if there is such a person, I know that solipsism is false since that person is not I.

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