‘Kant towers so far above all who precede and follow that even those who reject him or go beyond him still remain entirely dependent upon him… [The Critique of Pure Reason represents] a historical-intellectual basic position which carries and determines us today.’
- Heidegger, What is a Thing?
‘Modern philosophy between René Descartes and Immanuel Kant is usually retrospectively understood in terms of the two basic tendencies which we refer to as ‘empiricism’ and ‘rationalism’. […] By the time Kant wrote the Critique of Pure Reason, he was able to take the writings of David Hume as definitive for empirical thought and those of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz as definitive for rationalism. He took the basic argument of the empiricists to be that knowledge is synthetic and a posteriori, meaning that it takes the form of an addition to what is inherent to reason, and thus follows from experience (or an encounter with what is outside ourselves). In contrast to this, he saw the rationalists to be arguing that knowledge is characteristically analytic and a priori, meaning that it is derived from what is already inherent to reason, and thus anticipates experience by constructing systems of logical deduction from basic axioms.
Knowledge is analytic or synthetic depending on whether its source is intrinsic or extrinsic to the faculty of reason, and a priori or a posteriori depending on whether it precedes or succeeds the contact with sensation, or with what is outside reason. It is with these pairs of concepts, the analytic/synthetic couple and the a priori/a posteriori couple, that Kant determines the structure of his own thinking in relation to that of his recent predecessors. Kant thought that both empiricist and rationalist philosophers had accepted the simple alignment of the synthetic with the a posteriori and of the analytic with the a priori. That is to say, the relation between these couples had seemed to be itself analytic, so that to speak of analytic a priori judgments would add nothing to the concept of the analytic, or in other words, an analysis of the concept ‘analytic’ would yield the concept of the 'a priori’ as already implicit within it.
This assumption was not accepted by Kant who realigned the two pairs of concepts in a perpendicular fashion to form a grid, thus yielding four permutations. He granted the elimination of any analytic a posteriori knowledge, but clung doggedly to the possibility of knowledge that would be both synthetic and a priori. This new conception of knowledge was relevant to an object that had not previously been formulated: the conditions of experience. Kant described his revolution in philosophy as a shift from the question ‘what must the mind be like in order to know?’ to the question ‘what must objects be like in order to be known?’ The answers to this latter question would provide a body of synthetic a priori knowledge, telling us about experience without being derived from experience. It would justify the emergence of knowledge that was both new and timelessly certain, grounding the enlightenment culture of a civilisation confronting an ambiguous dependence on novelty.
Because a developed knowledge of the conditions of experience presupposes a relation to the outside it is synthetic and not analytic, but because it concerns the pure form of the relation as such and not the sensory material involved in the relation it is a priori and not a posteriori. It is solely concerned with the forms of appearance, or the unchanging manner in which things must be if they are to be for us. Kant calls this pure form of synthesis ‘transcendental’, and opposes it to the inconstant content of synthesis, with which the empiricists had been concerned, and which he calls ‘empirical’. Kant’s ‘object’ is thus the universal form of the relation to alterity; that which must of necessity be the same in the other in order for it to appear to us. The universal form is that which is necessary for anything to be ‘on offer’ for experience, it is the ‘exchange value’ that first allows a thing to be marketed to the enlightenment mind. Between medieval scholasticism and Kant Western reason moves from a parochial economy to a system in which, abandoning the project of repressing the traffic with alterity, one resolves instead to control the system of trade. With the overthrow of the ancien regime it became impossible to simply exclude novelty; it could only be appropriated, stamped with a constant form, and integrated into an immutable formal system.’
- Nick Land, 'Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest', Fanged NoumenaClick 'read more' for an introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason.
1. Rationalism v Empiricism
Rationalism- Knowledge is innate and a priori.- Facts about the world can be deduced through reason alone and constitute universal and necessary laws.- Knowledge claims based on experience are unreliable and inferior to those based on intellectual intuition and deductive inference.- Rational deduction is therefore capable of grounding metaphysical claims that are objectively true simply by virtue of their rational form, and do not need objective confirmation.
Empiricism- Knowledge is dependent on experience and all justification is a posteriori.- There are no universal and necessary laws, only contingency.- Metaphysics is untenable.- Human action is driven by instinct and desire; ‘Man is a slave of the passions’ (Hume).- There is no rational proof for free will and therefore no moral agency.
2. Knowledge in Crisis
Rationalism- The presupposed unity between thought and being is always underwritten by some a priori assurance of our cognitive faculties (ie. a benevolent God) which we cannot prove.- Rationalism is unacceptably dogmatic.
- 'Knowledge' is nothing more than a set of beliefs formed out of habit.- Hume’s problem of induction.
3. Hume’s Problem of Induction
Knowledge of matters of fact depends on causal inference.When we infer a causal explanation from sensory input we use our past experience of the world as the basis for an inductive generalisation, but this is not proof of a necessary connection:1. There is always the possibility of future falsification2. Induction is circular and thereby has no rational justification.Inductive reasoning infers that x will be the case in the future because x has been the case in the past. But the only reason we can give for believing that the future will resemble the past is that in the past it has been the case that the future resembles the past.Induction ultimately boils down to belief (that things will occur as they have before).We can never have knowledge of universal or necessary principles.
4. Inauguration of Critical Philosophy
'[Hume's problem of induction was] the very thing that […] first interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave a completely different direction to my researches in the field of speculative philosophy.’
- Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, 4:260Kant’s aim in the Critique of Pure Reason is the establishment of a scientifically-valid, philosophical explication of knowledge that is wary of the limitations of human thought and eschews the pitfalls of metaphysical illusion. In Kant’s own words ‘a perfectly new science, of which no one has ever thought, the very idea of which [is] unknown.’
- Ibid., 7:262
5. Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’
To avoid dogmatism or scepticism about external reality, philosophy needs to begin from a new understanding of the relationship between subject and object (or thought and being) that establishes a connection between the two rather than simply assuming it or denying it.‘Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend outr knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge.’
- Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, BxviThe solution to the problem of realism (the problem of access) is to invert the quintessential realist construction of the passive knower. So that the mind actively processes or organises experience rather than passively reflecting on an independent reality.Kant takes his epistemological model from geometry and physics which interrogate their objects via a purposefully designed investigation, actively provoking the objects to yield up the desired data - and radicalises it - no longer asking what the mind must be like in order to know objects, but what objects must be like in order to be known by the mind.Following the model of experience proposed in the Critique, reality is generated via a division of labour between subject and object, or thought and being. The subject provides the forms and the object provides the sensory material.‘Without sensibility no object would be given to us, without understanding no object would be thought’. (CPR, A156; B195). Neither faculty can work independently of the other and both must be brought eventually into a relation with objects in order to constitute knowledge. ‘It is therefore the possibility of experience which gives objective reality to all our a priori knowledge. (CPR, A156; B195).‘This fundamentally alters the conception of knowledge and the role the subject plays in knowing, a change whose importance cannot be exaggerated. It marks the creation of a new paradigm, a new way of understanding subject-object relations. Gone is the enquiring subject (in both senses of the word) who must profess fealty to sovereign nature; gone is the soft clay of the Platonic-Aristotelian soul or the blank paper of the Lockean mind passively taking on reality’s imprint. In its place is the Baconian scientist who boldly questions, even tortures, subservient nature and the Cartesian ideal of humans as “the lords and masters of nature made ontological. We do not find the order of phenomenal nature; we make it.’
- Lee Braver, A Thing of This World‘The first thing that the Copernican Revolution teaches us is that it is we who are giving the orders. There is here an inversion of the ancient conception of Wisdom: the sage was defined partly by his own submission, partly by his “final” accord with Nature. Kant sets up the critical image in opposition to wisdom: we are the legislators of Nature.’
- Gilles Deleuze, Kant's Critical Philosophy
6. A priori synthetic knowledge
'Knowledge is analytic or synthetic depending on whether its source is intrinsic or extrinsic to the faculty of reason, and a priori or a posteriori depending on whether it precedes or succeeds the contact with sensation, or with what is outside reason. It is with these pairs of concepts, the analytic/synthetic couple and the a priori/a posteriori couple, that Kant determines the structure of his own thinking in relation to that of his recent predecessors. Kant thought that both empiricist and rationalist philosophers had accepted the simple alignment of the synthetic with the a posteriori and of the analytic with the a priori. That is to say, the relation between these couples had seemed to be itself analytic, so that to speak of analytic a priori judgments would add nothing to the concept of the analytic, or in other words, an analysis of the concept ‘analytic’ would yield the concept of the 'a priori’ as already implicit within it. This assumption was not accepted by Kant who realigned the two pairs of concepts in a perpendicular fashion to form a grid, thus yielding four permutations. He granted the elimination of any analytic a posteriori knowledge, but clung doggedly to the possibility of knowledge that would be both synthetic and a priori. This new conception of knowledge was relevant to an object that had not previously been formulated: the conditions of experience. Kant described his revolution in philosophy as a shift from the question ‘what must the mind be like in order to know?’ to the question ‘what must objects be like in order to be known?’ The answers to this latter question would provide a body of synthetic a priori knowledge, telling us about experience without being derived from experience. It would justify the emergence of knowledge that was both new and timelessly certain, grounding the enlightenment culture of a civilisation confronting an ambiguous dependence on novelty.'
- Nick Land, 'Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest', Fanged Noumena
Following the Critique’s model of consciousness, when an object is perceived, its raw sensory material - what Kant referred to as ‘the sensible manifold’ - is processed in the mind via the pure forms of intuition: space and time. These forms are universal to human consciousness and inhere within the mind rather than in objects themselves. In order for anything to enter into human experience it must pass through these forms, which imbue it with an exchange value, yielding it up to the synthetic function of the categories of judgment that complete the process of exchange, inscribing the object in phenomena.
A priori conditioning:
(pure forms of space and time) (pure concepts)
(pure forms of space and time) (pure concepts)
‘Hume showed Kant that reliance on experience can only produce contingent information; as long as we depend just on what experience shows us, it can always surprise us. But a priori contributions which are necessary to the very act of thinking must be present in all of thinking and thus in all that is thought. Therefore, we can never encounter an experience which violates or lacks those features which we always contribute, rendering these features necessary and universal to all experienced entities as experienced, that is, phenomena.’
- Lee Braver, A Thing of This World
7. The Transcendental Deduction
Kant needs to prove that the experience of the world is fixed and universal for all rational beings in order for synthetic a priori knowledge to be valid and he must also provide an objective basis for this description, which he endeavours to do by demonstrating the necessity of the categories in order for experience to be possible at all.He undertakes this feat by means of a transcendental deduction, in which he argues from the premise of the unity of experience to its grounding in the unifying persistence of an ‘I think’ which ‘must be capable of accompanying all representations, and which is one and the same in all consciousness’ (CPR, B132). Since the sensible manifold is not bound by rules of cause and effect or subsistence (to pick just two of the categories), it has no continuity or persistent form. Moreover, it could not even subsist in space and time, for these are all qualities that are put into experience by consciousness. Therefore, if there were no persisting, logically identical, transcendental unity accompanying the chaos of the sensible manifold and projecting the formal qualities of space and time onto it, objects would not appear as they do and experience would simply not make sense.‘It is only because I am able to comprehend the manifold of representations in one consciousness that I call them one and all my representations. For otherwise I should have as many-coloured and varied a self as I have representations of which I am conscious.’
- Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B134This self-conscious human subject, or ‘transcendental unity of apperception’ in Kant’s terminology, acts as guarantor for the unity of thought in representation and since it requires concepts in order to perceive objects, and objects do indeed consistently appear, it is evidence that the categories apply to experience.Not only are synthetic a priori judgments possible, they are necessary for us to have any experience at all. Kant concludes that: ‘The conditions of the possibility of experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience, and thus posses objective validity in a synthetic a priori judgement.’
- Ibid., A157; B198
The transcendental subject actively organises experience, and the way in which does this is universal and necessary, for if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have experience at all. Because this manner of experiencing the world is universal and necessary, we can generate knowledge claims through it, providing that it involves input from the sensible manifold, since this is a necessary element of the structure of experience.So we have three successive occurrences of methodological synthesis, each set inside the other, moving from the amalgamation of empiricist and rationalist epistemological aspirations, through to the reconfiguration of the a posteriori/synthetic versus a priori/analytic divide in the positing of a priori synthetic judgments, to conclude, via the transcendental deduction, with proof of the entanglement of the known in the knower, the transcendental human subject who actively contributes form to experience.
9. Epistemological Limitation
Because Kant has made a concession to empiricism by which sensible experience must provide content to the pure forms and concepts of the mind, knowledge cannot go beyond experience, nor the subject, since its claims rely on the joint structure of both: the known is formally dependent on the knower.‘If knowledge is to have an objective reality, that is, to relate to an object, and is to acquire meaning and significance in relation to it, the object must be capable of being in some manner given.’
- Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B194Therefore, claims regarding the suprasensible can only be dogmatically asserted, not rationally proven.Metaphysics is henceforth replaced by a theory of conditioning.To put it another way, knowledge is determined intersubjectively. What is knowable is what any similarly constituted finite rational being will put into experience - and so, subsequently find - when combined with experience.‘In the Kantian framework, a statement’s conformity the object can no longer be defined in terms of a representation’s ‘adequation’ or ‘resemblance’ to an object supposedly existing ‘in itself’, since this ‘in itself’ is inaccessible. The difference between an objective representation (such as the ‘sun heats the stone’) and a ‘merely subjective’ representation (such as ‘the room seems warm to me’) is therefore a function of the difference between two types of subjective representation: those that can be universalised, and are thus by right capable of being experienced by everyone, and hence ‘scientific’, and those that cannot be universalised, and hence cannot belong to scientific discourse. From this point on, intersubjectivty, the consensus of a community, supplants the adequation between the representations of a solitary subject and the thing itself as the veritable criterion of objectivity.’- Quentin Meillassoux, After FinitudeThe space of enquiry has shrunk in two places: it can no longer legitimate the claims of traditional metaphysics, and has prohibited all realist assumptions harboured by pre-critical philosophy and the sciences.The human subject’s contribution to the structuring of phenomenal reality conditions it so absolutely that we cannot even speak of the phenomenal world existing without the human subject. Likewise, the subject is confined to this phenomenal reality, prohibited from knowing anything beyond that which it creates at the intersection of itself and the sensible world.Human finitude becomes the new limit for all post-Kantian philosophy.
10. The Kantian Inheritance
‘We suppose that our representation of things, as they are given to us, does not conform to these things as they are in themselves, but that these objects, as appearances, conform to our mode of representation.’
- Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Bxx
'The order and regularity in the appearances, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce. We could never find them in appearances, had not we ourselves, or the nature of our mind, originally set them there.’
- Ibid., A125
A necessary unity between thought and being underwrites experience: ‘If I remove the thinking subject the whole corporeal world must at once vanish: it is nothing save an appearance in the sensibility of our subject and a mode of its representations.’
- Ibid., A383
Yet, ‘we must at least be able to think the same objects as things in themselves, though we cannot know them.’
- Ibid., Bxxvi
11. Consequences/The Kantian Paradigm/Anti-Realism
‘Kant’s importance and greatness reside in the fact that he was the first to offer a systematic alternative to realism.’
- Lee Braver, A Thing of This World‘Kant’s system forms the great fault line for realism. Although other philosophers had challenged individual tenets of realism, Kant was the first to undermine it radically and offer a coherent, powerful alternative account of reality, subjectivity, and knowledge’.
- Ibid.Kant’s successors, regardless of their stance towards realism, would have no choice but to contend with the legacy of exile from the things-themselves and the epistemological and ontological consequences of their confinement to a phenomenal realm. For their part, the sciences would have to reckon with their re-inscription within the frame of philosophy and, perhaps strangest of all, negotiate the strange consequences this would hold for pre- and post-human conceptions of spatiotemporality.
These are notes from an introductory talk given by Amy Ireland at the AAF preliminary meeting in Sydney, December 18th, 2012