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Saturday, June 04, 2022


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I read this 2020 post again with interest.

In the comments section I identified the following five claims that you made:

(1) The sun is a phenomenon.
(2) Phenomena are “out there among things”
(3) The sun (together with the stone) is “out there among things”.
(4) The sun warms the stone (which implies it causes the stone to warm)
(5) The necessary connection is not out there among the things

I argued that these are mutually inconsistent. You replied that I did not understand Kant (to which I agreed) but that does not resolve the problem that the five claims are inconsistent.

My position remains that Kant, so far as I understand him, is a good old-fashioned subjective idealist. What Berkeley calls ‘ideas’, and Hume calls ‘impressions’, Kant calls ‘representations’ (Vorstellungen).

You say I simply haven’t understood Kant. Possibly, but my understanding is a respectable one in the literature of Kant interpretation. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-transcendental-idealism/#FedeGarvRevi “On one plausible reading of these passages, Kant is claiming that all there is for objects in space to exist is for us to have experiences as of objects in space. Consequently, if we did not exist, or did not have such experiences, these objects would not exist. The Feder-Garve interpretation of transcendental idealism is not without some merit.“

As I mentioned, I am now looking in detail at the Critique, and its roots in Kant’s strange book on Logic.

Regarding my first comment, it occurred to me that the apparent contradiction could be resolved by distinguishing "thing outside us" as either (i) a thing that exists distinct from us or (ii) a thing that merely is a part of 'outer appearance'. The first is external in Kant's transcendental sense, the second is an 'empirically external object'. See (A373).

So in your (3) the sun is "out there among things" in the second sense, i.e. it is empirically external.

Was that your intention?

The problem I identified remains, however.

I can't remember if I posted what is below. If so, please ignore.

On the business of Kant interpretation, when I look at the black surface of my desk, then (1) while I agree we could say there is something intuited (angeschauet) by me, which is an object of experience (Erfahrung), nevertheless (2) this object of experience, is manifestly neither an appearance (Erscheinung), nor a representation (Vorstellung).

For the visible surface of a desk is not an appearance – it is the surface of a desk – nor for the same reason is it a representation. (Of course I could draw a picture of a desk on the surface of the desk, and that would doubtless be a representation. But the surface of the desk itself is not a representation of the surface of a desk).

It is also entirely false to claim that the surface of the desk has “no existence grounded in itself (an sich)” outside my thought. The desk (and its visible surface) is a per se being, it exists ‘in itself’ whether or not I am looking at it.

But Kant says otherwise. A491/ B519.

You will certainly object that there are two things I am aware of here, the black surface of the desk, and the appearance or sensible intuition or representation of the black surface of the desk. I deny this. All that I am aware of is the black surface of the desk, and the existence of anything else would need to be demonstrated beyond all doubt.

What you need is a sort of ontological argument for ‘sensible intuitions’. I haven’t seen one.

>>My position remains that Kant, so far as I understand him, is a good old-fashioned subjective idealist. What Berkeley calls ‘ideas’, and Hume calls ‘impressions’, Kant calls ‘representations’ (Vorstellungen).<<

There is no way this can be correct if you consider everything that Kant says. What you could say, however, is that Kant's texts allow of no one unitary interpretation.

In my Ph.D. dissertation I maintained that this is the case with respect to K's doctrine of the transcendental unity of apperception.

The quotation above is ambiguous. Are you saying that the only way you could understand Kant is by understanding him as a subjective idealist, or that Kant is a subjective idealist? Is your remark autobiographical or is it about Kant's doctrine? If the former, then I say OK. If the latter, I say you are wrong.

There are a number of "proof texts" that support my view. However my argument is more fundamental, and begins with my claim that, when I open my eyes and look, the visible surface of the desk appears before me. To that extent the surface is an appearance: it is the subject of the verb ‘appears’. But Kant says that this ‘appearance’ is nothing in itself, but only a mere modification or foundation of my ‘sensible intuition’ (A46/B63]. But that is false: the visible surface of the desk is not a modification of my ‘sensible intuition’, for it is the surface of a desk, not a modification of anything that is mine.

The root of the difficulty of interpretation is the verbal noun ‘appearance’ (Erscheinung). Does it denote a relation between the visible surface and my sight? I open my eyes and the visible surface appears. So there is an appearing. Does Kant mean an appearing, or does he mean some particular sort of object? He says (A20/B34) “The undetermined object of an empirical intuition is called appearance.” (Der unbestimmte Gegenstand einer empirischen Anschauung heißt Erscheinung). That form of words suggest the latter.

He adds “that which allows the manifold of appearance to be intuited as ordered in certain relations I call the form of appearance”. What is the ‘manifold of appearance’? I am looking at the surface of my desk now covered with papers, books, and a pocket chess board. Does he mean that all the coloured surfaces I see are a ‘manifold of appearance’? And is the spatially ordered chequerboard pattern a ‘form of appearance’? It is the objects themselves, the surfaces of bodies, which have that spatial order, so why does Kant not say so?

Also, how on this interpretation does Kant’s view differ from the traditional Aristotelian view about space (and time)?

Space and time also belong to this class of [continuous] quantities. Time, past, present, and future, forms a continuous whole. Space, likewise, is a continuous quantity; for the parts of a solid occupy a certain space, and these have a common boundary; it follows that the parts of space also, which are occupied by the parts of the solid, have the same common boundary as the parts of the solid. Thus, not only time, but space also, is a continuous quantity, for its parts have a common boundary. (Categories 5a 5)

You didn't respond to what I said at 4:31. Do so, and we can proceed.

Sorry I thought it was obvious from what I said. He is clearly a subjective idealist.

From NKS' commentary: “Frequently Kant's argument implies this distinction [between intuition and appearance], yet constantly he speaks and argues as if it were non-existent. We have to recognise two tendencies in Kant, subjectivist and phenomenalist. When the former tendency is in the ascendent, he regards all appearances, all phenomena, all empirical objects, as representations, modifications of the sensibility, merely subjective. When, on the other hand, his thinking is dominated by the latter tendency, appearances gain an existence independent of the individual mind. They are known through subjective representations, but must not be directly equated with them. They have a genuine objectivity.”

Yes, I am aware that this NKS view is regarded by some modern commentators as outdated.

I hate to intrude between you two. However, I have to say that Kant is not a subjective idealist. This is so not least because Kant knew what a subjective idealist philosophy was - most assuredly better than the three of us - and he clearly intended to write something else. Now, you can say his philosophy failed or that it would have been better if he followed through on some of the subjective idealist notions in his work. But none of that changes the fact that his concepts of the noumena and things in themselves, which are fundamental to the first Critique, mark his philosophy as attempting to preserve the reality of the world outside of an experience. Get rid of those concepts in Kantian philosophy, and yes, you've got some sort of subjective idealism. In fact, that is precisely what some later philosophers did. See German Idealism. But retain them, as Kant insisted, even as some kind of limit concepts, and you have some version - a rather brilliant version, actually - of empirical realism.

No intrusion, Tom. Thank you for your comment. I am happy to agree with you.

>> But none of that changes the fact that his concepts of the noumena and things in themselves, which are fundamental to the first Critique, mark his philosophy as attempting to preserve the reality of the world outside of an experience. Get rid of those concepts in Kantian philosophy, and yes, you've got some sort of subjective idealism.<<

That's right. Kant's project is to secure the objective/intersubjective validity of our knowledge of nature in the teeth of Hume's skepticism. Whether he succeeds in doing so is a further question. Ed does not appreciate what Kant is trying to do.

But I would not say that German idealism sank back into a subjective idealism. It would not be difficult to show this with respect to Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.

Schopenhauer did revert to an absurd subjective idealism, a physiological idealism according to which "The world is my representation" and that representation is in my brain!

Obviously, the physical world in all its vastness cannot be parasitic for its existence on a measly proper part of the physical world.

"Kant knew what a subjective idealist philosophy was" - there is no evidence that Kant read Berkeley (or Hume) in English.

"The position of all genuine idealists from the Eleatics to Berkeley is contained in this formula : 'All cognition through the senses and experience is nothing but mere illusion, and only in the ideas of pure understanding and Reason is there truth.' The fundamental principle ruling all my idealism, on the contrary, is this: 'All cognition of things solely from pure understanding or pure Reason is nothing but mere illusion and only in experience is there truth." (Kant, Prolegomena)

That is a bizarre interpretation of Berkeley.

I think we should all agree on what counts as ‘subjective idealism’. I characterise it as the view that the objects we commonly take to be physical objects are in some way, or wholly, mind dependent. This a reasonable interpretation of Kant.

Assuming we agree with my definition of ‘subjective idealism’, here is my argument that Kant is a subjective idealist.

1. Kant claims that perceiving involves the immediate awareness of certain mental items.
2. When I look at the visible surface of this desk, all I am immediately aware of is the visible surface of this desk.
3. Therefore (if Kant is right) the visible surface of this desk is a mental item.
4. If what is true of me is true of everyone, then what we take to be physical items (visible surfaces e.g.) are mental items.

Proof of (1): Therea are many passages, but see e.g. (A50/B74) where he says that objects are ‘given’ (gegeben) to us via representations (Vorstellungen) or impressions (Eindrücke), and that these representations are in (literally ‘of’) the mind (des Gemüts). See also B41 where he says that a representation is ‘immediate’ (unmittelbare), and that immediate representation is ‘intuition’ (Anschauung).

(2) is my own testimony, but I assume this matches yours.

I am a bit late on this conversation; I have a full time job. So let me respond first to Bill on German Idealism: Thanks for the comments. I really did mean to qualify that quickie reference, like I did in the previous sentence. It should have read 'See some of the German Idealists.' That said, I do have a general suspicion about Hegelian Idealism arising from the Kierkegaardian critique, which probably relates more to the disciples of Hegel in Denmark than Hegel himself: that the actuality they profess to incorporate in their philosophy is not the factual being of actuality, but an actuality already taken up into the being of thought. If that critique is in any way coherent, then it would seem that Hegelian Idealism (of Denmark?) is stuck in the subjective.

Oz: I am playing these days with a different definition of subjective idealism: it is any philosophy that does not incorporate a real distinction between the being of existence and existing things (factual being) and the being of thought. But I am comfortable for these purposes using your definition (for now).

I am years out from getting down into the weeds of Kant's terminology for perception, intuition, representations, and the like. But I don't think we need to. It seems to me that what you have arrived at by #4 is a physical object that is an appearance, aka phenomena. And that is indeed for Kant an item 'in some way … mind dependent.' So, if that's all there was to Kant he would be liable to the claim of being a subjective idealist per your definition. But Kant insists that this desk that you so clearly see is only an appearance, that the real thing in itself is there but unknowable by beings like we are. It is this insistence of Kant that takes him out of the subjective idealist realm and into - as I said - a version of empirical realism.

By the way, Kant's insistence on the concepts of the noumena and the thing in itself has great significance for where he wants to take his philosophy, especially in the 2nd Critique. But that is not relevant right now.

Thanks Tom

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