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Saturday, October 22, 2022


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Two points

(1) the notion of having in themselves such qualities as being warm, bitter, or sweet etc needs to be clarified. There is a deep problem hidden there.

(2) Your answer to my question about Kant was not clear. Was Kant of the view that before the Cambrian period, i.e. before sentient life evolved, rocks and oceans did not exist? But there is plenty of evidence that rocks and oceans existed before then. (The oceans came into being about 3.8 billion years ago, when gaseous water condensed into rain).

As for (1), would you agree that Aristotle is a realist about what we now call secondary qualities?

As for the question you pose in (2), the answer, of course, is No. It is perfectly clear that Kant is not maintaining that the entire physical cosmos depends on its existence on the existence of human animals. And no one has ever advanced such an absurd interpretation of Kant.

It does remain unclear, however, what exactly his transcendental idealism comes to.

Thanks Bill.

Taking your second question first. Here we are faced with the difficulty of interpreting Kant. What exactly does he mean by ‘appearance’? He says (A20) “The undetermined object of an empirical intuition is called appearance” (“Der unbestimmte Gegenstand einer empirischen Anschauung heißt Erscheinung”).

Victor Gijsbers, a lecturer at Leiden, has this to say. “it’s not the intuition itself that is the appearance, it’s the object of the intuition that is an appearance. So if I have an intuition of a Nietzsche bust [holds up the bust], sure there’s a mental state there – my intution – but the object of that mental state, like what I am put in touch with by having that intuition, is this Nietzsche bust.”

His interpretation commits Kant to the view that you regard as absurd. Hence at least one person has advanced such an absurd interpretation of Kant.

Regarding your first question. We learn colour words such as ‘orange’ by ostensive definition. I hold up an orange (fruit) and say “the colour of this fruit is called ‘orange’”. Does the ostensive definition pick up what philosophers call ‘the colour-as-we-see-it’, or the orange ‘sensation’? If so, we are all realists, for we all use language in the same way. To be sure, Galileo explicitly states that objects are not coloured at all, but how much he genuinely held this view is unclear. Hume says that philosophers are philosophical only in their study, and that when they emerge into ordinary life, they are realists just like everyone else.

>>His interpretation commits Kant to the view that you regard as absurd. Hence at least one person has advanced such an absurd interpretation of Kant.<<

Not at all. I wholly endorse what Gijsbers says in the portion of the video you referred to.

I have explained this all before. See here: https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2022/06/berkeleyan-and-kantian-idealism-how-do-they-differ.html

I remember your post, but I did not understand it.

Anyway, Gijsbers’ interpretation clearly implies that material objects are appearances, hence, given that material objects such as rocks, oceans, mountains etc. existed before sentient beings existed, appearances existed before sentient beings existed. So an appearance can exist even though no sentient being is appeared to.

The question is then a matter of Kant-interpretation. Why did he use the German word Erscheinung which is well translated (in my view) by the English ‘appearance’? An appearance, as ordinarily understood, must appear to some sentient being. If no such being, then no such appearance. So is Kant assigning a special meaning to Erscheinung?

Moreover, the actual text of the Critique itself suggests there is no special meaning. He says (A20) “I call that in the appearance which corresponds to sensation its matter” (In der Erscheinung nenne ich das, was der Empfindung korrespondiert, die Materie derselben). Immediately afterwards, he says “Since that within which the sensations can alone be ordered and placed in a certain form cannot itself be in turn sensation, the matter of all appearance is only given to us a posteriori”. By “matter of all appearance” he must mean “sensation”, for only sensation is given a posteriori. Then phenomena or “empirical objects” reduce to sensations, in which case if no sentient life exists, no phenomena or empirical objects exist, QED.

Perhaps you can find other proof texts that are contrary to my reading, but then I invite you to find one.

Kemp Smith: "It is always safer to take Kant quite literally. He nearly always means exactly what he says at the time when he says it."

As entertainment, try replacing every count-noun occurrence of 'appearance' with 'material object', which should be perfectly OK if appearances really are material objects. Thus

But I understand under the transcendental idealism of all material objects the doctrine according to which they are all together to be regarded as mere representations, and not as things in themselves, and accordingly that space and time are only sensible forms of our intuition, but not determinations given for themselves, or conditions of objects as things in themselves. This idealism is opposed by transcendental realism, which considers space and time as something given in themselves (independent of our sensibility). The transcendental realist therefore represents outer material objects (when one grants their reality) as things in themselves, which would exist independently of us and our sensibility, and therefore also would be outside us according to pure concepts of the understanding. (A369)

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