Monday, April 23, 2012

The Critique of 'The Critique of Pure Reason' II: Preface to the Second Edition

In this post I'll note some areas of concern I have from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (henceforth just 'Aristotelian') point of view with Kant's B-edition preface. Again, as I said in my first post, this isn't really meant to be a summary of Kant's views, but more along the lines of a set of notes.

One thing which already indicates Kant has a different conception of reality than an Aristotelian realist view is his description of logic toward the beginning. Kant says that logic is "the science that exhaustively presents and strictly proves nothing but the formal rules of all thinking." But a realist will want to ask why logic is defined in terms of its applicability to our thoughts rather than to mind-independent propositions or even objects. After all, since Kant's time, many different logics have been developed, and we can think in terms of any of these if we want to. But this says nothing about which one more correctly describes reality. Of course, what Kant will want to argue is that what I am calling "reality" is actually a product of human cognitive capacities. So the difference to note here between the two views is not so much of whether logic is to be applied to reality, but rather, what reality refers to.

A second point of interest is Kant's discussion of mathematical knowledge at Bxii, where he takes as his example that of a Euclidean triangle. Kant uses this point to illustrate how he thinks it is that we acquire mathematical knowledge. What I would focus on though is his view that, more generally, Euclidean geometry is necessary. For Kant, a judgment is necessary if and only if it is a priori. The problem is that we now know that Euclidean geometry is not, in fact, necessary, since it doesn't even accurately describe the physical universe. So either euclidean geometry is not a priori or Kant was wrong to include necessity as part of something's being a priori. But it seems rather clear euclidean geometry was formulated a priori if anything was. So it must follow that not all a priori cognitions are necessary. But this is okay for the Aristotelian. The Aristotelian method of doing metaphysics or science has never been equivalent to discovering necessary truths which are wholly a priori; rather, it is empirical. We can delineate what is metaphysically possible and impossible through a priori reasoning and we see whether our theories correspond to empirical reality.

Kant's view of the a priori goes with his view of metaphysics. He defines metaphysics as "a wholly isolated speculative cognition of reason that elevates itself entirely above all instruction from experience." Not according to an Aristotelian view however. As Aquinas states in 'De Veritate', "Whatever is in the intellect was first in the senses." Of course, the reason Kant wants to make metaphysics a wholly a priori discipline is because he wants the certainty which he thinks the method of previous thinkers cannot provide. In his own words Kant thinks that "up to now [i.e. up until Kant] the procedure of metaphysics has been a mere groping, and what is the worst, a groping among mere concepts." But the Aristotelian wants to ask why it has only been a "mere groping among concepts"? For one, the metaphysician does not need to limit the scope of his inquiry to concepts, at least if we don't hold to the view that metaphysics must be a priori. As regards "mere groping," admittedly, we cannot be absolutely certain our metaphysical theories are true; but this is a far too strict condition upon knowledge which, were it not for Descartes, we would not think was necessary.

In the next post I will focus on the second half of the preface, examining Kant's solution to the problem of metaphysical knowledge as he sees it.


Blue Devil Knight said...

The a priori is tricky for Kant.

He writes:
"All thought must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters, relate ultimately to intuitions, and therefore, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us....


"[A]lthough all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from experience."

Sorry not sure of pages, just googled it from memory :)

All cognitions involve experience at some level. He famously said 'Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind... The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their union can knowledge arise. '

Same caveat about page number.

The point is, the intuition (sensibility) and understanding (concepts) necessarily work in concert. So what counts as necessarily true? Is it thought applied to thought considered as understanding, or to thought filtered through the "intuition"?

I don't know the answer, frankly, perhaps you will find the answer as you study the text....

I would agree, though, that a hard-core realist focused on ontology will have problems with Kant, who was an idealist mostly focused on epistemology (almost a psychological theory of knowledge, really, as nicely articulated by Patricia Kitcher in her book 'Kant's Transcendental Psychology.'

Blue Devil Knight said...

I should say he was a transcendental idealist, empirical realist....

But even transcendental realists can take a lot from him, if you treat it as a theory of how the human mind is structured.