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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Critique of 'The Critique of Pure Reason' I: Preface to the First Edition

As I study Kant's Critique of Pure Reason I am taking notes and trying to identify the points where someone sympathetic to a generally Aristotelian (particularly Thomist) view of metaphysics and knowledge would have reservations. So I will be essentially transferring my notes and other thoughts here as an ongoing commentary on Kant's great work. I will not be going line for line and explaining all his ideas. Rather, I will be picking out parts that I think are particularly pertinent to distinguishing him from, and criticizing him from the perspective of, a view which an Aristotelian is likely to take. I should note that, though I am coming from a decidedly realist picture and hence not particularly sympathetic with all aspects of Kant's thought, I certainly consider it a huge step up from Hume and a work of ingenious creativity. Kant definitely has my respect as one of the greatest thinkers to have lived, and I think he needs to be taken much more seriously than he is today.

With that said, let's look at the preface to the first edition of Kant's treatise. Though it does contain important information, since it is relatively short I will say more about the preface to the second edition. As a general remark, Kant seems to be primarily concerned here with the problem of metaphysical knowledge, whereas in the second edition preface he focuses in more on his own "Copernican revolution". Kant wants to know how it is possible for metaphysics to be justified. After all, in the very first paragraph Kant admits that metaphysics certainly deals in perennial problems which reason is always tempted to come back to.

One might wonder why we need any justification for thinking that we can have metaphysical beliefs. But Kant lays out a story as to what has happened to metaphysics up to the time of his writing:

"In the beginning, under the administration of the dogmatists, her rule was despotic. Yet because her legislation still retained traces of ancient barbarism, this rule gradually degenerated through internal wars into complete anarchy..."

Here the dogmatists represent the continental rationalists, especially people like Descartes, Leibniz, and Wolff. The anarchy was brought about by skeptical empiricists, Hume in particular. Kant considers the skeptical criticisms of rationalist philosophy to have been something of a deathblow, at least given rationalist assumptions about knowledge (such as a correspondence theory of truth or the doctrine of innate ideas). This is the background within which Kant hopes to provide a new, certain and complete theory which will solve the empiricist objections and provide a basis for metaphysics. Of course, right off the bat it is clear that no room between the rationalists and empiricists has been made for something like a more Aristotelian view of the matter, so it appears that Kant's argument will be a non-starter at least in terms of disproving the Aristotelian type of metaphysics and knowledge. This is a theme which will come up often, viz. that Kant, working within a certain philosophical movement, will fail to consider the Aristoteliean view which could solve the same problems he wants to without the seismic shift in our analyses of knowledge, objectivitiy, necessity, truth, etc.

In part II I'll examine the preface to the second edition of Kant's Critique and bring up some more specific points and objections.