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This is a 31-minute preview of our vintage 2 hr, 5-minute episode.
On Immanuel Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (1783), which is a shorter, dumbed-down version of his Critique of Pure Reason.
Do we have any business doing metaphysics, which is by definition about things that we could not possibly experience?
Kant says that yes, we can, to a limited extent, but that everyone before him did it wrong, because they didn't understand how our minds interact with the world to create experience. He insists that once you read his book, you'll never be satisfied with such "twaddle" again!
LEARN about the faculties of Sensibility, Understanding, and Reason! THINK about whether geometric truths are justified by our intuition of space (maybe) and arithmetic is grounded in our intuition of time (probably not). DOUBT whether we actually impose causality on our experience as Kant says! MARVEL at our guest participant, Azzurra Crispino, as she augments the number of speakers on this episode to a PERFECTLY SQUARE number! GAWK as your world is turned up-flicking-side down by Kant's "Copernican Revolution" (a term we neither use nor explain in this episode)!
Read the book online or buy it.
End song: "Subjectivity" from the 1994 album "Happy Songs Will Bring You Down" by The MayTricks.
Comment for Azzurra from early in the show:
I think that hours were reasonably sharp since ancient times (I think Sumer or Babylon). Sundials are/were pretty invariant (except when the sun stopped in the sky as occasionally reported 🙂
Kant never seems to do such a great job of bringing out the role of temporal intuition, but this came up in a chat a few podcasts ago. So I looked back at some old paper I wrote, and I found Poincare (the mathematician) articulated it best for a modern context.
The Peano Axioms for arithmetic (which when combined with first order logic produce/entail/contain arithmetic as we commonly know it) are 5 in number and the first four are first order propositions (ie “a priori analytic” or corresponding as such). The 5th is actually a second order proposition or it can be equated with an infinite number of first order propositions. As this is not possible, how do we know it is nevertheless so? Poincare says this is an example of synthetic apriori based on our intuition of time.
In a more common language, this 5th axiom is sometimes called the “principle of mathematical induction” and basically amounts to knowing that the properties of numbers extend ad infinitum (for example the property that every number can be summed with 1 and yield a yet greater number).
This may be the *only* really good example of a synthetic apriori… and it is pretty rigid as math is of course pretty unforgiving to cultural and other relativist perspectives…
Comment for Mark:
I think your point about the infinite vectors in all directions is rather well put. I agree, the spatial intuition is not at all like that, and the jump to infinite involves a judgment employing a combination of principles, including the spatial intuition and, per Poincare (see my other comment :-)), the temporal.
I did a fair amount of background reading on this at one point, and I never saw anyone address this issue this way (notable in relation to the parallel postulate in the context of Einstein’s relativity theory – which was widely regarded as the knock down argument against Kant). I suspect you have a formidable paper in this worth publishing… just in case you are having second thoughts about becoming a profi philosopher 🙂
Bruce Scherer says
Not a heavy-duty post here, but I really appreciated Azzurra’s role on this episode. In general, I haven’t read these materials but enjoy listening and find the content thoughtful and provocative. Azzurra’s experience as an educator really came through and help ground many of the points in this Kant episode for me.
Wes Alwan says
@Erik: interesting stuff, thanks. Some thoughts on space and time here: http://partiallyexaminedlife.com/2010/05/21/a-note-on-kants-conception-of-space-and-time/
Azzurra Crispino says
@Bruce: Thank you so much for the feedback!
Dan B says
Thanks for this episode. I enjoyed it very much and found it very helpful in understanding some of Kant’s ideas. Once you get some of these ideas, they help better frame your understanding of other earlier and later philosophers. When I read Kant before I had a lot more difficulty with grasping the concepts and understanding the language despite my best efforts. Azzurra was also a nice addition.
By the way, I gave you guys 5 stars on iTunes. Great job. I think the show has improved over time. This Kant episode was excellent. You guys almost sounded like real philosophers. hehe, just kidding. Anyway, your performance over the last few episodes sounded much better. My notion of philosophy is still a bit more romantic than yours, but I guess I am still at a lower level and haven’t achieved total pessimism yet. Keep up the good work!
I enjoyed the podcast, especially Azzurra’s contribution as an educator. I hope you’ll bring her back.
Seth Paskin says
Thanks Barbara. Azzura will be back next year, but her availability during school is pretty limited. Stay tuned…
Mark Linsenmayer says
She’s scheduled to record a feminism one with us at the end of July.
Very interesting discussion. Thank you all for your efforts to put this in the web. I am wondering about if you have any chance to talk about Kant’s Critique of Judgment. To my understanding, the third critique was the heart amongst the 3 critiques (my own opinion), specially the reflective judgment, and “as-if” metaphor. To use “as-if”, Kant made a leap by employing an amazing way of to discribe something so hard to explain–“something is not there, but so often it appears to be there.” Kant explained asethetics not for the sake of it, but as a door to explain moral and the final end, for that matter, to explain what is human.
Mark Linsenmayer says
I think we’d love to do Critique of Judgment, but are working very slowly back to it through more recent aesthetics stuff: Adorno at least is next on that list, and we’ve had a Santayana reading on the queue for a long time. So, it may be a while before this happens, though maybe resonances in other texts we’re covering will motivate us to fit this in sooner. Thanks for the comment!
Andrew in Oz says
First let me express my delight and thanks at discovering this website. My only regret is that I didn’t find it earlier.
As a recent graduate in Philosophy bachelor degree who completed the studies online with no actual human contact, it is fantastic to hear others doing philosophy by just “chewing the fat”. It makes me want to press on to do a Masters just for the human interaction of it all.
I’ve slowly been working my way through the podcasts and IMO this has been your strongest thus far.
For about 2 years i have been obsessing about the “thing-in-itself” – it literally keeps me up at night sometimes ( sad, I know). Ever since I read Nagel’s paper ” what it is like to be bat” it has really bothered me that most people don’t see this problem the same way i do.
Azzurra was on the same track, and really got to the heart of this problem, when she opined about what it is like to be a dog and it’s concept of time. For how can one ever say who sees the real “thing”? Is it us, the bat, the dog, none of us, or all of us?
It seems to me that Kant didn’t go far enough when he argued we can’t ever see the thing-it-itself. In fact it is my contention the thing-in-itself doesn’t exist! There is no-thing ‘out there’.
To me the law of identity, A=A, is the foundation of all logic and thus reasoning about the world. If you can’t describe something- if this alleged thing is beyond our apprehension, beyond description, beyond defining- then how can it be said to EXIST? What is IT? To me it isn’t any-thing.
In conjuction with my degree in western philosophy, I also spent quite a bit of time studying eastern philosophy in my spare time. It seems to me this exactly what the non-dualists are arguing for with the concept of Sunyata (emptiness): that things-in-themselves do not actually exist, they are ’empty’. It is only our perceptions that cause them to become a thing.
To this day, western philosophy has not been able to shake Plato and his silly idea of perfect forms. The thing-in-itself is really just a hangover from that mistaken belief that things exist “out there” in some form another, whether we can ‘see’ them or not.
It’s not true!!!!!
Kant gives no reason why we should believe this thing-in-itself exists.
this feeling of me being right and the recent of western philsophy being blind as a bat, so to speak, is really bothering me. WTF am I missing?
Big kudos on the podcast and the site. I came to these topics for the first time via the podcast and it has inspired me to contemplate some of these topics further.
Here is how I interpret Kant’s notion of the thing in itself”. Lest we submit to idealism, there must be an actual object that is the subject of our attention.
When Kant says that thing is essentially unknowable, I take that to mean that human beings aren’t capable of perceiving/identifying/understanding all there is about that object due to limitations in our perceptual apparatus and the way our minds interpret those perceptions.
Here are two examples that I used to try and ground my thinking on the topic.
example 1: animals that have different sense organs from us. We don’t have a bat’s sonar, a dolphin’s echo locations, a hawk’s sharpness of eyesight, a dog’s sense of smell, etc. I don’t think that means that we “don’t know” the thing in itself. We simply know what we can of it through our senses/perception apparatus.
example 2: Suppose I handed a tennis ball (in itself) to you and asked you to describe it. Assuming you had all your senses, you would know through examination that it was spherical, fuzzy, yellow, had a particular odor, was squishy, had a taste, bounces and makes a sound when dropped, etc.
Now suppose I hand the same ball to Helen Keller. Ms. Keller would come to a different, more limited, understanding of the ball. The ball (in itself) is not unknown to either of us. We just “know” it to the extent we are capable based on our sense equipment.
So I guess “unknowable” for Kant translates into “partial knowledge based on our perceptual equipment” for me.
Thinking of it that way makes it less mysterious and metaphysically problematic, at least for me.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks, Rhett. I agree that Kant is getting at something important; I think it’s all a matter of how the theory plays out. For Sartre (the episode that will go up this week), you’re right: we perceive certain aspects of the object, but indefinitely many more remain undetected, and those undetected objects are in fact part of our experience of the object: it’s transcendent. For Schopenhauer (a closer successor to Kant), the thing-in-itself becomes something ontologically very different from what we perceive, such that the thing-in-itself affirmatively does not have number, shape, etc.; these are things that we add in constituting the object. What Kant himself thinks in this regard, I’m not totally sure at this point. but he is reputed as setting up these two ontological realms of appearance vs. reality, and strangely, “objectivity” as we need it in science is a matter of appearance, meaning that he admits that appearance is multi-layered, yet this deepest layer of reality is forever unknown to us–though presumably known to God; I could certainly picture a Kantian kind of argument for God based on conceptual necessity: just as he’s the Summum Bonum (see our Schleiermacher episode for Kant’s thoughts on this) and so must exist to make our ethical intuitions coherent, you could similarly (i.e. weakly) argue that since the notion of the thing-in-itself and the view-from-nowhere required to perceive it is implied by our ordinary, partial means of apprehending the world, then by conceptual necessity, there must be a God to perceive that. This would be a Kantian (practical reason) version of the ontological argument.
Sorry if that was a little name-droppy to the point of opaque.
Mark Linsenmayer says
We pursue this questioning about the thing-in-itself in the couple of pragmatism episodes shortly after this one (20 and 22), then more in Schopenhauer (30), and a bit more in Hegel (35). If I remember our Buddhism discussion right (27), I think Buddhists might be OK with there being an inexpressible thing-in-itself; we’ve got conventional reality (which is the appearances) but also ultimate reality, which we can’t know but which nonetheless ends up being crucial for a sensible response to the world (i.e. keeping the appearances in perspective).
On a side note, I personally don’t find the “A=A” formulation as at all useful in grounding much of anything. It’s a definitional truth from which nothing can be derived, and when people claim to derive things from it, they’re usually making some sneaky, unwarranted equivocation of distinct things. There’s a case to me made for truths flowing from reason itself, but that doesn’t capture it.
Heeey! I live in Montana and attend MSU. We’re not all so backward and have a great philosophy team down in Bozeman.
Seth Paskin says
If you have any cross pollination with Mizzoula, look up Paul Muench at U of M. He was a colleague with Mark, Wes and I.
Definitely! Keep up the great work guys!
A quick thought on what Wes says about the Parallel line axiom near the end of the podcast. Aren’t intuitions necessarily true? If the universe is actually non euclidian then my intuition is wrong.
I think reading Riechenbach (I think it is called “space and time”) might be a good counterpoint to Kant.
I should say that people take Riechenbach and Einstein as giving objections to Kant. I think Michael Friedman tries to make room for Richenbachian coordinative definitions in Kant.
Wes Alwan says
Shane — for Kant we can’t know the universe to be spatial “in itself” (as in things in themselves), Euclidean or Non-Euclidean or otherwise. Spatiality is something supplied by our cognitive faculties.To say what really is the case here means we’re making objective judgments about the world of object-appearances (which is to say we’re correctly analyzing what we’ve already synthesized). If we discover that the universe is actually (in the limited sense) non-Euclidean when our spatial intuition suggests it is Euclidean, then there is a conflict here between understanding and intuition. If you’ve studied non-Euclidean geometry you’ll readily see what this means: the denial of the parallel postulate violates our intuition (unless we model the new geometry within Euclidean geometry but as occurring on a hyperbolic surface); but it does not produce any logical inconsistency. And in fact this is the whole point of Kant calling our perception of Euclidean space “intuition”: I have no other basis for the parallel postulate — I cannot argue for it as following from a principle of logic or arithmetic; nor can I argue about it from some a posteriori discovery in physics about the nature of the world. Nothing says that our spatial intuition has to be “right,” either in the metaphysical thing-in-itself sense, or in the Kantian sense of always being confirmed by higher level theoretical judgments (the understanding), as in physics. And the following remains a fact: for the standpoint of cognitive science, we perceive the world in Euclidean terms. No discovery outside of cognitive science could change the fact that this is in fact how we intuit the world. If non-Euclidean geometry is useful for physics and is better at modeling “space,” this means not that Kant must revise his concept of intuition; rather, he must revise his conception of the relationship between understanding and intuition (accounting for the possibility of conflict).
In the end, this conflict between understanding and intuition is not something Kant foresaw; nor would he have liked it. But ultimately, his system doesn’t depend on the absence of such a conflict any more than our discovery of the non-Euclidean nature of space requires that we intuit our living room in non-Euclidean terms.
I’m starting to think that Kant is the grand-master of making his work so incredibly convoluted that no one really knows what he’s talking about, and that because he is canonized we all take it as face value that in the end it all makes sense. It may be that there’s only one man in the world who knows what Immanuel Kant is saying, and that’s Immanuel Kant. And what Kant knows is that he’s not making sense but instead has played the greatest practical joke in all world history.
I can’t be perfectly confident in this assessment, for physicists said the same thing about Einstein’s relativity before it was confirmed by experiments. But I don’t know if I’m being duped when I read it.
larry john page says
Thank you for inspiring me, as for myself, I am currently learning from a course by Coursera; “Introduction to Philosophy” and that is how I know of your site.
I was dabbling by painting and had just finished when I tuned in, and then in a doodle of sorts, I think I have discovered a co-relation of philosophy and The artwork of Sydney Nolan, which was acclaimed by the Australian Government, that is his Ned Kelly Series of artworks.
The main idea was the word truth and how it could be in the mainframe of Philosophical argument, which meant it could be measured as a movement by an invention such as film.
The moon is actual evidence would form a square with truth, hence perfect as the application to be understanding of validity, then in a way or working the words scrabbled, the sun would be logical with russet.
It is my thoughts in a passion of letting you know your program is in my amateur area of being, important, as you obviously know, yet being a fan just the same.