Friday, October 23, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part 5)

Caspar David Friedrich, Tageszeitenzyklus, Der Morgen (1820–1)

On we plow. I'm discovering that our friend John Ruskin wasn't being as facetious as he might have imagined when he insinuated that one should expect to commit a decade to studying Kant and the German idealists before achieving the comprehensive enlightenment they advertise. I've been rereading chunks of the Critique of Pure Reason (1781–87) every day or every other day for the last few weeks, and I feel the progress of my understanding approaching a sheer wall. Before too much longer I'm going to have to put the damn thing away and let what I've gleaned simmer in me for a few months before I revisit it again.

I can't tell you how much I regret the title of this series. "Twelve rounds" was an extempore choice, an obvious and serviceable cliche. But sometimes, somehow, a flippant remark is hoodwinked into affirming itself. Having declared "twelve rounds," it's as though I unwittingly signed a pact wherein I've consented to writing twelve blog posts about Kant or else must live with the ignominy of welshing on an obligation to the universe.¹

My bizarre guilt complexes can be a topic for another post. For now, I think I've only got the wherewithal for another three rounds (including this one). The remaining five posts...well, there's still the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgement (1790), and I don't suppose there's any escaping them now. From what I understand, they're both shorter and more pertinent to mundane workaday experience than the Critique of Pure Reason, and I have reason to hope they'll be be easier to get through. Even so, I'm really not in any hurry to get started right away.

Today I'm going to spend a little more time trying to dislodge the tenets of transcendental idealism from my craw. Our visual garnish for this session comes from Caspar David Friedrich, peerless painter of Romantic landscapes. The reason for his inclusion may shortly become transparent.²

As much as I'd like to get on with my life and pick up some other book during my leisure hours, I can't seem to escape from the Critique's orbit. As I type this tonight, I've just flipped through the "Anticipations of Perception" section and am once again astounded by Kant's insight:

All sensations, as such, are therefore given only a posteriori, but their quality of possessing a degree can be known a priori. It is remarkable that of magnitudes in general we can know a priori only one quality, namely, continuity, while with regard to all quality (the real of appearances) nothing more can be known to us a priori than the intensive quantity of appearances, that is, the fact that they have a degree. Everything else is left to experience. 

(As you can see, I've started putting the important stuff in boldface. Anyone who's still with me after all this must be losing his or her patience with gigantic Kantian block quotes, and I hope this will help make them at least a little more bearable.)

At any rate, it's stuff like this that prevents me from shelving Kant as promptly as I put aside Hartshorne's Beyond Humanism (1937) as soon as I reached the final page. Hartshorne gave me plenty of food for thought, but deciding that I couldn't accept his overall thesis required no protracted meditation on my part. But I'm suspended in vacillation over Kant and his transcendental idealism. Obviously Kant was more learned and intelligent than me, and gave these matters much more focused consideration. Who am I to say he's wrong, especially when I can't muster a refutation that covers even a fraction of his lucubrations' depth and breadth?

Nettling doubts like these are why, even after I seemed to wave aside some of the provisions of Kant's transcendental idealism in our last episode, I keep picking the Critique back up. It's like slamming the door and then realizing your last stabbing remark didn't settle the argument as conclusively as you thought.

Caspar David Friedrich, Tageszeitenzyklus, Der Mittag (1822)

Recently, having received two consecutive days off from work (a rarity at my new gig), I visited my folks in North Jersey. While waking up one morning, I made the mistake of flipping through the "Paralogisms of Pure Reason" section of the Critique (the "A" version) as I sipped my coffee.

I cannot...perceive external things, but can only infer their existence from my own inner perception, by taking the perception as the effect of which something external must be the proximate cause. An inference, however, from a given effect to a definite cause is always uncertain, because the effect may be due to more than one cause. Therefore in referring a perception to its cause, it always remains doubtful whether that cause be internal or external; whether it is in fact all so-called outer perceptions are not a mere play of our inner sense, or point to actual external objects as their cause. At all events, the existence of the latter is only inferred, and is liable to the dangers of all inferences, while the object of inner sense (I myself with all my representations) is perceived immediately, and its existence does not admit of being doubted.

It must not be supposed, therefore, that an idealist is he who denies the existence of external objects of the senses; all he does is to deny that this existence is known through immediate perception, and to infer that we can never, by way of any possible experience, become perfectly certain of their reality.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on a stroll through Hedden Park with my mother and her yellow lab Gigi. I didn't talk much. I didn't attend to the foliage, the mellow aromas of the woods in autumn, or the birds flitting and signaling up in the canopy as much as I would have liked. I was distracted. I was thinking, thinking hard, about transcendental idealism. Trying to make myself believe it. To live it. To exist in the world according to Immanuel Kant.

When I say that the intuition of external objects and the self-intuition of the mind represent, in space and time, both those objects and the mind as they affect our senses, that is, as they appear, I do not mean that these objects are a mere illusion. For in an appearance the objects, nay even the properties which we ascribe them, are always regarded as something actually given——except that insofar as such properties depend only on the subject's manner of intuition of this given object in relation to him, we distinguish the object as appearance from itself the as object in itself

I can vibe with this. I remember Locke's notion of primary and secondary qualities, and will grant that they're not without merit. There's no disputing that objects are composed of some amount of stuff, arranged in some configuration, with some degree of density, and exist in some definite relation(s) of proximity to everything else. Mass. Volume. Shape. Propinquity and movement. We do not perceive these primary qualities directly (for reasons on which we will presently elaborate), but we are to believe we perceive them truly. As physical properties, they are incontrovertibly what they are.

In observing that our knowledge of our environment arrives at us through the mediation of our senses and their peculiarities, Kant pointed out nothing new. His early Enlightenment forerunners acknowledged that an object discerned visually is not that object in itself, but the light waves or corpuscles (depending who you asked) which emanate from object's surface and excite the viewer's eye. Therefore, something like color must be categorized as a secondary quality. The redness of an oak leaf in mid-October, they maintain, does not exist in the world, but somewhere in the interior of an organism endowed with photoreceptive organs.  

My experience of the oak leaves' redness, then, is a qualic quirk of my composition. When Gigi the dog views the same leaves, she probably sees them as cast in some shade of yellow. If I were to carry a mantis shrimp around the park in a jar, the colors that would be given to it through the oak tree trembling in the breeze are beyond the horizon of possible human experience, and inconceivable to me.³

But what each of us see is real. The photons that reach my eye with its three cones, Gigi's eye with its two cones, and the eye of a homesick mantis shrimp with its sixteen cones, are all the same. The leaves' colors may be insubstantial qualia, but the fact that they are composed such that the photons they scatter are predominately around the 450–495 nanometer wavelength is real information about the leaves-in-themselves. 

The fallen leaves exhale aromatic terpenoid gases. Fungi and bacteria consume the inert plant matter, effectuating chemical changes that raise more molecules into the air, stimulating the olfactory sensory neurons in my nasal cavity. What I am smelling in the woods is not any leaf as it lays bounded by its cuticle, but material separate from it. Though these microscopic compounds originated in the leaf litter, it is not the leaves themselves that my chemosensory system detects. (Gigi the dog has fifty times more olfactory receptors than I do; it's as impossible for me to imagine the intensive depth and variety of the stimulation her nose receives as it is for her to comprehend what I see when I bring my eye to bear upon a red oak against a cloudless [blue] sky.)

Idiosyncratic as it might be, the information captured is real. The air around us is saturated with particles that are not present in such a high concentration at other times of the year, and the decomposition of the leaves at our feet is their source.

Though the common true katydids become quiet of nights around late September, you can sometimes hear one or two singing during the day in October if you venture into dense woods. "Singing" is a fudgy word for what the insect is really doing: rubbing the base of its right forewing (the "scraper") against a row of ridged teeth on the base of the left forewing (the "file"), while inclining its wings to produce a small resonance chamber, amplifying the sound produced. What I hear up in the tulip poplar over the fire escape trail isn't the insect itself. Its stridulation disturbs the air surrounding it, dispatching radiating longitudinal pressure waves. The physical properties of these waves (their velocity, the differential of the peaks of their density and of their rarefication, the rate at which they propagate, etc.) determine the way in which they stimulate the membranes, bones, fluids, and hair in my inner ear, which shapes the qualia that accompany the vibrations' tranduction into neural information. It's likely that the way I hear the katydid's song is not how Gigi hears it, or how another katydid would hear it, but once again—the ambient forest air is being disturbed, and the perturbations are of a particular kind. The physical characteristics of the acoustic pressures characteristic of a stridulating katydid differ from that the brook purling, an acorn falling and striking a boulder, the gravel crunching under our shoes, or my mother speaking, owing to each sound-producing event's multitude of material peculiarities. True, the aural texture of the katydid's "song" must be counted among the secondary or phenomenal qualities of existants, but what elicits my experience of it is an actual, empirically verifiable event in the physical world. 

None of these observations inspire skepticism as to the substantial reality of my perceptions. I accept that no human being can apprehend any event in its material entirety, that our physiology and genetic endowments determine the "flavor" of the qualia associated with sensory input, and that our sensations of objects arrive at us from at least two degrees of separation. However, it seems to me that if our senses provided false or fragmentary information of our environment, motile animal life could not have survived long enough to produce a species capable of pondering the veracity of its apprehensions. True, what our senses tell us about the world probably amounts to not much more nor not much less than what our knuckle-dragging forebears required to survive long enough to pass on their genes, but if it's been sufficient to guide hundreds of generations of Homo sapiens across the surface of a complex and dangerous planet, it stands to reason that objects of experience are close enough to things-in-themselves to be practically fungible with them. While (for instance) I can't perceive the welter of atoms composing Jackson Brook and am therefore blind to that aspect of the creek's reality, the aggregate of its molecular constituents is what it is at the scale at which I perceive it, and the ways which I experience my entity interacting with the water when I reach my hand beneath its surface cannot be so distorted as to be deemed an imposition of my own imagination.

If Kant begs to differ (and he most certainly does), we must grant that his protests are not baseless. Once uncertainty has been introduced into the correspondence between the way things appear to us and how/what the truly are, it becomes exceedingly difficult to precisely determine the boundary between reality and ideality. If I've arrived at any conclusion so quickly, I may be giving the matter only superficial consideration. Kant's genius was in possessing the intellectual stamina to attack the problem without faltering in the face of the myriad and formidable obstacles one must encounter in such an enquiry.  

Caspar David Friedrich, Tageszeitenzyklus, Der Nachmittag (1822)

As we know, Kant's epistemological demilitarized zone lies between immediate (internal) sensation and everything else. Only sensations and mental activity are indubitable; everything beyond those must be appended with question marks and ellipses. We can't be sure of any coherence and order of nature-in-itself because we don't know nature-in-itself; we're only aware of the impressions it makes upon us. It is here, in the self-evident certainty of subjectivity, that Kant makes his stand.  
Hence the order and regularity in the appearances which we call nature are carried into them by ourselves; indeed, we could never find them in nature, if we ourselves, or the nature of our mind, had not originally placed them there. For this unity of nature is meant to be necessary, that is, an a priori certain unity of the connection of appearances. And how should we have arrived a priori at such a synthetic unity if the subjective grounds for such unity were not contained a priori in our mind's original sources of knowledge, and if these subjective conditions were not at the same time objectively valid, by being the grounds of the possibility of knowing an object in experience at all?

...However exaggerated and absurd it may sound to say that the understanding is itself the source of the laws of nature, and hence of its formal unity, such an assertion is nevertheless correct and in accordance with the object, namely, experience...all empirical laws are only particular determinations of the pure laws of the understanding, under which and according to the norm of which, the former first become possible, and appearances assume a lawful form, just as much as all appearances, in spite of the variety of their empirical form, must always conform to the conditions of the pure form of sensibility.

This passage comes from the "A Deduction" of the Critique's first edition. In response to critics who accused him of peddling a Berkeleyan idealism (i.e., nothing exists but the mind), he emended passages and added new sections to the second edition to make his meaning more clear. Does he dial it back in the "B Deduction" and say that no, actually, even though the mind regulates how nature appears to us, we mustn't consider it the giver of order to external events?


Thus, all possible perception depends on the synthesis of apprehension, and this synthesis itself, this empirical synthesis, depends on the transcendental synthesis, and therefore on the categories, it follows that all possible perceptions, and hence also everything whatever that can come to the empirical consciousness, that is, all appearances of nature, must, as far as their combination is concerned, be subject to the categories. Nature (considered as nature in general) depends on the categories as the original ground of its necessary lawfulness (as natura formaliter spectata). Beyond the laws underlying nature in general, as a lawfulness of appearances in space and time, even the pure faculty of understanding is incapable of prescribing, through mere categories, a priori laws to appearances. Special laws, therefore, because they refer to appearances which are determined empirically, cannot be completely derived from the categories, although they are all subject to them. Experience must be added in order for us to know such special laws at all; but the a priori laws alone inform us with regard to experience in general, and about what can be known as an object of experience.

To my understanding, all Kant has done in his revision here is clarify that while we can't know something like the law of universal gravitation a priori, the regularity of the phenomena which this law describes and from the observation of which it has been derived are, as before, to be found inside ourselves, and not in the world apart from us.

As a methodological policy, the reluctance of scientific empiricism to expend bandwidth on ontological questions has been resoundingly successful: turns out we can learn a lot about the way the world works when we focus exclusively on the mechanics of things. But that also means we take a lot for granted, as David Hume points out in his remarks about inductive reasoning. Scientists still refer to the law of universal gravitation and Darwin's ideas about natural selection and evolution as theories in acknowledgment of the provisional character of so much of our knowledge—even though we hardly treat it as such in our practical affairs. 

Kant developed his epistemology as a corrective to this tendency. A famous consequence of his parsimony in sieving the given from the unknowable was his relegating time and space to perceptual formats, denying any absolute reality to both. After catching some flak for this stance after the publication of the Critique's first edition, he doubles down on his remarks in a passage added to the second:

What [my critics] object to is this: Alterations, they say, are real (this is proved by the change of our own representations, even if all outer appearances and their alterations be denied). Alterations, however, are possible only in time, and therefore time must be something real. The answer to this is easy enough. I grant the whole argument. Time is certainly something real, namely, the real form of inner intuition. Time therefore has subjective reality with regard to inner experience; that is, I really have the representation of time and my determinations in it. Time, therefore, is to be considered as real, though not as an object but as the manner of my representing which I myself, as an object possess...Time is nothing but the form of our inner intuition. Take away from time the special condition of our sensibility, and the concept of time vanishes as well; time does not adhere to objects, but only to the subject that intuits them.

Regarding the ideality of space, Kant writes:

It is, therefore, only from the human standpoint that we can speak of space, extended objects, etc. If we depart from the subjective condition under which alone we can gain outer intuition, namely, as far as we ourselves may be affected by objects, the representation of space means nothing whatsoever. This predicate is ascribed to things only insofar as they appear to us, that is, only to objects of sensibility. The constant form of this receptivity which we call sensibility is a necessary condition of all relations in which objects can be intuited as outside us; and when we abstract from these objects then the form of that receptivity is a pure intuition which we call space. As the special conditions of our sensibility cannot be made the conditions of the possibility of things, but only of their appearances, we may indeed say that space comprehends all things which appear to us externally, but not all things in themselves, intuited or not, or intuited by any subject whatsoever...Hence we assert the empirical reality of space (as far as all possible outer experience is concerned), but as the same time we assert is transcendental ideality; that is to say, we assert that space is nothing once we leave out of consideration the condition of the possibility of all experience, and accept space as something underlying things in themselves.

"It's hard to appreciate the beauty of a world when one doubts its very validity," Kazuo Ishiguro writes in An Artist of the Floating World (1986). A similar sentiment must have beleaguered the artists and writers of the Romantic movement to inspire their pushback against certain Enlightenment ideas (such as the implications of the doctrine of primary and secondary qualities) and scientific materialism. And something like it occurred to me as I walked about the woods with my mother and her pooch and focused on convincing myself that time and space aren't real.

I told myself: duration and distance are nothing but subjective molds to which my experiences are fitted. Everything outside my own skin is an enigma. The world's actual resemblance to my perceptions of it cannot even be a topic of speculation. The how I experience the world altogether determines the only world I can know; and the world as it seems is the only world of which I can speak.

I move in the appearance of a forest. Something is out there, beyond me and beyond the play of appearances, but I am in total ignorance of its structure and operations as it exists in and of itself. 

I spot a tufted titmouse on a witch hazel branch. The titmouse is composed of matter; the matter of the titmouse, the matter that is the bird-in-itself, has no actual shape because space is only the organizing principle of my perception. In the act of cognizing the bird, I determine the bird. If its beak seems to taper to a point, that's because of my seeing it that way. The feathered body intervening between the claws at the tips of its toes and the wispy crest on its head becomes positioned relative to the claws and the crest through an organizational procedure of my mind. The titmouse-in-itself might be a shapeless lump. Its parts might be dispersed  The bird and the tree might together be an extrapolation from an infinitesimal point-cipher of cosmic computer code. The bird and I, our bodies-in-themselves, might be conjoined to each other, intricated with the matter of the forest in an undimensioned knot, or discontinuously strewn about noumenal not-space like the fragments of a broken stained glass window. Whatever the case may be, it is only my mind that brings it all into coherence. 

The acorns in the dirt appear to be round and smooth. But the acorns-in-themselves can be neither because their dimensions are indeterminate. Venturing to state that the acorns-in-themselves are smaller than the I-in-myself is not permitted. I am not privy to such information, and therefore the property of volume is inapplicable to the acorns-in-themselves and the I-in-myself. The extension of the trees from the earth, which seems to provide for the distance an acorn falls, is likewise the consequence of my mind administering the necessary categories of understanding upon jumbled information arriving to me from beyond. I give to the falling leaf the spiral pattern I see it trace in its descent. The duration of its fall might be forever if it weren't for the magnanimity with which I place a meaningful interval between point A and point B.

If I can't seem to return home before I leave to walk in the woods, it is because of how experience conforms to my organism, not because of some intrinsic property or function of the universe in which I exist.

Caspar David Friedrich, Tageszeitenzyklus, Der Abend (1820–1)

I can't keep it up. It's so counterintuitive as to be absolutely bonkers. I wonder: did Kant actually believe this?

No. Yes. Mostly? First of all, Kant is an exceptionally (and often frustratingly) sedulous thinker, and any personal interpretation of his ideas ought to be checked and doublechecked against the Critique's profusion of addenda and clarifications. He repeatedly reminds us he is not saying that the external world is illusory:

Once sensation is given (which, if referred to an object in general without determining it, is called perception), then through its manifoldness many an object may be put together in imagination which has no empirical position in space or time outside the imagination. This admits of no doubt, whether we take the sensations of pain and pleasure, or the sensations of the outer senses, color, heat, etc.; it is always perception through which the material for thinking any objects of sensible intuition must first be supplied. This perception, therefore (to speak at present of outer intuitions only), represents something real in space. For, firstly, perception is the representation of a reality, just as space is the representation of a mere possibility of coexistence. Secondly, this reality is represented in outer sense, that is, in space. Thirdly, space itself is nothing but mere representation, so that nothing in it can be taken as real, except what is represented in it; or, vice versa, whatever is given in it, that is, whatever is represented in it through perception, is also real in it; for, if it were not real in it, that is, given in it immediately through empirical intuition, it could also not be created by fancy, because the real of intuitions cannot be invented a priori.

Thus we see that all outer perception immediately proves something real in space, or rather is that real itself [sic]. Empirical realism is to this extent therefore perfectly true; that is, something real in space always corresponds to our outer intuitions. Space itself, it is true, with all its appearances, as representations, exists only within me; but the real, or the material, of all objects of intuition is nevertheless given in that space actually and independently of all fancy; nay, it is impossible that in this space anything outside us (in a transcendental sense) could be given, because space itself is nothing outside our sensibility.

...In order to escape these false appearances, one has to follow the rule that whatever is connected according to empirical laws with a perception is actual...In order to refute empirical idealism and its unfounded misgivings as to the objective reality of our outer perceptions, it is sufficient to consider that outer perception immediately proves an actuality in space, which space, though in itself a mere form of representations, nevertheless possesses objective reality with respect to all outer appearances (which themselves are nothing but representations); and similarly, without perception even the creation of fancy and dreams would not be possible, so that our outer senses must, with respect to the data from which experience can spring, have actual corresponding objects in space.

Thinking about what I know of Kant's legacy, I'm reminded of Issac Newton. The revolutionary natural scientist drafted the blueprints for a clockwork universe, and yet persisted in averring the existence of an omnipotent God who directly intervened in his creation and indeed sustained its existence. Despite his objections, his model of a mechanistic cosmos blinding whirring along gained currency, while the component of his worldview which admitted (perhaps necessitated) divine intervention was jettisoned by the scientists and philosophers who took his work seriously. Kant insists he isn't Berkeleyan idealist by any means (and with pointed vehemence in the Critique's second edition), but as Whitehead observes, some of Kant's philosophical heirs (most notably Hegel) apparently decided, like the students of Newtonian science, that the trailblazer didn't follow his own path to its terminus.

Anyway: while Kant altogether ruled out the possibility of knowledge as to what the external world actually is and of what it consists, he left ample room for belief, which he differentiates from knowledge in terms of the grounds of an assertion's validity. A proposition held to be necessarily true on subjective grounds (say, the existence of a "soul" which confers an intrinsic dignity and value to the individual human life), but which cannot be justified by any empirical proof, qualifies as belief. If on objective grounds a judgement must necessarily be true (the Earth is a spheroid, for instance), what we have is an item of knowledge.³ 

This distinction features in Kant's explication of free will in the Transcendental Dialectic: 

It can easily be seen that, if all causality in the world of sense was merely nature, every event would be determined in time through another, according to necessary laws. Since appearances, therefore, in determining the will, would render every action necessary as their natural effect, the removal of transcendental freedom would at the same time destroy practical freedom. Practical freedom presupposes that, although something has not happened, it ought to have happened, and that the cause of this something in appearance, therefore, did not have the determining force which could prevent the causality of our will from producing, independently of those natural causes, and even contrary to their force and influence, something that in the order of time is determined according to empirical laws, and from originating a series of events entirely of itself....

It its empirical character...this [human] subject, as appearance, would be subjected to all laws of determination to a causal connection, and in that respect it would be nothing but a part of the world of sense; and its effects, like every other appearance, would arise from nature without fail. In the same way as outer appearances would influence it, and in the same way as its empirical character, that is, the law of its causality, would have to be known through experience, all its actions ought to admit of an explanation according to the laws of nature, and all that is requisite for its complete and necessary determination would be found in a possible experience.

But in its intelligible [noumenal] character (though we can only have a general concept of this character), the same subject would have to be considered free from all influence of sensibility, and from all determination through appearances: and as in this subject, insofar as it is noumenon, nothing happens, and as no alteration is found in it which requires dynamical determination of time, and therefore no connection with appearances as causes, this active being would thus far be quite independent and free in its actions from all natural necessity, which is found only in the world of sense.

Kant is only dipping into the hypothetical here: of course we can't know anything about the subject-in-itself, but that also means we can't know that a noumenal subject isn't a self-determining something behind the curtain of appearance and its ironclad categorical law of cause and effect. But we can (and should, says Kant) believe that he is.

In my initial reading, this is where I watched Kant finally blink as he gazed into the vortex. For almost five hundred pages, he has absolutely forbidden us from conjecturing as to how things beyond the curtain of subjective experience might actually be. But when his moral sensibilities impel him to find some loophole through which human freedom can be released from the clutches of the skeptics and mechanistic materialists who have taken it hostage, he relaxes his proscription against noumenal speculation.

David Caspar Friedrich, Mann und Frau in Betrachtung des Mondes (c. 1824)

A few pages later, as he endeavors to support his claim that human freedom must remain an open question (and thereby a matter of belief instead of knowledge), Kant declares that as the faculty of reason is not an appearance, it is not subject to time. Again, this seems awfully convenient, and might to lead us toward a paradox if we're also assuming that our mental activity emerges from or at least someways intersects with our corporeal selves. If the understanding determines how the world of things appears to work, how do we account for that area of the physical world in which the understanding resides? As Kant scholar and translator Marcus Wiegelt puts it, the world-determining mind "is already a part of the very world that it is claimed first of all to constitute. The transcendental consciousness that supposedly constitutes the empirical world turns out to be actually dependent on it, and the latter has to be presupposed in at least a rudimentary form for the presence of the former."

One response to this contradiction might be to go full-on panpsychist and declare that all things are made of mind, spirit, soul, or what-have-you, which leaves you right at the threshold of the absolute idealism espoused by Berkeley and Hegel. Alternatively, we could concede a measure of noumenal reality to time in order to situate the understanding's sense of itself within its material conduit—though the consequences would destabilize the Kantian edifice. Once we start connecting the workings of things-in-themselves to appearances, where do we stop?

But now, as I'm sitting with the Critique in my lap and typing this, I wonder if an important but subtle aspect of Kant's transcendental logic has heretofore been lost on me.

If what we can know in a transcendental sense is restricted to internal sensory and cognitive activity—after all, we have only mediate experience of anything beyond our own bodies—then by this radically stringent criterion, time and space must necessarily be packaged inside the perceiving subject in order to enter into any model of existence (which they must). To consider them strictly in terms of the subject's self-activity, there is little alternative but to define them as an internal clock and a mapping function.

We may be, however, perfectly at liberty to believe time and space adhere to objects generally, and independently of the perceiving subject, provided that we append any assertion along these lines with an acknowledgement that we insist on their noumenal reality as a matter of subjective necessity. However, I suspect this just drops us back off at Hume's doorstep. The gap between "belief" and "mental habit" is the width of a split hair. Moreover, we're still left in doubt regarding the feasibility of a mind that superintends the workings of material reality while also being beholden to the functions of that which it purportedly determines.

I don't know. For a program that was developed to combat and extinguish skepticism, Kant's transcendental idealism has left me further adrift in doubt than I was before picking up the Critique. Perhaps it will all make sense if keep on I studying it for another ten years, as Ruskin (jokingly) recommends. But, heck—like a stroll through the woods, the destination matters less than the journey in idle philosophical expatiation. 

Caspar David Friedrich, Der einsame Baum (1822)

Today's session has gone on long enough. One final thought:

Two facts stand: I have my subjectivity, and a world of external things and events appears to exist separately of me. Propositions A and B coexist, and both are incontestably true. Kant was not the first to approach the primeval philosophical problem of whether A precipitates B, or vice versa.

I am increasingly of the mind that the effort a millennia-long snipe hunt—one that has yielded much else of value, but failed in its objective. Any conceivable proof of the dependence of A on B (or vice versa) must presuppose the subordinate proposition in any evidence it specifies for the preeminence of the primary proposition.⁴ Kant put up a mighty effort, but to my (tentative) estimation, he was unable to wriggle out of the infinite regression trap.

As I type this, I find myself more in agreement with Hume than Kant. There are limits to our knowledge, and the greatest influence on our judgement as to where the line ought to be drawn, prior to any logical operations, are the beliefs we carry with us to the task.

1. Years ago, I wrote many, many more words about twelve Final Fantasy games than I will in these twelve blog posts about Kant. But, as I've learned firsthand, writing fifty thousand words about a video game series is child's play compared to writing even five thousand words about the Critique of Pure Reason. "Beyond easy," indeed. This is what I get for trying to expand my stupid horizons.

2. What's the German analogue of "weeaboo?" Deutschaboo? Geeb? Whatever it is, such proclivities might account for why I'm citing the paintings' titles in the original German.

3. Of course, the arbiters of "objective" truths are the pure concepts of understanding (the categories), which pertain only to appearances. According to Kant, the planet is spherical because the human mind determines it to be such.

4. When we get into the weeds, even the scientific materialist's picture of the world relies on the existence of an observer, which entails all the aggravating questions about subjectivity and the ineluctable mediacy of our knowledge. (Hume's solution to such conundra might be summed up as: "get a job.")

5. "This is the truth! This is my belief! At least for now." —Belthasar, the Guru of Reason


  1. So...are you alive dude? Just checking to make sure the Corona did not get you or anything.

    1. Alive and (more or less) well! Thanks fer checkin'.