Braver Reading Group: Chapter 2: A Rejoinder


[Please note that all the posts related to Braver Reading Group are gathered here.

For general background and the thoughts that prompted what is below please read Mikhail’s description of what’s at issue in this chapter here and here. In this I’m going to expand on a few points that I think will be especially worth keeping track of in the chapters that follow.]

According to the First Critique, the phenomenal/noumenal distinction is part of the solution to four sets of problems: (1)  problems of modality, saving necessity from Hume’s critique, and (2)  paradoxes of totality, discussed in the Dialectic (IMHO: the true structure and nature of which have been refined and clarified first by Cantor then by Russell and now Priest), (3) problems of normativity, making sense of it again in light of Hume’s critique, and (4) problems of the external world.

In terms of the second motivation for the distinction, the thought is something like this, we only get into the paradoxes when we try to talk about all of reality as it is in itself (Kant was the model for the standard set-theoretic response to Russell’s Paradox). But exactly in virtue of this role of the noumena, Kant has to: (1) prohibit us from saying many things about the noumenal realm, (2) use facts about epistemic limitations to construe talk about the phenomenal realm in particular ways. Both of these, for example, are to prohibit us from talking about completed infinities.

But then this is where the problem comes in. Kant has to say a lot of things about the noumenal realm to set up the system so that it blocks paradoxes of totality. But then a similar paradox (which Braver calls “the affection problem”) is generated. For the solution to work, one has to be both prohibited from saying things about the noumena and also one has to say some of those very things in stating the solution. In this chapter there are three cases of this. The reason I’m getting them all out here is because Hegel views the affection problem as the precise place where Kant’s philosophy succumbs to imminent critique. In addition, we can state the problem in a fourth way that the post-Kantian opponent of noumena also must face.

1. Versions of the Affection Problem

1.1. Talking about the causes of phenomena-

According to the basic argument of the Critique, of course, we have no access to noumena, so we cannot directly establish their existence through experience; one indirect means of proving them is a Lockean style argument that the very idea of appearance requires something behind it “causing” the appearance (Kant, C1 Bxxvi). It simply makes no sense to talk about appearance without something appearing. This is problematic, however, because it takes the categories that are supposed to be limited to phenomena and stretches them to span the phenomenal and noumenal realms. This argument posits some kind of causal relation between the two (the famous affection problem) and applies at least the categories of causality and existence (and perhaps substance) to noumena thus breaking the fundamental law of the first Critique. (Braver, 40)

This is presented as a problem for the first of the three ways of explicating the notion of noumena. These are: (1) noumena as “existing, unknowable things,” (James Van Cleve’s take) (2) noumena as what God knows (Paul Guyer’s take), and (3) noumena as limit concepts (Henry Allison’s take). Braver shows how foreign the second account is to Kant. For our purposes it is important to realize that it too generates an affection problem concerning how we can possibly talk about God. So does the third account. In talking about a “limit” one (arguably) still has to talk about the whole infinite series (in Beyond the Limits of Thought, Graham Priest shows how this follows from Cantor’s Domain Principle).

1.2. Talking about what makes the truth makers of judgments-

The problem crops up again in trying to characterize truth. Since we can’t talk about the noumenal we can’t say that a claim is true if it corresponds to the noumenal. At best we can say, “. . . .whatever we judge to be true of an object must be borne out by further sensory data” (Braver, 46). So the affection problem pushes you towards something like a coherence account of truth, which would endanger all of the other realism theses that Kant wants to keep, except for the fact that he can hold on to a transcendental subject that doesn’t put up with any nonsense. But there is a version of the affection problem for the transcendental subject as well.

1.3. Talking about the transcendental subject-

If the transcendental subject is a noumenal object we have a real problem.

In other words [Braver is clarifying Carr], if Kant really cannot talk about the transcendental subject, then the massive portions of the Critique dedicated to working out the inner processes of this subject’s modes of experience-organization constitute a profound self-contradiction. Much of the book would consist in describing, in sometimes tedious detail, what should be passed over in silence” (Braver, 52)

Kant has to say weird things: (1) because the transcendental subject is the source of necessary a priori judgments in the way it organizes phenomena, we can have no direct intuition of the transcendental subject itself (it’s not phenomenally experienced), (2) “what we learn about the transcendental subject doesn’t tell us anything about the noumenal self” ((Braver, 53)), and (3) the transcendental subject is not a substance, again because it is the source of categories such as substatiality (these last two are from the “Paralogisms”).

1.4. Talk about the distinction itself.

How do we construe talk about the noumenal-phenomenal distinction itself? For Kant we can construe lots of sentences in two manners, either as assertions about the phenomenal realm or as assertions about the noumenal realm.

Here is an example. Take the sentence, “Space is infinite.” On a cartoon version of Kant, the sentence is true if asserted about phenomenal space and understood to predicate potential infinity to space. But understood as an assertion about the noumenal realm it is neither true nor false. So we get VP(Space is infinite) = T and VN(Space is infinite) = N. But what about these assertions? Presumably we want to say that they are true. In particular, we want to say that it is true that construed as an assertion about the noumenal, “Space is infinite” is neither true nor false. So VP(VN(Space is infinite) = N) = T. But is this even coherent, given that the phenomenal is supposed to shield us from talking about the noumenal?

This version of the problem may seem needlessly Byzantine, but it will raise its head in a particularly virulent manner when we get to Hegel. For even though Hegel, Nietzsche, and the early Heidegger all do away with the noumenal, in describing their positions Braver sometimes still differentiates the sense of assertions in a kind of internal/external manner which I think ends up being a linguistic version of the phenomenal/noumenal distinction.

It should be noted here that if there is an affection problem for Braver’s Hegel/Nietzsche/early Heidegger (and Braver does not explicitly discuss it as far as I can tell so far), it would only strengthen his case for moving to something else beyond Hegel, Nietzsche, and early Heidegger.

2. Graham Priest’s alternative? Meillassoux?

As a concluding homily: I should also note that Chapter 5 through 7 of Graham Priest’s Beyond the Limits of Thought make an excellent companion piece to Chapters 2 and 3 of Braver’s book. At the end of Chapter 5 Priest writes:

The problem is posed for anyone who holds that the Categories do not apply to noumena and, at the same time, wants even to consider propositions about them. There are therefore only two possible solutions.

The first is to give up all talk of noumena. How much of the Kantian project would be left if one were to do this, I leave to Kantian scholars to talk about, not much I suspect. The central idea of Transcendental Idealism is that the things we normally take ourselves to be familiar with are representations. The very notion of things of which these are the representations – one kind of noumenon – therefore seems built into Kant’s very problematic. Nor is this solution open to anyone else who holds that there are – or even could be – objects that we do not perceive, be they God, photons, black holes, or numbers” (Priest, 84).

This is really interesting in Braver’s context! (1) in the rest of the book Braver picks up the gauntlet that Priest has thrown down in his “first solution,” telling us exactly how much of the Kantian project can be maintained without noumena by way of the historical development leading to Derrida. So as noted, a general affection problem for Hegel, Nietzsche, and the early Heidegger only strengthens the dialectic Braver is weaving. (2) Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude begins by openly challenging anti-realist philosophers to open up about what they say about stars existing prior to humans (there is a related literature about “the reality of the past” stemming from Dummett as well). The dialectic that Meillassoux weaves goes really, really well with Priest and Braver. The arguments actually partially overlap with Priest’s and can I think be presented as posing an affection problem for neo-Hegelians continental philosophers.

Braver’s account of Hegel/Nietzsche/early Heidegger represents a fork, one path leading to late Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida, the other leading to Priest and Meillassoux (and speculative realist friends: Brassier, Bryant, Grant,and Harman). [If time permits, I will further explore this in my post on Braver’s chapter on Hegel.] Priest continues,

The other possible solution is to ditch the claim that the Categories apply only to phenomena. . . . This solution is, I think, correct. But it takes us out of the frying pan and into the fire. . .” (ibid)

What’s interesting is that while Braver’s Hegel (and then Nietzsche and then early Heidegger) does Priest’s first possible reaction (chucking the noumena, but keeping as much of the Kantian framework as possible), Priest’s own form of neo-Hegelianism (Chapter 7) does the second, ditching the claim that the Categories apply only to the phenomena, and no longer trying to prevent the paradoxes of totality (one of Priest’s is called “Kant’s fifth antinomy”), rather taking their conclusions to be true contradictions that characterize reality as it is in itself. Longer term, it would be very interesting to compare Priest with Meillassoux (who briefly discusses paraconsistent logic) and speculative realism more generally (of course in this context one would need to consider the analytic neo-Hegelian John McDowell).

3. Brief thoughts on correspondence issue.

As a final note. J.L. Austin’s magnificent Sense and Sensibilia contains a great discussion of A.J. Ayer’s attempt to explain falsity with a correspondence account of truth. It would be worthwhile to read that alongside Braver’s discussion, especially when he will go on to consider Heidegger’s radical conception of truth.

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About joncogburn

Cogburn is a stereotypical beatnik, with a goatee, "hip" (slang) usage, and a generally unkempt, bohemian appearance, studiously avoiding anything resembling work, which he seems to regard as the ultimate four-letter word. Whenever the word is mentioned, even in a line like "That would work," he jumps with fear, yelping, "Work?!" He serves as a foil to the well-groomed, well-dressed, straitlaced Mikhail, and the contrast between the two friends provides much of the humor of the Reading Group.

62 thoughts on “Braver Reading Group: Chapter 2: A Rejoinder

  1. Thanks, Jon – I really think that your ability to provide all sorts of contextualizing references is of great benefit to all (well, certainly me). I do think that Chapter Three discussion of Hegel might actually help us deal with some of Kantian questions, especially if we keep in mind that Braver is primarily concerned with interaction of issues/themes and not so much with persons as Hegel does directly counter Kant on some of these issues.

  2. No reference to things-in-themselves “causing” appearances occurs at Bxxvi; there’s not even anything close to it. So something screwy has gone in in Braver’s quote; the word he places within quotation marks is simply not there.

    At Bxxvii, there’s a a reference to the “absurd proposition” that “there is appearance without anything that appears”, but Kant nowhere says that a noumenon causes a phenomenon, or causes appearances. Indeed, on that same page Kant explicitly says that “the principle of causality applies to things only in the first sense [as appearances], viz., insofar as they are objects of experience, but that these same objects are not subject to that principle when taken in the second sense [as thing in itself].”

    The (schematized) category of causality applies only to phenomena; the logical category of “hypothetical relation” (which, through the schemata, becomes the category of causality) can be applied to things-in-themselves. It’s just that from (general) logic alone, we get no content. And so we can have no determinate knowledge of things-in-themselves, though we can think of them quite coherently, and we know they exist (as Kant says in the pages from the B Preface just mentioned).

    The issue is analogous to the question of the efficacy of the free will. There, Kant does more liberally talk of the (noumenal) will “causing” phenomenal actions. But he’s always careful to note that, from a theoretical point of view, we have no knowledge of how this could happen, or even if it ever does. That my will is free & efficacious is a practical postulate for Kant, and not something which can be known through theoretical reason. Through theoretical reason, all I can know about the causality of my will is: it’s not the same as the causality between the sun and the rock it warms (law-governed mechanical causality). It’s analogous to it, if it exists at all. (We do at least know that something affects us, theoretically, because we know we have a discursive intellect. But no more than in the practical case can we know what sort of relation this is, beyond reasoning by analogy.)

    There is no “affection problem” in Kant. That part of transcendental idealism is perfectly coherent. Kenneth Westphal argues this at length in “Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism”, which I posted about once upon a time. The “affection problem” goes back to Jacobi, and has never been fair as a criticism of Kant. It probably belongs next to the “short argument for idealism” on the list of Things People Really Need To Know Are Not Kantian.

    “Braver shows how foreign the second account is to Kant. For our purposes it is important to realize that it too generates an affection problem concerning how we can possibly talk about God. So does the third account.”

    God doesn’t have a discursive intellect, for Kant. He has an intuitive intellect (or intellectual intuition). God does not know things through sensibility. How then could there be anything like an “affection problem” for God’s knowledge? Nothing affects God’s intellect.

    “Since we can’t talk about the noumenal we can’t say that a claim is true if it corresponds to the noumenal. At best we can say, “. . . .whatever we judge to be true of an object must be borne out by further sensory data” (Braver, 46). So the affection problem pushes you towards something like a coherence account of truth…”

    or you could just say what Kant did in fact say: “Truth is the agreement of cognition with its object.” (B82). “If a cognition does not agree with the object to which it is referred then it is false.” (B83) Heidegger has a pretty funny (for Heidegger) bit about this at SuZ 215; the neo-Kantians liked to insist that talking about truth as “agreement” was “an expression of a methodologically retarded naive realism, and declared it to be irreconcilable with any formulation of this question which has undergone Kant’s ‘Copernican revolution’. But Kant too adhered to this conception of truth, so much so that he did not even bring it up for discussion” — that is a serious owning of some bad readings of Kant, right there.

    The trouble with Braver (as you cite him) is that you seem to think that “agreement of cognition with its object” would have to be the agreement of a thought with something noumenal. But our thoughts generally aren’t about noumena; they’re about things in space and time. A thought that “The chair is covered in dust” is true if the chair is covered in dust, false if it isn’t. It doesn’t matter what noumena are like; the thought is about a phenomena, the chair, and its being covered in dust.

    A thought about a noumena, for instance “My soul [as a noumenal subject] is immortal” is true if my soul is immortal, false if it’s not. I can’t know whether it’s immortal or not (or even if it exists as a coherent entity), but this is what we should expect given transcendental idealism. Showing how “My soul is immortal” coheres with other of my thoughts doesn’t do anything to show whether or not it’s true.

    I don’t see what’s supposed to be weird or problematic in your section 1.3, unless Braver is psychologizing Kant. The logical functions of the categories etc. are not psychical processes that happen in my mind. I don’t think your (very quick) account of the argument of the Paralogisms chapter is fair to what Kant actually says there, but then there’s no point in arguing against a two-line summary. But I think it’s important to mark that the reason we have no knowledge of the soul as a substance isn’t because the soul is the “source of categories such as substantiality”, but rather just because it’s not given in experience and because none of the rationalist arguments about it are sound. Most of the Paralogisms chapter is devoted to taking apart those arguments (by focusing on Mendelsohn’s as representative).

    “But is this even coherent, given that the phenomenal is supposed to shield us from talking about the noumenal?”

    There’s no problem with talking about the noumenal. The problem only comes in thinking we can have knowledge of it. Kant’s “restriction thesis” is epistemic, not semantic. There is no problem with “applying the [schematized] categories to noumena”: it gives you false judgements, or else judgements whose truth we cannot know. Nothing problematic about being wrong, nor about being in ignorance.

    As an aside, for all the pleasure I take in reading Priest’s work (his “Introduction to Non-Classical Logic” is fantastic), I don’t think he’s a good reader of Kant or Hegel at all. His issues just aren’t on the table for the German Idealists. (Annoyingly, I know I’ve read some literature on this point, but I can’t find the pieces I’m looking for. I suspect that Paul Redding probably mentions them at some point in the last chapter of “Analytic Philosophy and the Return of Hegelian Thought”, since it’s a chapter on Hegel and dialetheism (summary version: Hegel is not a dialetheist). In general, Australian work on Kant/Hegel is likely to mention Priest, and it’s never to endorse his readings.) And I think he misreads Hegel on the so-called “fifth antinomy” (that if thought had a limit, it could think both sides of it): Hegel’s point isn’t that thought can always go beyond the limits which it really has, but that thought has no limits. Thought can be about anything — it is without limit, truly infinite.

    As for the other four (Kantian) antinomies, Hegel’s apparent willingness to endorse both poles has to be seen in context: Hegel claims his answer to (for example) the question of the infinitude or finitude of space is basically the same as Aristotle’s (see p.198/9 of “Science of Logic”). For any finite region of space, you can make a larger or smaller finite region; this is enough to deflate Kantian-style arguments for the “first antinomy”. Space as such is not infinitely large or finitely sized, because space as such isn’t a region of space, and so isn’t something that intelligibly has a size. For any region of space, you can make it bigger or smaller (by adding or subtracting regions of space to it). (etc. etc. — Hegel devotes an entire “remark” in the “Science of Logic” to this topic; it begins at p.190 in the Miller translation.)

    To fend off one natural objection: Hegel’s claim that any notion can be give rise to “the form of antinomial assertions”, that “there are as many antinomies as there are notions”, simply means: any concept is such that, if you fail to notice some of the logical relations in which it stands to other concepts, can lead you into a conceptual muddle — even to the point of thinking you have proofs for each member of a contradictory pair. Hegel is thus not a dialetheist, but is as opposed to it as Aristotle was.

    • The issue is analogous to the question of the efficacy of the free will. There, Kant does more liberally talk of the (noumenal) will “causing” phenomenal actions. But he’s always careful to note that, from a theoretical point of view, we have no knowledge of how this could happen, or even if it ever does.

      I think this is a great parallel to Braver’s noumenal/phenomenal discussion and I think it would have been a better illustration of the problem. I think I mentioned this before in terms of Kant’s observation that a) we don’t know if we are free and b) we don’t know what the determining ground of our action is when we attempt to act morally. Do you think that we are spending too much time on Kant’s theoretical philosophy while it is practical one that gives us the most interesting stuff on noumena/phenomena?

      I’m not sure what’s happening with citations, is it possible it’s a simple error? Or are you suspecting a misreading?

      • Mikhail,

        Great point.

        Weirdly, prior to reading your post I just read this sentence from Safranski’s fantastic biography of Schopenhauer.

        “Here lies the secret centre of gravity of the whole of Kantian philosophy. Kant imself admitted it in a letter when he confessed that it had been the problem of freedom–‘Man is free and, on the other hand, there is no freedom, everything is necessity in accordance with natural laws’-which had roused him from his ‘dogmatic slumbers’ and induced him to develop the critique of reason.” (114)

        The citation is to “Immanuel Kant” by A Gulyga (Frankfurt, 1985).

        I wish I had coherent thoughts about this. I agree with the practical philosophy but not the aspect of the theoretical philosophy that is recapitulated in theological fideism and contemporary anti-realism. I don’t know if that is consistent.

        It would be interesting if taking the practical concerns to be primary vitiated some of the above worries. I think maybe this is right, because one could maybe have a phenomenal/noumenal that didn’t bear so much epistemic weight. I wish my history of philosophy wasn’t so wretched. For all I know, Fichte and then much later the Southwest School neo-Kantians were doing something like this. . .

      • “I’m not sure what’s happening with citations, is it possible it’s a simple error? Or are you suspecting a misreading?”

        I may have been too subtle: I think that Kant is clearly being misunderstood. What is supposedly “cited” here does not exist, and nothing like it exists. There is no real “affection problem” in Kant’s philosophy; it’s a creation of bad readers from Jacobi on down to the present day.

        I don’t think that we miss much by attending to Kant’s theoretical philosophy when we want to get at the phenomena/noumena distinction; I just think that we should always keep in mind (roughly) how it’s supposed to work in the practical philosophy, to make sure we haven’t read Kant’s theoretical philosophy in such a way that his practical philosophy becomes wildly incoherent. But I don’t think the theoretical philosophy is dependent on the practical here, in a way that the practical is dependent on the theoretical. (The practical philosophy presupposes that room has been made for faith, but the room has to be made entirely on the battlefield of theoretical philosophy.)

  3. I find your post extremely interesting, and I think really important for making sense of neo-Hegelianism.

    But in my defense I need to note that I didn’t say Priest got Hegel or Kant right. I wrote, “Priest’s own form of neo-Hegelianism (Chapter 7) does the second. . .” not that Hegel or even Priest’s interpretation of Hegel does this.

    Priest’s dialetheism is *not* what makes his work central to this debate (caveats: (1) I’m sure he would disagree with this, and (2) his dialetheism is highly relevant to Meillassoux’s arguments concerning modality). What is central is the manner in which Priest has rigorously formulated affection type arguments, and does make a good case that varieties of Russell’s paradox are what is really at issue in the Dialectic (in my opinion one of the arguments he attributes to Leibniz is closer to what is at issue in the Dialectic than his “fifth antinomy,”).

    And Braver is right that from Fichte onwards affection type arguments have been one of the driving forces in developing canonical post Kantian philosophies. His book could easily contain a chapter on Schopenhauer for this very reason.

    All I’m meant to say in the concluding part of the above is that forms of *realism* in continental (well Meillassoux’s interesting work at least) and analytic (Priest) philosophy can be motivated by the application of affection type arguments to post-Kantian anti-realist views. Graham Priest’s modeling of self-referential paradoxes in terms of Closure and Transcendence provides a valuable resource to evaluating these debates. I hope in my post on the Hegel chapter I can substantiate this claim.

    Anyhow, I’m sorry if the dialetheism stuff put up a red herring. It has served a useful purpose in provoking your post though. I learned a lot reading it!

  4. Daniel,

    I should have made one more point.

    If I understand you correctly, you claim that we can talk coherently about the noumenal but we just can’t know about it. So sentences about the noumenal are true or false, we just in principle can’t know what they are.

    I really worry that you are being to quick about this.

    My understanding is that Kant scholars disagree strongly about whether the restriction is epistemic (concerning the limits of the knowable) or semantic/conceptual (concerning the limits of the conceivable), and that the consensus is that he probably contradicts himself. When he wants to bat down metaphysics it’s semantic/conceptual; when he wants to make sense of God it’s epistemic.

    Certainly neo-Kantian philosophies of mathematics would never have developed if people hadn’t understood the restriction to be conceptual. It’s not as if God sees an actual infinity and we need to develop mathematics suited to our human limitations. Rather, the thought was that absolute infinities were somehow incoherent and that the epistemic limitation prevented this incoherence. But it only prevents the incoherence if you are enough of a verificationist (as several commentators take Kant to be, c.f. Braver’s ED) to think that epistemic restriction entails conceptual restriction. Here the limits of knowledge become the limits of conceivability.

    Am I missing something?

    Again, I realize there is probably a large contingent of Kant scholars who read it differently, but the view that Kant was articulating the limits of the conceivable is not crazy or non-standard. And even if it should prove to be a misinterpretation what Kant took himself to be up to, we need to at least recognize that it is a misinterpretation that drove a lot of philosophy. I know Allison disagrees with the interpretation, but P.F. Strawson wasn’t a fool and he did capture the “Kant” that the logical positivists and mathematical intuitionists (and Fichte, Schopenhauer, and Hegel, or else their arguments would make no sense) were reacting to. Given the progeny, this “Kant” has to be considered, and is arguably of greater philosophical significance than Kant.

    Again, correct me if I’m missing something.

    • Well, if you include Strawson as a “Kant scholar” then I suppose it might be debatable whether the restriction is a ban on knowledge of noumena or a ban on talking about them sensibly. Among actual Kant scholars, no, I’m not aware of any debate: what we can’t have, if Kant is right, is knowledge of things-in-themselves. We can very well talk sensibly about them; the risk is just that we’ll confuse them with phenomena and so think that some chain of reasoning about them is sound when it’s really incoherent.

      Kant’s “batting down” of transcendent metaphysics is always just that it tries to make claims about things we can’t know (and which Kant takes himself to have proven we can’t know). This is very different from what someone like Strawson wants, which is that transcendent metaphysics is nonsense. For Kant it’s not nonsense, and he even has a little story to tell about why we keep thinking we can maybe get some knowledge on this front, and how we’re supposed to use our problematic knowledge by analogy to maintain a rational faith in our eternal reward; sadly, though, we have to settle for only knowing things about what can be given in possible experience, and anything beyond that point can only be known by something greater than we merely finite rational thinkers.

      “Neo-Kantian” philosophies often had very little connection to what Kant actually thought. Again, see that funny bit from Heidegger I quoted earlier. (I think that Schopenhauer is a terrible reader of Kant; he preferred the A-edition of the Critique, for Heaven’s sake.) So I’m not particularly troubled by the fact that it’d be hard to go from Kant to neo-Kantian stuff about math, or to Schopenhauer. The way you get from A to B is by starting from C instead, and then saying you started from A.

      Karl Amerik’s “Kant and the Fate of Autonomy” is absolutely wonderful at showing just how quickly Kant began to be badly read, and has a very compelling story to tell about why that happened. (Short version: people liked Kant’s view of religion, and tried to work out what else they needed to buy into to get the sweet, sweet fruit of practical faith/theoretical agnosticism.) Pippin has an article defending Fichte from Ameriks’s chapter on him, and there are a couple of defenses of Hegel contra Ameriks, but no one defends Reinhold or any of the figures that got their Kant from his “Letters on the Kantian Philosophy”. The widespread misreading is real, and started early.

      “Again, I realize there is probably a large contingent of Kant scholars who read it differently, but the view that Kant was articulating the limits of the conceivable is not crazy or non-standard”

      I think you underestimate how large that contingent is: I think it’s all of them. No Kant scholar defends “The Bounds of Sense” as being an accurate reading of Kant (even Strawson grants that he can make no sense of the practical philosophy, on his reading). Kant was not a verificationist, and I don’t know why you think Fichte or Hegel took him to be one. They both had very subtle understandings of what Kant was up to, and they both drew heavily on Kant’s practical philosophy — which has to vanish if he’s a verificationist, since point one of Kant’s practical philosophy is that he’s talking about stuff we cannot have theoretical knowledge of.

      (As a side-note, I think “The Bounds of Sense” is interesting even if it’s trash as Kant scholarship. There’s some interesting stuff in there, even if it’s stuff Kant could never have endorsed. But the charge of “verificationist” seems to me to be more or less fair; I don’t think Strawson is a satisfactory place to end up.)

      “Given the progeny, this “Kant” has to be considered, and is arguably of greater philosophical significance than Kant.”

      The trouble is, where is this “Kant” making his arguments? It’s not in anything Kant wrote, since Kant isn’t “Kant”. None of the arguments for transcendental idealism give you something “Kant” would be happy with, since they give you things Kant was happy with. Nor does it much matter if “Kant”‘s philosophy had serious problems; Kant was a great philosopher, “Kant” seems to just be a verificationist, and that’s a dead letter.

      • Daniel,

        Let me be clear about this. Nobody is denying that at times Kant took himself to be able to say things about the noumenal, and to this extent treated the distinction as a limit of what is knowable, not what is conceivable. Obviously, as noted above by me, dominant strains of the neo-Kantian Fideist tradition actually make no sense unless he is in this mode. Also see Robert Hanna’s Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy essay at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-judgment/ .

        But, the issue from Fichte through all the thinkers Braver chronicles (and Schopenhauer) all the way through Priest and Meillessoux has always been a philosophical one, not an exegetical one. As far as the real Kant is concerned, the issue is whether he had a right to treat the noumenal as radically unknowable yet still conceivable. Given the work the noumenal was doing (in particular given the way the noumenal is supposed to be blocking the kinds of paradoxes of totality he attempted to express in the Dialectic) it is in no way stupid to hold that Kant does not have that right.

        This is why a set of commentors, including Bird, Strawson, and Stroud took themselves to be following the principle of charity in construing Kant as a verificationist about meaning. It is this philosophical issue raised by Fichte, Schopenhauer, and Hegel. And which then motivated Nietzsche and both the early Heidegger and the early analytic philosophers (through Marburg School and Southwest School neo-Kantianism, repsectively). And that’s all I take Braver to be saying!

        You can make fun of Strawson, but “The Bounds of Sense” is a great and important work of philosophy. It is no insult to Guyer and Allison to say that if one had to take one work from the three of them to a desert island one should take Strawson’s. I would not be surprised if they agreed.

        Readings of great philosophers always vacillate between really interesting but more problematic, and fairly trivial but plausible. The prior ones that move the dialectic forward, but then the moles and minotaurs come and speak for the philosophers in question in the voice of Proofrock’s girlfriend.

        ———————
        And would it have been worth it, after all,
        After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
        Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
        Would it have been worth while,
        To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
        To have squeezed the universe into a ball
        To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
        To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
        Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
        If one, settling a pillow by her head,
        Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
        That is not it, at all.”

        And would it have been worth it, after all,
        Would it have been worth while,
        After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
        After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
        And this, and so much more?—
        It is impossible to say just what I mean!
        But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
        Would it have been worth while
        If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
        And turning toward the window, should say:
        “That is not it at all,
        That is not what I meant, at all.”
        —————–

        Claiming that a great philosopher did not mean that at all is of course a vital part of the philosophical dialectic (Nietzsche has an absolutely beautiful paragraph about the scholar’s toil that would be appropriate in this context; I can’t find it right now). However part of what makes a great philosopher great is that their texts yield multiple prima facie plausible, yet philosophically interesting, readings.

        And again, maybe I’m being completely dense, but I just don’t get how pointing out that in places Kant himself did not intend for the noumenal to be inconceivable (and in fact takes himself to say true things about it, even though this is explicitly prohibited by his theory of judgment) has anything to do with the philosophical issues raised by the Critique or the proper account of how the neo-Kantian dialectic proceeds. I’m just not getting this.

        Can we move to this issue? There are three models of the noumena, all agreeing that the truth value of sentences about it are in principle unknowable: (1) as inconceivable, (2) as conceivable but still such that sentences about it cannot be true or false, and (3) as conceivable and such that some sentences about it are true (Guyer’s model of the noumenal as what God knows). As far as I can tell, the affection problem still hits the first two of these, and it either hits the third (in terms of what we can say about God) or the third option renders Kant such that he has no chance of dealing with the paradoxes of totality (again, the model should be the standard set theoretic blocking of Russell’s paradox or intuitionist accounts of infinity, both of which are neo-Kantian).

        Either way you are going to fail a charity test of Kant. Either he was succeptable to the Fichte, Schopenhauer, Hegel imminent critique/affection argument (leading to the tradition Braver chronicles, and the other neo and non Kantian traditions that address the problem), or his own work doesn’t address the paradoxes of totality.

        I know you can do the Prufrock move and say that Kant really wasn’t interested in the paradoxes of totality. But if you do this enough times, there is no reason to read Kant anymore because his work doesn’t tell us anything about the real philosophical issues (modality, totality, normativity, externality).

        I’m sorry if the tone of this is verging on aggrieved. The most hateful thing about the interwebs is that they promote such a tone. Let me say explicitly that I enjoy your comments immensely and am learning a lot from them. I don’t present the above to try to trump what you are saying, but rather to raise what I think is an important issue, narrowly with respect to reading Kant and more broadly with respect to reconstructing philosophical dialectic. I know it will really come to the fore as people likewise respond to Braver’s Heidegger in the voice of Prufrock’s girlfriend. I always want to see the cash value of this besides just an appeal to what the author really meant or what the text really says (and one can be interested in the cash value of such moves without endorsing Foucault’s anti-intentionalism).

        Please know that whatever you post in response to this will be the last word on this string as far as my contributions go. I’m sorry this post expresses frustration and I look forward to what you say.

  5. Let me briefly address the quote issue. I don’t have my C1 here so I can’t be sure what I was thinking, but I believe that what happened is that the page citation was referring to the “absurd proposition” in the text of an appearance without anything appearing. I introduced the idea of the thing appearing causing the appearance as a gloss of this relationship since I don’t see how else it can be construed, and placed it in scare quotes because employing it this way is contentious. Unfortunately, scare quotes right before a page number look like a quotation, creating a very misleading impression. This was sloppy writing on my part.

    • “I introduced the idea of the thing appearing causing the appearance as a gloss of this relationship since I don’t see how else it can be construed, and placed it in scare quotes because employing it this way is contentious. Unfortunately, scare quotes right before a page number look like a quotation, creating a very misleading impression.”

      Fair enough. My complaint, then, is that there are other ways of construing the relationship (as only analogous to causality as it applies to phenomena), and that the gloss renders seriously incoherent Kant’s thinking.

  6. I think everyone should do themselves a favor and read Being and Time, section 64, “Care and Selfhood”. It has some really juicy stuff against Kant, and is unusually free from Heideggerese.

    But how does it come about that while the ‘I think’ gives Kant a genuine phenomenal starting-point, he cannot exploit it ontologically, and has to fall back on the ‘subject’ – that is to say, something substantial? The “I” is not just an ‘I think’, but an ‘I think something’. And does not Kant himself keep on stressing that the “I” remains related to its representations, and would be nothing without them?

    For Kant, however, these representations are the ‘empirical’, which is ‘accompanied’ by the “I” – the appearances to which the “I” ‘clings’. Kant nowhere shows the kind of being of this ‘clinging’ and ‘accompanying’. At bottom, however, their kind of being is understood as the constant being-present-at-hand of the “I” adrift from thinking; but he has done so without starting with the “I think” itself in its full essential content as an ‘I think something’, and above all, without seeing what is ontologically ‘presupposed’ in taking the ‘I think something’ as a basic characteristic of the self. For even the ‘I think something’ is not definite enough ontologically as a starting-point, because the ‘something’ remains indefinite. If by this ‘something’ we understand an entity within-the-world, then it tacitly implies that the world has been presupposed; and this very phenomenon of the world co-determines the state of being of the “I”, if indeed it is possible for the “I” to be something like an ‘I think something’. In saying “I”, I have a in view an entity which in each case I am as an “I-am-in-a-world”. (BT 367-368)

    • Perhaps I should follow up on that long quotation.

      I think everyone knows by now my bias towards Heidegger and my opinion regarding his profundity in relation to Western philosophical history. I came into philosophy of mind from a scientistic, psychologistic background, so maybe that is why I get frustrated when people are getting paid to seriously debate idealism as if that is still a legitimate “option” to take in the 21st century. No wonder the Folk have such a revulsion to academic philosophy! Are we not standing on the shoulders of giants? Should we actually allow ourselves to be bogged down by humility in so far as we refuse to acknowledge that Kantian idealism is incompatible with modern scientific understanding? Kant was a genius, no doubt, but if you take Hegel seriously (and I thank Braver for his excellent overview; I seriously learned a lot of new things), then we must be prepared to understand Kant as coming from a limited, pre-Darwinian historical context. His “problems” are not our problems.

      Until Darwin, idealism was a legitimate philosophical position. After Darwin, I just don’t understand its feasibility, but perhaps that is due to my ignorance regarding the position. So while I think having a good historical understanding of their position is immensely valuable, I am always astounded that we are continuously discussing Kant in Kant’s own terms rather than the one’s we have inherited from the 20th century. I hope I am not stepping on anyone’s toes, and this isn’t directed at anyone in particular, but it seems like a lot of philosophers are more interested in perpetuating the dialectical stalemates that have bogged down Western philosophy for the sake of job-preservation rather than taking seriously the possibility that western metaphysical problems are dead.

      Does idealism really pose a “problem” for philosophy? And if so, isn’t this a symptom that something is wrong with how philosophy is traditionally done? When it comes to matters of realism and idealism, I side with Wittgenstein: we need to let the fly out of the bottle.

      • “we must be prepared to understand Kant as coming from a limited, pre-Darwinian historical context. His “problems” are not our problems.

        Until Darwin, idealism was a legitimate philosophical position. After Darwin, I just don’t understand its feasibility”

        I don’t get why Darwinism is supposed to be a big issue for Kant’s idealism. (I can see why it doesn’t sit well with the KdU discussion of biology, though I think Kant’s obsolesence there is easy to overestimate.) Kant thought of man as an animal that had risen up to its current state at some point in history (see “Speculative Beginnings of Human History” and the other political/speculative-historical writings). If Darwinism is a problem for Kant, then why isn’t Kant’s own (mild) evolutionism an internal problem for him? It’s not as if Kant thought that there had always been minded animals, or anything like that.

  7. I wonder if we can come to some consensus here, despite disagreements, I generally would side with Daniel in terms of noumena/phenomena and I think I’ve argued that before, i.e. there’s really no problem there as far as Kant is concerned, however, folks like Fichte and others did find a problem there (that’s why I thought a Hegel chapter would be of help) and so on – but can we all agree that Braver’s chapter is really about the fundamental change in attitude vis-a-vis the activity of the subject? Mind organizes, not just passively reflects reality – maybe it’s too rough and not subtle enough for “Kant scholars” but it’s not a book about Kant, it’s a book about all sort of thinkers, I’m sure we can find all kinds of holes in it if we were “nitpicking” but I think it’s essential to keep a larger context in mind.

    • I would say that one of the things that is valuable about this discussion is that it shows that interpretively the noumenal/phenomenal distinction is very much up in the air. In other words, one of the standard rejoinders on this issue is that somehow Kant has been misinterpreted when he is criticized on the affect issue and the issue of the unknowability of the noumenal and the thing-in-itself. I think the very existence of this debate, not to mention the appropriations of Kant’s own successors, indicates that the issue is far from clear and that there’s something a bit dishonest in the dodge that one is misinterpreting Kant on these issues.

  8. I gotta give it to Kant for breaking free from the substance-dualism of Descartes. I agree with Heidegger when he maintains that Kant is right in at least two respects. First, Kant “sees the impossibility of ontically reducing the ‘I’ to a substance” (as against Descartes) and secondly, he “holds fast to the ‘I’ as an ‘I think’.”

  9. Again, I’d like to point out that we are not reading Kant here, but Braver and his interpretation of the issue of realism/anti-realism. I think it’s totally appropriate to suggest that Kant saw no issues with his treatment of noumena/phenomena and that some of his critics (lots of them, actually) took him to task about it, especially someone like Maimon whose skeptical position inspired Fichte and others, but in order to pursue this angle we would have to deviate from the task at hand, that is, reading a specific book. Maybe someone would like to post on it on their respective blogs and I would gladly participate in that debate myself, but as far as this reading group is concerned, I don’t see how it is beneficial.

    Now, if we claim that Braver grossly misreads Kant or something like that, than of course it’s a fair game, but I’m yet to see any such significant (in terms of his project) misreading. The worst I see if a rather superficial summary of Kant’s project, but again Braver’s not writing a book about Kant, he has very specific concerns with Kant and others…

    • “Again, I’d like to point out that we are not reading Kant here, but Braver and his interpretation of the issue of realism/anti-realism.”

      What are you wanting to discuss: the issue of realism/antirealism, or just Braver’s take on same? Why would the latter be interesting enough to limit our attention to? (Surely Braver didn’t just write on his own take, but meant to get the realist/antirealist stuff in the continental tradition right.)

      If the point of Braver’s book is supposed to be offering a way for analytic guys to see interesting things going on in the continental side, then it would seem like it might be important to actually portray the continental stuff accurately (lest Braver be guilty of false advertising). I think it is worthwhile for analytic guys to look at continental stuff, but not if the continental stuff is really transparently confused (which Braver’s Kant is) — continental stuff is worth engaging with; caricatures of it are not.

      • What are you wanting to discuss: the issue of realism/antirealism, or just Braver’s take on same?

        For now we are interested in Braver’s take, thus the reading group dedicated to Braver’s book.

        Why would the latter be interesting enough to limit our attention to?

        Because some of us decided that it might be, that should be enough. If you would like to join us in the reading of the book, you are more than welcome, but I don’t see a need to be so uppity about everything. If you disagree with Braver’s interpretation of Kant, that’s fine – I do too – but your self-righteous attitude is beginning to bother me, just say what you say, drop the attitude.

  10. For what it’s worth, I don’t disagree with anything that Daniel writes about Kant, expect for some rather annoying posturing about who is and isn’t a “Kant scholar” (no offense, Daniel, but we have a very sensitive bullshit detector here on PE, usually) – P. F. Strawson might not be a “Kant scholar” but if you ask Eckart Foester, who studied with him and who is a “Kant scholar,” Strawson’s reading of Kant was quite influential.

    In any case, I suspect the fact that Daniel does not actually have Braver’s book might explain some of his objections as it is difficult to properly criticize a book without having read it.

  11. “O.K. We’ll just ignore Fichte, Schopenhauer, and Hegel because they misread Kant as a verificationist. No thanks.”

    No, we only ignore Schopenhauer (and that ignoring is overdetermined). Fichte and Hegel are both very subtle readers of Kant, and don’t attribute verificationism to him. Certainly I would never argue that we should ignore Hegel; I think that understanding Kant pushes one towards Hegel, and (at least on many points) Hegel is a satisfying place to end up. (My blog is not named after Hegel for nothing.)

  12. “Can we move to this issue? There are three models of the noumena, all agreeing that the truth value of sentences about it are in principle unknowable: (1) as inconceivable, (2) as conceivable but still such that sentences about it cannot be true or false, and (3) as conceivable and such that some sentences about it are true (Guyer’s model of the noumenal as what God knows). As far as I can tell, the affection problem still hits the first two of these, and it either hits the third (in terms of what we can say about God) or the third option renders Kant such that he has no chance of dealing with the paradoxes of totality (again, the model should be the standard set theoretic blocking of Russell’s paradox or intuitionist accounts of infinity, both of which are neo-Kantian).”

    I think you limit (3) too quickly. It’s not just “the noumenal is what God knows” that would fit under that rubrick; any position that claims that the “restriction thesis” of the KdRV is a ban on knowledge of things-in-themselves (for us) would land there.

    I think we need to distinguish two sorts of “affection problems”: There’s Jacobi’s charge that the thing-in-itself has to be the cause of appearances, which means the category of causation has to apply to things-in-themselves, which means Kant is incoherent. This I take to be an old and widespread misreading of Kant. (And it looks like Braver falls into the trap.) Even if Jacobi was right here, there would be no problem for Kant’s account of God’s knowledge (which account is only sketched — we can only picture it as analogous to our own knowledge, after all), because God isn’t affected by the objects of his knowledge. He hasn’t a sensible intellect.

    On the other hand, there’s the idea that reference to noumena is impossible — which sentence is inconsistent, as it refers to noumena. This I think is brazenly incoherent to the point of being uncharitable to attribute to Kant. (I also think it has no basis in Kant’s writings.) This is the “affection problem” Priest can easily assimilate to heterologicality etc. This problem I don’t think was raised by early readers of Kant (certainly not by Fichte or Hegel), and came to the fore only after Russell/early Wittgenstein’s thinking about reference lead to the development of verificationism. Which then gets read back into Kant, because German philosophers since Kant have consistently tried to claim that they’re the first ones to do justice to Kant’s thinking.

    I don’t think the “standard set theoretic blocking” of Russell’s paradox is the only (non-intuitionist) way to respond to it, nor do I think that there has to be any one way of responding to all the paradoxes Priest discusses. (I find his argument that they share a form, and so should share a solution, deeply unconvincing.) Insofar as Kant has a response to paradoxes as this level, I think it’s clear what it is: he denies some instances of excluded middle, because he thinks they rely on false presuppositions. Space is neither limited nor without limit, because space is not a thing-in-itself. And so with the other antinomies. Dropping LEM is sufficient to block the paradoxes of self-reference, so it seems plausible that this would be how Kant would respond to those, too. (At least barring “revenge problems”; but then Kant never discusses anything so technical as that. The semantic and set-theoretical paradoxes are largely a 20th-century concern.)

    “I know you can do the Prufrock move and say that Kant really wasn’t interested in the paradoxes of totality. But if you do this enough times, there is no reason to read Kant anymore because his work doesn’t tell us anything about the real philosophical issues (modality, totality, normativity, externality).”

    The chief questions that bothered Kant were how to reconcile freedom with his view of a Newtonian nature, and with how what is “in us” can have something to do with something “outside us” — how thought can have objective purport at all. Both of these strike me as very interesting questions, which Kant is helpful at getting at. The fact that he doesn’t really have much to say about Russell-style paradoxes doesn’t impugn this at all.

    I am concerned that missing what Kant is really concerned with addressing will lead to not seeing what is really important in him. It’s not the “problem of the external world” (how we can really know how things are), but the problem of objective purport (how things can so much as seem to be the case for us). Conant has a nice lecture on this. (His course on “Varieties of Skepticism” goes into more depth about “Kantian skepticism” vs. “Cartesian skepticism”; it is pretty great.)

    “I’m sorry if the tone of this is verging on aggrieved. The most hateful thing about the interwebs is that they promote such a tone. Let me say explicitly that I enjoy your comments immensely and am learning a lot from them. I don’t present the above to try to trump what you are saying, but rather to raise what I think is an important issue, narrowly with respect to reading Kant and more broadly with respect to reconstructing philosophical dialectic.”

    Yeah, tone on the internet sucks. I’m basically having fun still, but this thread is starting to balloon out troublesomely. (I’m going to be out of town for a week starting tomorrow, so even if you hadn’t decided to stop responding to me, things probably would’ve fizzled out pretty soon.)

    • Gee Daniel, the discussion has started to “balloon out troublesomely.” You clearly lack any self-conscious or self-awareness at all. Since you are going away will we all be spared of your self-righteous and pretentious banter?

      I hope so. Maybe when you’re on vacation you can think about a better way to comport yourself.

  13. It just seems absurd to me to suppose that for billions of years, human ancestors were in direct perceptual contact with the “real” world but then over time developed powers of “categorical intuition” that led to our estrangement from the things-in-themselves, isolating us from the environmental niches that were so important in sustaining our evolutionary development.

    The very idea of an evolutionary “niche” or “nest” is in direct contradiction to the Kantian idea that our perception is separated from how the world really is. From an evolutionary and ecological perspective, the basic function of perception was to pick up meaningful information about real invariants in the environment. As Gibson puts it,

    Perceiving is an achievement of the individual, not an appearance in the theater of his consciousness. It is a keeping-in-touch with the world, an experiencing of things rather than having of experiences. It involves awareness-of instead of just awareness. It may be awareness of something in the environment or something in the observer or both at once, but there is no content of awareness independent of that of which one is aware.

    I highly, highly recommend Gibson’s “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception”. Required reading for anyone interested in the mind. For Gibson, once you move from “sense-data” theories of perception to “information-based” based theories of perception, the question of idealism is rendered non-sensical.

    • It just seems absurd to me to suppose that for billions of years, human ancestors were in direct perceptual contact with the “real” world but then over time developed powers of “categorical intuition” that led to our estrangement from the things-in-themselves, isolating us from the environmental niches that were so important in sustaining our evolutionary development.

      Who and where suggested that human perception evolved from “direct perceptual contact” with the real to, I suppose, “indirect” contact? I’m very confused here. I thought you were going to go with an argument like: if mind organizes reality, then what organizes mind? – knowing what we know about the evolution of the brain (and assuming brain=mind), Kant’s position on reason as some timeless changeless structure is implausible.

      From an evolutionary and ecological perspective, the basic function of perception was to pick up meaningful information about real invariants in the environment.

      And Kant is arguing that our perception is not picking up real invariants? I think you are wrong here. Kant is an empirical realist, meaning that most of the discussion so far was about transcendental issues such as conditions of possibility of experience, not actual experience itself (except maybe for that judgment of perception/experience part, but even then). Kant clearly wanted to provide a better epistemological foundation for sciences, including physics, astronomy and biology – what we perceive is real (understood in a Kantian way), we can take it and scientifically use it. Are you suggesting that evolutionary theory somehow gives us some magical epistemological position of direct access to reality?

      • Are you suggesting that evolutionary theory somehow gives us some magical epistemological position of direct access to reality?

        Not to sound rude, but the fact that you call direct epistemological access “magical” implies that you are already too wrapped up in the scholastic world of philosophy wherein such things like the “external world” are seriously deemed a “problem”.

        Furthermore, your characterization of direct realism is misconstrued in that the Gibsonian direct realist posits we have direct access to the invariant environmental structures most relevant to our pragmatic success. “Reality” is a non-issue given that for a Bee, “reality” consists of ultraviolent radiation. Reality fluctuates based on the type of creature you are. So, properly speaking, we don’t have access to “reality”, we have access to the “world”. You know, the big thing we all live on. Gibson diagnoses your problem thusly:

        [Most] theories have assumed that the visual perception of a stable, unbounded, and permanent world can only be explained by a process of correcting or compensating for the unstable, bounded, and fleeting sensations coming to the brain from the retinal images. That is to say, all extant theories are sensation-based. But the theory here advanced assumes the existence of stable, unbounded, and permanent stimulus-information in the ambient optic array. And it supposes that the visual system can explore and detect this information. The theory is information-based, not sensation-based.

        Sellars said much of the say thing when he noted that

        physical objects are really and directly perceived, and…there is no more basic form of (visual) knowledge than seeing physical objects and seeing that they are, for example, red and triangular on this side

      • Not to sound rude, but the fact that you call direct epistemological access “magical” implies that you are already too wrapped up in the scholastic world of philosophy wherein such things like the “external world” are seriously deemed a “problem”.

        I don’t think I deem external world as problem, it’s right out there, outside of my window – to raise questions about how I know what I know is not to dispute the existence of external reality. When I say “magical” I mean something that somehow forgoes all of these epistemological discussions which are not unique to philosophy, as far as I can tell.

        If you really think your citation from Gibson addresses the issue, I think you might want to read it again – Gibson basically states that some theories X assume that reality is like Y, but Gibson is going to assume that reality is like Z – so what? To simply state that theory A is going to be “information-based” as opposed to “sensation-based” is not going to make it so, right? Again, Sellars quote is what Kant calls “dogmatic” proposition – he just states it. I can state the very opposite – how are we going to decide who is correct and how does any of this answer the question of Darwin’s supposed destruction of all possible idealisms?

        I’m sure both Gibson and Sellars are offering their respective arguments, we can engage them and agree/disagree, depending on the quality of the arguments – I think that here we were discussing Kant’s argument and simple stating that some other people disagree with Kant is not really a good strategy, I think.

  14. To simply state that theory A is going to be “information-based” as opposed to “sensation-based” is not going to make it so, right?

    Well, to be fair, Gibson was an experimental psychologist and had an entire scientific paradigm to support his theory which his followers have taken and expanded. While I think his philosophical arguments are awesome, it isn’t like the ecological approach to consciousness ends there. In fact, there is a booming empirical industry going on right now by the name of “embodied/embedded” cognition and there are mountains of scientific and philosophical paradigms supporting this perspective, so it goes much much beyond simply “stating reality is like X” and leaving it at that. This discussion is not the place to go into details, but please don’t write Gibson off as being dogmatic only because you have a simplistic understanding of how such a position is argued for.

    As for which view is “correct” or not, I like Michael Anderson’s approach when he said the embodied/embedded paradigm needs “no justification other than [its] own success.”

    • I didn’t write Gibson off, I noted that your presentation of the matter was such that I was suppose to simply take your word for it. I’m sure there’s plenty of science behind plenty of statements and theories, I’m just saying that citing names and all is not a good argument in this case. For every thinker A that states X, I can probably find a thinker B who states Y – what is the point of such exercises?

      You have suggested that no one can take idealism seriously after Darwin – I am yet to see any sort of argument concerning this. You mentioned something about “direct access to reality” that is presupposed in evolutionary theory – great, but what does it have to do with a) disproving idealism and, most importantly, b) our discussion of Kant.

      Please, don’t take my tone as dismissive, I’m just trying to keep the conversation on the topic, nothing personal.

      • The only reason I brought up Gibson was because his “presupposition” of “direct access” precisely parallels some of Heidegger’s moves in Being and Time, and thus, I didn’t feel like I needed to restate the Heideggerian argument as to why the world must *always* be directly presupposed with the “I think” of Kant.

        I guess I didn’t make the connection between Gibson and Heidegger explicit, but I figured it would be plain enough considering both thinkers denied that you can talk about perceptual systems without a corresponding environmental niche that is highly familiar and furthermore, must be already *there*, existing independently of human understanding.

        But man, I must be living in a topsy-turvy world because if “direct epistemological access to the physical world” isn’t considered directly counter to Kantian idealism, then my understanding of Kant must be pretty warped.

      • Fair enough, still what is “direct epistemological access to the physical world”? As for “Kantian idealism,” I believe Braver’s term is “anti-realism” and Kant is, of course, a “transcendental idealist” but “empirical realist” which means, correct me if I’m wrong, that we do have an access to the physical world. And there’s is a “there” for Kant as well, “existing independently of human understanding.”

        Look, as far as I can tell, a mug as I see it (as it appears to me) might very well be the same as it exists in itself (in all its awesome mugness), Kant constantly interjects that we perceive an object as it appears to us, not as it is in itself, that’s true, but the truth also is – we can’t know whether appearances (which is all that we have in our human perception) are radically difference from things-in-themselves, they might be and they might not be, we have no access to objects outside of our perception of them, so we don’t know. As Braver points out, it’s not a new idea, the new ideas is that mind is active in organizing its perceptions and its okay. Think about Braver’s mention of Democritus – the world is but atoms and void – would the modern physicist disagree with the principle of this statement? My mug on molecular level is no different from a coaster it sits on, it’s all atoms and void yet I see it as mug and a coaster – how so? If you claim that we have a direct access to physical reality, so does Kant – but if you claim that whatever you perceive when you have the direct access to physical reality is what that reality is, you are suggesting that human perception then exhausts reality, i.e. there’s nothing that is unperceived, hidden in the objects, there’s no excess, no supplement, if you will, in which case, for Kant, you are in the throes of “transcendental illusion” and are using your limited capacities irresponsibly.

        Let me ask you this simple question: if you claim that we have a direct access to the physical world, how is misperception possible? Why, for example, do two people access the same physical reality (directly) yet come up with different results? How do you explain the possibility of misperception or error?

      • I think that the larger and more interesting question here is whether or not Kant maintains a kind of Cartesian dualism when he claims that intuition (that which allows us to perceive physical reality, have an access to it, if you will) and understanding (where all the pure concepts are) are of two different orders – this is an old criticism by Maimon and I think that it, together with his reading of Kant’s deductions is what really undermines Kant’s argument.

  15. I would be concerned that ‘dualism,’ particularly Cartesian dualism, might not be the right word. I do not think that Kant is positing two different and incompatible worlds of existence, of the subject, but rather something closer to a dialectic, a mediation.

    • How so? I think Maimon’s critique of Kant’s distinction between intuitions and concepts was quite strong. On one hand, Kant insisted on the need for a connection between intuitions and concepts (that’s how we get knowledge) – “intuitions without concepts are blind, concepts without intuitions are empty” business – on the other hand, there’s a sharp distinction between these two faculties – one is active, formal, intellectual, the other is passive, material, empirical. This was of course Maimon’s main ground for then inquiring about whether Kant sufficiently explained how the concepts of the understanding apply to the intuitions of sensibility. So the problem here is no longer whether our representations correspond to thing as they are in themselves, but how we know that concepts (that are a priori) apply to intuitions (that are a posteriori) – Kant was aware of the possible problem here, thus we have a Schematism chapter, but it didn’t seem to persuade that many skeptics. I’m not sure if this is going to be a fruitful disgression at this point, but it seems somewhat relevant, I don’t know…

  16. My mug on molecular level is no different from a coaster it sits on, it’s all atoms and void yet I see it as mug and a coaster – how so? If you claim that we have a direct access to physical reality, so does Kant – but if you claim that whatever you perceive when you have the direct access to physical reality is what that reality is, you are suggesting that human perception then exhausts reality, i.e. there’s nothing that is unperceived, hidden in the objects, there’s no excess, no supplement

    Okay, now we are getting to the nitty gritty details of Gibsonian theory. “Direct epistemological access” to the mug is not a direct shortcut into the inner workings of the mug, wherein we are perceiving all of its molecular underpinnings with the naked eye. This can only be achieved with technological tools like electron microscopes. For Gibson, what we are normally directly perceiving is the “ambient optic array”. In a normal environment, all scattered light has “settled” into a more-or-less stable configuration of light, giving rise to “ambient” light. The optic array is simply this “pattern” of light in the environment, which reflects what kind of structure the environment has based on the reflective properties of light and atoms. The environment to be reflected by this pattern of settled light can be arranged in two very different ways: structured or unstructured. The unstructured optic array stimulates our retinas but because the array is not reflecting *structure*, as in when we are in a foggy environment, perception is not achieved and we are left indiscriminate about the invariant structures of the environment. With the structured environment, as in a normal room with definite objects and a medium in which the light can “scatter” and “settle” to a geometrical point of observation, the ambient optic ray is a reflection to a the structural invariants of the environment.

    Thus, when perceiving the mug, we are not directly lock into the the molecular configuration of the mug, but rather, onto the structured invariants as reflected in the ambient optic array as due to the basic nature of light-scatter. Because light-scatter reflects fundamental molecular properties, this is as good as it gets for the naked human eye. We are not directly perceiving the mug, but rather the light which *reflects* the mug. This is fundamental ecological optics.

    The reason why this is “direct” perception and not “indirect” perception is simply because the achievement of perceptual knowledge concerning the invariant macro-chemical properties of the coffee mug does not require an “inference” from an ambiguous retinal images. The “coffee-mugness” is picked up directly in the ambient optic array, because all the “structure” which perception locks onto is located in the environment, not in our “heads” as with Kant. The three-dimensional spatial layout of the environment is not due to a construction in our heads, that is just how it is, and luckily, we can pick up on this information in order to successfully navigate the world.

    Let me ask you this simple question: if you claim that we have a direct access to the physical world, how is misperception possible? Why, for example, do two people access the same physical reality (directly) yet come up with different results? How do you explain the possibility of misperception or error?

    I talked about this a lot in the “first response from Braver” comments section. Basically, misperception is possible because we are not naively perceiving the world “in itself”, but rather, we are perceiving the ambient optic array.The possibility for error arises naturally given that 1. our biological “information pick up” system is a fallible biological machine and 2. the structure of the optic array or environment itself can be “ambiguous” as in the case of fog, or it being dark out. Luckily, evolution has done a pretty good job of making sure our perceptual equipment is good at picking up information in the ambient optic array.

    The key thing for Gibson and Heidegger is not the possibility for misinterpretation, but rather, how that possibility can only arise if there is a primordial “phenomenon” of the world showing-itself in the first place. Heidegger talks about this a lot when he defines “phenomenon” and “appearance” in the introduction to Being and Time. I don’t feel like going into more detail on this, because I already elaborated on it extensively when I discussed the “as-structure” of perception in the “first response” thread from Braver. Check that out if you want further details.

    But okay, hopefully that answers some of your questions.

    • The “coffee-mugness” is picked up directly in the ambient optic array, because all the “structure” which perception locks onto is located in the environment, not in our “heads” as with Kant. The three-dimensional spatial layout of the environment is not due to a construction in our heads, that is just how it is, and luckily, we can pick up on this information in order to successfully navigate the world.

      Ok, I see where you’re coming from. Still, I’m less interested in Gibson’s theory – again, primary because your presentation is still very much “Gibson says that X is the case” which is easily refuted by “Kant says that Y is the case” (yes, yes, Gibson has a ton of empirical data and proofs, but Kant has arguments as well) – I am more interested in, for example, why do you think that for Kant “transcendental subject” (which does the organizing/structuring) is located in our “head”? Maybe we should reread Braver’s discussion of this again, but Kant’s vision is much more complex in this area then “we have forms in our head, we impose them on the world, voila, we have reality” – Braver points out that there are at least three essential elements to Kant’s discussion of the subject: phenomenal self, noumenal self, and transcendental self. Which one is the one you identify with a “head” that does the construction?

      Luckily, evolution has done a pretty good job of making sure our perceptual equipment is good at picking up information in the ambient optic array.

      I’ll have to reread your comments that you mention, but even this paragraph makes me wonder if you are successfully addressing the issue. It seems that you are operating on faith here (“I trust that evolution is doing its thing and I can see the world as it is in itself”), i.e. we are perceiving “ambient optic array” (let’s say this is Kant’s appearance and intuition side of the equation) but not the world in itself – error arises, you say, because a) our perception apparatus is fallible – how do you know that it is fallible unless you can compare the results it gives you with the world itself and register an error (“it looks like a cup of coffee” – “wait a second, my super-perceiver of thing-themselves tell me it’s actually a jar of paint” – “damn it, my apparatus is fallible” – “no joke, dude”)? and b) “ambient optic array” is not very clear – again, how do you know that it is not clear (“ambiguous”) unless you are able to compare between what X looks like “really” and what X looks like “in the fog” and conclude that you are in error?

      • We are going in circles here. It seems like we are operating under a completely different set of philosophical assumptions. Your assumptions lead to epistemic isolation; mine lead to direct realism. While I think it would be very interesting to tease apart these assumptions and see how they lead to our different conclusions, it seems like we are overrunning this thread. All I can leave you is a recommendation for further reading:

        http://www.amazon.com/James-J-Gibson-Psychology-Perception/dp/0300042892

        A good anthology on these issues is:

        http://www.amazon.com/Vision-Mind-Selected-Philosophy-Perception/dp/0262640473

        Also see that link I posted earlier.

        Needless to say, all your questions and concerns can be answered provided you are willing to alter your philosophical preconceptions about what visual perception entails.

      • Needless to say, all your questions and concerns can be answered provided you are willing to alter your philosophical preconceptions about what visual perception entails.

        Fair enough, still I think that my questions were very simple and did not require any specific philosophical background. You basically state in the above quote that if I was willing to change my philosophical perspective (“alter my philosophical preconceptions”), then it would be easy for you to persuade me and my questions/concerns would pretty much dissolve. Are you not talking about some sort of philosophical conversion then? Is there no way for us to talk reasonably and use arguments that all would accept or does understanding someone’s position require that we commit to it first? Is there no common ground like logic or reason?

        Thanks for the links.

      • I think the “evolution does a good job” line maybe works O.K. if you have a pragmatist theory of truth.

        We should bring this up again in reference to Braver’s Nietzsche chapter, as it gets right to this issue- sometimes Nietzsche works with such a theory, but then sometimes he turns around and says that evolution can select for falsehoods (which, in the way Nietzsche makes the arguments, requires a non-pragmatist theory to say).

        I’m not putting any faith in Mother Nature though. As Schopenhauer noted, the astounding amount of brute animal suffering suggests that she’s not really our friend (c.f. David Bowie’s “Oh You Pretty Things”).

        On the other hand, I see the draw to pragmatic theories of truth just because I see the draw to pragmatist theories of concepts (along the lines of this aspect of Heidegger’s Zuhandenheit).

        It will be cool if we can raise some of the issues with respect to the Nietzsche chapter, though there is so much philosophy in that chapter, the discussion could profitably go elsewhere too.

      • I think the notion that evolution somehow guarantees “direct access to reality” because it is better for our survival (I know it’s a crude way of putting it) is rather silly – if our survival (and reproduction) is all that’s at stake, we might very well assume that evolution gave us a very faulty apparatus so that we, for example, see only a small amount of danger and go about life pretty relaxed without knowing how ridden with disease things really are.

        The issue of “direct access” still stands – if one claims we have a direct access (whatever the justification is, it doesn’t matter), yet one lacks a criterion to properly distinguish between appearance (indirectly accessed things) and things (directly accessed things), the talk of direct access is useless. I think Braver discusses all of this in his take on R2 Correspondence Theory of Truth discussion. This is why the talk of “I don’t care for epistemology, I just want to do ontology” is bound to fail as we can simply say that it doesn’t matter if you care about epistemology or not, if you want your theory to have validity, you must be able to demonstrate how what you say can be verified (“my books talk to each other when I’m asleep” – “how do you know that?” – “I don’t care for questions of epistemology and my possibility to demonstrate how I know what I know, I just know it, they just talk to each other, and that’s my ontology” – “right, I just remembered that I have to be somewhere, I have to go now”) – that’s not continental or analytic tradition, that’s philosophy, isn’t it?

      • There’s a wide body of empirical data coming out of Kahneman and Taversky’s original groundbreaking work on heuristic bias that very, very strongly suggests that evolution primed us to reliably commit statistical, logical, and scientific fallacies. This is pretty good inductive evidence in Mikhail’s favor.

        There are other more pragmatist takes on reason that confront the problem head on (Stephen Stich’s “The Fragmentation of Reason” is probably the best http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Through-Video-Games-Cogburn/dp/0415988586/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245959203&sr=1-1 ). But it’s a pretty hard road to walk.

        It seems to me that philosophical and scientific method, well also really literacy itself, are part of overcoming the heuristic bias for which evolution selects.

      • Oops, that last point is opaque. I meant to be seconding Mikhail’s point re: epistemology, which is an epistemic version of Kant’s view that we can overcome natural necessity and moral praiseworthiness of an act is a function of the extent to which we do this. Isn’t reason doing the same thing vis a vis our evolutionary heritage?

      • There’s a wide body of empirical data coming out of Kahneman and Taversky’s original groundbreaking work on heuristic bias that very, very strongly suggests that evolution primed us to reliably commit statistical, logical, and scientific fallacies. This is pretty good inductive evidence in Mikhail’s favor.

        We aren’t talking about our ability to theoretically reason or make logical and statistical decisions; we are still talking about “looking at a coffee mug”. The basic Gibsonian point is that we don’t need to “infer” that the mug is there from ambiguous stimulus information. There is no epistemic process wherein I need to “guess” that there is a mug right in front of me based on “best inference”. I simply open my eyes and see that it is there. Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Gibson, Sellars, etc. are all trying to attack this “Myth of the Given” wherein we are all epistemically stuck in our minds and must make inferences about the world “out there” based on what is non-conceptually given to us through “sense-data”.

        Mikhail is buying into the Myth of the Given because he wants to have it that our linguistic, social, and epistemic situation is that of isolation. We are cut off from the physical world – only connected to it via our external nerve endings – and therefore have no hook up of mind into the physical world. In this schema, “inverted qualia” and other philosophical disasters are conceptually possible because there is no essential connection between our phenomenological experience and the physical world itself.

        Heidegger and others think this is mistaken because it overlooks that within our everyday linguistic, social, and epistemic experience , our direct connection with the world is already presupposed. According to this schema, the “reality/appearance” distinction, along with language-games for establishing the subsequent criteria for making that distinction, are built into our very socio-communicative cultural reality. This is why Wittgenstein and others thought it was a symptom of a philosophical disease when we conceptually placed ourselves in a position where we could all be massively deceived about coffee-mugs with no way to ever determine what is what because we are all stuck in our minds, with no direct access to the world. I think his “beetle-in-the-box” argument is trying to get at something like this. “private language” is a conceptual wasteland.

        For me, the question of whether we have “direct access to the world” is not a question I take seriously in the massively technologically successful world that we live in. If humans weren’t able to hook into the physical world directly, how could we ever be so damn good at predicting reality and “doing” science? All this epistemic success is possible only because of the basic socio-linguistic embeddedness that Heidegger and company have been emphasizing. We are born and raised within linguistic communities that teach us the distinction between appearance and reality. We learn to pull the pencil out of the cup and see that it is in fact not bent. We learn to investigate the world, to inspect things, double-check what we just saw, corroborate with a neighbor, record something on video, squint our eyes, utilize the scientific method, get a flashlight and see what that shadow was, etc. etc.

        With that said, I am apt to agree with this statement:

        It seems to me that philosophical and scientific method, well also really literacy itself, are part of overcoming the heuristic bias for which evolution selects.

      • Mikhail is buying into the Myth of the Given because he wants to have it that our linguistic, social, and epistemic situation is that of isolation. We are cut off from the physical world – only connected to it via our external nerve endings – and therefore have no hook up of mind into the physical world.

        Gary, where did I ever say anything like what you are attributing to me? I asked you a series of very simple questions and you gave me some links to the materials I need to read to be educated enough to understand your very simple points. If you are going to attribute positions to me, please do so with quotations, not vague projectors or generalizations.

        For me, the question of whether we have “direct access to the world” is not a question I take seriously in the massively technologically successful world that we live in. If humans weren’t able to hook into the physical world directly, how could we ever be so damn good at predicting reality and “doing” science?

        Just because you don’t take this question seriously, does not mean that it is not a serious question. As for scientific success, I can turn your incredibly enthusiastic assessment of science upside down and ask you this question: “If humans are able to hook into the physical world directly, how can you explain that there’s still so much we don’t know about the simplest things like human body?” To say that scientific success somehow shows that we have a direct access to reality (while you refuse to really answer any of the questions that I pose to your version of that “direct access” which is full of logical holes, if you ask me) is not really a solid philosophical argument, it’s an observation that would not withstand even Humean skepticism.

        We are born and raised within linguistic communities that teach us the distinction between appearance and reality.

        Which of course does not mean that we can really know or demonstrate that such distinction (between appearance and reality) exists. According to your logic, a community that teaches us that white people are superior to non-white people, or that women should not be educated, or that absolute monarchy is the only possible political rule cannot be then criticized or corrected, because it has its own internal reasons and explanations for its beliefs. On one hand, you argue that we should not be caught in our own little worlds (our “heads”) and yet on the other hand, you argue that we are indeed caught in our own little worlds (our “communities”) – so the only difference between alleged “me” with my alleged epistemic isolation and you is that your epistemic isolation is that of not one person, but a community. Again, you rely on empirical evidence and empirical evidence can never guarantee objective validity and necessity because it is descriptive, not prescriptive (like in that example of the turkey that is being fed every morning and then expects to be fed every morning right until the day it is killed and eaten for Thanksgiving?).

      • Actually I would recommend Alva Noe’s work before the Gibson. His “Action in Perception” is up-to-date as well as really philosophically nuanced ( http://www.amazon.com/Action-Perception-Representation-Mind-Alva/dp/0262640635/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245959024&sr=8-2 ).

        Noe’s version of the theory is kind of the happy ending to Chapter 2 of me and Mark Silcox’s discussion of the Wii and theories of perception in our video games book ( http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Through-Video-Games-Cogburn/dp/0415988586/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245959203&sr=1-1 ).

        I want to read the anthology that Gary links to (Noe and Evan Thompson- the great naturalized phenomenology person from Toronto edited it).

  17. The issue of “direct access” still stands – if one claims we have a direct access (whatever the justification is, it doesn’t matter), yet one lacks a criterion to properly distinguish between appearance (indirectly accessed things) and things (directly accessed things), the talk of direct access is useless.

    We have lots of criterions for whether we are seeing appearances or seeing things as they are. You just need to get out of this philosophical bubble and look around at the life and language games we live in i.e. you seriously need some pragmatic phenomenology in your philosophical perspective. If people are having problems seeing tables as tables, and trees as trees, and instead see them as elephants or mysterious signs from God, then usually there are some pretty striking symptoms, you know, like saying things like “that table over there is talking to me”.

    People aren’t little isolated epistemic bubbles; they are involved in self-correcting communities, which are very easily capable of determining whether someone is off their rocker or in fact, as normale, capable of reasonably picking up meaningful, structured information in the environment.

    • Gary, let’s leave my philosophical bubble aside, okay? We’re not talking about me or you, we’re trying to talk about certain issues that should be easily demonstrated without any references to particular persons. You say:

      We have lots of criterions for whether we are seeing appearances or seeing things as they are.

      You say that and yet you fail to give me an example of one criterion – that’s all I need, I don’t really care how many criteria there are, I just want an example of one. If I say, using your image, “That table over there is talking to me” and you say “No, it is not” then it is the very least that I can ask that you tell me how you know that. Now, you can say that all the other people in the room can confirm that the table is indeed silent – that’s a criterion right there, i.e. the truth of your statement is confirmed by other observers and so on, and we can talk about this criterion etc etc. What you give me on the other hand is a sort of “why can’t you understand” and “look around, it’s so obvious” and “why can’t you see it, man?” stuff which isn’t really what I think of when I think of a philosophical argument, right?

  18. According to your logic, a community that teaches us that white people are superior to non-white people, or that women should not be educated, or that absolute monarchy is the only possible political rule cannot be then criticized or corrected, because it has its own internal reasons and explanations for its beliefs.

    If you look more closely at the last paragraph of my post, you will notice that I said one of the things taught to the community is skepticism and the scientific method, wherein stupid beliefs like “white people are superior” or “woman should not be educated” are cut down through logic and reason. Modern, skeptical communities are self-consciously capable of examining their language-games in order to correct illogical beliefs. This is the “scientific enterprise” in its most essential function.

    However, to say that external, communal artifacts like science can establish intersubjective criteria for distinguishing between appearance and reality is not to say that at any given historical junction, humans have, in fact, mastered reality and learned everything there is to know. Not at all, as we learn more about the world, our language-games are constantly shifting and changing in response to what we have learned and what we do not yet know. We used to only be able to talk about the world in terms of spacetime, but now we have added quantum mechanics into our vocabulary. Explanatory paradigms are always updating and modifying themselves.

    “If humans are able to hook into the physical world directly, how can you explain that there’s still so much we don’t know about the simplest things like human body?”

    My response:

    For one, the human body isn’t a “simple thing”. A piece of salt is simple. We have it figured out almost completely, down to the sub-atomic level.The human body isn’t so simple. It is in fact one of the most complicated objects in the known universe, so it is not surprising that we don’t have it figured out completely. Nevertheless, we already know a great deal about how the body works down to the molecular and cellular level. We know about synapses and action potentials, metabolism and organ function, immune systems and cellular mechanics, how proteins work, the sexual reproduction system, DNA, heredity, disease, pathology, bacteria, etc. We know a GREAT deal about the biological world. Our knowledge has practiced exploded since we invented the microscope to give us more detailed information about the world. This is why modern medicine saves millions of lives every year and why the modern lifespan is 75 and not 35. Granted, there are many things we do not know. But I am willing to bet that everything we don’t know about the human body worth knowing, will probably be found out in similar ways to the ones we use now: logic and reason, skepticism and science.

    Hume would be amazed about what we currently know about molecular gastronomy.

    The basic point then, is that we already have the cultural and linguistic tools necessary to distinguish between appearance and reality. When the pencil in the water appears broken, we can use skepticism and science to pull the pencil out of the water and explain why the refractive properties of light and water deceive us. This is how we have overcome all the superstitious religious rituals that humanity has engaged in throughout history. The only thing standing in the way of us realizing this is Kantian notions like the noumena/phenomena distinction.

    • If you look more closely at the last paragraph of my post, you will notice that I said one of the things taught to the community is skepticism and the scientific method, wherein stupid beliefs like “white people are superior” or “woman should not be educated” are cut down through logic and reason. [my bold]

      So there is then an ultimate criterion – it’s reason and logic. Why haven’t you said that before? I thought that when you wrote: “We are born and raised within linguistic communities that teach us the distinction between appearance and reality” you meant that we are stuck inside of our linguistic communities that teach us about how to distinguish between reality and appearance. I must have misunderstood you then. Reason and logic, connected as they are to language, are not however tied to any specific (“born and raised”) linguistic community, are they? So reason/logic are ultimately what allows us to judge whether something is an appearance or a thing-in-itself, but how is this different from what Kant is saying?

      The basic point then, is that we already have the cultural and linguistic tools necessary to distinguish between appearance and reality.

      You seem to be wanting to have your cake and eat it too here: either you rely on “cultural and linguistic tools” to make your judgments in which case the specificity of your culture and your language will determine the outcome (in which case you cannot refute a racist standpoint, as it is also a specific culture and you lack an outside point of reference to do so) or you rely on reason/logic that provides a criterion that applies regardless of cultural or linguistic situation because it transcends them, otherwise people from various cultural and linguistic situations would not be able to communicate and reach any sort of conclusion.

      If culture trumps reason/logic (“that’s just how I was brought up”), then there’s no universality and science is not possible, if reason/logic trump cultural specificity, then you can’t claim that we “already have direct access to reality” (which by the way Kant does not dispute at any point, he only disputes what we mean by “reality” here, his philosophical effort is directed at explaining how such access is possible and how to make sure that it is error-proof).

      • Mikhail,

        I think this is one of the rare moments where I agree with your criticism. There is no reason to think that evolutionary adaptation has anything to do with truth. “Cognitively” evolutionary development is not about representing the world as it is, but about getting around in the world. There is no reason that adaptiveness should have anything to do with representational correspondence. So long as the correspondence allows the organism to reproduce, it replicates itself. This point can be illustrated with reference to various religious superstition. Clearly a number of religious superstitions throughout history have had wildly inaccurate conceptions of how the world works, but nonetheless these views had some adaptive advantage.

        I think this problem faces any naturalist theory of reason and logic. Kant, for example, argues at the beginning of the Groundwork that reason must serve a moral purpose because it’s maladaptive. He has a good point, though not necessary a true point. From a naturalistic perspective, it is difficult to see how logic could be representationally true rather than simply an adaptive advantage that might differ wildly from “how the world is”.

  19. You seem to be wanting to have your cake and eat it too here: either you rely on “cultural and linguistic tools” to make your judgments in which case the specificity of your culture and your language will determine the outcome (in which case you cannot refute a racist standpoint, as it is also a specific culture and you lack an outside point of reference to do so) or you rely on reason/logic that provides a criterion that applies regardless of cultural or linguistic situation because it transcends them, otherwise people from various cultural and linguistic situations would not be able to communicate and reach any sort of conclusion.

    I don’t know man, just because reason and logic are utilized by the global community in order to set criterions, doesn’t mean that they are somehow “universal” and transcend the contingency and facticity of our human existence. I don’t think an alien species growing up with a completely different set of contingencies would necessarily come to the same “reasoned” conclusions as humans would. Reason and logic are strictly human constructions. I am completely down with Lakoff and Johnson on this one. “Reason” and “logic” are only possible through metaphors that are ultimately traceable to our embodied, factical experience. We started counting with our fingers, and logic exploded from there.

    Also, I just don’t really buy into the extreme cultural relativism where I am somehow not allowed to critique another culture’s way of life because I wasn’t born in that community. You say that the “specificity of my cultural tools” will sharply determine my outcome, but I fail to see this as a problem given that my “tools” will give me the intellectual power to challenge and rebut any dogmatism through secular reason.

    With that said, secular reason isn’t an “ultimate” criterion because from a factical, evolutionary perspective, “ultimate” has no real philosophical grip. Everything is contingent. It just so happens, that despite our contingent existence, we have nevertheless developed the tools necessary to step outside the bounds of individual cultural communities and managed to bring ourselves together one global community through liberal values and secular reason. I am partially speaking of the academic community. I also just mean that camaraderie that comes with being human and knowing we all live on the same planet, with similar fears and dreams.

    But yeah, of course I want to have my cake and eat it too. To think that such a feat is impossible is only to buy into philosophical pseudoproblems that have plagued western history. Progress in philosophy is actually possible!

    p.s. I have really been enjoying this conversation. It is *extremely* useful for me to have sharp minded critics keep me on my toes when it comes to defending my positions, so I am grateful for the opportunity to have my thoughts read and criticized. I think formats like these are excellent philosophical soapboxes where you can participate in the communal stage of peer-review without the pressures of publication or perfect lucidity. I also think it allows us to hash out things in a more rough-and-ready fashion than traditional academics formats. Dialogue is not utilized enough in my opinion.

    • Gary, I’m glad you are enjoying the conversation, I never meant to come across as discouraging it. I think you are raising an interesting issue here. Levi and I butted heads about it in the past and I don’t think much came out of it, but the basic thrust was very similar to the way you put things, i.e. if we know how reason/logic came into existence, then somehow whatever reason/logic do is diminished in their universality or potency. Of course we can say that because humans evolved over a long long time, there was a time when they, for example, did not have language or did not count or any of these things, how does it affect our discussion of language or math today? I mean can we imagine aliens arriving and having some sort of a different math from ours (let’s take just arithmetics here)?

      Here‘s, for example, a story about Sumerian, Babylonian and Egyptian mathematics – different time and culture, but still we can understand the math, can’t we?

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