[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.