Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Locus of 'Time' in Kant and the Revaluation of Interpretation of Transcendental Philosophy

   It is indisputable that the term 'time' plays a central role in the Critique of Pure Reason, and there are some ways that 'time' is discussed in order to highlight what seems to be a natural difference between Kant's use of the term and the use by his contemporaries and our contemporaries. For example, Leibniz and Newton were in conflict as to whether space was real, or merely consisted in relations, and contemporary physics discusses space-time.
   In the Transcendental Aesthetic Kant calls time a pure form of intuition which  makes appearances possible in a certain way. Usually what Kant is said to have introduced here is that time is not real, but a structure that we contribute to experience ourselves; this characterization is not really incorrect, but it is also incomplete to some extent. The prevalence of discussing 'time' as it appears in the Transcendental Aesthetic may result in an imbalance in understanding what work time plays in Kant's thought.
   Time features very notably in the pure concepts of the understanding - the categories - and this is underscored in relation to intuition when the schematism is found to be the point of homogeneity between pure concepts and intuitions. With all of this, how is it that 'time' is trapped in being understood merely in terms of its description in the Transcendental Aesthetic? To give an obvious (and possibly too glib) assessment of this we can observe simply that the Transcendental Aesthetic comes first, and so is given a certain priority above how time is used in the Transcendental Logic.
   However, we must ask ourselves: what sort of priority does intuition have over pure understanding? It certainly has sequential order in terms of where it is discussed in the Critique, but it is not the case that the faculty has a logical priority to the pure understanding. Because there is a way of understanding intuition that does give a logical priority to it, I should explain what I mean.
   A priority is given to intuition over understanding when the relation to the faculties is understood in terms of a timeline (this being something temporal), and this timeline understood in a very 'scientific' manner: we receive input in our senses, our minds interpret this input and the result is an experience (a more complicated timeline is available in the Deduction of the Categories). This sort of timeline is helpful only to a limited degree, for it introduces a certain risk if it is leaned on too much and too literally.
   The starting point for Kant personally, and he claims all of us, is not intuition, but rather experience itself, and intuition and the other faculties (understanding, imagination) are only formal structures of this experience spoken of in terms of 'powers' or capacities. In a certain sense this gives us a sort of liberty to reverse the timeline and say that experience divides into intuition and understanding, which were connected in the experience originally through the imagination, and that the meaning of time in the imagination (schematism) is more important to take as characterizing time than simply how it operates as a pure form of intuition - and it certainly does operate in this way, but only as a mode of time in relation to objects of possible experience; a mode that does not have any possible object without the categories. This timeline could become just as problematic if leaned on too much, but it stands to show that depending on the sort of story you want to tell, you have different ways of construing the timeline.
   Going further, taking what is homogeneous between intuition and pure concept as the starting point for the understanding of time is not helpful without first recognizing how experience reveals the sort of objects described by Kant. When we are in the narrow view of the Critique of Pure Reason, where only theoretical reason is under discussion, then these objects appear in a rather strange way - they do not have a practical context.
   This is the sort of awkward theoretical understanding of 'things' that leads thinkers, such as Heidegger, to criticize Kant, since his first Critique begins in a place where objects are determined first as (to borrow Heidegger's term) vorhanden (present-at-hand) instead of zuhanden (ready-at-hand) in the context of some concerned engagement in-the-world. This criticism is deserved if we are to stop all at once at theoretical reason, but if we think Kant himself stops here we are mistaken, and if we give a priority to theoretical reason because it came in the first Critique, then we are revealing we are prone to the same error we make by interpreting the priority of the Transcendental Aesthetic for determining the basic source of the interpretation of 'time': the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of (the Power of) Judgment cannot be left out here. I will briefly sketch a picture that will show a potential way of reorienting Kant interpretation.
   The most important part of the Critique of Pure Reason can be seen as the introduction of the ideas (soul, World, God), and the problem of understanding these ideas through theoretical reason alone - that is, the most important part of the first Critique is that which shows that general lack on the part of theoretical reason. The ideas, as they concern theoretical reason, serve as regulative principles for guiding us towards higher forms of knowing (according to the different syllogisms - categorical, hypothetical and disjunctive). We now have a context in which - once again borrowing from Heidegger - the vorhanden shows itself as a mode of zuhanden wherein there is a concern being dealt with - the advance of knowledge. This, however, still does not get back to a characterization of the zuhanden, nor does it comprehend objects primarily in their equipmentality or concern contexts.
   A major short coming of theoretical reason is that in only comprehending objects of a possible experience it only admits of one mode of causality in understanding its objects - causes of nature - while the alternative found in the resolution to the third Antinomy - causes of freedom - are impossible for it (theoretical reason). Practical reason, then fits itself underneath the first Critique as a more basic way of understanding objects, since practical reason must make use of theoretical reason - but not in a way that is exhaustive of its dealings with things. Here the context of directed practical action is brought in as a more fundamental way of thinking objects, and noumena are found to operate for us in a way that is just as immanent as phenomena are for theoretical reason by itself (aside: I take Heidegger's use of the term phenomena to more more or less encompass both of Kant's terms phenomena and noumena).
   We should be able to see here how clearly the notion of object, when allowed in its more broad arena of practical reason is opened up to all sorts of involvements. Further, the ideas themselves (soul, World and God) also have a broader context in which they need to be understood when not narrowed down to merely theoretical reason. I will not even begin here how the third Critique continues to expand the arena, but will save this for another time. I will allow the reader to derive for themselves (or ask) concerning further implications of this way of seeing a reversal of priorities in Kant that leads him to evade the supposed criticisms of operating too much in a 'cartesian' mode.
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