Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Showing Kant is not Berkeley

Kant exerts a lot of effort showing that his Philosophy is not akin to Berkeley's Idealism, but still most readers seem far too inclined to not believe him. As I am recently working through the first Critique with a group I find it an interesting challenge to consider how best to show how Kant resolves concerns about Berkeleyan Idealism. A route that I am considering, and which I will present briefly, is concerned with introducing Practical Reason much earlier in order to lead the reader away from the perceived Idealism. (In order to be brief I am required to assume some knowledge on the part of the reader. I am happy to answer any questions in the comment section.)
We can show that when we are concerned with knowing objects we are restricted to how they appear, but readers of Kant become concerned and suspect that this is a positive denial of 'real objects' (things-in-themselves). I feel sympathy for both Kant and those who are concerned with a potential Idealism. Kant clearly does not want to banish our (intelligible) considerations of things-in-themselves, he only wants to make clear that there are different constraints (and grounds) when reasoning about such things. However, because the first Critique does not entirely set out a new way reasoning about things-in-themselves his readers can, on the one hand, feel like something has been taken from them, and on the other hand, feel like the incomplete assurances Kant gives about things-in-themselves are lapses into Dogmatism. In relation to the former of these, a reaction typical for much philosophy is evoked: we recognize the validity of what is said, but at the same time consider it impractical and to be ultimately ignored. The interesting thing in Kant's case is that he agrees entirely, and it is exactly through Practical Reason that we will attempt to account for this apparent gap.
Now, it may be difficult to discuss Practical Reason in Kant from the very first, and it certainly would have been distracting if it had been fully introduced in the middle of the Critique of Pure Reason, but once one has established a basic understanding of the limits of the first Critique (objects of possible experience), then it may make sense to cast a glance at the practical.
Discussing the practical may help to show how we think the 'real objects' (things-in-themselves) in a satisfactory manner while still restricting our knowledge in the manner of the first Critique. Before I continue I should briefly exposit a distinction between Theoretical and Practical relevant for this discussion. Practical Reason does not concern what is, but rather what ought to be; this can be very confusing at first, and so should be explained. One way to start introducing these notions of 'is' and 'ought' is to consider verification.
When I measure something, I do not look to the things-in-themselves, but to the appearances. If I estimate the length of a straw at 8 inches, and measure it at 9 inches, I correct my judgment about the length of the straw and defer to the results of the measurement. This is how things work with theoretical knowledge. However, when I understand something ought to be, it is not undermined when I look to the world and find that it is not so. Just because there are murders does not tell us that we are wrong to say murders ought not be. This is meant to illustrate that Theoretical Reason and Practical Reason are not in conflict while still inhabiting the same experience. Each side grounds a different mode of our experience.
With Theoretical Reason we have the goal of bringing about a unity of our knowledge, through Practical Reason we have the goal of bringing about a unity in our life.
Now, after introducing these ways of thinking we can face a problem: how does the Practical foster a concern for the thing-in-itself such that we would be justified in want to know it theoretically?
We come to know the world theoretically through a continual process of revision. How well we understand the world has advantages for us in acting (which is practical, though not moral). It is not hard to see that we would try to continue to interpret and study the world in order to, at least, have a greater advantage in it. However, this does not yet demand a knowledge of things-in-themselves. Matters of skill resolve themselves in experience, and if a plan does not work out we have to change our way of proceeding; this places 'skill' in the realm of Theoretical Reason, whereas something moral is not justified by success.
What ought to be may not be determined by what is, but our understanding of what is plays a role in determining which moral law applies. When we recognize this, our continued progress in understanding the appearances as well as we can are found to have moral implications. What use is knowing what one ought to do if one does not understand what is?
A rehearsal of Macbeth could involve a murder scene that, by appearances, may be indistinguishable from a real murder, yet there is no duty to break up a play rehearsal; this example is meant simply to show how a better understanding of the world does not determine what ought to be, but sets the conditions for the application of different rules. We bring our life to a unity in a different way when we watch Macbeth and when we witness an actual murder in progress.
If we take ourselves to find ourselves to have a duty to understand the World, then it seems that we must postulate that there ought to be a way that the world is, and that such a world is able to be understood by us. This 'World' could never be known theoretically, nor does it need to be. It is a condition (postulate) for us in performing our duty of learning how the world is, therefore the 'World' of things-in-themselves is granted practical reality, since not just a regulative principle of how things are is required by our duty to rightness, but a settled way things are.
So, we can return to how Kant is not like Berkeley. It may be the case that when we are absorbed in our theoretical understanding, we really are better off referring to appearances (and possible ones) as a matter of clarity. And there is no purely theoretical need to discover anything about things-in-themselves. However, we really do care about the real objects, and Kant can provide a compelling way to show how we really do have a concern with these objects - as a postulate of practical reason which guides a theoretical outlook for moral ends. That is, we are practically justified in thinking things-in-themselves in order to evaluate how to understand the world, since this influences what we ought to do. This goes some way to helping us understand how Practical Reason relates to Theoretical Reason in how we seek to attain a unity in our life between knowledge and duty.
NOTE: the actual interpretation of the world is glossed over here, as it is not a strictly theoretical or practical affair. Because ends (purposes) are involved, the best suggestion of how to begin consider this in Kant seems to be the Critique of (the Power of) Judgment; in Kant's first Critique, the Ideal of Reason seems to be the section to examine.
(Disclaimer for students of Berkeley: I am assuming Kant's interpretation of Berkeley for the purposes of this article. I am interested, personally, in how Berkeley might be better understood, but I admit I have not put in the whole effort required as of yet. Currently the material I have gathered to begin investigating Berkeley is first, the relation between prima materia andlogos, and second, considering how to best understand perception in his dictum 'esse est percipi aut percipere', i.e., is 'perception' here similar to how Leibniz speaks of it?)
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