Friday, March 15, 2013

A Guide for Interpreting Kant Through Events

   Because Kant attempts to show the positive limits of all human cognition, it can appear that what Kant must be analyzing would be too complex.  We may wonder how we can be sure that we already have all of human cognition in view? However, the most complex 'thing' (figuratively speaking) analyzed in any of the critiques is limited to a single event.  Fully understanding this can help to avoid misleading interpretations,  and generally improve your confidence while reading Kant's three critiques.
   Critique abstracts from all empirical content in order to consider forms of experience generally.  If we extend our analysis over anything more than a single event, then this additional thing will also be an event.  Each event has a specific empirical determination, and the critique abstracts from this empirical determination to the structure of the event.  If we have two related events, we cannot consider them together while also abstracting the empirical content, since then they would be identical (qua event).
   To get a good sense of what an event consists in for Kant, the central topic is the category of cause and effect described in the second analogy in the following formula (in the A edition): everything that happens, that is, begins to be, presupposes something upon which it follows according to a rule.  The "something upon which" the event follows (the cause) is not itself present (in the sense of currently appearing) in the event, but the experience of the event contains an understanding of its sequential emergence from something prior that is different.  The manner in which we think the emergence of the event becomes possibly the most important distinction in Kant's critical philosophy: if the 'cause' is thought as a prior event, then it is considered as a natural event (a prior appearance); if the event is thought as occurring spontaneously, then the cause is thought in terms of something we can only think, but not experience.  The difference here is what leads ultimately to the distinction between the order of nature (the theoretical) and the order of freedom (the practical).
   It is crucial in reading Kant that whenever he is dealing with thought critically, we restrict ourselves to the scope of single events from which we abstract empirical content.  In this way, it can become much easier to use our every day experience as a guide for understanding the critique, and to perform a similar analysis ourselves.
   We may think that there are certain parts of Kant's critical thought that go far beyond a single event, but if we consider these I think that we can understand them better by keeping them still tied to the simplicity of the single event.  For example, the moral proof of God may seem far to complex to get out of analyzing a single event, but if you restrict yourself to the event as an interpretive guide, then it becomes clearer that the moral proof of God depends solely upon the experience of our compulsion to pursue the Highest Good (perfect virtue in unity with happiness).

   How long is a event? Events are as basic as anything that happens, and our measure of time, since we must take that measure, is an event.  This does not mean that we can't measure times shorter than we can notice, but that by the time we notice the measurement is when it is a measurement for us - a measurement is an event.
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