Thursday, December 4, 2014

Reading Kant's 'Synthetic A Priori' as 'Necessary A Posteriori'

(Note: I could use the term 'analytic a posteriori' instead of 'necessary a posteriori'.  Both of these have a sense of being contradictory for Kant, but I supposed that 'necessary a posteriori' would bring this contradiction out without any confusion.)
In the second edition introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant discusses features of secure sciences.  I think it could be helpful to use the description of secure science in the Critique as a tool for interpreting why Kant pursued knowledge concerning the 'synthetic a priori', it also allows us to see an alternative that is equal in the same way transcendental idealism is taken by Kant to be the flip side of empirical realism.
A basic feature of secure science is that we are always able to guide them by putting something down in advance ourselves.  Mathematicians construct their concepts without having to check in with experience first to determine if there are such things, while natural science combines mathematical insight a priori in order to frame experiments regarding the reality of physical systems.
In addition to giving something in advance, knowledge also requires some material by which to connect concepts in our judgment.  Mathematics would be impossible without a pure intuition, that is, without the possibility of being able to construct its concepts. Natural science would be impossible without experience to see which mathematical models hold for appearances.
A synthetic a priori judgment is a paradox: it demands that we consider connections without anything given to connect them.  Something must in some manner be put down prior to experience in order for experience to acquire its order.  I think the reason for this paradoxical terminology is that it is modeled off of how secure sciences have things put down in advance.  Put in other terms, while Transcendental Philosophy is without hypotheses, its structure is at least modelled off of systems that have hypotheses.
What other option is there other than the synthetic a priori?  Unfortunately it seems only equally paradoxical terms are possible: if 'synthetic a priori' is a transcendental idealist term, then perhaps the empirical realist term is 'necessary a posteriori'.  I will take a few steps back before returning to this.
Kant does not make himself the sole arbiter of human reason, rather he insists that all others are the judge of his understanding just as much as he must be the judge of his own and theirs.  Kant's Critique concerns what all beings possessing human reason can say about themselves without requiring any similar experiences in particular.  What is the common structure we can all agree on for human reason (as a unity of our powers)?  Kant has no special mode of making visible the elements of reason apart from his analysis of experience, and his choice to talk about the elements of experience in terms of a system of them accords well with a customary scientific mode of building a system to reason about.  
We can also see Kant as starting a discourse about what he sees in his experience that he thinks every other humanly rational being (i.e. beings like himself) will agree with.  In this we can see how he is striving for a discourse that concerns something a posteriori - his reflections about experience, the limitation of his imagination with regard to experience - but at the same time claims universality and necessity as it is a discourse framed on experience to talk about the elements of it he is compelled to hold as common.
Now, while Kant denies the possibility of necessary a posteriori knowledge, he does not preclude the striving for it, which is all that a Critique can attain to even when pursuing knowledge of the synthetic a priori.  The reason for this is, of course, that in both cases the judgment of all humanly reasoning beings must be brought to bear in this striving.  Here we simply see a paradox of objectivity that afflicts all human knowledge, and which I will illustrate in another post.
My interest in raising this matter isn't to criticize Kant's choice to model transcendental philosophy after science, but to learn about the approach he did take by seeing that he could have gone another way with the same project.  To me, phenomenology (taken etymologically as discourse about that which shows itself) attempts the other manner of speaking about the same work Kant was doing, and so can be counted as an empirical realist mode of transcendental philosophy.
Post a Comment