Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Distinction Series: a priori Judgments and a posteriori Judgments

The distinction between a priori and a posteriori plays an important role in modern period philosophy. I will be focusing on Kant's understanding here and so it will be important to keep in mind that the distinction is about a priori judgments and a posteriori judgments.
In my experience, the distinction between 'a priori' and 'a posteriori' is seen as passé. The very word 'a priori' seems to trigger a sense that something is out dated. I think this may result from general problems seen with the methods of philosophers that use the term, and not anything particular about the a priori itself. The more problematic element of this view is that, so far as I see, the people who dismiss the a priori employ a priori judgments just as regularly, and are perhaps are worse off for not being familiar with this potential quality of their own judgments. For readers who are skeptical of this, hopefully the rest of this post can clear things up. If not, I am happy to talk through problems in the comments. 

The Distinction

The common ancestor in this distinction is the concept of a judgment generally. The distinction runs as follows: a posteriori judgments use information from experience, while a priori judgments do not use information from experience. 
Here are some examples of a posteriori judgments (from my perspective while writing): I am currently writing; there is a red cup on the table in front of me; I see an object return to me when thrown in the air. 
Here are some examples of a priori judgments: 1 + 1 = 2; 'A & ~A' is false; if I throw something in the air it will return. 
It is very important to remark that a judgment's status as a priori or a posteriori is not a matter of its truth value, nor is it directly tied to a judgment being analytic.
(Kant mostly focuses on what he calls the purely a priori. Pure contrasts with empirical. Purely a priori judgments are judgments that abstract away all empirical content, such as color, and leave only characteristics that can be known about objects a priori. The characteristics of an object knowable purely a priori are analytic with the concept of an object generally, and so there is overlap between the analytic judgments and pure a priori judgments.)

Phenomenological Demonstration

Find an object to examine. Name some visual characteristics of it. You are judging based on your examination, and so a posteriori. If you had someone else find an object and hide it, you could still assert things about it by guessing. Perhaps it is red, or blue. In this case you would be doing this a priori, since you would not be using empirical information. Or, if you consider an object that you know about, but is not in front of you currently, you can judge about certain qualities of it without direct observation; this would also be an a priori judgment. 
Since Kant discusses the purely a priori it will be important to give an example of this as well. If I assume there is an object which I could experience, then this object must be able to be represented in time and space. Any object I represent to myself through the imagination will be represented in time and space, and I know this purely a priori.


Importance in Kant's Work

Frequently Kant makes distinctions in order to narrow down his focus to one side, and this is the case with the distinction between judgments as a priori or a posteriori. Kant's method starts in experience, and then abstracts our empirical characteristics until it is left with the purely a priori. If we add the distinction between empirical and pure, and analytic and synthetic, then we can construct the kind of judgments that are centrally of concern to Kant: (pure) a priori synthetic judgments.
Many authors use a priori to signify something known by reason alone. This must be kept distinct from the topic under discussion here which concerns judgments. Of course judgment can concern knowledge, but this is not essential to the distinction.
Judgments that are a priori are considered to be necessary. For many authors before Kant, this necessity seemed to suffice for their being known with certainty. This seems to be why a priori judgments are so easily combined with the idea of certain knowledge. Leibniz did not take the necessity of a priori judgments to be sufficient for knowledge. In addition to the necessity of judgments Leibniz required the possibility of the object be established. Leibniz established the possibility of these objects through the principle of non-contradition, while Kant developed a criteria of real possibility (which is opposed to logical possibility).

Ambiguities and Questions

Kant almost always uses a priori to mean purely a priori. I am going to develop a distinction for pure and empirical which will need to be kept in mind while using this distinction in Kant.




Sunday, March 20, 2016

Distinction Series: Analytic Judgments and Synthetic Judgments

The distinction between analytic and synthetic is perhaps Kant's most important distinction; it played a substantial role in the organization of his thought, and on the substance of the central question of his critical philosophy: "how are synthetic judgments a priori possible?" Because of this, it feels like a natural place to start even though many will be familiar with the distinction.
(It is important to note that I am discussing judgments and not propositions. The difference I am drawing between these two is roughly the difference between an action [judgment] and a representation of an action [proposition].)

The Distinction

The distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments doesn't involve all judgments, but only judgments that concern the connection of a concept and predicate. These judgments are determining judgments (as opposed to reflecting). So the parent category of this distinction is determining judgments generally concerning how the predicate is connected to the concept. 
Judgments can be considered in many ways, but in this case we only need to consider that judgments involve a relation between a concept and a predicate. In analytic judgments, the predicate is contained in the concept, while in synthetic judgments the predicate is not contained in the concept (it may be helpful to call the predicate in a synthetic judgment a 'determination').
The parent of this distinction (determining judgments generally) is an abstract category that belongs to critical philosophy. All determining judgments are either analytic or synthetic.
(For Kant's working out of this distinction see the Critique of Pure Reason A6/B10.)

Phenomenological Demonstration

I'll start by illustrating a synthetic judgment. First, I'll select a concept of an object. I'll consider a table. I imagine a table with three legs, then a table with four legs. (Through imagining the table we are representing it to ourselves, that is, reproducing an image through the imagination.) From this I can see that the concept of table does not contained a specific number of legs analytically. If it did I would only imagine tables with a specific number of legs. Thus the judgment of the number of legs a table has involves a synthesis.
Transitioning now to an analytic judgment, I will take the same example of a table. I try to imagine a table that has no extension, and am unable to do so. Now, I'm not certain what 'table' means to any of my readers*, but I expect that like me they are unable to represent a table with no extension, which would illustrate how extension is analytic with our concept of table.
Concepts of objects that can't be represented can apparently also be used in analytic or synthetic judgments. In this case one can't make trial of the status of the judgment with a representation, but can only give an exposition of what is contained in ones concept in order to see what is there or not.
* I will comment more on this in the section on "Ambiguities and Questions."

Importance in Kant's Work

With the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments comes an important matter for reflection: if an addition is being made to something, then this addition must come from something else; so, from where do we acquire material suited to the extension of a concept? Also, we can ask: speaking generally, can a concept be extended in many ways, and if so, in what ways can a concept be extended?
Because Kant determines the only material for the extension of concepts that would give us knowledge would be from experience, the (pure) concept of existence itself is oriented towards experience. (We can use our imagination to determine concepts further, but Kant seems to think that, outside of mathematics, nobody will agree that this is a legitimate way to secure more knowledge.) Because dogmatic metaphysics (as Kant criticizes it) attempts to attain to knowledge from pure concepts without any experience, the entire enterprise of seems to fail, and exposes the need for a new grounding. Kant provides this new grounding for the judgments of metaphysics via moral philosophy.
Much more could be said about this, but I seems appropriate for another post.

Ambiguities and Questions

(This is a work in progress. Please comment on this post with any questions, and I can hopefully address them.)
It is very important to point out that the meaning of words is not being directly considered in the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments. A judgment is produced by an individual, and requires a concept. A word may evoke different concepts at different times, and for different people. So, Kant is aware of the possibility that some people will identify yellow with gold analytically, some people will not.
Q: If an analytic judgment only repeats what is contained in a concept, why does it feel like we learn something when we reflect on a concept in order to bring out what is contained in it?
A: It seems that we are learning something about ourselves (our understanding, our concepts), and so our self-concept is being determined. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Series Introduction: Considering Kant's Method of Distinction

(It's been a while since I've written regularly. Though I have been studying philosophy - perhaps more than ever - I have given myself little time to write. I have gotten a feeling for a project that I can hopefully write on regularly and in a short format.)
How does Kant work out his systematic philosophy, and how can this method (if there is one) help us to understand phenomenological research. (I plan on leaving 'phenomenological research' vague, as I actually hope to build up a meaning of this term from out of Kant.) I have decided to start by considering how Kant makes distinctions, since this is a case where there are lots of examples to consider. Kant also provides some helpful descriptions of his method. 
I hope to work through Kant's distinctions, taking one at a time. Here's a fragmentary (vs. systematic) account of the benefits I hope to get from this:
  1. See how consistent Kant is in making distinctions.
  2. Consider what the elements of a distinction are.
  3. More fully appreciate particular distinctions themselves.
  4. Work at a way of representing Kant's system systematically from the perspective of these distinctions.

To finish this post I'll quote from two passages of Kant that can help provide some insight into Kant's method of distinctions and provide a guide for discussing the distinctions themselves:
"It has been thought suspicious that my divisions in pure philosophy almost always turn out to be threefold. But that is in the nature of the matter. If a division is to be made a priori, then it will either be analytic, in accordance with the principle of contradiction, and then it is always twofold (quodlibet ensest aut A aut non A [Anything is either A or not A]). Or it is synthetic; and if in this case it is to be derived from concepts a priori (not, as in mathematics, from the a priori intuition corresponding to the concept), then, in accordance with what is requisite for synthetic unity in general, namely (1) a condition, (2) something conditioned, (3) the concept that arises from the unification of the conditioned with its condition, the division must necessarily be a trichotomy." Critique of the Power of Judgment (5:197)
This helps us to follow the distinctions themselves and give us a rough procedure for reflection when we encounter a division into either two or three.
"... every division presupposes a concept that is to be divided ..." Critique of Pure Reason (A290, B346)
This reminder from Kant can help us to get some additional insight by reflecting on the concepts that combine the distinctions that he makes. I'll consider the concept being divided, and see what insights can be afforded from it.