Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hume and Kant on Cause and Effect

   It is continually confusing to me why Kant and Hume are so sharply contrasted. I mean to correct this presently, and to keep it brief.
   We can see how on the surface Hume and Kant look like they are in conflict: Hume says cause is never known with necessity while Kant says that cause is always known with necessity. However, this expression of both thinkers completely lacks the subtly required to understand either of them.
   Hume says there is no necessity to any of our causal inferences. That is, we see certain occurrences many times and draw an inference that there is some rule that relates them; however, since there is always outstanding experience, we cannot know if this relation will continue to maintain itself.
   On the other hand, Kant says that cause and effect involves a necessary connection in time of appearances. That is, when something happens it always involves an appearance (the effect), and the connection to a prior appearance in which something was different. There is no empirical rule implied in this, there is no inference even, it is simply an evaluation of what the experience of a cause is like.
   Kant agrees with Hume that none of our empirical inferences have necessity. Even further, Hume seems to agree with Kant in the necessary connections of appearances, particularly how he discusses principles of association. His work in showing how no empirical rules have necessity completely grants the principles of association - one of them being cause and effect - even as it denies any of the particular rules.

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?)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What does Kant mean by Necessity?

   I am currently participating in a reading group studying Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. A lot of the conversations have shown that there are a number of topics for beginning readers that need to be clarified in order to properly understand the book, and Kant's project generally. I have found 'necessity' to be one of the most important of these, since it is so closely bound up with the purely a priori.
   I am hoping for this post to be very simple and short (at least considering the time it takes me to write). The main intention of it this is to discuss, positively, how 'necessity' functions in Kant's work. If there is feedback, I can help to address further questions and clarify.

Necessity in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason
   It makes sense to give Kant's formula of the transcendental principle (more specifically, the postulate of empirical thought) called 'necessity'. In the Critique of Pure Reason (A218, B266) Kant writes:
   That which in its connection with the actual is determined in accordance with universal conditions of experience is (that is, exists as) necessary.
   This sort of technical formula will not be helpful until it has been properly illustrated, and so I will provide an example which can assist in the exposition.
   Either imagine an object falling, or actually drop an object and watch it fall; you are witnessing a necessary connection.
   Now, this falling object was experienced as just that - something that fell. It isn't necessary that it fell, it isn't necessary what fell, it isn't necessary how far it fell, it isn't even necessary that it did fall, nor that it could fall again. So what does the necessity relate to?
   Considering the formula provided by Kant above, the necessity deals with 1) the connection in the actual, and 2) this connection being determined in accordance with universal conditions of experience; I will discuss these two points in reference to the example.
   1) By the actual, we intend here there were actual representations (sensible impression) of the object (whatever fell). Further, there were multiple representations of the object as it fell. The connection in the actual means that these different representations were related to each other as pertaining to a single object. So, the connection in the actual means the relation of the representations of the falling object.
   2) By universal conditions of experience we intend laws that are part of every experience, and so the determination of the connection (in the actual) is by laws which apply to every experience. Some may doubt that we can prove such laws, and this is due to a misunderstanding of what is being attempted.
   A frequent way of misunderstanding Kant comes along with the following objection: when we find a rule in our experience, it is always due to some regularity that we discover; these regularities - being empirical - can never be known necessarily. The response Kant has for this is to grant the whole argument; it is perfectly accurate to say that we acquire empirical rules from regularities in experience, however, we are granting that there are such things as regularities. The universal conditions of experience are general characterizations of regularity in general - not any particular regularity.
   Considering our example, objects that fall are not in every experience, and so 'falling' is not a universal condition of experience, however, a) that we can relate the multiple representations to the same object, and b) that the order of these representations is able to have a significance, are not due to generalizations on witnessing objects fall (or doing anything particular). That is, for a), there is nothing about the representations that show that they are of the same object, and if we did not have the capacity to relate representations, then we would never have objects that take up more than one moment of perception; and, for b), if we could not judge that there was significance in the temporal order of two representations, then there would be no significance to an object falling that would be distinct from an object rising: for an object falling, or rising, we have the same representations, only the order is significant; if we couldn't recognize significance in an order, then we couldn't say something was occurring (falling being a kind of occurrence). The former of these connections Kant refers to as the category of Substance, the later the category of Causality.
   Here when we see the falling object, the necessary judgments involved are that the representations relate to the same object, and that the representations are in a definite sequence. This is the same as saying that the actual (representations) are thought under conditions that apply in every experience (universal conditions of experience), which means conditions required in every experience. Here these conditions were that an object experienced over time involves representations related to each other both as a single thing, and in a certain sequence. If something can't be shown to be a part of every experience, and as a form of that experience generally (pertaining to regularity in the broadest sense), then it is also not necessary.
   Anything that is empirical is automatically excluded from the necessary, since it is the empirical that is made possible (for us to observe) in an experience that has regularities. If experience had no regularity, generally, then observation itself would be impossible.
   If we review Kant's definition again, it should make more sense: "That which in its connection with the actual is determined in accordance with universal conditions of experience is (that is, exists as) necessary."
   An additional note can be made here that offers a great deal of added clarity: the categories of Modality (possibility, existence, necessity) do not involve determinations of objects as they are in themselves, but merely different ways in which objects are thought in relation to our way of knowing them. So, by saying we know something be necessity, we are saying that we know it by virtue of (and as) a general sort of pure regularity of experience. We can not claim that we know whatever judgment we made was necessary to make (such as, recognizing something falling), but rather that in experiencing (something falling) there are a regularity in it that could not first be learned from experiences, since experiences already have some degree of regularity.