Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On Hypothesis and Questioning

I want to discuss 'hypothesis', and this will be my attempt to set out some thoughts concerning it.  I want this to expand how I think of science, while still keeping it in close contact with how I think of philosophy, and particularly, metaphysics (as the study of the Being of beings).
Hypothesis is often used in terms of a prediction we make, and then test through experiment.  I don't know how recently this came to be the standard usage, and I am not interested in rejecting it but understanding why it has become natural for us to think of things as predictable.  I am going back to some usage I have seen in Kant and Plato which inspired me, and seeing if I can get better insight into my own thought about both science, and my work in metaphysics.
Hypo-thesis has a nice etymology: under-placing.  In this way you could imagine a hypothesis as a foundation for a building - something that one allows something else to stand.  I would like to emphasize this under-placing through a different image so that I can avail myself of certain language that I think will be helpful to develop other thoughts I have related to the subject.
Imagine a completely white space, brightly lit, so that you cannot see any differentiation in the field of view.  You are looking forward as a black backdrop is lowered some distance behind you.  As this happens, you see a number of all white objects that were in the field of view that were hitherto invisible (due to their non-contrasting with the environment) have now become visible.  I would like to consider the black backdrop here, which allows the white objects to stand out (exist, presence themselves), as illustrating hypothesis.
hypotheses allow things to show themselves.  A scientific hypothesis, taken in this sense, is a way of constraining the environment in advance in order to see something that stands out.  I do not want to consider hypotheses as physical equipment used to reveal things (so the black backdrop is only a metaphor): a light switch is not a hypothesis.  A hypothesis is rather a way of thinking of our environment in advance in a planned way - a way of constraining the environment in order that it seems different to us while we operate under the hypothesis.
In Plato's Meno, Socrates and Meno are unable to decide what virtue is, but Meno still persuades Socrates to answer if virtue can be taught.  Socrates advises that they continue as a geometer by operating under a hypothesis.  They agree to suppose that knowledge considered valuable, and teachable, will be taught, so that if virtue is both valuable and teachable then we should discover it being taught.  But it is not taught, and good men have bad sons.  If we agree or disagree with the hypothesis does not matter here.  What I am interested in is how something is used to reduce the field of inquiry to just those things which are being taught, and upon looking at this reduced field not finding virtue there, the conclusion that virtue cannot be taught is decided.
For complicated reasons (which I do not understand) we say that if a certain statistical regularity shows itself (through data gathered in a graph that reveals a bump or cluster), then we have reason to suppose that there is a higgs-boson particle.  This is a hypothesis.  This data is not gathered at random, but depends on many other hypothesis that have constrained the environment so precisely that, at CERN, we have built a particle accelerator on these hypotheses.  Presently, we have no other way of hunting around for the higgs-boson, and this particle accelerator served the need to to let the particle stand out, and in a way, first exist.  All of these scientific operations clearly suppose the regularity of nature, but nature is not regular - no events ever repeat.  We do not hold to hypotheses because nature operates in a regular manner: only by holding to a hypothesis can beings become predictable and regular.  If we forget this we risk forgetting how science works.
For many of us, in our school days, we measured the volume of things by seeing the displacement of something in water.  Perhaps we remember Archimedes' eurika story, as well.  In our experiment we already knew in advance that a displacement in water signified the amount of space that an object takes up.  Having this understanding in advance allowed us to operate in our environment in a certain way to provide answers to questions we were given to ask.  For Archimedes, who had a lingering problem that he was trying to solve, his own displacing of water in a bath tub led him to realize that he had found the answer.  Such fortunate accidents do not just happen, but with Archimedes, as with the story of Newton, our own questioning state of mind leads to such dawning consciousness.  Our own questioning operates on the environment in order to reveal in a way that a hypothesis does, but without knowing in advance what such an answer will look like, and so different from us in our classroom experiments.
Kant says that no hypotheses are allowed in his critical enterprise.  What does this tell us about his approach?  While operating under no pre-consideration of things, he is yet asking.  He is not trying to constrain the field of beings in order to simply let some beings appear, or for them to appear in a special way - he just wants things to be as they are.  However, as soon as he begins to provide his interpretation of what emerges in this space, he sticks to one part of beings - the immediate presence to intuition (sense) - as a guide.  This can distort, for his readers, the original view that he had towards the Being of beings, a view also required for him to write the second and third critiques.  (The third seeming to approach most closely to a pure interpretation of presencing with the judgment of taste.)  This may help illustrate how I think the basic difference between a special science and the general science of metaphysics (or ontology).
Special sciences, already operate in advance with an understanding of their hypothesis, and constrain the view to let certain beings appear.  Metaphysics, on the other hand, does not hold hypotheses, but asks concerning the Being of beings.  Sometimes this asking is just in regard to the Being of beings in a certain discipline (what is it to be a being of mathematical physics?), while sometimes it is with regard to a pure view to beings as such.  But even with our most pure view to beings, they are already in advance something that is able to be taken up by us into our asking, and so already we can see that they have a character that is able to be questioned (a questionable character).  This tells us about the pure Being of beings, and also about us and how we emerge in relation to the Being of beings as thinkers.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Using Kant's Table of Categories to Understand Heidegger

In Being and Time (German 65), Heidegger lays out four different meanings of "world".  Upon last encountering this passage, it struck me that this division may benefit supposing a backdrop of the table of categories in Kant.  I want to briefly discuss this possibility.
The table of categories are the different pure forms of thinking an object.  Each category is a model for a way of judging about a thing.  There are four headings of the categories: quantity, quality, relation and modality.  Kant is interested in having a systematic completeness in his reflections on things, and supposes that if he uses all the ways of judging a thing generally as his guide, he will be more apt at providing such completeness for his thoughts.  (A good discussion of the use of the categories for organizing reflection is in the Preface to the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science.)
Now, if we suppose Heidegger employs this method, then we should be able to draw a number of implications from it regarding his method of writing Being and Time, as well as the subject matter that he deals with.  (This interpretive hypothesis in no way suggests that Heidegger is simply repeating Kant's table of categories, but using a guide like Kant in the setting out of the subject matter.)
After laying out the four different senses of world, Heidegger informs us that he will be employing the third.  If we go by the way these sense seem to be lined up with the table of categories, then we will find that the third sense of world will be relational, which is does seem to be, since it concerns and cannot be separated from, Being-there's (Dasein's) being-in the world.
To draw an implication from this from the backdrop of the categories in Kant I will mention that the categories of relation are significant (along with the modal categories) in that they do not contribute to the constitution of an object, but to the constitution of experience as structures of experience (the unity of appearances, rather than just the unity of an appearance).  I find that this works well with Heidegger's interest in the structure of Being-in-the-world.
If the object of study in Being and Time is Being-there as concerned with Being, then perhaps we can see that worldhood doesn't concern something that constitutes Being-there's concern with being (it isn't a dealing that Being-there has), but it is rather constitutive of Being as such so far as Being will be brought out on the backdrop of the interpretation of Being-there.  Even for this, however, we will need to bring in the an interpretation of these structures of Being-there in terms of temporality, but at least we can guess at what will be indicated by the kinds of analyses in Division One of Being and Time.
When I speak of 'constitutive of Being' here, I am not suggesting that I can answer what the meaning of Being is.  Heidegger's analysis will only concern the constitution of Being in the way in which Being-there's concern with Being relates to Being as such, and since Being seems to both be the concern, as well as something supposed to be possessed by Being-there in its concern for Being, we can clearly see the circularity involved in the project of Being and Time.  This circularity isn't something that Heidegger hides from, but rather, it is something that he brings to the fore and which is important for the project as a whole.
There are other implications that we could draw from using the table of categories as a foil, but I'll leave off here, since I just wanted to raise this interpretive possibility more than anything else.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Interest and the Object in General

I have recently been employing a discourse which feels well suited to discussing ethics.  This discourse is centered around the term 'interest' which will need to be clarified on its own.  I will focus on articulating 'interest' by developing it in relation to a specific context which is timely for me and will also form a cornerstone in the discourse: the encounter with the object in general (of Kantian fame).
A formula of 'interest': a thing is of interest if it is available for thought.  In this formula, thing is taken to be anything that could be an object of thought, and thought is considered in its role as placing (determining) objects under concepts.  In this formula any thing we are thinking of is interesting to us, but additionally, it suggests that there is a way we can be 'signaled' by a thing while not thinking it (not determining it under a concept).  I will be focusing now on this particular case of interest. 
To be available for thought must mean that something is taken to be an object in some sense.  The minimal way of being an object, and yet unthought (undetermined), is for it to be an object in general.  I am suggesting that an object in general must be able to present itself singularly in a way that is still undetermined by an empirical concept (at least momentarily); moreover, if such a 'description' of an object is not maintained, then we find no material with which to begin developing our empirical concepts.
In relation to an object in general, 'description' must remain in quotes because we can surely not describe such an object in general until we have determined it under some concept, which is to say, when we think of it less generally.  Therefore, when we remember this state we will not be remembering something about the object so far as it was an object in general; instead, it is something about ourselves, or the determinations we made as a result of the state we were in, that we will take interest in after the encounter.  The object in general never becomes an object of interest while remaining general, but our determinations of it, and our state in such an encounter, do.  Clearly, using object to refer to the object in general is problematic, and something we must consider later.
What is the state of the subject that becomes interesting?  Since this object in general is somehow to be thought, it could be the satisfaction of a certain kind suited to thinking. Given the previous paragraph which informed us that we strictly speaking cannot refer to the actual object in general, we can say that the object in general is nothing other than this satisfaction in us for thinking.
Because this encounter with satisfaction (object in general) must form the foundation for the cultivation of our concepts, and so of thought generally, we must see it as at the grounds of what we mean when we speak.  From this we must say that such an encounter is assumed in all discourse.  That is, so far as we relate to others, we demand that they have such encounters of satisfaction regarding appearances, and precisely in relation to the things we have now come to determine under concepts.
Further, the relation to others is only possible because there is this capacity to encounter the object in general supposed in common.  This encounter with the object in general is just the satisfaction that pushes us first into thinking and builds a bridge between the singular (representation) and the universal (concept), and which combine as the particular.  But these logical quantities only become necessary in discourse, and their named distinction emerge from an analysis of discourse.
Because we have no rule for describing the object in general it means we could not represent one to ourselves, and so we can only think it: it is a noumenon.  If such an object in general is assumed in discourse, then we find that the purely thinkable is already grounding discourse, and that the intelligible is also discovered through discourse.  This super sensible substructure is important for our ethical dealings.
(Some readers may have noticed a relationship this 'phenomenological description' of the object in general has with Kant's discussion of the judgment of taste.  This relationship is completely intended, as this post is meant secondarily as an introduction to Kant's manner discussing the beautiful while separating it from the term 'beauty' which seems to produce so much bias in the encounter of the third critique.  I have here provided an interpretation of Kant's object in general as being the satisfaction in relation to appearances which sets the stage for the determination under concepts.  This satisfaction then relates to the reproducibility, under rules, of something which of itself has no rules.  There is much to be gained in continuing this reorientation towards the object in general from possible in the third critique, and then carrying the interpretation through the rest of the system.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Understanding Pure Color and Tone in the Third Critique

In the Critique of the Judgment of Taste, Kant discusses how color and tone can only be beautiful if they are pure.  Whenever I have studied this text on my own and in a group this has caused some confusion, since it is ambiguous what a pure color or tone is.
The typical understanding of this passage in Kant is that Kant means colors that are unmixed, or primary colors, or any solid color, and for tones similarly only a single tone (with no overtones), or one of the tones of the scale.  This interpretation does not work for me, since it clearly involves a quality of the content of the experience that we would be able to put a rule to, e.g., we could specify red blue and green are beautiful.  Since there can be no rules, or reasons, for saying that something is beautiful, this clearly cannot be correct.
Rather than interpreting pure in this case as a quality of the content, I suggest interpreting it in the same way pure is interpreted everywhere else in Kant's system: not containing any empirical content.  But what is color or tone without empirical content?  The answer to this is the same as any case where we remove content: we are left with form.  So, I suggest that we interpret pure color or tone in terms of form.  How do we understand form in this case?
The pure forms of intuition (for the cognition of objects) concern the arrangement of content spatially and temporally.  The form of color or tone will also concern arrangement of content, but not into these extensive and intensive magnitudes of time and space, but into magnitudes that allow us to have differences in color and tone - that arrange the content of sense such that these differences make themselves apparent.