Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Things-in-Themselves and How we Care About Them

When I study the Critique of Pure Reason with new as well as old readers I often encounter questions about 'things-in-themselves.'  It is interesting that there always seems to be a crystal clarity as to what is meant by 'things-in-themselves,' but there remains the question: if Kant says we can not know these objects, why does he say so much about them?  I hope to clear some of this up briefly, and connect it to some other aspects of the Critique.
I assume most people will agree that we experience ('see') objects, and that we think objects.  It will also be agreed that we do not have any other way of dealing with objects except in our representations of them, or thoughts.  If we had no representations or thoughts, this would amount to having no concerns at all.
When Kant discusses things-in-themselves, he calls them objects so far as they do not appear to us.  Now, when we are concerned with things-in-themselves we are not concerned with things as mere thoughts, but things even standing apart from thought.  That is, when we are concerned about the existence of the external world we are not satisfied with saying that it is a mere thought of ours.
Now, things-in-themselves are clearly not seen by us, nor are they thoughts of ours in particular, but only in general: we think an X so far as it is not seen or thought by us, but somehow may relate to what is seen and thought.  It should be clear from this that we do not know the conditions that these objects require for either of our modes of cognizing particular objects: appearance and thought.
It is fair to wonder how we become interested in objects that seem to fall outside of our possible concern: not one of them can become directly distinct for us in appearance or thought.  Additionally, we may wonder how there could be more than one of these things that we think.  This relates to Kant's question in the Introduction to the B edition of the Critique: how is metaphysics as a natural disposition possible?
We can see the answer fairly clearly on our own: it seems the only way we could concern ourselves with things-in-themselves is if we think objects as real that yet contradict some manner of the object appearing to us.  If we think an object, but think it as necessarily out of time and space, we find that we no longer have anything distinct to think, yet this contradiction pushes us outside of the field of experience altogether.We may contradict our manner of representation in our thoughts in a number of ways, and this may help us to understand the diversity of things-in-themselves.  This is precisely the insight that Kant shares in the Transcendental Dialectic where the conflict of reason with itself tempts us outside of all boundaries of experience.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Value of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

Kant's famous distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments seems to have left much of the tradition after him wondering about its value, and so, its meaning.  It seems obvious that concepts contain whatever they do (analytic), and when we learn something new we expand our concepts (synthetic), but how is this important?
The distinction between analytic and synthetic seems to have been abused after Kant, and began to suggest that propositions themselves were either analytic or synthetic when really Kant insists that what is important in any particular case is what we actually thought in these judgments.  (This being said, it was of no use to attempt to clarify language through this distinction.)
It seems to make sense to consider the value of the distinction between synthetic and analytic to reside in the context that was so crucial for them: critique of pure reason (the special science).  What was important to Kant about the distinction between analytic and synthetic was how it provided clearer access to the problem of synthetic a priori judgments.  It will help to consider other disciplines where the distinction is applicable, but not necessary for any work.
Mathematics and physics entirely consist of knowledge from synthetic judgments, but this does not mean they should concern themselves with the distinction between analytic and synthetic: mathematics uses pure intuition to guide itself, while physics uses experience (and mathematics).  These sciences have material to guide them that clearly shows the ground for their synthetic judgments, but also makes it unhelpful to know when these synthetic judgments are in effect: they always are.
On the other hand, metaphysics has no material to guide it in its use of pure concepts, and generates pure concepts, and so if we concern ourselves with the possibility of metaphysics it is necessary to test to see if pure concepts can be employed in the extension of knowledge.  Then, it will be necessary to discover what the pure concepts are, and for this the distinction between analytic and synthetic is crucial.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On Making the Best of Differences

As a reader and writer of fiction I can't help but take interest in the wealth of learning that one can gleam from reading inventions.  This is no less true for inventions that are supposed to be non-fiction.
Often I witness, or am involved in, personal conflicts that involve actual occurances (as they were remembered, at least), and there is a dispute about what actually happened.  In such disputes, I typically find little value in settling the 'facts' of the matter (the intentions involved, the words said).  Instead, I find that accepting all acccounts and taking them in turn in order to all learn from each is a much better course.
Why are we so concerned with finding fault, and holding people responsible at every turn?  Our instinct (or habituation) to retrubutive justice hurts us here. Why not take a primary interest in improving together, and - without needing to acknowledge fault - all find ways in which we can help each other?
This attitude may stem from my approach to interpreting philosophy.  My interest in reading the history of philosophy is to gleam how other people have tried to reconcile themselves with reality and their own finitude.  Even if the philosopher is presenting something that isn't critical or systematic, this is no reason to think that I cannot come to understand the sort of demands that were being faced through their solution, and that I cannot learn from this by reflecting on the demands I face from my own finitude.