Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Resolution to a Paradox of Objectivity

When judging objectively we act as sovereigns, but also as subjects: we command, but must also obey.  Put less tersely: when we judge objectively we are making a claim against the judgment of all, yet if our judgment is not open to the trial of all it fails its claim to objectivity.  Being a sovereign and also a subject is a paradoxical condition, and so it may seem we act in a contradictory manner when pursuing objective knowledge.
One thing that may be suggested about this paradox is to accept that we cannot judge objectively, and that each submits his subjective judgment to the community.  We may then say it is the community that advances objectively.  However, even in this case we find a problem: if an individual cannot judge what would at least be a candidate for objectivity then there is no way to legitimate a conversion of a collection of subjective judgments into objective ones.  
The distinction between objective candidacy and objectivity can help us develop some insights.  When we judge something objectively, and so demand universal agreement, we always produce at minimum a candidate for objectivity.  This is to say we really demand universal agreement for the judgment of candidacy for objectivity.  This tells us something interesting about objectivity itself: even though we judge particular characteristics of objects to be objective, the objectivity of the judgment does not depend on these characteristics, instead it depends upon some capacity in our own judging that recognizes these characteristics as universally affirmable.  Because this universal affirmability thought in the objective judgment comes before the actual trial it is thought a priori and provides a reflection of how we think others (i.e. humans) relative to the conditions of our own judgments.  Put briefly: judging something as objective submits a characteristic to be approved, but also contains an a priori judgment of candidacy for objectivity which is the same time a judgment of what it is to be a subject.  (Those familiar with Kant will gain in understanding by reflecting on the categories of the understanding, or the apprehension of the beautiful.)
Typically the consideration of what it is to be a subject per se is not considered in objective investigations.  This should be entirely expected, since it is a strict pre-condition of such investigations.  However, when we find difficulties, and conflicts, in our attempt to advance in our objective judgments it would be a good exercise to return to the foundations and form of the judgments themselves and to investigate if we are having a conflict in the same kind of judgment, or really in two different kinds of judgments under the same name (objective).
Philosophy (critical philosophy) should seek an agreement about the characterization of judgments generally.  In our case with judgments concerning the candidacy of objectivity, we are seeking agreement in how to talk about ourselves and our relationships to each other in judging, and to lay a stronger foundation for universal communicability and for the understanding (read: science, or morals).  Wherever we find a priori rules at work we should seek to understand how those things condition our universal judgments, but also how they condition the understanding of ourselves.  Agreement in terms on these matters would be no small gain for culture and the advance of humanity.

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.