Thursday, December 22, 2016

On a Problematic Style of 'Refutation' in Metaphysics

I have often observed a style of refutation that seems destructive, and those that practice it seem to become unwitting sophists. I hope to sketch its general form here and provide an example.
The context of these refutations includes a first step where an activity is accounted for in this form, "whenever you are doing X, all you can really be doing is Y." It is immaterial for the purposes of this discussion how one has gotten to this conclusion, and these sorts of conclusions are not the target or our suspicion.
The problematic move is when this sort of conclusion is used (implicitly or explicitly) to refute  (or dismiss) some group of practitioners of activity X in the following way: these practitioners of X are doing X incorrectly because they haven't recognized that they are really doing Y.
The problem with this refutation, is that if the only possible way to do X is to Y, then whether you acknowledge it or not, when you do X you do Y. From this we cannot say that X was being done incorrectly, but that X should be seen in terms of Y. An example may help to explain why this is a problem.
Rorty tells us that there is no such thing as an essential meaning of a text, and that all one can do in interpretation is to use a text for some purpose. We can assume that Rorty has given a sufficient justification for his position.  Now, Rorty sees essentialists as readers of texts that seek an essential meaning, and says that they are incorrect because texts don't have essential meanings, they only have meanings relative to purposes one uses them for. 
It appears that Rorty wants to have things both ways, for either essentialist readers are interpreting, which means they must be using the text for a purpose, or they aren't participating in interpretation in the sense Rorty is describing and there is no matter between Rorty and the essentialists on this point.
If the essentialists are using a text for some purpose, then this purpose should explain why essentialist readings look the way they do, and we would also see that they are practicing interpretation perfectly well.
The problem here is not with Rorty's view, but with his combative attitude which seems to put him in a rush to make a hit. I imagine this attitude as being fostered by a particular culture of philosophy that seems most satisfied by the setting up and knocking down of positions. This sort of interest in attack and defense perhaps makes it easier to blunder in the above manner.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Deriving the Table of Pure Concepts from the Table of Judgments

This is a brief attempt to show the relationship between the table of judgments and the table of pure concepts (categories). I will assume that the reader is already familiar with the table of judgments and categories, and generally what the categories are for.
The table of judgments is a clue for the discovery of the categories. The clue works in the following way: all of our judgments (of objects) can be described formally by their quantity, quality relation and modality. For example, "The cat is blue", is a singular (quantity), affirmative (quality), categorical (relational) and assertoric (modal) judgment.
Because we can identify these possible descriptors for all judgments, we can separate the content of the judgments from these formal marks. We can abstract the content from our above example and leave the form, which gives us, "the X is A." This judgment is still singular, affirmative, categorical and assertoric. The X now represents an object in general. From this point we can make much greater sense of how the table of judgments serve as a clue.
This object in general (X) doesn't represent a distinct object but is a stand in for any object that could replace it (e.g., 'cat'). When we only know X, we have no content to consider what X may be, but we do know that whatever the X may be, it will participate in judgments that have a form knowable in advance (quantity, quality, relation and modality). The pure concepts serve to describe X so far as we will be able to relate it to the form of judgments possible for Xs.
The categories represent the manner in which appearances are unified such that there can be judgments about them. (Would it make sense to call the pure concepts an algebra between appearance and judgment?)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Distinction Series: Appearance and Thing in Itself

With this distinction I am attempting to clarify an apparent riddle in Kant's thought, namely, things in themselves, and why we can talk about them despite not knowing them.
An object is encountered by us in a two-fold way: first, an object, so far as it is given to us, is an appearance; second, so far as the object is not given to us, is is a thing in itself. One may wonder: how do we encounter the object so far as it isn't given to us?
Something preliminary to deal with is the term 'object' itself. This term doesn't specifically point out an appearance, but rather our own thought: the object, so far as it appears to us is an object because it is thought by us. This should make it easier to point out that the object so far as it doesn't appear to us is also thought by us.
We know the object so far as it appears because the content given by the appearance can determine the concept of the object synthetically. So far as the object doesn't appear, it can't provide any material for a synthesis, and so remains a thought of an object in general.

The Distinction

 The distinction is between an object so far as it is given (appearance), and an object so far as it is not given (thing in itself). The parent of this distinction can be discovered by removing what has been attributed on the positive side of the distinction. 
When we remove the 'so far as it is given', we have only 'an object.' Without the appearance we are left with the mere thought of an object in general, and this is the parent concept of appearance and thing in itself. 
Any number of examples could be given for appearance - one would merely need to experience the world to discover them. In all of these cases the thing in itself is also thought in relation to the appearance, and no more than just thought.
Another way to bring this home is to point out that appearances are appearances of something. They aren't appearances of themselves, but of the object. However, we only have an object so far as we think one, and we only are given a determinate object so far as it appears. So far as it doesn't appear, it is the thing in itself.

Phenomenological Demonstration

Observe an object from a few angles. So far as you are observing it with some determinate content (color, size, &c) it is an appearance, but it yet remains the same object while the appearance changes. From the permanence of the object in relation to the impermanence of its particular appearance we can see what has been designated the thought of the object in general which has remained the same over the course of the experience. This object, so far as it was just thought by us and not given, is called the thing in itself.
The thing in itself is entirely indistinct, since it is just thought by us. This thing in itself could be anything, it doesn't have to have properties like the ones that it appears to you as, but it is at least unmistakably thought by us in relation to this appearance.

Importance in Kant's Work

Kant's predecessors also characterized objects in general in the study of ontology. This general conception of objects was considered a priori knowledge. Kant, on the other hand, considered the object in general to not be known by us, except so far as it was combined with an intuition of it. The concept of an object in general was only the form of an object (or experience generally), and not knowledge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Distinction Series: Concepts as Intuitable or Intelligible

Cognitions are content given by the intuition and thought by the understanding, and so goes the motto: "thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind." However, we have concepts that cannot determine any intuition, and so cannot be cognized. These concepts can still be thought meaningfully, despite the inability of their object being given in any experience.
When no intuition can be provided for a concept it means that the object thought by this concept is not determinable in space and time. Some prominent examples of these concepts in metaphysics are: soul, world, God. Other concepts that cannot be represented are: justice, wisdom, forgiveness, &c.
(We can represent any of these intelligible objects via symbols which can be intuited, but these are never fully adequate to the concept.)

The Distinction

The parent of the distinction is concepts of objects considered generally. Concepts of objects generally can be divided into intuitable objects, non-intuitable objects. This latter group of objects I will refer to as intelligible.
Concepts of objects considered generally is not a category within experience, but an abstract category that belongs to critical philosophy. This is to say, that if we employ a concept it is either one we can represent or not and never indeterminate.

Phenomenological Demonstration

Look around you, and you'll see plenty of objects that are given through intuition that you have a concept for. No objects will be given through intuition that are sufficient to think of alone.
Now, if we assume a concept of God wherein He is unlimited we will find that He cannot be represented since this would require that God was restricted to space and time. Similarly if we take a concept like forgiveness we will be able to identify particular acts of forgiveness, but never any object that is adequate to forgiveness itself.

Importance in Kant's Work

The centrality of time and space as limits to our cognition cannot be overstated, and it is exactly these additional requirements of an object of experience allows us to draw a line a priori between objects we can give in intuition and those that we cannot.
As a result of this borderline, the transcendental logic has a point from which it can abstain from abstraction, and in this way distinguish it from general logic. Transcendental logic still considers the conditions for representation as necessary components of cognition, and so the categories themselves - being native to transcendental logic - are limited in their application to space and time.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Distinction Series: Pure and Empirical Consideration of an Object

There are many ways of aiming our thoughts and discourses about a topic at what is relevant to us and the distinction between the pure and empirical concerns such a directing of consideration. To understand how these modes of considering objects differ it will be important to work out how a process of abstraction can illustrate objects in their pure and empirical modes.

The Distinction

The common ancestor of the pure and empirical is the consideration of something with regard to the complete experience of it. The distinction then is made as follows: considering something empirically means with regard to what is given of the object by intuition, while considering something as pure considers it so far as it is not given by intuition.  
Considering an object empirically we note the particular coloration, size, behavior, &c. That it is an object that falls under a particular concept is not given by the intuition, but the concept is determined on the basis of the intuition, so it is still known empirically. We can abstract away all of these contents (as well as others) to the notion of an object in general. The object has some extensive magnitude, some intensive magnitude, preserves itself over time, and it is actual (or for those just imagining an object it is possible). If we were to attempt to imagine an object with no extension, we would find no object that could be given to us through intuition that would fit, and the same thing can be observed with relation to representing an object with no qualities (no internal magnitude), &c.

Phenomenological Demonstration

By trying to make the distinction sensible I will more directly be exploring the process of abstraction. I will also try to employ Kant's own method, which one can glimpse throughout his work (the lectures on logic are particularly helpful here).
Any concept of an object is already the result of abstraction from experience or from the combination of abstracted content. Whatever representations that fit under the concept add empirical content back to the concept synthetically. (If you need to brush up on synthesis you can take a look at the post on the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments.)
The concept of an object abstracted from experience is still not considered pure since it involves contents from experience. Abstracting all empirical content away will always lead to the concept of an object in general. 
I will assume that we are experiencing a plate. Considering this experience with regard to its pure content it does not matter that it is an object that falls under the concept of plate, because if it had not been recognized under this concept it still would have appeared to us, so we disregard that. The particular colors could also have been different, and it still could appear for us, so we can disregarded those. If it was a different shape it would still appear, so the particular shape can be disregarded. At this point I will discuss what is meant by 'disregarding.'
Above when I spoke of disregarding the color of the plate (and other qualities), I meant that one could imagine the plate with whatever color one wishes and it would still be the correct object we were discussing. These properties that we can vary are exactly those that we will not discuss in pure considerations of it. 
If this object were of no magnitude at all, then it could not have any shape at all and could not appear to us, so while we can disregard the particular shape we cannot disregard extensive magnitude generally. If there was no intensive magnitude at all (no degree of quality) it would not be able to have a color at all, and so could not appear to us, so we cannot disregard intensive magnitude. These are the kinds of abstractions that one makes when one begins to consider an object purely, and this abstraction eventually leads to the concept of an object in general which is still described by so-called pure concepts (categories).

Importance in Kant's Work

A grasp of the distinction between pure and empirical is important for following Kant's procedure throughout his work since all of Kant's critical (transcendental) philosophy considers things purely, rather than empirically.

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 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.