Monday, April 4, 2022

B xv - xviii, ¶ 11


[¶11] I should think that the examples of mathematics and natural science, which have become what they now are through a revolution brought about all at once, were remarkable enough that we might reflect on the essential element in the change in the ways of thinking that has been so advantageous to them, and, at least as an experiment, imitate it insofar as their analogy with metaphysics, as rational cognition, might permit. Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but all attempts to find out something about them a priori through concepts that would extend our cognition have, on this presupposition, come to nothing. Hence let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition, which would agree better with the requested possibility of an a priori cognition of them, which is to establish something about objects before they are given to us. This would be just like the first thoughts of Copernicus, who, when he did not make good progress in the explanation of the celestial motions if he assumed that the entire celestial host revolves around the observer, tried to see if he might not have greater success if he made the observer revolve and left the stars at rest. Now in metaphysics we can try in a similar way regarding the intuition of objects. If intuition has to conform to the constitution of the objects, then I do not see how we can know anything of them a priori; but if the object (as an object of the senses) conforms to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, then I can very well represent this possibility to myself. Yet because I cannot stop with these intuitions, if they are to become cognitions, but must refer them as representations to something as their object and determine this object through them, I can assume either that the concepts through which I bring about this determination also conform to the objects, and then I am once again in the same difficulty about how I could know anything about them a priori, or else I assume that the objects, or what is the same thing, the experience in which alone they can be cognized (as given ob- jects) conforms to those concepts, in which case I immediately see an easier way out of the difficulty, since experience itself is a kind of cognition requiring the understanding, whose rule I have to presuppose in myself before any object is given to me, hence a priori, which rule is expressed in concepts a priori, to which all objects of experience must therefore necessarily conform, and with which they must agree. As for objects insofar as they are thought merely through reason, and necessarily at that, but that (at least as reason thinks them) cannot be given in experience at all - the attempt to think them (for they must be capable of being thought) will provide a splendid touchstone of what we assume as the altered method of our way of thinking, namely that we can cognize of things a priori only what we ourselves have put into them.*

* This method, imitated from the method of those who study nature, thus consists in this: to seek the elements of pure reason in that which admits of being confirmed or refuted through an experiment. Now the propositions of pure reason, especially when they venture beyond all boundaries of possible experience, admit of no test by experiment with their objects (as in natural science): thus to experiment will be feasible only with concepts and principles that we assume a priori by arranging the latter so that the same objects can be considered from two different sides, on the one side as objects of the senses and the understanding for experience, and on the other side as objects that are merely thought at most for isolated reason striving beyond the bounds of experience. If we now find that there is agreement with the principle of pure reason when things are considered from this twofold standpoint, but that an unavoidable conflict of reason with itself arises with a single standpoint, then the experiment decides for the correctness of that distinction.


Metaphysics has so far remained passive with respect to its objects, trying to discover some formula whereby we can conform our thoughts to them. What if, as in natural science and mathematics, we are responsible for the structure or form of objects, and so this structure need not be guessed at but is judged by us a priori?


This passage is known for introducing the Copernican turn, which is a reversal of expectations around the conformance between cognition and the object of cognition. This reversal also gives insight into how Kant's project differs from metaphysics that came before and how it analogizes our faculties with the secure sciences.
Kant understands metaphysics prior to critique as supposing that knowledge must conform to objects. This seems fitting since when we are in error we conform our judgments to the world rather than expecting the world to conform to us. However, up to this point in the preface, the topic has been the security of science and how these disciplines became secure only if there is an element of cognition that comes from us a priori acting as a frame or model. Kant intends his approach to metaphysics as an analog of the secure sciences concerning a priori cognitions. We frame, or organize, experience in advance and a primary element we contribute to experience in this framing is the object itself as a way of bringing appearances to a unity. The judgments that bring about this framing must be a priori since they do not depend upon experience and even first produce it.
Earlier metaphysicians assumed all knowledge must conform to objects in both a posteriori (empirical) and a priori judgments. On the other hand Kant maintains that our a posteriori judgments must conform to objects, but proposes that these objects are, as to their form, constructed by us. In short, the notion of an object - a representation of something external to representation - is introduced by us as a way of bringing unity to experience. A famous result of this is that we know objects so far as they appear to us, but we do not know them so far as they do not appear to us (i.e., we do now know things in themselves).
In this we can see reactions to figures such Locke and Leibniz who each aim to treat all cognitions as either stemming from experience (a posteriori) or from supreme principles (a priori) respectively. We can also see a reaction to Hume who would deny security to cognition generally, for example, by rejecting the notion of a necessary connection.


What are some examples of attempts to conform our thought to objects?

Conforming our thoughts to objects is an attempt to discover rather than construct an ontology (a study of the being of beings). Philosophers generally, including Kant, develop ontologies that recognize objects is intended independent of our thinking. However, this notion of a something independent of thinking (i.e., a representation of something external to representation) is itself a representation in us and which we must account for. Ontology only ever gets so far as communicating this representation of the object as independent. That is, when we communicate our ontology we are still just communicating a representation of objects, not the things themselves.
Beyond having ontologies philosophers demand that these ontologies are correct. If we suppose our thinking must conform to the objects, then to be correct we need some way of checking our representation of objects with the objects themselves. However, we cannot do this directly, for we only have our representations to observe and analyze while the object is considered to stand apart from these representations. In this position so we are left with two options: first, discerning the form of objects logically (through avoiding contradictions) and so indirectly making the limitations of our thinking to be the limitations of reality; or, second, we can try to derive the notion of an object from experience by looking around and seeing what characteristics seem universal, and so making the limitations of our experience of objects to be the limitations of reality. Both of these are problematic in that they never really reach a criteria of verification beyond our own limitations.
Kant still understands objects to be independent things, but wants to avoid incidentally limiting reality by our own cognitive faculties. However, recognizing that we are limited to the analysis of our own representations we can only provide an ontology that relates this form of an object to the manner in which we experience objects. Even if we construct the notion of the object ourselves we still intend this to be about something standing ourself of representation. However, now our ontology will concern how we naturally take our representations to relate to some reality which stands outside of representation.

Is Kant proposing that objects are illusory?

Kant is like most philosophers in recognizing that we intend objects as standing on their own outside of our representations of them, and so, in short, Kant does not take objects to be mere representations or illusory. Kant is proposing that while we represent objects as mind-independant this representation of that which is mind-independent is constructed by us.


cognition (Erkenntnis), intuition (Anschauung), experience (Erfahrung)

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