Saturday, April 23, 2022

B xviii - xxii, ¶ 12

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[¶12] This experiment succeeds as well as we could wish, and it promises to metaphysics the secure course of a science in its first part, where it concerns itself with concepts a priori to which the corresponding objects appropriate to them can be given in experience. For after this alteration in our way of thinking we can very well explain the possibility of a cognition a priori, and what is still more, we can provide satisfactory proofs of the laws that are the a priori ground of nature, as the sum total of objects of experience - which were both impossible according to the earlier way of proceeding. But from this deduction of our faculty of cognizing a priori in the first part of metaphysics, there emerges a very strange result, and one that appears very disadvantageous to the whole purpose with which the second part of metaphysics concerns itself, namely that with this faculty we can never get beyond the boundaries of possible experience, which is nevertheless precisely the most essential occupation of this science. But herein lies just the experiment providing a checkup on the truth of the result of that first assessment of our rational cognition a priori, namely that such cognition reaches appearances only, leaving the thing in itself as something actual for itself but uncognized by us. For that which necessarily drives us to go beyond the boundaries of experience and all appearances is the unconditioned, which reason necessarily and with every right demands in things in themselves for everything that is conditioned, thereby demanding the series of conditions as something completed. Now if we find that on the assumption that our cognition from experience conforms to the objects as things in themselves, the unconditioned cannot be thought at all without contradiction, but that on the contrary, if we assume that our representation of things as they are given to us does not conform to these things as they are in themselves but rather that these objects as appearances conform to our way of representing, then the contradiction disappears; and consequently that the unconditioned must not be present in things insofar as we are acquainted with them (insofar as they are given to us), but rather in things insofar as we are not acquainted with them, as things in themselves: then this would show that what we initially assumed only as an experiment is well grounded.* Now after speculative reason has been denied all advance in this field of the supersensible, what still remains for us is to try whether there are not data in reason's practical data for determining that transcendent rational concept of the unconditioned, in such a way as to reach beyond the boundaries of all possible experience, in accordance with the wishes of metaphysics, cognitions a priori that are possible, but only from a practical standpoint. By such procedures speculative reason has at least made room for such an extension, even if it had to leave it empty; and we remain at liberty, in-deed we are called upon by reason to fill it if we can through practical data of reason.†

* This experiment of pure reason has much in common with what the chemists sometimes call the experiment of reduction, or more generally the synthetic procedure. The analysis of the metaphysician separated pure a priori knowledge into two very heterogeneous elements, namely those of the things as appearances and the things in themselves. The dialectic once again combines them, in unison with the necessary rational idea of the unconditioned, and finds that the unison will never come about except through that distinction, which is therefore the true one.

† In the same way, the central laws of the motion of the heavenly bodies established with certainty what Copernicus assumed at the beginning only as a hypothesis, and at the same time they proved the invisible force (of Newtonian attraction) that binds the universe which would have remained forever undiscovered if Copernicus had not ventured, in a manner contradictory to the senses yet true, to seek for the observed movements not in the objects of the heavens but in their observer. In this Preface I propose the transformation in our way of thinking presented in criticism merely as a hypothesis, analogous to that other hypothesis, only in order to draw our notice to the first attempts at such a transformation, which are always hypothetical, even though in the treatise itself it will be proved not hypothetically but rather apodictically from the constitution of our representations of space and time and from the elementary concepts of the understanding.

Summary

When we consider objects as conforming to our manner of representing them we find success in the first part of metaphysics (ontology) but the other parts (rational psychology, rational cosmology, and natural theology) must suffer limitations. Considered in this way, our theoretical cognitions are limited to objects of possible experience. However, reason still demands an absolute ground and this cannot be found in experience but only with respect to things in themselves. We may find a way to satisfy reason's demand in its practical (moral) employment rather than its theoretical employment concerning what exists.

Commentary

If one were only interested in what Kant generally concludes in the critique and what next steps there are for metaphysics, then the reader could stop at this passage. Kant will be concluding that our a priori cognitions of objects are only valid within possible experience. This means that any object that cannot be given in a possible experience cannot be known (e.g., God).
Apart from the limitation that we must suffer, we also learn that reason itself is behind our confusion so far as it seeks the unconditioned. Understanding what the unconditioned is may be helpful before addressing how this leads us into difficulties.
Everything we experience is finite and depends on other things. To be in such a way that your state is determined by something else is to be conditioned. For example, all objects are limited to a part of space, or everything that is produced has a cause. Because the conditioned object always has that which is conditioning it, experience is rich with possible questions (e.g., what is the cause of that?). When we look to experience to answer these questions the answers themselves are also conditioned which leads to further questions. By remaining within experience we extend our knowledge, but we never find any rest.
Our own faculty of reason pushes us to seek answers to our questions which are final. This requires that we have an answer that have no further conditions (e.g., a cause without a prior cause). Since all the answers we give remain within experience they are conditioned rather than unconditioned and so we are pushed to provide answers that employ concepts of objects that cannot be found in any experience at all. Some will see a demand to stay within the boundaries of experience and continue the series of conditions forever or until we can no longer answer while others will see it as necessary to provide closure and step beyond experience. A conflict between these two orientations emerges that goes a long way to explain why dogmatic metaphysics is such a constant science as well as the origin of its perennial problems, conflicts ,and solutions. However, there is hope for mediating between these two groups.
Kant points out that if we recognize a difference between appearances of objects and the things themselves we find that the two groups are actually speaking about different things which need not be in conflict with each other. That is, objects, as they appear to us, may very well have causes going back in an infinite regress, however, if we consider objects in themselves then there are no longer conditions of experience which demand this regress. Relieving this contradiction, however, is certainly not enough to take us any closer to having knowledge of anything beyond the boundaries of experience and so for this we will need an entirely different source of cognitions than the resources in experience. To this end Kant mentions reason's practical data, but does not yet explain what this is or how it may help.

Questions

How does metaphysics find a new direction?

Kant recognizes that we cannot determine the metaphysical questions we have positively with respect to how objects exist. However, we can consider our disposition towards answering these questions in particular ways and see if there is any place where our disposition necessitates us to particular answers. If we are necessitated to certain beliefs about metaphysical questions then these certainly can't count as knowledge, but we also cannot ignore them.
Recognizing ourselves as obliged is a kind of necessity that stands outside of the necessity of nature - even if we ought to do something it very well may never happen, but we ought to do it nonetheless. This necessitation of ourselves reveals a dimension of consideration of the self that also stands outside of nature: we consider ourselves as capable of freely bringing about what we ought to do, that is, we posit ourselves as possessing free will. On top of this posit of our freedom and in conjunction with how our moral interests develop, we have a starting point that provides a new direction for metaphysics.

Terminology

unconditioned (Unbedingte), practical (practische)

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