Transcendental idealism

Transcendental idealism

Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant's doctrine maintains that human experience of things is similar to the way they appear to us—implying a fundamentally subject-based component, rather than being an activity that directly (and therefore without any obvious causal link) comprehends the things as they are in themselves.

Contents

  • Background 1
  • Kant 2
  • Historical parallels 3
  • Schopenhauer 4
  • P. F. Strawson 5
  • Henry Allison 6
  • Opposing realism 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Background

Although it influenced the course of subsequent German philosophy dramatically, exactly how to interpret this concept was a subject of some debate among 20th century philosophers. Kant first describes it in his Critique of Pure Reason, and distinguished his view from contemporary views of realism and idealism, but philosophers do not agree how sharply Kant differs from each of these positions.

Transcendental idealism is associated with formalistic idealism on the basis of passages from Kant's Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, although recent research has tended to dispute this identification. Transcendental idealism was also adopted as a label by the subsequent German philosophers Fichte and Schelling, Schopenhauer, and in the early 20th century by Husserl.

Kant

Perhaps the best way to approach transcendental idealism is by looking at Kant's account of how we intuit (German: anschauen) objects, and that task demands looking at his accounts of space and of time. Before Kant, some thinkers, such as Leibniz, had come to the conclusion that space and time were not things, but only the relations among things. Other thinkers, including Newton, maintained that space and time were real things or substances. Leibniz had arrived at a radically different understanding of the universe and the things found in it. According to his Monadology, all things that humans ordinarily understand as interactions between and relations among individuals (such as their relative positions in space and time) have their being in the mind of God but not in the Universe where we perceive them to be. In the view of realists, individual things interact by physical connection and the relations among things are mediated by physical processes that connect them to human brains and give humans a determinate chain of action to them and correct knowledge of them. Kant was aware of problems with both of these positions. He had been influenced by the physics of Newton and understood that there is a physical chain of interactions between things perceived and the one who perceives them. However, an important function of mind is to structure incoming data and to process it in ways that make it other than a simple mapping of outside data.[1]

The salient element here is that space and time, rather than being real things-in-themselves or empirically mediated appearances (German: Erscheinungen), are the very forms of intuition (German: Anschauung) by which we must perceive objects. They are hence neither to be considered properties that we may attribute to objects in perceiving them, nor substantial entities of themselves. They are in that sense subjective, yet necessary, preconditions of any given object insofar as this object is an appearance and not a thing-in-itself. Humans necessarily perceive objects as located in space and in time. This condition of experience is part of what it means for a human to cognize an object, to perceive and understand it as something both spatial and temporal. "I understand by the transcendental idealism of all appearances the doctrine that they are all to be regarded as mere representations and not as things in themselves, and accordingly that space and time are only sensible forms of our intuition…"[3] Kant argues for these several claims in the section of the Critique of Pure Reason entitled the Transcendental Aesthetic. That section is devoted to the inquiry of the a priori conditions of human sensibility, i.e. the faculty by which humans intuit objects. The following section, the Transcendental Logic concerns itself with the manner in which objects are thought.

Historical parallels

Xenophanes of Colophon in 530 BC anticipated Kant's epistemology in his reflections on certainty. "And as for certain truth, no man has seen it, nor will there ever be a man who knows about the gods and about all the things I mention. For if he succeeds to the full in saying what is completely true, he himself is nevertheless unaware of it; and Opinion (seeming) is fixed by fate upon all things."[4] Certain interpretations of some of the medieval Buddhists of India, such as Dharmakirti, may reveal them to be transcendental idealists, since they seemed to hold the position of mereological nihilism but transcendental idealists who held that their minds were distinct from the atoms. Some Buddhists often attempt to maintain that the minds are equal to the atoms of mereological nihilist reality, but Buddhists seem to have no explanation of how this is the case, and much of the literature on the aforementioned Buddhists involves straightforward discussion of atoms and minds as if they are separate. This makes their position very similar to transcendental idealism, resembling Kant's philosophy where there are only things-in-themselves (which are very much like philosophical atoms), and phenomenal properties.

Schopenhauer

Briefly, Schopenhauer described transcendental idealism as a "distinction between the phenomenon and the thing in itself, and a recognition that only the phenomenon is accessible to us because "we do not know either ourselves or things as they are in themselves, but merely as they appear."[5] Some of Schopenhauer's comments on the definition of the word "transcendental" are as follows: Schopenhauer contrasted Kant's transcendental critical philosophy with Leibniz's dogmatic philosophy.

P. F. Strawson

In The Bounds of Sense, P. F. Strawson suggests a reading of Kant's first Critique that, once accepted, forces rejection of most of the original arguments, including transcendental idealism. Strawson contends that if Kant had followed out the implications of all that he said he would have seen that there were many self-contradictions implicit in the whole.

Strawson views the analytic argument of the transcendental deduction as the most valuable idea in the text, and regards transcendental idealism as an unavoidable error in Kant's greatly productive system. In Strawson's traditional reading (also favored in the work of Paul Guyer and Rae Langton), the Kantian term phenomena (literally something that can be seen from the Greek word phainomenon, "observable") refers to the world of appearances, or the world of "things" sensed. They are tagged as "phenomena" to remind the reader that humans confuse these derivative appearances with whatever may be the forever unavailable "things in themselves" behind our perceptions. The necessary preconditions of experience, the components that humans bring to their apprehending of the world, the forms of perception such as space and time, are what make a priori judgments possible, but all of this process of comprehending what lies fundamental to human experience fails to bring anyone beyond the inherent limits of human sensibility. Kant's system requires the existence of noumena to prevent a rejection of external reality altogether, and it is this concept (senseless objects of which we can have no real understanding) to which Strawson objects in his book.

Henry Allison

In Kant's Transcendental Idealism, Henry Allison proposes a reading that opposes Strawson's interpretation. Allison argues that Strawson and others misrepresent Kant by emphasising what has become known as the two-worlds reading (a view developed by Paul Guyer). This — according to Allison, false — reading of Kant's phenomena/noumena distinction suggests that phenomena and noumena are ontologically distinct from each other. It concludes on that basis that we somehow fall short of knowing the noumena due to the nature of the very means by which we comprehend them. On such a reading, Kant would himself commit the very fallacies he attributes to the transcendental realists. On Allison's reading, Kant's view is better characterized as a two-aspect theory, where noumena and phenomena refer to complementary ways of considering an object. It is the dialectic character of knowing, rather than epistemological insufficiency, that Kant wanted most to assert.

Opposing realism

Opposing Kantian transcendental idealism is the doctrine of G. E. Moore, Ralph Barton Perry, and Henry Babcock Veatch. Realism claims, contrary to idealism, that perceived objects exist in the way that they appear, in and of themselves, independent of a knowing spectator's mind.

See also

References

  1. ^ Martin, Kant's Metaphysics and Theory of Science, p. 57
  2. ^ Martin, Kant's Metaphysics and Theory of Science, p. 41
  3. ^ Critique of Pure Reason, A 369
  4. ^ Kathleen Freeman, Ancilla to the Presocratic Philosophers, Xenophanes fragment 34.
  5. ^ Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. 2, "Sketch of a History of the Doctrine of the Ideal and the Real."

External links