There can be a few doubts as to the fact that Immanuel Kant did contribute to the development of Western philosophical thought rather immensely. Nevertheless, in light of recent discoveries in the field of neurology and psychology, many of his analytical insights, concerned with the justification of the idea that the metaphysical mode of cognizing the surrounding reality is indeed legitimate, appear thoroughly outdated. In this paper, I will explore the validity of the earlier suggestion at length.
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The line of argumentation, in defense of metaphysics, deployed by Kant throughout the course of his work Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, initially aimed at exposing the fallaciousness of David Hume’s empiricist/agnostic philosophy.
According to Hume, experience is the starting point of just about any form of a rationale-based cognition. In its turn, experience consists of impressions and ideas/judgments, which are the cognition’s actual instruments. This, of course, presupposes that there is no possibility for people to be able to come up with thoroughly objective judgments as to the essence of a particular emanation of the surrounding reality.
After all, once we assume that all analytical judgments derive out of experience, there can be very little logic to considering them analytical per se. The reason for this is apparent – individuals’ experience-related judgments are necessarily subjective because it is specifically people’s endowment with the sensory apparatus, which allows them to perceive the world, in the first place.
However, given the fact that our sensations often turn out to be grossly misleading, there is no good rationale to think that our experience-based analytical judgments/decisions can be thought of in terms of a ‘pure reason’. In its turn, this presupposes that people are incapable of attaining an insight into ‘things in themselves’, by definition.
Kant addresses Hume’s argument, in this respect by pointing out to the fact that just about all the rationale-based judgments can be categorized as analytical, on the one hand, and synthetical, on the other.
Analytic judgments are those that presuppose a universally recognizable truth-value of provided definitions to a particular phenomenon/subject matter in question: “When we have reason to consider a judgment necessarily universal… we must consider it objective also, that is, that it expresses not merely a reference of our perception to a subject but a quality of the object” (Boylan and Johnson 182).
The following is the example of an analytical judgment – a square has four corners. Analytic judgments are always based on the ‘law of association ’. That is, they either affirm or negate the referenced state of affairs with the concerned subject matter.
This is the reason why all analytical judgments are necessarily the a priori ones – in order to be able to come up with them, one does not need to have had the experience of having been affected by the referenced subject/phenomenon. In analytical statements, the meaning of the judgment’s predicate derives out of what appears to be the objective quality of the referenced subject.
Synthetic judgments, on the other hand, are those that presuppose that, while coming up with them, individuals necessarily add an additional meaning to the discursive quality of the subject matter in question. The provided definition implies that the element of experience plays a crucial role, within the context of how people formulate their synthetic judgments.
According to Kant, these are the a posteriori synthetic judgments. Nevertheless, there are also the so-called a priori synthetic judgments, which imply that in order to come up with them; people must be capable of exercising their ability to reason ‘purely’ (without any references being made to experience).
In its turn, this indirectly proves the de facto existence of a ‘pure reason’. A priori synthetic judgments commonly take place within the context of people indulging in mathematical reasoning. For example, even though that the formula 4+3=7 may appear, as such, that is best tackled within the conceptual framework of an analytical inquiry (based upon the ‘law of association’), this is far from being the case.
After all, the formula’s predicate does not derive out of what both added numbers are, as ‘things in themselves’, but rather out of the very process of adding. That is, in order for an individual to be able to solve this formula, he or she will need to abstragise from the qualitative implications of both numbers, while constructing an essentially new discursive subject matter – 12.
What it means is that, contrary to what Hume was suggesting, there is indeed a good rationale in believing that the very reason why people are able to operate with utterly abstract categories, is that they are endowed with the sense of a ‘pure reason’. This sense is not being affected by the functioning of their sensory apparatus and presupposes the possibility for people to be able to perceive, before experiencing.
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Hence, the discursive significance of the Kantian concept of an intuition-fueled understanding: “The concept of cause… is a pure concept of the Understanding, which is totally disparate from all possible perception and only serves to determine the representation subsumed under it, relatively to judgments in general, and so to make a universally valid judgment possible” (183).
Apparently, Kant considered his line of reasoning, in regards to the nature of a priori synthetic judgments, as such that does in fact validates the metaphysical form of cognition: “The judgments, which the Understanding forms alone from sensuous intuitions, are far from being judgments of experience. For (these judgments)… must express what experience in general, and not what the mere perception contains” (184).
According to the philosopher, this suggests that, contrary to the provisions of philosophical agnosticism, it is indeed possible for the manner, in which people go about assessing the surrounding reality, to contain the elements of ‘trandescent reasoning’, without the legitimacy of the obtained analytical results being undermined, as a result. Kant’s point of view, in this respect, establishes the supremacy of ‘consciousness’ over ‘matter, while indirectly confirming the soundness of the Descartian ‘body-mind’ dualism.
Nevertheless, as it was mentioned in the Introduction, despite the fact that the conceptual premise, upon which Kantian metaphysical philosophy is based, does appear logically sound, it is being inconsistent with what today’s psychologists/neurologists know about the actual mechanics of consciousness.
For example, Kant’s conceptualization of a ‘pure reason’, outlined earlier, presupposes the possibility for people’s sense of a priori intuition (or Understanding) to be discussed in terms of a ‘mental energy’, the qualitative subtleties of which remain unrelated to what happened to be the physiologically predetermined aspects of their sense of self-identity and their memories of the past. During the course of the 18th century, this idea was considered fully legitimate.
Nowadays, however, this can no longer be the case. This is because, as of today, biologists possess a plenty of proofs, as to the fact that, despite being endowed with an ability to operate with highly abstract categories, the representatives of Homo Sapiens species are nothing but ‘survival machines’ for genes that define both: people’s physical appearance and their cognitive inclinations.
As Dawkins pointed out: “We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes” (2). In its turn, this suggests that we cannot discuss ‘intuition’ (Understanding) outside of how it increases the chances of people’s physical survival – at least until the time when they pass their genes to the representatives of next generations.
Therefore, ‘intuition’ (Understanding) is nothing but people’s ability to choose in favor of a circumstantially appropriate behavioral pattern while facing a particular challenge. It is needless to mention, of course, that formally speaking, one’s ‘intuition’ has very little to do with what were his or her personal experiences of the past. However, the experiential essence of ‘intuition’ becomes quite apparent, once we assess the discussed subject matter from an evolutionary perspective.
It is important to understand that genes do not ‘think’ – they simply contain information, concerned with the multitude ‘behavioral matrixes’, the triggering of which is done automatically. What it means is that, when intuitively deciding in favor of a particular course of action, while facing a cognitive challenge, people do not take an advantage of their de facto ability to indulge in ‘pure reasoning’.
Rather, their unconscious psyche prompts them to act in the most circumstantially justified manner. In its turn, the subtleties of how our unconscious psyche causes us to act, reflect what used be the experiences of our predecessors having dealt with similar circumstances – all the necessary information, in this respect, is contained in genes. What it means is that, contrary to what Kant does, there can be very little reason to think of ‘intuition’ (Understanding), as being of clearly non-experiential essence.
Even though that it indeed appears to people that, while thinking in abstract terms, they do attain a new ‘synthetic’ knowledge, this is nothing but a perceptional illusion. ‘Intuition’ (Understanding) is consciously repressed memories of the past. In other words, the very laws of nature deem cognition secondary to experience, which in full accordance with what Hume used to suggest, presupposes the conceptual fallaciousness of a metaphysical approach to cognition.
The fact that there is no ‘pure reason’, as Kant defines it, can also be illustrated in regards to the non-existence (or, rather to the relativistic existence) of what this philosopher used to refer to as ‘noumenons’ (universally applicable and yet non-experiential categories of logic/cognition).
The validity of this statement can be shown, in relation to the ethnographic studies of Lucien Levy-Bruhl. While traveling through the remote/rural areas of South-East Asia, Africa and Australia, he realized that the actual reason why he often used to experience communication problems with natives, was not due to the lack of his proficiency in these people’s language, but rather due to the fact that, as compared to himself, the subjects of his ethnographic research were differently ‘wired’, in the psycho-cognitive sense of this word.
For example, while being asked to define a qualitative difference between the notions of fruit, meat and fish, on the one hand, and the notions of spear, fishing rod and rifle, on the other, these people could not quite do it. This is because, unlike what it happened to be the case with Westerners, endowed with the ‘Faustian’ (analytical) mentality, the natives could not help but thinking ‘holistically’.
This is the reason why it would never occur to them to assess the semiotic meaning of the referred notions in terms of an abstract logic (by categorizing them as ‘raw materials’ and ‘instruments’). Instead, these people cognized the earlier mentioned notions within the context of the notions’ perceived ‘usefulness’ (De Laguna 556). Because the mentioned notions are equally associated with the idea of usefulness, there could no difference between them.
In addition, Levy-Bruhl realized that the questioned natives were quite incapable of cognizing the concepts of space and time in the similar manner with Westerners. For example, instead of saying ‘after tomorrow’ they would prefer saying would say ‘in two days from now’, which in turn suggested the concerned people’s lack of comfortableness with the concept of time, as such that could be ‘stretched’ or ‘condensed’.
This, of course, points out the fact that, contrary to Kant, a priori ‘noumenons’ cannot be discussed as ‘things in themselves’, regardless of what happened to be the essence of people’s associative experiences. It is specifically people’s exposure to external circumstances, which prompts them to indulge in one or another mode of an ‘imperative’ thinking, and not the sheer strength of the applied mental effort, on their part, to think outside ‘empiricism’.
It is rather ironic that, while striving to ‘revive’ metaphysics, Kant contributed the most towards the eventual decline of this particular philosophical method. One of the reasons for this is that, despite the sheer sophistication of Kantian metaphysics, there can be very little practical value to it.
Apparently, while elaborating on the subject of analytical and synthetic judgments, Kant remained unaware of the fact that philosophy must serve the purpose of helping people to be in the full control of their lives – not prompting them to begin hating the very concept of philosophy with passion.
This is because, as it happened to be the case with just about any science, philosophy is best conceptualized in terms of an ‘informational model’, which more or less adequately describes the surrounding reality. What Kant did, however, was ‘disassembling’ this reality down to its elemental components for the sake of being able to ‘assemble’ it back. However, after he did it, the ‘reassembled’ reality ceased emanating liveliness.
I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in defense of the suggestion that Kant’s promotion of metaphysics (as a fully valid philosophical method) can no longer be considered conceptually valid, entirely correlates with the paper’s initial thesis.
This is because, throughout the course of the centuries, following Kant’s death, the development of Western empirical sciences attained an exponential momentum, which in turn resulted in people being freed of idealistic illusions, in regards to the actual purpose of their existence. As of today, only perceptionally arrogant/euro-centrically minded/religious individuals continue to believe in the existence of non-experiential knowledge, accessible only to self-reflecting and often behaviorally inadequate philosophers, such as Kant used to be.
This idea, however, contradicts what even mildly intelligent people know about the actual mechanics of the universe’s functioning. Therefore, even though Kant’s philosophy will continue being referred to as such, that represents an undisputed historical value; there can be very little rationale in trying to find any wisdom of a practical value in it.
Boylan, Michael and Charles Johnson. Philosophy: An Innovative Introduction: Fictive Narrative, Primary Texts, and Responsive Writing. Boulder: Westview Press, 2010. Print.
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976. Print.
De Laguna, Frederica. “Levy-Bruhl’s Contributions to the Study of Primitive Mentality.” The Philosophical Review 49.5 (1940): 552-566. Print.