Reading Kant: Transcendental Logic

In the section entitled Transcendental Logic, Kant introduces terms which may be familiar to the 18thC audience, and notions of philosophies past, but within his own gloss.This post will concern some thoughts on Kant’s Transcendental Logic chapter from the First Critique

Kant’s notion of perception: concepts and intuitions

Kant introduces his notion of idealism as it is typically understood, in quite pithy a phrase: Thoughts without content are empty, Intuitions without Concepts are blind.

Kant introduces a world of knowledge where sensory data is contrasted with ideas. This is not a particularly original move as it is something philosophers since Plato have been thinking about. What Kant does that is unique, however, is to elucidate a unique relationship between the two worlds. In contemporary eyes this kind of distinction still cuts ice: we can have a perception of some given thing, and then, we can also have the idea or thought of it. Perception examples are a little redundant in the sense that philosophy lectures and seminars often involve examples where people literally point at something and say THIS as the essential example, however in the form of the written word, it doesn’t wordk so well. If I were to say ‘this is a cat’, that would be the thought of what would essentailly be:

Kant cat lol

There is a certain intertwined nature about thoughts and our perceptions of objects. For Kant, one requires the other in a manifold of cases.If we didn’t have the idea of a cat as a thought, or the faculty of thought itself then the image above would make no sense. Concepts, or generalised notions establish the form of a thought, what that means is that our concepts about the image (it’s a white cat, the cat is next to a laptop, this is an internet meme template) are presumed and understood in order to grasp the image. One might be able to ask what is the nature of these general concepts: white, cat, laptop, and ask questions such as: is the cat an instance of a general concept cat (yes), and if so is that entity (Cat – genus) an entity suis generis. I think that by taking a different approach from the usual ontological realism/nominalism kind of frame, and focusing on perspective and human perception, Kant sidesteps the issue. Perhaps I’ll have more to say on this as I continue to read the Critique.

Intuitions without content are blind: I’ve tried to explain this by establishing the necessity of conceptual boundaries in order to organise experience.

Thoughts without content are empty, for Kant to maintain this, Kant will have to make a big disambiguation process by clarifying what he means. Kant maintains there is still such a thing as the a priori (and in his account gives differing kinds of a priorist structures in the mind – categories, time/space, logic). There are thoughts which are about the world, if we are to push the question about ontology and realism/nominalism, we might say that both are two sides of the same coin. If cats were a real suis generis entity, but cats did not exist in the world at all: that would be an empty notion. If we identify such and such to be a cat, and another such and such to be a cat, and then say that ‘cat’ is not a valid independent term, we’d need some kind of generic ideal to describe a plethora of similar items. Kant acknowledges that both the idea and the percept (whether its cat or some other object) are required as constituents of thought and perception. Observations seem to be a mix of the understanding and experience. Kant goes on to say more about elements of thought which are ‘unmixed’, in his disambiguation.

Transcendental vs. General logic

General Logic is introduced as what I would presume would be the syllogistical figures and inferential schemes of his day. Logic today is largely more formal, but still works within the remit of its original project of being an exploration in the rule of thought and inference. General logic concerns the rules of the world at a most general level, these rules would apply whether our perceptual selves existed or not. Transcendental logic, however, involves the agent. As the form of the Critique’s chapter structure will show, Kant’s exploration of this notion dictates the further structure of the book. Logic has three categories: analytic, dialectic and general. Analytic and dialectic are themselves divisions of transcendnetal logic, so Kant is using multiple distinctions here (getting confusing yet?).

For Kant, general logic concerns itself with aspects of what regular syllogistical logic does which is hardly anything new, such as the conditions of illegitimate inferences, or the general structure of valid and true objective statements. Transcendental logic by contrast, Kant seems to distance by some kind of contradistinction. Kant seems to say that transcendental logic, or that which concerns perception does not have as high the rigour of general logic. Again, Kant would have sidestepped a later issue in 19thC philosophy, namely, whether the laws of (syllogistical, or formal) logic were in fact, the laws of the mind. By making this distinction, Kant avoids this issue at the least, and I think would perhaps even answer that question in the negative.

Kant will eventually pad out his notion of analytic (transcendent) logic and dialectical (transcendent) logic as the main theses of his metaphysical and epistemological account, namely: the analytic concerns the confines in which experiential claims: perception and thought are possible and the illegitimate use of the mental faculties as a way of interring too much  (and falsely so) about the world. Reason is a great thing, but you can only go so far with it: that’s the punchline of Kant’s Critique, but lets not get too ahead of ourselves, and focus on some little points

Two notions of Objectivity

Kant mentions that objectivity is a signifier of something that is true. What is objectivity however? Kant will later say something such as: the categories operate as a grounds for objective knowledge. Kant also says that it is the exemplar of general logic (when applied correctly) that it is objective. I’ve mentioned that Kant divided between transcendental and general logic; where the former concerns the operation of the subject’s mind. Historically speaking, the construal of the word ‘objective’ has previously (to Kant) meant something more like ‘representational’ or ‘object of the mind’, so when Descartes says that God is an objective notion, he is speaking of God as an object that can be represented in the mind, which is very different to our more putative notion of objective, which means something like: true independent of the subject’s experience.

However, I’m not at least at this moment which sense Kant wants to use. It is often acknowledged that Kant is indeed moving away from this representational notion of objectivity towards this more putative sense, but it does seem in some ways muddled. Consider:

  1. The categories imposed by the perceiving subject are a grounds for objectivity
  2. General logic is characterised by objectivity (putative sense)
  3. To speak of objective truth for logic in the transcendental sense is impossible insofar as it applies to sensation (a concession to Hume)

These three are all claims of Kant, but their use of ‘objective’ dont seem to meld well in my view.

Michael (following conversations with Sinistre)

Civil disorder in London

The ancient Athenians were well aware of the notion of civil disorder. I’m often one not to comment on social issues (normally because I feel some things are too soon to make decent judgments about) but this issue has befallen my doorstep, and I don’t mean that in only a figurative manner. It’s very scary in London right now. Where I am living in SW London, things are an attempt at ‘business as usual’, but the smell of smoke getting into my home, and the smell of burning that resides in the streets is menacing.

My first thoughts are with my family, and my friends in London. My second thoughts are about gathering as much intel as possible. This gets in the way of the job I’m currently working (as it’s based in the City, and involves travelling through Clapham), and I am also worried about the implications of this event. This is a terrible event going on, and I just hope that it doesn’t get worse. From my observations, there have been a variety of opinions on this issue:

  • The police are simply not present in certain areas (Croydon, for instance)
  • The reaction to the police activity is not enough (ie. they want more forceful measures against the looters – tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons)
  • There is a growing acceptance that a military intervention is justified – this is acknowledged by the Met Police and Home Office as (at present) not a viable option
  • Some facebook friends and twitter users take the consensus that VIGILANTE counter-violence is legitimate against looters.
  • There is a distinct sense of disgust at the mob mentality, some of the videos shown show the complete lack of sympathy on part of these looters
  • Some people are apologetic about their disgust, as they afraid to say many of the looters they have seen are predominantly black and minority ethnic groups in the areas they have seen, many of them are afraid to say that they want the police to be hard on these people. This kind of apology reflects the potential sea change in the political consensus, namely, to right-wing issues of how police are held back by administrative tasks and ‘political correctness’ instead of upholding public order,]
  • Similar to the above notion, this is seen as ‘chav’ mentality, and an oppurtunity to demean the perceived working class archetype. The notion of a chav is spurious anyway, but that’s another topic. Working class scapegoating doesn’t necessarily explain the violence in Ealing.
  • This is seen as a reaction to the overly strong austerity measures of the UK government. This is what you expect from youth unemployment and the lack of oppurtunities and social mobility.

My view is this: reactionary vigilante counter-violence is just as bad as the looting. The police will not acknowledge a difference between targeted deliberated aggressive violence against looters from the public, and the looters themselves. Morally speaking, they are both as as both bad: two wrongs don’t make a right. The implications of this event will be worse than what is going on right now, and right now: it’s really bad. Demonising so-called ‘chavs’ doesn’t really do anything, and this aggrivates social tensions between communities. Perhaps the most telling thing about this event is that these looters acted to appease their consumerist fantasies: items such as televisions, clothes and jewelery are aspirational. This is material aspiration’s sick conclusion. In addition, this event is opportunism, the looters should not be seen as the ‘other’, they are everyday people who join in the oppurtunity for a free lunch, or television as it happens. They say in liberal discourses that security is not worth the coin of liberty. Liberty is not worth the price of a pair of trainers from JD sports; voiding security is not worth a ‘free’ iPhone.


Reading Kant: The Archictectonic

Reading Kant again has given me a whole lot of mixed concerns. One of which is whether I would read it too charitably, or read it in a say that was so sympathetic, that I’d compromise some kind of genuine critical insight. Another concern was that being so familiar with the text, I’d think of it in terms of rote learning and repetition. Many of the great commentators like Guyer go over an exegesis of certain passages, but not without letting certain things slide. A good interpreter does not let anything slide, to colloquially put it.

Reading the introduction was like coming back home, many of the passages I’ve always imagined that Kant possibly said it, or reminds me of something I’ve thought about in a dream. For this post, lets stick to some specific issues.

How Kant’ cuts reality

One observation I have is that Kant seems to really go on about certain points and issues, to the point of tireless or meticulous repetition. In the Introduction, Kant insinuates (but does not make as explicit as later) a distinction between two kinds of statements. To put it in the most simple terms, there is a fundamental difference between the empirical and the non-empirical. Another overlapping distinction is between the Transcendental realm of knowledge and the ordinary, non-Transcendental world. There seems to be a real strong motivation towards maintaining this distinction. Another similar distinction may be made between the world as it may appear, and the world which is is in some way real by virtue of being outside of our conditioned reality (Noumenon). The distinction between Phenomenon and Noumenon seems spurious to the point that even if one accepts it, we can’t even determine (textually speaking) by what virtue this distinction is made. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s talk about the first two distinctions.

The distinction between the a priori world and the empirical is one about our knowledge of reality. Kant wants to emphasise, I suppose as a nod to work before his, that there is a genuine distinction. What is different with Kant is that he makes something more of this distinction than say, Hume, or even Ayer after him. For Kant, these two elements of experience-world and mental-world have a complex relationship. Firstly because non-empirical knowledge is of many kinds. Kant speaks of the a priori synthetic, which includes knowledge of things such as ethics and metaphysics (arguably mathematics as well). The a priori is a complicated world for Kant, not just an afterthought. A priorism informs the empirical world in numerous ways.

Kant affirms that the structure of empirical insight, experience if you will, is shaped by the non-empirical. In the Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant argues that time has a very important place in constraining experience. We can imagine not having a given memory x, but we cannot imagine the memory without time. This kind of argument which appeals to the centrality of the element of time (Kant argues a parallel notion for space), is prima facie convincing. The essence of it is that thought requires certain components in order for it to be thought. I feel that this kind of argumentative strategy is the one thing that makes me admire Kant’s work.

But of course, Kant’s Aesthetic goes wrong. There are issues with conceivability which Kant overlooks. Kant argues for the centrality of the ‘I’ in every thought a human being can have. To an extent this centrality is overstated, and empirical cases can answer to Kant’s account of time as well. There are many interesting pathological cases where an ‘I’ is not always presumed in thoughts. Depersonalisation, multiple or disordered personalities are ruled out tout court as metaphysically impossible by a notion such as the unity of apperception. The specific structure of Kant’s reality fails to cut along the ‘joints’. Don’t even get me started on why his account of time doesn’t work.

The First Critique is part of a greater structure

The most important aspect of Kant’s Critical period is the archictectonic. Kant ties his colours to the mast and makes his philosophical project more about the structure of the mind, than say, an exploration of the Divine nature and the imperative for our love of God, or a form of philosophical therapy through introspection. The Critiques also read like the work of a dull university professor who is only writing for a limited audience of his peers, if even that!

For Kant, the Critique is an examination, for that was the connotation of the term in his day. Critique can also be seen in our contemporary context as well, for the First Critique is a warning to the effect of: reason can only go so far. Kant emphasises this in the Transcendental Dialectic, and to some extent, also acknowledges this in his moral writings after the Second Critique. Scholars such as Frierson and Korsgaard acknowledge that Kant emphasises (in his work on Anthropology) the importance of empirical knowledge to refine our moral sensibilities. My personal obsession is what Kant says after the Dialectical critique of Rationalism: yes, reason can go so far, but ‘pure reason’ still has a role, I read this to be Kant’s systematicity thesis.

I’ve made a note that Kant emphasises these dichotomy-like paired distinctions: empirical knowledge/non empirical insight, phenomenon/noumenon, and they take place within a structure. Kant introduces space and time as the fundamental lens to all reality (the ‘pure forms of intuition’), further to that, Kant introduces the categories. As well as this, Kant has created a structure of mental experience. The mind has faculties: experience goes to sensibility/sensation, and sensation in turn is mediated by the faculty of understanding. Understanding is a very important category, in the First Critique, it is the basis for empirical experience but yet essentially a prioristic. Perhaps it is comparable to say, how machine code is so fundamental to a computer, yet is so abstract and unrelated to its lower codes that really do the work of ordinary computers such as Java or C++ (perhaps that’s just a bad example) that the latter requires the former to enable it.

For Kant, experience requires a structure, cognition requires a structure. Kant later makes the point in the Third Critique that structure is a fundamental human component to knowledge: that’s why design is so importantly perceived in nature. Structure may be crucial to phenomenon. Structure may even be more crucial to Kant’s specific ordering of the categories. Structure is a feature that goes back to Aristotle’s Organon, structure is a feature that lives after to Frege and beyond. This is the aspect of Kant that I think can be saved. Even if our patterning of the world can be strong (see my post on Shermer and patternicity), it still is so important that we perhaps cannot do without it. I can of course comment on the fact that Kant’s archictectonic is depicted in a vastly different way between 1781 to 1790 in the Third Critique, but I might leave that for a later discussion.

Kant: scientist or speculator?

One way in which I cannot take Kant seriously is that it is far too speculative, Kant is doing what we might call cognitive science in today’s context. The idea that Kant could be taken seriously as an intellectual who is doing a primitive form of cognitive linguistics, the psychology of perception as well as linking it with not-so-sciencey topics such as causation and necessity, just seems patently irrelevant to the contemporary audience. We have, as people in the 21st Century, taken the knowledge of the cognitive sciences to be the best model about how perception occurs. I would say further that the ‘success’ of such theoretical accounts is based on the wider technological implications that such models have brought about in technologies, further research questions and pharmacological innovations.

I suppose in Kant’s time, psychology was a vastly different subject. One of Kant’s main bugbears was the role of speculative science. Kant opposed the Sturm und Drang movement and charlatans such as Emmanuel Swedenborg. Kant wrote about the role of introspection as an opponent to any potential ‘psychology’ being a science proper, and to a great degree he was correct about this. It is still a legitimate question, however, to ask if Kant’s account of cognition can speak to a scientific audience. If we are to take Kant seriously, this requries that we do not look at the Historical views of the man, but the most charitable formulation of what his views point to (such as the importance of heirarchical structure, or the presuppositions of perception).

Reading Kant’s account of cognition also, in a small way, highlights the fundamental limitations of brain-based notions of perception. If we are looking at the brain, are we taking a first-personal or third-personal view? Are we presuming that the conditions of ceteris paribus and mutatis mutandis rules apply to different brains? Even if we know how the brain works (and that it is fundamentally flawed), does his help us in any way to escape said flaws? I suspect not. As creatures of evolution we may be slaves to our genetic heritage, this is the same thing however that enables us to be great people at the same time. Whether Kant’s emphasis on the mind is overstated from the third personal perspective is still a pertinent issue to contemporary cognitive approaches. Which is the cart and which is the horse? I’m also reminded of Paul Churchland’s thought at the end of his great work, on the implications on the fact that we may not be the only cognitive agents. The rules may be completely different, or relevantly similar.

Russell’s old dictum

I’m led to the old saying of Russell: that philosophical theories begin with something utterly trivially true and end up with something completely absurd and false. The notion that experience has a structure, or that we are confined to our prejudices seems right, but the direction that Kant goes to elucidate this account gives its own unique problems. However, when said so vague it can mean a great many things. Kant isn’t talking about cognitive bias, for instance, or the role of evolution on the development of our minds. Kant is emphasising the a priorism that takes place in the human mind. A priorism for anything other than mathematics doesn’t get very good press these days.

Michael and Destre

Reading the Encyclopaedia of Pseudoscience: Intellectual Trolling, the authority of science, and mysteries

One of my everyday tasks is to read about the world, I read about many things, some things within my general interests (philosophy, technology, sociology, lolcats), but other things I read to have a greater understanding of the world, I read about disability related political and social issues, I read about the ongoing fight for gender and sexual equality, I even read about fashion (if you ask why, I normally give a Solid Snake/Snake Plissken style answer like: you never know when you’ll need a box of matches/smokes). Often these interests converge, or, in some way form a wider worldview from my part. I’ve started reading over the past month a very large text called the Encyclopaedia of Pseudoscience, edited by Michael Shermer, but with contributions from a great many other authors. I am about 1/9th the way through, which is a very proud sign, as it’s a very big book and with many details and suggestions for further reading. I shall address a few themes present from reading the letters A-C.

Overquoted examples, and trigger points

The subject of Goethe’s theory of colours is an example of an overquoted example, as well as a triggerpoint for fringe groups, and is often led with a springboard discussion on the ‘reductionism’ of science today and critique of contemporary scientific method. Goethe (as in the author of great works such as Der Erlkonig, Sorrows of Young Werther, and the better [than Marlowe] tale of Faust) was known for a theory of colours which among some groups (some serious, many not) have taken more attention to over the past few decades. However, it is because of the influence of certain individuals in the new age community that have taken Goethe (inter alia) as a call to authority about justifying discourse x.

There are many other similar examples, where some fringe group uses some experiment, or claim or quote to justify their point of view. The worry I have is between whether one can take some genuine philosophical insight on this issue, or if its a toy example to springboard to some view completely other than the historical context of the genuinely interesting insight. Examples of this love to involve Einstein, probably because he is such a beloved public intellectual and even though many (including myself) fail to understand his work in physics, there is a certain air of authority to anything he says, as if anything he does say outside of non-Euclidean spacetime would seem to have the same genius. There are interesting insights to be had, I would maintain, on say, Einstein’s disagreement with Quantum Mechanics, or his so-called belief in the Spinozan God of nature. It is interesting how many pseudoscience groups call on these examples in what I would call a troll-like manner to call on a sense of authority about discourse x. The sad thing is that many of these troll calls to authority often have genuine insight and perspective which is wasted to justify some specific discourse x. One finds it especially curious how in the aforementioned example, Einstein had troubles with QM on the basis of his views on the nature of natural science.

The distrust of scientific authority

Many movements, such as alternative archaeology, ancient astronaut studies, biorhythms and anthrosophy have an imbued critique of scientific authority. It is certainly true that many news stories relating to technology & medicine show the misapplications of scientific conduct or knowledge, and can give legitimate worries about the applications and loss of confidence in our trust in medicine and technology. This potential for a mistrust in science is also an unfortunate window of oppurtunity for some groups. Many fringe movements have their own body of beliefs about the proper nature of science, which often includes some way negotiating a distrust of conventional science (the sort conducted by PhDs in corporate R&D departments and universities the world over).

One common feature of these fringe groups as well as exploiting (often to the financial gain of its propagators) a distrust in science, is that many of these movements appeal to something that people in some element wish to believe or do in fact, believe. People may have a distrust of science, but they may also have some metaphysical beliefs about a natural order of the universe, or the metaphysical notion that ‘like attracts like’. There is a respect in which these movements confirm what people believe, and this is not what science should be. Natural science should be open to the tribunal of experience, and not the plaything of our prejudices. I have a similar view about the proper appreciation of music: our tastes should not always reflect what we want to hear and support what we already feel, but should challenge us and say that our beliefs may be wrong. One of the great features of scientific discovery is the ability to disconfirm what we believe, show that a given model is wrong, and often leave us in a position where our theorising is forced back to the drawing board where we can re-interpret the data in another way, but more importantly, this process with our new model will invariably repeat again and again. It’s not enough to say we are wrong, adapt another model, and then say that model is definately correct.

The misnomer of mystery

Another feature present in these pseudoscientific movements is the role of mystery in the world. There are genuine mysteries in the world, I shall assert, many of which we are forever separated from by the aspect of the passing nature of time (I for instance, shall never see my paternal grandparents alive, and that experience remains a mystery). There is a misconception about mysteries for many pseudoscientific people. Mysteries are things which are confused to them; for one, natural science seems to provide an image of the world which has no mystery, it is thus clinical and seemingly less interesting. This is plainly false. I am tired of those who have the view that having a better understanding of the natural world eliminates its mystique, but it is a view not without its precedents. What is interesting however, is that in the presence of mysteries, is also the oppurtunity for speculation. Speculation is no bad thing, not all the time anyway.

Many pseudoscience fringe movements appeal to mystery (usually by a ‘failure of science’ or absence of explanation), and then to their patented money grubbing scheme as an explanation. If these groups assert an explanation to a given mystery, then ironically there is no mystery (if they are correct). The idea (if true) of aliens abuducting humans for experimentation; or advanced extraterrestrials creating the pyramids, if true, would simply be a ‘mystery’ explained, unless there was no mystery in the first place. These movements rely on the appearance of a mystery and also a claim to the exclusivity of their knowledge creating an ‘us and them’ mentality.

I would not rule out the mindset that seeks out mystery tout court. For there are many cases for interesting speculation, arguably within the confines of genuine science. In short, its not wrong to explore mysteries, perhaps that is why crime fiction is so enthralling, or Hugh Laurie playing Dr. Gregory House.

Demarcation isn’t fixed

If we listened to Einstein all the time we probably wouldn’t have developed the underlying research behind the GPS, or persued Quantum Computing. If we listened to Goethe the whole time I’d shudder to think what the world would be like, but there wouldn’t be enough deontological influences in research ethics, I’m pretty sure. To frame this issue in Popper’s terms, we can speak of a demarcation between genuine science and non science. Historically speaking, there are many cases where institutional factors have prevented areas of research to initially become accepted, perhaps this is the point where I mention other trigger point figures (Gallileo for instance).

As our knowledge of nature changes, so too must our demarcation criteria. There are many instances where genuine mysteries should be taken seriously. The article on Cryptozoology is interesting in that regard, how can we know about extinct or otherwise absent species? There are aspects of cryptozoology where the tribunal of experience comes down hard on the evidence: either new species are discovered by traces or they are not. The issue with cryptozoology however, is what counts as permissable evidence, for a great many, the rigour of permissable evidence is very poor.

There are however, interesting and genuine matters of speculation. Astrobiology is considered by a few friends of mine as a pseudoscience of sorts, being not scientific enough. It is perfectly legitimate to speculate on genuine mysteries, or to ask open questions such as: are we alone? Even if the answer to our evidence is “yes”. I’m sure people would still want to speculate on whether we still are alone, some questions are so personal that even the truth isn’t good enough. Turning speculations into more rigorous questions, however, is the task of any potential speculative scientist. From the question of: are we alone? we might turn to other empirical questions: can life forms survive in conditions different to the surface of the Earth? The answer to this in many instances is “yes”, microbes exist in low/zero oxygen atmospheres in the deep sea, and it is said that microbes exist in extreme heat. One subject which is close to my heart: memetics, is argued for and against later on in the encyclopaedia.