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)


4 thoughts on “Reading Kant: Transcendental Logic

  1. Not sure these distinctions are quite right, or perhaps I misunderstand you.
    Kant does distinguish transcendental logic and general logic. But I think the analytic/dialectic distinction is a generally applicable distinction for Kant that gets used in many ways. “Analytic” tends to mean “a priori true” or at least true with certainty, “dialectic” tends to mean “illusory” or “sophistical”. Kant distinguishes between analytic and dialectic uses of both general and transcendental logic. While he has something particular in mind for all of these, I don’t think it’s useful to consider them as different branches of logic; I suspect the naming convention here just reflects whether Kant is describing the positive, correct uses or the misleading, illusory uses of each. Hence, in the transcendental analytic, Kant describes how it is that our understanding can ever give us knowledge, and in the transcendental dialectic, he describes the ways that we can be led into error.

    Regarding objectivity: Where’s claim #3 come from?
    I strongly suspect Kant is shooting for a sense of objectivity that is close to the older meaning. At certain points he says something like “a judgment is true when it agrees with the object, i.e. it’s objective”. For Kant, objectivity is when our concepts (and the relationships we judge them to be in) somehow correctly correspond to the objects they designate (given in appearances). Note that an “object” for Kant is an object of representation in intuition (an appearance). The only time he departs from describing objects as things represented by intuition is to talk about transcendental objects (think noumena), which he says aren’t really objects, but we could them of them so if we imagine them given in a kind of extrasensory intuition that is unlike our own, but we can’t know anything about that. The way this leads to objectivity in the way we might think of it now is how appearances are (ambiguously) linked to things in themselves. In a “dual aspect” view of phenomena/noumena, the objects of experience just are the real things, insofar as we can represent them, so our knowledge of appearances is knowledge of real things, just not the aspects of those things that are independent of our capacity for mental representation.

    • I had a brain fart when writing the earlier post. Not all objects are objects of representation in intuition, but objects are objects of representation in general. The objects of categories are actions of synthesis performed in the understanding, for instance, categories represent the syntheses the understand is capable of. Still, I think the understanding of objectivity as concepts agreeing with their objects (whether they be in appearances or in the understanding). Is the right one.

    • Thank you for the comment, and the point of information about the use of the term ‘object’ in Kant’s work. My third sense of objectivity is more relating to the fact that Kant is trying to do a lot with how he wants to invest a lot into the categories. The categories are a basis for the validity of empirical intuitions, and part of the general insight that objectivity comes through the subject as opposed to the notion that it is not from the subject but externally valid. Kant wants to do a lot with his terminology, and the possible problematic arises that either he’s doing too much, or there is an amphiboly.

      With Regards, and thank you for correcting the issue about the term ‘object’. I find this helpful.

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