Kant’s First Critique: The Transcendental Analytic

Kant’s chapter on the Transcendental Analytic is concerned with the positive role of reason. The cognitive psychology of Kant’s epistemology is of a large mental architecture which seems quite complicated for textual reasons as well as its own consistency. The idea of the big scheme is so prevalent in the Kantian philosophy, that even the exposition of this idea takes place within (wait for it)…a big scheme.

The essence of the Transcendental Logic was to point out that underlying most everyday experience is an underlying scheme, the Transcendental Analytic is, in Kant’s terminology, the explication of this scheme. Analytic, as a term means something akin to ‘taking apart’, which is what Kant attempts to do for the non-empirical component underlying of everyday experience. Another idiom of Kantian termology is that ‘deduction’ means something more akin to ‘demonstration’ or ‘proof’ of the items of Kant’s analysis. I note this because it is part of Kant’s critical philosophy to consist of an analytic to precede a deduction.

Kant establishes a few terms as part of his architecture. The Understanding contrasts to Intuition. Thought contrasts to Sensibility. The Understanding exists as an independent role from Sensibility.  An everyday perception would be the unity of the Understanding with the empirical component.

The Understanding

One feature of the Understanding is that it exists as an entirely independent entity from Sensibility, even though it co-opts with sensibility in the construction of everyday experience. A fundamental idea of the Understanding is that it is organised in a system. Because of Kant’s strict notion of the understanding of apriorism, he maintains that the understanding must form a system and the workings and relations of this system is discoverable a priori.

Logical features

To discover the workings of the fundamental aspects of this cognitive architecture, Kant essentially boils everyday perceptions idealised as propositions, to find the categorial features of what underlies them. In this way, it seems, Kant discovers the fundamental logical structure of the understanding. I’ve used the word ‘logical’ here, and I relate to my view (and Destre’s) understanding of what logical means.

It is in my view, as well as Destre, that the notion of ‘logical’ refers to what really means ‘categorial’, by categorial, I understand the fundamental aspects of reality which are so fundamental that they consist of constraints upon our understanding. It is for instance, the case that we understand terms as true or false, or even in between; we understand alethic modal terms, or other kinds of modes such as temporal terms or intentional terms. The one thing that unifies all formal logics is that they attempt to bank on a collection of fundamental categories. Alethic logic uses terms such as necessity; deontic logic pertains to intention while we might say that classical logic commits to the bivalence of the world being organised into true and false propositions. I consider this sense of ‘logical’ to be important because it is in my view that preseves a body of knowledge in a tradition spanning Aristotle to Frege, if we look at logic as a notion of the fundamental categoricity of reality, we subsume it as a form of metaphysics, and modern logic would continue as the ‘analytic’ of those terms.

The rule of three

One thing that really confuses me is that Kant organises the categories as a table, and each category has three branches. The table of elements is resoundingly similar to Aristotle’s categories and Kant acknowledges this. Kant considers Aristotle’s categories to be flawed however, where Aristotle elicits 10 categories, Kant expresses 12. Kant links the categories through distilling empirical linguistic claims and in doing so forms a table of judgments, these then have a more fundamental rooting on an isomorphic table of categories. The categories and judgements consist of genii: quality, quantity, relation and modality, within these are three specii.

What I find interesting about this table structure is that it exemplifies itself in some ways. The categories exemplify unity and plurality, Kant noted earlier in the Analytic, that unity is a fundamental idea to the understanding, but is it the most fundamental? Is it possible for instance, that one category precedes the structure in importance, or constrains it?

If we are to agree with this structure of the categories, it would essentially detail the structure in which we study metaphysics. Kant says that his intention of philosophy was to classify these notions but not to go much further with them. If we understand the archictecture of reality, there is still much more work within it to bring out its details. Another way to describe this is that we could say that Kant is creating a demarcation of subjects, in the same way that say, we understand the demarcation between pure and applied mathematics; astrophysics and microbiology, and even though we see their differences and appreciate why they are so fundamentally different, there is still much work to be done in the individual areas of pure mathematics, or microbiology. It is hardly the case that once we know the structure of reality or metaphysics through the table of categories, there is nothing more to be said about say, necessity or parthood, but what could be said by virtue of the table, is that those metaphysical features form part of a greater system.

With regard to the specific categories and judgments elicited in the table, I cannot get my head around the motivations for some of them. I would grant the importance of modality or perhaps quantity, but ‘relations’ could be realised in several other ways, and each particular branch should have, if we are to be convinced of this system, a description of why we should be motivated for the specific categorisation, instead of another one which may explain multiple categories all at once, the category of ‘community’ or ‘reciprocity between agent and patient’ seems the most arbitrary, and Kant does little to convince us of why this should be a category. Even if we accept Kant’s category scheme, there is a rational burden to convince us why each category should be considered on individual merits, instead of by its weight in place of the system.

Michael (following conversations with Destre)

[disclaimer: This was incredibly hard for me to read and more still to understand. My post serves as a set of notes for my own indulgence and hardly any definitive kind of reading, I am all very likely to change the way I’m reading Kant as I gain more insight or read it again and I do not assert this reading with any confidence at all, this chapter was a beast to read.]

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)

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