Practical Rules: When We Need Them and When We Dont (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy)

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On the negative side, Kant argues that we cannot have knowledge of things in themselves. Further, since traditional metaphysics deals with things in themselves, answers to the questions of traditional metaphysics for example, regarding God or free will can never be answered by human minds. Critique of Pure Reason , the book that would alter the course of western philosophy, was written by a man already far into his career. The first parts of this long essay present criticisms and revisions of the Wolffian understanding of the basic principles of metaphysics, especially the Principles of Identity whatever is, is, and whatever is not, is not , of Contradiction nothing can both be and not be , and of Sufficient Reason nothing is true without a reason why it is true.

In the final part, Kant defends two original principles of metaphysics. Thirty years later, in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science , Kant would develop the theory that matter must be understood in terms of interacting attractive and repulsive forces. The primary difference between the later view and the earlier is that Kant no longer appeals to monads, or simple substances at all transcendental idealism rules out the possibility of simplest substances as constituents of matter; see 2gii below.

Although Kant had not yet had the final crucial insights that would lead to the development of transcendental idealism, many of the important elements of his mature metaphysics are prefigured here. Two aspects of the Inaugural Dissertation are especially worth noting. Although the early Kant showed a complete willingness to dissent from many important aspects of the Wolffian orthodoxy of the time, Kant continued to take for granted the basic rationalist assumption that metaphysical cognition was possible.

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For instance, there is the question why mathematical truths necessarily hold true in the natural world, or the question whether we can know that a being God exists necessarily. Analogously, Kant realized that we must reject the belief that the way things appear corresponds to the way things are in themselves. Furthermore, he argued that the objects of knowledge can only ever be things as they appear, not as they are in themselves.

Appealing to this new approach to metaphysics and epistemology, Kant argued that we must investigate the most basic structures of experience that is, the structures of the way things appear to us , because the basic structures of experience will coincide with the basic structures of any objects that could possibly be experienced.

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There are two types of intuitions. Pure intuitions are a priori representations of space and time themselves see 2d1 below. Empirical intuitions are a posteriori representations that refer to specific empirical objects in the world. Without sensations, the mind could never have thoughts about real things, only possible ones. Concepts refer to their objects only indirectly because they depend on intuitions for reference to particular objects.

As with intuitions, there are two basic types of concepts. Pure concepts are a priori representations and they characterize the most basic logical structure of the mind. I can only have full cognition of an object in the world once I have, first, had an empirical intuition of the object, second, conceptualized this object in some way, and third, formed my conceptualization of the intuited object into a judgment.

This means that both sensibility and understanding must work in cooperation for knowledge to be possible. There are two other important cognitive faculties that must be mentioned. Kant says that we can at least know that it is responsible for forming intuitions in such a way that it is possible for the understanding to apply concepts to them. Reason is not satisfied with mere disconnected bits of knowledge. Reason wants all knowledge to form a system of knowledge.

Transcendental idealism is a theory about the relation between the mind and its objects. Three fundamental theses make up this theory: first, there is a distinction between appearances things as they appear and things as they are in themselves. Second, space and time are a priori , subjective conditions on the possibility of experience, and hence they pertain only to appearances, not to things in themselves.

Third, we can have determinate cognition of only of things that can be experienced, hence only of appearances, not things in themselves. Hence, transcendental idealism is the theory that it is a condition on the possibility of experience that the objects of experience be in some sense mind-dependent.


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Kant argues that space and time are a priori , subjective conditions on the possibility of experience, that is, that they are transcendentally ideal. Kant grounds the distinction between appearances and things in themselves on the realization that, as subjective conditions on experience, space and time could only characterize things as they appear, not as they are in themselves. Further, the claim that we can only know appearances not things in themselves is a consequence of the claims that we can only know objects that conform to the conditions of experience, and that only spatiotemporal appearances conform to these conditions.

One argument has to do with the relation between sensations and space. Hence, the ability to sense objects in space presupposes the a priori representation of space, which entails that space is merely ideal, hence not a property of things in themselves.

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If geometry, which is the study of the structure of space, is synthetic a priori , then its object — space — must be a mere a priori representation and not something that pertains to things in themselves. Many commentators have found these arguments less than satisfying because they depend on the questionable assumption that if the representations of space and time are a priori they thereby cannot be properties of things in themselves.

There Kant argues that if space and time were things in themselves or even properties of things in themselves, then one could prove that space and time both are and are not infinitely large, and that matter in space both is and is not infinitely divisible. In other words, the assumption that space and time are transcendentally real instead of transcendentally ideal leads to a contradiction, and thus space and time must be transcendentally ideal. It is a question of central importance because how one understands this distinction determines how one will understand the entire nature of Kantian idealism.

The following briefly summarizes the main interpretive options, but it does not take a stand on which is correct. Appearances and hence the entire physical world that we experience comprise one set of entities, and things in themselves are an ontologically distinct set of entities.

Although things in themselves may somehow cause us to have experience of appearances, the appearances we experience are not things in themselves. There have been attempts at interpretations that are intermediate between these two options. After establishing the ideality of space and time and the distinction between appearances and things in themselves, Kant goes on to show how it is possible to have a priori cognition of the necessary features of appearances. Cognizing appearances requires more than mere knowledge of their sensible form space and time ; it also requires that we be able to apply certain concepts for example, the concept of causation to appearances.

The argument of the Transcendental Deduction is one of the most important moments in the Critique , but it is also one of the most difficult, complex, and controversial arguments in the book.


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  6. Hence, it will not be possible to reconstruct the argument in any detail here. Kant takes it to be uncontroversial that we can be aware of our representations as our representations. Further, we are also able to recognize that it is the same I that does the thinking in both cases.

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    In general, all of our experience is unified because it can be ascribed to the one and same I, and so this unity of experience depends on the unity of the self-conscious I. Kant next asks what conditions must obtain in order for this unity of self-consciousness to be possible.


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    5. His answer is that we must be able to differentiate between the I that does the thinking and the object that we think about. That is, we must be able to distinguish between subjective and objective elements in our experience. So next Kant needs to explain how we are able to differentiate between the subjective and objective elements of experience. His answer is that a representation is objective when the subject is necessitated in representing the object in a certain way, that is, when it is not up to the free associative powers of my imagination to determine how I represent it.

      For instance, whether I think a painting is attractive or whether it calls to mind an instance from childhood depends on the associative activity of my own imagination; but the size of the canvas and the chemical composition of the pigments is not up to me: insofar as I represent these as objective features of the painting, I am necessitated in representing them in a certain way. Kant assumed that we have a unified experience of the many objects populating the world.

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      This unified experience depends on the unity of apperception. The unity of apperception enables the subject to distinguish between subjective and objective elements in experience. This ability, in turn, depends on representing objects in accordance with rules, and the rules in question are the categories.

      Hence, the only way we can explain the fact that we have experience at all is by appeal to the fact that the categories apply to the objects of experience. It is worth emphasizing how truly radical the conclusion of the Transcendental Deduction is. Kant takes himself to have shown that all of nature is subject to the rules laid down by the categories.

      1. Introduction

      But these categories are a priori : they originate in the mind. Thus the conclusion of the Transcendental Deduction parallels the conclusion of the Transcendental Aesthetic: where the latter had shown that the forms of sensibility space and time originate in the mind and are imposed on the world, the former shows that the forms of understanding the categories also originate in the mind and are imposed on the world. The Transcendental Deduction showed that it is necessary for us to make use of the categories in experience, but also that we are justified in making use of them.

      In the following series of chapters together labeled the Analytic of Principles Kant attempts to leverage the results of the Deduction and prove that there are transcendentally necessary laws that every possible object of experience must obey. The first two principles correspond to the categories of quantity and quality.