About
Content
Store
Forum

Rebirth of Reason
War
People
Archives
Objectivism

Commentary

Kant Really Wasn’t (Including a realistic reading list on the Catastrophic Spider)
by Peter Cresswell



Okay, I will make one last comment on Kant's view of reality, since it is only on this point that Dr Seddon (FS) has been insistent.
 
"Kant is a realist" says FS. Well, let's see.
 
Let's just look at his Categories and his idea of space and time (part of his 'Aesthetic'), which he says are not in reality at all, but only in the mind. The things in the list below do not appear in 'reality,' Kant tells us, they only appear in the structure of our minds. It is them that gives form to what appears to us; it is this structure that determines how our 'intuitions' appear as they do.
 
Reality could ‘appear’ to us differently if we had different categories (says Kant), but we have what we have and reality is what we make it (he says). This is his idea of identity. Further, it is only because our minds give form to our appearances in this way that that we have any certainty of anything, he says; and we're not actually certain of 'reality' (which 'realm' we can only faithfully use in scare quotes) -  we can be certain only of our appearances, not of what's really 'out there.’ This he explains, is "Transcendental Logic" and the objective validation of these "subjective conditions of thought" he explains helpfully is "transcendental, not empirical" which personally I find awfully reassuring. (Remember, all this is ‘subtle.’)
 
Anyway, here's just the high points of his list (and remember, if "Kant is a realist" then none of these things is part of his 'reality' - they're all just put there by his mind and, he claims, by ours):
 
Space)
Time) - both these appear, not in reality, but are just "a priori intuitions" - sort of innate ideas - that give 'form' to our sense experiences ('outer' and 'inner ' experiences respectively)
 
Objects or Entities
Reality (there it goes!)
Finitude/infinitude
Inherence and subsistence
Cause and effect (yep, that's out too! We just make up all that cause and effect stuff in our heads - silly us.)
Relationships between things (note that relationships such as ‘above’, ‘under’ and so on are figments (sorry, 'Categories'), as of course is the 'space' they occupy (note the Kantianly-correct scare quotes) and of course the ‘objects’ themselves. Neat, huh.)
Existence/Non existence
Necessity/contingency
 
Just to repeat, none of these "concepts" are part of reality as such, they exist only as part of our 'faculty of judgment' (he says) - so they're all out. And if these things are just part of the structure of the mind, then if our minds were structured differently then 'reality' would be different, wouldn’t it? Well, just ask Noam Chomsky - or a multiculturalist – or a militant feminist - or a proletarian (or a bourgeouis) - or an Aryan ... because if each 'group' has its own structure and its own 'reality' then anything goes really, doesn't it. No one from one group can reason with one from another because each of their 'realities' is incommensurable. If you've ever wondered where this crap comes from, then Kant's your man. And if you want to understand where it went to, then Stephen Hicks is your man.
 
As Rand reminds us, there are only two ways of dealing with others: by reason, or by force. Given the prevalence of this Kantian poison it's no wonder faith and force are the predominant attitudes of our age.
 
So what's left in Kant's 'reality' then? Well, Noumenon only knows. Literally. There's no entities, because they’re in our heads. The Law of Causality is just something applicable to the stuff in our head, but it can say nothing about 'reality.' The Law of Non-Contradiction is just another thing that happens to work on the stuff in our heads, with no connection with the stuff of 'reality' (whatever that might be?). So what is Kant’s ‘reality’? Perhaps it's just a "useful fiction" that can be dispensed with, as several later schools of post-Kantian philosophy did.
 
In fact, Kant's view in summary is that we can have no more (or less) belief in reality than we can have belief in the existence of God. According to him, both notions have equal validity. That's Kant's idea of realism. If he's a realist, then Kevin Costner is an actor. And if he's a fan of identity, then it's only because he explicitly pits the identity of the senses against reality. What could be more fantastic?

 
More Reading on Kant
 
So you want to read more about the 'All-Pulveriser' as some readers have indicated they do, then here’s my signposts for you. But beware – Kant is tricky territory. As Mencken observed, “Kant was probably the worst writer ever heard of on earth before Karl Marx. Some of his ideas were really quite simple, but he always managed to make them seem unintelligible. I hope he is in Hell." Mencken was being generous.
 
Here's my suggested reading list:
 
1. Philosophy: Who Needs It - Ayn Rand
 
Before reading the 'catastrophic spider ' as Nietzsche called Kant, you really do need to ensure plenty of philosophical self-defense. The whole book is worth reading (or re-reading) as preparation for the 'All-Pulveriser,' but the first ten chapters will give you a mine-detector to help you through Kant's numerous booby traps.
 
2. Immanuel Kant's Gimmick - Adam Mossoff
 
Mossoff gives a brief ninety-minute presentation of Kant’s system, explaining both what Rand called his ‘gimmick,’ and why Objectivists generally find his ideas so repellent. You do need to check out Kant’s ideas for yourself after this, as you’ll probably find it hard to believe an intelligent man could really say what Mossoff said he said. So read on, MacDuff, and decide for yourself …
 
3. A History of Western Philosophy : Kant and the Nineteenth Century, Volume IV – W.T. Jones
 
Jones history is a good place to start to see Kant’s system outlined in plain English and placed in the context of the thinkers that followed him. See his system and also what his contemporaries understood of it and quickly made of it for themselves. It’s also a good place to start to judge for yourself whether Rand’s and Mossoff’s summaries of Kant’s thought is a fair critique of his system, or whether or not they’re pulling the wool over your eyes. (I say they don’t, but then I don’t have tenure.)
 
If you do really want to understand the context of Kant’s thought (and I’d strongly suggest the necessity if you’ve got this far) then this volume can be usefully read in conjunction with Jones’s Volume III which discusses Descartes, Leibniz, Locke and Hume. Understanding these guys – especially Leibniz and Hume – is crucial to understanding Kant’s approach. If you want the context, then start with Volume III
 
4. Kant – Roger Scruton, and Kant and the Critique of Pure ReasonSebastian Gardner
 
If you get this far you’ll already have a pretty good handle on the man and his thought and his context, and you’ll hopefully be well aware of and already defused his booby traps. You’ll be able to judge the man for yourself, but even at this stage however I’d be reluctant to suggest diving into Kant himself (unless it’s just the Prolegomena which was intended to be a clear summary of his metaphysics in order to answer the doubters.) Kant’s turgid, crow-blowing writing style when read full-on would truly make a stone weep.
 
So I’d recommend reading a commentator even at this stage, and Scruton’s short book is an excellent place to start, and a good place to begin comparing different perspectives on Kant from different commentators. Gardner’s is infinitely more comprehensive but no less readable for that, and as it is the Critique of Pure Reason itself that is at the heart of Kant’s thought an understanding of this work (if that is indeed fully possible) is crucial. There are numerous commentators to choose from (it’s easy to make a sort of living it seems from re-interpreting the almost un-interpretable) so if you find another one that suits you then fine, but I find Gardner’s critique of the Critique a model of clarity given what he has to work with.
 
You might also try the Cambridge Companion to Kant – I haven’t dipped in myself, but their other companions in the same series are excellent.
 
5. Critique of Pure ReasonImmanuel Kant
 
Sigh … at some stage if you want to know your Kant you are going to have to wrestle with the ‘catastrophic spider’ one-on-one. Unless you read German, however, even here you have a ‘filter’ between you and him – which is hardly inappropriate when you think about it. At least you have the choice of translator to help you: many Germans themselves prefer to read Kant in English because they say his prose is made clearer in the process of translation (although it’s often awfully hard to believe he could be worse in the original!)
 
I have by no means read all or even most of the translations on offer, so again feel free to choose another, but I have found the Meiklejohn relatively clear, although I understand Kemp-Smith’s translation to be considered the standard. Cheap translations of both are available (as well as web-based copies) as both translations are long out of copyright.
 
You might find too that a glossary of Kant’s terms is useful in clarifying as you read. Both web-based and paper-based versions are available, and can prove enormously helpful when your crow is about to give up.
 
So, I can hardly say enjoy … and perhaps, like President Bush, I can only warn you that you’ll be placed in harm’s way. However, as with service in the US Army, the task is entirely voluntary.
 
Just watch out for those booby traps, and do try and come back in one piece.
 
Sanctions: 8Sanctions: 8 Sanction this ArticleEditMark as your favorite article

Discuss this Article (10 messages)



User ID Password reminder or create account.