Rebirth of Reason


Uncle Kant: Enlightenment Hero and Proto-Objectivist
by Fred Seddon

Dear Mr. Cresswell,

Let me comment on what you wrote in the order you wrote it.

a) “What in fact we experience is only stuff presented to us in the only way our sensory apparatus is able to present it.”

If you mean that we process the data from reality, you are right. “All knowledge is processed knowledge.” [Damn, I didn’t mean to quote Rand]

b) “We could have different apparatus, in which case what is presented and how it is presented to us could be different.”

No. The *what* would be the same, i.e., reality, but the means would obviously be different. A cat perceives reality by cat means; humans by human means.

1) “Anything our apparatus of experience is unable to deliver to us, we will be unable to experience.”

Correct. We cannot experience what we cannot experience. Kant certainly means this. This is an instantiation of the law of identity. Is this the place where you finally confess you don’t like the law of identity. Ouch. Maybe Objectivism is not for you. Try Bonaventure’s brand of Christianity. Kant, enlightenment hero that he is, and I both like the law of identity.

2) “Although there most likely is something else ‘out there,’ we have no way of knowing what it is, or what it would be like – the nature of our apparatus (or any apparatus) just ain’t up to the job of telling us anything about it – the independent being or beings or stuff or whatever it is ‘out there’ must fall outside any categories of thought or apprehension available to us.”

Confused, to say the least and I just said the least I could say. Our apparatus is our means of knowing what is “out there.” You’re still buying into the “means is really an obstacle” paradigm. (Cf. Hicks’ book on Postmodernism, p. 37) Kant is quite clear here. He writes on space for example that it is “only through the presentation of space …that outer experience [is] possible in the first place.” Space is a necessary condition of outer experience and knowledge, it is not an obstacle to experience and knowledge.

3) “The human mind has, as a consequence, a built-in ‘tendency towards illusion’ that tells us for example that there are ‘epistemological objects’ such as works of art, great food, people we love, 600 children in a school gym in Breslan ... however, when boiled down we find that these are all just an ‘illusion of realism’ from which confusion only the wonderful gift of Grand Old Daddy Kant’s critical philosophy can deliver us.”

The concept that is causing you to lose your way is “illusion.” Let me elucidate - after all, that’s why I get the big bread. Tee hee.

The concept of “illusion” is one that was thematic for Kant from at least 1766 until 1781 when the first edition of CPR was published. The position you outlined above is that “works of art, great food, etc.,” (appearance is Kant’s word) are illusions. Appearance = illusion. Now, strange to say this is Descartes’ position in the Meditations and Kant is still a rationalist in this respect in 1770. (See his Inaugural Dissertation) So, you’ve got Kant right but the wrong book.

By the time he publishes the CPR, appearance is no longer equivalent to illusion. He now accepts the empiricist’s mantra that “All knowledge begins with experience” [Damn, I didn’t mean to paraphrase Rand.] That explains why he can write a sentence at A293/B350 like “The senses do not err.” [Damn, I didn’t mean to paraphrase Rand.] If they did, then we would have illusion, but they don’t err so we don’t have illusion. Illusions occur when we infer more from the data provided by our senses than we should. [Damn, I didn’t mean to paraphrase Rand.]

At the beginning of the Transcendental Dialectic, Kant introduces another meaning to illusion and calls it “Transcendental Illusion.” He defines it as “deceptive extension of [the concepts of] pure understanding to their absolute conditions beyond the limits of possible experience.” Notice how this has totally nothing to do with “works of art, great food, people we love, 600 children in a school gym in Breslan.” (Kant does develop another notion of illusion in CJ, but we don’t have to hunt that dog today.

4) “The ‘epistemological objects’ that appear to us obviously did not begin in that form - they got there by means of our sensory apparatus. But although we experience them as having duration, location, extension and causation, Big Daddy Immanuelly jest knows that ain’t the way ‘things-as-they-is’ really is.”

I want to focus on your “jest knows.” Well shucks Jethro, if your phrase, “jest know” is meant to refer to Kant’s work in the Transcendental Aesthetic and the Transcendental Analytic, then you’ve got a strange notion of “jest knowing.” All that Aristotle. All that logic. Hm. Why oh why dear Rufus would you say that? Too much time in ye olde out-house smelling dem dere fumes, I opine. Or maybe you ain’t read the book in a long while. Or maybe ‘nesia is setting in. Come on. If you want to sling shit, at least hit the barn. This “jest knows” is so far off I can only quote PULP FICTION. “Ain’t the same ballpark; ain’t the same league; ain’t even the same fuckin’ sport.” So much for the similarity between foot massage and Kant-lapping. Tee hee.

5) See my comments on (3) above.

6) “This realm might well contain such things as God (whatever she might be); or the soul (whatever that might be); and some other stuff (whatever you like, really); so don’t try arguing for example that God don’t exist or the devil ain’t done got your immortal soul because the glory of God (whatever that might be) and the sublimity of the soul (whatever the hell that might be) is beyond our poor mortal comprehension in any case.”

Kant’s position is a hell of a lot subtle than this caricature. First, one cannot think that the noumenal realm contains “whatever you like, really.” You can think what you like about it so long as you do not violate Aristotle’s principle of non-contradiction.

And what about your claim that the realm is “beyond our poor mortal comprehension.” Well, yes and no. He is what Kant says — if anyone cares what the Enlightenment giant himself actually said. 1. We can have no theoretical knowledge of the noumena. 2. We can have practical knowledge of the noumena. 3. Items that we think in the noumena do serve the purposes of science in the following way — they provide us with a basic presupposition of rational inquiry, to wit: that we can systematize our knowledge into an integral whole. This is not something we discover through experience but rather a presupposition of that very experience. 4. And the concepts we use have a heuristic function rather than a constitutive one.

But shucks — this way of understanding Kant just ain’t no fun. So let’s just ignore what Kant said and present him as a clown and a buffoon. Heck, ain’t that what life is about?

6a. “As his contemporary and admirer Moses Mendelssohn called him, Uncle Kunt[4] is “The All-Pulveriser” since he crunches up and destroys ‘intellectual garbage’ on a heroic scale.”

Someone in a post to another article asked for the source of the Mendelssohn quotation. It is from the preface to his Morgenstunden and has the following context. He complains that due to illness he hasn’t been able to keep up with the recent developments in philosophy made by “Lambert, Tetens, Platner and the all-destroying Kant.” [Quoted in Beck’s Early German Philosophy, p. 337] This work has not been translated into English but Beck says it has two tasks: to defend natural theology and celebrate the memory of his friend Lessing. So, and here I’m guessing, since Kant destroyed natural theology, Mendelssohn may have been referring to that fact in calling him the “all-destroying.”

Footnote 5) “No Virginia, no-one except apparently Kant – and our Mr Seddon – knows exactly what ‘faith’ means to Kant, or is able to say so in less than four-thousand words.”

Uncle Fred accepts your challenge. Let me see. Here goes. “Faith is the holding-to-be-true out of a ground that is objectively insufficient but subjectively sufficient.” (Logic IX, D, 2.) Whew! 18 words! Just made it under the 4,000 word wire. 3982 more and I would have been screwed.

Don’t mess with Kant, the Enlightenment hero and proto- Objectivist.

Yours Noumenally [I added this - Linz]

Uncle Fred (the master of them who know Kant)

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