Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Some Observations On Kant

204. OUR survey of the Limitations of Knowledge may end here, since to carry it further we should have to invoke the results of au examination into the psychological mechanism, which must be reserved for future Problems. All that now remains is to point out the radical difference between the empirical, and metempirical philosophies ; and since all modern Metempirics is either Kantian, or founded upon Kantian principles, we shall best achieve our purpose by confining our criticism to Kant's fundamental positions. No attempt to estimate Kant's work, his position in the history of speculation, can be thought of here. I have attempted this else-where ; and any reader who considers at in the following remarks the constant antagonism seems to imply an undervaluing of Kant's greatness, may be referred to the more general estimate in the second volume of the fourth edition of my History of Philosophy.

205. Noticeable at the outset is the great general resemblance between the outcome of Kant's argumentation and the outcome of our own ; whence it may at first appear that Kant, having fought our fight, should be welcomed as a powerful ally. But it turns out otherwise. He is claimed by our antagonists. The reason of this contradiction it will be profitable to ascertain.

First of the agreement : It was his purpose to define the Limitations of Knowledge, and to prove the relativity of all human conceptions. In strict logical result, the Supra-sensible was thus excluded from his philosophy no less than from ours. He did exclude it from the Speculative, but opened a back entrance for it in the Practical. He taught that our faculties are unable to transcend the limits of possible Experience, and that we only cognize in things, priori, what we ourselves have placed there.

His aim, like our own, he declares to be to revolutionize Metaphysics by applying to it the Method of mathematicians and physicists. He affirms, as we do, that intuitions and conceptions make up the sum of Knowledge ; and Intuition is the function of the Mind in the sphere of Sense, while Conception is the function of Mind in the Sphere of Understanding, or Judgment. The first has the power of receiving sensuous impressions, the second of knowing by means of these. He shows that " although our pure concepts of the understanding and our principles are independent of Experience, and despite of the apparently greater sphere of their use, still nothing whatever can be thought by them beyond the field of Experience, because they can do nothing but merely determine the logical form of the judgment relatively to given intuitions. But as there is no intuition at all beyond the field of the sensibility, these pure concepts, as they cannot possibly be exhibited in concreto, are then totally without meaning." And later on he says : " After all the very cogent proofs already adduced, it were absurd in us to hope to know more of an object than belongs to the possible experience of it, or to lay claim to the least atom of knowledge about any-thing not assumed to be an object of possible experience which would determine it according to the constitution it has in itself And a still greater absurdity if we wished to have the principles of the possibility of experience considered universal conditions of things in themselves." Not only does he thus clearly formulate the conclusions of the Experiential Philosophy, he no less clearly marks the 'illusions of Speculation when it passes beyond. " It first separates the elementary cognitions which inhere in the understanding prior to all experience, but yet must always have their application in experience. It gradually drops these limits ; and what is there to prevent it, as it has quite freely derived its principles from itself ? And then it proceeds first to newly imagined powers in nature, then to beings outside nature, in short, to a world for whose construction the materials cannot be wanting, because fertile fiction furnishes them abundantly, and though not confirmed is never refuted by experience."

206. Now as to differences : In spite of all this, and so much more to the same effect, Kant. not only sustained the old metempirical tradition, but by his supposed discovery of the d priori elements in knowledge furnished the ground for subsequent speculators. Fries, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and the rest, founded their systems on this. In the great debate respecting the origin of Knowledge, whether it is wholly due to Experience, or partly due to Experience and partly to a higher source, Kant adopted the ambiguous position of declaring that we have a source of Knowledge which is independent of Experience, but that all such knowledge is illusory beyond the range of Experience. His successors fastened on the positive part of his teaching, and rejected the negative. I accept the negative, and reject the positive ; or to speak more precisely, I interpret the positive in another way. In what sense we can be said to bring with us d, priori conditions of Knowledge, and even d priori Experience (paradoxical as the phrase may sound) which must determine the result of our individual a posteriori experiences, has already been shown ( 22). Kant could not have so interpreted the facts, simply because Biology and Psychology were not sufficiently advanced in his day to suggest such an interpretation. He was hampered by two traditional conceptions, which to his mind were irresistible, namely, the conception of Mind as an entity, and the conception of Necessity and Universality as tests of a truth transcending Experience.

207. The reader must be reminded that the important point in the following discussion is not whether d priori elements can be detected in knowledge, but whether those elements were or were not originally formed out of ancestral sensible experiences ; because it is on the decision of this point that the conclusion will rest whether d priori elements prove a supra-sensible origin, and carry a higher validity.

208. Since Kant undertakes to show that the Mind brings with it a fund of a priori knowledge in which no empirical influence, personal or ancestral, is traceable, we must first see what it is he means by Experience. On this, and indeed on most points, his language is very contradictory. The following passages are, however, such as will generally represent his position :

" Experience consists of intuitions which pertain to the Sensibility, and of judgments which are entirely the work of the Understanding." Experience consists in the synthetical connections of phenomena (perceptions) in consciousness, so far as this connection is necessary."

(Prolegomena, I. 22, 23.) The reader has probably been long accustomed to consider experience a mere empirical synthesis of perception, and hence not to reflect that it goes much further than these extend, as it gives empirical judgments universal validity [ let this be noted ] and for that presupposes a pure unity of the understanding which precedes a priori." (Ibid., 26, p. 87, of Mahaffey's translation, which occupies the third volume of his Critical Philosophy for English Readers, 1872.) Thus when defending Experience he is careful to separate it from " a mere aggregate of perceptions" on the one hand, and from a mere sensuous impression on the other. But in the course of his argument he is frequently found using the term Experience simply for sensuous impression : and much of his argument depends on this restriction of the term.

209. Observe the contradiction into which he is led. First, he declares that Experience demands the combination of sensitive receptivity with logical spontaneity: the one giving the objective matter, the other the subjective form. "It is the matter of all phenomena that is given to us a posteriori; the form must lie ready a'priori for them in the mind." Having thus emphatically stated the two requisites of all Experience, the a priori condition and the a posteriori condition, he nevertheless presents us with this paradoxical statement, that although all knowledge begins with Experience (as just defined), some knowledge is antecedent to and independent of Experience. I do not mean to say that this contradiction is expressly stated by him ; but I do say that such is the plain interpretation of his confused statements. I believe that he unwittingly confounded one factor with the product of two factors, so that after first defining knowledge to be the product of a subjective element and an objective element, calling the one a priori and the other a posteriori, he henceforward treated the subjective element as if it alone constituted a peculiar kind of knowledge, and not simply one of the factors of all knowledge. It was open to him to call the a priori condition of Experience Knowledge, if he wished it ; but it was not open to him to do this without due warning ; and, above all, it was not open to him after he had expressly defined all knowledge as arising in Experience. The posteriori factor is not less indispensable than the priori factor.

210. Let me first exhibit the evidence on which Kant is arraigned ; the explanation of how he came to fall into the contradiction may then be suggested. The asserted contradiction is that of concluding the existence of priori knowledge, because Knowledge presupposes an a priori Faculty of Knowing ; in other words, when he argues that before sensuous impressions can be transformed into Experience they must be moulded by the Mental Forms of sensible Intuition and logical Conception, he does indeed assert the existence of an priori element, a condition rendering Experience possible ; but in flagrant contradiction with his own principles he concludes from this that this element is Knowledge. Granting (what indeed must be rejected) the rationality of supposing a Faculty to exist independent of and anterior to its active realization, granting this potential existence of a Cognitive Faculty before there is any Cognition, and of Laws, or Forms, of Experience, before there is Experience, we must still separate what he confounds, namely, the Faculty of Knowing, or Laws of the mental organism, from the Knowledge which is the product of those Laws, under objective stimulus. On his own showing it is not the Knowledge which is a priori, antecedent to all Experience, but the element added to sensuous impression, supplied from the Mind itself. He has expressly told us that Experience is much more than sensuous impression, more even than an aggregate of perceptions. It is a synthesis, " a mode of cognition which requires the co-operation of the Understanding." He says: " Before objects are given to me, that is a priori, I must presuppose in myself laws of the Understanding which are expressed in conceptions priori. To these conceptions all objects of Experience must necessarily conform." (Preface to second ed. of Kritik.) Still this is only presupposing one of the two conditions of Knowledge.* But having identified the product with one of its factors, he grounds on it. a further distinction. "Knowledge of this kind," he says, " is called priori in contradistinction to empirical knowledge which has its source posteriori, that is, in experience." He confounds Priori knowledge with an priori condition of knowledge, and sets apart this priori knowledge as something radically distinguished from posteriori knowledge, although his own definition of the posteriori declared it to be empirical, and he assumed knowledge to be possible only through the co-operation of this priori and posteriori.

211. Many more passages might be given; they would be superfluous. It only now remains to suggest the explanation of how so great a thinker came to commit so great an oversight. We must try and place ourselves in his position. The question in the schools had been that of innate ideas. Unless the existence of such ideas could be established, the whole range of Metempirics would of course, prove to be a dream. To prove that we have any knowledge not ultimately reducible to sensible experience, it was necessary to prove the existence of data inaccessible to Experience. The school of Locke had indeed presupposed the existence of the Faculty of Knowing, and only asserted that what was Known had an external origin, that is to say, the Faculty was called into activity through Sensible Experience. What Locke vaguely presupposed, was definitely and expressly brought forward by Leibnitz. This was an important step. " The senses," he said, "although necessary for all actual knowledge, are not sufficient to give us all of it." This is also Kant's fundamental position. That which the senses do not give is the character of necessity. " Mathematics must have principles of which the proof does not depend upon examples, nor consequently -upon the senses, al-though without the senses one would never have thought of them. So also Logic, Metaphysics, and Morals are full of such truths, and consequently their proofs can only come from those internal principles which are called innate."

212. Let me pause a' moment here to remark that there is a fallacy in saying the proof of a mathematical truth does not depend upon examples ; it does not depend on any number of repetitions, or any variation of the examples, but it does depend on the intuition of the example intuited. Thus 2 + 2 4 is not proved by repeating the formula, or varying the numbered objects ; but is proved by intuition of the numerical relations. When Leibnitz says that without the senses we should never have thought of such a truth as 2 + 2 = 4, he might have added, nor would the truth itself have been demonstrable.

All that Leibnitz effected was therefore to render explicit what had been implicit in the argument of Locke. He vindicated the active co-operation of the subjective factor. Kant came, and by his theory- of the Mental Forms gave greater precision to this factor. Following Leibnitz he assumed, as incontestable, that the characters of universality and necessity proved the non-experiential nature of every truth which contained them. This position I have argued against at great length, and, I trust, to the reader's satisfaction; but of course since Kant adopted it we must allow him all that he can deduce from it. I think his deduction faulty in this respect : granting their priori character, this does not, by his own showing, establish more than that certain cognitions, derived through Experience, are distinguishable from others by subjective conditions not traceable in the others. Whether any cognition has or has not these characters, it is always the product of two factors, objective stimulus and subjective reaction, the matter and the, form.

213. There are three meanings to be assigned to a priori knowledge. First, there is that which belongs to all Deduction, i. e. we have already established by Induction a general principle, from which a priori we conclude some particular result, This meaning Kant explicitly sets aside. He will only recognize as pure priori that which is absolutely independent of all experience whatever.

Secondly, there is the meaning I have already considered ( 22), namely, the organized experience usually termed Instinct which we inherit from our ancestors, and which forms, so to speak, part of our mental structure. In this sense we may be said to be born with a knowledge of Space, with a knowledge of 'Causality, etc., be-cause although these registered tendencies were originally framed out of sensible experiences, we who inherit the structure so modified only need the external stimulus, and forthwith the action of that structure produces the predetermined result. The chicken, which two or three hours after escaping from the shell captures an insect, puts in action the organized experiences of space, food, etc., which were acquired by remote ancestors.

This meaning Kant also rejects, and indeed it would not have served his purpose. " It is quite possible," he says, " that some may propose a kind of pre-formation system of Pure Reason in which the Categories are neither self-conceived a priori first principles of Knowledge, nor derived from Experience ; but are merely aptitudes for thought implanted in us contemporaneously with our existence." And this, which would reconcile his doctrine of Mental Forms with psychological facts, is rejected, because " the Categories thereby lose their character of objective necessity. Nor would there be wanting persons to deny their subjective necessity, though compelled to feel it. Certainly we could never dispute with any one about that which merely depended on the manner in which he was organized."

214. Having thus excluded the only two meanings of priori knowledge which embrace Experience, he is forced to fix on that which is altogether aloof from every empirical element. Only thus indeed could he carry on the traditional doctrine which held Mind to be an entity, mysteriously inhabiting the organism, looking at the external world through the organism, but with visions also of an existence not included in this sublunary sphere. Plato and Leibnitz were consistent in holding this opinion, but Kant was not consistent ; for he had expressly declared that all knowledge had its rise in Experience, although it was not all constituted by Experience, since for Experience itself there was needed an a priori no less than an posteriori condition ; in other words, all knowledge depends upon material furnished in Sensation, and on form furnished by the Knowing Faculty. Now observe two points : first, the union of priori and ' posteriori is necessary for every cognition ; secondly, and as a corollary, no cognition can be furnished by the Knowing Faculty alone, since Knowing involves a Known. It is because Kant forgets his own definitions, and speaks of Experience as if it were sensuous impression without the co-operation of the priori element, that he is led to regard what is logically separable from this priori condition as if it were really separable, and thus to speak of the Knowing Faculty as pure a priori cognition.

215. Taking his analysis, and accepting Space and Time as the forms of Sensibility, and the Categories as the forms of the Understanding, these forms are only a priori conditions of knowledge, and cannot of themselves constitute a cognition. By themselves they are as powerless as the external conditions. There never was, and never could be, a cognition constituted out of the forms alone.* -

That my interpretation is exact may be seen in Kant's letter to Eberhard (Werke, ed. Rosenkrantz I. 444), wherein he says that the Kritik " allows of no innate or unacquired (unerschaffene) representations, all of them, intuitions and conceptions, are acquired. But there is, to speak with jurists, a primitive acquisition or inheritance, consequently of that also which previously did not exist, and hence belonged to nothing before this act. Such are the form of things in Space and Time, and the synthetic unity of the manifold in conceptions, for neither of these are drawn from objects, as given to our cognitive faculty, but are brought a priori by that faculty out of itself. The first formal condition of the possibility of an intuition of Space is innate, but not the representation of Space itself."

Nothing can be plainer ; yet because in the course of his argument he frequently employs the term Experience in the restricted meaning of sensuous impression, and the priori formal condition in the improperly extended meaning of a priori knowledge, he is led to maintain that the Mind brings with it knowledge wholly destitute of empirical elements. By a similar substitution he sometimes speaks of Intuition and Conception as pure forms, formal conditions ; and at others treats them as the products of the forms and the matter, namely, as intuitions and conceptions. Only thus can he instance Mathematics in illustration of pure e priori knowledge. It is obviously nothing of the kind, in his meaning of a, priori. The pure formal condition of Space is not, he admits, the representation of Space ; the pure formal condition of Quantity is not Any representation of Quantity. Although these forms may accompany, as conditions, every particular experience of space relations, and every particular judgment of quantitative relations, they cannot in them-selves be other than pure forms. The conception of causality may be a condition of our judgment, may necessitate the conclusion that every change we observe must have had an antecedent cause ; but it can tell us nothing more, it can throw no light on any particular cause in any particular change. Manipulate the conceptions of Space and Magnitude in the abstract how you will, you cannot get out of them any geometrical knowledge, simply because knowledge, geometrical and other, needs sensuous intuition, needs particular experiences to which the a priori forms can be applied. Has not Kant laid it down at the very outset of his exposition that the only mode by which our knowledge can relate to objects is by intuition ? " To this as the indispensable groundwork all thought points. But an intuition can take place only in so far as the object is given to us. This again is only possible, to man at least, on condition that the object of affect the mind in a certain manner By means of sensibility objects are given to us, and it alone furnishes us with intuitions ; by the understanding they are thought, and from it arise conceptions. But all thought must directly. or indirectly by means of certain signs relate ultimately to intuitions; consequently to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us." (Mei-klejohn's trans., p. 21.) Again : " Pure intuition contains merely the form under which something is intuited, and pure conception only the form of the thought of an object. Only pure intuitions and pure conceptions are possible priori ; the empirical or posteriori" (p. 45).

216. How in the face of declarations so explicit is he , enabled to propound the hypothesis that we have pure a priori knowledge ? It is that besides the unconscious substitution of one meaning for another in the terms employed, he fixes on the characters of necessity and universality as infallible tests of a priori knowledge. At all points this argument meets us.

He divides judgments into those which are subjectively valid, and those which are objectively valid. The first are judgments of Perception (Wahrnehmungsurtheile) ;. the second are judgments of Experience (Erfahrungsurtheile). Although all judgments of Experience are empirical, i. e. have their ground in the immediate sensuous perception, all empirical judgments, he says, are not judgments of Experience. Does this seem contradictory ? It is explained thus over and above the empirical element given in sensuous Intuition there is required the additional element of conceptions (Begriffe), which have their origin, a priori, in the pure Understanding ; and under these every perception has to be subsumed before it can be changed into experience. All our judgments are at first judgments of Perception ; they are simply the logical connection of perceptions in Thought, and are consequently only valid for the thinker at that particular moment. But afterwards we place them in a new relation, namely, to a world outside the thinker, and insist on their validity for all thinkers and for all time. Hence objective validity and necessary universality are reciprocal notions. , "Judgments of experience take their objective validity not from the immediate knowledge of the object (for this is impossible), but from the condition of universal validity in empirical judgments, which rest not on empirical or sensuous conditions, but on pure conceptions " (Proleg., 19 ; Mahaffy, p. 70). He illustrates the two judgments thus : When I say the room is warm, I by no means require that every one shall always find this true as I do now. I only express the relations of two sensations to my present self ; consequently my judgment is not valid for the object : it is simply a judgment of Perception. Very different is the other kind, which teaches me that whatever Experience reveals under certain circumstances, it must always reveal to me and to every one ; its validity is not confined to the subject, nor to the particular moment, but to the object for all time. Before a judgment of Perception can become a judgment of Experience, it must be subsumed under a Conception. For example, " When the sun shines on the stone, the stone grows warm," is a judgment of Perception. No matter how often it may have been perceived by me and others, it contains within it no necessity. But if I say, " The sun warms the stone," I add to my perception of the effect the conception of cause which necessarily connects the conception of sunshine with that of heat. The judgment then becomes universally valid, and is converted into experience.

"But how," he asks, "does this proposition, that judgments of Experience contain necessity in the synthesis of perception, agree with my statement, that Experience as knowledge a posteriori can give only contingent judgments ? When I say Experience teaches me something, I only mean the perception which lies in it : for example, that warming of the stone always follows the shining of the sun on it, and thus the proposition of Experience is always so far contingent. That this warming necessarily follows from the shining is indeed contained in the judgment of Experience (by means of the conception of cause) ; but I do not learn that through Experience ; on the contrary, Experience is first constituted by this addition to perception of this conception of cause" (Proleg., 24, note.)

217. Without pausing to inquire how far he has re-solved the contradiction here indicated, we may simply note the reappearance of the old confusion of Experience as constituted by an priori and an posteriori element, with Experience as only posteriori. He argues that wherever we find the characters of necessity and universality, there we have pure priori knowledge. Merely noting that on his own explicit statement, constantly repeated, this would only show an element of knowledge, let us ask what proof he offers in support of this argument ? It is the old assertion : " Experience never gives us strict and absolute, but only comparative universality gained by induction, and which asserts that so far we have found no exception. Empirical universality is, then, but an arbitrary or contingent exaggeration from the cases we and others know to all cases ; whereas strict universality is essential to the judgment in which it is found, and points to a peculiar source of knowledge which we have designated priori." But if universality is essential to the judgment in which it is found, and if, as he asserts, it is always found in a judgment of Experience (for with-out the a priori addition Experience cannot be constituted), how in the name of all Logic can he pretend to show that Experience never gives universality, and that the presence of universality is a proof of priori knowledge ? It is like saying that the working of a steam-engine is effected by the steam and the engine, and then arguing that because the engine is powerless without the steam, this proves another source of the power that is to be found in the steam and the engine. By dropping out of consideration the agency of steam, it is easy to show that the engine cannot be the source of steam-engine operation. By restricting Experience to the mere external action of objects on Sense, dropping out of consideration the reaction of the mental organism, it is easy to show that Experience will not suffice.

218. The truth is, Kant tried to hold contradictory positions. The whole drift of his polemic against the ontologists was to show that knowledge was limited, relative, and could not extend beyond the sphere of possible Experience; but while thus cutting the ground from under the ontologists, he was also anxious to cut the ground from the sensationalists and sceptics, and there-fore tried to prove that the Mind brought with it an a priori fund of knowledge. Nay, so resolute was he to break away from the experiential doctrine in respect of the origin of knowledge, that he refused to accept the very explanation which was at hand to reconcile his insistance on the priori element, and his insistance on the limitations of experience, I mean the recognition of the Laws of Thought as Laws of the Organism.

219. It is unnecessary to prolong this discussion and to show that when he attempts to prove Mathematics to be priori because founded on the pure priori intuition of Space, his argument rests on the confusion of the two meanings of the word " intuition," one in. which it stands for the primary condition, the Form of Sensibility, and the other in which it stands for the product of that Form and sensible excitation. Blank Space, the pure form, can never generate geometrical figures ; and without the intuition of figures there can be no geometrical propositions.

220. Rejecting Kant's arguments in favor of a source of Knowledge not directly dependent on the Organism and its relations to the Cosmos, and not evolved through Experience 'which condenses these relations, we need not here pause to consider the arguments of any other thinker, but may be content with the manifold evidence brought forward in the preceding chapters respecting the range and limitations of Research.

( Originally Published 1874 )

Problems of Life and Mind:
Mathematics An Empirical Science

Some Observations On Kant

The Place Of Sentiment In Philosophy

Read More Articles About: Problems of Life and Mind

Home | More Articles | Email: