Anonymous guest post: Die Kant Die

Today is going to be very busy, but fortunately someone has stepped up to entertain you weirdos in my place. I don’t know if this essay is terrible or great or anything, because philosophy is not really my thing. But we both hope you enjoy it, at the very least.


2005-06-01

Die Kant Die[1]

Like paradoxes and contradictions, antinomies are reminiscent of
Zen koans, to which the correct answer is often the Japanese word “mu,”
roughly translatable as “without” and signifying the inadequacy of the
question. For instance, the traditional koan “What is the sound of one
hand clapping?” is founded on wrong premises, since the definition of
“clap” implies two hands. Even simpler, the loaded question “Have you
stopped beating your wife yet?” presupposes that you have a wife whom you
used to beat; if this isn’t true, you have no way of answering the
question correctly. Antinomies are similar to koans also in the uses to
which they are put. Kant wrote that they serve “to rouse philosophy from
its dogmatic slumber and to stimulate it to the arduous task of
undertaking a criticism of reason itself,” while koans are often
traditionally used by Zen practitioners to confound reason and thereby to
provoke an experience of enlightenment.

The point of the antinomies, and Kant’s purpose in presenting
them, is to discover the limits of what can be discovered by empirical
investigation, and in the process to caution against mistaking the
appearances of things for things in themselves (the transcendental
illusion). In the First Part, Kant gives an example of the way in which a
thing’s appearance can give a misleading impression about what is really
going on: If we follow the movements of the planets and fail to correctly
understand what we see, they will appear to be “now progressive, now
retrogressive,” because we perceive them as moving now forward, now back
in our field of vision. The reality behind that appearance is quite
different, and, we can use more sophisticated observation and reasoning to
approach “the truth” about the motion of the planets. But the fact is
that the planets do appear to be moving back and forth; that observation
isn’t mistaken. Where we would go wrong is in mistaking the appearance
for actuality, a subjective observation for an objective one.

But Kant is not just criticizing mistaken science, he is defining
the limits of the best possible science. Even if we replaced our initial
understanding of the planets’ motion with a more sophisticated one taking
into account the movement of the earth, etc., we would still be
approaching an understanding of the appearances of the planets, not of the
planets as things in themselves. We have to be careful to keep in mind
that all our sense data and empirical observations have to do strictly
with appearances, *not* with any thing in itself. “Illusion or truth will
arise accordingly as we are negligent or careful” of that distinction,
Kant thinks. Observation can produce truth, of course, but only in the
realm of experience, not transcendently.

The idea of pursuing a more and more perspicacious empirical
investigation of the world seems analogous to Kant’s belief that “pure
reason requires us to seek for every predicate of a thing its own subject,
and for this subject, which is itself necessarily nothing but a predicate,
its subject, and so on indefinitely (as far as we can reach).” Just as we
pursue increasingly accurate perceptions of the appearances of things, but
can never get down to things in themselves through observation, we can
follow a series of predicates back to their own subjects, which in turn
are predicates themselves, and so on. But this implies that any subject
we uncover by this process is not an ultimate subject. But, since having
a predicate without a subject makes no sense, there must be some ultimate
subject which we cannot grasp through our understanding but can only
understand through the predicates attached to it. One such subject is the
self, which we cannot imagine as “the predicate of any other subject.”

Since observation can produce truth only in the realm of
experience, we can never prove any subjective a priori proposition (e.g.
permanence) in itself, but only “in reference to things as objects of
possible experience.” Therefore, for example, we cannot prove that the
soul is permanent, since we can only prove truths about objects relating
to possible experience, and all our experience concerning the soul ends at
death. We can prove many things for purposes of experience which we can
never prove transcendentally; the conclusions we might reach about objects
of experience could be interesting or useful or true, but only at the
level of the appearance of things, never at the level of things in
themselves: “objects which cannot be given us in any experience are
nothing to us.”

So, any project of going beyond possible experience with human
reason is doomed to messy failure. Kant thinks that this inevitable
failure takes the form of an antinomy, expressed in four separate
antinomies which consist of pairs of apparently contradictory, apparently
valid propositions, founded on human reason, dealing with objects from the
sensible world. Antinomies are “kinds of dialectical assertions of pure
reason, which, being dialectical, prove that to each of them, on equally
specious principles of pure reason, a contradictory assertion stands
opposed.” Since “all the metaphysical art” fails to resolve these
contradictions, we are forced to go back to the “first sources of pure
reason itself.”

If we make the mistake of thinking that the appearance of the
sensible world is the thing in itself, if we take specific, concrete
principles of combination and abstract them out to “principles universally
valid of things in themselves and not merely of experience,” then we get
these “unexpected conflicts,” the antinomies, which cannot be resolved in
the usual way (by proving one or the other proposition false) because
equally strong arguments exist for both thesis and antithesis, so reason
is divided against itself.

As long as a system is self-consistent, it can imply anything at
all and not get called to account, in metaphysics. For example, how can
we tell from experience “whether the world is from eternity or had a
beginning, whether matter is infinitely divisible or consists of simple
parts?” These are not concepts derivable from experience, so experience
cannot determine truth or falsity here. So the way reason reveals its
“secret dialectic,” that is, its inconsistency, is by being made to
“ground an assertion upon a universally admitted principle and to deduce
the exact contrary.” This is what happens in the four antinomies, and
this is how the “dialectical illusion of pure reason” is made plain.

Through this experiment, we can expose errors in the assumptions
of reason: not necessarily in the rules of inference, but rather in the
axioms. As Kant says, “Contradictory propositions cannot both be false,
unless the concept lying at the ground of both of them is
self-contradictory; for example, the propositions, ‘A square circle is
round,’ and ‘A square circle is not round,’ are both false,” because of a
fundamental inconsistency in the subject of the propositions (just as “the
sound of one hand clapping” contains a basic contradiction which makes it
impossible to answer the koan straightforwardly).

In terms of formal logic: if and only if an assumption makes two
contradictory propositions false, then that concept is impossible
(inconsistent). In other words, (-a & –a) (a & -a), where (a & -a)
is the basic contradiction embedded in the troublesome assumption.

The canonical four antinomies are these:
I. The world has, as to time and space, a beginning (limit).
The world is, as to time and space, infinite.
II. Everything in the world is constituted out of the simple.
There is nothing simple, but everything is composite.
III. There are in the world causes through freedom.
There is no freedom, but all is nature.
IV. In the serious of world-causes there is some necessary being.
There is nothing necessary in the world, but in this series all is contingent.

The first two antinomies are “mathematical” because they have to
do with “addition or division of the homogeneous”. The particular
contradictory concept on which they’re founded, which produces the two
false halves of the antinomy, arises from the failure to realize that,
when we speak of objects in time and space, we are speaking not of them in
themselves but of their appearances, of our experience of their
appearances.

We must not say that anything exists in space and time independent
of our thoughts, because space and time, and the appearances that maintain
by virtue of them, depend completely upon experience: they are “modes of
representation,” systems for organizing sense input, which cannot exist
independent of the event of representation, which can only happen through
experience. So, to say that objects of the senses exist prior to
experience is to tell ourselves that experience exists apart from or prior
to experience, which makes no sense.

As to the first antinomy: we cannot declare the world infinite or
finite, because we cannot prove either assertion from experience. Either
the infinity or the finitude of the universe is a mere idea or
abstraction, not something anyone has ever actually experienced. So, if
there were any truth about the magnitude of the universe, it would have to
be inaccessible to experience. But the experienceable universe is “merely
a complex of the appearances whose existence and connection occur only in
our representations, i.e., in experience.” So, because the mere concept
of “an absolutely existing world of sense” is inconsistent, any questions
we ask about the magnitude of this self-contradictory world will turn out
false.

The second antinomy concerns the division of appearances: that is,
sometimes we experience something as having many parts, which provokes the
question of whether there is some simple thing out of which everything is
constituted. Since appearances are representations, the appearance of
parts is also a representation, which means it too depends entirely upon
experience. The parts which a thing might appear to have cannot possibly
have existed prior to experience; they aren’t “out there” waiting to be
discovered. So, if we try to say *either* that “bodies in themselves
consist of an infinite number of parts or of a finite number of simple
parts,” we will be assuming that representations exist independent of our
experience, which is the same fundamental falsehood that generated the
first antinomy.

So, as for the mathematical antinomies, “the falsehood of the
presupposition consists in representing in one concept something
self-contradictory as if it were compatible (i.e., an appearance as an
object in itself).” In the second group of antinomies, the “dynamical”
antinomies, “the falsehood of the presupposition consists in representing
as contradictory what is [actually] compatible.” Where the mathematical
antinomies consist in an opposition of two falsehoods, the dynamical ones
consist of an opposition of two truths, or at least of two statements
consistent with one another which are only misunderstood to be
contradictory. Furthermore, while the fundamental error of the
mathematical antinomies lay in treating transcendental things as if they
were available to experience, the error at the root of the dynamical
antinomies is the opposite: it arises in mistaking sense objects for
things in themselves and laws of nature for laws of things in themselves.

In the second antinomy, by mistakenly thinking of freedom as
“represented as mere appearance,” just like natural necessity (causation),
we trap ourselves in a contradiction of the form “some x is P & all x is
not-P,” that is, “some causes are through freedom & all causes are
naturally necessary.” But, if the two things in fact refer to different
kinds of things — if freedom concerns things in themselves and natural
necessity concerns appearances — then there is no true contradiction,
even if we don’t yet know what we mean when we talk about the freedom of
things in themselves.

The ideas in the third antinomy will be essential to Kant’s
metaphysics of morals; they get to the heart of the question of how a
human act can be moral. Kant explains the foundation of that question
thus: In the empirical world, all effects are events, and all effects are
preceded by causes, which are also events and which are governed by laws
(cf. all predicates being subjects and in turn predicates again). But
“the determination of the cause to act” also originates among appearances
and is therefore also an event with a cause of its own. So we determine
efficient causes through natural necessity. But the definition of freedom
as “a property of certain causes of appearance” requires that it start
those causes of appearance spontaneously, without being caused by anything
else. If this is a true account of what happens in a free act, then it
cannot be an event itself, and therefore doesn’t consist in any
appearance, but rather is a thing in itself. This way, all causal
connections in the world of appearances will still be effected through
natural necessity, but that particular cause which is *not* an appearance,
but rather “the foundation of appearance,” will instead be characterized
by freedom. This way, “nature and freedom therefore can without
contradiction be attributed to the very same thing, but in different
relations — on one side as an appearance, on the other as a thing in
itself.”

Kant thinks that moral agency in human beings arises from our
having a certain faculty which is concerned both with appearances and with
things in themselves, namely reason. Because people have this faculty,
which has an aspect pertaining to things in themselves, it follows that
people themselves are not entirely “beings of sense,” that we have some
transcendental quality or faculty which lets us bridge the space between
the world of appearance and the world of things in themselves. That
bridge is the moral imperative, the “ought”; where human actions depend
neither on subjective conditions nor on the law of nature nor on
circumstances, they depend on reason, that is, on causality as a
thing-in-itself, that is, on morality.

This being the case, we can admit that even actions by rational
beings are “subject to the necessity of nature” insofar as they are
appearances, while maintaining that they are also — without
contradiction! — free. This is possible because, with a right
understanding of the difference between the necessity of nature and
freedom — that is, the understanding that natural necessity has to do
with appearances, and freedom has to do with things in themselves — there
is no contradiction between an action being subject to natural necessity
and its being free. An action can be taken from reason, which is to say
freely, or otherwise. Either way, what happens will conform to natural
necessity, but the fundamental difference lies in the source of the action
in reason or elsewhere.

The fourth antinomy takes the same form as the third, having
thesis and antithesis that falsely appear to contradict each other. What
is necessary here is to distinguish the cause *in* the appearance from the
cause *of* the appearance, which will allow you to reconcile the two
propositions, first, that there is no absolutely necessary cause in the
sensuous world, and second, that a necessary being is the root cause of
this world. The first is true on the terms of the world of appearances,
while the second is true in terms of things in themselves. Only a mistake
about what pertains to appearance sand what to things in themselves
generates a contradiction.

After naming and describing these four antinomies, Kant goes on to
declare that they are four sides of the same coin, and that there is
really one solution to “the whole antinomy in which reason finds itself
involved in the application of its principles to the sensible world.”
What throws reason into conflict with itself is mistaking “objects of the
sensible world … for things in themselves and not for mere appearances,
which they are in fact.” By rejecting this fundamental mistake, the
transcendental illusion, we can salvage both science and metaphysics from
the impossible morass they make when commingled, the source of such
recalcitrant contradictions.

1. Traditional German aphorism translating roughly as “The Kant, the.”

Work Cited (passim)
Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, 2nd Ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1977.

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About Aeoli Pera

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10 Responses to Anonymous guest post: Die Kant Die

  1. The Eyes of the Owl says:

    A marvelous introduction to Kant. I learned more from this than from my undergraduate philosophy courses. Who’s the author?

  2. Edenist whackjob says:

    Speaking of Germans, this is an interesting fellow: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horst_Mahler

    “Horst Mahler (born 23 January 1936) is a German former lawyer and political activist.[1] He once was an extreme-left militant and a founding member of the Red Army Faction, but later became a Maoist before switching to the extreme right. ”

    “Mahler took little role in politics until 1998, when an article by him called Zweite Steinzeit (“Second Stone Age”)[14] explaining his conversion to Völkisch ideas appeared in the right-wing paper Junge Freiheit.[15] Mahler has since underlined the spiritual side of his political beliefs, while marrying it to anti-semitism, arguing that:

    In the German people as free self-confidence, the unity of God and Man appears in the Folk-community knowing itself. This is the existing negation of the Jewish Principle and of the haggler/bargainer as its worldly shape.[16]”

    (Is he just saying that Guardian > Trader?)

    Strikes me as someone who’s very philosophical about ideology (hence willingness to shift from extreme left-wing to NS) but also willing to take violent action. Should be right up Heaviside’s alley.

    I’d say high test melon/starchild, possibly with a bit of dualback action, with some Ashkenazi added to the mix (which Google confirms).

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      The idea of applying violence rationally is somewhat repulsive to me. I say “somewhat” because I’m not sure quite what I’m trying to express, and it’s complicated. To an extent, it seems like bullying. But there is always an element of rational calculation in violence, and the stronger it is the better.

      Let me put it this way: when a person makes the decision to do violence in cold blood, it shows that they do not respect the real cost of their actions. They apparently do not feel the cost because they are on the end of the act which does not necessarily have to feel the cost. And so if by neglecting this factor they determine their action, then they are willfully miscalculating.

      And no one ever willfully miscalculates for good reasons like love or brotherhood or holiness. Always it is because the truth did not give the result they wanted.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      Also I don’t immediately see anything about that guy that would set him apart from the German average. My face reading is still pretty weak after three years or so- I will say that there is a bit more in his eyes than in most folks.

    • Heaviside says:

      Oh, I have long adored the RAF.

      “In the German people as free self-confidence, the unity of God and Man appears in the Folk-community knowing itself. This is the existing negation of the Jewish Principle and of the haggler/bargainer as its worldly shape.”

      A man who has actually read Hegel.

      “The only thing Jews really fear is Communism without Jews.”

      • Aeoli Pera says:

        >“The only thing Jews really fear is Communism without Jews.”

        They seem to me like an anxious bunch. The difference from other high-functioning whites is that they seem to be fundamentally exogenous on the average, so they don’t retain anxiety internally, but rather find ways to push it back out onto everyone else. This is just basic extraversion but it is unusual for high-IQ subgroups within, for instance, the larger white and Asian races.

        So their stress response seems to be fundamentally different in kind, except in the cases where edenic admixture dominates. (I say “white” because in my limited experience I haven’t met any Jews who I would describe as Semitic in appearance or personality.)

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        This seems obvious but posting anyhow:

        Multiculturalism is the outgrowth of Jewish survival anxiety. Kind of like the nerd who feels intimidated by the cool kids at the party and so invites a bunch of random to disperse the vibe. There is also a heavy element of fear of being found out. The nerd wants to be in charge of the Playlist but never be identified as the controller.

        I can provide quotes if you’re interested.

  3. Pingback: Daily Linkage – October 31, 2015 | The Dark Enlightenment

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