On Kant’s Transcendental Idealism & Empirical Realism, and his Conception of Objectivity

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I make a critical exposition of Kant’s transcendental idealism and empirical realism about space and time: I see that while transcendental idealism, to Kant, warrants his distinction between mere appearances (mere presentations) and

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  !"#$ &'"( ) On Kant’s Transcendental Idealism & Empirical Realism, and his Conception of Objectivity  Abstrac t: In this paper, I make a critical exposition of Kant’s transcendental idealism and empirical realism about space and time: I see that while transcendental idealism, to Kant,  warrants  his distinction between mere appearances (mere presentations) and things-in-themselves pertaining to external objects, it necessitates  empirical realism which demarcates it from the other ‘metaphysically erroneous’ versions of idealism. I argue that Kant’s distinction between these two “doctrinal systems” – or rather, the correlation between the two – serves to defend his conception of objectivity (of perceptual experiences and of judgments) as that which arises from subjectivity. Such relationship between subjectivity and objectivity, in turn, defends his contention of synthetic a priority, the  possibility of which determines  the plausibility of metaphysics as a science of pure reason. Furthermore, I argue that Kant’s treatment of objectivity goes against  the Lockean construal of “secondary qualities” as the ‘powers of objects’; rather, to Kant, the cognitive powers lie in us . I shall begin this paper with a succinct explication of Kant’s notions of transcendental idealism and empirical realism pertaining to space and time 1  . Kant posits space and time as two determinate, pure  forms  of sensibility – or sensible intuition – which are principles for synthetic a priori cognition (A.22, A.39) 2 . They are the only  two elements in the transcendental aesthetic, as they are the only two  belonging to sensibility yet not presupposing something empirical (A.41) 3 . Corresponding to his notion that external objects are mere presentations of sensibility (A.30), Kant postulates transcendental idealism as “the doctrinal system  whereby we regard [all objects], one and all, as mere presentations and not things in themselves, and according to which space and time are only sensible forms of intuition,  but not determinations given on their own or conditions of objects taken as things in themselves” (A.369). The ‘transcendental’ denotation refers to Kant’s preoccupation  with inquiring into all cognition that deals with our way of cognizing objects (i.e. the how ) – specifically, the way that is to be possible a priori – rather than with the objects per se (i.e. the what  )(A.12). Transcendental idealism stands in staunch contrast with transcendental realism: The latter “regards both time and space as something given in themselves that exist independently of us and of our sensibility” (A.369). As such, proponents of this )   * +,-. /0 #"12"3/ '40( 56 0+( ,(/"#4#"/$/,0( 01 /." !"#$#%&'  $(7 /." (")*'+),'-. 8 /.'- 56 7,-3'--,0(- /.#0'9.0'/ /.,- 4$4"# #"3:0( '40( -02"26 /."-" 4#,5$#6 -0'#3"- ;$(7 $2-0 /.$/ 01 <03:" +."( * /$2: $=0'/ -"30(7$#6 >'$2,/,"-?@ $(7 (0(" +.$/-0"A"# 01 $(6 -"30(7$#6 2,/"#$/'#"@ ,(32'7,(9 B022,(-C ()//#0*' 234'"#'-5' D   E   F"(-,=,2,/6@ 5"$(+.,2"@ ,- 0(" 01 /." /+0 -/"5- 01 309(,/,0( G /." 0/."# =",(9 '(7"#-/$(7,(9 G +,/. +.,3. 0=H"3/- $#" 9,A"( /0 '- ;IDJJ?D F4$3" $(7 /,5" $#" ,/- 10#5-@ +.,2" -"(-$/,0( ,- ,/- 5$//"#D   J   K"$(+.,2"@ /#$(-3"(7"(/$2 $"-/."/,3@ L$(/ /027 '-@ ,- $ -3,"(3" 01 $22 4#,(3,42"- 01 $ 4#,0#, -"(-,=,2,/6 /.$/ ,&/$   =" .$7@ $- ,/ 30(-/,/'/"- 4$#/ 01 /." /#$(-3"(7"(/$2 703/#,(" 01 "2"5"(/- ;IDJM? G ="3$'-" /#$(-3"(7"(/$2 $"-/."/,3 ,(A02A"- "2"5"(/- /.$/ $#" ("3"--$#6 /0 9,A" $ 1'22N=20+( $330'(/ 01 /." 703/#,("D  !"#$ &'"( E doctrine “turn [the] modifications of our sensibility into things subsisting in themselves, and hence thurns mere presentations into things in themselves” (B.519). Contrary to transcendental realism, I see that Kant’s doctrine of transcendental idealism aims as a warrant    4  to his distinction between mere appearances (or mere presentations of appearances) and things-in-themselves pertaining to external objects. Specifically, objects as mere presentations of sensibility must be intuited in space and time, which are themselves necessary a priori presentations that underlie (in the case of space) outer or (in the case of time) both inner and outer intuitions (A.24, A.31). Space is transcendentally ideal, says Kant, in regard to objects when reason considers them without taking into account the character of our sensibility (B.44). Thus the ideality of space is such that space “is nothing as soon as we omit that [it] is the condition of possibility of all experience and suppose [it] to be something underlying things in themselves” ( ibid. ) By the same token, Kant concedes the transcendental ideality of time, viz.  time does not attach to objects absolutely as a condition or a property; and if we abstracted from the subjective conditions of sensible intuition (of  which time is the form), then time would amount to nothing (A.36). In this light, space and time, as a priori, whole  presentations with infinitely given magnitude (B.40, B.48), are based upon direct intuition (B.48) – namely, as given by (empirical, sensible) intuition, as opposed to given through concepts that contain only  partial   presentations ( ibid. ). The ‘directness’ refers to Kant’s contention that all we are conscious of directly is (subjective) presentation of an external object, which is what is within  us (B.  xl  ). Kant certainly wants to make clear that his transcendental idealism is fundamentally distinct from other kinds of idealism – in particular, such ‘metaphysically erroneous’ versions of (non-transcendental) idealisms that obscure or pay no heed to the distinction between mere appearances and things-in-themselves as the ‘problematic’ skeptical idealism of Descartes ( cf.  B.274, A.377). I take it that his doctrine of empirical realism purports to make such demarcation. The ‘empirical’ in Kant’s version of realism tags the doctrine as that which deals with a posteriori subjet O   K6 '-" 01 /." +0#7 6."".-$   70"- (0/ ,5426 $(6/.,(9 "4,-/"5,3D * -,5426 5"$( /.$/ /#$(-3"(7"(/$2 ,7"$2,-5 ,- (0/ 0(26 3054$/,=2" +,/. /." 7,-/,(3/,0( ,( >'"-/,0(@ ='/ $2-0 1$A0'#- 0# -'440#/- /." 7,-/,(3/,0(D  !"#$ &'"( J matters – viz.  objects containing or involving sensations or the senses, and the cognition of which is through experiences. Meanwhile, I take the ‘realist’ sense as two-fold: In one aspect, it refers to his notion that space and time are not empirical concepts  upon abstractions from (in the case of space) outer or (in the case of time) both outer and inner experiences (B.38, B.46); rather, they are empirically real (qua  necessarily objective , and thus, I think, objectively necessary  – I shall say more on this later) in regard to all possible (outer and inner) experiences. Therefore, in relation to space and time as the necessary conditions of all experiences, “much can be said a priori about all objects [ qua  mere appearances] as regards their  form ” (A.49; italics  mine). In the other aspect, space and time are real in the sense of being objectively valid   in regard to all sensations (i.e. objects that might ever be given to our senses) or things that we can encounter externally as objects (B.44, B.52). That is, all appearances – qua  objects of our intuition as supplied alone by sensibility, whose matter  is whatever in appearances that corresponds to sensation (B.34, B.60) – are in  space and in  time. Therefore, in relation to these conditions, the principles of (in the case of space) outer sense and (in the case of time) of inner sense have all their objective correctness and a priori universality (B.43, B.52). In this light, the realism of space and time regards, on the one hand, their objective necessity  to objects (i.e., they necessarily refer to objects (A.89); and on the other hand, their objective validity  (i.e., how they make possible a synthetic cognition of objects ( ibid. )). Kant’s distinction between transcendental idealism and empirical realism – or rather, the correlation  between these two doctrinal systems – I think, serves to defend his conception of objectivity pertaining to our perceptual experience and our judgment. Specifically, I take his construal of objectivity as a conception that arises from ( conceptually dependent   upon) the conception of subjectivity. To make my case, though, I have to backtrack to Kant’s pivotal distinction between mere appearances and things-in-themselves pertaining to external objects. As I previously argued, this distinction is warranted   by transcendental. Moreover, I now argue that it is reinforced   (or strengthened  ) by empirical realism, as it purports to refute the ‘problematic’ idealism of Descartes, which as a ‘reasonable’ version of idealism poses potential (and legitimate) challenge to Kant’s version of idealism, by its skepticism about the  !"#$ &'"( O provability of the existence of matter  (A.377) – namely, of the objects in space outside  us (B.274). Such distinction thus established, the question remains as to what significance it has in Kant’s account? I think that this distinction is significant in Kant’s notion of objectivity, which is conceptually dependent   upon that of subjectivity. Specifically, the relationship between appearances and things-in-themselves parallels the relationship  between subjectivity and objectivity in Kant’s account. In the language of Aristotle (one of Kant’s heroes), presentations of objects (things as they appear to be) are  prior in the ordo cognoscendi to objects as things-in-themselves 5  . Thus the former is conceptually  prior  to the latter. Similarly, I take it that Kant construes his conception of objectivity as conceptually dependent upon the conception of subjectivity – the latter is conceptually prior to the former. Moreover, objectivity in Kant’s account can be construed as the notion of intersubjectivity  – which, I argue, is an integration between objective necessity  and objective validity ; namely, the two aspects of Kant’s conception of (empirical) realism of space and time that I have previously discussed. Thus being objective is, as Kant himself says it in the  Prolegomena , being of necessity universally valid   (P.301, n12).  As with the distinction between appearances and things-in-themselves, we may also inquire into the significance of Kant’s distinction of subjectivity and objectivity in his overall transcendental project. The answer, I think, is this: the correlation  between them thus construed above serves to defend his contention of synthetic a priority, the possibility of which determines the plausibility of metaphysics as a science of pure reason . In both the Critique  and the  Prolegomena , Kant proclaims the actuality  of the synthetic a priori – thus the question is no longer whether  it is possible, but rather how  it is possible (B.19, P.275). The solution to this ‘how’ question – as the general   and  proper  problem of pure reason (B.19) – says Kant, determines whether metaphysics stands or falls as a (possible) science. The reason is that all theoretical sciences of P   I'/ 01 30'#-"@ L$(/ '2/,5$/"26 32$,5- /.$/ /.,(9-N,(N/."5-"2A"- $#" -)-75)+-#8.0*'  +.$/-0"A"#8 (0/ "A"( 4'#" '(7"#-/$(7,(9 3$( -$6 $(6/.,(9 -6(/."/,3$226 $=0'/ /."5 $22 ;IDJJE?D Q"(3" 0'# R'($A0,7$=2" ,9(0#$(3"S #"9$#7,(9 /."5 ;ID  33#3  ?D  !"#$ &'"( P reason contain synthetic a priori judgments as principles (B.14), from which reason starts, and which reason inevitably uses in the course of experience (A. vii  ). I shall devote the last part of this paper to compare Kant’s conception of objectivity to the Lockean distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities are properties that objects have independent of observers ( qua  subjects); as such, they exist in the things themselves and do not reckon upon subjective  judgment. Moreover, they provide objective 6  facts about things. They thus stand in contrast with secondary qualities, which are  powers in objects to produce sensations ( qua  ideas, in the Lockean sense of the word) in us. Such ideas are subjective, mental entities that represent sensible qualities to our mind by being immediately perceived by our senses (L.Bk.2, Ch.XXIII). I contend that Kant dissents from the Lockean construal of secondary qualities as the  powers in objects  that produce sensations in us. To Kant, such powers are rather cognitive powers   that lie in us  (that srcinate from us). In Kant’s own words, “the impressions of the senses first prompt [us] to open up the whole cognitive power in regard to them, and to bring about experience” (A.86). Moreover, Kant posits that not only secondary qualities, but also primary qualities be ranked as mere appearances (P.289) – since they are, after all, properties that constitute sensible intuition of external objects; thus as with secondary qualities, they belong merely to appearances. This is because “in the world of sense, however deeply we explore its objects, we deal  with nothing whatever but appearances” (B.63). Nonetheless, I think that the demarcation between primary and secondary qualities in terms of objectivity and subjectivity, respectively, may remain sustained in Kant’s account – as long as the conception of objectivity is construed, as Kant does, as intersubjectivity. M   TU=H"3/,A"C $- ,( /." 0#7,($#6 -"(-" 01 /." /"#5 D  
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