Cambridge Kant Reading Group – first session 22nd of January

As part of our Semester 2 Research Seminars, this week we’ll discuss Michelle GRIER, “Kant on the Illusion of a Systematic Unity of Knowledge.” in: History of Philosophy Quarterly 14 (1): 1-28 (1997).

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7 Responses to Cambridge Kant Reading Group – first session 22nd of January

  1. Jim O'Shea says:

    Just thought I’d note, in case anyone interested, that I have an article from the same year as Michelle G.’s on closely related issues (sorry for the shameless self-promotion!):
    O’Shea, James (1997) ‘The Needs of Understanding: Kant on Empirical Laws and Regulative Ideals,’ in the International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, June 1997, pp. 216-254. Downloadable from my academia.edu website (below). Wish I could be there for this discussion group!

  2. hennyblomme says:

    In this text, Michelle Grier explains Kant’s view that we necessarily have to conceive of transcendental ideas, because of the way in which reason asks for the unconditioned condition of thought. In this sense, the three transcendental ideas are the (ultimate) products of reason’s activity of drawing a “mounting” series of inverse syllogistic inferences (by considering a given judgment as falling under a more general condition) in order to connect (directed by the categories of relation) judgments in a higher unity. As such, they provide a necessary – albeit subjective – ultimate unitary ground of our representations: the idea “Soul”, as transcendental and unknowable substance, is thus thought as the ultimate unitary ground of the prosyllogistic series of categorical judgments on all sorts of subjective conditions of knowledge. The idea “World” is the ultimate ground (first cause) of all appearances when we connect them through hypothetical judgments. The idea “God” is the ultimate condition of the connection (by disjunctive judgments) of all objects of thought, that is, ultimately, of the ideas of “Soul” and “World”.

    In section III, Grier wants to show us how these transcendental ideas are relevant for empirical inquiry by referring to “lower” transcendental ideas, such as the idea of a fundamental force, pure earth, pure air and so on. I think that, in this section, Grier obscures somewhat the relation between this kind of “lower” ideas and the three ultimate transcendental ideas. When she writes on p. 18 that “there seems to be little ground for the claim that the idea of the soul, for example, is necessary either for empirical investigations into psychology in se, or even for the more general unification of our knowledge into a systematic whole”, she seems undecided as to whether the idea of soul is only a necessary ideal ground for research in empirical psychology or if it has an even more important role. The same indecision is to be seen in her remark on p.21, that “[…] it is important to see that Kant wants to say that a variety of ideas other than those of the soul, the world, and God, play a role in empirical enquiry.” This statement is confusing, because it would imply that the idea of God also plays a regulative role in empirical enquiry.

    The lower ideas that Grier was mentioning (e.g. pure earth) are all transcendental regulative ideas with respect to empirical enquiry of outer nature (physics); She could have spoken also of lower ideas with respect to empirical enquiry of inner nature (psychology), for example the idea of “character” in the sense of “disposition”. But there are no lower ideas with respect to what we would have to call “empirical theology”, because such kind of discipline is simply not possible.
    Do you agree with me that the connection between the three transcendental ideas and the kind of (empirical or transcendental) discipline in which they necessarily function as unconditioned grounds is not really made clear in this otherwise helpful text?

    Another question of mine would be to know why Kant can deliver a metaphysics of outer nature but no metaphysics of inner nature. For Kantians, that is an easy question. But I’ll end with a more difficult one: does the transcendental idea of “world” also have a regulative importance for Kant’s metaphysics of matter (that is: his text of 1786)?

    • Katharina Kraus says:

      Our discussion yesterday centred around the more basic account of a transcendental idea, namely the idea of the systematic unity of knowledge, and subsequently, of a systematic unity of nature. This general idea might then be spelled out with respect to particular knowledge domains by means of the three more specific ideas, soul, world, and God, and also the lower ideas you mentioned. However, due to various difficulties with the first part of the paper, we did not discuss how the more specific ideas connect to the empirical sciences. – But I agree with you that these connections – between the transcendental ideas and the corresponding disciplines – are not made clear enough in the third part of the paper.
      However, what we did talk about was the employment of reason (and of its transcendental ideas) in empirical cognition in general, more precisely in the formation of empirical concepts and in the formation of empirical judgments. (We came to believe that, for Grier, “common” empirical knowledge does not differ substantially, i.e., in kind, from scientific knowledge, and that therefore her account of reason applies equally to both.)
      Grier advocates the view of a “mutual dependence” between the understanding and reason and she thinks that reason is not only a second-order faculty to systematize the understanding’s knowledge claims, but it is more fundamentally involved in guiding the understanding’s activities through the interests of reason. In particular, the speculative reason’s interest is the “completion of the conditioned knowledge of the understanding” (p. 12). But reason can do so only by “thinking beyond” the limits of the understanding and the restrictions of sensibility, i.e., beyond the conditions of experience. However, in doing so, reason falls – and necessarily does so – into an illusion: it proclaims the regulative – and therefore only subjectively necessary – idea of the unity of knowledge to be an objectively valid, transcendental principle. Grier is now trying to argue that this illusion is in fact necessary and cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, it seems to be the only way for reason to make plausible or explicit the regulative principle by means of which it is governing the understanding.
      Thus, concerning your question of whether the transcendental idea of “world” also has a regulative importance for Kant’s metaphysics of matter and also for the empirical study of physical nature, i.e., empirical physics: I think, following Grier, we have to say: yes, it does have a regulative employment in both – in metaphysics and empirical science.
      However, we were not really sure about Grier’s actual argument. Does she only try to give a coherent account of Kant’s position and thus to show how to reconcile his allegedly inconsistent statements on the status of the reason’s ideas? Or does she try to give a philosophically compelling argument for why such an account of reason and understanding would be most plausible and should therefore be accepted? What do you think about the relation between reason and understanding – in particular with respect to empirical cognition, as it is argued for in this paper?

  3. Eric Watkins says:

    Very interesting discussion, which raises a lot of good points/questions.
    One point I wonder about (raised in Henny’s comments) concerns the question of whether the idea of God plays a regulative role in empirical inquiry. Perhaps it depends on how broadly one understands “empirical inquiry”, but Kant does seem to think (in the Ideal of Pure Reason) that according to reason, God functions as the ground of all possibility, so it is insofar as we inquire into the possibility of empirical things (which is conditioned) that we are driven to the idea of God (which is unconditioned). Whether there must be “lower” ideas that enable the “higher” ideas to have a bearing on empirical inquiry is an interesting question. (Would there be a problem in taking this on a case by case basis? Perhaps the idea of the world as a totality uses “lower” ideas” and perhaps the idea of God does not?) Another issue to keep in mind on here is the relation between the regulative principles of homogeneity, specificity, and continuity and the ideas of God, the world as a totality, and the soul. It seems clear that the regulative principles of homogeneity, specificity, and continuity are directly relevant to empirical inquiry. So clarifying the relation between them and the ideas of God, the world as a totality, and the soul might help one to clarify how the ideas of God, the world as a totality and the soul could bear on empirical inquiry too. (Henny helpfully connects the ideas of God, the world as a totality, and the soul with the relational categories, in trying to explain the link that Kant attempts to draw here. For what it’s worth, I am undecided as to whether the link that Kant is drawing here is an indispensable part of his theory or best left to the side until later.)

    • hennyblomme says:

      Hi Eric, Thanks a lot for your comment. I think indeed, that we can say that the idea of an all encompassing reality has a regulative function for empirical enquiry, because, as Kant says, nothing would be for us an object if it wouldn’t presuppose the totality of all empirical reality as a condition of its possibility. But that we transform this idea of an all encompassing reality into an ens originarium (that is also ens summum and ens entis and that we personify) is already an illusion. So while the idea of an all encompassing reality has regulative value, the idea of God doesn’t add something to that kind of regulative use.
      As to the three transcendental ideas, I don’t see any possibility to have “lower” ideas that would make theology possible as an empirical science. You could perhaps imagine “lower” transcendental ideas that play a role in transcendental theology (eg the idea of an angel), but of course these ideas would all be entia rationis and have no relation whatsoever with possible experience.
      Concerning your remark about the principles of homogeneity, specificity and continuity, do you have yourself an idea of how they can help to clarify the relation between the transcendental ideas and empirical enquiry?

      • hennyblomme says:

        Hi Eric, I see now that the following passage in the reaction above: “But that we transform this idea of an all encompassing reality into an ens originarium (that is also ens summum and ens entis and that we personify) is already an illusion. So while the idea of an all encompassing reality has regulative value, the idea of God doesn’t add something to that kind of regulative use.” was formulated very poorly. I should have written: “But when we first transform this idea of an all encompassing reality into an ens originarium (that we regard at the same time as ens summum and ens entis) and then personify this idea, we are already victims of transcendental illusion. Therefore, the transcendental idea of God doesn’t add anything to the regulative utility that the idea of an all encompassing reality already has.”

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