Cambridge Kant Reading Group – second session 29th of January

As part of our Semester 2 Research Seminars, this week we’ll discuss a paper of Ido Geiger: “Is the Assumption of a Systematic Whole of Empirical Concepts a Necessary Condition of Knowledge?” Kant-Studien 94: 273-98 (2003).

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3 Responses to Cambridge Kant Reading Group – second session 29th of January

  1. hennyblomme says:

    In this paper, Ido Geiger challenges the view that the idea of a systematic unity of experience or whole of knowledge (as it is discussed by Kant in the Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic) is a merely regulative idea without constitutive function. Because in this view (which Geiger terms “heuristic” and which he also sees advocated by Grier – see the paper of the first session), the idea of a systematic whole of knowledge is not a condition of objective experience, we can conceive of the possibility to gain some empirical knowledge even before such idea is adopted. Geiger himself gives what he calls a “transcendental interpretation” of the idea of a systematic unity, and regards it as a necessary condition of the possession of any empirical knowledge, the consequence being that every empirical judgment that brings an intuition under a concept already needs the idea of systematic unity of our knowledge. Do you think that his account is convincing?

  2. Katharina Kraus says:

    There is definitely a lot of thought-provoking material in Geiger’s paper – and indeed most of us were quite sympathetic to his “transcendental interpretation” of the systematic unity, as opposed to the heuristic reading. Our discussion focussed on his negative claim, his criticism of the heuristic reading by showing its affinity to classical empiricism. So, Geiger argues that the heuristic interpretation has no convincing (and Kantian) story to tell about the formation of empirical concepts if it merely relies on sensible intuition, determined only by the categories. – But what exactly is needed for the formation of empirical concepts? Are the categories really only necessary (and not sufficient) conditions for it? Can the schemata help us in any way to explain how similarities (or common marks) are picked to form empirical concepts? – We were generally in favour of Geiger’s claim that the categories (and the schematism) are not enough. But what else is needed? – Thus, (regarding his positive claim, the transcendental interpretation,) we were not sure whether Geiger is really right in assuming that we need the full-blown notion of systematic unity to account for concept formation and for the detection of similarities. – Do you have any take on Kant’s theory of empirical concept formation?

  3. Thomas Land says:

    I think there is a lot to be said for what Geiger calls the transcendental reading of the regulative use of the Ideas of Pure Reason, as opposed to what he calls the heuristic reading. That is, there is a lot to be said for the claim that the Ideas of Reason are necessary conditions not just of scientific knowledge, but of all knowledge of nature for Kant. However, I don’t think Geiger makes a good case for this reading. There are several points that I find problematic. For now, let me just discuss one.
    In the course of laying out the argument against the heuristic reading, Geiger makes several claims about Kant that are not well supported and that strike me as false. The one I’d like to discuss now occurs on p.286. It is the claim that Kant’s theory of definition supports the claim that the schemata for empirical concepts are necessary, but not sufficient conditions of the meaningfulness of empirical concepts. Kant famously holds that there can be no real definitions of empirical concepts. But it doesn’t seem that this claim implies the desired conclusion about empirical schemata. Nor does it seem right that Kant regards definitions as “rules for applying a concept to objects”, as Geiger claims (ibid.). What Kant says in the passage that Geiger refers to here is that we cannot give definitions of empirical concepts because we can never be certain that we have, at any given point, discovered the true nature of the kind of thing that the concept is of. E.g. we cannot be sure that we won’t make new discoveries about the nature of gold in the future. Again, I don’t see how this entails that Kant regards definitions as rules for applying concepts to objects.
    Kant does discuss the latter issue, of how to apply concepts to objects, in a famous passage at the opening of the Analytic of Principles in the CPR, at A132f/B171f. In this passage, he defines Urteilskraft as the power to subsume under rules; that is, the power to tell, for some concept F and any object o, whether o instantiates F. The possession of this power, Kant says, cannot itself consist in the grasp of certain rules. For a rule for applying a concept would itself raise the question of how that rule is to be applied. A regress of rules a la Wittgenstein threatens. Therefore, the power of judgment must be a different kind of power; a power that one acquires through training on paradigmatic cases.
    Although Kant’s discussion of the power of judgment in this passage is not as fully worked out as one might wish, it suggests that he does not in fact think of the ability to apply a concept as being tied to the possession of further concepts. Geiger does not mention this passage or the doctrine of the power of judgment. But he needs to address it if his argument against the heuristic reading is to have any force.

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