Edinburgh Kant Reading Group – third session 6th of February

As part of our Semester 2 Research Seminars, this week we’ll start the discussion with §63 of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment and go to the next paragraphs when there’s time left.

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5 Responses to Edinburgh Kant Reading Group – third session 6th of February

  1. mmassimi says:

    Yesterday we read Sections 63 and 64 of the Critique of Judgment. We had some lively discussion about Kant’s view of things as “natural ends”, and Kant’s view of causality as relevant to this specific discussion. Kant defines things as “natural ends” if they are causes and effects of themselves. There follows a beautiful example of a tree and how it is capable of generating both itself as an “individual” and another tree as belonging to the same species. Thinking about laws in Kant, I personally puzzled over the following passage, right at the beginning of Section 64: “In order to see that a thing is possible only as an end, i.e., that the causality of its origin must be sought not in the mechanism of nature, but in a cause whose productive capacity is determined by concepts, it is necessary that its form not be possible in accordance with mere natural laws, i.e., ones that can be cognised by us through the understanding, applied to objects of the senses, alone; rather even empirical cognition of their cause and effect presupposes concepts of reason”.
    Kant seems to be suggesting here that there are two kinds of causality: the one in accordance with “natural laws” (which I take to mean the kind of causality discussed in the Second Analogy of Experience, if I have understood this passage correctly) and a second kind of causality, whose empirical cognition presupposes “concepts of reason”, or what he calls, a few lines down, “empirical laws of nature in relation to reason”. We grappled with the following example that Kant gives, i.e. that of a regular hexagon that someone might perceive as drawn in the sand in an apparently uninhabited land, but we did not make much progress in understanding this latter kind of causality that presupposes concepts of reason. Can anyone help?

    • Thomas Land says:

      I think that for Kant there is a general concept of cause, which differentiates itself into various species. The content of the general concept of cause is simply this: The existence of a thing x necessitates the existence of a distinct thing y according to a law (cf. e.g. KrV, A90/B122, A91/B124, B288). Usually, he talks about the causality of nature and the causality of freedom as the two species contained under the general concept. But in the context of the notion of a natural end we may wish to speak more generally of final causality (or, in Kant’s term, the causality of ends (Zwecke)) and leave it open whether all final causality is causality of freedom. Kant defines an end (Zweck) as a representation of an object such that this representation is the cause of the actuality of the object. That is, the representation of an F brings about an F. The clearest example is intentional action: My intention to A brings about an instance of A-ing. E.g. my intention to cross the street brings it about that a crossing of the street occurs.
      An end, then, is a representation that is causally efficacious. To have such representations, you need to have the capacity to have them, which Kant calls the faculty of desire (Begehrungsvermögen), the capacity “to be by means of one’s representations the cause of the actuality of the objects of these representations” (KpV, Preface, Ak. V:9n). In rational animals, this faculty has two stems: a sensible and an intellectual one; that is, one that is efficacious by means of sensible representations and one that is efficacious by means of concepts. This latter capacity, i.e. the intellectual stem of the faculty of desire, Kant calls (practical) reason.
      (Note that practical reason here is not identical with pure practical reason, the source of the moral law. It is rather the more general notion of a capacity, as we might put it, to act intentionally, i.e. on the basis of the representation of an end to be achieved and means for bringing this about.)
      Does that help?

  2. awarren says:

    Well, here’s how I’ve been approaching that problem… One way to think about what’s distinctive about causality that presupposes concepts of reason would be to contrast it with Hume, for whom “evidence” for every kind of causality would come ultimately from experience–(we might bear in mind that this wouldn’t be totally homologous w/Kant’s first kind of causality–causality of the understanding that Michela nicely outlines above–but maybe it can get us moving somewhere). I just ran across this passage in the Treatise, which Kant allegedly never read:

    “But this is still more remarkable, when we add a sympathy of parts to their common end, and suppose that they bear to each other, the reciprocal relation of cause and effect in all their actions and operations. This is the case with all animals and vegetables; where not only the several parts have a reference to some general purpose, but also a mutual dependence on, and connexion with each other. The effect of so strong a relation is, that though every one must allow, that in a very few years both vegetables and animals endure a total change, yet we still attribute identity to them, while their form, size, and substance are entirely altered. An oak, that grows from a small plant to a large tree, is still the same oak; though there be not one particle of matter, or figure of its parts the same. An infant becomes a man-, and is sometimes fat, sometimes lean, without any change in his identity” (Treatise, 1.4.6, 168).

    We call plants and animals the same thing over time because the (mutually dependent) causal relations among their parts are “so strong” that we can’t not attribute an identity to them. Here it is repeated experience and the way our understandings are structured to relate causes and effects in particular ways that leads us in a perfectly OK and more or less unproblematic way to think of things in terms of having identities across time. With Kant, however, the claim can be somewhat stronger than with Hume, because Kant asserts that we have concepts of reason that exist, by (his) definition, independent of possible experience. And so when we run into a regular hexagon drawn on the beach it’s not merely our lifetimes of experience and our understanding confusing us, but also the fact that we have a concept of reason (the hexagon’s “rule” or “principle”) that can construct it. We encounter something “in here” “out there,” and so we regard it “as if it were possible only through reason” (242). So we say someone drew it–probably Hume, to mess with us.

    But of course we don’t–or at least I don’t–typically run into regular hexagons drawn on the beach. But we do run into self-regulating and -generating organisms all the time, and the understanding doesn’t seem capable–in Kant’s words–of really “comprehending” this kind of causal system, though it’s not logically contradictory to think or talk about it. And so we think of the the organism in relation to a whole, but “not as a cause – for then it would be a product of art – but as a ground for the cognition of the systematic unity of the form and the combination of all of the manifold that is contained in the given material for someone who judges it” (245). As with the concept of the regular hexagon, this whole is a cause only inasmuch as it can “generate” that system of interdependent parts according to a rule or a principle (“whole-y-ness”). What the understanding can’t do, I think, is grasp this notion of an organizing or generating whole… that has to come from reason or judgment. Thus the concept is not a grounding of possible experience, but a grounding of cognition. That might be where mechanical law breaks down… But that pushes us into #65, so I’ll leave that be… I’d love to hear if this sounds remotely coherent; please draw regular hexagons beside my arguments that generate contradictions in your reason or understanding.

  3. mmassimim says:

    Thank you both, Thomas and Andrew! this is helpful.

  4. David says:

    The second requirement for a thing to be a ‘natural product’ is that “its parts be combined into a whole by being reciprocally the cause and effect of their form. For in this way alone is it possible in turn for the idea of the whole conversely (reciprocally) to determine the form and combination of all the parts” (245). Andrew comments here: ‘And so we think of the organism in relation to a whole, but “not as a cause – for then it would be a product of art – but as a ground for the cognition of the systematic unity of the form and the combination of all of the manifold that is contained in the given material for someone who judges it” (245). But it seems to me that the context makes clear that the ‘whole’ spoken of here is the organism itself, not something else we think of it as ‘in relation to’. (I am not certain if Andrew meant specifically to exclude this.) And I am inclined to think that when Kant speaks of the whole, not as a cause, but as a ground for the cognition of the systematic unity of the form, we must take his point to be along these lines: we only grasp (perceive) the unity in so far as we bring to our experience an idea of the organism as a whole ie we will not get there through a process of building up from the elements of the organism and the (causal) relations between them. Now if this reading is roughly correct, the point would not at all be one about how such organisms come into existence.
    Is there room for a suspicion that Kant’s notion of a ‘natural end’ involves an illegitimate conflation of two distinct ideas: one relating to the causality that we find within an organism, the other to how an organism comes into existence? The possible conflation I have in mind may be aided by the above sense in which our grasp of the phenomenon runs through an idea of the organism as a whole. And the conflation may be reflected in the terminology, and in its definition in terms of ‘cause and effect of itself’. Kant’s second and third illustrations of this idea (243-4) involve forms of reciprocal causation within, say, a particular tree. His first is much more awkward: suggesting a sense in which the tree ‘generates itself’. I’m not sure that anything that was said last week went far towards convincing me that his defence of this idea is not pretty suspect.
    It is more than possible that my seeing a ‘conflation’ here reflects contemporary ways of thinking about ‘causation’ that we do not have to accept. But one way to focus my doubt would be through the question: does a description of something as a ‘natural end’ involve any commitment to a claim about how it came to be?

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