Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Kant's most original contribution to philosophy is his "Copernican Revolution," that, as he puts it, it is the representation that makes the object possible rather than the object that makes the representation possible. This introduced the human mind as an active originator of experience rather than just a passive recipient of perception. Something like this now seems obvious:  the mind could be a tabula rasa, a "blank tablet," no more than a bathtub full of silicon chips could be a digital computer. Perceptual input must be processed, i.e. recognized, or it would just be noise -- "less even than a dream" or "nothing to us," as Kant alternatively puts it.

But if the mind actively generates perception, this raises the question whether the result has anything to do with the world, or if so, how much. The answer to the question, unusual, ambiguous, or confusing as it would be, made for endless trouble both in Kant's thought and for a posterity trying to figure him out. To the extent that knowledge depends on the structure of the mind and not on the world, knowledge would have no connection to the world and is not even true representation, just a solipsistic or intersubjective fantasy. Kantianism seems threatened with "psychologism," the doctrine that what we know is our own psychology, not external things. Kant did say, consistent with psychologism, that basically we don't know about "things-in-themselves," objects as they exist apart from perception. But at the same time Kant thought he was vindicating both a scientific realism, where science really knows the world, and a moral realism, where there is objective moral obligation, for both of which a connection to external or objective existence is essential. And there were also terribly important features of things-in-themselves that we do have some notion about and that are of fundamental importance to human life, not just morality but what he called the three "Ideas" of reason:  God, freedom, and immortality. Kant always believed that the rational structure of the mind reflected the rational structure of the world, even of things-in-themselves -- that the "operating system" of the processor, by modern analogy, matched the operating system of reality. But Kant had no real argument for this -- the "Ideas" of reason just become "postulates" of morality -- and his system leaves it as something unprovable. The paradoxes of Kant's efforts to reconcile his conflicting approaches and requirements made it very difficult for most later philosophers to take the overall system seriously.

Nevertheless, Kant's theory does all sorts of things that seem appropriate for a non-reductionistic philosophical system and that later philosophy has had trouble doing at all. Kant managed to provide, in phenomenal reality (phaenomena="appearances"), for a sphere for science that was distinct and separate from anything that would relate to morality or religion. The endless confusion and conflict that still results from people trying to figure out whether or how science and religion should fit together is deftly avoided by Kant, who can say, for instance, that God and divine creation cannot be part of any truly scientific theory because both involve "unconditioned" realities, while science can only deal with conditioned realities. In the world, everything affects everything else, but the traditional view, found even in Spinoza, is that God is free of any external causal influences. Similarly, Kant can be a phenomenal determinist with science yet simultaneously allow for free will, and that in a way that will not be entirely explicable to us -- a virtue when the very idea of a rational and purposive free will, and not just arbitrary choices, has involved obscurities that no one has been able to resolve. Kant's theory prevents psychological explanations for behavior, however illuminating, being used to excuse moral responsibility and accountability. Thus, the tragic childhood of the defendant, however touching and understandable, cannot excuse crimes commited in full knowledge of their significance.

Kant's approach is also of comparative interest because of the similar ancient Buddhist philosophical distinction between conditioned realities, which mostly means the world of experience, and unconditioned realities ("unconditioned dharmas"), which interestingly include, not only the sphere of salvation, Nirvana, but also space, which of course for Kant was a form imposed a priori on experience by the mind.

The problems that must be sorted out with Kant are at the same time formidable. Most important is the confusion that results from Kant mixing together two entirely different theories in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781). The first theory is that the fundamental activity of the mind, called "synthesis," is an activity of thought that applies certain concepts to a previously given perceptual datum from experience. It is upon this theory that the Critique of Pure Reason was planned with its fundamental division between the "Transcendental Aesthetic," about the conditions of perception (what Kant called empirical "intuition"), and the "Transcendental Logic," about the conditions of thought. Thus, Kant still says, as late as page 91 of the first edition ("A"), "But since intuition [Anschauung] stands in no need whatsoever of the functions of thought, appearances [Erscheinungen] would none the less present objects to our intuition" (A 90-91, Norman Kemp Smith translation, 1929, St. Martin's, 1965), without, that is, any need for mental synthesis.

However, right in the middle of his subsequent argument for why cerain concepts would be necessary and known a priori with respect to experience (the "Transcendental Deduction"), Kant realized that "synthesis" would have to produce, not just a structure of thought, but the entire structure of consciousness within which perception also occurs. Thus he says, "What is first given to us is appearance. When combined with consciousness [Bewußtsein], it is called perception [Wahrnehmung]" (A 119-120). It is the structure of consciousness, through synthesis, that turns "appearances" into objects and perceptions, without which they would be nothing. Consequently Kant made synthesis a function of imagination rather than thought, as a bridge between thought and perception, though this creates its own confusions (it still depends on the forms of thought and is still treated in the Logic). This move occurred because Kant hit upon the idea that synthesis produced the unity that we actually find in "apperception," i.e. in the unity of consciousness -- everything I know, think, see, feel, remember, etc. belongs to my consciousness in one temporal stream of experience. Synthesis therefore brings things into consciousness, making it possible for us to subsequently recognize that our consciousness exists and that there are things in it. Hume had described the result as "something betwixt unity and number," since it is paradoxically one thing and many things all at the same time.

These were all revolutionary ideas, exploring both the logical and the psychological principles on which the complex whole of consciousness could be generated, but they tore up Kant's original plan for his system so much that he was never quite comfortable with them. He then tried to paper over his most daring insights when he came to write both the Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics (1783) and the changes that he introduced into the second edition of the Critique itself (1787, "B"). Thus Schopenhauer, who understood the meaning of Kant's change of approach, advised his readers that they would be wasting their time unless they obtained an edition of the Critique that included the whole text from the first edition. It is now standard to include both versions, with the original paginations in the margins.

The path to resolving the paradoxes of Kant's theory opens up with two basic realizations:  (1) Kant always believed that reason connected us directly to things-in-themselves, and (2) Kant's system is not a Cartesian theory of hidden, transcendent objects, but a version of empirical realism, that we are directly acquainted with real objects. Kant's notion that reason connects us directly to things-in-themselves does not allow for speculative metaphysics as practiced by the Rationalists because reason alone does not determine any positive content of knowledge ("Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind," A 51). For that some datum is required. Kant allows that we possess two sources of input that can serve as such a datum, physical sensation and the sense of moral duty. Physical sensation precipitates an application of reason to experience, producing the perception of phenomenal objects. The supreme rational expression of this is science. The sense of moral duty precipitates an application of reason that generates ethics and religion. The supreme rational expression of this is the "Postulates of Practical Reason," the "Ideas" of God, freedom, and immortality which, to Kant, are required as conditions of the the Moral Law.

The differences between reality as seen in science and reality as seen in morality and religion reveal that there are aspects to existence that are not revealed by either datum alone. The two sources are also unequal in the magnitude and ultimate significance of their content. What science can investigate and know is apparently all but endless, but it still leaves us wondering, "What is it all for?" Morality and religion have a far more limited rational content, returning to many of the same issues over and over again, but such issues happen to include, not just the questions about how to live, but the ultimate questions about the meaning of life and existence ("Life, the Universe and Everything," in the memorable formula of Douglas Adams). That our moral datum does not lead to direct, positive knowledge of things that we are able to conceive, like God, leads Kant to characterize his system as transcendental idealism, that we have a subjective representation of such things, without the real intuition that we have of physical objects. The reality revealed by morality is thus for Kant a matter of faith (Glaube), an inference from the Moral Law which is itself present to us with an inexplicable authority. "Transcendental idealism" is thus profoundly different from other forms of "idealism," like the "subjective idealism" of Berkeley (what Kant called "empirical idealism") or the "objective idealism" of Hegel, both of which offer speculative certainties about the ultimate nature of things, which Kant does not do. The nature of things that we can know about concretely, for Kant, is revealed by science. Hence, Kantian transcendental idealism is equally attended by empirical realism.

How Kant can be certain that reason connects us directly to things-in-themselves is an question that he cannot answer. All that the Transcendental Deduction aimed at was showing that particular concepts, like causality or substance, are "necessary conditions for the possibility of experience." If successful, the Deduction limits the application of the concepts to experience, which is fine for Kant's philosophy of science, but doesn't help when he turns to morality and the "Postulates of Practical Reason." There his basic, but unjustified, theory of reason emerges. This shortcoming is what was directly addressed and answered by Jakob Fries, whose epistemology thus could save the generality of Kant's theory without falling back, like Hegel, into speculative metaphysics.

That Kant's theory is one of empirical realism is difficult to understand and easily forgotten. Since phenomena are undoubtedly mental contents, a point repeatedly stressed by Kant, it is natural and easy to infer from this a Cartesian "transcendental realism," according to which "real" objects, which are not mental contents, are things that we do not experience. A transcendental realism clearly contradicts Kant's transcendental idealism, but we can still be left thinking that what we really have is an empirical (subjective) idealism with a kind of transcendental agnosticism -- we don't know transcendent Cartesian objects, but they are the real objects (the Greek ontôs ónta, "beingly beings"). The lack of clear settlement in this area of basic ontology is the most intractable problem in Kant's philosophy.

The situation, however, is not unique to Kant. Something very similar can be found in Chinese T'ien-t'ai Buddhism (Japanese Tendai), as formulated by the great Chih-i (or Zhiyi, 538-597). There we find the doctrine of the "three truths" of "Emptiness" (neither existence nor non-existence nor both nor neither), "conventional existence," and "the Middle." "Emptiness" is rather like Kantian things-in-themselves where "dialectical illusion" is revealed by the Antinomies (a device similar to that employed by Nagârjuna, c.200 AD); "conventional existence" is empirical realism; and "the Middle" the Buddhist reconciliation of the two -- not a Hegelian "synthesis" because no absolute knowledge is produced to overcome the inconceivablility of Emptiness.

Such a religious doctrinal tradition, however, may not be considered by many to be very helpful with modern philosophical problems; and the T'ien-t'ai "Middle," however consistent with the paradoxes of Buddhist philosophy, is not a marked improvement over the balancing act in which Kant himself leaves us. The solution to the dilemma was grasped by Schopenhauer but not otherwise well understood by Kantians:  Consciousness does not just condition knowledge and perception, it conditions external reality. The modern context the most like this is in quantum mechanics, where, at least according to Niels Bohr, objects exist in a certain way, as discrete actualities, because they are observed. Otherwise, reality exists independently only as a sum of possiblities (where Schrödinger's Cat can be both dead and alive). This is not exactly what we get in Schopenhauer, who simplified matters by completely eliminating individuality from the thing-in-itself:  Individuality only occurs in space, the principium individuationis. That, however, also eliminated any possibility of individual immortality, which Kant thought was rather important. I do not think, indeed, that much progress has been made beyond that. Something new is required, as suggested in The Origin of Value in a Transcendent Function, "Ontological Undecidability," and "A New Kant-Friesian System of Metaphysics." If neither subject nor object, internal nor external, are ontologically fundamental, then we can stop worrying about in which place the real things really are, and the threat of either transcendental realism or empirical idealism disappears. This again sounds like what might be needed in quantum mechanics, and a Kantian quantum mechanics could offer hope both for the physics and metaphysics.

That brings us back to the datum of morality. Indeed, Kant's whole system does seem to come down to his own famous words, inscribed on his tomb, the "starry heavens above and the moral law within." If the existence of morality is as evident as the existence of physical objects, then Kant's dualism (empirical and transcendental) is required. If the existence of morality is not so evident, as with Nietzsche and currently fashionable nihilism, then there seems to be nothing left to motivate Kant's concern with transcendent objects.
Major Works date age
Thoughts on the True Estimation of
Living Forces
1746 22
On Fire [Doctoral Dissertation] 1755 31
A New Explanation of the First
Principles of Metaphysical Knowledge
1755 31
General Natural History and
Theory of the Heavens
1755 31
Physical Monadology 1756 32
New Theory of Motion and Rest 1758 34
Some Experimental Reflections about
1759 35
The False Subtlety of the Four
Syllogistic Figures Demonstrated
1762 38
Enquiry into the Clarity of the Principles
of Natural Theology and Morality
1762, 1764 38
On the Only Possible Argument for
Proving the Existence of God
1763 39
Attempt to Introduce the Concept of
Negative Quantitites into Philosophy
1763 39
Observations on the Feeling of the
Beautiful and Sublime
1764 40
Dreams of a Visionary, Explained by
Dreams of Metaphysics
1766 42
The First Ground of the Distinction of
Regions in Space
1768 44
On the Form and Principles of the
Sensible and the Intelligible World

[Inaugural Dissertation]
1770 46
Critique of Pure Reason 1781, 1787 57
Prolegomena to Any
Future Metaphysics
1783 59
Idea for a Universal History 1784 60
What is Enlightenment? 1784 60
Foundations of the Metaphysics
of Morals
1785 61
Metaphysical Foundations of
Natural Science
1786 62
Conjectural Beginning
of Human History
1786 62
Critique of Practical Reason 1788 64
Critique of Judgment 1790, 1793 66
Religion Within the Limits
of Reason Alone
1793, 1794 69
The End of All Things 1794 70
Perpetual Peace 1795, 1796 71
The Metaphysics of Morals 1797,
The Strife of the Faculties 1798 74
Anthropology from a
Pragmatic Point of View
1798 74
Logic 1800 76
But something that Kant overlooks is the Platonic overtone of his own famous statement. The "starry heavens" are especially striking, even for Kant, because they are beautiful. Most people see them, not as factual objects of science, but as things of awe, wonder, mystery, and beauty. Unfortunately, the mature Kant does not have the aesthetic realism of Plato and Schopenhauer, or of the younger Kant himself (in the Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, 1764). To Plato, the beauty of things is a clue to the transcendent; but the mature Kant decided that only morality played that part. This only reinforces Kant's moralism and weakens his overall theory of value, let alone the metaphysics into which that fits.

The hope of fixing the loose ends of transcendental idealism, and of giving morality itself a credible realistic basis, lies back in the consideration of empirical realism. The unresolved paradox of a "realism" that was also a phenomenalism is the root of the greater difficulties considered above and below. If objects are immanent in experience but independent in their existence, then clearly there is a transcendent aspect to them, however that is construed. God, freedom, and immortality are not actually essential to that, and Schopenhauer did not believe in any of them; but Schopenhauer also overlooked Kant's analysis of "conditioned" versus "unconditioned" objects. Even a physical object, the universe, passes beyond experience and generates metaphysical paradoxes (the Antinomy of space and time), in so far as it is, in its entirety, an unconditioned whole. This is really just what Kant's Ideas are all about. All these matters in Kant's thought are therefore still open to clarification and development, as Fries and Schopenhauer attempted immediately, and as considered elsewhere in these pages.

Despite, but also because of, the paradoxes of his thought, much of philosophy in the Twentieth Century has been ill conceived knock-offs of Kant's theory. The idea that the mind produces the world it knows conspicuously turns up in Wittgenstein's theory of language and now with tedious, endless repetition in "post-modern" theories that see all reality as "socially constructed" on the basis of no more than "power" relationships (ultimately derived from the Marxist notion of ideological "superstructures" to class and economic relations). These all produce a fundamental paradox that was avoided by Kant, for they are all relativistic and subjectivist denials that knowledge even exists, which nevertheless maintain that this circumstance is a fact that can be known and demonstrated with some certainty -- though the "edifying" version of this recognizes the paradox by not trying such a demonstration, while still expecting us to accept the conclusion (!?). Thus, Wittgenstein sees all reality as created by particular languages, even though one might think this would imply that truths about language would be created by particular languages also. And since common sense expressed in most historical languages has actually affirmed that the world exists independently of what we say or think about it, this should mean that it does. Kant, of course, does not see the process of synthesis producing anything relativistic or subjectivist:  the realism of phenomena is fully meant. The knock-offs of Kant are rarely realistic.

While the knock-offs occupy fashionable opinion, basic misconceptions about Kantian theory are casually perpetuated. For instance, a defining characteristic of Kantian philosophy is that synthetic a priori propositions are not self-evident and can be denied without contradiction. What makes them true a priori is that they have a cognitive ground which is not in empirical intuition (i.e. perception). Although it is often claimed, as by the great French mathematician Poincaré, that the existence of non-Euclidean geometry refutes Kant's philosophy of geometry, in fact Kant's view of the nature of the axioms of geometry as synthetic a priori propositions means that Kant could have predicted the existence of non-Euclidean geometry. This should be obvious given any clear understanding of the meaning of "synthetic." Only Leonard Nelson fully appreciated this circumstance. The question of geometry in Kant is addressed in "The Ontology and Cosmology of Non-Euclidean Geometry."

A striking thing about Kant's life is how late he began his most significant work. He didn't complete his doctoral thesis and "habilitation," by which one qualified to teach in a German university, until 1755, when he was already 31 years old, having previously made a living as a tutor -- at such an age mathematicians and physicists are usually expected to have already burnt out. Kant's position, however, was still only a Privatdozent, which meant he was only paid by the student, and carried an academic teaching load that today would only be found in a community college. This difficult life only improved in 1770, when Kant finally was appointed to a regular chair of philosophy, at age 46. Nevertheless, Kant had already made a name for himself with his often original ideas in physics and astronomy and with his growing critique of the widely accepted, at least in Germany, thought of Leibniz (e.g. the seminal "The First Ground of the Distinction of Regions in Space," which upheld Newtonian arguments against Leibniz's denial of the existence of space).

The "Inaurgural Dissertation" that commemorated his appointment was the first real step towards the characteristic doctrines of the Critical Philosophy. Working that out, and writing the Critique of Pure Reason, still hampered by heavy teaching obligations, then took more than ten years. That book's publication in 1781 put Kant, at age 57, on the doorstep of a vast philosophical project, whose details he had already planned, but whose completion his age and health -- he was never a very robust man -- might well frustrate. His concern that he might actually die before finishing his work, in an age when sudden death was an all too familiar phenomenon, led him to concentrate his efforts with a discipline that has led to caricatures of him ever since -- his clock-like appearance for his daily constitutional, on what then became the "Philosopher's Walk" in Königsberg, is usually seen as evidence of habits mechanical to an absurd extent, rather than the caution and discipline of a frail and aging soul desperate to finish his life's work. His previous custom of dining out and enjoying conversation with his friends was sacrificed in the race against death. What his life had been like we learn from Ernst Cassirer:

"Thus," [F.T.] Rink says, "Kant in his early years spent almost every midday and evening outside his house in social activities, frequently taking part also in a card party and only getting home around midnight. If he was not busy at meals, he ate in the inn at a table sought out by a number of cultured people." Kant gave himself to this mode of life in such an easy and relaxed way that even the most meticulous psychological observer among his intimates was occasionally puzzled about him; in 1764 [Johann Georg] Hamann says that Kant carries in his head a host of greater and lesser works, which he however probably will never finish in the "whirl of social distraction" in which he is now tossed. [Kant's Life and Thought, translated by James Haden, Yale University Press, 1981, pp.51-52]

The race with death, happily, was won, and the key monuments of the Critical Philosophy, including the trilogy of Critiques, were produced. It was declining faculties that finally stilled his pen, before he actually passed away. Kant's grave has fortunately escaped the destruction that the Soviet occupation visited upon the sights of traditional Königsberg. Now that the city's Soviet name, Kaliningrad, awkwardly still commemorates the Stalinist President of the Soviet Union, but the Russians do not want to return the city to its German name, the proposal has been floated to actually name the city after Kant (i.e. Kantgrad). Since Kant's thought is truly the watershed of modern philosophy, and still the fruitful point of departure for the 21st century, no such monument could be more suggestive, encouraging, and hopeful.

I have enjoyed the good fortune to know a philosopher, who was my teacher. In the prime of life he had the happy cheerfulness of a youth, which, so I believe, accompanied him even in grey old age. His forehead, formed for thinking, was the seat of indestructible serenity and peace, the most thought-filled speech flowed from his lips, meriment and wit and humor were at his command, and his lecturing was discourse at its most entertaining. In precisely the spirit with which he examined Leibniz, Wolff, Baumgarten, and Hume and purused the natural laws of the physicists Kepler and Newton, he took up those works of Rousseau which were then appearing, Émile and Héloïse, just as he did every natural discovery known to him, evaluated them and always came back to unprejudiced knowledge of Nature and the moral worth of mankind. The history of nations and peoples, natural science, mathematics, and experience, were the sources from which he enlivened his lecture and converse; nothing worth knowing was indifferent to him; no cabal, no sect, no prejudice, no ambition for fame had the least seductiveness for him in comparison with furthering and elucidating truth. He encouraged and engagingly fostered thinking for oneself; despotism was foreign to his mind. This man, whom I name with the utmost thankfulness, and respect, was Immanuel Kant; his image stands before me to my delight. [Johann Gottfried Herder, Letters on the Advacement of Humanity, letter 79, quoted by Cassirer, op cit., p. 84]

Kant's Transcenental Idealism

Analytic and Synthetic:  Kant and the Problem of First Principles

Three Points in Kant's Theory of Space and Time

Kant's First Antinomy, of Space and Time

Kantian Quantum Mechanics

Intuition and Mysticism in Kantian Philosophy

Psychological Types

History of Philosophy

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Copyright (c) 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Analytic and Synthetic:  Kant and the Problem of First Principles

Except for outright Skeptics, Aristotle's solution to the Problem of First Principles, that such propositions are known to be true because they are self-evident, endured well into Modern Philosophy. Then, when all the Rationalists, like Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, appealed to self-evidence and all came up with radically different theories, it should have become clear that this was not a good enough procedure to adjudicate the conflicting claims. This awkward situation was then blown apart by Hume, under whose skeptical examination, reviving the critique of al-Ghazâlî, even the principle of causality crumbled.

Kant does not directly pose the Problem of First Priniciples, and the form of his approach tends to obscure it. Thus, the "Transcendental Logic" in the Critique of Pure Reason is divided into the "Transcendental Analytic" and the "Transcendental Dialectic." The "Dialectic" is concerned with the fallacies produced when metaphysics is extended beyond possible experience. The "Analytic," about secure metaphysics, is divided into the "Analytic of Concepts" and the "Analytic of Principles." "Principles" would be Principia in Latin, i.e. "beginnings," "first things," "first principles," where now in English, thanks to the drift in the meaning of "principle," the term must be reduplicated with an etymologically redundant "first." Kant, however, is here writing in German, and in place of Principia we have Grundsätze (singular Grundsatz, "principle," "axiom" -- literally "ground sentence"). The examination of the Grundsätze, however, is deferred until after and "Analytic of Concepts." Thus, were the Problem of First Principles to be raised, it seems like that would come after an examination of concepts. Since it is not raised at all, one is left with the impression that it has somehow, along the way, actually already been dealt with. It has. [note]

The peculiarity of Kant's approach, from an Aristotelian (or Friesian) point of view, is not idiosyncratic. Kant approaches the matter as he does because he is responding to Hume, and one of Hume's intitial challenges is about the origin of "ideas." While the Problem of First Principles is about the justification of propositions, Hume's Empiricist approach goes back to asking about the legitimacy of the very concepts, of which the propositions are constituted, in the first place. The Rationalists never worried too much about that. For Descartes, any notion that could be conceived "clearly and distinctly" could be used without hesitation or doubt, a procedure familiar and unobjectionable in mathematics. It was the Empiricists who started demanding certificates of authenticity, since they wanted to trace all knowledge back to experience. Locke was not aware, so much as Berkeley and Hume, that not everything familiar from traditional philosophy (or even mathematics) was going to be so traceable; and Berkeley's pious rejection of "material substance" lit a skeptical fuse whose detonation would shake much of subsequent philosophy through Hume, thanks in great measure to Kant's appreciation of the importance of the issue.

Thus, Kant begins, like Hume, asking about the legitimacy of concepts. However, the traditional Problem has already insensibly been brought up; for in his critique of the concept of cause and effect, Hume did question the principle of causality, a proposition, and the way in which he expressed the defect of such a principle uncovered a point to Kant, which he dealt with back in the Introduction to the Critique, not in the "Transcendental Logic" at all. Hume had decided that the lack of certainty for cause and effect was because of the nature of the relationship of the two events, or of the subject and the predicate, in a proposition. In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume made a distinction about how subject and predicate could be related:

All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of Fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic; and in short, every affirmation which is either intuitively or demonstratively certain [note: these are Locke's categories]. That the square of the hypothenuse is equal to the square of the two sides, is a proposition which expresses a relation between these figures. That three times five is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation between these numbers. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never were a circle or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence.

Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible; because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun will not rise to-morrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind. [Enquiries, Selby-Bigge edition, Oxford, 1902, 1972, pp.25-26]

Both paragraphs warrant quoting in full. The first now would seem properly more a matter of embarrassment than anything else. Whatever Hume expected from intuition or demonstration, it would be hard to find a mathematician today who would agree that "the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence." If Hume's fame rests on this point, there would be little to recommend it. The second paragraph, however, redeems the impression by giving us a logical criterion to distinguish between truths that are "relations of ideas" and those that are "matters of fact":  A matter of fact can be denied without contradiction.

This was the immediate inspiration to Kant, who can have asked himself how something "demonstratively false" would "imply a contradiction." A contradiction means something of the form "A and not-A." If a proposition expressing a matter of fact can be denied without contradiction, then the subject and the predicate of such a proposition cannot contain anything in common, otherwise the item would turn up posited in the subject but negated in the predicate of the denial. On the other hand, a proposition that cannot be denied without contradiction must contain something in the predicate that is already in the subject, so that the item does turn up posited in the subject but negated in the predicate of the denial. This struck Kant as important enough that, like Hume, he founded a whole critique on it, and also produced some more convenient and expressive terminology. Propositions true by "relations of ideas" are now analytic ("taking apart"), while propositions not so founded are synthetic ("putting together").

This clarified distinction Kant could then turn on Hume's own examples of "relations of ideas." Can geometry be denied without contradiction? Kant did not see that the predicates of the axioms of geometry contained any meaning already expressed in the subjects. They were synthetic. They could be denied without contradiction. Geometry would thus not have an intuitive self-evidence or demonstrative certainty that Hume claimed for it. Kant still thought that Euclid, indeed, would have certainty, but the ground of certainty would have to located elsewhere. Nevertheless, Kant is rarely credited, and Hume rarely faulted, for their views of the logic of the axioms of geometry. If the axioms of Euclid can be denied without contradiction, this means that systems of non-Euclidean geometry are logically possible and can be constructed without contradiction. But it is not uncommon to see the claim that Kant actually denied this, and it is Kant, not Hume, who is typically belabored for implicitly prohibiting the development of non-Euclidean systems. This distortion can only come from confusion and bias, a confusion about the meaning of "synthetic" (even in Hume's corresponding category), and a bias that the Analytic tradition has for British Empiricism, by which the glaring falsehood of Hume's statements is ignored and Kant's true and significant discovery misrepresented. This curious and reprehensible turn is considered in detail elsewhere.

Kant, as it happens, also did not see how arithmetic could be analytic. In his own example of "7 + 5 = 12" (p. B-15), if "7 + 5" is understood as the subject, and "12" as the predicate, then the concept or meaning of "12" does not occur in the subject. This was rather harder to swallow than the point about geometry, for it seems rather "intuitively" certain that "7 + 5 = 12" cannot be denied without contradiction. Kant must have missed something. Hope for demonstrating the analytic nature of arithmetic came with the development of propositional logic, since a proposition like "P or not P" clearly cannot be denied without contradiction, but it is not in a subject-predicate form. Still, "P or not P" is still clearly about two identical things, the P's, and "7 + 5 = 12" is more complicated than this. But, if "7 + 5 = 12" could be derived directly from logic, without substantive axioms like in geometry, then its analytic nature would be certain. In their Principia Mathematica (1910-1913), Russell and Whitehead and, in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein thought that they could indeed derive arithmetic from logic. Their demonstrations, however, were flawed, and it turned out that substantive axioms were necessary, just like in geometry. The axioms are now those of axiomatic Set Theory, and it is Set Theory that concerns the foundations of arithmetic. Kant turned out to be right again, though, curiously, he is again rarely credited for this.

Kant's discovery, however, can be trivialized if it turns out that there are simply no analytic propositions at all. This task was undertaken by Willard Van Orman Quine ("Two Dogmas of Empiricism," 1950). The approach, simply enough, was Nominalistic. If we say that "red is a color" is an analytic proposition, where is "color" in "red"? I don't see it. If we say that the meaning "color" is in the meaning of "red," where are these "meaning" things? I don't see them. Thus, if language consists of words but not abstract meanings, then we don't have to worry about one meaning containing another. "Red is a color" is just a convention of our language, which is even what we can say about "P or not P." Besides the general failings of Nominalism, Quine's particular critique is well refuted by Jerrold Katz.

In Kant there is little left in the category of "analytic." Definitions and truths of logic are going to be about it; and the definitions themselves will be suspect when the concepts defined may or may not be legitimate. The meaning within a concept must also in some sense be "put together," and the ground of this will raise the same questions as the ground of synthetic propositions. Thus, Saul Kripke began to speak of "analytic a posteriori" propositions, when the meanings in the subject are themselves united on only a posteriori grounds, i.e. the basis of experience. Indeed, dictionary definitions of natural language words are prima facie of conventional usage, e.g. how a pot is different from a pan, and the meaning of any words can be simply stipulated for some appropriate purpose, e.g. a "designated hitter" can go to bat for some particular member of a baseball team (usually the pitcher), without otherwise replacing him in other play. Thus, a big fight over the existence of analytic propositions doesn't in the end make that much difference. Synthetic propositions are the key anyway, as they were if Kant wanted to answer Hume's critique of causality.

For, indeed, outside of an axiomatized logic itself, the First Principles of Demonstration will be synthetic. However Kant can explain the truth of non-empirical synthetic propositions, i.e. those that are a priori instead of a posteriori, that will be his answer to the Problem of First Principles. They are clearly now, after Hume, not going to be self-evident. Yet Hume himself is often poorly understood. While it is common to say that Hume denied the existence of synthetic a priori propositions, there is some question about whether he actually does. He says that the relationship of cause and effect is not discovered or known by any reasonings a priori, but that is not the same thing. A synthetic a priori proposition is not known from any reasonings. In fact, Hume does not see that the relationship of cause and effect is discovered or known from anything, since it is not justified by experience, in which there is no necessary connection between cause and effect, and there is in fact nothing in the cause to even suggest the effect, much less than the effect must follow. Hume's famous explanation was a psychological one, that we become accustomed to the association of certain events ("causes") with others ("effects"); but this, obviously, carries no weight whatsoever about the nature of things, which is what makes Hume, very properly, a Skeptic.

At the same time, Hume had no doubts whatsoever of the necessity of cause and effect. This is where he is commonly misrepresented. People assume that because he was a Skeptic, then he must have thought it possible for causes to occur without effects, i.e. for the principle of causality to be contradicted in actuality. He never had any such expectation, and in fact he ruled out a priori, not only miracles, but also chance and free will just because they would violate (a very deterministic) causality. Confusion over this occurs because people do not appreciate that Hume as an "Academic" Skeptic, holding that lack of knowledge (the meaning of "Skepticism") does not rule out "reasonable" beliefs. Causality is a "reasonable" belief because, as Hume says, "All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of Cause and Effect" [Enquiry, op. cit., p. 26]. So without it, we would have no basis of reasoning in daily life. Thus, Hume says:

Nor need we fear that this philosophy, while it endeavors to limit our enquiries to common life, should ever undermine the reasonings of common life, and carry its doubts so far as to destroy all action, as well as speculation. Nature will always maintain her rights, and prevail in the end over any abstract reasoning whatsoever. Though we should conclude, for instance, as in the foregoing section, that, in all reasonings from experience, there is a step taken by the mind which is not supported by any argument or process of the understanding [i.e. from cause to effect]; there is no danger that these reasonings, on which almost all knowledge depends, will ever be affected by such a discovery. [ibid., p. 41]

Kant therefore understood that Hume's problem was not with the quid facti, that there were causes and effects, and necessary connection, but with the quid juris, the epistemic justification of the principle. While some philosophers spent much of the 20th Century congratulating Hume for having discovered that causality might not exist, they never seem to have noticed that he explicitly denied having done anything of the sort. Kant already knew the type, who "were ever taking for granted that which he doubted, and demonstrating with zeal and often with impudence that which he never thought of doubting..." [Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, p. 259, Lewis White Beck translations, Bobbs-Merrill, 1950, p.6].

Kant's solution to the quid juris in the Critique of Pure Reason was the argument of the "Transcendental Deduction" (in the "Analytic of Concepts") that concepts like causality are "conditions of the possibility of experience," because they are the rules by which perception and experience are united into a single consciousness, through a mental activity called "synthesis." Once the existence of consciousness is conceded (which not everyone, e.g. behaviorists, might be willing to do), then whatever is necessary for the existence of consciousness must be conceded.

This is a strong argument and, decisive or not, is heuristically of great value, especially when we untangle it from the earlier views of perception in the Critique. However, it suffers from a couple of serious drawbacks. One is that, like Hume's own explanation, it is a psychological approach that does not necessarily tell us anything about objects, i.e. consciousness may be united in a way that is irrelevant to external things. Kant seemed to recognize this himself when he said that none of this gives us any knowledge of things-in-themselves. This problem was never properly sorted out by Kant, and is considered independently in "Ontological Undecidabilty".

The second drawback of Kant's argument is that it would only work, indeed, for the "conditions of the possibility of experience," and not for any other matters which might seem to involve synthetic a priori propositions. Hume himself was just as concerned about morality as about causality, and found himself in the same Skeptical position in both matters. The only comparable thing that Kant can do for morality, however, would be to employ a principle of the "conditions of the possibility of morality." But this would require conceding that morality exists, which is something that a very large number of people in the 20th century, far beyond behaviorists, would not be willing to do. Nor does it make one a Kantian merely to vaguely appeal to human "rationality" (e.g. John Rawls) as a basis for morality, since this really just begs the question of justification -- besides violating Hume's famous observation that propositions of obligation ("ought," imperatives) cannot be logically derived from propositions of fact ("is," indicatives).

Keeping in mind that First Principles cannot be proven, and that synthetic propositions can be denied without contradiction, the conspicious historical alternatives seem to be to deny one or the other. Hegel denied the first, by taking the equivalent of Kant's Transcendental Deduction as itself a part of metaphysics and a proof, by means of novel principles of "dialectical" logic, of moral and metaphysical truths. To an extent, Hegel may also have denied the second, as Leibniz certainly did, treating any moral or metaphysical truth as analytic, if only from the point of view of divine omniscience. Either such move, however, cannot escape the original embarrassments of Rationalism, or avoid the devastation inflicted by the criticisms made by Hume and Kant.

Less conspicous historically was Jakob Fries, who could accept the proper meanings of "First Principle" and of synthetic propositions. The Friesian theories of deduction and of non-intuitive immediate knowledge make it possible to preserve the advances of Hume and Kant without falling back into Rationalism or heading for the Nihilism (so different from Hume's Skepticism), relativism, scientism, pragmatism, etc., so conspicuous in the 20th century. Later, Karl Popper proposed a special solution for the Problem in that science, by using falsification, does not need to worry about a positive justification of First Principles at all. This enables scientific progress to heedlessly continue, as it has, regardless of the status of any philosophical solution.

Thus, Kant gave us the real elements of the solution of the Problem of First Principles, even though he could not complete and seal the matter himself. Indeed, no one can hope to do that, even as new elements and new understanding of the solution emerge over time.


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Analytic and Synthetic:  Kant and the Problem of First Principles, Note

In his earlier writings, in Latin, Kant had actually used the Latin expression principia prima, "First Principles." In the Critique of Pure Reason, we get an explicit discussion of principia only at the beginning of the "Transcendental Dialectic":

The term 'principle' [Prinzips] is ambiguous, and commonly signifies any knowledge [Erkenntnis] which can be used as a principle [Prinzips], although in itself, and as regards its proper origin [Ursprung], it is no principle [Principium]. Every universal proposition, even one derived from experience, through induction [Induktion], can serve as major premise [Obersatz] in a syllogism; but it is not therefore itself a principle [Principium]. [Norman Kemp Smith translation, St Martin's Press, 1929, 1965, p.301, A 300]

Here the difference between Kant's use of the German term and the Latin is, shall we say, lost in translation -- an entirely unnecessary loss, since the Latin term could have been used in English just as in German. Kant explains the drift in meaning of "principle," but instead of contrasting principium with principium primum, as in English we can contrast "principle" with "first principle," he contrasts German Prinzips with Latin Principium. By translating both the German term and the Latin one as "principle," Kemp Smith obscures the difference between a principle, in the modern sense, and a first principle. This may reveal that Kemp Smith actually isn't very sensitive or interested in either first principles or the Problem of First Principles. Indeed, Anglo-American philosophy, with its empiricist tendencies, has not been attracted to anything so un-empirical as first principles.

The passage also displays a bit of evidence that Kant takes the derivation of universal propositions from experience through induction as unproblematic. He cannot have been unaware of the Problem of Induction, having read Hume, but had not worked out, as no one would until Karl Popper, that there is a solution.

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Kant's Transcendental Idealism

The obscurity of Kant when it comes to his theory of empirical realism and transcendental idealism is largely due to his terminology and the difficulties of reconciling parts of his theory. Since "transcendental" is contrasted with "empirical," the two terms are epistemological and mean "independent of (i.e. transcending) experience" and "immanent in experience." Since "realism" is contrasted with "idealism," those two terms are ontological and mean "independent of my existence" and "dependent on my existence." Berkeley was for Kant the characteristic "idealist," and undoubtedly an empiricist, while Descartes was a "realist," believing commonsensically that objects exist independent of us, but who also thought that we could only know their essences through "clear and distinct" innate ideas, not experience. This made Descartes a "transcendental" realist.

If we try to construct a square of opposition using Kant's two distinctions, we have some trouble. A strictly constructed square of opposition would look like the one at right. "Transcendental" (e) is the negation of "empirical" (e), and "idealism" (r) is the negation of "realism" (r). The structure we get, however, does not work for Kant's theory. Transcendental idealism and empirical realism would be contradictories and so cannot both be true, as Kant requires. Similarly, transcendental realism and empirical idealism are also contradictories and so cannot both be false, as Kant requires. The features of the square of opposition that we would expect Kant's theory to conform to would be that "contraries," the two upper members, are both false, while the "subcontraries," the two lower members, are both true.

If we want such a square of opposition, it will have to be rearranged without regard for the strict logical properties of the terms. We can save the distinctions and do that by recalling that opposites contradict each other only when applied to the same objects. Black coal and white snow are not contradictions. Kantian realism and Kantian idealism are thus reconciled by a distiction, that between phenomena and things-in-themselves. The former applies to the former, and the latter to the latter.

We can then produce a square like the one at right, which allows for the traditional truth values. In this version the definition of "transcedental idealism" has actually been left out. Kant's position, although terminologically embracing the two lower members, is really well defined by only one of them, empirical realism. However, saying that the objects of knowledge are immanent in experience and independent of our existence involves a paradox. How can something be independent in existence and yet dependent or immanent in our experience, our representation?

...the representation alone must make the object possible... ...representation in itself does not produce its object in so far as existence is concerned... [A 92]

The common sense, direct acquaintance with objects, part of this is what Kant appears to mean by his empirical realism, while the paradoxical, "in me but not of me," metaphysics is what he means by "transcendental idealism." This is the paradox addressed by Schopenhauer and by "Ontological Undecidability."

However, using the strict definitions, "transcendental idealism" means something else, as reproduced in the entry at left. If "transcendental" means, epistemically, "independent of experience," but "idealism" means, ontologically, "dependent on subjective (my) existence," then "transcendental idealism" would have to mean knowledge of objects that are dependent on my existence but independent of my experience. This seems to be, not just a paradox, but an out and out contradiction, since if something exists as an epiphenomenon of myself, it hardly seems like it could be independent of my experience. Berkeley's principle was "to be is to be perceived," but this kind of "transcendental idealism" would require that something is because of my existence but then is not perceived. This might work on the basis of Spinoza's metaphysics, where my existence is God's existence, but God's knoweldge far transcends mine. Nevertheless, since anything is God, God is part of my experience after all.

What this peculiar meaning of "transcendental idealism" reveals are the loosest ends of Kant's thought. The terminology of "transcendental," "empirical," "realism," and "idealism" does not seem well ordered for Kant's purposes, in part because those purposes are unsettled. The contradiction of the strict rendering of "transcendental idealism" might be resolved if we say that there is simply no knowledge in this case, which is pretty much what Kant says about things-in-themselves -- the soul certainly depends on my existence but is not part of my experience because I don't have any knowledge of it. But then Kant doesn't want to go all the way with that. Morality doesn't fit into empirical reality, but then maybe that isn't too bad, since morality is really "regulative" rather than "constitutive" (of metaphysical entities). What is bad are "God, freedom, and immortality," which totally upset the applecart. If there are such things, they are about transcendent objects which, at least in one case, are independent of my existence. If they are only objects of "faith," we want to know how that is motivated; and if they are motivated as necessary conditions of the Moral Law, then it seems like they would be as much matters of knowledge as the necessary conditions of experience, i.e. causality, substance, etc.

My view is that the way out of this is through Friesian epistemology and "Ontological Undecidability." Nevertheless, Kant's theory, as an approximation, is superior to any that have come since -- let alone the dismal exercises in nihilism, scientism, and scholasticism that are now so popular.

Analytic and Synthetic:  Kant and the Problem of First Principles

Three Points in Kant's Theory of Space and Time

Kant's First Antinomy, of Space and Time

Kantian Quantum Mechanics

Intuition and Mysticism in Kantian Philosophy


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Intuition and Mysticism
in Kantian Philosophy

While Kant's term "intellectual intuition" is thrown around rather casually in post-Kantian philosophy, the usage rarely conforms to Kant's meaning. Kant contrasts "intellectual" with "sensible" intuition (Anschauung) on the basis of the active or passive role of the object. Thus, while objects are presented to a (passive) sensible intuition, objects are created by an (active) intellectual intuition. To Kant himself, this meant that only God would have an intellectual intuition. In the history of philosophy, the "active intellect" of Aristotle and Neoplatonism may be the antecedent of the idea of intellectual intuition, though this would tend to blur the difference between the self and God, since it looks like there is only one active intellect -- which was precisely the point for a system of mysticism like Neoplatonism.

Kant, of course, had no interest in mysticism, famously pillorying the Swedish spiritualist, Emanuel Swedenborg ("Dreams of a Visionary, Explained by Dreams of Metaphysics," 1766), but it is important to note what mysticism would be in Kantian philosophy. Any kind of mysticism is going to be a kind of immediate knowledge that is an intuitive understanding, i.e. the opposite of a discursive understanding, where an intuitive understanding is immediate and unarticulated, while a discursive understanding is mediate and articulated. There is going to be no intuitive understanding in Kantian philosophy -- i.e. no understanding that stands on its own as knowledge, an understanding that is a ground for substantive truths. An intuitive understanding which is not knowledge is the common and essential experience of insight which is ordinarily and non-technically called "intuition," e.g. "My intuition is that murder is wrong" (in German, Nelson called it Intuition in contrast to Kantian Anschauung). This kind of "intuition" is not evidentiary, i.e. it doesn't prove anything. In Socratic/Platonic terms, it is only opinion. It can only be justified when analyzed, reduced to discursive understanding, and grounded accordingly [note]. Were ordinary "intuitions" evidentiary, and so items of knowledge (Erkenntnisse, cognitions), then this would be "intuitionism," the theory that knowledge is grounded by such intuitions [note]. The self-evidence of Aristotelian first principles is a theory of this kind, with the proviso that intuitive self-evidence follows, rather than precedes, discursive understanding. Other forms of intuitionism may claim intuitive understanding prior to discursive, if the latter is considered even possible.

While mysticism is a form of intuitionism, not all intuitionism is mysticism. The difference, again, will be in the objects. Mysticism is intuitive knowledge of transcendent concrete objects, i.e. not the phenomenal or material concrete objects of ordinary perception. The mystic sees things that are not part of ordinary experience. In Kantian terms, transcendent objects cannot be understood because they cannot be consistently articulated. For Kant, a theory of transcendent objects ("dialectic") generates antinomies. If a Kantian theory allowed for mystical knowledge, it would have to be unanalyzable, unrenderable into a system of discursive understanding of transcendent objects. This is rather like what many mystics say, since they gain knowledge which is ineffable and inexpressible. On the other hand, mystics also claim to intuitively derive knowledge which is analyzable and expressible, although only intuitively justified, since, for instance, al-Ghazzali (1059-1111) finds specific justification of Islâm and its doctrines through mystical insight.

The intuitive apprehension of abstract objects does not rise to the level of mysticism, since abstract objects do not have independent existence -- except when substantialized in Platonism, a theory rarely followed since. Intuitions of abstract objects concern meaning, and in general the ordinary sense of "intuition" (Intuition) applies to this. Such intuitions, when analyzed, are the basis of analytic truths, but whether the meanings apply to existence is a separate question (pace St. Anslem and Descartes), which requires an evidentiary basis. The mystical claim would have to be that an intuitively apprehended abstract object is also intuitively known to apply to existence, in a way, analyzable (as in Anselm's "ontological argument") or unanalyzable, that transcends ordinary perception and experience.

An important distinction in mystical claims will be between objects which are independent and which are identical to the subject of mystical knowledge. This itself is an analyzable characteristic of mystical intuition. In monotheistic religions, God will tend to be seen as independent. This was not an open question, and the Christian mystic always ran the risk that contrary truths learned through mystical intuition might conflict with Orthodoxy -- but the Catholic Church never denied that such an avenue of knowledge existed, as with St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582). Other mystics, however, paid the price of their experiences at the stake. In Judaism and Islâm, with looser institutional authority over doctrine, the drift of claims towards extinction of self and identity with God is conspicious. Some efforts were made in Islâm to suppress this, like the execution of al-H.allâj (in 922), but the precedent was powerful. An artifact of this in Judaism remained with the philosopher Spinoza, whose sense of identity with God is crystal clear, but who cannot properly be considered a mystic, since his God is not transcendent, but immanent, identical with all the objects of perception, and who does not claim intuitive knowledge beyond the minimal Aristotelian claims about first principles. Nevertheless, Spinoza retains a strong mystical affect, the "intellectual love of God," which helps explain the meaning to him of a system that otherwise is rationalistic and seems devoid of religious appeal.

The distinction between independent and identical objects can be seen to overlap Kant's between intellectual and sensible intuition. Only a sensible intuition could relate one to an independent transcendent object, since such a thing clearly cannot be created by one's knowing it. However, if the mystic is identical to the transcendent object, this could allow for an intellectual intuition, depending on the metaphysics of the object. It is possible for God's existence to be presented to him passively, in which case he would have sensible knowledge of himself; or, God may actually create his own existence, like that of anything else, merely by knowing it. This fits Spinoza's priniciple of a substance, namely God (Spinoza's only substance), being self-caused. There, if the mystic is identical to God, who also creates everything else through intellectual intuition, all mystical knowledge will be of the nature of an intellectual intuition.

This is even simpler in Buddhism, where there are no substances and, at least in some forms of Buddhist philosophy (e.g. Yogacara), all things are clearly created by Mind. In Pure Land Buddhism, an important meditative practice is the visualization of the Pure Land of the Buddha Amitabha. It is always possible to interpret this as unrelated to the independent, or even real, existence of the Pure Land, but the metaphysics clearly allows that the Pure Land is actually created by the act of visualization, since all things are Mind dependent. This would be an intellectual intuition in a strong Kantian sense, and a form of mysticism, with the transcendence of the Pure Land, in which the identity with the mystical object is facilitated by the absence of any substantial independence of things whatsoever. Similarly, the Tibetan "Book of the Dead" urges the deceased to realize that the visions of the hereafter are not independent but created by their own Mind. Thus lies the path to Enlightenment and Salvation.

In light of this examination, we should revisit the charge of mysticism against Rudolf Otto. Since Otto does not claim intuitive knowledge of transcendent objects, he clearly is not a mystic. The natures of transcendent objects, to the extent that they can be theorized at all, are matters of rational Kant-Friesian metaphysics (after the fashion of Kant's "postulates of practical reason," which resolve some antinomies); and Kant-Friesian metaphysics tends to dismiss more substantive doctrine from historic religions (e.g. the Trinity, transsubstantiation, etc.). Otto's famous theory of "numinosity" is about a property, and so an abstraction, whose existence is certified by its presence in the objects of experience, but which in an important way is not a natural property, since it is invisible to science and is unrelated to mundane utility. The numinosity of God is natural to Otto, but his God comes from the Kantian Ideas, besides historic religions, and divine numinosity derives from no more than a phenomenology of such religions.

So is there mysticism? Of course, there actually are mystics, most of whom are clearly sincere and deeply moved or transformed by their experiences. But there is no philosophical mysticism in the sense that philosophy could, as the Neoplatonists believed, certify, verify, and theorize the results of mystical intuitions. Given a Kantian epistemology and metaphysics, no rational or intelligible system can be built from mystical intuitions, analyzable or unanalyzable. This, however, should be no more than what we would expect given the contradictory claims of mystical or dogmatic authorities in world religions. The antinomical choices between mystical intuitions as intellectual or sensible, of independent or identical objects, of a divine substance (personal or impersonal) or ultimate Emptiness, cannot be resolved on the evidence of mystical knowledge, since the knowledge of different mystics confirms each of these and, as Hume would say, the evidence of one tends to refute the evidence of the other. This in itself is one of the most important features of human existence, since it leaves us without any rational certainty that there are transcendent objects at all. The mystic may just be hallucinating (or lying), whether beholding the Virgin Mary or visualizing the Buddha Land. As considered elsewhere, however, this simply leaves us faced with the choices of the right and the good without any confidence in the ulterior considerations of reward and punishment. Behind our veil of ignorance, it is character and benevolence that are proven.

Faith, Works, and Knowledge

Analytic and Synthetic:  Kant and the Problem of First Principles


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Intuition and Mysticism in Kantian Philosophy, Note 1

Problems of justification are covered elsewhere. In Kant's theory, complications arise over Kant's original, "architectonic," conception of intuition (Anschauung) because, as considered in the main essay on Kant, perception itself comes to be seen (in the Transcendental Deduction) as a product of mental activity. If perception is itself active and intellectual, then the simple distinction between sensible and intellectual intuition, or even between intuition and thought, becomes confused. Friesians like Nelson don't deal with his very well and tend to take over Kant's own naive version of the theory.

However, as is examined in detail in The Origin of Value in a Transcendent Function ("Intuition and the Immanent Object), the immediacy of intuition that is lost when we consider perception to be the result of active mental synthesis returns when we realize that this synthesis is an activity that cannot occur in the conscious mind. Perception is spontaneously produced by a preconscious activity; and even if it is governed by Kant's "pure concepts of the understanding" as rules of synthesis, these concepts do not accompany the results as conceptual or semantic content. Perception can occur without being understood, without particular things being seen, or without a particular recognition determined by the percept -- as in the Gestalt tricks where different things (e.g. faces or candlesticks) can be seen in the same shapes. The difference between conceptual meaning and perceptual object must be maintained, even when the empiricist tabula rasa is rejected and mental processes are allowed into the formation of perception. It is thus possible to continue speaking of intuition pretty much as Kant and the Friesian do, even after taking into account the way that the Transcendental Deduction undermines Kant's original view of intuition. There is also the ontological aspect to this, that the phenomenal objects immanent in perception are undecidably both real/external and subjective/internal.

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Intuition and Mysticism in Kantian Philosophy, Note 2

In arguments about mathematics and set theory, "intuitionism" tends to mean something else, which can be very confusing. Mathematical intuitionists don't like mathematical or logical constructions that cannot be visualized (hence, "intuited") and so tend to be wary or disapproving of infinities. Such scruples, however, which may be empiricist in origin, seem to have had little effect on the practice of mathematics and, if taken seriously, would make much of modern mathematics, including non-Euclidean geometry, suspect. While Kant might be said to be a kind of intuitionist in this sense, since he thinks that the axioms of geometry and arithmetic are grounded by visualization, there is nothing to prevent the logical extension of mathematics beyond our capacity for visualization, which in fact is what has occurred. While Kant's mathematics is somewhat intuitionistic in the modern mathematical sense, it is not necessarily intuitionistic in the traditional epistemic sense, since our mathematical "intuitions," e.g. "that looks like a triangle," can be wrong. The Kantian mathematical intuition is much more like perception, an empirical intuition, than it is like a true self-justifying, evidentiary intuition -- a Kantian mathematical intuition, like an empirical intuition, can be misunderstood, while the evidentiary intuition of (epistemic) intuitionism is itself a kind of infallible understanding. To prevent confusion, the mathematical sense of "intuition" and "intuitionism" is not used in the text.

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