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Monday, 19 January 2009

Immanuel Kant - The sage of Konisberg

In seventeen century Europe, philosophical fraternity was divided over the question of how knowledge is gained. Broadly there were two schools of thought. Though this classification was done by the Subject of this article in retrospect and the distinction was not clear at that time. One school was proponent of Logic and Reason. They were called as the Rationalist. Another school apotheosized knowledge gained from experience. They were called the Empiricist.

(Rene Descartes)
In the beginning of seventeenth century, philosophy was dominated by Scholasticism propounded by Christian theology whose ideas were derived from Plato, Aristotle and early church writings.
Rene Descartes categorically refuted Scholasticism. But this does not mean that he advocated Atheism. He proposed starting the philosophy from scratch and thus emanated the Modern Rationalism. Descartes is considered as Father of Modern Rationalism. The Rationalists were the believer in the Reason and Logic. They attributed knowledge to “innate ideas” in mind. The source of knowledge is intellectual and deductive and not sensory. Descartes belief in logic, reason and idea was so strong that he attributed his existence to his cogitative capacity (Cogito Ergo Sum: “I think, therefore I am”). He said that he can doubt anything: history, Science, theology but one thing is certain, that he doubts. He says that his doubting proves that he exists. From this he builts his knowledge backward and finds that some of the ideas could not have originated from him alone but from God. Thus he proves the existence of God.

The idea propounded by Descartes was extended by Leibniz and established into a system with a proper framework by Spinoza. According to them the universe is a mathematical system and can be described a priori by pure deductions from accepted axioms. In Hobbes rationalism took shades of atheism and materialism. He said nothing exists but atoms and void. Faith reached its nadir and reason was triumphant.

This philosophical thought believes that knowledge arises from experience which in turn comes through our senses. Mind at birth is a clean slate a “tabula rasa”. Experience puts writing on it. It discounted the concept of “innate ideas” of the rationalists. Empiricism emphasized that all hypothesis and theories must be tested against observation and experiment rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning and intuition.

The notion of mind as “tabula rasa” dates back to Aristotle. It was developed more clearly in medieval period by Persian philosopher Avicenna (Ibn Sinna) in 11th century. It was demonstrated as thought experiment by Andalusian-Arabian philosopher Abubacer (Ibn Tufail). The major Empiricists of 17th century were John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume.
( John Locke)
John Locke in an “An Essay of Human Understanding” proposed that only knowledge humans can have is a posteriori i.e. based upon experience. That there is nothing in mind except what was first in senses. Since only material things can effect our senses, we know nothing but matter and must accept materialist philosophy. If sensations are stuff of thought matter must be material of mind. According to him, there are two sources of idea: Sensation and Reflection and there are two types of idea: Simple and Complex with later being derived from former. The former ideas are unanalysable and are broken down into primary and secondary qualities. Complex ideas are divided into substance, mode and relation.
( George Berkeley)
Anglican bishop, George Berkeley (1685-1753) realized that Locke ideas lead to eventual atheism. In his response to Locke in his “Treatise concerning the principle of Human knowledge” he says that thing in itself is nothing but perception. What we call a rose is nothing but an aggregate perception of shape, color, smell etc. Berkley said that God does the perception for humans when they are unaware. Berkeley approach to empiricism would later be called Subjective Idealism. He destroyed the matter with his doctrine and apotheosized perception.
( David Hume)
David Hume, in his book “Treaties of Human Nature” says that no one has seen mind. What is perceived as mind is nothing but a collection of perception, ideas, memories, feelings etc. The mind is not a substance or organ; it is only an abstract name for series of ideas. Hume had effectively destroyed mind as Berkeley had destroyed matter. After destroying mind Hume moved on to science. In Science one perceives effect and sequence and infers causation and necessity. A necessity then becomes law. Since effect and sequence are gathered through senses which can never ascertain to represent the totality hence a law is then just a mental summary of repetitive sequence. It cannot be said with certainty that sequence will repeat again. A law is not a necessity but a mental summary and shorthand of our experience. In hands of David Hume, Empiricism went to the extremes to the extent that it became Skepticism. He argues that all knowledge derives from Sense-Experience. Hume divides knowledge into two categories:
i) Relation of ideas : e.g. Mathematical and logical proposition
ii) Matter of fact.: Contingent observation (Sun rises in the east) i.e. ideas derived from impression (sensation)
To remember are to make such impression is to have an idea. Ideas are faint copy of sensation. All knowledge perception is then bundle of sensation. It is the history that one remembers. But is there a certainty that future will resemble the past. Can anyone with certainty say that Sun will always rise in the east? Only mathematical formulas are necessity.
He started questioning the scientific method. The problem of inductive logic, Hume argued that it requires inductive reasoning to arrive at premises for the principle of inductive reasoning and therefore justification for inductive reasoning is circular argument.

For a century the philosophical world was divided between doctrines or Rationalism and Empiricism. It had to wait for Kant to bridge the gap with his ground breaking work. No wonder many people consider him the greatest philosopher of modern century. Whether he is greatest or not is a moot point but what is certain that he left an indelible impact on philosophy. Post Kant most philosophical works have influence of his theories.


( Immanuel Kant)

Baptized as 'Emmanuel' after the Jew Messiah, Immanuel Kant, was born to Johann George Kant a German Craftsman and Anna Regaina Porter a daughter of Scottish saddle and harness Maker, in 1724 in the city of Konisberg (erstwhile Kalingrad) the capital of erstwhile Prussia. He was raised under strict regimen adhering to puritan way. Throughout his life he enjoyed good health and was absolutly regular in daily habit. Such was his punctuality that his neighbours used to set their watches as per his evening stroll. At the age of 16 he got himself enrolled at the University of Konisberg. There he studied, inter alia, physics, mathematics, philosophy and geography. Demise of Johann George Kant put a break to his studies. He took up private tutorship around towns of Konisberg but continued with his research work. In 1749 he published his first philosophical work, 'Thoughts on the true estimation of living force'. By the age of 46, Kant was an established philosopher and a professor at the University of Konisberg. His most important work is the 'Critique of Pure Reason', a critical investigation of reason itself. It encompasses an attack on traditional metaphysics and epistemology, and highlights Kant's own contribution to these areas. The other main works of his maturity are the 'Critique of Practical Reason', which concentrates on ethics, and the 'Critique of Judgement', which investigates aesthetics and teleology.In 1804 he died a bachelor rich in fame and years.

As per Kant, his age was age of criticism where the meaning of criticism is a bit different from literal sense. Criticism in Kantian sense is analyzing critically. It is weighing before affirming and inquiring before assuming. His philosophy is critical, as distinguished from extreme theories of Leibniz & Locke, in that it discriminates in the formation of ideas, between the products of spontaneous activities of pure reason. Neither criticism neither aims to be sensationalistic nor intellectualism in the extreme sense, but transcendental, i.e. going beyond the sensationalist and idealist doctrine.
In its examination of “reason” criticism distinguishes between the theoretical order, the practical order and the aesthetical order. In the theoretical sphere, it manifests itself as the faculty of knowing, or the sense of truth, in the practical sphere as the sense of goodness, in the aesthetical sphere, as the sense of beauty and teleological fitness. Let have a look at his three most important works.
Critique of Pure Reason
What is Knowledge?
An idea alone is not knowledge. E.g. An Idea of man, earth, heat does not make knowledge. In order to make knowledge an idea must combine with other ideas. There should be a subject and a predicate. E.g. Man is a responsible being, Earth is a planet, and Heat expands bodies. All knowledge is a proposition. All knowledge is judgment but not all judgment is knowledge. And there are two types of judgment
i) Analytical judgment: It analyzes an idea without adding anything to it i.e. predicate is derived from subject. E.g. Bodies are extended. Predicate “extend” adds nothing to subject. It’s already contained in it. This judgement is not knowledge.
ii) Synthetic judgment: It adds knowledge. E.g. “Earth is a planet”. It took years to establish this fact. Hence synthetic judgment adds knowledge.
But not every synthetic judgment is knowledge. To constitute real knowledge a judgment must be true in all case. It must be a necessity. The union of subject and predicate should not be accidental but necessary.
Illustration: “Weather is Warm” is a synthetic judgment but not knowledge as it can be cold tomorrow. The judgment is contingent. But “heat expands” will be true any day, a necessary proposition.
But does one has the right to assume that this proposition is universally necessary i.e. how can one say that heat always expands. Because it has come from experience over the period of time. But there remains a possibility that heat might contract and this mankind has never experienced but nevertheless it might happen. So based on human experience this phenomenon does not occur and heat always expands. According to Hume since experience always furnishes only a limited number of cases, it cannot yield necessity and universality. Hence, a judgment a posteriori, i.e. based solely on experience cannot constitute knowledge. In order to be necessary a judgment must rest on rational basis rooted in reason as well as observation, it must be judgment a priori. Mathematics is the synthetic judgment a priori.
Thus answer to the question that “What is knowledge?” is that
Knowledge is a synthetic judgment a priori.

Now under What condition Knowledge is possible or how can we form synthetic judgment a priori?
This is the fundamental problem which Kantian criticism undertakes to solve. Sense furnishes the material for judgment and reason the cement needed to unite them.
Illustration: Heat expands bodies. This proposition has two elements.
i) Elements furnished by sensation. E.g. heat, expansion, bodies.
ii) Elements not given by sensation but derived purely from intellect. The causal relation which sentence in question establishes between heat expansion and bodies.
Every scientific judgment (Knowledge) then thus consists of sensible elements and pure or rational element. The rationalist or the idealist completely forgot about the sensible elements. A congenitally blind person has no idea about colors because it does not exist for him. And in denying the innate, rational a priori elements the empiricist forgot that most refined senses of a mentally challenged are incapable of suggesting scientific notion of his.

Let us take each of these elements separately.
Critique of Sensibility, or Transcendental Aesthetics.
Knowledge is product of sensibility and understanding.
What are the conditions of sense-perception or as Kant use to say intuition (Anschauurg)?
When sensation perceives something it does not perceive the absolute thing but puts a stamp on it. For e.g. dogs see everything in black and white. So in the world of dogs a banyan tree as perceived by a human does not exists. It is black and white for dogs and green for human. So who is seeing the absolute thing? Bees can see more colors than humans. So probably bee’s banyan tree is different than humans. So what a person sees is not the thing in itself but a perception of it given to him by his perception? Hence Sense receives a mysterious substance from sensations and makes an intuition of it. Hence, there are in every intuition, two elements:
i) a pure or a priori element
ii) a posteriori element, form and matter
These a priori intuitions, which sensationalist denies, are Space, the form of outer sense and Time the form of inner sense. Space and time are original institutions of reason, prior to all experience. This is the fundamental teaching of critical philosophy and an immortal discovery of Kant. The sense of space and time is a priori, comes from reason and not experience. Illustration: A new born child has a sense of space and time. He does not learn it from experience but is innate. Arithmetic is a science of duration. Geometry is science of space. And arithmetic and Geometry possess the character of absolute necessity i.e. they are synthetic judgment a priori. They are not results, but principles conditions a priori and sine quo non of perception.
All perception presupposes the ideas of space and time; and unless we had these ideas a priori sense perception could never take place.
Time and space are not objects of perception, but modes of perceiving objects. Hence sensation does not show thing in itself, but as they appear to it through it spectacles the one glass of it being Space and other Time. Hence sensibility gives us appearance, or phenomenon and that it is incapable of giving the thing in itself; the noumenon and since understanding always gets the material of knowledge from senses it necessarily gets phenomenon and not the noumenon.

Critique of understanding or Transcendental Logic
In the faculty of understanding Kant distinguishes between two elements.
i) The Transcendental Analytics i.e. the faculty of connecting the intuitions with each other according to certain a priori laws (verstand)
ii) The Transcendental Dialectic i.e. The faculty of arranging our judgments under a series of universal ideas (vernuft , reason in the narrower sense of world)

Transcendental Analytics
Understanding (reason) moulds its judgment based on certain forms or general concepts called categories. According to Hume, the highest category, the idea of cause, conceived as necessity relation between two phenomena, is not derived from experience, Kant agrees. Where Hume and Kant disagree is that Hume regards it as the result of our habit of seeing certain facts constantly conjoined together, and consequently considers it as a prejudice useful to science but without any metaphysical value. Kant on other hand infers it as innate.
Thus as per Kant the idea of cause and other categories are a priori and hence are modes of knowledge and not objects of knowledge.
According to Kant, categories are the forms according to which we judge. Hence there are as many categories as there are judgments. Logic enumerates twelve of them
1) the Universal Judgment e.g. All men are mortal
2) the Particular Judgment e.g. Some men are philosopher
3) the Singular Judgment e.g. Peter is mathematician
4) the affirmative judgment e.g. Man is mortal
5) the negative Judgment e.g. the soul is not mortal
6) the limiting judgment e.g. the soul is immortal
7) the categorical judgment e.g. God is just
8) the hypothetical judgment e.g. if god is just, he will punish the wicked.
9) The disjunctive judgment e.g. either the Greeks or the Romans are the leading nation of antiquity
10) The problematic judgment e.g. the planets are perhaps inhabited
11) The assertory judgment e.g. the earth is round
12) The apodictic judgment e.g. the god must be just

The first three express totality, plurality, and unity, i.e. in a word the idea of quantity; the fourth, fifth, and the sixth express reality, negation, and limitation, or, the idea of quality; the seventh, eigth, and ninth express substantiality and inherence, causality and dependence, and reciprocarity, or, in short, idea of relation; finally the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth express possibility and impossibility, being and non being, necessity and contingency, i.e., the idea of modality.
Hence there are four fundamental categories: quantity, quality, relation and modality. Relation governs and embraces all the rest. It is highest category.
From these four cardinal categories four principle follow, which are also a priori:
i) Every phenomenon is quantity i.e. exists in space and in time. This principle excludes the hypothesis of atoms.
ii) Every phenomenon has quality i.e. a certain degree of content, a certain degree of intensity. The principle excludes the hypothesis of void.
iii) All phenomena are related i.e. all phenomena are united by the tie of causality. This excludes the hypothesis of fate.
iv) From the standpoint of modality every phenomenon is possible that confirms to law of space and time, and every phenomena is necessary, and absence of which imply the suspension of these law; which excludes miracles.
The first and second principles constitutes the law of continuity; the third and fourth the law of causality. These categories and the principles which follow from them form the pure, innate, a priori element and is very basis of understanding (verstand)

How can reason act upon the data of sensibility? How can reason lay hold of sensible intuitions and make notion of them?
The operation is effected by means of the ideas of time, the natural intermediary between intuitions and concepts. Owing to its resemblance to the categories, the idea of time serves as an image or symbol to express that a priori notion in terms of sense and becomes a kind of interpreter between the intuitive faculty and the understanding. This operation is called
Schematiscism of pure reason.

To paraphrase, the phenomenon is the product of the reason; it does not exist outside of us, but in us; it does not exist beyond the limit of intuitive reason. . It is reason which prescribes its sensible law to the sensible universe; it is the reason which makes the Cosmos.
When Kant says that reason creates the universe, or at least assists in its creation he means the phenomenal universe. The totality of phenomenon and he admits that there may be beyond the phenomenal world, a world of noumenon or realities which cannot be perceived which are inaccessible and consequently superior to reason. Transcendental dialectics demonstrates this hypothesis.

Transendental Dialectics
According to Kant, Ideas are the totality of our judgment under certain general points of view. The concepts of “reason”, or Ideas are: the thing-in-itself; or the absolute, the universe, the soul and the God. Just as the former arrange the impressions of sense, and the latter, the intuitions, so the ideas arranges the infinite mass of judgments and reduce them to a system. Hence from the co-operation of sensibility judgment, and “reason” arises the Knowledge.
Illustration: The outer sense, by means of it’s a priori intuitions of space and time, furnishes us with a series of phenomena; the understanding, with the help of its categories, makes concepts, judgments and scientific propositions of them; finally “reason” embraces these disjoint members under the ideas of cosmos, and makes Knowledge of them. E.g. by viewing the totality of phenomena from the standpoint of absolute or of god, reason creates theology.
The universe, the soul, and God are a priori syntheses of reason and not being existing independently of the thinking subjects. At least it is impossible for reason to demonstrate their objective existence. The Ideas do not receive any content or sensibility; they are supreme norms, regulative point of view, no more, no less.

Critique of Practical Reason
Critique of pure reason portends Skepticism, but its not where Kantianism ends. In his Critique of pure reason, Kant says that, the Will, and the reason, forms the basis of faculties and of things. This is the leading thought of Kantian philosophy. While reason becomes entangle in inevitable antinomies and involves us in doubts, the Will is the ally of faith, the source and therefore, the natural guardian of our moral and religious beliefs. Kant does not deny the absolute, the soul, the God but only the possibility of proving the reality of the idea.
What Kant combats to the utmost and pitilessly destroys is the dogmatism of theoretical reason. By way of retaliation he concedes a meta physical capacity of practical reason, i.e. to Will.
Like the understanding, the will has its own character, its original forms, its particular legislation, a legislation which Kant calls “practical reason”. In this new domain, the problem raised by the Critique of Pure Reason changes in aspect. The moral law differs essentially from physical law, as conceived by theoretical reason. Physical law is irresistible and inexorable; the moral law does not compel, but bind; hence it implies freedom. Theoretical knowledge declares: Freedom, though impossible in the phenomenal world, is possible in the absolute order; it is conceived as a noumenon; it is intelligible and practical knowledge adds: it is certain. Hence there is no contradiction between faculty of knowledge and will. Our acts are determined, in free, in so far as the source whence they spring, outer intelligible character, is independent of these two forms of sensibility. The real god of Kant is freedom in the service of the ideal, or the good Will (der gute Wille).
Theoretical and practical reason, though not directly contradicting each other, are slightly at variance as to the most important question of ethics and religion, the former tending to conceive liberty, God, and the absolute as ideals having no demonstrable objective existence, the latter affirming the reality of the autonomous soul, responsibility, immortality and the supreme being. The authority of practical reason is superior to that of theoretical reason, and in real life the former predominates. Hence we should, in any case, act as if it were proved that we are free, that the soul is immortal, that there is supreme judge and rewarder.

Critique of Judgment
Aesthetics and teleology forms the subject matter of Critique of Judgment. In this book he bridges the chasm that exists between theoretical reason and the conscience.
The aesthetical and the teleological sense is an intermediate faculty between understanding and the will. Truth is the object of the understanding, nature and natural necessity its subject matter. The will strives for the good; it deals with freedom. The aesthetical and the teleological sense (or judgment in the narrow sense of term) is concerned with what lies between the true and the good, between nature and liberty.
1) Aesthetics: The aesthetical sense differs both from the understanding and the Will. It is neither theoretical nor practical in character; it is a phenomenon sui generic. But it has this in common with reason and will, that it rests on essential subjective basis. Just as the reason constitutes the true, and will the good, so the aesthetical sense makes the beautiful. What characterizes the beautiful and distinguishes it from the sublime is the feeling of peace, tranquility, or harmony which it arouses in us, in consequence of the perfect agreement between understanding and imagination.
2) Teleology: There are two kinds of purposivness. The one arouses in us, immediately and without the aid of any concept, a feeling of pleasure, satisfaction, and inner harmony: This is subjective finality, which constitutes the beautiful. The other also arouses pleasure, but mediately, in consequence of an experience or an intermediate process of reasoning: this is objective finality, which constitutes the beautiful. Thus, a flower be both the object of an aesthetical judgment in the artist, and of a teleological judgment in the naturalist, who has tested its value as a remedy. Only, the judgment which stamps it as beautiful is immediate and spontaneous, while that of the naturalist depends on previous experience. Teleology is nothing but a theory concerning phenomena. It is no more expresses the essence of things than mechanism.

Kantian Philosophy started a wave called 'German Idealism'. The philosophers Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer saw themselves as correcting and expanding the Kantian system, thus bringing about various forms of German Idealism.

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