Paul D. Janz offers a favorable interpretation of Kantian epistemology in his God, the Mind's Desire. Janz begins with an assessment of Kant's project in the first Critique. It is, he points out, a Critique of Pure Reason, not a defense, yet in spite of this title and stated project, it has frequently been read as a defense of pure reason. Further, Janz does not think that the Critique attempts to bring an end to metaphysics; Kant himself claimed that he aimed at a "complete rebirth and reform of metaphysics," and crowned metaphysics was the "queen of the sciences."
According to Janz, Kant does not really posit a two-world system. The noumenal ideas are simply ideals, and ontologically nothing. They are the intellectual product of a process of abstraction that leads to a pure, empty ideal. The Ding an Sich is thus simply the idea of a thing, a concept of a thing, not a separate, very fine sort of thing. They are contentless precisely because they don't have any ontological reality; they are beyond sense because they are concepts, and concepts provide all the content of knowledge. It's in this sense that the noumena have no "mind-independent reality." Of course they don't; they are ideas.
Yet, these non-existences are what much of traditional philosophy has been pursuing. The whole effort to move beyond appearances to reality as it really exists is an effort to grasp these ungraspables. Kant wants to make progress in epistemology, and he doesn't think progress is made in this direction. The noumena are important as a kind of regulator of knowledge, but we don't know the noumenal things-in-themselves because they have no content at all.
Rather, for Kant, "the world as it appears" is the real world. Janz offers this syllogism: "The real world is the world we live in – the world of experience, the world we breathe, eat, move, sleep, speak and think in. But the world we live in is also necessarily the world as it appears to us. Therefore the real world is the world as it appears." We simply cannot encounter objects that are purified of all their appearances to us; to purge appearances is to purge reality. The empirical object is precisely what is objectively real.
Kant sometimes appears to be saying that objects of experience don't exist at all outside experience, and this leads to the conclusion (such as Strawson's) that he is proposing a "theory of the mind making Nature." Kant himself says, "That there could be inhabitants of the moon, even though no human being has ever perceived them, must of course be admitted." Men in the moon are a possible reality even though we've never experienced them. Yet, "this means only that in the possible progress of experience we could encounter them; for everything is actual that stands in one context with a perception in accordance with the laws of empirical progression. Thus they are real when they stand in empirical connection with my real consciousness, although they are not therefore real in themselves, i.e., outside this progress of experience. . . . To call an appearance a real thing prior to perception means either that in the continuation of experience we must encounter such a perception, or it has no meaning at all." Appearances are real, not in the sense that they are or actually become objects of our experience in fact; they are real because they might be encountered in experience should we encounter them. If they are wholly outside any possible experience or appearance to us, they are not real.
Contrary to Kant's critics who claim that he absorbs the world into the subject, Janz says that the opposite is the case: "although it may seem as if we are preserving the genuine otherness of the empirical object by claiming an 'in itself' status for it, in fact we are doing just the opposite. We are violating its integral nature or its over-againstness as appearance – or as 'what appears' in the extensive magnitude of space and time – by claiming in effect that its spatio temporality be understood apart from its manifestedness as such. For the 'in itself' aspiration is precisely the aspiration to purest objectivity, that is, to an object of pure reason that has been purified of all empirical uncertainties and imperfections, and which is thus somehow ‘open' to rational scrutiny and jurisdiction beyond the contingencies of sense. . . . To make the 'in itself' claim is precisely to engage in the fallacy of subreption . . . in which the demands of the intellect claim full jurisdiction over the empirical."
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, September 04, 2007 at 04:38 PM
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