Whew! What a semester!
As you might have guessed, my crazy teaching overload and Todd’s research responsibilities have pulled us away from Kant for the span of the fall semester, but fear not! We’re going to attempt a heroic final charge to blog through the second half of the book in the spring semester. I’m going to start off that effort with some thoughts on Transcendental Dialectic and what it would mean, in terms of pure reason, for someone to think something. As usual, I’m working from the Penguin edition of Critique of Pure Reason (CPR).
Since Kant is supremely concerned not with things (which remain beyond the scope of reason) but with concepts, the claim “I think” holds a central place when one writes about the operations of reason (A 341, B 399). Once again dividing things carefully, CPR notes that “I think” is not properly an experience, since experiences require the thinking “I” to receive sensory impressions, but rather has to do with the conditions within which experiences become possible (A 343, B 401). Once again, Kant is not so naive as to think that any given human being consciously or deliberately establishes all of her categorical possibilities before starting to have experience; the inquiry here aims not to narrate what’s chronologically prior in terms of a psychological history but to note what structures are logically prior to any person’s receiving sense-data.
Because “the world” names the network of all possible experiences, and since the thinking-I only comes to think of the thinking-I abstracted from that world by means of being taught (which is to say, by means of seeing and hearing and feeling things), CPR notes here at the outset that the nature of knowledge makes knowing the thinking-I in itself just as impossible as knowing anything else in-itself; the only avenue we have to knowing the thinking-I is to examine how it relates to the world, to concepts, and to the other realities that CPR has been examining up to this point (A 346, B 404).
Here’s where Kant returns to the notion of amphiboly: certain characteristics of the thinking-I (he’s careful not to say “mind” out of concern that the reader might start to think of “mind” as one thing among other things rather than a certain ground for the possibility of objective knowledge) have to be in place, logically speaking, for thought to occur at all. Amphiboly happens when we start to take those abstract conditions and reify them, turning them into predicates for a thing called “mind.” Those abstract characteristics, which Kant examines at some length in this section, are fourfold, and I quote their text directly from the Penguin CPR:
- The soul is substance.
- As regards its quality, it is simple.
- As regards the different times in which it exists, it is numerically identical, that is, unity (not plurality).
- It is in relation to possible objects in space. (A344, B 402).
At this point I should note that, in the Penguin edition, the pages split for the rest of this post’s selection into the A text (1781) and the B text (1787). The older text is far more extensive, and therefore I’ll be citing from it more frequently. Folks who have studied Kant formally should feel free to comment about why the section got shorter. My citations will indicate to which edition each sentence points, but I wanted to let you know why suddenly some citations will only have one edition’s page numbers.
1. The soul is substance. Self-knowledge differs from empirical knowledge in that there is no object in the world to be known; rather, self-knowledge is a discipline of examining the logic of what it would mean for thinking-I to receive an object in the world (B 407). Thus, in Aristotelian terms, the subject occupies a place fitting the notion of “substance” in that the thinking-I is one entity on any given scene, distinct from others even as it stands related to others (A 350-51). That said, CPR warns (A 351) that to treat the soul as an object about which one can predicate certain determinate qualities (eternity, location, and so on) stands to lead to error more readily than knowledge.
2. As regards its quality, [the soul] is simple. In order for the thoughts that I think to be composite (and since they occur in the course of dealing with sensory experience and conceptual movement, they must be), the thinking-I must be simple relative to them (B 408). To regard the thinking-I as composite introduces logical problems, first among them that one of the “parts” would have to be able to think the other “parts” without having the total capacity to think. Whatever it is that thinks about the other parts (for Plato this was the true mind, and Kant doesn’t seem to have any good reasons to regard things differently), that most truly stands as mind. Thus logically the thinking-I, when one regresses to what-regards-other-realities, must be absolutely simple (A 354), which leads philosophical thought to regard “mind” as simple, an error not because philosophy knows the contrary but because knowing the contrary is, because of the nature of thought, impossible. Within the bounds of conceptual, logical thinking, the thinking-I must be simple, but that does not translate into any real knowledge about mind-itself, whatever that would look like (A 355). Whatever the logic of thought dictates, the soul itself might well be simple, but it might also be composite (B 413).
3. As regards the different times in which it exists, [the soul] is numerically identical, that is, unity (not plurality). The notion of personality emerges from the concept of unity, and Kant is concerned that once again philosophy is doing too much with a mere logical necessity. The problems that arise are numerous: to know another person is to know another person over a succession of moments, and time resides only in the representation, not in things themselves (A 362). Moreover, to regard the soul one must posit some vantage point that looks at the soul, meaning that, whether in imagination or in experience, the thinking-I can only form concepts about “other souls,” never achieving knowledge of mind-in-itself (A 365). Whatever the in-itself reality might be, Kant remains rigorous here: knowledge of minds, whether one’s own or other people’s, is always a matter of conceptual constructions that reside within the thinking-I and thus might lead to certain kinds of knowing but never anything beyond the objective. One should not, philosophically speaking, posit a thing called a “personality” from which the logical persistence of thinking-I flows.
4. [The soul] is in relation to possible objects in space. This is the paralogism that Kant spends the most time on in this section. A pair of errors arises here, one that the objects of the mind’s perceptions are identical with the things in themselves and the other that, since all we have are appearances, there really are no objects-in-themselves (A 368-369). Kant holds to a certain kind of dualism, both acknowledging the existence of things that are not identical with our concepts and noting that our concepts nonetheless stand in some sort of relationship (though one that philosophy, concerning itself as it does with concepts) cannot conceptualize (A 370-371). Space and time are always and invariably functions of mind (A 373), so whatever we say about objects of perception, we always speak of their relationship to the subject, never simply about the objects themselves. (A smart-aleck like me would likely say something like, “Once you start talking about an object, haven’t you already removed the possibility of talking about it without talking about it?”) Thus the Berkeleyan idealist who denies the existence of matter is certainly in error, assuming that the limits of mind are identical with the limits of things. But likewise the materialist is in error, for the concept of matter relies on extension and space and other realities that always have to do with mind, not necessarily with things (A 383). Ultimately this separation between concept and thing does not frustrate Kant; to the contrary, he regards this gap as a relief for the thinker, who does not need a theory of mind and matter because bodies and motion and change over time and spatial position and everything else about which we could think is already within the mind and thus needs no theory beyond the mind (A 386-387).
In all for of these critiques, Kant wants to make sure that nobody mistakes him for proposing new dogmas: the project of critical philosophy is to establish limits to thought, never to posit new content for new systems (B 421). As in previous sections, Kant does not show much interest in establishing new, systematic ways to imagine relationships between concepts and things, between mind and matter. Instead, he wants mainly to note the errors that philosophy before his own has committed so that whoever succeeds him has some chance of doing ethics well in the wake of his corrections.
Ultimately, paralogisms with regards to the mind or soul happen when we attempt to fill in the gaps between the structure of thought and the world which we receive only through thought A 395). CPR, as it wraps up this section, reminds readers that a lack of knowledge does not mean the non-existence of the thing now-unknown; it merely means that philosophy, as a practice, does well to abandon quests for certainty, whether anti-material rationalist versions or anti-mind materialist versions, and get on with the work that reason more properly should undertake.