Understanding Kant

This is a very ambitious of me to try and explain Kant in one post. But here goes:

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was born in Konigsberg and lived his entire life there.

Most of his early life he was a mathematical physicist.

He predicted the existence of the planet Uranus before it was discovered and he contributed greatly to the theory of nebula formation.

But by far his greatest contribution was three books that formulate a system of reason itself: the “Critique of Pure Reason” on the theory of knowledge; the “Critique of Practical Reason” on ethics; and the “Critique of Judgment” on aesthetics, theory of art, and on teleology (the notion of purpose in nature).

Together these form his system of what the intelligent faculties of the mind can do.

Kant is very difficult to understand simply because he uses common philosophical terms but with very specialized definitions.

For example, Kant uses the word Transcendental to mean the pre-structuring of experience by the mind. Kant has no spiritual or metaphysical meaning or connotation when he uses it.

Kant uses the word Reason to mean the drive in the human mind to want to know everything. He doesn’t use it to mean the capacity for logical, rational, analytic thought.

You may ask, “Well Taj, how do you know you have the correct use of his term?”

I’ve done a graduate level course of his first book “Critique of Pure Reason” and in addition have listened to about a dozen other recorded lectures from various noted professors.

Also there are some universities which publish Kant glossaries.

What I am going to attempt to explain here are the ideas in his book “Critique of Pure Reason.”

The first thing to understand is why Kant wrote this book.

At the time, the philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) put forth the idea (around 1736) that neither science nor philosophy nor anyone could know anything with certainty for the future because the only knowledge one could have was that of experience, which is something that already happened.

But Hume maintained that certain knowledge of what must be true or could happen in the future was impossible.

The philosophical term for Must Be True is Necessarily. (Example: if Bill is taller than Joe, and Joe is taller than Mike, then it is necessarily true that Bill is taller than Mike)

To Hume, the concept of cause and effect was only a concept in the mind.

For example, if you placed an ice cube on a rock in the sunlight and the ice cube melted, all you saw was a sequence. You did not see cause an effect.

Hume pointed out there are two categories of knowledge in the mind: 1) Relationship of ideas and 2) Matters of fact.

Relationship of ideas are a prior (known to be true independent of experience) and true by definition alone. (Example: all bachelors are unmarried)

Matters of fact are a posterior (known to be true by experience) but not true by definition (Example: some bachelors are sad).

So the idea of cause and effect is nothing more than we seeing the ice cube on a rock (matter of fact), the sunlight hitting the ice (matter of fact), and the ice melting (matter of fact).

We may believe that if we put another ice cube there it will also melt because the sunlight caused the ice to melt (that it was caused by the sunlight is a conclusion based on our relationship of ideas, not experience).

Hume says we use our relationship of ideas to create the idea of cause when what we really experience was a sequence.

Hume said that people, through habit or repetition assign the concept of cause when in truth all they experienced was a sequence.

This all may sound silly and simplistic to us today, but this is because we have incorporated Kant’s ideas into our thinking.

But at the time it put scientific research and theories in question.

He had a point and scientist knew it.

I’ll use Newton’s Third Law of Motion as an example. The Law states “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Hume would ask how Newton could possibly know that.

Newton had not observed every action that has ever taken place.

Newton may have experienced this himself; he may even have experienced it throughout his entire life.

But Newton has not observed every action that has taken place.

How can Newton say that this Law will be true in the future or even in places on the other side of the world?

Kant remarked that if Hume was right, then science was in trouble.

So the question Kant was trying to solve was this: How can we know necessary (must be true) truths about reality?

What Kant does in Critique of Pure Reason (remember that reason means our desire to know) is to show that there is a third category of knowledge in the mind.

He does this by what he calls his “Copernican Revolution.”

Just as Copernicus changed the way we look at the universe, Kant changed the way we look at knowledge and the mind.

Here is what he did:

Per Hume, the mind held 1) Experiences (matters of fact), which were a posteriori (dependent on experience) and not true by definition, and 2) Relationships of Ideas, which were a prior (not dependent on experience) and true by definition.

The word for true by definition is analytic, and the word for not true by definition was synthetic.

So in the mind there are Relationship of Ideas, which are a prior (true independent of experience) and analytic (true by definition) and Experiences which are a posteriori (based on experience) and synthetic (not true by definition).

Kant showed how all knowledge begins with experience but not all knowledge stems from experience.

Kant discovered a third category of knowledge in the mind—a priori and synthetic (true independent of experience but not true by definition).

And this changes everything.

But how he did this to change the way the mind was understood.

Prior to Kant the idea was that experiences left their imprints on the mind because the mind was like a clay tablet and experiences left their impressions on the mind which passively received them.

What Kant suggested was that the mind actively grasps and organizes experiences.

The mind pre-structures experiences so that we can see them and experience them in a certain way.

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. (Sorry, it’s getting really late and I’m starting to channel Cole Porter).

Kant calls this the Transcendental Analytic, because the mind pre-structures and defines experiences so that it can take in the experiences.

Because of this we can know certain things about how we will experience the world tomorrow.

Mathematics (arithmetic and geometry) and some of the basic principles of physics are synthetic a priori knowledge.

How does this work?

It isn’t that our mind conforms to our experiences; our experiences conform to our mind.

Don’t confuse this with “what’s true for you is true for you.”!!!!

Kant calls all the things we sense phenomenon. The things we can’t sense he calls noumenon.

When we sense any object, our mind conforms these objects to the rules of understanding already in the mind.

Space and time are two examples. Our mind already pre-structures what we experience to meet our mind’s rule that objects exist in space and time.

There are other categories and more details about all this. But I want to skip all that because it is very involved.

But because the mind works this way we can know things a priori, that is, we can know things without experiencing them directly.

For example: We experienced that Bill is taller than Joe, and Joe is taller than Mike. We know that from experience.

But because we have in our mind the pre-structuring mechanism of space and time (and other categories) we can know without experiencing it that Bill must necessarily be taller than Mike.

We can now think a priori (without experience) and be right!

For example: A is taller than B; B is taller than C. Therefore A is taller than C.

Anywhere in the world this will be true.

We can have knowledge of how things will be in the future.

It is a priori synthetic knowledge. A priori (not dependent on experience) synthetic (not true by definition)

While it is based on our experience (we saw Bill, Joe and Mike once) to know that if A is taller than B, and B is taller than C, then we don’t depend on experience to know that A is taller than C.

We can know it without experience it and can know it will be true anytime in the future if we encounter it.

So Newton is safe.

But there is a catch. A very important catch.

If everything we experience is pre-structured by our mind, then all we know of all phenomenon is how our mind structured it.

We don’t know and can’t know about the things in themselves.

The universe we experience conforms to our minds. What the universe is really like before our mind structures it we can never know.

So we can’t know about things in themselves.

This is why Kant is called an Idealist; All we know are the experience and ideas in our minds, not things in themselves.

But Kant is called a Critical Idealist. He believes the universe exists outside our minds but what we can know about it is filtered by our minds.

Other German Idealists abandoned the idea of the universe existing outside the mind at all and only the mind is what is real.

To them “What is true for you is true for you.”

This led to ideas about the Will and the Will to Power and Ubermensch, Tone 40, and OTs.

To Kant, what is true for you is most certainly not true.

So how did this help me with free will?

Kant isn’t done yet.

Kant uses the word Reason to mean the human drive to know everything.

Because Reason wants to know everything, this is what drives science.

But science is limited to knowing what it can, and Reason isn’t satisfied.

Reason wants to know it all; Reason wants to know the First Cause.

So it believes in God.

Kant is not saying that there isn’t a God, but what he is saying is that we can never know God (if there is one) because what we can know can only be based on experience (like Bill is taller than Joe, and Joe taller than Mike).

We can know things without needing to experience them (A is taller than B, B is taller than C, therefore A is taller than B) but all knowledge must be based on some experience.

This is the philosophical basis for Deism.

Kant points out that when people develop metaphysical theories about God, since the theories are not grounded in experience, the theory will eventually become contradictory and illogical.

So he dismisses discussions about metaphysical things.

He does say that people should believe metaphysical things, especially God, the soul and eternal life, rewards in eternal life and free will because these are the best basis of moral behavior. Again I am simplifying here.

Kant says science can never prove or disprove any of these things either.

Because all science can do is know about the world as we perceive it which is pre-structured by our minds.

Science cannot ever know about things in themselves.

Science therefore can know all about the human body, but not about the soul or free will if they exist.

This is basic Kant.

It gave science the legitimacy it needed and also leaves to God the things that are God’s

I hope this is understandable.

Ambition’s debt is paid. (I hope)

The Anabaptist Jacques
 
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Jump

Operating teatime
.

I very much enjoyed that post taj, it was refreshing and lucid. Thanks for putting that together.

I realise from your post that Kant and probably most of philosophy is a history of the way we think now-a-days, and in the past there were very different ways of interpreting our experiences.

Thanks again for explaining the definitions - these are generally put up as a barrier to reading Kant, along with the fact that the original is in German.

:thumbsup:
 
G

Gottabrain

Guest
(my favourite excerpts)
Prior to Kant the idea was that experiences left their imprints on the mind because the mind was like a clay tablet and experiences left their impressions on the mind which passively received them.

What Kant suggested was that the mind actively grasps and organizes experiences.

The mind pre-structures experiences so that we can see them and experience them in a certain way.

How does this work?

It isn’t that our mind conforms to our experiences; our experiences conform to our mind.

Don’t confuse this with “what’s true for you is true for you.”!!!!

But there is a catch. A very important catch.

If everything we experience is pre-structured by our mind, then all we know of all phenomenon is how our mind structured it.

Mmmmm. Always loved Kant. The depth of your studies shows in your elegant simplicity. Thanks for this. How refreshing!

We don’t know and can’t know about the things in themselves.

:yes: We don't even have the hearing of a dog, the visual of a bird, and little concept of the communications amongst the inhabitants of 75% of the earth's surface - in the ocean. We are so limited, even amongst other living things, yet we perceive and must understand any sort of knowledge through this limited filter of senses, whether direct or indirect. How can we understand DNA? We make up an imaginary picture of what it might look like because we can't see it, then actually teach this in schools! Science beyond the senses is an incredible task of taking experiences and bringing them to make sense within our limited experiential and physical understanding.

The universe we experience conforms to our minds. What the universe is really like before our mind structures it we can never know.

So we can’t know about things in themselves.

I love this.

This is why Kant is called an Idealist; All we know are the experience and ideas in our minds, not things in themselves.

But Kant is called a Critical Idealist. He believes the universe exists outside our minds but what we can know about it is filtered by our minds.

Other German Idealists abandoned the idea of the universe existing outside the mind at all and only the mind is what is real.

To them “What is true for you is true for you.”

This led to ideas about the Will and the Will to Power and Ubermensch, Tone 40, and OTs.

To Kant, what is true for you is most certainly not true.

The blind men describing an elephant. One feels the trunk, another the ear, another a leg.

So how did this help me with free will?

Kant uses the word Reason to mean the human drive to know everything.

Because Reason wants to know everything, this is what drives science.

But science is limited to knowing what it can, and Reason isn’t satisfied.

Reason wants to know it all; Reason wants to know the First Cause.

So it believes in God.

Cool! :coolwink: But how exactly does that tie in to free will, TAJ?

Kant is not saying that there isn’t a God, but what he is saying is that we can never know God (if there is one) because what we can know can only be based on experience.

I've always said if I can even understand God's big toe when I die, I'll die happy. :coolwink:

Kant points out that when people develop metaphysical theories about God, since the theories are not grounded in experience, the theory will eventually become contradictory and illogical.

I'd like to hear more about this. Can you give more detail?


He does say that people should believe metaphysical things, especially God, the soul and eternal life, rewards in eternal life and free will because these are the best basis of moral behavior. Again I am simplifying here.

Kant says science can never prove or disprove any of these things either.

Well... Sociology studies reveal that religion does not make people behave more ethically. Studies also revealed that the worst criminals have no concept of a greater being/power/entity/hero greater than themselves. Believing there is one who is better than you - one toward which you strive to be like, one you admire, one you answer to - is the basis for good behaviour. Without this, a number of people turn criminal and give in to their whims and desires without regard for others.
 

Ogsonofgroo

Crusader
Thank you TAJ, a beautiful and succinct post, I have read Kant, PD Ouspensky (sp?), Gurjif (sp), Voltaire, etc.and many others in my own quest to make sense of the world, it was a long time ago, and I am thankful not to have succumbed to any particular influence (ie. getting stuck in a cult of any sort). I consider myself a closet buddhist with issues nao :)
the world is/can be a wonderful place, and truly people like you who have done 'the long search' and are willing to talk to others is a very nice prize imho.

Thanks man! :cheers:
 

Cat's Squirrel

Gold Meritorious Patron
Thanks for this one. BTW though, I never understood "it's true if it's true for you" to be a statement of literal truth; it's more of a device to inhibit (some) people from imposing their views on other people which they would otherwise do. As Bo Lozoff once said, if someone stands in a lake fully clothed they'll be wet even if they believe they're not.
 

RogerB

Crusader
This is a very ambitious of me to try and explain Kant in one post. But here goes:

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was born in Konigsberg and lived his entire life there.

Most of his early life he was a mathematical physicist.

He predicted the existence of the planet Uranus before it was discovered and he contributed greatly to the theory of nebula formation.

But by far his greatest contribution was three books that formulate a system of reason itself: the “Critique of Pure Reason” on the theory of knowledge; the “Critique of Practical Reason” on ethics; and the “Critique of Judgment” on aesthetics, theory of art, and on teleology (the notion of purpose in nature).

Together these form his system of what the intelligent faculties of the mind can do.

Kant is very difficult to understand simply because he uses common philosophical terms but with very specialized definitions.

For example, Kant uses the word Transcendental to mean the pre-structuring of experience by the mind. Kant has no spiritual or metaphysical meaning or connotation when he uses it.

Kant uses the word Reason to mean the drive in the human mind to want to know everything. He doesn’t use it to mean the capacity for logical, rational, analytic thought.

You may ask, “Well Taj, how do you know you have the correct use of his term?”

I’ve done a graduate level course of his first book “Critique of Pure Reason” and in addition have listened to about a dozen other recorded lectures from various noted professors.

Also there are some universities which publish Kant glossaries.

What I am going to attempt to explain here are the ideas in his book “Critique of Pure Reason.”

The first thing to understand is why Kant wrote this book.

At the time, the philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) put forth the idea (around 1736) that neither science nor philosophy nor anyone could know anything with certainty for the future because the only knowledge one could have was that of experience, which is something that already happened.

But Hume maintained that certain knowledge of what must be true or could happen in the future was impossible.

The philosophical term for Must Be True is Necessarily. (Example: if Bill is taller than Joe, and Joe is taller than Mike, then it is necessarily true that Bill is taller than Mike)

To Hume, the concept of cause and effect was only a concept in the mind.

For example, if you placed an ice cube on a rock in the sunlight and the ice cube melted, all you saw was a sequence. You did not see cause an effect.

Hume pointed out there are two categories of knowledge in the mind: 1) Relationship of ideas and 2) Matters of fact.

Relationship of ideas are a prior (known to be true independent of experience) and true by definition alone. (Example: all bachelors are unmarried)

Matters of fact are a posterior (known to be true by experience) but not true by definition (Example: some bachelors are sad).

< Snipped >

I hope this is understandable.

Ambition’s debt is paid. (I hope)

The Anabaptist Jacques


Nice write-up, TAJ.

Nice touch that of showing what Kant was addressing in Hume's work.

It's also a good example and exposition of why and how it is that "the philosophers" can get themselves spinning around and in argument about such things.

You do have some rather pertinent typos in it though that are rather critical to clean and clear understanding as one progresses through the screed . . . I've highlighted the first occurrence (of a number) of them above. I don't know if they can be corrected this late after original posting though.

You wrote "a prior" and "a posterior." (these words are nowhere to be found by google or dictionary search). "Prior" exists: but after a bit of fiddling with how you used the word, I got it that you meant "a priori" and then also "a posteriori."

Rog
 

Gadfly

Crusader
Personally, I liked Hubbard's 798-page tome entitled, "A Critique of Pure Reasonableness"! :omg: :hysterical:

Hubbard ALSO changed the meaning of ordinary words to suit his own needs . . . . . :biggrin:
 

RogerB

Crusader
@ Roger, hey posterior, what do you sit on? :duh:

:biggrin: Umm, dunno whether you're joking or thinking I think "posterior" is not a real word and the bum I sit on.

The term I am commenting on is "a posteriori" . . . two extra letters in the "word" or term the "a" and the ending "i". The "a" is part of the term and you'll find the term under a in the dictionaries.

I was actually incomplete in my post I only spoke of "a prior" I should also have spoken of "a posterior"

R
 

dchoiceisalwaysrs

Gold Meritorious Patron
Thanks Taj.

I always enjoy well considered thoughts to broaden my perspective. I understand what you have conveyed from Kant, but I am not so sure I completely agree.

Just a couple thoughts to jot down.

So does this mean if the mind creates a phenomenon which can sense the noumenon then our mind can know God, that...
which as a noumenon... creates a thing as per; "our mind conforms these objects to the rules of understanding already in the mind."
Otherwise stated, one's mind in it's ability to conform that which to be known can, a priori, understand the God it(the mind) has
understood and conformed. God is what each mind understands it to be? Perhaps not so! God could be what the mind cannot sense? Or
understand?



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnM66YKHYec

:cheers:
 

Leon

Gold Meritorious Patron
Good write up Taj. Thanks hugely for it.

I would suggest though (and have experienced) that there are "experiences" (or call them states of being or altered states or whatever you like) which are inherently beyond the scope of human thinking and feeling, and which are perhaps located in the direct apprehension of what lies beyond all that we perceive as creation.


I will leave that as it stands. Those who know what I'm talking about need no further clarification, and for those who don't no attempt at clarification will clarify. You need to have been there.
 
:biggrin: Umm, dunno whether you're joking or thinking I think "posterior" is not a real word and the bum I sit on.

The term I am commenting on is "a posteriori" . . . two extra letters in the "word" or term the "a" and the ending "i". The "a" is part of the term and you'll find the term under a in the dictionaries.

I was actually incomplete in my post I only spoke of "a prior" I should also have spoken of "a posterior"

R

Thanks for pointing this out.

I can't beleive I made those typos.

So much for typing through the night.

At least I didn't do it everytime.

The Anabaptist Jacques
 
I'd like to hear more about this. Can you give more detail?

Kant is pointing out that since metaphysical and spiritual ideas are not grounded in experience, it is speculation and the logical arguments to support the beliefs will eventually contradict what we know about reality.

He's just trying to show that there can be no logical proof about the metaphysical or the spirit or God and that arguments become futile.

The Anabaptist Jacques
 
Thanks Taj.

Just a couple thoughts to jot down.

So does this mean if the mind creates a phenomenon which can sense the noumenon then our mind can know God, that...
which as a noumenon... creates a thing as per; "our mind conforms these objects to the rules of understanding already in the mind."
Otherwise stated, one's mind in it's ability to conform that which to be known can, a priori, understand the God it(the mind) has
understood and conformed. God is what each mind understands it to be? Perhaps not so! God could be what the mind cannot sense? Or
understand?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnM66YKHYec

:cheers:

The mind doesn't create phenomenon. Phenomenon is what we experience . The mind shapes what we take in.

The noumenon can't be known.

Assuming God is spiritual then we can't know it.

We can believe it, but we can't logically prove (or disprove) God.

A synthetic a priori will go astray if it is not grounded in reality.

So there is no understanding God.

Kant calls religious debate "mock debates" since metaphysics is grounded in experience so cannot be synthetic a priori so the argument will eventually contradict logic.

The Anabaptist Jacques
 
Good write up Taj. Thanks hugely for it.

I would suggest though (and have experienced) that there are "experiences" (or call them states of being or altered states or whatever you like) which are inherently beyond the scope of human thinking and feeling, and which are perhaps located in the direct apprehension of what lies beyond all that we perceive as creation.


I will leave that as it stands. Those who know what I'm talking about need no further clarification, and for those who don't no attempt at clarification will clarify. You need to have been there.

If you experienced it then it isn't beyond the scope of human thinking and feeling.

What you are talking about are experiences and your interpretation of those experiences.

Nevertheless they are experiences.

"You need to have been there" is time and space and is also how my friends and I described acid trips. We knew we couldn't explain it to someone not grounded in the experience.

But it is still experience.

By making the argument that your experience isn't experience you are proving Kant's point that discussions of the metaphysical leads to inherent contradictions.

The Anabaptist Jacques
 

programmer_guy

True Ex-Scientologist
Thanks for pointing this out.

I can't beleive I made those typos.

So much for typing through the night.

At least I didn't do it everytime.

The Anabaptist Jacques

That's okay. I already know what the terms are and knew that it was typo's.

I don't complain about typo's unless they are so bad that I can't understand what is being posted.
 

programmer_guy

True Ex-Scientologist
TAJ,

Thanks for explaining Kant.
(I just replaced "mind" with "brain", in your explanations, and Kant makes a little more sense to me.)
 

Ogsonofgroo

Crusader
:biggrin: Umm, dunno whether you're joking or thinking I think "posterior" is not a real word and the bum I sit on.

The term I am commenting on is "a posteriori" . . . two extra letters in the "word" or term the "a" and the ending "i". The "a" is part of the term and you'll find the term under a in the dictionaries.

I was actually incomplete in my post I only spoke of "a prior" I should also have spoken of "a posterior"

R
I was indeed mucking around Roger. Both the terms 'a priori' and 'a posteriori' are fairly obscure, don't run into them very often, I had to familiarize myself with them, rather a fun diversionary read for an insomnia-tic early-up person. :) (it was me being a bit of a posterior).

:cheers:
 

PTS

Elliott
I have a couple of degrees of cant where my Tyrolias attach to my Rossignols. I can't ponder anything deeper with such a hangover.
 
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