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Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

You know, the usual subjects of small talk: the weather, Immanuel Kant

***You demanded it. Well, not really. You asked for it. Well, that's not really true either. Silence is consent, how about that? Here's something that combines my signature sardonic wit, which you know about, and my middling knowledge of Kant, which you didn't know about until last Friday. I gather that the assignment was a series of questions posed at a cocktail party regarding Kant. Which is, you know, just common cocktail party talk. Enjoy. Or, more likely, don't.***

Judy: Kant. He was from the 18th Century, right? So was he an empiricist or a rationalist? After all, those were the two main epistemological theories of the Enlightenment?

Etienne: Well, Judy, I am most impressed to hear a lay scholar such as yourself use vocabulary like “epistemological.” Yes, you are correct that empiricism and rationalism are the two main theories of the Enlightenment, however, Kant actually belonged to neither. The empiricists believed that all knowledge is gained through experience. Locke, Berkeley, and Hume formed the so-called “Empiricist Triad” and although Kant admitted that he owed a lot to Hume, he was not strictly empiricist. The rationalists believed essentially the opposite, that all knowledge is gained through the faculty of reason. The great rationalists were DesCartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza.

George: Spinozaaaaaaaa!

Etienne: Yes. Well. Kant didn’t fit neatly into either of these categories. He did not believe that either of these explanations could explain everything in the world. He believed that certain a priori knowledge, namely ideal space and time, was necessary to have experiences. He basically tried to bridge the gap between empiricism and rationalism.

Judy: So what was he?

Etienne: He was a Kantian.

Elroy: So Kant had this whole theory about the structure of the mind going? What were the main parts of the mind that he talked about?

Etienne: Well, Kant believed in three main faculties of the mind: sensibility, understanding, and reason. Sensibility is the faculty through which we receive sensations, or intuitions (Anschauungen) as Kant called them.

Judy: Wow, your knowledge of German never fails to impress.

Etienne: Thank you. The understanding judges sensations, thus making a cohesive whole out of what would otherwise be disjointed Anschauungen. And the reason regulates the understanding. Kant liked charts and graphs so let me draw it on this cocktail napkin for you:

Faculty Operation Form of Operation
Sensibility Intuition Space, time
Understanding Judgment 12 forms of judgment
Reason Inference 3 forms of inference

George: Oops, sorry I spilled that bourbon on it.

Etienne: That’s ok.

Judy: Now let me get this straight. Kant thought that information does come in through the senses, but that in addition to what was coming in, sensations (intuitions) had features that were due to the “form of our sensibility itself”? What are the forms of sensibility?

Etienne: Well, Judy, I’m glad you asked. I actually wrote a WHOLE PAPER in my class on this subject, so if you guys are really interested, you can go back and read the paper I ALREADY WROTE on the subject. But for now, let me summarize it. I mentioned before that Kant believed that ideal space and time were a priori concepts necessary for sensibility. These are the forms of sensibility. Time and space to Kant are not things out there in the real world, but they are created by the mind for the purpose of being able to comprehend sensations. Since space and time are created by the mind, they are necessarily ideal. Synthetic a priori knowledge is grounded in the ideality of space and time – like mathematics. Without a conception of time, we would have no linear number system. And without ideal space, how could we have geometry?

George: Wow! This Kant sounds like a real “spacey” guy.

Jane: Oh shut up, George! Go and get us some drinks, or a snack or something. So how does the understanding get into the picture? What is its job?

Etienne: Well the operation of the understanding is to synthesize the intuitions. The sensibility gathers random intuitions and the understanding synthesizes them into a cohesive whole, through the use of Kant’s twelve categories of the understanding.

Jane: Wow, Steve, you really are brilliant. I don’t think we need to ask you any more questions, and I’m certain that Professor Ward will give you an A for your class.

Elroy: Wait, mom. Does Kant have anything like innate ideas?

Etienne: Yes. Kant believes that we all have these twelve innate ideas, or pure concepts of the understanding. Luckily I committed them to memory for Dr. Ward’s class. They are broken down into four sets of three: Quantity, which consists of unity, plurality, and totality; Quality, which consists of reality, negation, and limitation; Relation, which consists of inherence, cause/effect, and reciprocity; and Modality, which consists of possibility, existence, and necessity. Using these twelve categories, the understanding catalogues and codifies experience.

Judy: It sounds like he is an idealist – all there really is is thoughts and mental images. We are all just aware of our own subjective “inner world.”

Etienne: That’s a negative, good buddy. The truth is that Kant believed that there were real objects in the world, called noumena. However, when the world is filtered through our perception, we don’t see things as they are (noumena), rather we see things as we perceive them, or phenomena. Kant believed that there was no way to pierce through the divide between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds, making knowledge about the noumenal world impossible to attain. However, he did not deny that there were objects out there. So he is not an idealist in the Berkelean sense.

George: What did I miss?

Jane: Everything, George! As usual.

George: So give it to me real simple. How would you sum up Kant’s basic contribution to the history of philosophy vis-à-vis metaphysics and epistemology in a sentence or two?

Etienne: “The understanding does not derive its laws (a priori) from, but prescribes them to, nature.”

Jane: That’s neat. Boy you sure are smart. We’d love to keep talking to you about Kant and all. But we have to go home to study for our Chaucer midterm. George! Get up off the floor!

George: Leave me alone! I was just analyzing the ground for the possibility of my experience.

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