Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Immanuel Kant

I finished a summary of Kant today. He's notoriously difficult, so I welcome any suggestions so that it is accurate and precise.
Immanuel Kant lived from 1724 to 1804. In his whole lifetime, he never ventured more than a hundred miles from his hometown of Königsberg, Prussia (today in Russia). Although his early writing was popular among his contemporaries, he wrote his most enduring works in later life. The Critique of Pure Reason, which he wrote in his late fifties, would become one of the most important books in the history of philosophy.

In the Preface to his book, A Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (a summary of the ideas in the Critique), Kant wrote that the empiricist David Hume had woken him from his “dogmatic slumber.” Hume had shown him that empiricism could only account for the content of our thoughts, not for the shape those thoughts took in our mind. To explain the organization of our thought, the synthesis of information in our minds, Kant suggested that our minds operate within certain a priori categories like space and time or cause and effect.

Kant believed that these categories, the frameworks by which we understand the things that we sense, are “transcendental.” Although some scholars interpret Kant differently, Kant seemed to believe that the categories by which we understand the world are universally true. On the one hand, these categories come from our minds, not from the world itself. In that sense, we cannot know the world as it is in itself, we can only know the world as it appears to us, as it is organized by our minds. We cannot understand the world without using categories like time and space, cause and effect, and believing that the things we perceive have substance.

On the other hand, Kant was inclined to think these categories were, in reality, universally true, even though our minds impose them on the data of our senses. Some who have followed Kant have accepted that our minds construct reality while rejecting that those constructions are universally true.

Kant argued that our belief in several other things followed naturally from these transcendental categories, namely, our belief in God, the soul, and human freedom. We cannot be consistent with the way our reason makes sense of the world without also affirming them.

But the way Kant affirmed them flowed straight from his philosophy. For example, freedom for Kant was to act in accordance with universal reason, not the capacity to do whatever you want to do. And the moral law for him was a function of conclusions that flow directly from the categories of reason.

Kant called his understanding of ethics, the “categorical imperative.” Kant’s thinking seems to be that if something is an imperative, a “must do,” then it is “categorically” a must do. Kant believed that if something was right or wrong, then it was always right or wrong without exception.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

The problem with universalizing something is not with the concept as universally true, but that the interpretation is uniquely constructed. And its application is within "contexts", which are uniquely experienced.

Xavier Zubiris transformed traditional understandings in philosophy. He grounded the "logos" and "being" on "intelligence" and "reality", which bases our understanding on experience and not "pure reason". His understanding bases "reason" on "logos" which is based on a "primodial apprehension". I understand "logos" to be the "image of God", while the "primodial apprehension" is empirical....

It seems to me, although I need to investigate him more, that the "image of God" in man is individually defined and understood by experience. It is outside of the individual.

With the limited understanding I have of this view, I can agree with limitations. I believe that Kant was right in saying that there is a structure of "ideals" that all men have (justice, love), but these catagories are interpreted within the contexts of cultures, which identify these concepts more specifically. It is the expression that differs, not the concept itself. This is the human element in individuality and uniqueness. I do not believe that we are formed only by our communities or environments, although they do impact us greatly.

Our senses have been fine tuned to respond to "grace" not law. Grace is a creative ability to express some aspect of "god". Law defines too stringently what the "outcome" will be, without giving allowance for the human. Laws are to provide and protect the freedom of "grace" in expression of many forms of humanity. It is diverse, unique, and human". (It it interesting that when the term "human" is used, one assumes that others understand what that means....)

Jonathan Parsons said...

This is a good initial summary of Kant!
I don't know if any of my suggestions would be worth considering, but you may want to emphasize how space, time and the twelve categories are postulated as a way of rescuing metaphysics and science from Humean skepticism. Hume talked about the fundamental laws of science (causality for instance) and said that we couldn't even know that. While we would see two events (A and B) and say that A caused B, Hume would say that we have no good justification for saying such a thing, because we could not experience "causation" itself. Hume would say that we merely saw two simultaneous events and simply made a gross assumption in saying that A caused B. If Hume was right, then the effect that this would have on science would be entirely detrimental.
Kant recognized this fact, but still understood that our existence is such that we operate within the realm of experience and therefore in the realm of science. The creative role of the mind, space, time and the twelve categories are arrived at by asking, "Given the fact that we operate within the realm of experience, what then are the necessary conditions for the possibility of experience?" However, this poses a problem for belief in God, Freedom and Immortality, because these are not the types of things that can be grasped experentially. That is why the discussion of the moral realm fits in so well with Kant's overall system.
As far as the moral realm is concerned, a similar question can be asked, "What are the necessary conditions for right action? And given those conditions, what ought I to do?" While God, Freedom and Immortality are ultimately problematic in the realm of experience, God, Freedom and the Moral Law are necessary conditions for the possibility of acting morally. While the moral law exists independently of God, God recognizes the truth of the moral law and then gives the law to us. But Kant also thought that Freedom was necessary for having any moral responsibility, because we need to be free in order to be held accountable. It is because that freedom is tethered to the moral law that we are not "free" to do whatever we want, but should "always act in such a way that the maxim on which we are acting could become a universal law."

I'm sorry this is pretty lengthy, but they are just some ideas! :)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Kant also said that men were always ends in themselves and never a means to an end...that is important as to universiality, for it implies that all are created equal and due equal respect and dignity ...Whenever a human being is used by another for whatever reason, there is a repulsion that demands justice.
Freedom implies individuality, not collectivity! It is only in the collective that the individual ceases to exist and becomes a useful part of the whole to attain its goals. Collectivity is only useful in giving an environment of affirmation and encouragement of a particular part in attaining thier own desires within the chosen "collective". Grandiose collective plans are subversive of the individual's uniqueness and is deterministic, which undermines the individual's unique expression within a given context.
In governmental terms it is totalitarian and socialistic. History has born out that these systems do not breed human flourishing but domination and human groping...Laws understood as cause and effect, such as Newtonian physics, breeds a life lived by "rote" (demands), not by free expression to "grace"(love, mercy)...which is innatedness...

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Angie and Jonathan!

Jonathan, this is a great way to frame Kant's views on morality, freedom, and the soul. Maybe I'll edit it some. I mention Hume and causality in more detail in the chapter itself and will say more about the categorical imperative (Angie) and the noumena/phenomena distinction in other chapters. This piece is for a text box.