Die Postulate des empirischen Denkens überhaupt

"Nur daran also, dass diese Begriffe die Verhältnisse der Wahrnemungen in jeder Erfahrung a priori ausdrücken, erkennt man ihre objelktive Realität, d.i. ihre transzendentale Wahrheit, und zwar freilich unabhängig von der Erfahrung, aber doch nicht unabhängig von aller Beziehung auf die Form einer Erfahrung überhaupt, und die Synthetische Einheit, in der allein Gegenstände empirisch können erkannt werden." Kritik der reinen Vernunft, p. 298-299, I Kant, Reclam, 1966.

(amateuristic English translation below - but I'm sure google will have a professional one)

It's been a while since I felt the urge to get my "Pure Reason" out and look for what is known as the "synthetic a priori". It was probably over 2 months ago. I had it next to the bed, but did not open it. Fear, I guess, as well as a bunch of other things that were racing through my head (some of which you find here). Not to mention a family and a job and what have you. But enough personalia already: I opened it now and I thought it would be somewhere over half way that I'd find it and I didn't. So I went & risked something more or less a quarter of the way of the book and found not this - I found a quote on telepathy and such things and how unfounded it was to assert its existence: however conceivable they were, there was no basis for entertaining any of it.

And I was happy (and happier still when I bumped into the 'refutation of idealism' - but that will be for another time) but not happy enough, so I read the section where my telepathy scepticism found an unexpectedly explicit support. The quote above is what I settled on and it's close enough to the synthetic a priori (although maybe not a quote that is very quotable by any common standard). Why am I telling you all of these petty personal experiences? Maybe it's mostly fear but it's also because I feel like I need to give you this experience of finding such things. Because nobody does this as far as I know: tell the dirty, boring 'how I found this'; and that just increases the mystical feel about these things.

I hate mysticism and I hate the new scholasticism that has been built around terms such as 'a priori' and certainly the 'synthetic a priori' (and certainly in universities, to limit the amount of creative thinking that graduates one has to suppose).

The idea I always thought was quite simple: empiricism is basically correct, but still, in and of itself, a bit of a non-starter. There are things (not 'things' in the sense of particulars but 'things' in the sense of bits of knowledge) that are unavoidable. Not because they are completely separate from empirical facts; but because once we're having a more or less consistent view of reality that view will, unavoidably, be based on these things (I think, by the way, that this is a very modern rhought, something that, against appearances, is quite aligned with Quine's critique of the very notions of synthetic and analytic).

Let me not talk about triangles. Let me not talk about specific scientific theories. I'll talk about my pet subject: Darwinian theory.

As I said before (in a very, very hermetic piece of which I am rather ashamed now) - I believe that, suitably abstracted, it is inescapable. I believe it is an a priori; things cannot be understood in any other way than this way; things on evolution were even never understood in another way before Darwin (even if, before Darwin, the insights were lacking to phrase it in a productive way). I also believe that it is synthetic; it is based on an examination of empirical facts; it is something that depends on 'form' of our experience (it's therefore perfectly possible to describe things in a way that is non-Darwinian but that's about as helpful as talking about telekinesis - worse in fact because any such description currently offered can be shown to be incorrect when it's confronted with the facts).

I said 'suitably abstracted' and if I could have avoided qualifiying it, I certainly would have. I won't quote more German but the reason for the need for the qualifier is not coincidental & described by Kant. Such 'synthetic a priori' knowledge can't be about a specific thing (in the sense of state of affairs, facts, or particulars). If it could be like that we would be in the mystical realm of telepathy because, for instance, my writing this (or some such other coincidence) could in principle be such knowledge - which is obviously absurd to anyone with their chakrah's in order (that was a joke!). In other words - Darwin's hypothesis on similarity of moutainous plants can be right or wrong but can never be a synthetic a priori (in fact, the more accurate statement would be: this hypothesis can be accurate or inaccurate but that'll be for another time when I - or somebody else - reminds me of it; say "Kyburg").

I will not attempt what Darwin did much better: attempt a suitable abstraction for his theory. I'll offer an example from thermodynamics - 'In a closed system, the energy remains constant.' This does not make any definite predictions on specific situations but sets clear limits on any situation. That I think is the 'synthetic a priori' (& pardon me if I'm not telling you anything new) and I think it's basically right although I also think that Kant did not realize sufficiently the high standard of 'suitable abstractions' in this area (and did not realize so many things that came after him on other fronts, this is not the whole truth after all, just a piece of it; he did not, for instance, grasp how problematic the analytic/synthetic distinction was to begin with).

So I said I would not attempt the Darwinian abstraction. And I won't. But still, I don't think Darwin did everything that could be done. His abstraction was biological but, as I already tried to demonstrate elsewhere here, the real abstraction is at the levels of 'anything evolving' (see Bergson quote). It's crucial, I believe, that the knowledge of Darwinian evolution is recognized as unavoidable for language, culture and so on. It is crucial for ethical reasons (but I will undoubtedly have outstayed my welcome so I shan't elaborate on that now).

Ending note: some of you might be thinking Newton and flatlanders and things done in a dimension that can't be perceived by us and all that. I tell you: you are gullable and run a risk of being converted into a religion, as you were concerted by scientistic vulgarizing theoretical physicists (Do something about it!). This argument leads to a set of moronic theories in the class of Intelligent Design and is a fallacy. Because of this: either the influence of the 'unknown dimension' is regular in the known ones, & then we can perceive 'it' (see Kant's example of magnetic forces) or it's irregular - in which case we can't perceive it as an 'it'. In the latter case people might suddenly be disappearing all the time and that would be just a fact of life, not a proof of another dimension because if it were we would be able to perceive it ... (not finished but you get the point - and even if you don't: people aren't suddenly disappearing and, but for the pockets and power of those making these things up there isn't even the start of an empirical fact that would lead us to seriously consider entertaining anything of the sort).

"Only in this then, that these concepts express a priori the conditions of perception in all of our experiences, can one recognize their objective reality, i.e. their transcendental truth, and this completely independent from experience itself, although not independent from any relationship on the form of an experience as such, and that synthetic unity in which only we can recognize things in an empirical way."

Whilst writing this I was listening to Steve Reich, "Different Trains", Orchestre National de Lyon & David Robertson.

22:28 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: scientism, universals, dynamics, kant, form-content |  Facebook |


Of the influence of belief

"But tho' education be disclaim'd by philosophy, as a fallacious ground of assent to any opinion, it prevails nevertheless in the world, and is the cause why all systems are apt to be rejected at first as new and unusual." David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 167, Penguin Books, 1969.

Look-a-here: I do not exist! Or more accurately (& more boringly non-provocative): the 'I' does not exist. This claim would be the closest to summing up my system, if there were such a thing as philosophical 'systems' remaining after Hume & Kant. As one was tempted to sum up Hume's system in Hume's day as "This world does not exist" in preparation of a smug chuckle with which to discard the details of what was said by him; I'm sure one would be tempted to Laugh Out Loud reading how I sum up my thotoughly individualistic thought.

If we have been educated in one thing throughout our life (and, indeed, throughout the history of women & men) it is that the self is the cornerstone of everything (like the family is the cornerstone of the state). It is the Cartesian premise that survived despite all attacks. A dogma deeper than any other. The last stronghold of religion, because what to do with a self that is the center of everything, and can disappear in an instant? Modernity has not created the self but it has enforced the myth of souls and their immateriality; an immaterality that's fully focused on the material. This is the time of character, personality, ethos, passion, ... anything dispassionate is of a suspect nature (even altruism, not being self-centered, is only acceptable if done in an all-consuming personal passion and with unbeatable commitment).

Hume came close (not very many pages after the page from which the above quote is taken) but could not completely give up the self after giving up the certainty, and the necessities, of the external world. The personal was primary. It's the most basic dogma of empricism that everything starts from what we perceive, from sensations - up to and including Carnap (see post on Eigenpsychisches & Fremdpsychisches) the subjective was solidified as the primary from which to construct all the rest.

It is a fallacy. You do not exist. If you think you're sure you exist 'because you feel things', think again! How could you express feeling something if there was not prior to that feeling the notion of what it is to feel something. The self (in any commonly meaningful sense) comes after the linguification of the species denoted 'humans' - linguification of the species is only possible based on complex social interaction and complex social interaction is only possible based on, many, non-verbalized concepts & instincts that are highly standardized by the commonality of a species living in the highly uniform conditions that we call the visible (tactible, audible, edible) world. It's nature that was first and Hume was wrong that we can't conclude anything on it with certainty because of the falibility of our senses and our understanding. We can't but avoid concluding that it was there first and that our notion of selves (&, further than that, our notion of perception) is but an unintended effect of that Cause of which it is impossible for us to ever determine a first cause. 

Common sense has it right therefore: the objective is primary, & the subjective only derivative, even if a derivative with its own direct interests. As we make plastics from crude oil that can be used for things crude oil as such can never be used; words and thoughts & selves & personalities &c & so on create their own applications that are in a way independent on the original principles that have formed their substratum. But one restriction will always apply - the word will cease to exist if one denies this basis on which it has been formed (& our personalities will dissolve if there are no words to share with other instances of a 'word-species').

That's morality, the whole of it. Not that it's impossible to destroy any previous step that was necessary to get to this level of civilization; all of that is possible to various extents as, alas, demonstrated repeatedly and as we speak. But there are things, if destroyed, cannot but destroy this shaky, derived but magnificent notion of the self; or diminish the potential for further evolution, further expressiveness of individuals - which is the same. Morality is unavoidable, not as mere codex or dogma but, as our common sense always had it, as an integral part of what we are. Maybe it's too little for the moralizers that want to control other individuals - but it's invariably too much for the same moralizers when they need to restrain themselves, in their control over their neighbours.

Education is what drives us forward as mankind; it is also what holds us back as the creative individuals that we, essentially, are. But that conclusion will have to wait for yet another time.

There's more to this than the above quasi-poetry. You'll find an early & amateuristic attempt at a reasoned underpinning of the above here:


Unfortunately at that time I didn't have the benefit of Davidson, Quine, Carnap, and Huma to name just a few. Tthe basis is there but the conclusions are foggy at best - which is one of the reasons outside of pedantry to write this.

As you were!

Whilst writing this I was listening to The Klezmatics, Rhythm & Jews, from iTunes.

21:55 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (2) | Tags: self, hume, tones, boldness, learning, mind-mind dualism |  Facebook |