Kant: Mid-term Study Questions

1. Explain Kant’s claim in the introduction that although all knowledge begins with experience, it is not all derived from experience. What alternative views are ruled out by this claim? If Kant is right, how might this bear upon what is possible to have knowledge of?

Kant explains the importance of empirical intuitions by saying “Thoughts without content are empty” (B75). Without content our thoughts could not be said to be about anything. However, once we have knowledge in this way, we can derive a priori knowledge about that experience. This knowledge is then not derived from experience, but requires knowledge derived from experience. To say that “all knowledge begins with experience” is to deny a major claim of the rationalist movement, namely that we are bore with innate knowledge. To say “it is not all derived from experience” is to deny the opposing camp called empiricism, which states that we can only know that which we learn through experience. If Kant is correct with these claims, we cannot have knowledge except about that which can be given to us in intuition. This means that if we cannot even possibly have an experience of something, we cannot ever know anything about it.

2. What is synthetic a priori knowledge and why does Kant think the question of how it is possible important?

Synthetic a priori is a combination of the two kinds of knowledge previously discussed in modern philosophy. It is necessary and has strict universality like logical truths, but also combines logically unrelated terms as empirical truths do. Empirical truths combine these concepts in virtue of something other than the concepts in the sentence, namely experience. Thus arises a problem for Kant, the main problem of the Critique: If synthetic a priori truths are to be truly a priori they must express a connection between concepts in virtue of something that is neither the concepts themselves nor experience. Kant believes that synthetic a priori knowledge is not only possible, but necessary and totally pervasive. All of mathematics and any experience we can have at all both require synthetic a priori concepts and intuitions. Kant’s task, then, is to show how they are possible, that is to say, how they are justified. Kant also believes that the progress and reputation of metaphysics has been seriously impeded by its failure to use synthetic a priori principles. Without such, metaphysics cannot go about its business of “extend[ing] our a priori knowledge” (B18). Thus, “upon the solution of this problem, or upon a sufficient proof that the possibility which it desires to have explained does in fact not exist at all, depends the success or failure of metaphysics” (B19).

3. Why does Kant characterize his endeavor as bringing about a Copernican Revolution in metaphysics? What way(s) of doing metaphysics does the Copernican Revolution reject, and why? What does Kant hope to achieve through such a revolution?

The Copernican Revolution in astronomy constituted a change in the role that we (the earth) play in explanations of galactic movement as we observe it. It was no longer thought that we were merely passive in these movements. Likewise, Kant re-envisioned our role in explanations of reality as we experience it. We are, according to the Critique of Pure Reason, quite active in the construction of reality. However, there is an important dissimilarity between the Kantian Revolution and that of Copernicus. Kant wanted to in fact center us in his account of metaphysics, while Copernicus removed us from the center of his account. In this way Kant is quite similar to Hume in discussing reality, our experience is all we can ever really talk about. However, Kant’s Revolution also implies epistemological methodology that sharply differs from that of Hume. Hume assumed that we learn about the world by ensuring that our representation of it agrees with that which we experience. This led him into several problems that Kant thinks are avoidable if we assume that reality actually must “conform to our mode of representation” (Bxx). This move shifts our inquiry from the objects of our representations to the ways in which we represent objects in general.

4. How does Kant argue in the Metaphysical Exposition that space is a) a priori b) an intuition?

There are two arguments for the claim that space is an a priori representation in the Metaphysical Exposition. The first states that space cannot be an empirical concept derived from experience because it is presupposed in any representation of outer appearances. If we were not already able to represent spacial relations (objects within the representation of space), strictly speaking, we would not see anything. We would not be able to distinguish objects from each other, nor as objects at all. To even recognize a representation as an object requires that the dimensions of that object be represented with it, and spacial dimensions presuppose a representation of space. The second argument says, similarly, that space must be a necessary precondition for any empirical representation because “we can never represent to ourselves the absence of space” (B38). This is similar to an experiment Kant describes in the Introduction. “If we remove from our empirical concept of a body, one by one, every feature in it which is merely empirical, the color, the hardness or softness, the weight, even the impenetrability, there still remains the space which the body (now completely vanished) occupied” (B5). All of our representations are necessarily contained within the representation of space. Kant actually provided one more argument in the Metaphysical Exposition which appeared only in the first edition of the Critique. It argues that if space were derived from experience, then all the knowledge of geometry would be merely contingent, and we would not have any certainty that such propositions must be true. Kant may have abandoned this line of argumentation because a die-hard empiricist would have no problem with geometry being contingent or with saying that all of logic is not absolutely certain, but only has held up as we have experienced it thus far.
There are also two arguments for the claim that space is an intuition. In both cases, the argument concludes that space is an intuition because it is not a concept. Also, they both argue that the representation of space cannot be a concept because it is not instantiated like concepts are. The first argument says that space cannot be instantiated to produce multiple representations of space, or “spaces.” Any time we speak of diverse spaces, we can only be talking about parts of the greater, boundless space. Thus, these spaces are not instantiations of the concept of space, as they all rely on the general and most basic representation of space. The next argument makes a similar point. When we talk of spaces in this way, the spaces are to be understood an falling within the broader space, while instantiations fall under their general concept.

5. Explain Kant’s claim that space is the form of intuition. What consequences does Kant think follow from this conclusion, and why? Is he right?

To say that space is the form of intuition is to say that it is not a property of things, nor is it a relationship between things. Properties of things and relations between them could only be understood a posteriori, and Kant has already shown that space must be a priori. Space is the way in which intuitions are given to us. Space is a “subjective condition of sensibility, under which alone intuition is possible for us” (B42). From this it follows that it is only from the human standpoint that space exists. Were humans not to exist, space would not exist. One might wonder, then, how it is that we can ascribe objective reality to space, if objective reality means something like independent existence. Space seems dependent upon is for its existence if this account of space is true.

6. In what way does Kant think that the method of philosophy must be differentiated from mathematical method? Focus especially on Kant’s comments on the experiment of reason at Bxvii and Bxixa.

Kant believes that philosophy should proceed according to a method of experimentation similar to that of natural science. He thinks that both philosophy and natural science can only experiment upon those things which we can observe and experience. The experimental object of philosophy then is what could be given to us in experience. This method differs from that of mathematics in that mathematics proceeds with concepts that it has constructed itself, not with anything that is given from outside itself. Thus it is not the business of philosophy to posit some concept that cannot become the object of experience nor to analyze what such a concept could mean or imply.

7. Give an example of a question we raise that transcends the bounds of reason. Also give examples of principles which we employ in experience although they are not justified by experience.

Some questions that transcend that bounds of reason concern the existence of God or freedom of the will or the immortality of the soul. Kant thinks that we are naturally drawn to these and other metaphysical questions. “In all men, as soon as their reason has become ripe for speculation, there has always existed and will always continue to exist some kind of metaphysics” (B21). Kant also remarks that previous attempts to solve such questions have been deterred by “nature’s leading strings” (Bxiii). These questions transcend our powers of reason because they involve concepts and entities of which we cannot possibly have experience, and also, because up to the writing of the Critique there is no clear understanding of what can be concluded concerning things which we have not yet experienced. A principle we commonly use in experience which is not justified by experience is causality. Hume rightly saw that this is indispensable for us in understanding our experiences.

8. In what sense does the Critique of Pure Reason serve as a tribunal? What is the criterion for making claims about what there is?

Kant believed that many of the metaphysical notions of the time were posited dogmatically and have no actual grounding. However, he also believed that many notions of the same kind are in fact necessary truths not to be doubted. Thus, the Critique is meant to distinguish these concepts. It seeks to do this by providing a new kind of justification which some metaphysical concepts can provide, and those that can’t are then to be regarded as succumbing to the “charm of extending our knowledge” beyond experience (B8). Basically, Kant distinguishes worthy metaphysical concepts by whether they can possibly be the object of experience for us.

9. Why is arithmetic synthetic a priori according to Kant?

Basically, arithmetic must be synthetic according to Kant because we must appeal to intuition in solving mathematical problems. What he means here is easiest to see with operations on big numbers so that the solution is not immediately apparent. For example: 45353 + 92842. We know that there is a simple process to solve this, and that is exactly Kant’s point. The solution to this operation is not included in the concept of 45353, nor in that of +, nor that of 92842. Any process we use to solve this is ultimately reducible to counting. To 45353, we add 1 92842 times. Counting is a form of our intuition of time according to Kant, but all he needs here is that it is something other than the concepts in the original problem. If one were to argue that the answer is contained in the numbers then an infinite number of such solutions would be contained in any number, one for each number to which it might be added.

10. How can Kant hold both that knowledge begins with experience, and what is experienced is not things as they are in themselves? Focus both on the beginning of the Introduction and the conclusion of the Transcendental Aesthetic.

Kant certainly believes that all empirical knowledge is not of things in themselves, but of appearances. These appearances exist within space and time which are subjective conditions of perceiving subjects such as us. At first, this belief seems to imply that all our intuitions of things are only dependent on us and therefore an illusion. Kant tries to avoid this conclusion in his conclusion to the Transcendental Aesthetic. He writes that he does not believe that objects of our experience are mere illusion. By illusion he means a mere seeming. “I am not saying that bodies merely seem to be outside me” (B69). Kant rejects idealism, in which space and time are in us and objects are then inside them, which would make objects in us in some way. Kant means that bodies really are outside of us and space and time are our method of intuiting them. This is not to say that space and time are “in” us, though they only exist from our point of view. Kant has proved that “Time and space, taken together, are the pure forms of sensible intuition” for us (B56). If this is true, then to ascribe space and time to things in themselves would commit him to the idealism described above. Only then would objects exist within us as being within our form of intuition.

11. In what respect does the conclusion of the Transcendental Aesthetic make room for faith?

In the conclusion to the Transcendental Aesthetic, Kant writes that God “can never be an object of intuition to us” (B71). If this is true, Kant must accept that we can have no knowledge of God. This has two equal and opposite consequences for theology: We can neither prove nor disprove anything about God, including whether such a being exists. Absence of proof against the existence of God may be the “room for faith” (Bxxx) that Kant believes he has made.

12. How does the Transcendental Aesthetic take the first step towards accounting for the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge? What does it suggest about Kant’s method?

“Time and space, taken together, are the pure forms of sensible intuition and so are what make a priori synthetic propositions possible” (B56). Earlier, Kant explained that intuition is required to account for arithmetic propositions. In the same way the intuition of space makes geometry possible. Geometry and arithmetic are then examples of bodies of knowledge which are completely comprised of a priori synthetic a priori propositions. These bodies of knowledge and others, such as metaphysics, are justified by these pure intuitions.

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2 Responses to Kant: Mid-term Study Questions

  1. jph says:

    exceptionally clear expositions here without recourse to vast swathes of Kantian quotations etc thank you.

  2. Mable says:

    You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I
    think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for me.
    I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

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