• sime
    1k
    I'm a bit confused when trying to understand second hand accounts of Kant's thesis of transcendental idealism, that debate the ontological and epistemological status of the noumena, since I'm unable to grasp how Kants conception of cognition arrives at such a thing.

    I ought to read CPR, but I suspect I might be none the wiser afterwards.

    Suppose I accept kants basic thesis, including the transcendental deduction of the categories and identification of space and time as a priori forms of intuition, and their role in the synthesis of my perceptions and cognitive judgements. In other words as I roughly understand it, I accept that the process of cognitive judgement grammatically presupposes the use of certain concepts , which marks such concepts a priori and exempt from the possibility of doubt, with doubt itself being a posteriori in the sense of being a consequence OF cognitive judgement. Then how do I leap from this fairly uncontroversial position to a concept of noumena?

    Is the noumena deduced? I can't see how, because by definition, it would then have to be either an empirical deduction and hence empirical, or a transcendental deduction and hence a category of understanding , and hence either way, not noumenal by definition.

    Is the noumena inferred through logical induction as a necessary but unknowable transcendental cause? I can't see how, because I understand that for Kant, causation is a category of understanding for relating empirical observations. And to my understanding, kant never discussed a third possibility of transcendental induction, which would seem nonsensical.

    The only way I can therefore arrive at a concept of the noumena, is through a thought experiment that involves me to fictitiously conceive of transcending the bounds of my own cognition and to then conclude that the world in itself is distinct from my understanding of the world. But Kant has surely already ruled out that possibility as being utterly nonsensical in being in violation of the bounds of cognitive closure as delimited by the a priori conditions of understanding.

    It seems therefore to me, that transcendental idealism only makes sense when considered in terms of the conditional assertion "IF it were meaningful to talk of transcending the bounds of cognition, the world would be conceptually divisible into appearances and things in themselves." - to which it responds in the negative by rejecting the premise.

    In other words, the conclusion of transcendental idealism given its stated premises, seems to be neither ontological nor epistemological. The conclusion cannot be a positive assertion of mind-dependent knowledge and phenomena on an empirical level of appearances on the one hand, and of an unknowable reality of "things as they are in themselves" on some 'transcendental' level. Neither can the conclusion be merely epistemological in still accepting the conceivability of noumena but denying knowledge of its nature or existence.

    The conclusion of kants premises can only amount to an outright denial of the conceivability of noumena, and in turn, a denial of the conceptual dichotomy of realism and idealism.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    second hand accountssime

    There's your problem!

    I ought to read CPRsime

    Yes.

    Is the noumena deduced?sime

    You mean the noumenon here. Noumena is plural. Kant ambiguously tends to conflate the noumenon with the thing-in-itself. If we assume he meant them synonymously, then he starts with the existence of things, which are presented to the understanding by means of sense perception. What we know of things, therefore, is how they appear to us by means of the forms of the understanding (the twelve categories), not what they are or may be in themselves, a part from said forms. On the one world interpretation (which is more tenable than the two world, in my opinion), there is one object which has two aspects, that which we see when the object is cognized, and that which we do not see, which is what the object is when not cognized.

    Is the noumena inferred through logical induction as a necessary but unknowable transcendental cause? I can't see how, because I understand that for Kant, causation is a category of understanding for relating empirical observations.sime

    I think this is more or less it. The uncharitable reader would say that he has contradicted himself in referring to the noumenon causing the appearance, and there are plenty of passages that damn him in this regard. However, the more charitable reader can find other passages wherein Kant seems to be saying that we are obliged to think of the noumenon causing the presentation simply because causality is an a priori concept, and so gets applied to everything. It is not a causal relation in reality, but we are forced to think of it in causal terms because we cannot but do so.

    In other words, the conclusion of transcendental idealism given its stated premises, seems to be neither ontological nor epistemological. The conclusion cannot be a positive assertion of mind-dependent knowledge and phenomena on an empirical level of appearances on the one hand, and of an unknowable reality of "things as they are in themselves" on some 'transcendental' level. Neither can the conclusion be merely epistemological in still accepting the conceivability of noumena but denying knowledge of its nature or existence.sime

    Here's where perhaps the ethical comes in to address your concern. Kant speaks of the intelligible and empirical character, the former being one's noumenal self and the latter the subject of knowing. In other words, do not forget that you are the noumenon and so are the ground of all acting. This is necessary to posit to account for freedom.
  • sime
    1k


    From my understanding, the "one world interpretation", even if representative of kants personal views, is misleading if treated as a viable conclusion of his epistemology, for you cannot even claim ignorance about a fact you cannot reach in relation to a concept you cannot define. Perhaps what I'm seeking to clarify is what could be called a "zero world interpretation"

    my crude understanding of kants position regarding the self, is that the personal pronoun is used a transcendental designator without a reference or conscious representation, that consciousness itself is more or less synonymous with cognitive acts of synthesis and the unity of apperception , and that knowledge of the self is restricted to representations i.e appearances only. Regardless of kants theological or ethical motives, noumena never make a positive appearance in his theory of the self or of consciousness or of valid cognitive judgements, well at least not on the SEP page discussing his complicated theses regarding the self.

    So as i currently understand, one can never arrive at noumena when working strictly within Kant's constructive account of cognition. "Noumena" is more like a grammatical demonstration of an illegal move within his construction. It is as if Kant had said in defining chess that "only the bishop can move diagonally" and with everyone mistaking this for a physical theory or an empirical law, and then proceeding to evaluate whether in theory an in practice this was necessarily the case.
  • Wayfarer
    21k
    If you can write the OP there's no reason you can't read or understand the original and I don't think you're too far off the mark. Actually there is a well-known abridged version of the Critique of Pure Reason (here) which makes an excellent introduction. So too does Paul Guyer's introduction. The IETP article on Kant is also useful.

    But it's really not so difficult and daunting as you're making out. Look up the derivation of 'noumenon' in Wikipedia, you will find it is derived from the root 'nous', which is the seminal Greek word for 'intellect' or 'mind' (albeit in a different sense to the modern conception of mind.) So 'noumenal' means 'the object of the intellect' - it is close in meaning to the Aristotelean 'intelligible object'.

    Aristotle, especially in his De Anima, argues that thinking in general, which includes knowledge as one kind of thinking, cannot be a property of a body, it cannot, as he puts it, ‘be blended with a body’. This is because in thinking the intelligible object or form is present in the intellect and thinking itself is the identification of the intellect with this intelligible. Among other things, this means that literally you could not think if materialism is true. Thinking is not, as Aristotle says that some maintain, something that is in principle just like sensing or perceiving. This is because thinking is a universalizing activity. This is what this means: when you think you see— mentally see—a form which could not in principle be identical with a particular, including a particular neurological element, a circuit or a state of a circuit or a synapse, and so on. This is so because the object of thinking is universal, or the mind is operating universally. — Lloyd Gerson

    Platonism vs Naturalism (available on the Internet as .pdf or youtube video of lecture.)

    So, I think Kant is saying that we can't see a sensory object in the same sense that the mind sees an 'intelligible object'. But this simply reflects the distinction in the classical Western tradition between appearance and reality; in the Western tradition, broadly speaking, the reality is an ideal form, rather than the mere material stuff we see around us. I think the stumbling block for most of us is that naive realism is bred into us; our current culture simply assumes that the 'world of the senses' is the reality, and that mathematical laws and the like are derivative of that. So as far as classical philosophy is concerned, as moderns have everything upside down or backwards. Get over that, and the rest falls into place.

    do not forget that you are the noumenon and so are the ground of all acting. This is necessary to posit to account for freedom. — Thorongil

    Well stated. May I draw your attention to this blog post by Eric Reitan, The Quest for a Pathway to the Noumenal.
  • Janus
    15.7k


    The concept of noumena is logically inherent in the twin facts that humans possess an intrinsic notion of the existence-in-itself of objects, and that humans also realize that 'objects-as-experienced' is the converse idea. This means that the ideas 'in-itself' and 'for-us' are a priori logically mutually exclusive. So, considered just logically, any quality an object possesses may be either independent of experience or dependent on experience; those are the logical possibilities. Can we say that any qualities at all that we know objects to possess are independent of experience? What kind of existence could a quality, say colour, have independently of experience? We might say 'just electromagnetic'; but then what kind of existence could electromagnetic energy have independently of experience? Do we even understand what that question is asking?
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    "Noumena" is more like a grammatical demonstration of an illegal move within his construction.sime

    This is actually close to what he considers the noumenon to be, as I see it. Think of the noumenon as a necessary limiting concept. We have to admit its existence even though it cannot be known. Why do we have to? Well, given the nature of cognition itself. Basically, if we admit that what we have knowledge of are appearances, then we admit that of which the appearances are too. Something appears, becomes known, in other words, which remains forever unknown to us in itself.

    Consider too the title of his work, the Critique of Pure Reason. He's saying that there are certain limits on what we can adequately theorize about in metaphysics. The limit is the noumenon, which is a stand in for what in prior systems would have been intellectual objects like God. The noumenon is stripped of all positive content (like the attributes of God, for example), and so becomes simply a quirk of the mind that cannot help but posit its existence, albeit in negative terms.
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