A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Defending Metaphysics, Part 3

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on October 26, 2006

In this post I want to write about the issue if universals come from the mind, more specifically in relation to Kant’s critical philosophy. Hopefully in a next post I will cover some other possible “universals come from the mind” accounts.

In previous posts I wrote how universals are connected to particulars. In the first post I wrote that while the universals can be (and are) learned from particulars, they transcend the particularity, and are not in any way connected to that particular. And in the second post I added that this is possible only because universals are abstractions, and not some kind of synthesis from multiple particulars (i.e. as some kind of information “gathered” from multiple particulars and then put together through some kind of “similarity”. That would never bring the required universality.)  I also argued that because the universals are abstractions we can think about the relations between abstractions as unconnected to any particular concrete, but the relation we figure-out will cover the relations between any particular(s) which might fall under those abstractions.

Which brings us to the issue I want to write about in this post, and that is the issue if those universals come from the mind?
That seems like an obvious possibility if we accept the argument that universals transcend particulars, and that we can think about those universals isolated from any particulars. One path to take here is to take something like Kantian approach, where the form of the experience is what the mind provides. The “empirical” part on other hand provides content, in sense that it actualizes specific possibilities already there in the mind-form. So that mind-form is which defines the possibility of all those concepts/universals we can have. Whatever concepts we might gain, it will be actualization in that mind-form.
The notions which are of interest to metaphysics, namely those universals which are not contingent but will be present in any experience (so not the universals like for example RABBIT, CHAIR, FIRE and so on), are then really not something outside in the world, but the forms of our mind. And if we accept that we can give some a priori judgment about them, they will be merely clarifying the relations between the parts of the form which our mind provides to the experience.
But one problem with the Kantian approach is that it implies that everything we experience is given through this form. Things being in time, them being in space, causally interacting, even the categories of “being a thing”, “having a property”, “being part of” and so on will belong to this form. So, in this picture in best case, what is left to us is the practical reason, and possibility to learn contingent facts about the world, connected to contingent universals, as for example, that rabbits jump and are easily scared, or that there are 8 planets in our solar system.
But I think that the critique of the transcendental idealists and Hegel of Kant’s well.. theory, was valid.
Not just that the Kant’s critical philosophy fails to be critical enough about the undertaking it does (as Hegel said… Kant’s requirement to become acquainted with the instrument, in this case the Mind, before one starts to use it, is like a resolution not to venture into water until one has learned to swim), but also that it is inconsistent in assuming the causal relation between the noumena (things in themselves, those which can’t be known) and our Mind, when the category of things, and causality as a universals are something which should not be applicable to them.
The consistent application of the principle that only thing of which we can think is phenomena will end up with negating the notion of noumena, and with that of the phenomena/noumena distinction, and with that of the separation of the Mind and world as Kant pictured it. But with that the explanatory power of Kant’s theory about where universals which are of interest to metaphysics come from, and why we can form a priori judgments about them is lost too.

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5 Responses to “Defending Metaphysics, Part 3”

  1. I disagree with you on the transcendental idealists and Hegel’s arguments having merit against Kant’s philosophy.

    Hegel’s statement speaks totally of sceptical metaphysics which leaves us absolutely nothing to build upon. I suppose we can hope that one day someone will come along with a new systematic approach to the logic but in that I am reminded of Ricoeur’s conclusions on the main difference between Kant and Husserl, in that “Husserl did phenomenology, but Kant limited and founded it.”.

    As for the inconsistent causal relations I think this is just word play from Schulze. From my reading of Kant he says time (change) acting inside/outside himself was evidence of the thing-in-itself (not that we could ever know anything about it) and it is after that moment we apply our causality notions. Furthermore I think we have to clearly recognise two different versions of causality here – one for our phenomenal use and another for our noumenal use (causing our representations) which can become confused.

  2. Hi Edward,

    Interesting comments.

    1. I’m not sure why you read Hegel’s statement that way (if you are talking about the learning to swim before getting into water metaphor) – as leaving absolutely nothing to build on. Can you explain more?

    2. There are probably quite a few people who noticed this issue in Kantian philosophy. Beside Schulze, one of these attacks is by Jacobi in his book David Hume on Faith; or Idealism and Realism:A Dialogue published in 1787 – Kant says that causality is transcendental condition of experience, but also claims that thing-in-themselves cause our sensations. Why are you saying that it is a word play?

    You also say that we should distinguish two different versions of causality, but there is no mention of such things in Kant’s philosophy. AFAIK there is no positive ‘noumenal uses’ of any concept in Kant, noumena were supposed to be something that is merely negatively determined.

  3. Hi,

    1. I think Hegel’s statement is just a tribute to sceptical metaphysics as your asked to doubt your very cognizing ability… It’s just not progressable like dualistic or empirical metaphysics.

    2. The thing-in-itself constantly imposes on us to give us our perceptions and to use the word causes for such a matter of fact state of nature just to me seems like word play. I mean to say we can have evidence it causes that change but we cannot know it.

    Finally I think your right about picking me up on the noumenal definition of causality there as I’m sure Kant would be siding with you on that one. I was just trying to illustrate the differences in the word causation you could make.

  4. Edward,

    1. Yes, I think that is one fair reading. In separate reading, I think it is a critique of the approach which starts with (roughly) Cartesian picture (theory) of the division of the mind and the world, which is supposed to be somehow a “clean starting point”, ignoring that the Cartesian picture itself is a product of somewhat developed theoretical/philosophical thought. So, in that reading Hegel is denying that “clean” proper start can be made. Not just that one needs to get into the water to start swimming, but at the start of our philosophical thought, we *find ourselves swimming* in the water. Of course, as all other metaphors, it might be taken to mean lot of things, and I guess that Hegel wasn’t completely fair to Kant there. But metaphors are fun. :)

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