Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Critique of the Critique of Pure Reason

Continuing with Schuon's discussion of rationalism and its defects, he implicitly addresses Kant's belief that we cannot know the thing-in-itself -- the noumena, O -- only the phenomena, Ø. (In reality, "noumena" should be noumenon, since it cannot be plural, but we will respect Kant's terminology.)

Stay with me, folks, because this is important. Kant really represents the turning point in the stream of philosophy, which runs down into all the creeks, crocks, and sewer lines we know of today. On the one hand, it ushered in the pseudo-philosophy of scientistic materialism in all its varieties, on the other, the many forms of irrational romanticism (leftism combines the worst of each).

Whitehead once said that the history of Western philosophy is just a footnote on Plato. However, I think it would be equally accurate to say that all postmodern philosophy is simply a footnote on Kant, since Kant opened up that annoying abyss between human beings and reality. Up until Kant, it was assumed -- yes, sometimes naively -- that human beings could know reality. But Kant's philosophy begins and ends with the undermining of that sanguine view. Hence the "critique" of pure reason, and the strict demarcation of its limits.

I think one must concede that Kant's critique has a certain superficial appeal, especially for the spiritually untutored man. A very accessible book on the subject is Confessions of a Philosopher, by Bryan Magee. And his book on Schopenhauer is a classic.

Don't worry, I don't want to get too pedantic here and put our troll to sleep again. Let me just say that I was never a Kantian, but I was a Schopenhauerian, in that I felt that he had addressed the limitations of Kant by essentially arguing that we could not know the thing-in-itself -- the noumenon -- but we could be it, so to speak, since it is our prior reality.

This view is superficially similar to the Upanishads, and indeed Schopenhauer was happily flabbergeisted when he stumbled upon one of the first copies of the Upanishads translated into German. He thought that the Vedic seers were saying the same thing he was.

But they weren't. In Vedanta, the distinction between noumena and phenomena -- or appearance and reality -- is more or less conveyed by the terms maya and brahman. The ultimate goal of the spiritual ascent is to climb from the former to the latter, which is none other than "liberation," or the realization of the Real (i.e., there is Reality, and there is realizing it, two different things that are ultimately ʘne, or not-two, to be precise).

But the Upanishads are not actually as dualistic as this division of appearance and reality implies. Long story short, maya may be "illusion" in a certain sense, but it is actually quite real. It is just not ultimate reality. So long as we are not God, we must necessarily live in "maya." But this hardly implies that there is a strict duality between Reality and fantasy, with no connecting link between them. In fact -- and we will get more into this later -- there are no "gaps" at all between God and everything else, due to God's immanence.

Here again, this is what I was endeavoring to convey nonverbally in my book, with the chapters running together and divided in mid-sentence. In other words, from the relative point of view, certain things appear "impossible" to man's reason, most notably, that dead matter can suddenly come alive and become conscious of itself.

In short, the world clearly appears discontinuous to our reason, e.g., "mind and matter." Reason can and does invent all kinds of speculative fantasies to fill the gap -- e.g., reductionistic Darwinism -- but such a person is in the final analysis constrained by Kant's critique. So the point of my structuring the chapters in that discontinuously continuous way was to explicitly note the ontological divisions in reality -- i.e., matter, life, mind, and spirit -- even while implicitly conveying their actual unity. And the unity can only flow from the top, never the bottom. The latter is literally unthinkable, which is why so much nonsense is generated if one tries to get around Kant (much less Gödel) with any form of pure reason.

So, how do we get around Kant? Easy. We do it all the time, every day, in varying degrees. Once you have inverted the cosmos (or yourself) back to its proper orientation, then you begin with wholeness and unity, not multiplicity and fragmentation. The unity is indeed our prior condition. Again, as I have argued in the past, this is the "purpose" of our right cerebral hemisphere, which intuits and lives in unity, while the right brain discloses multiplicity. To be "healthy" is to live in the dynamic transcendent space that is always unifying the two.

With this tedious preface, I believe we are in a better position to understand what Schuon means when he says that "the whole point of knowledge is the perception of the thing-in-itself," without which "the very notion of perception could not exist." He points out that "the inherent nature of things" is to "pierce through their appearances." In other words, the form conveys something of the essence, which is knowledge, precisely.

Now, there are naturally degrees of adequation, but kantrary to Manny, this does not render our knowledge false or illusory. Again, it is not a matter of either/or, but of our depth of penetration into the thing-in-itself. From a philosophical standpoint, I believe that Polanyi has most ably developed this idea of science as a kind of inward journey into the Real, thus giving us a coherent post-critical philosophy that transcends Kant and is easily able to reconcile science and religion in their highest aspirations.

Recall my description of the deep continuity of the cosmos, which can only come from "above." Schuon points out that every form of rationalism ignores the fact that reason flows in two directions, one ascending, the other descending.

The descending form tries to deploy reason to describe or convey what is known through the direct perception of intellection. For example, this is how the classic proofs of God are to be understood. They are showing with reason what can ultimately only be known directly by the higher mind/heart. The perception of God is by no means "proved" -- much less disproved -- through the dialectic of reason. As Schuon has remarked elsewhere, something is not true because it is rational, but rather, the reverse: it is rational because it is true.

Thus, the descending from of reason is "communicating." In contrast, the ascending form is "actualizing." By participating "in the intellection that is being communicated," one is able to actualize a truth. Therefore, it is completely erroneous and wrongheaded to reduce reason to a kind of linear and mechanical operation, as if we are mere robots or computers or trolls. If such were the case, "then discoveries would be mere conclusions. Were there percepts for genius, then men of genius would be hacks" (Lonergan).

But of course, in our topsy-turvy postmodern world, our wack & hackademics are considered men of genius -- all those radical secularists, materialists, and metaphysical Darwinians who know everything about nothing. Schuon:

"The position of science is exactly like that of a man who could grasp only two dimensions of space and denied the third because he was unable to imagine it; now, what one spatial dimension is to another, so is the suprasensible to the sensible, or more precisely: so is the animic to the corporeal, the spiritual to the animic, and the Divine to the humanly spiritual."

In short, One Cosmos Under God, however you slice it.

38 Comments:

Blogger Warren said...

Yep - he was a real pissant, who was very rarely stable....

8/26/2009 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Pure reason. It's why the chatterbot-generated trolls are no fun at all.

*sigh* Troll-bashing will become a lost art, I fear.

8/26/2009 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eh, Schuon didn't really understand science it sounds like, at least from the last paragraph. It is by definition secular because the whole purpose of it is to explore physical/material observations. Science doesn't hold a position either, scientists as individuals can.

But scientists don't necessarily ignore the supernatural, they just don't apply it to their work(and if it does apply, they can't apply it unless they can observe it through material interaction). And more to the point, even then, not every field of science has any relation to the supernatural.

For example, evolution as a study has nothing to do with the supernatural, it's an explanation in place of that as a principle of science. But people who believe otherwise want to discredit the models, not because they believe in the supernatural, but because they believe in a story about a supernatural being that disagrees with the non-supernatural explanation.

As for why they accept other forms of science otherwise... well at least they accept scientific principles when they aren't in contradiction to their beliefs.

8/26/2009 08:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And that wasn't meant to insult anybody honestly. I just wanted to clarify that science in practice has to follow certain principles, otherwise it's no longer science. By definition it is secular, it has to dismiss meta-reality.

8/26/2009 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

You're missing the context. He's not talking about the philosophically neutral method of science, but the intellectually threadbare philosophy of scientism in all its forms.

8/26/2009 08:55:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In other words, scientism absurdly elevates method to ontology, so that it is simply an assumption dressed as a conclusion.

8/26/2009 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Or in more other words, science can explain that two and two are four. Science can't account for how either of the twos came to be, nor how it is possible that we the observers can know as fact that two and two are four. Scientism pretty much ignores the latter truth, and takes on faith that everything can and will be explained by science.

For example, Bob linked to an article (which linked to an article) yesterday wherein the author was fully confident that discoveries in neuroscience will demonstrate that humans are herd animals best suited for socialistic living:

"Are human beings self-interested creatures or are they collaborative? The right's argument for market capitalism is rooted in the former but the research on the social brain supports the latter. Put crudely, we are social creatures with an inbuilt tendency to co-operate and seek out each other's approval and that is probably more important in determining day-to-day behaviours than narrowly conceived self-interest."

This conclusion is breathtakingly narrow, and actually dangerous. It reduces humanness to mere process, and individuality to inconvenience. It is the same type of mentality as that which spurred the eugenics programs of the early twentieth century.

But she has a belief, that everything is reduced to science and therefore that with science, the perfect society can be shaped. There may be some inconvenient independent thinkers, but they only think they're independent, and with the right techniques their minds will be changed.

Scientism - the ultimate example of man's inhumanity to man.

8/26/2009 09:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julie said she was being "provocative" yesterday. That's hot.

8/26/2009 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Oh Ho!
You know this post has got me amped up from the title alone!

Not to take away anything from the disastrous affects of Kant's philosophy, but although I once did peg him as the source of the destruction of modern philosophy (there's even a quote form him somewhere, forget whether in a letter or essay, where he stated that he intended to bring the Enlightenment to a close - and effectively did)... which any good Objectivist knows to be true, but I’ve since demoted him to Field Marshall, from Kaiser… he was the devastatingly effective tool of another.

His Spartan rooms had one adornment, a portrait of Rousseau, and in all his years of taking his afternoon walk so like clockwork that people adjusted their clocks with his passing by, only once was he late, and that was when he was engrossed in Rousseau’s latest book, Emile, I think.

But to take from your Whitehead reference "... Western philosophy is just a footnote on ...", just as Plato was fueled by Socrates, Kant was fueled by Rousseau (with my deepest apologies to Socrates and Plato).

But that being said, yes, Kant developed and formalized the philosophic foundation for all the mess of modernity that has followed after him, and even those who claim to disagree with him, they still, often unknowingly, buy into his fundamental premises.

The thing is, if you force yourself to painstakingly follow Kant’s lengthy 'proofs' (you think I'M longwinded? I'm like Haiku in comparison to his Homeric epics), at the end of his convoluted explanations, you'll find that his conclusion simply doesn't follow. They depend upon his many equivocations, dropped contexts and all topped off with a simple arbitrary assertion.

Not that he wasn’t good at it, let’s face it, this scribbler convinced century’s worth of thinkers that they were unable to know their own thoughts or even the very reality they were all thinking them within! Selling ice to Eskimo’s is child’s play by comparison.

And all done with devastating effect.

Is the Pen mightier than the Sword? How many single swords do you know that can lay claim to hundreds of millions of deaths... and counting?

(ok, back to reading...)

8/26/2009 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Gerard said...

Off topic, if one can be off-topic on the vertical, pointer for Bob:

http://cobb.typepad.com/cobb/2009/08/the-godless-problem.html

8/26/2009 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Cobb is never off-topic! He's a fascinating writer. I was just reading that same post thinking, I wonder if Cobb reads OC?

8/26/2009 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous rackbabi said...

I completely agree, Van...a lot more people have died because of the Bible than because of any sword.

8/26/2009 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

babybackribs said "I completely agree, Van"

A laudable sentiment, but lacking any understanding, your agreement will likly be meaningless. Still, let's have a look:

"...a lot more people have died because of the Bible than because of any sword."

Nope, just as I thought... not done yet... still way too pink inside.

Back onto the spit with you.

8/26/2009 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Matteo said...

The problem I've always had with Kant (or at least what I understand about him) is this: How can one assert that we don't know about reality, but only what our senses tell us, if one does not first already know reality in order to see how it is different than what our senses tell us? His stance simply begs the question.

There are two possibilities. Either our senses give us an accurate picture of reality, or they don't. One would have to have a privileged knowledge of reality, independent of the senses, in order to decide the question against the senses.

The whole Kant thing is incoherent.

8/26/2009 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Van said re: Kant, "...I once did peg him as the source of the destruction of modern philosophy"...and, I might add much of what we face as mind parasites and mental disorders in today's world (e.g. our own dear rackbabi). He definitely danced with demons.

8/26/2009 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous rackbabi said...

Up for air, now back to smokin'...............errr, well, you know.
QUIET Mom!

w.v. drules

yup! :*)

8/26/2009 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Matteo said "How can one assert that we don't know about reality, but only what our senses tell us, if one does not first already know reality in order to see how it is different than what our senses tell us? His stance simply begs the question."

Oh yeah, begs, borrows, pleads, and leaves you standing there bankrupt. But how is the question... and answering it in a comment... is something along the lines of trying to summarize all of Balthazar onto a bazooka bubble gum comic... (but ever willing to go where angels fear to tread)... the problem didn't originate with Kant, he just exploited it.

Once Descartes legitimized the mind/body dichotomy, not as a personal feeling we often feel ourselves, but as a metaphysical actuality, the trap was set.

Hume took Descartes ideas out to their obvious ends, that if your mind was separate from your body... then you didn't really know if what your sensations were telling you was true or not... because you weren't really connected to them. And that led him to 'Well... wait a minute... then we don't really know anything at all... uh-oh..." Hume, to his credit, said at the end of his essay on human understanding (you can find the links in my 'Liberal Fascism' links, I can't look them up now), words to the effect of 'Hey, this is nuts... I know that it's nuts, no one could live like this... but I don't see any way around these conclusions. Crud."

Kant, who'd been happily reading along with Rousseau's musings about how bad civilization was, women were, families were, property was, and how kids should be just let loose to teach themselves so they could become really free like happy savages, all justified with the thin "I sincerely conceive it clearly and distinctly to be true - so it must be... after all, I think therefore I am... and everything else is how I think it too!", and fully pleased with being able to say the world was how they wanted to imagine it should be - Kant read Hume and had apoplexy.

"No! If people buy into that, then they won't buy into anything we tell them!"

Kant (who believed Hume... really, you can see it in his attempts to fudge his own conclusions) thought Hume's flawed use of reason was a threat, but how to get people not to look for correspondence between mind and body, intellect and reality... hmmm... "Oh! Got it! Deny reality is knowable at all, and it never has been... we've only had faith that it was! We assume we sense reality, but actually our minds don't really sense reality, but only the dim thoughts of all of humanity picking up vibrations off of the true forms of God... and... so... what most people believe to be so... is actually the fuzzy UHF receptions of the divine... but the more people who believe it, the truer it probably is... and then... our senses pick up this precognitive understanding, and construct the images of the world around us, through those, which we then consciously interact with.... Yeah! That's iT! Here, look at my proofs! "

So, after convincing people that he was smart enough to figure this out, and for anyone to be thought smart too, They'd have to agree with him... or admit they couldn't figure out his convoluted epic length proofs... he won over the intellectual world, and destroyed it in one stroke.

If you look closely, you'll see in there the modern mania for polls, for the need for approval from what other's think, the Collective over the individual and much, much more.

Gum's gone, back to work.

8/26/2009 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger Matteo said...

Of course, a further irony is that Kant and his followers assumed that reality was real enough, and their senses were good enough, that books could reliably transfer Kant's thoughts from one mind to another. In that sense, the fact that his intellectual revolution was successful was the very indication that his revolution was a sophistic mirage...

8/26/2009 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That was exactly the great Stanley Jaki's argument. The more I think about it, the more preposterous the whole thing is....

8/26/2009 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic,
our tax dollars at work.

8/26/2009 08:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the philosophy of science doesnt' allow for metaphysics. What's the problem with keeping them separate so they can do their work? Sheesh.

Science is about work, people. It's about getting things done. If it states a "truth" it is only incidental.

Facts are contingent. The practical results are where it is at.

Food, medicine, shelter, transportation, arts and entertainment. Where these can be enhanced, you will find science.

Go to metaphysics for peace of mind and contentment of the intellect.

Don't confabulate the two or elevate one over the other.

8/26/2009 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Remarkable that feminists hold the loathsome and repulsive misogynistTed Kennedy in such high regard. More remarkable still is how we must be governed by such beasts, who cannot even begin to govern themselves.

8/26/2009 09:03:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Klavan:

"...what is criminal really – is that such a man spent nearly fifty years in the Senate of the United States. Fifty years in office – or 47 plus, I think it was – but in any case, longer than the longest-serving tyrant-for-life in the worst third world dirt puddle you can think of."

8/26/2009 09:30:00 PM  
Anonymous slackosopher said...

My "refutation" of Kant consists of the following:

1) If our perception/conception of reality is filtered through the categories of our mind/brain

2)Then what "category" is Kant seeing through to discern that there are categories in the first place.

3) Somehow he would need a meta-category to see that the mind was so determined i.e. in what way can Kant himself transcend the categories of perception/conception to see them as merely determined by the nature of our minds/brains.

Hmmm? Does that even make sense?

I also see the same problem with Wilber's latest "post-metaphysical" take on "perspectives".

8/26/2009 09:43:00 PM  
Anonymous slackosopher said...

I once had one of my lefty friends state in response to something I had said "Which goes to show that we can never really communicate anything to one another"

I said "isn't that statement contradicted by the simple fact that you are saying it to me?"

He paused and just said "No" and that was the end of the conversation.

too-shay!

8/26/2009 09:50:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Anonymous said...
Well, the philosophy of science doesnt' allow for metaphysics. What's the problem with keeping them separate so they can do their work? Sheesh."

The problem is you don't comprehend the meaning of context.
The other problem is YOU (and scientism) don't allow for metaphysics in science (and versa vice).
Science, properly understood, does indeed allow for metaphysics.

8/27/2009 02:46:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Kant, and those who ascribe to his "philosophy," just can't realize Reality.

Reality is real, Truth is true, regardless of whether Kant0bots accept it or not.
Absolutely.

Kant, Rousseau, Lucifer, et al, can't change that, but they can get the gullible to believe that false philosophy which is rewarded by false profits.

8/27/2009 02:58:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Long story short, maya may be "illusion" in a certain sense, but it is actually quite real. It is just not ultimate reality."

An ultimate HO! for that pithy short story! :^)

8/27/2009 03:05:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

So the point of my structuring the chapters in that discontinuously continuous way was to explicitly note the ontological divisions in reality -- i.e., matter, life, mind, and spirit -- even while implicitly conveying their actual unity."

Imexplicity?! :^)

8/27/2009 03:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Skully said...

He points out that "the inherent nature of things" is to "pierce through their appearances." In other words, the form conveys something of the essence, which is knowledge, precisely. "

I say, Good form.

Perfesser Skully

8/27/2009 03:10:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Anon said:

“Food, medicine, shelter, transportation, arts and entertainment. Where these can be enhanced, you will find science.”

I’m sorry, but you are wrong. You are implying that pure science is only interested in doing good. That may be your idea of science. It is mine. The part that makes science good, or not, is the metaphysic of the scientist.

“the philosophy of science doesnt' allow for metaphysics. What's the problem with keeping them separate so they can do their work?”

If they are separate, then there is no better reason or motivation to “do the work of science” over a decision to do the NYT crossword puzzle. My point is, you may think they’re separate but they never are. Science is always in service to a metaphysic, good or bad, conscious or not.

8/27/2009 04:59:00 AM  
OpenID kaffepaus said...

Great post, Bob!

What I think makes Kant so intriguing is that what he proposes the there is world "behind" that we can't know anything about. "What a fantastic mystery! I know that there is something else, do You know that?". You are much more interesting to other if you know something very mysterious...

But, just to see if I have grasped this:

To know "Das Ding an sich" - the essence - is to have true knowledge of it. There are of course different levels of knowledge of this essence.

Then I guess it it much harder to know the essens of a table than of a human for these two reasons:
1) A table is not very "deep", so to speak. It's not very much to know about it.
2) A table lack ability to comunicate it's depth outward.

Then I also would say that it is easier to have knowledge of God, who has infinit deph and communicates that in a various of ways and degrees all the time, than it is to gain knowledge of just one singe atom in the universe.

My two Swedish Kronor.

8/27/2009 06:02:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"And the unity can only flow from the top, never the bottom. The latter is literally unthinkable, which is why so much nonsense is generated if one tries to get around Kant (much less Gödel) with any form of pure reason."

Kant's hook is similar in nature to Descartes, and if you buy into his ploy, you're lost. If you try to consider "Pure Reason", the hook is set and he's reeling you in from that point on, no matter what points of his you are willing to agree with or disagree with. Implicit in the concept of 'Pure Reason' is the sundering of the one cosmos into two. To admit the concept, is to accept that there is this mysterious floating intellect that has no real connection to reality, and there is this elusive reality out there, allegedly, that you seem to interact with... somehow.

But that duality is the illusion. You cannot Reason in someway 'pure' and separate from reality... any process of reasoning involves 'mind', 'body', 'reality', 'imagination', truth... all inextricably intertwined... it is the appearance of their duality that is the illusion!

But just as Descartes' lead up to "I think, therefore I am" involved "I may not have a body; that might be all illusion.", to buy into that 'thinking' is to buy into the arbitrary, which is the destroyer of reason (and the lifeblood of the left).

The notion that you could exist, let alone think, without a body, is to dismiss all you could, can and ever might have known about reality in a single stroke. And in doing so, anything in the future which you can "very clearly and distinctly conceive" as 'true' (absent any valid facts, evidence, reasoning) you'll be most willing to enthusiastically support... glowbull warming... socialism... free healthcare... etc, etc, etc.

8/27/2009 06:50:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"So, how do we get around Kant? Easy. We do it all the time, every day, in varying degrees. Once you have inverted the cosmos (or yourself) back to its proper orientation, then you begin with wholeness and unity, not multiplicity and fragmentation. The unity is indeed our prior condition. Again, as I have argued in the past, this is the "purpose" of our right cerebral hemisphere, which intuits and lives in unity, while the right brain discloses multiplicity. To be "healthy" is to live in the dynamic transcendent space that is always unifying the two...

...Again, it is not a matter of either/or, but of our depth of penetration into the thing-in-itself."

Exactly!

8/27/2009 07:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, my Promethean Kant still is ruffling feathers today! I think he intended his work to question "pure" reasoning not the whole reasoning via sensible knowledge enchillada.

Modern philosphy is mostly rooted in Kant? I differ to beg where you arrived at that conclusion.

9/18/2009 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That's mischaracterizing my point. I would never say that "modern philosophy is mostly rooted in Kant." I said that "Kant represents the turning point in the stream of philosophy," by which I mean that one can be Kantian, pre-Kantian, or anti-Kantian.

9/18/2009 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

.... and if that's inaccurate, I'm happy to be corrected.

9/18/2009 04:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Point well taken. My argument was he stole the ball from empiricists for awhile, but not for long. We humans are so base. We need the a priori carrot.

9/21/2009 12:21:00 AM  

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