Friday, April 28, 2017

Immanuel Kant

The first thing that must be pointed out is that Kant’s epistemology is an attempt to overcome some of the aspects of Hume’s epistemology. Hume said that there are two sources of knowledge: relations of ideas (analytical) and matters of fact (synthetic).[1] One of them is that the knowledge comes from drawing out the definition; in contrast, the other one, sense experience, adds to the knowledge we have--particular facts. Because of this there is not a place for cause and effect and uniformity of knowledge, but just as considered as custom or habit. To overcome this Kant adds his categories or transcendental ideas which are known as synthetic a priori judgments.[2] So, Kant distinguishes be tween the thing-in itself and appearances, and he argues that we can never know the thing in itself.[3] However, he does acknowledge that we can know that it exists. It seems similar to Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God. We cannot know from reason the essence of God, but we can know that He exists.
            It seems that Kant has more than one definition of appearances. There is the definition that appearances are affected by the thing-in-itself, and through knowing the appearance that we indirectly know the thing-in-itself. On the other hand, the appearance can be considered as completely separate from the thing-in-itself, so, how can we know that what we know is similar to the thing-in-itself?
Another issue that is different from the philosophers who preceded him is how we get our ideas. Philosophers before Kant argued that the ideas or forms come from external objects.  Kant, however, thinks that extended objects are known by us, but we know them only through the grid of the categories of mind. These categories enable us to know the extended objects of the world around us, but only by way being “filtered” or shaped by the mind’s categories which enable us to “grasp” the objects. It is through these ideas that the person knows what exists outside of themselves. One thing is that these ideas serve as a filter for what comes in. Instead of the mind conforming to the external world, the external world has to conform to the mind.[4] This idea seems similar to the idea that the ideas exist in God, and from these ideas He creates all that exist.
            Kant doubts the possibility of metaphysics.
[5] He did not see it as being supported by reason. He thinks not even a “single” metaphysics has been proven. Kant did say he denied knowledge to “make room for faith.” Kant thinks that knowledge must be certain. He thinks that a “real science must reach conclusions that are known with absolute certainty.”[6] Because arguments for God’s existence does not produce certainty, Kant thinks they have no value. The standard for a certain knowledge seems unwarranted since most of our knowledge is based on probability and even scientific theories are overturned. Evans asserts, “the fact that rational arguments for God’s existence do not lead to a final certain knowledge hardly gives us a reason to regard these arguments as philosophically worthless.”[7] 
So, the mind is active in Kant’s epistemology creating the knowledge it acquires through interaction with the external world. One wonders if Kant did not cause a greater problem than Hume. Did Kant make a bad turn? There does seem to be truth in what Kant is saying. The mind is active, and it is not a blank slate receiving knowledge from the outside. In some sense, the mind influences how we see the world. Everything that comes in our mind is shaped by our mind.

[1] Hume, Enquiry, 839.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason in Classics of Western Philosophy edited by Steven M. Cahn (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2012), 1047.

[3] Ibid., 1061.
[4] Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 1065.

[5] Ibid., 1053.

[6] Evans, Faith Above Reason, 74.

[7] Ibid.

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