08 October 2007

How Not To Overcome the Thing-In-Itself

Zizek, For they know not what they do, page xxix:

And is not this shift [from religion to atheism] also the shift from Kant to Hegel? From tension between phenomena and Thing to an inconsistency/gap between phenomena themselves? The standard notion of reality is that of a hard kernel which resists the conceptual grasp; what Hegel does is simply to take this notion of reality more literally: non-conceptual reality is something which emerges when notional self-development gets caught in an inconsistency, and becomes non-transparent to itself. In short, the limit is transposed from exterior to interior: there is Reality because, and in so far as, the Notion is inconsistent, does not coincide with itself....[Zizek's elipses] In short, the multiple perspectival inconsistencies between phenomena are not an effect of the impact of the transcendent Thing -- on the contrary, the Thing is nothing but the ontologization of the inconsistency between phenomena.

A thesis: Zizek is J.G. Fichte. This is easy to miss; Zizek isn't Kant, but he looks kinda like Kant, so he must (by process of elimination) be Hegel. Except he's Fichte.

Does not the striving of Fichte's Ego begin because of the non-identity between the Ego and the Non-Ego (though both are posits of the Ego)? Is the Ego's striving not endless because of the "shock" (Anstoss) which is the occasion (not the cause!) for the Ego's self-positing both of itself and of its other? Is the "shock" not denied to be an object of any sort, either phenomenal or noumenal? Is not the very act of the double-positing of Ego and Non-Ego unintelligible without the "shock"? Would the Ego not cease to posit both Ego and Non-Ego if not for the "shock", and thus itself cease to exist? Is Fichte's idealism not explicitly engineered to avoid the problem of positing a "thing in itself" as the unknowable cause of the Ego's representations? Does Fichte not fail at this, in part because of his demand for endless striving to (impossibly) reconcile the empirical and transcendental Egos? Is Fichte not the definitive philosopher of the Twosome? Is Hegel not a trenchant critic of Fichte's residual "thing-in-itself", the shock?
Initially, the principle that thinking determines itself from within was established in a merely formal way in the Kantian philosophy; Kant did not demonstrate the manner and extent of this self-determination of thinking. On the contrary, it was Fichte who recognized this defect; and when he made his demand for a deduction of the categories, he also tried at the same time to furnish an actual deduction too. Fichte's philosophy makes the Ego the starting point for the development of philosophical thinking; and the categories are supposed to result from its activity. But the Ego does not genuinely appear as free, spontaneous activity here, since it is regarded as having been aroused only by a shock from outside; the Ego is then supposed to react to this shock, and to achieve consciousness of itself through this reaction.
On this view, the nature of the shock remains something outside of cognition, and the Ego is always something conditioned which is confronted by an other. So, in this way Fichte, too, comes to a halt at Kant's conclusion that there is cognition only of the finite, and the infinite transcends thinking. What Kant calls "the thing-in-itself" is for Fichte the shock from outside, this abstraction of something other than the Ego, which has no determination other than that it is negative; it is the Non-Ego in general. So the Ego is regarded as standing in relation to the Non-Ego. It is only the Non-Ego that arouses its self-determining activity, and it does this in such a way that the Ego is only the continuous activity of self-liberation from the shock. But it never achieves actual liberation, since the cessation of the shock would mean the cessation of the Ego, whose being is simply its activity. Moreover, the content that the activity of the Ego brings forth is nothing else but the usual content of experience, with the added proviso that this content is merely appearance. (Encyclopedia Logic, §60, Addition 2.)
And now I will stop with the rhetorical questions. Back to the passage in question. Zizek thinks Hegel sees a "gap" between phenomena themselves ("between a thing and its place"), and that this is analogous to Kant's ding-an-sich (and identical to Lacan's Real --"the Real is a grimace of reality"). This is not a bad way to characterize Fichte's position -- phenomenal objects are not "really" things in themselves, nor are they "grounded" in things in themselves; they appear to be, and are, representations. And yet just because they are representations they are always already transcendentally ideal; they are the Ego's posits, and a reminder that the Ego is not as it ought to be, has not realized its identity with the Non-Ego, has not rendered all reality as its autonomous product. Fichte's position is not Hegel's; Hegel repeatedly lambastes Kant and Fichte for their notion of an "endless striving" by which moral progress might be made (and yet is never made, for there is always endless striving remaining). Hegel himself has no truck with the notion; reconciliation is, for Hegel, something which is possible here-and-now, in the experience of forgiveness by and reconciliation into one's community. Hegel does not replace one conflict with another, but replaces a conflict with an atonement.

For Hegel, "non-conceptual reality" would be a square circle. Nature itself is a moment of the self-development of the Idea, as is Spirit, as is "God as He is in Eternity". Hegel does not maintain the idea of a "reality which escapes the Concept" in a queer fashion, but jettisons it entirely, as a confusion. The Thing-in-itself which would escape our concepts "is already something subjectively thought", and therefore Kant's restriction of knowledge to "appearances" as opposed to "things in themselves" was straightforwardly wrong. It was not a deep insight, nor does not find its proper fulfillment in Hegel's system; it was an error which Kant didn't catch, and Hegel abandons it to the rubbish bin. To maintain a role for a "Thing" is to fail to advance to an Hegelian position.

"In short, the multiple perspectival inconsistencies between phenomena are not an effect of the impact of the transcendent Thing -- on the contrary, the Thing is nothing but the ontologization of the inconsistency between phenomena." On the contrary, the in-itself is nothing but the phenomena themselves as they appear; the shining-forth of Essence in Appearance is the self-development of the Concept; the object of knowledge is the object as it is in its truth. The duckrabbit isn't something between the duck and the rabbit; the duckrabbit drawing is what appears as a duck, and it is also what appears as a rabbit. That one stays stuck fast on a contradiction, on an inconsistency, shows that one has not moved on from the standpoint of the Understanding; Reason knows the conflicts of the Understanding as aufgehoben.

And now to read the next 200 pages or so of the book. Or at least finish the introduction. Really, this post was an excuse to remind people that Fichte exists. He is easy to forget about! Zizek doesn't mention him at all in For they know not what they do, if the index is to be trusted. (Kant, Schelling, and Hegel all get repeated mentions. Poor Fichte! I thought "The Vocation of Man" was a fun read, at least. And short! God bless ye, Fichte, for being one of the few German Idealists who could write worth a fig.)

13 comments:

J said...

The Thing-in-itself which would escape our concepts "is already something subjectively thought", and therefore Kant's restriction of knowledge to "appearances" as opposed to "things in themselves" was straightforwardly wrong.

I don't think Kant's account of phenomena may be so easily dismissed, nor "wrong" in the sense you mean. Zizek (I am still reading through the sludge of the Parallax Gap, and even enjoy 1 page out of 10) often seems to assume that Kant always advances some theological or transcendent view, but that's a rather naive reading. Kant's point obviously was as much about perception as about "metaphysics": your image of the espresso cup is not the cup itself--that's the gap (at least the Kantian gap). Phenomena or sense data, in the empirical tradition--may be not identical but damn near.



Much knowledge is inferential, based on observationm and probable as well: that seems related to what Kant, following Hume, was getting at with phenomena. The mental categories and concepts depend on phenomena, on sensibility, but at the same time we are constrained by our perceptive apparatus--were our eyes differently formed the world would be quite different. Yes, taken too far--a denial that empirical knowledge is possible, really--the Kantian schema may be problematic. Doing chemistry experiments you assume you have acquaintance with the ding-an-sich (at least in that one laboratory). But in some sense the subjectivity of space and time, the a priori categories may be more advanced than naive empiricism (or the bizarre material-idealism of Hegel--tho' he's hardly clear on that): relativity in a sense seems to confirm Kantian empiricism to some degree.

Daniel said...

"Kant's point obviously was as much about perception as about "metaphysics": your image of the espresso cup is not the cup itself--that's the gap (at least the Kantian gap)."
Kant handles that "gap" with the distinction between subjectively and objectively valid cognitions. Which is a different distinction than the one between noumena and phenomena -- objectively valid cognitions are appearances; subjectively valid cognitions are not even that. Neither is a noumenon.

"were our eyes differently formed the world would be quite different."
But some of us do have eyes which are formed differently. Some of us are blind, for instance. The world seems largely indifferent to this.

Daniel said...

Also, yes, my dismissal of things-in-themselves in this post was a bit cursory. I discuss the failure of transcendental idealism at more length in some of my older posts; this is why I added a "transcendental idealism" tag, so I don't feel obliged to keep going over it in depth every time it comes up.

J said...

You misread the point again. I didn't say the sense data was noumenal: the categories and synthetic a priori, and speculations on freedom etc. are noumenal. Kant does however assert that knowledge depends on objective, perceivable phenomena, even if the ding-an-sich remains out of reach. And the phenomena is not the ding-an-sich, but filtered through human's own perceptive apparatus. That's the point, in brief.

Kant's point against introspection--what I think you mean by "subjective phenomena" is interesting, but in a sense empirical as well. He's saying that knowledge and concepts depend on the phenomena--the categories sort of filter that phenomena (via "intuitions"--a fancy name for cognition, really), not on subjective reflection or contemplation. But he grants the categories themselves are noumena (that does not necessarily mean "transcendent" or immaterial, except for the shallowpate sort of theological readings).

Daniel said...

I didn't say anything about "subjective phenomena". Subjectively valid cognitions are not phenomena, nor are they noumena; they are not objects at all, and it is to objects that the division between phenomena and noumena applies. The same is true of categories: they are not objects, and so are neither phenomena nor noumena. Categories are ways of uniting intuitions in the synthetic unity typical of the forms of judgement.

(The action of categorial unification, or of the holding of some cognition in general, may have some physiological or noumenal ground, but this would fall under Kant's strictures against knowledge of the transcendental ego, if any interesting grounding was sought after.)

J said...

Debatable. Mathematics is synthetic a priori, according to K. And numbers, equations, functions are objects. Thus, I don't think Kant suggests that objects are all phenomenal, or from the senses. So non-perceivable entities, at least objects not deriving from purely sensible experience, such as numbers are objects, and can be used in cognition, obviously.

He doesn't really identify the SAP and categorical "manifold" as noumenal, perhaps, but that is somewhat unclear: I haven't read 1st critique in some time, but I have read people argue that the categories, and space and time, are meant to be construed as noumenal. That is the "inner fountain," so to speak. The stuff on the ego in the Deduction is different and a bit more dubious, methinx.

Obviously K. did not know much about cognition: space/time perceptions are really brain functions (as are all noumena really, if one holds to "normal science), but the point holds. The categorical manifold is noumenal, or it is "cognitive". Certainly not phenomena.

Daniel said...

I don't think Kant would agree that mathematical "objects" are objects. He's not generally tempted by Platonism. One of the criticisms Frege made of Kant was that Kant disallowed singular reference to objects not given in intuition, but Frege held that numbers could be referred to singularly. Kant held that geometrical and arithmetical operations were constructions in (formal, pure) intuition, and were independent of objects. The applicability of mathematics to physical objects is due to physical objects being given in spatial form, not some special power of numbers.

Kant doesn't claim that all objects are sensible, nor that they are all phenomena. He does claim that objects in general are either phenomena or noumena. cf. Chapter III of the Analytic of Principles in the first Critique, "On the Basis of the Distinction of all Objects as such into Phenomena and Noumena".

Space and time are not noumenal, for Kant. They are transcendentally ideal, the forms of inner and outer intuition which our mind imposes on the matter given us ab extra. This is the conclusion of the Transcendental Aesthetic, which the Deduction relies on.

Brains are phenomena.

J said...

"""Space and time are not noumenal, for Kant.""""

I may have used noumenal a bit loosely. But then Kant sort of appropriates the term (some philosophers complained about that, I believe). Either way, if transcendental idealism of space and time implies "not located in physical reality (i.e. the brain)" Kant should be placed on shelf next to Aquinas....or Plato. Similarly for "noumenal objects."

That was my entire point: if you take the system as Kant himself presents it, it's very strange: "idealism" in the metaphysical sense. It is only by psychologizing the 1st Critique that it remains somewhat viable. Similarly for Fregean "abstract objects", whether numbers, functions, logical forms. We agree they are objectively Real in some sense (at least when not in a nominalistic mood), but not floating in some platonic abode. Logic may be rules of thought: but not rules from "God."

And to turn skeptic for a nano-second there are no convincing arguments for the a priori status of the categories or synthetic a priori: my point then maybe pragmatist to some extent. We agree to hold cognitive structures such as the categories and forms of space and time "a priori": but that is to preserve a certain objectivity. I think that's what Kant wants to do, to preserve objectivity, certainty, not only of science, but all knowledge. So a Hume in a bad mood simply says your entire system is predicated on "a prioricity" which itself cannot be established but merely posited.

Daniel said...

The term "noumenon" was already common currency among the Leibnizian-Wolffians. Kant employs the distinction in his Innagural Dissertation when spelling out the transcendental ideality of space and time.

"We agree to hold cognitive structures such as the categories and forms of space and time "a priori": but that is to preserve a certain objectivity. I think that's what Kant wants to do, to preserve objectivity, certainty, not only of science, but all knowledge. So a Hume in a bad mood simply says your entire system is predicated on "a prioricity" which itself cannot be established but merely posited."
This is precisely what Kant criticizes in B167/168. Kant takes the Deduction to establish that the categories are necessarily involved in all possible experience, and not merely supposed to be so involved. Kant makes the point that if mere agreement about what we feel we need to posit were taken to be a sufficient criterion, then one might "justify" quite a broad range of things.

I do not know why one would want to abandon a nominalistic mood. Ockham could still talk about math, if he felt like it, without committing himself to the idea that numbers are somehow "Real". Putnam makes a similar point in criticism of Quine: "exists" is used in more than one way. Platonism only looks appealing in mathematics because this is lost sight of.

J said...

Either way, I don't think he ever offers a convincing argument for "a prioricity" itself, but he repeats it ad nauseum: he does not offer something as simple as a refutation of Locke's "tabula rasa", as far as I can recall.

The categories may be involved in all thinking, but the categories themselves certainly can be viewed as human (rather than transcendent or theological), historically determined, developed, codified. Indeed Kant follows Aristotle mostly, right. Kant obviously overlooks that historical and one might say anthropological development of knowledge.

------
Noumenal traditionally meant something like abstract thought in general, not the specifically Kantian transcendental object thing. Somewhat platonic perhaps, but not necessarily immaterial. Maybe Hume's "ideas" captures it: relations of concepts, logico-mathematical givens, categories like quantity or magnitude, but without the somewhat odd transcendental stuff.



Additionally, I don't see how a nominalist respects Kant, except with great modifications (sort of like what I suggested). The synthetic a priori is not nominalist, at least as I understand it. Or, can one be a nominalist and subscribe to a priori truths, whether analytic or synthetic? Ich denke nicht.

Daniel said...

The Leibnizian-Wolffian noumenon was an object known through pure intellection (and not sensation). God, the soul, and monads generally were all noumena.

J said...

The ideality of space and time in the 1st Crit. also questionable, as empiricists and scientists have noted for 2+ centuries. That's a rather difficult matter, of course, and I am not going to offer some lengthy treatise. Russell thought it was mostly BS, as did most of the positivists. While I sort of agree that there is a subjective element to how human's awareness of space and time (we can't easily prove that space-awareness is learned empirically, perhaps), that doesn't imply that space is not in some sense objective and part of the physical world.

Not sure of all the "proper" objections, but the regularity of phenomena itself sort of strange if one thinks that space is purely subjective. One could think of other objections: would a person blind from birth have an awareness of say linear perspective--can he learn to see like a city street in 3d? Not sure, but seems unlikely. Highly unlikely. He doesn't know what "blue" is-- or means-- either, except maybe by someone explaining wave-lengths. So there is something in the physical world that a person with normal vision perceives, and that something is not part of his own subjectivity.

This issue can of course become fairly wieldy, and this is merely scratching the surface. But there is another issue, which may seem a bit primitive but pertinent to the supposed ideality of space and time. Watch cats hunting birds. They know what space is. They know what time is, arguably. Or it sure seems they do, or their brains do, whether one wants to call that consciousness or not. They make the right decision based on their visual perception of the bird in space: nearly mathematical in a sense--pounce, and lunch-time. Are they in contact with the Transcendent Idea? Ich denke nicht.

Pierre-Normand said...

J said : "Or, can one be a nominalist and subscribe to a priori truths, whether analytic or synthetic? Ich denke nicht."

Sellars would be one such. He is nominalist with respect to concept use in thought (and linguistic meaning) and he also holds firmly to a notion of the synthetic a priori, albeit in an extended sense. All material truths (propositions true in virtue of the the meaning of the terms used to express them) are synthetic a priori for Sellars. However, a prioricity as a mode of cognition does not entail immunity from revision in Sellars thouhgt. See chapter 3 in Willem A. deVries _Wilfrid Sellars_