29 August 2021

"Purity" in Morals

Here is a claim I think is obviously true, but which I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone state clearly, and which in any case doesn't seem to be as significant to people as I think it should be: Decision theory is the pure doctrine of prudence, in Kant's sense: it is the parallel of what Kant does in the first two parts of the "Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals". This claim I mean strictly and rigorously; Kantian ethicists who mock decision theory are as misguided as utilitarians who denigrate the Moral Law itself.

Here is why I think people miss this obvious truth: Decision theory is not "pure", in Kant's sense, because it is not independent of psychology; it is not entirely unempirical, despite being largely mathematized. But Kant's own work is also not independent of psychology, as anyone who has taught Kant's own examples from the second section of the "Groundwork" is well aware: Kant helps himself to just a little bit of psychology, to the claim that (as Plato had already said in the second book of the "Republic") each human has many desires, and no one can satisfy these desires without assistance from others. Kant doesn't realize how much of a cheat this is, and so keeps up the artificial attempt to build ethics on this thin of an account of the human -- it is thus no accident that the full "Metaphysic of Morals" has so much rubbish in it, as Kant was building on sand. Hegel's ethics is free of this artificial limitation that Kant had laid down for ethics, but still shows all the limitations of Hegel's own parochialisms (sexism, racism, nostalgia for guilds and wariness of mass suffrage). So the obvious lack of "purity" in decision theory is not a barrier to granting it status parallel to Kant's own (hypothetical) derivation of the Moral Law in the first two sections of the "Groundwork": that work is itself not really pure, once it has been properly understood. By Kant's own standards, nothing is really "pure": and so what is reasonably called "pure" is not going to meet Kant's strictures.

That there is still something to the "pure"/"empirical" distinction I think is clearly shown by the case of decision theory: decision theory is not like the mass of information that is involved in making actual decisions; avoidance of dutch books in decision theory is clearly akin to crafting reductio proofs, as anyone who has played a little with both must realize. There's some sort of categorical difference between keeping a dutch book and simply making an unwise choice: this is what I think the "pure"/"empirical" distinction should aim to make clear. But even the terms used in labelling the distinction make this difficult. Hence much becomes muddled when thinking about practical philosophy.

Unrelated: I wrote a dissertation, you can find it open-access here.

08 May 2018

I have a published article now!

In case anyone still has this blog in their RSS aggregator: My first published paper, "Hegel's 'Idea of Life' and Natural Purposiveness", is now available in preprint: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/698659

It's lacking final pagination, but that's it. It has a DOI number that can be cited to for now.

23 January 2015

See the Dancing Bear


My poor blog; neglected for so long my imageshack links have all died. Alas!

09 March 2014

Relative Identity in Heidegger

Poor neglected blog; even my images are dead now. Ah well, mourning is for the dead.

I have noted before that Heidegger had read some Frege; this isn't a huge surprise, given that he was a student of Husserl, but it's easy to forget from our current "analytic/continental" vantage point. I just stumbled across a place that reminded me of this, and where better to make a note of it than on a dead blog?

In section 44 of "Being and Time", Heidegger is concerned with picking apart the view of truth as adequatio intellectus et rei. His point in doing this isn't to deny the view so much as to complain that it obscures what is significant about truth: if we try to have a "thing" and a "mind" already in view, and then want to add "truth" (and falsity) on top of those as a certain kind of relation between the two ("agreement", "correspondence", or the lack of this), then we have gone badly awry: instead we need to first have Dasein's openness to the world in view, and then the "mind" and "thing" which are supposed to "agree" will all show up as abstractions from a more important phenomena which originally makes claiming possible at all.

One of the ways Heidegger tries to do this is by poking at the "adequatio" relation, which Heidegger translates as "Übereinstimmung": "Was meint überhaupt der Terminus »Übereinstimmung«?", what does one in general mean by the term "agreement"? It has to be some sort of relation, it has to be a bringing-together of two things, but clearly not just any relation will do: we need to get a sort of "agreement" which relates a "thought" and a "thing" just in that the one agrees with the other with regards to truth: and this is obscure. Plausibly, the only way to pick out the right sort of relation is by already having an understanding of truth: A true thought agrees with its object just in that the thought says that things are thus-and-so with the object, and the object is thus-and-so -- and cashing out this "says that" talk already will involve a notion of truth, for saying that things are thus-and-so is just to put forward "things are thus-and-so" as true. (And so adequatio intellectus et rei is empty as a definition of truth; it moves in a circle.)

But that is not what interests me -- I want instead to point to a moment in Heidegger's discussion of relations of "agreement":

Die Zahl 6 stimmt überein mit 16 - 10. Die Zahlen stimmen überein, sie sind gleich im Hinblick auf das Wieviel. Gleichheit ist eine Weise der Übereinstimmung. Zu dieser gehört strukturmäßig so etwas wie ein »Hinblick auf«. Was ist das, im Hinblick worauf das in der adaequatio Bezogene übereinstimmt?
Auf Englisch: The number '6' agrees with "16-10". The numbers agree, they are equal in regard to "how many". Equality is one way of agreeing. To this belongs structurally something like a "regards to". What is that in regards to which the terms related by "adequatio" agree? [This is my own translation; someone please let me know if I've fouled it up too much.]

Heidegger here mentions numerical equality as one form of "agreement", and says that "agreement" always takes a complement: Two things agree in some particular respect, with regards to something: For example, '6' and "16-10" agree in coming to the same number, but not in being the same arithmetical formula.

Heidegger here puts forward (as unproblematic and not in need of argument) a view of equality as distinct from identity; equality is only sameness of number, not "sameness" as such. This is Frege's early view, in Begriffschrift; I believe he changes to his more familiar view (that equality simply is identity) in "Sense and Reference", when he settles on truth-values as the referents of sentences -- that move lets him consolidate a fair bit of his notation. (I would check this if I were not too lazy to do so.)

More interestingly (if you are me), Heidegger also puts forward as unproblematic a view of the genus of which numerical equality is a species, a view of what I think we analytics usually call "identity", as needing a complement: "Wieviel", "How much?" specifies the sense in which '6' and "16-10" are identical, they are the same number. Without some such question as this, no species of "agreement" is specified: The question "Do they agree, are they identical?" does not itself have a sense, unless the context makes clear in what respect agreement is being asked about. (It may be that the context makes clear that every respect is meant, and any dissimilarity will be an absolute lack of agreement between the one and the other.)

If I am reading Heidegger correctly here, then he agrees with Geach against Frege (and against the vast majority of analytic philosophers) in holding that "identity is relative": that to say that A and B are identical is, in the primary case, to say that they are the same in some definite respect, such as being the same color or the same make of shoe. To say that they are absolutely identical, which Frege had taken as the more primordial notion, Geach claims is only to say that they are the same in every respect: they are the same color, the same make of shoe, occupy the same location in space, etc. -- Geach uses Leibniz's Law to introduce the notion of "absolute" or "simple" identity as a defined term in logic.

To remind the reader of the opposing view: Many have held that to say that A and B are the same color is, when put in a logically regimented way, to say that
There is an X and a Y such that X is the color of A, and Y is the color of B, and that X is (absolutely) identical to Y, and that there is no Z such that Z is the color of A or Z is the color of B and Z is not (absolutely) identical to X (and to Y).
This way of rewriting "A is the same color as B" carries with it an ontological commitment to colors; Quine and Davidson take this commitment along happily (Davidson a little more happily than Quine), and so see a sort of Platonism as an unexciting logical consequence of some ordinary claims: There are colors, and there are shapes, because there are true claims on the order of "X and Y are the same shape", and writing those out in a logically acceptable way involves committing oneself to the truth of "There is a W such that W is a shape".

Geach is able to avoid these commitments: he treats "A is the same color as B" as a primitive equivalence relation in the language, and so does not need to quantify over colors to write "A is the same color as B" in ordinary first-order logical notation; it just comes out as looking like "aRb". By a neat trick, Geach notes that he can (in a sense) keep his ideology conservative as well: Quine's way of writing "A is the same color as B" requires a way to say "A has a color", which he writes as "There is an X such that X is the color of A"; Geach writes "A has a color" as "A has the same color as A", as anything which lacks a color cannot be the same color as anything: he is able to use his primitive equivalence relations to do the work of coloredness-predicates, and so doesn't need the latter as primitive terms in his language. This trick works in general for turning predicates into equivalence relations. So Geach doesn't need to include more predicates in his language than Quine did, but is able to reduce his ontological commitments. And since Geach is able to introduce a sign for "absolute" identity in his language by means of Leibniz's Law, the resulting calculus is just Quine's beloved first-order predicate calculus with identity; Geach disagrees with Quine not over a matter of regimented logical notation, but of how to rewrite ordinary language claims in that regimented form.

There are a few other wrinkles to Geach's account of relative identity, but hopefully the above is clear enough to get it in view. One aspect of his view which Geach finds remarkable is that he, unlike Frege, is able to treat statements of sameness and statements of number along the same lines: where Frege insisted that "How many?" required a complement, that statements of number were assertions about concepts, he had also insisted that "Are A and B identical?" required no complement, and that this identity was a logically peculiar notion which everyone immediately grasps in a special way. Geach thinks this was quite odd of Frege; Frege had demolished the idea that "oneness" is a special property of every object, and had left "self-identity" as a special property of every object: but in English and German both we have the phrase "one and the same" "ein und dasselbe", which Geach thinks should have already suggested to Frege that sameness and oneness ought to be handled along the same lines. I think that Heidegger had (without having much affection for logical notation) done just this: he requires an im Hinblick auf before questions of sameness are answerable. It would be interesting to see if Heidegger was consistent in this; rejecting "absolute" in favor of "relative" identity has a fair number of consequences in metaphysics, as Geach was well aware -- puzzles about whether a statue is identical with its clay fall to the ground, for example -- and Heidegger is not uninterested in a number of these metaphysical puzzles.

29 September 2013

Peregrin on "Logic and Reasoning"

I just finished listening to this talk; I quite liked it. Peregrin defends the view that logic is "constitutive" of rationality, and not merely normative for it: the laws of logic make the game of giving and asking for reasons possible, not what tells you which moves within the game are good ones or bad ones to make. This isn't a new idea, but I very much liked seeing someone defend it without leaning on the fact that they are also trying to exposit Kant's views on general logic, or the views of the author of the Tractatus.

There is one bit that struck me as odd, though, which is why I'm writing this post: at one point Peregrin is concerned to show that his view can still claim that logic is "a supreme arbiter of rationality" despite not allowing the laws of logic to be violated (in general -- he allows occasional violations by single members of linguistic communities, but says very little about the details of how even this could happen given that the laws violated constitute the act which is supposed to defy them). His reply seems odd, though: He says that being rational may be "having implications, negations, etc., not using them in an appropriate way."

This seems wrong for at least two reasons. One is that minutes earlier he'd allowed that there might be linguistic communities which don't have implication (a group in Siberia studied by a Soviet scientist is discussed as a possible example), and so don't have modus ponens because of this. So, what he put on his slide seems to contradict his own commentary on it, unless he wants those linguistic communities to fail to be rational (which is obviously undesirable). The other is a generalization of the point Peregrin made when he allowed for a linguistic community to lack "implication": Why should the material conditional, classical negation, exclusive disjunction, etc. be so important for being rational as such? They seem to be of fairly recent invention, and sit uneasily next to the ordinary-language terms often used to characterize them (as anyone who has ever had to teach undergraduates well knows). How could having them in one's language be so important as to constitute the game of giving and asking for reasons?

The remedy to this, I think, is just what Sebastian Rödl talks about in the first chapter of "Categories of the Temporal": we should retain the idea that logic is constitutive of thought as such, but not identify this logic with a calculus (and so in particular not with classical logic and its material conditional etc.): the possession of any particular logical calculus is an optional tool in reasoning, not constitutive of it. The kind of logic which is constitutive of thought as such is transcendental logic, not general logic: it essentially involves reference to thought's relationship to its objects (and so refers to inquiry, the process by which those objects are known). Being rational cannot plausibly be "having implications, negations, etc." but it is (at least plausibly) having distinctions of truth and falsity, of oneself as an inquirer who can err and be corrected by others or correct oneself, of the objects of inquiry as being capable (at least in many cases) of settling questions about them when some are in error or ignorant of them, etc. It is hard to see how one can be a rational subject without such notions; it is the task of a transcendental logic to outline them and give their laws, without which thought as such is impossible.

I think this sort of view also helps to make sense of so-called disagreements in logic (as between classical and intuitionist logicians, or dialetheists and everyone else): they are not expressing conflicting views on "the" logic constitutive of thought as such (which would have to be a transcendental logic), but expressing views which disagree with one another on which calculus captures the laws of thought as such (or which are normatively correct in describing how one should proceed if one wishes to think rationally, as they tend to think of it). Accepting or rejecting the law of excluded middle, or rejecting (and not merely accepting) the law of noncontradiction can then be seen not as doing the impossible (if laws of logic are constitutive of thought as such), but as advancing rival views on a distinct question -- one which the transcendental logician may reject as relying on a false assumption, that the logic of thought as such is the logic of a calculus, is general and not transcendental logic. So long as it is not among the laws of transcendental logic that one has a particular view of transcendental logic (which would be a surprising result), the disagreements in logic do not need to be seen as violating laws which are constitutive of thought as such, and can be regarded as genuine disagreements without overturning the view of logical laws as constitutive.

It might be thought that the existence of dialetheists still posed a problem: Didn't I say that a distinction between truth and falsity was (plausibly) involved in the laws of transcendental logic, and isn't this just what the dialetheists want to argue about? Are they not still seemingly violating the laws which are supposed to be constitutive of thought as such?

I think not: Even in the extreme case of Graham Priest's acceptance of every version of the denial of the law of noncontradiction he is presented with, one can find him affirming (in "Doubt Truth to Be a Liar") that one cannot both affirm and deny a proposition simultaneously. He views this as a psychological claim, and his ultimate evidence for it is phenomenological, but he recognizes that he needs something of this sort to make his own views so much as stateable: if he has access to no such distinction as this, then he can't intelligibly say that even dialetheists believe that there are monaletheias (propositions which are only true or false, and not both): without something in his system to keep two truth-values apart in the end, there is nothing to keep his opponent from asking "Yes, yes, you accept that P is true and not false, and is a monoletheia -- but how do I know you don't also hold it to be false and not true, and a dialetheia?" (The context in which Priest invokes an absolute psychological-phenomenological distinction between affirmation and denial is one in which he has rehearsed the many "revenge" Liars that a dialetheistical treatment of the Liar leads to; Priest needs some way to handle "This sentence is false and is a monoletheia", which on his treatment is both true and false and has both one and two truth-values, without undermining his own view that dialetheism is compatible with classical monoletheic logic "mostly" holding in everyday reasoning. I would look at my copy of the book to confirm this and find references, but I am lazy and as far as I know I'm the only person who feels a need both to defend the constitutive view of the laws of logic and to make sense of Graham Priest.) So I think that Priest can be seen as still abiding by (and affirming and not denying) the distinction between truth and falsity at the level of generality at which transcendental logic needs to deal with such truth-values: he just has peculiar views about how truth-predicates should be used in formal languages, etc. When it comes to knowing that when a question has been settled in inquiry it is not also still open, or that we can err when we hold that a question has been settled or not and might need reopening, Priest (and I think any other dialetheist who considers the issue) says nothing but what the transcendental logician says we all know qua rational beings: what is, is, and what is not, is not.

03 June 2013

Rödl on Kant's First Analogy of Experience

Here's how Kant states the First Analogy in the A-edition of KRV, where it is labelled the "Principle of Permanence": "All appearances contain the permanent (substance) as the object itself, and the transitory as its mere determination, that is, as a way in which the object exists." (A182)

In the B-edition of KRV, Kant adds a paragraph to the beginning of this section. In "Logical Form as a Relation to the Object", Sebastian Rödl goes through this paragraph sentence-by-sentence (omitting some parenthetical remarks of Kant's and the final sentence). As Rödl presents it, Kant argues as follows (following the Kemp Smith translation, B224-5; each of these is a single sentence of Kant's German):

1) All appearances are in time; and in it alone, as substratum [...], can either coexistence or succession be represented.

2) Thus the time in which all change of appearances has to be thought, remains and does not change. For it is that in which, and as determinations of which, succession or coexistence can alone be represented.

3) Now time cannot by itself be perceived.

4) Consequently there must be found in the objects of perception, that is, in the appearances, the substratum which represents time in general; and all change or coexistence must, in being apprehended, be perceived in this substratum, and through relation of the appearances to it.

5) But the substratum of all that is real [...] is substance; and all that belongs to existence can be thought only as a determination of substance.

Claim 1) is established by the Transcendental Aesthetic. See II.ss4.1, the first paragraph of the Metaphysical Exposition of the Concept of Time, for the argument; the idea is that we can't build up to a representation of time by first perceiving items as simultaneous or sequential and then abstracting "time" out of those perceptions, since perceiving them in that way requires already seeing them as in time: so the representation of time is a priori, as it is only against the background of time that we can represent things as simultaneous or sequential.

2) follows from 1): if we need to use time as a background against which to represent things as happening simultaneously or sequentially, then representing anything as changing will also require this (as changes are sequential: there is something changed from and something changed to). The background against which change is represented is not itself represented as changing, but is what makes the change intelligible as a change. As this background is time, time must be represented as remaining without change. Rödl here notes that it seems that the way to represent the logical form of thoughts of items in time is as "determinations of time", as Kant says: something like "A exists at t1", with the time "t#" being part of what the thought determines. Simultaneity would then be existence at the same t#, succession would be existence at a later or earlier t#.

3) I am sure Kant argues for somewhere, but I'm not finding a reference at the moment. That time is not itself an empirical intuition follows from the argument for 1), but I don't see where Kant actually makes that inference explicit. But it's a trivial enough point that he hardly needs to: once a distinction is noted between perceiving objects in time and perceiving time itself, it is easy to grant that we do the former and not the latter. (There's a reason we need clocks.) Rödl notes that this simple point poses a problem for the idea that the way to represent an item in time is "A exists at t1": we are trying to articulate the logical form of an appearance of something in time. So if the logical form of an item with a temporal position (simultaneous with, earlier than, or later than some other item) is "A exists at t#", then we cannot be given any items with temporal positions in perception, as perception does not provide us with a time to put for the schematic "t#".

4) From this Kant concludes that "there must be found in the objects of perception [...] the substratum which represents time in general": Rödl puts the point thusly: "what is given in intuition—appearances—as such contain something that represents time in the sense that something is conceived as a determination of time in virtue of being apprehended as a determination of it. Apprehending A and B as determinations of this thing, we apprehend A and B as succeeding, or as simultaneous with, one another." (p.365) The problem with thinking that "A exists at t1" could represent the logical form of a thought of an appearance having a temporal position was that nothing was given which could stand in for a "t#": the solution is to see A as a determination of time (as having a temporal position determined in the thinking of it) in virtue of it being represented as a determination of something which is given in perception, and which functions as a substratum against which simultaneity and succession can be represented.

5) And here Kant draws the conclusion of the Principle of Permanence: All appearances are in time, as the Transcendental Aesthetic established; this entails that they are given to us as simultaneous with one another or earlier or later than one another. To be represented in this way (which they must be to be given to us as appearances in time), there must be found in these appearances something which is grasped as a substratum against which temporal positions can be apprehended, and the various temporal positions must be represented against the background of such a substratum. But such a substratum in appearance is just what the Principle of Permanence calls "substance": there is in all appearances in time a distinction that can be made between substance and "mere determination", which Rödl calls "state". Rödl puts it this way: "We perceive that A succeeds or is simultaneous with B, as we apprehend A and B as determinations of time [by perceiving them thus]. And we apprehend A and B as determinations of time, not by predicating A and B of a time as in “[A exists at t1 and B exists at t2] ”, but by predicating A and B of a substance as in “S was A and is B” . Temporal thought bears a predicative structure. It is not articulated into a time and what is at this time, but rather into a substance and its states. It is in virtue of being thus articulated that a thought distinguishes a time from what is at this time and thus represents its object as temporal. This completes the proof." (p.365) "S was A and is B" represents a substance, 'S', which can be in different states at different times (is now B, was previously A) while remaining the same substance. Thoughts which represent substances as substances exhibit this form: the substance thought of is known as something which can bear contrary predicates at different times, as Aristotle put it; it is a perceptible item which can be seen to change or remain the same at different times. Being able to perceive such items is what enables us to have appearances which have a temporally order internal to how they are given to us: thinking thoughts of the form "S was/is F" is how we can represent some appearances as coming before, after, or alongside others. A Hume-style skeptic about substance needs to make this intelligible by thinking thoughts of the form "A exists at t1" and "B exists at t2", and this cannot be done, as time is not perceptible. Thus the proof against this sort of skepticism is complete: in all appearances substances are given, as the substrate of changeable states.

Rödl continues on to note a few things from the later pages of the Analogy, but the impression given is that the rest is a mop-up operation: the important work is already done in that first five sentences. There is a small puzzle about this, given that these sentences were added in the B-edition, and replaced a short section that doesn't contain this argument. But I think it's plausible that the argument Kant puts more clearly in those five sentences can be found in the first few paragraphs of the A-version Analogy, spread out more widely and unclearly.

There are two more puzzling things about Rödl's handling of the First Analogy. One is that it might seem that Rödl's way of handling perception of time-positions can't handle the relative positions of states of distinct substances. I will handle this indirectly, by first looking at something Rödl points out. It might be thought that one advantage of representing temporal thought by "A exists at t#" is that the various numbers which slot in for '#' will all line up of themselves: t1 is before t2, which is before t3, etc. But this is an illusion: "the things to which “t1” and “t2” refer, and the unity of these, cannot be perceived. Here nothing satisfies “the condition of the empirical unity of time” (A 188/B 231). By contrast, in “S was A and now is B”, there is no need to connect two things determined by A and B respectively, for there is only one thing, the substance, determined by both. Its unity represents the unity of time. In this way is the “condition of the empirical unity of time” satisfied." (p.366) That is, the attempt to represent temporal thought by "A exists at t1" and "B exists at t2" etc. fails to satisfy a demand established by the Transcendental Aesthetic: there is only one time, and all times are limitations of it. There is nothing in the representation of temporal appearances by "A exists at t#" which guarantees that everything which stands in for "t#" will be part of a single time. Rödl's way does meet this demand: If S was A and is now B, this can only happen in a single time through which S persists, as is represented by the single symbol 'S' in the notation.

Now, what does that have to do with the following worry: Rödl's way can't handle "S is A" and "P is B" being simultaneous, since those two thoughts don't share a substance? Here I think I see why Rödl talks of "states" and not "properties" or "determinations": it is tempting to think that there is something special about monadic properties or determinations, but it is much less tempting to think this about states. The 'A' in "S is A" can perfectly well be "near the P which is B"; this is a state a substance can be in, and the thought of it includes the time-determination of the other substance, and represents the empirical unity of the times in which these substances exist. Here I am speculating as to how Rödl handles this question; it seems like something he should address, but I haven't read anything where he takes it up. But I don't see any reason my way wouldn't do fine for him: relational states are perfectly good states, and an appearance of multiple substances in relational states will satisfy Kant's demand to respect the empirical unity of time. (The Transcendental Aesthetic can, I think, already be taken to have shown that all appearances will be related in a single time; it will thus not be necessary to further guarantee that all states of substances will be so related, as these are merely a species of the genus "appearance". That is to say, I do not need to establish that all substances will stand in relational states to one another which determine their time-relations; the Aesthetic does the needed work. What is needed is only to provide a way of presenting substances in thought which does not violate the condition of the empirical unity of time, as "A exists at t#" did. Provided that substances are in fact related to one another in time, polyadic state-variables represent them as in a single time.)

There is another puzzling thing about Rödl's way of handling the First Analogy. The five-sentence proof from Kant he looks at is only in the B-edition, but he only presents the A-edition's statement of the Principle of Permanence. Related to this, he does not discuss the last sentence of the paragraph added to the B-edition: "And as it is thus unchangeable in its existence, its quantity in nature can be neither increased nor diminished." This sentence goes along with the B-edition statement of the (slightly renamed) "Principle of Permanence of Substance", which says "In all change of appearances substance is permanent; its quantum in nature is neither increased nor diminished."

Rödl mentions this sentence only in a footnote: "We disregard the last sentence of the proof (“Da diese also im Dasein nicht wechseln kann, so kann ihr Quantum in der Natur auch weder vermehrt noch vermindert werden.”), which does not pertain to anything stated in the First Analogy in the A-edition. It is a further thought, with its own difficulties, which lie beyond the scope of this essay." (p.369)

Now, it is curious that Kant changes the statements of the principles of the Analogies in the B-edition. But he leaves so much of the argumentation unchanged in these sections that it seems hard to deny that he thought he merely reworded them, and left their substance unchanged. But I think Rödl is simply right about this much: Nothing in the First Analogy in the A-edition supports the claim that the quantity of substance in nature is constant. Substances are things which can change in various ways while remaining the same substances; Kant tells us nothing here about why "quantity in nature" is something unchangeable. More problematically, I don't think Kant has given a sense to "quantum" here: Does he mean that substance in nature does not change in total mass, or in total energy, or in total extension, or in some other quantity measured in some other way? There are many quantities of substance in nature which do change: the number of dinosaurs is a quantity in nature. As far as I've been able to tell, at this point in the Transcendental Logic Kant has no grounds whatsoever for speaking of a single quantity of any sort which is constant for all substance at all times: the Principle of Permanence is entirely compatible with an Aristotelian world of many finite substances with different natures and different ways of being. (The only thing I can find which can even pretend to be an argument otherwise is the Anticipations of Perception, with its talk of intensive magnitudes of reality -- but this section also does not establish that there is a single scale of reality-magnitude, but only that any reality given in sensation is given in a scaleable way.)

Here I suspect Kant changed the B-edition of KRV to make it line up more smoothly with his physics, which he had in the meantime laid a groundwork for in "Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science". But this sort of move is illicit, by Kant's own standards: principles of a special science such as physics are not established before the System of Principles of the Pure Understanding, as these pure principles are used in determining the principles of the special sciences (which are partly empirical: in MFoNS Kant relies on experience for the claim that bodies have weight, if memory serves). If Kant hasn't established that the sort of substance which must be found in the appearances to make experience possible is the kind his preferred empirical science talks about, he shouldn't pretend otherwise: and viewed from our later vantage-point, we should feel welcome to jettison the supposed necessity of Kant's Newtonianish physics, and feel no compulsion at all to read it back into the Analogies -- even if Kant himself did this while revising the B-edition. It is only Kantian for us to attempt to understand the philosopher better than he understood himself.

02 June 2013

"Kantian Humility"

I read about half of Rae Langton's "Kantian Humility"; I skimmed the chapters between the one on phenomenal substance and the one on primary/secondary qualities. Here are some thoughts I had.

She latches on to some passages that I find fairly opaque, and is able to give a sense to them (the stuff about matter being constituted by "mere relations"), but I felt like her overall interpretation was severely hindered by her unwillingness to discuss core arguments of the Transcendental Analytic. For instance, she doesn't commit herself to any view as to how the argument for the First Analogy is supposed to work. But, she's committed to reading "phenomenal substance" as akin to "wax duck": phenomenal substances just aren't substances (and in her defense, she shows that this is how Wolff used the phrase); the schematized category of substance is not a species of the pure category for her, and on her reading Kant denies that we are ever given anything in experience which "can only be thought as subject, not as predicate". She puts a lot of weight on Kant's remark that we can make anything a "logical subject" in a judgement without that saying anything about whether or not it's a substance ("Love is abiding" and "Yellow is pale" don't make love or yellow into metaphysical substances), and holds that this shows that treating "matter" as a substance is only done by Kant in a "comparative sense": that it is a logical subject relative to empirical predicates of matter, not that it can't be thought of as a predicate of the thing-in-itself. And in fact she holds that this is how it is: the only substances for her Kant are things-in-themselves, which can't be thought as predicates of anything. (She assumes this throughout, without any argument that I saw. I don't know why someone like Spinoza wouldn't deny it, and claim that these monadic "substances" are in fact mere predicates of God; I've never been clear on how Leibniz prevents his monads from collapsing into God in this way, though it's clear he wants them not to.) All of this means that, in fact, no knowledge of substance can play any part at all in the First Analogy: the subsistent in time is only a permanent predicate, not something which can only be thought as subject. This strikes me as ruling out any plausible interpretation of the First Analogy, as it makes the relationship between its principle and the category associated with it essentially null.

She constantly turns to Kant's physics when discussing what Kant means by "matter", and reads his dynamical theory of matter as providing argumentative support for large swathes of the critical philosophy. (How this doesn't render the entire project circular is a problem I don't think she ever addresses: From what I recall of the Metaphysical Foundations of Nature, Kant uses the Analogies to argue for his force-theory. So he can't presume that this is how matter works when arguing for the Analogies themselves.) But if the permanent in experience is the matter explicated by Kant's physics, then it's not something we are consciously aware of as such: attractive and repulsive forces are not something we can sense directly. She takes a very radical move here, and severs the connection between the senses and intuition: she reads the Third Analogy's principle as committing Kant to the view that all matter affects us at all times, and that it is only because most of these effects are too small ("lacking in reality") to be brought to consciousness that prevents us from being aware of all objects at all times. This puts Kant's view of experience very close to Leibniz's: every subject represents the entire world at all times. In her defense, she quotes Kant saying things that seem close to this radical a view in his reply to Eberhard in "On a New Discovery etc.", which I haven't read. (I remembered reading Allison's introduction to it years ago, and then skimming the text to confirm that it was how Allison had said it was. But all of the details are now lost to me.)

But if this sort of neo-Leibnizian view is Kant's, then it seems simply incoherent: if external bodies are given to us only by means of attractive/repulsive forces, then the fact that forces sum means that external bodies are not given to us individually: two forces of velocity X and one force of velocity 2X are not distinguishable, and so all of those remote objects which Langton's Kant has making "subconscious" effects on us are not distinguishable (in principle) from a single external object making a single impression on us whose force is the sum of those effects. It might seem that her Kant also faces the problem of how to distinguish between proximal and distal causes of the effects on us, but I think that's actually not a problem for her Kant if the issue of forces summing isn't: since Newtonian forces act instantaneously at a distance, a proximal and a distal stimuli simply produce distinct forces on us, and so if these forces can be distinguished then so can the proximal and distal stimuli.

I don't think Leibniz's view has these problem, because Leibniz thinks that forces, which are relational properties of bodies, are "well-founded phenomena" which reduce down to simple properties of monads: so the representation in a single monad of some particular lump sum of force is analyzable (by God, not by us finite provers) into non-relational properties of monads, and it is only by means of these non-relational properties that Leibniz has each monad representing the entire world. But Kant is adamant about relations not being reducible to non-relational properties, as Langton shows at length, so I don't see how her Kant can go from the forces to anything which represents the world -- even setting aside that Kant has independent arguments against Leibniz in these quarters (such as Leibniz presuming the identity of indiscernibles, which is needed to make his monads "represent" individual objects by means of non-relational descriptions of them). I don't know how her Kant is supposed to be able to represent individual objects merely by having forces impinging upon it at all, but she is explicit that this sort of physical interactionism is what drives Kant's thoughts about thought's receptivity.

I found the book disappointing overall, but if Langton's not right about what "matter being constituted by mere relations" means, I don't know what those passages in Kant mean. (Langton can here apply Modus Tollens; I apply Modus Ponens.) So the book is worth looking at just to see how she handles the passages her view handles well; it is a desideratum for any alternative view of Kant's matter-doctrine to be able to handle them as smoothly, but without sacrificing so much of the rest of Kantianism.