The End of Mechanism, #6–How to Ground Natural Science on Sensibility.
By Robert Hanna
Table of Contents
VI. How to Ground Natural Science on Sensibility
VII. Sensible Science 1: Natural Science Without Natural Mechanism
VIII. Sensible Science 2: Natural Science Without Physicalism
IX. Sensible Science 3: Natural Science Without Scientism
X. Frankenscience, the Future of Humanity, and the Future of Science
This installment contains section VI.
But can you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete essay HERE.
VI. How to Ground Natural Science on Sensibility
21. The thesis of Strong Kantian Non-Conceptualism says
(i) that not all of the intentional or representational contents of our cognition are either necessarily or sufficiently determined by our conceptual capacities, housed in the faculty of understanding or Verstand, and
(ii) that on the contrary, at least some of the intentional/representational contents of our cognition are both
(iia) concept-autonomous = they are not necessarily determined by our conceptual capacities = their existence and specific character are determined by our non-conceptual capacities housed in sensibility without any concepts whatsover, e.g., the cognitions of pre-linguistic human children and other non-rational human cognizers, and non-human animals, and also
(iib) concept-independent = they not sufficiently determined by our conceptual capacities = their existence and specific character are necessarily underdetermined by any and all concepts — e.g., our cognition of “incongruent counterparts” (DS 2: 378–383), and our cognition of the temporal ordering of the spontaneously-chosen, “entirely arbitrary” (ganz beliebig) subjective sequence of perceptions in inner sense (CPR A193–197/B238–243).
Indeed, as regards the point about the concept-independence of inner sense, in the Introduction to Metaphysical Foundations Kant explicitly denies that there could ever be a naturally mechanistic science of psychology (MFNS 4:471), because orderings in inner sense cannot be arithmetized, that is, they cannot be reduced to primitive recursive functions like addition, subtraction, and so-on, that is, they cannot be denumerably quantified or counted.
If orderings in inner sense cannot be arithmetized, then they cannot be fully or objectively conceptualized either, since as the Axioms of Intuition and Anticipations of Perception show, arithmetization in terms of either extensive quantity or intensive quantity, namely, in terms of natural or rational numbers, is a necessary condition of the application of objective science to nature (CPR A162–176/B202–218).
22. Now Strong Kantian Non-Conceptualism closely corresponds to what I call transcendental idealism for sensibility:[i]
necessarily, the manifestly real world that we veridically cognize in an essentially non-conceptual way through sensory intuition or Anschauung structurally conforms to the specific formal character of our faculty of sensibility.
More precisely, then, transcendental idealism for sensibility says that the veridically apparent, manifestly real world fundamentally conforms to the essentially non-conceptual a priori forms of human sensibility, our representations of space and time. Kant worked out explicit proofs for transcendental idealism for sensibility in the Inaugural Dissertation and again in the Transcendental Aesthetic in the first Critique.
The simplest version of the proof, provided in the Transcendental Aesthetic, goes like this:
(1) Space and time are either (i) things in themselves, (ii) properties of/relations between things in themselves, or (iii) transcendentally ideal.
(2) If space and time were either things in themselves or properties of/relation between things in themselves, then a priori mathematical knowledge would be impossible.
(3) But mathematical knowledge is actual, via our pure intuitions of space and time, and therefore really possible.
(4) Therefore, space and time are transcendentally ideal. (CPR A 23/B37–38, A38–41/B55–58)
There is, of course, much more that can and should be said about this highly controversial argument.
What is most crucial for my purposes here, however, is that this version of transcendental idealism relies only on essentially non-conceptual content and the nature of human sensibility, and neither relies on concepts and the nature of human understanding, nor does it entail that the authentically apparent or manifestly real world necessarily conforms to our concepts and the nature of human understanding.
23. Now what about natural science, and in particular, physics?
In Kant, Science and Human Nature, part 1, I argued that for Kant, natural science knows the manifestly real essences of veridical appearances, given in direct perception, via natural science’s synthetic a priori knowledge of the general and specific causal laws of nature, which in turn track strongly modal intrinsic spatiotemporal and dynamic structures of objects of actual or really possible human experience.
Let’s call this scientific manifest realism, or scientific empirical realism, as opposed to scientific noumenal realism, e.g., scientific essentialism.
In Kant, Science, and Human Nature, part 2, I also argued for the claim that Kant defends the primacy of practical reason over the theoretical reason, and in particular, defends categorical epistemology, that is, non-instrumentally normative and perfectionist epistemology.[ii]
According to Kant’s categorical epistemology, as he spells it out in the Introduction to the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, authentic science, including both a priori knowledge of the truths of mathematics and a priori knowledge of the most general causal laws of nature, is synthetic a priori knowledge with objective certainty, grounded on rational insight or Einsicht, and all such knowledge is in turn a categorically normative achievement, and a “perfection” of our normally more or less imperfect cognitive activity, by means of the transcendental imagination.
If Strong Kantian Non-Conceptualism, Kantian transcendental idealism for sensibility, Kantian scientific manifest realism, and Kantian categorical epistemology are all true, then natural science, and in particular physics, is cognitive-semantically, metaphysically, and epistemically grounded on sensibility in the Kantian sense.
For convenience, I cite Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Because the Akademie edition contains only the B edition of the first Critique, I have also consulted the following German composite edition: Kritik der reinen Vernunft, ed. W. Weischedel, Immanuel Kant Werkausgabe III (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1968). I generally follow the standard English translations of Kant’s works, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. Here is a list of the relevant abbreviations and English translations of works directly relevant to this essay:
CPJ Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.
CPR Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.
CPrR Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996, pp. 139–272.
GMM Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, pp. 43–108.
DS “Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space,” in Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy, 1755–1770. Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 361–372.
DSS “Dreams of a Spirit Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics,” in Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy, 1755–1770. Pp. 301–359.
ID “On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (Inaugural Dissertation).” In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755–1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 373–416.
MFNS Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Trans. M. Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.
OP Immanuel Kant: Opus postumum. Trans. E. Förster and M. Rosen. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
OPA “The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God.”Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy 1755–1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 107–201.
Prol Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. G. Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.
Rel Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. A. Wood and G. di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 57–215.
WiE “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, pp. 17–22.
[i] See See R. Hanna, “Directions in Space, Non-Conceptual Form, and the Foundations of Transcendental Idealism,” in D. Schulting (ed.), Kantian Nonconceptualism (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), pp. 99–115.
[ii] I defend a contemporary Kantian version of categorical epistemology in R. Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), esp. chs. 3 and 6–8. Interestingly, and only 237 years later, contemporary Analytic philosophers have recently rediscovered categorical epistemology. See, for example, C. Littlejohn, “The Right in the Good: A Defense of Teleological Non-Consequentialism in Epistemology,” in J. Dunn and K. Ahlstrom-Vij (eds.), Epistemic Consequentialism (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2018), available online at URL = <https://www.academia.edu/16904384/The_Right_in_the_Good_A_Defense_of_Teleological_Non-Consequentialism_in_Epistemology>.
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