THE LIMITS OF SENSE AND REASON: A Line-By-Line Critical Commentary on Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason,” #21–What is the Value of Critical Metaphysics?
By Robert Hanna
[I] was then making plans for a work that might perhaps have the title, “The Limits of Sense and Reason.” I planned to have it consist of two parts, a theoretical and a practical. The first part would have two sections, (1) general phenomenology and (2) metaphysics, but this only with regard to its method. (Letter to Marcus Herz, 21 February 1772 [C 10: 129])
Because LSR is an ongoing and indeed infinite task, yearly installments of the book will be published in the online journal Contemporary Studies in Kantian Philosophy (CSKP).
Correspondingly, LSR, Part 1 has been published in CSKP 6 (2021): 11–109, and can be read, downloaded, or shared in .pdf HERE.
Moreover, a bibliography of Kant’s writings listed by English translations of their titles, alongside the abbreviations used for infratextual references in LSR, has been also been published in CSKP 6 (2021): 1–10, and can be read, downloaded, or shared in .pdf HERE.
CPR TEXT Bxxiv-xxv/GW114–115 Preface to the Second (B) Edition
But it will be asked: What sort of treasure is it that we intend to leave to posterity, in the form of a metaphysics that has been purified through critique but thereby also brought into a changeless state?e On a cursory overview of this work, one might believe that one perceives it to be only of negative utility, teaching us never to venture with speculative reason beyond the boundaries of experience; and in fact that is its first usefulness. But this utility soon becomes positive when we become aware that the principles with which speculative reason ventures beyond its boundaries do not in fact result in extending our use of reason, but rather, if one considers them more closely, inevitably result in narrowing it by threatening to extend the boundaries of sensibility, to which Bxxv these principles really belong, beyond everything, and so even to dislodge the use of pure (practical) reason. Hence a critique that limits the speculative use of reason is, to be sure, to that extent negative, but because it simultaneously removes an obstacle that limits or even threatens to wipe out the practical use of reason, this critique is also in fact of positive and very important utility, as soon as we have convinced ourselves that there is an absolutely necessary practical use of pure reason (the moral use), in which reason unavoidably extends itself beyond the boundaries of sensibility, without needing any assistance from speculative reason, but in which it must also be made secure against any counteraction from the latter, in order not to fall into contradiction with itself. To deny this service of critiquea is of any positive utility ould be as much as to say that the police are of no positive utility because their chief business is to put a stop to the violence that citizens have to fear from other citizens, so that each can carry on his own affairs in peace and safety.
e beharrlichen Zustand
a der Kritik
There’s a seeming paradox about this activist, practically-oriented metaphysics: on the one hand, due to its completeness, it’s rationally perfect, a changeless cognitive treasure left to posterity; but on the other hand, its usefulness to humanity seems to be merely rationally prophylactic, by“teaching us never to venture with speculative reason beyond the boundaries of experience” (CPR Bxxiv), and therefore philosophically unproductive.
But the seeming paradox is resolved when we recognize that the negative utility of metaphysics is in fact only a necessary but not sufficient condition of its positive utility, which in turn is two-part.
First, we must recognize that by restricting the objective validity of metaphysics to the domain of actual and possible human experience, hence preventing rational self-immolation, by narrowing the scope of metaphysics to transcendental idealism, we’ve actually thereby liberated its theoretical powers for giving us insight into the nature of the manifestly real natural world.
And second, we must also recognize that narrowing the scope of human theoretical reason in general, and natural science/physics in particular, to manifest reality, is at one and the same time extending the scope of human practical reason and morality.
Since the basic principles of Newtonian natural science are inherently deterministic and mechanistic, then the unrestricted application of those principles beyond the bounds of human sensibility would make free agency and morality impossible; hence rigorously restricting their application to their proper domain, manifest reality, actually makes free agency and morality possible.
Now, in claiming that rigorously restricting the objectively valid metaphysics of natural science/physics to the domain of actual and possible human experience actually makes free agency and morality possible, Kant is clearly and distinctly making two crucial assumptions.
The first crucial assumption is what I’ll call single-type/single-world-incompatibilism: with respect to a single type of objects/single world of objects, it’s impossible for any object (whether an individual, property, state, event, process, etc.) to be both free and also strictly determined.
This assumption is of course a denial of single-type/single-world-compatibilism: with respect to a single type of objects/single world of objects, it’s possible for at least some objects to be both free and also strictly determined.
But notice that those who defend single-type/single-world-compatibilism rarely if ever consider these two alternative brands of compatibilism:
(i) two-type/two-world-compatibilism: with respect to two distinct types of objects/two distinct worlds of objects, it’s possible for all the objects of one type/in one world to be free, and also for all the objects of the other type/in the other world to be strictly determined,
(ii) two-aspect/two-standpoint-compatibilism: with respect to two distinct aspects of/standpoints on every member of a single type/world of objects, it’s possible for all those objects to be both free relative to one aspect/standpoint and also strictly determined relative to the other aspect/standpoint.
Correspondingly, if Kant were a single-type/single-world-incompatibilist, then he could also still consistently be either a two-type/two-world-compatibilist or a two-aspect/two-standpoint compatibilist, depending on whether he’s a defender of The Two Object or Two World Theory of the phenomena vs. noumena distinction, or a defender of The Two Aspect or Two Standpoint Theory of the distinction, respectively.
Indeed, and I think more importantly, if Kant were a single-type/single-world-incompatibilist, he could also consistently defend what I’ll call
(iii) single-type/single-world-two-concept/property incompatibilistic compatibilism: with respect to a single type/single world of objects, it’s possible for
(iiia) none of those objects to fall under the concept/have the property of both being free and also strictly determined,
(iiib) some of those objects to fall under the concept/have the property of both being free and also being incompatibilistic with respect to freedom and determinism (aka source incompatibilism), and
(iiic) the rest of those objects to have fall under the concept/have the property of being strictly determined.
Moreover, single-type/single-world-two-concept/property incompatibilistic compatibilism corresponds directly to The Two Concept or Two Property Theory of the phenomena vs. noumena distinction, which is also a One World theory, which I’ll now re-dub The One World + Two Concept or Two Property Theory
My own view is that if we consistently and correctly follow the methodological principle of interpreting Kant and CPR in a rationally charitable way, then at the end of the philosophical day, we should ascribe to him not only single-type/single-world-two-concept/property incompatibilistic compatibilism but also The One World + Two Concept or Two Property Theory.
I’ll come back to that subtle and but also fundamentally important point later in my comments on Bxxxv-Bxxxi.
For the time being, however, we need to recognize the second crucial assumption that Kant is making in claiming that rigorously restricting the objectively valid metaphysics of natural science/physics to the domain of actual and possible human experience makes free agency and morality possible, namely, what I call Kantian anti-mechanism.[i]
Kantian anti-mechanism says that
(i) necessarily, if manifestly real living organisms actually exist, then no living organism, minded animal, or human person is a machine, and
(ii) necessarily, if manifestly real living organisms actually exist, then for any manifestly real object that inherently operates according to mechanistic principles and is therefore a machine, then it can’t also be a living organism, a minded animal, or a free agent.
Unfortunately, in his theory of teleological judgment in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant apparently inconsistently oscillates between
(i) asserting the actual existence of manifestly real living organisms (including minded animals and human persons), and
(ii) holding that for the purposes of extending natural-science/physics, we should in any case investigate nature as if there were manifestly real living organisms, even though we must also remain radically agnostic about knowing whether they actually exist or not (i.e., regulative teleological judgment).
My own view is that (i) and (ii) are in fact smoothly consistent if we recognize that for Kant it’s entirely possible to have veridical essentially non-conceptual conscious perceptual awareness of living organisms — for example, of our own organismic lives as rational human animals — and also to remain radically agnostic with respect to teleological judgments.
And this recognition, in turn, would go a significant distance towards providing an adequate Kantian solution to the free will vs. determinism problem when it’s conjoined with The One World + Two Concept or Two Property Theory of the phenomenon vs. noumenon distinction.[ii]
Moreover, in that connection, Kantian anti-mechanism is also fundamentally philosophically important precisely because, in virtue of his Newtonian conception of natural science/physics, Kant didn’t in fact recognize the possibility of universal natural indeterminism — i.e., the thesis that all manifestly real natural objects are not only inherently non-determined as regards their causal operations but also strictly governed by probabilistic or statistical natural causal laws — but universal natural indeterminism is just as incompatible with free agency as determinism.
You cannot be an authentic free agent if your choices and acts are inherently random under indeterministic natural causal laws, just as you cannot be an authentic free agent if your choices and acts are inherently strictly necessitated under deterministic natural causal laws.
Or in other words, necessarily, if we’re either deterministic machines or indeterministic machines, then we’re not free agents; and necessarily, if we’re free agents, then we’re not machines of any kind, whether deterministic or indeterministic.
Therefore, at least implicitly, Kantian anti-mechanism has broader scope than Kant’s anti-determinism, and therefore, by the methodological principle of interpreting Kant and CPR is a rationally charitable way, we should theoretically privilege Kant’s anti-mechanism over Kant’s anti-determinism when formulating and evaluating his theory of free agency.
And I’ll come back to that subtle but also fundamentally important point in my comments on Bxxv-Bxxxi too.
I’ve now unpacked, on Kant’s behalf, the reasons for recognizing the theoretical and practical positive, and not merely negative, utility of restricting the scope of metaphysics and natural science/physics to the domain of manifestly real natural objects; yet curiously, the political analogy that Kant offers to understanding these reasons seems jarringly off-target:
To deny this service of critique is of any positive utility would be as much as to say that the police are of no positive utility because their chief business is to put a stop to the violence that citizens have to fear from other citizens, so that each can carry on his own affairs in peace and safety. (CPR xxv)
The jarring disanalogy is that
(i) since the social institution of the police is inherently coercive and authoritarian, treating people merely as means or as mere things according to political laws issued by the government, and claiming that these laws and this treatment must be heeded and obeyed simply because the government has decreed them and the police, as the enforcement arm of the government, possess the power to coerce in order to compel people’s compliance,
(ii) then how then could the police be of any positive practical utility in the sense that’s entailed by Kant’s moral theory, which categorically forbids treating people merely as means or as mere things?
In short, although countless generations of orthodox Kant-scholars and Kantians have either simply overlooked or outright denied it, Kant’s neo-Hobbesian liberal political theory in The Doctrine of Right, since it’s grounded on the coercive authoritarianism of the State, is strictly inconsistent with his moral theory in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason.[iii]
My diagnosis of this misguided analogy in the context of Kant’s theory of metaphysics in CPR, then, is that it’s intimately bound up with Kant’s basic misunderstanding of the nature and implications of his own political theory, circa 1787, a misunderstanding that’s a characteristic feature of his Critical period, and that he wasn’t in fact able to sort out this basic misunderstanding until he’d advanced to his post-Critical period, after 1787, and indeed not until he’d written Religion with the Bounds of Mere Reason in the early 1790s.[iv]
Viewed in that light, with 20–20 hindsight 234 years later, an essentially more apt and illuminating political analogy for the positive theoretical and practical utility of restricting the scope of metaphysics and natural science/physics to the domain of manifestly real natural objects, would have been a broadly Kantian anarcho-socialism, which is the same as what I’ve called (in order to avoid or at least pre-empt contemporary taboos associated with uses of the words “anarchism” and “socialism”) a broadly Kantian realistically optimist dignitarian humanism.[v]
To deny this service of critique is of any positive utility would be as much as to say that [anarcho-socialism, which consists in our all exiting the State in order to create and sustain a real-world universal cosmopolitan ethical community in solidarity with one another is] of no positive utility because [its] chief business is to put a stop to the violence that citizens have to fear from [the State and the police], so that [everyone, by sufficiently respecting the human dignity of everyone, including themselves] can [realize the highest good, at least to some salient extent]. (CPR xxv, square-bracketted substitutions added)
[i] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Kant’s Anti-Mechanism and Kantian Anti-Mechanism,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Science 45 (2014), available online at URL = <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369848614000107>.
[ii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, Kant, Science, and Human Nature (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006), esp. ch. 8.
[iii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature,” Con-Textos Kantianos 5 (2017): 167–189, available online at URL = <https://www.con-textoskantianos.net/index.php/revista/article/view/228>; and R. Hanna, “How to Mind the Gaps: On Oliver Thorndyke’s Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy,” Critique (2018), also available online in preview at URL = <https://www.academia.edu/37263683/How_to_Mind_the_Gaps_On_Oliver_Thorndykes_Kants_Transition_Project_and_Late_Philosophy_Critique_2018_>.
[v] See, e.g., R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 4) (New York: Nova Science, 2018); and R. Hanna, “A Theory of Human Dignity,” (Unpublished MS, 2021), available online HERE.
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