Monday, June 1, 2009

midnight musings...

I have been hanging around at author Greg Nyquist's AynRandContraHumanNature blog lately looking for something to do online. Finding something to do offline never seems to be a problem, it is the online world which is seriously lacking. A blog is not that much different from usenet, just less busy and more controlled. However, it seems that at least one basic law still applies: the shorter the post, the angrier the poster, because less thought is required to be angry. Or to put it another way, it takes fewer intellectual "muscles" to be angry.

For those of my few readers who don't know me, I am a one-time Randroid, and I was Leonard Peikoff's "number one fan" up to around 1998. I already knew, at that time, that Rand and co. were wrong about Kant (and about most other philosophers), but it took some more time for me to realize that they were just plain wrong about almost everything.

I knew they were wrong about Kant from my first-hand reading and studying of the Critique of Pure Reason. At first, in true Randroid fashion, I took it for granted that Immanuel Kant was, as Rand stated somewhere, "the most evil man in mankind's history." But since I sometimes enjoy abstruse writings I decided to check out his Critique for myself. There at the local library I found some confirmation of Rand's and Peikoff's criticism of Kant, but for the most part I had not a clue what Kant was saying. I did find, however, that the NKS translation I was reading was very soothing in an aesthetic sense. It was a pleasant, albeit incomprehensible, read.

This last is not a factor to take lightly. It was, indeed, the reason for my buying my own copy of the Critique, in an effort not only to understand it but to enjoy it. I found that making an effort to understand the book detracted from my enjoyment it, and that the adage "analysis kills" was certainly true from my own personal perspective.

However, I don't believe that enjoyment is necessary to understanding, and I eventually persevered in reading and basically understanding the Critique. It was not easy, and 25 years later I am still only making progress, the end of which is seemingly set to eternity.

It is really quite difficult to make the leap into the transcendental, somewhat like trying to imagine structures in 4 dimensions. The mind naturally finds it easier to stay in the usual 3 dimensional world, and it takes constant practice in order to prevent one's mind from lapsing into the lesser, more common-sense view of the world held from childhood. It is easy to see, therefore, why some people prefer Rand over Kant, that is, they prefer the world of their childhood via the feeling of escapist nostalgia over playing with model trains which seems more grown up when reading about "real" trains and "serious" grown-up moral/political issues in a grown-up fantasy novel like Atlas Shrugged).

I have found over the years, and thousands of conversations with Randroids, that it is difficult for them to make these first steps to true adulthood if they believe that this requires being weaned away from Rand's teat, and imagine the terror of being led from Rand to Kant's waiting arms. But Kant doesn't want them, that is only their delusion. Kant wants them to grow up, not merely to crawl from one master to another. Kant is only showing them the way to themselves, individually speaking.

The first baby step to intellectual individuation is to understand that nothing outside the mind is to be taken for granted. That is not skepticism, that is the reality of seeing how science has advanced down through the centuries, tossing aside assumptions, forming new paradigm shifts, erasing prejudices about the world.

The first step in Kant's view is to start with the basics which is the world around you, and then cut it in half: into that which is experienceable, and that which is not. He does this by taking the findings of previous philosophers with regard to the senses to their ultimate extreme. Everything we perceive is via the modification of the senses. When light-waves reach the eyes, they become color. When vibrations in the air reach the ears, they become sound. When something presses against the skin, it becomes pressure. This is all a function of the senses, to translate that which comes from outside the senses into a form which is perceivable by the mind.

But this view assumes that some of the perceived elements arrive in the mind unmodified, which is dualistic and even idealistic. So Kant takes this argument a step further. There is not just the senses, there is also the sensibility, one of the faculties of the mind. The sensibility carries along with it two a priori functions: space and time. In this way Kant finished the task begun centuries before. Not only are sound, touch, taste, texture, pressure, color, and so on, reduced to subjective appearances, but so also are space - extendedness - and time - simultaneity and duration. Furthermore, space and time do not mentally arise as some modified version of an external reality, as do color, sound, etc. They do not originate outside of us at all, but are completely a priori. All properties of an object are therefore subjective.

One would think, therefore, that the goal of the empirical idealist (Berkeley) is now complete, and that Kant has only completed his task. But one would therefore be sadly mistaken. For it is only by assuming that space and time are outside us that everything is reduced to the subjective, not only the properties of an object which reach the senses, but also the object itself. For Kant has not, even through his Critique of space and time, reduced the object itself to subjectivity, but only its appearance for us, that is, its mental representation which is a sum-total of its properties as modifications of the senses, and the spatial/temporal which lend the appearance its form.

Recall that the view before Kant's time had the thing-in-itself in space and time external to the mind, with its various properties as modifications of the senses, a view which literally splits the thing into two ontological divisions. Yet it is this view which reduced the thing to illusion. What matters here is that its spatial/temporal properties are only properties of the mind (not the senses, but the sensibility), and that now, when I refer to it, I am no longer referring to anything beyond the appearance of the thing.

Kant has various arguments supporting the ideality of space. A left- and a right-handed glove are, mathematically speaking, completely isomorphic; and yet, one glove cannot fit inside the other. Its left- or right-handedness is therefore an appearance, but not an illusion, of the mind. Kant makes a similar argument regarding the reflection of a hand or an ear in a mirror. He also talked about the moon appearing larger on the horizon, and how this effect cannot be traced back to any external physical cause such as refraction of its light in the atmosphere, as with the stick appearing bent by its light refracting through water. This last is a true illusion, but the moon's large appearance on the horizon, or small appearance at its zenith, is nothing more than the effect of its relationship to us in space. It is an effect of the mind.

Kant uses this observation to great advantage. It is no longer permissible to talk about the thing-in-itself, that is, the thing out of all relationship to the mind. If you want to pretend you are God, in that relying on your sensing mind is irrelevant and unnecessary, then you are free to do so, but don't call the result of your ponderings either philosophy or science. His focus is therefore no longer on the problem of intrinsic being or any such fallacy, but on the mental faculties themselves and how they act upon its own content, every possible object in experience having been reduced to its appearance for us which is basically just content for the mind to work over. That which cannot become experience is not held under consideration here. The ancient Problem of Universals, discussed on ARCHN, and also by the Randroids, is now a dead non-issue.

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