From arithmetic, geometry and kinematics through mechanics to life.

Steiner’s first lecture of the First Scientific Lecture-Course, the so called, ‘Light course’, given in Stuttgart, on the 23rd December 1919, can be read here and it can be listened to here

He explains how the natural scientists of his day proceeded. They were interested in categorising, looking for causes behind phenomena, and observing phenomena to arrive at the ‘laws’ of nature. Goethe did not proceed in this way. He was not interested in looking for and speculating about unknown causes or categorisation. He looked at nature and observed how it was forever changing and studied this metamorphosis in great detail. He wished to stay within the observable to ask what it could tell him without speculating about any laws or hidden world behind the one observed.

The natural science are forever looking for pointwise forces to explain life. But, according to Steiner, life cannot be explained in this way. Life is formed out of the universal peripheral forces. These forces are not the same as the mechanical pointwise forces which are open to measurement. Steiner explains it thus:

Say you were studying the play of forces in an animal or vegetable embryo or germ-cell; with this method you would never find your way. No doubt it seems an ultimate ideal to the Science of today, to understand even organic phenomena in terms of potentials, of centric forces of some kind. It will be the dawn of a new world-conception in this realm when it is recognized that the thing cannot be done in this way, Phenomena in which Life is working can never be understood in terms of centric forces. Why, in effect, — why not? Diagrammatically, let us here imagine that we are setting out to study transient, living phenomena of Nature in terms of Physics. We look for centres, — to study the potential effects that may go out from such centres. Suppose we find the effect. If I now calculate the potentials, say for the three points a, b and c, I find that a will work thus and thus on A, B and C, or c on A’, B’ and C’; and so on. I should thus get a notion of how the integral effects will be, in a certain sphere, subject to the potentials of such and such centric forces. Yet in this way I could never explain any process involving Life. In effect, the forces that are essential to a living thing have no potential; they are not centric forces. If at a given point d you tried to trace the physical effects due to the influences of a, b and c, you would indeed be referring to the effects to centric forces, and you could do so. But if you want to study the effects of Life you can never do this. For these effects, there are no centres such as a or b or c. Here you will only take the right direction with your thinking when you speak thus: Say that at d there is something alive. I look for the forces to which the life is subject. I shall not find them in a, nor in b, nor in c, nor when I go still farther out. I only find them when as it were I go to the very ends of the world — and, what is more, to the entire circumference at once. Taking my start from d, I should have to go to the outermost ends of the Universe and imagine forces to the working inward from the spherical circumference from all sides, forces which in their interplay unite in d. It is the very opposite of the centric forces with their potentials. How to calculate a potential for what works inward from all sides, from the infinitudes of space? In the attempt, I should have to dismember the forces; one total force would have to be divided into ever smaller portions. Then I should get nearer and nearer the edge of the World: — the force would be completely sundered, and so would all my calculation. Here in effect it is not centric forces; it is cosmic, universal forces that are at work. Here, calculation ceases.

This lecture was given just over a century ago and so the terminology is a bit dated and science has made a vast amount of progress since then, but his points still stand.
The difference between Goethe’s scientific method and the standard methods of natural science is the same difference that separates the practice of Euclidean geometry from that of projective geometry. In the former, lengths and angles are measured and calculated, in the latter there are no measurements as such, it is concerned with the mobility and transformation of form as it is expressed between point and plane.

Goethe takes natural science beyond its self-imposed limits just as projective geometry takes Euclidean geometry beyond its limits.

Feel free to read or listen to the lecture linked to above and comment as you see fit.

347 thoughts on “From arithmetic, geometry and kinematics through mechanics to life.

  1. Kantian Naturalist:

    The difference between how Goethe proceeded and how Helmholtz proceeded is informative of the contrast between a holistic outlook and a reductionist outlook.

    Sure, if you want to use the words “holistic” and “reductionist” in a way that doesn’t make sense.

    Helmholtz would like to separate everything out into cause and effect, From the observed world he imagines behind it a world of spinning atoms and forces which is taken to be the fundamental reality. But this sub microscopic world can only be modelled using mental pictures taken from sense experience. Take away the mental pictures and all that is left is pure mathematics.

    Mental pictures are a useful crutch when teaching science to children in schools, but that doesn’t describe how physicists or psychologists go about their business as scientists. In doing science, what matters are the law-governed or law-like relations between the components of the model that explains the data that have been collected in measurements.

    Scientists are people like anyone else. Experts in particular fields may be able to separate models from reality, but the way subjects are taught seldom makes the distinction obvious to the lay person.

    Goethe proceed in the opposite direction. He doesn’t want to speculate on what is behind the senses. He wants to use his senses in a way that they will display more than they at first reveal. How does he do this? By using his thinking mind. If he gathers together as many sense experiences in time and space of the object under study he can then use his mind to interrelate all these experiences and by this means get an overall view of the natural processes as they take place in reality. He went far beyond just accepting what his senses were telling him.

    Yes, I get that. I have read Goethe, you know. I understand his method as a poet and as a lover of nature. What we’re arguing about is whether this method deserves to be called scientific.

    Have you read his Theory of Colours”?

    In Chaos: Making a New Science James Gleick had this to say concerning the physicist Mitchell Feigenbaum, pioneer of chaos theory.

    Feigenbaum persuaded himself that Goethe had been right about color. Goethe’s ideas resemble a facile notion, popular among psychologists, that makes a distinction between hard physical reality and the variable subjective perception of it. The colors we perceive vary from time to time and from person to person—that much is easy to say. But as Feigenbaum understood them, Goethe’s ideas had more true science in them. They were hard and empirical. Over and over again, Goethe emphasized the repeatability of his experiments. It was the perception of color, to Goethe, that was universal and objective. What scientific evidence was there for a definable real-world quality of redness independent of our perception?

    According to Gleick, ” Where Newton was reductionist, Goethe was holistic” and he has Feigenbaum saying, “Redness is not necessarily a particular bandwidth of light, as the Newtonians would have it”.

    In order to judge Steiner on these matter you would be required to read and understand what he is saying in his basic books such as “The Philosophy of Freedom”, at the very least. I know you are not prepared to do this.

    I’ve read every passage of Steiner’s you have posted or linked to.

    I understand quite well the historical context in which he’s writing because I have read Helmholtz and Schopenhauer, so I’m actually in a good position to determine whether his contributions to philosophy are worthwhile.

    I don’t think they are, because I don’t think he understands the epistemological issues that he’s talking about. I think his description of “critical idealism” shows a fairly basic misunderstanding of Kant, and I think that he doesn’t understand why naive realism is badly confused.

    Direct realism may be good for art but it’s bad for epistemology. Either Steiner doesn’t see the difference, or he doesn’t care. Neither is a good look.

    And I believe that you misunderstand Steiner, as I probably do to some extent. Not being able to read German, I have to rely on translations which doesn’t help. And obviously his books are more reliable than the transcripts of lectures which were meant for a particular audience at a particular time.

  2. DNA_Jock:

    CharlieM: With your focus on collimated light you seem to think what I am talking about is due to chromatic aberration. It has nothing to do with that.

    Splutter! Well, we agree on one thing: this has nothing to do with chromatic aberration. Your lack of understanding of basic optics is duly noted.

    Then if it has nothing to do with chromatic aberration, you haven’t made it very clear what you mean.

    The image shown below has been taken from this article. The white I am talking about can be seen at position ! and this is with a parallel beam of light. It would seem that Newton was aware of this.

    Yes, he was, and he noted that it was the predicted consequence of inadequately collimated light. I am curious about the grey area in your image. Does it actually exist?

    The figure below and an accompanying quote comes from Newton’s “Opticks”.Also Figure 6-2 also shows this white area behind face ‘AC’ of the prism although it is reduced in size due to the proportional size of the hole at ‘F’. The grey area you mention will be an area where only scattered light will reach owing to the imperfections in the equipment.

    Newton sets up the basic experiment to align the equipment at the optimal distance where the boundary colours interfere with each other, Goethe takes all scenarios into account.

    Newton: Now if the Paper MN be so near the Prism that the Spaces PT and πτ do not interfere with one another, the distance between them Tπ will be illuminated by all the sorts of Rays in that proportion to one another which they have at their very first coming out of the Prism, and consequently be white.

    The colours he takes to be homogeneal and the white area compound.

    The image below has been taken from the wall of my basement. The adequately collimated light I am talking about can be seen to the left. You will note that ROYGBIV can be seen at all distances from the prism.

    The cover of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is not an accurate representation. For that you can go to Newton’s Opticks.

    (My daughter has my copy which I bought in 1973. She loves vinyl.)

    You should check out what people can do with diffraction gratings!

    I have looked at diffraction gratings and interferometers.

  3. Neil Rickert:

    CharlieM: I don’t think you are giving self-conscious, rational, reflective thinking its due.

    Of course I am. However, neither you nor Dennett are giving bird songs their due.

    I have no doubt that human language is far more valuable than bird songs — if you evaluate from a human perspective. But what if you evaluate from a bird perspective.

    My real point is that we do not have absolute standards by which we can settle such questions.

    The thing is that we have a vast amount of communicable knowledge of birds, their abilities, their lifestyles, their evolution, their behaviour and so on. What do you think birds know about us?

  4. CharlieM: Then if it has nothing to do with chromatic aberration, you haven’t made it very clear what you mean.

    Well, you haven’t offered any reason why it IS related to chromatic aberration. I mean, you’ve been talking about dispersion all this time, but you brought up ‘chromatic aberration’ in response to my insisting on the importance of adequately collimated light. Dispersion is the cause of chromatic aberration, sure, but we are talking about the former, not the latter.
    I think I’ve been pretty clear from the get-go (in 2018):

    Only if you are working with inadequately collimated light.
    Use collimated light (y’know, like a sane person would) and you can explain all the effects of your video (and more) as being the result of good old-fashioned Newtonian optics. Easy way to get collimated light: punch a hole in a window blind to get a beautiful parallel beam of sunlight. Put THAT through a prism and you’ll get ROYGBIV at all distances.

    Just make sure it’s a small hole…
    I note with considerable amusement that the very next comment is petrushka noting “Or, you could just look at a CD. ”
    LOL

    CharlieM: The grey area you mention will be an area where only scattered light will reach owing to the imperfections in the equipment.

    Well, that’s utter rubbish.

    CharlieM: The cover of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is not an accurate representation.

    Well, it is more accurate than the figure you offered up, with its fictional gray zone.

    For that you can go to Newton’s Opticks.

    Thank you for providing an accurate diagram, from Newton’s Opticks. As previously noted, this is where he explains the “Goethean” result as being the simple consequence of inadequately collimated light. Newton has a parsimonious explanation for the light seen at all distances. He has earlier demonstrated the nature of white light; here in case you missed it he deliberately uses inadequately collimated light, saying “a Prism refracting the Light of the Sun, which comes into a dark Chamber through a hole Fφ almost as broad as the Prism“.

  5. Scientists are people like anyone else. Experts in particular fields may be able to separate models from reality, but the way subjects are taught seldom makes the distinction obvious to the lay person.

    Well, what do you want to talk about? What scientists actually do, or what laypeople imagine scientists do? I care about the former a lot and the second not much at all. The popular understanding of science is a complete travesty.

    Have you read his Theory of Colours”?

    No, not yet.

    In Chaos: Making a New Science James Gleick had this to say concerning the physicist Mitchell Feigenbaum, pioneer of chaos theory.

    According to Gleick, ” Where Newton was reductionist, Goethe was holistic” and he has Feigenbaum saying, “Redness is not necessarily a particular bandwidth of light, as the Newtonians would have it”.

    A good deal depends on whether we’re talking about color or about light.

    If we’re talking about color, then Goethe is surely right that we need to take into account the structured processes of the perceiving organism in their causal entanglement with the structured processes of light and the environment.

    But that’s a distinct issue from whether science requires constructing a testable model of the phenomena or mere attentiveness to the testimony of the senses.

    As Helmholtz observes, a testable model of the animal-environment relationship was unthinkable to Goethe because in his time, electricity had not yet been discovered, and without that, no one could even begin to figure out how nerves work.

  6. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM (on using mathematics as a tool to explain reality): It helps.

    It helps whom (as my pedantic retired English teacher friend would say)?

    It helps the person who is using it as I have tried to demonstrate below.

    CharlieM: Are there really such a thing as parallel lines? Do they ever meet?

    No. Therefore they can neither meet nor not meet. Cretan logic for you.

    They do meet at infinity.

    Take a line on a graph, y=mx+c where m=1 and c=2. This will give you a line sloping upwards to the right at an angle of 45 degrees and cutting the y axis at 2 and the x axis at -2. As the slope (m) moves towards 0 the line will cross the x axis at an ever increasing distance to the left from the origin. At m=0 the crossing point of the line will be at infinity and the line will be parallel to the x axis. When m then moves past 0 into the negative range the crossing point of the line will appear out of infinity into the far right of the graph.

    When the line on the graph is rotated there is no time when it can be said that it does not cross the x axis.

  7. Alan Fox:

    So you leave no room for degrees of comprehension? We can either comprehend fully or not at all?

    Fair point. But I have always argued against binarism. In our understanding, we approach reality asymptotically. Degrees of accuracy, with a pie-slice of ignorance. Trouble us we don’t know what we don’t know and can’t know what we can’t know

    Steiner answers the question, “are there limits to knowledge?” here

    And Barfield in his book Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, relates our gaining knowledge of the world to the evolution of consciousness. We have emerged from a position of earlier awareness which “involved experiencing the phenomena as representations; the latter preoccupation involves experiencing them, non-representationally, as objects in their own right, existing independently of human consciousness.” This in its extreme form he has called “idolatry”.

    And this is exactly what Newton has done with colour. Ask yourself what he meant when he said the white light contains all the colours of the rainbow. Goethe understood that colour presupposed the being that perceived it. It is meaningless to think of it in any other way. Newton treated colours as objects in their own right.

  8. CharlieM: And this is exactly what Newton has done with colour. Ask yourself what he meant when he said the white light contains all the colours of the rainbow. Goethe understood that colour presupposed the being that perceived it. It is meaningless to think of it in any other way. Newton treated colours as objects in their own right.

    More precisely, Newton treated color as an intrinsic property of light, rather than a relational property involving light and perceivers. Since Theory of Color was first published in 1810, Goethe has certainly read Kant by then. I don’t know the literature on Kant’s influence on Goethe’s color theory. But the shift from naive realism (colors are intrinsic properties of objects and/or light) to relationalism (colors are relations between light, objects, and perceivers certainly suggests to me a strong Kantian influence.

  9. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM,

    Well, you could try italic tags instead of blockquote (which I find less easy to read in long passages). You could emphasize phrases that you thought pertinent, add line-breaks.

    I’ll do my best. I have a bit of a problem when posting comments. There is an “upload file” banner obscuring the edit box above the comments box on my page. I don’t know how it got there nor how to fix it. I’ll post a screenshot of it in ‘moderation issues’ to show you the problem.

    Your reference to ring-pulls reminds me of an event long ago that happened to me in Portsmouth involving a dead cat, cans of beer, family relationships, the Royal Navy and fleas. I’ll spare you.

    You’ve got me intrigued.

  10. Neil Rickert:

    CharlieM: What do you think birds know about us?

    They probably know that we are annoying (to birds).

    Well our resident robin knows that I am a source of food. All I have to do is turn up in the garden with a spade and it will be at my feet cocking its head expectantly.

  11. DNA_Jock:

    CharlieM: Then if it has nothing to do with chromatic aberration, you haven’t made it very clear what you mean.

    Well, you haven’t offered any reason why it IS related to chromatic aberration. I mean, you’ve been talking about dispersion all this time, but you brought up ‘chromatic aberration’ in response to my insisting on the importance of adequately collimated light. Dispersion is the cause of chromatic aberration, sure, but we are talking about the former, not the latter.
    I think I’ve been pretty clear from the get-go (in 2018):

    Only if you are working with inadequately collimated light.
    Use collimated light (y’know, like a sane person would) and you can explain all the effects of your video (and more) as being the result of good old-fashioned Newtonian optics. Easy way to get collimated light: punch a hole in a window blind to get a beautiful parallel beam of sunlight. Put THAT through a prism and you’ll get ROYGBIV at all distances.

    I have never argued that it is due to chromatic aberration.

    Look at this video of a demonstration of one of Newton’s experiments. He is attempting to get the white light to spread into the spectrum and then to converge into white light once again. He starts with a nice collimated beam which passes through a prism. He places a second prism close to the first but leaving a gap. He explains that the light between the prisms is still white because the light has not had a chance to spread enough to produce the colours.

    He increases the gap to show us that colours will emerge if given enough room to do so. We then look at this new positioning, say to this point, and what is clear is that the white light coming out of the first prism is becoming more grey as it approaches the second prism, and the light emerging from the second prism has coloured edges with grey at the centre.

    Just make sure it’s a small hole…

    The narrow beam used in the video linked to above disproves that argument.

    I note with considerable amusement that the very next comment is petrushka noting “Or, you could just look at a CD. ”
    LOL

    Yes, Goethe deals with colour produced in this way in the section on what he calls ‘physical colours’ in The Theory of Colours. He couldn’t find any CDs lying around so he used steel wire 🙂

    CharlieM: The grey area you mention will be an area where only scattered light will reach owing to the imperfections in the equipment.

    Well, that’s utter rubbish.

    I’ll admit it is not a satisfactory answer. Like the prisms, my reasoning was not absolutely clear. As seen in the video the grey area is a direct observation. It looks grey because the light in this area has diminished.

    CharlieM: The cover of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is not an accurate representation.

    Well, it is more accurate than the figure you offered up, with its fictional gray zone.

    The video says otherwise.

    For that you can go to Newton’s Opticks.

    Thank you for providing an accurate diagram, from Newton’s Opticks. As previously noted, this is where he explains the “Goethean” result as being the simple consequence of inadequately collimated light. Newton has a parsimonious explanation for the light seen at all distances. He has earlier demonstrated the nature of white light; here in case you missed it he deliberately uses inadequately collimated light, saying “a Prism refracting the Light of the Sun, which comes into a dark Chamber through a hole Fφ almost as broad as the Prism“.

    And if the size of the hole was steadily reduced at what point would the central white area disappear? Look at Newton’s diagram above If you image the hole on the right shrinking, at what point would the triangle of white depicted on the left emerging from the prism disappear altogether?

    I will note that unlike many people today who would insist that all the colours are contained in the white light, Newton make it clear that this is the wrong way to think about it. He recognised that putting it like that is obviously nonsensical. From The Opticks he said:

    And if at any time I speak of Light and Rays as coloured or endued with Colours, I would be understood to speak not philosophically and properly, but grossly, and accordingly to such Conceptions as vulgar People in seeing all these Experiments would be apt to frame. For the Rays to speak properly are not coloured. In them there is nothing else than a certain Power and Disposition to stir up a Sensation of this or that Colour

    Light cannot be defined in terms of colour nor can it be defined in terms of wavelength. Colours are an effect light produces directly in our perception and wavelengths are an effect light produces indirectly in our perception.

  12. Kantian Naturalist:

    Scientists are people like anyone else. Experts in particular fields may be able to separate models from reality, but the way subjects are taught seldom makes the distinction obvious to the lay person.

    Well, what do you want to talk about? What scientists actually do, or what laypeople imagine scientists do? I care about the former a lot and the second not much at all. The popular understanding of science is a complete travesty.

    The problem is that the trend is that scientists are becoming so specialised that only the narrow group of experts in any particular field understands the subject and everyone else including other scientists have to take on faith what they say.

    Specialists have a responsibility to ensure that information is disseminated accurately and those who teach the subjects are not leading students astray.

    You may care about what scientists actually do, but in most subjects you are a layperson along with the rest of us so how can you be sure your understanding hasn’t been influenced by misinformed teaching?

    Have you read his Theory of Colours”?

    No, not yet.

    At least it’s available free online for anyone showing an interest.

    In Chaos: Making a New Science James Gleick had this to say concerning the physicist Mitchell Feigenbaum, pioneer of chaos theory.

    According to Gleick, ” Where Newton was reductionist, Goethe was holistic” and he has Feigenbaum saying, “Redness is not necessarily a particular bandwidth of light, as the Newtonians would have it”.

    A good deal depends on whether we’re talking about color or about light.

    If we’re talking about color, then Goethe is surely right that we need to take into account the structured processes of the perceiving organism in their causal entanglement with the structured processes of light and the environment.

    But that’s a distinct issue from whether science requires constructing a testable model of the phenomena or mere attentiveness to the testimony of the senses.

    Goethe goes beyond the testimony of the senses. Against the Kantian way of thinking Goethe wrote
    “If, in the moral realm through faith in God, virtue and immortality, we are to lift ourselves into the higher region and to approach the first Being, we should be in the same situation in the intellectual field, so that we, through the contemplation of an ever creative nature, should make ourselves worthy of a spiritual participation in its productions. As I had at first unconsciously and, following an inner instinct, insisted upon and relentlessly striven toward the archetypal, the typical, as I had even succeeded in constructing an appropriate picture, there was now nothing to keep me from courageously risking the adventure of reason, as the old man from Koenigsberg himself calls it.”

    Kantian Naturalist: As Helmholtz observes, a testable model of the animal-environment relationship was unthinkable to Goethe because in his time, electricity had not yet been discovered, and without that, no one could even begin to figure out how nerves work.

    And as Steiner said:
    “The archetypal phenomenon represents a necessary relationship between the elements of the perceptual world. One could hardly say something wider of the mark than what H. Helmholtz presented in his address to the Weimar Goethe Conference on June 11, 1892: ‘It is a pity that Goethe, at that time, did not know the undulation theory of light that Huyghens had already presented; this would have provided him with a far more correct and surveyable ‘archetypal phenomenon’ than the scarcely adequate and very complicated process that he finally chose to this end in the colors of turbid mediums.’ ”

    Goethe was not looking for a testable model of the means by which knowledge is achieved, he left that to the natural scientists. If nature was a book, Goethe was interested in understanding the story it told, delving into the meanings of individual words was of secondary concern. Understand Goethe when he says, “eveything factual is already theory” (theory in its original sense).

    Steiner again:
    “The ‘breaking down’ of sense-perceptible processes into unperceivable mechanical motion has become so habitual to modern physicists that they seem to have no inkling at all of the fact that they are setting an abstraction in the place of reality”

    Our abstractions are imagined to have qualities that we borrow from our sense experiences. How else can we form a mental picture of them?

    Goethe did not deny that colours come from the light. He was saying that they are not in the light, they are created by the light when it interplays with darkness.

  13. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: And this is exactly what Newton has done with colour. Ask yourself what he meant when he said the white light contains all the colours of the rainbow. Goethe understood that colour presupposed the being that perceived it. It is meaningless to think of it in any other way. Newton treated colours as objects in their own right.

    More precisely, Newton treated color as an intrinsic property of light, rather than a relational property involving light and perceivers. Since Theory of Color was first published in 1810, Goethe has certainly read Kant by then. I don’t know the literature on Kant’s influence on Goethe’s color theory. But the shift from naive realism (colors are intrinsic properties of objects and/or light) to relationalism (colors are relations between light, objects, and perceivers certainly suggests to me a strong Kantian influence

    Steiner saw Goethe and Kant as two “spiritual antipodes”. Goethe thought of nature as all-encompassing and the human mind owed its existence to and was as much a part of nature as the simplest of creatures. Kant on the other hand thought of nature as being within the human mind. Kant was a sophisticated philosopher who set limits to knowledge, Goethe philosophised naively. Both were trying to fathom the problem of existence in their own respective ways. Kant’s view that “reason does not derive its laws from nature but prescribes them to nature”, was the opposite to that held by Goethe who saw the laws of nature as being an “open secret” that she reveals to those who study her with enough care and thoroughness.

    Goethe got great joy out of reading the works of Kant but he also wrote:
    “Passionately stimulated, I proceeded on my own paths so much the quicker because I, myself, did not know where they led, and because I found little resonance with the Kantians for what I had conquered for myself and for the methods in which I had arrived at my results. For I expressed what had been stirred up in me and not what I had read.”

    Goethe said that the biggest influences on him were Shakespeare, Spinoza and Carl Linnaeus, and he sought for unity. He said to his friend Jacobi:

    “God has punished you with metaphysics and placed a thorn in your flesh; he has blessed me with physics. I cling to the atheist’s (Spinoza’s) worship of God and leave everything to you that you call, and may continue to call, religion. Your trust rests in belief in God; mine in seeing.”
    He could have said it equally to Kant.

    Kant’s mathematical way of thinking led him to inner conflict forcing him to have to say, ““I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith”.

    Goethe would never deny knowledge.

  14. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: cocking its head expectantly

    Split brain alert

    Split vision alert, even.

    With its monocular vision it could be keeping one eye on me and the other on the ground where its food will soon be wriggling about.

    Speaking of bird vision, in general they may have far superior vision to humans, but one reason that we humans have an advantage over our crow cousins when it comes to tool use is in our bodily design. Our arms can move independent of our heads.

    Due to the fact that the eyes and beaks of crows are both located in the head their independent movement is severely curtailed. By having adapted their forelimbs for flight they have forfeited their potential use as creative tools. Beaks are an inferior substitute for hands when it comes to manipulatory skills.

  15. CharlieM: Kant’s view that “reason does not derive its laws from nature but prescribes them to nature”, was the opposite to that held by Goethe who saw the laws of nature as being an “open secret” that she reveals to those who study her with enough care and thoroughness.

    It seems fairly clear to me, as someone who has studied Kant closely and has read some Goethe, that Kant and Goethe are not opposed. Goethe is talking about how we should observe nature; Kant is talking about what must be true about the mind in order for us to be able to do science.

    CharlieM: Kant’s mathematical way of thinking led him to inner conflict forcing him to have to say, ““I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith”.

    Kant’s way of thinking is not in any sense “mathematical” and I don’t know what you could mean by his “inner conflict.” At this point I suspect you don’t understand Kant, because you are relying on Steiner’s reading of Kant and taking it as authoritative.

    In context, Kant is saying that he found it necessary to restrict the boundaries of knowledge in order to make faith rationally defensible. As he saw it, unrestricted reason leads to endless quarrels that cannot be resolved. Do we have free will? Does God exist? Is the soul immortal? One can construct a comprehensive metaphysical system in which the answer to those questions is “yes” and another comprehensive metaphysical system in which the answer to those questions is “no”. We cannot appeal to experience or to logic for telling us which metaphysics is the correct one. So reason is divided against itself.

    The only way forward (he thought) was to restrict can be known to possible experience, understood as causal relations between objects locatable in Space and in Time. This permits a rational faith, insofar as one is permitted to believe in the existence of God, the freedom of the will, and the immortality of the soul as what is thinkable but not knowable.

    In any event, it is clear to me that you care a lot about some mystical intuition that makes you feel good and don’t really care about whether or not Steiner and his epigones knew what they were talking about. Further interaction with you is not a good use of my time.

  16. CharlieM: With its monocular vision it could be keeping one eye on me and the other on the ground where its food will soon be wriggling about.

    Stopped clock alert!

  17. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Kant’s view that “reason does not derive its laws from nature but prescribes them to nature”, was the opposite to that held by Goethe who saw the laws of nature as being an “open secret” that she reveals to those who study her with enough care and thoroughness.

    It seems fairly clear to me, as someone who has studied Kant closely and has read some Goethe, that Kant and Goethe are not opposed. Goethe is talking about how we should observe nature; Kant is talking about what must be true about the mind in order for us to be able to do science.

    I’m not saying they were opposed. That would be a silly remark to make without qualification as to what the opposition involved. Obviously they were in agreement about some things and disagreed about others.

    For example Georg Simmel, German sociologist and philosopher also studied Kant and had a neo-Kantian perspective, wrote:
    Simmel: “There is a fundamental strand in his Weltanschauung that differentiates him absolutely from Kant, in that Goethe seeks the unity of the subjective and objective principles, of nature and mind, within their appearances. Nature herself, as she is vividly present in front of our eyes, is for him the immediate product and evidence of mental powers, of formative ideas. Put theoretically, his whole inner relationship to the world rests on the spirituality of nature, and the naturalness of spirit…

    Despite all the apparent analogies between Goethe and Kant, there is a core difference that must not be overlooked: Goethe solves the equation between object and subject from the side of the object, Kant from the side of the subject – even though not an arbitrary and personalised one, but a subject that is the supra-individual bearer of objective knowledge.”

    Goethe considered everything as being created by nature and Kant thought of the world we perceive around us as the product of our minds with an unknowable reality lying behind it. Kant believed that our senses prevented us from experiencing reality, Goethe believed that our senses didn’t deceive us, they pointed the way towards reality.

    CharlieM: Kant’s mathematical way of thinking led him to inner conflict forcing him to have to say, ““I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith”.

    Kant’s way of thinking is not in any sense “mathematical” and I don’t know what you could mean by his “inner conflict.” At this point I suspect you don’t understand Kant, because you are relying on Steiner’s reading of Kant and taking it as authoritative.

    I’m not sure if everyone would agree with you on this. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    “Kant was a student and a teacher of mathematics throughout his career, and his reflections on mathematics and mathematical practice had a profound impact on his philosophical thought. He developed considered philosophical views on the status of mathematical judgment, the nature of mathematical definitions, axioms and proof, and the relation between pure mathematics and the natural world. Moreover, his approach to the general question “how are synthetic judgments a priori possible?” was shaped by his conception of mathematics and its achievements as a well-grounded science.

    Kant’s philosophy of mathematics is of interest to a variety of scholars for multiple reasons. First, his thoughts on mathematics are a crucial and central component of his critical philosophical system, and so they are illuminating to the historian of philosophy working on any aspect of Kant’s corpus.”

    Kantian Naturalist: In context, Kant is saying that he found it necessary to restrict the boundaries of knowledge in order to make faith rationally defensible. As he saw it, unrestricted reason leads to endless quarrels that cannot be resolved. Do we have free will? Does God exist? Is the soul immortal? One can construct a comprehensive metaphysical system in which the answer to those questions is “yes” and another comprehensive metaphysical system in which the answer to those questions is “no”. We cannot appeal to experience or to logic for telling us which metaphysics is the correct one. So reason is divided against itself.

    The only way forward (he thought) was to restrict can be known to possible experience, understood as causal relations between objects locatable in Space and in Time. This permits a rational faith, insofar as one is permitted to believe in the existence of God, the freedom of the will, and the immortality of the soul as what is thinkable but not knowable.

    And this demonstrates the inner conflict that he had to resolve. We seek knowledge of all things. But all that we can know is our own inner processes. So how do we get to know God? His answer, we can’t. We have to settle for having faith because our knowledge is limited and insufficient.

    In any event, it is clear to me that you care a lot about some mystical intuition that makes you feel good and don’t really care about whether or not Steiner and his epigones knew what they were talking about. Further interaction with you is not a good use of my time

    I do care about getting my facts right regardless of my feelings about them. I’m sorry that you feel our exchanges are a waste of time. I have enjoyed thinking about the challenges you have presented to me and I hope you may be prompted to respond to at least some of my future comments. No doubt at some point I will be commenting on what you say. Where would the fun be if we all agreed with each other?

  18. CharlieM,

    The fact that Kant thought a great deal about the philosophy of mathematics doesn’t show that he had a “mathematical way of thinking,” which is what you claimed.

    CharlieM: And this demonstrates the inner conflict that he had to resolve. We seek knowledge of all things. But all that we can know is our own inner processes. So how do we get to know God? His answer, we can’t. We have to settle for having faith because our knowledge is limited and insufficient.

    Kant would the first person to deny that “all we know is our own inner processes”. He was perfectly aware that if one starts from that assumption, one cannot escape skepticism — that’s precisely what he learned from his careful study of Hume.

    There is a well-known belief amongst philosophers, beginning with Hegel, that Kant’s error was his “subjectivism,” and that this was what led to his agnosticism about things in themselves. I do think that Kant’s agnosticism about things in themselves was a mistake, but his “subjectivism” is not the root of the problem.

  19. Kantian Naturalist: CharlieM,

    The fact that Kant thought a great deal about the philosophy of mathematics doesn’t show that he had a “mathematical way of thinking,” which is what you claimed

    In the preface to the second edition of the “Critique of Pure Reason”, kant said:

    “The examples of mathematics and natural science, which by a single and sudden revolution have become what they now are, seem to me sufficiently remarkable to suggest our considering what may have been the essential features in the changed point of view by which they have greatly benefitted. Their success should incline us, at least by way of experiment, to imitate their procedure, so far as the analogy which, as species of rational knowledge, they bear to metaphysics may permit.”

    Kant wished to proceed by revolutionising the way that metaphysics is dealt with by following, “the example set by geometers and physicists.”

    In my fairly limited understanding here it seems to me that although Kant thought that space and time were fundamentally metaphysical and had no existence save for mind. But the framework of space and time can only be understood by using mathematics. The way in which he tried to resolve epistemological problems was based on mathematics. He resolved the dilemma of how his experiential perceptual world related to the objective world by transferring the objects of sense from the outer world to his inner consciousness. The real world out there was to remain unknowable.in its essence so we should restrict our enquiries to getting a better understanding of what we can know. He assumed that we can know mathematics a priori.

  20. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: And this demonstrates the inner conflict that he had to resolve. We seek knowledge of all things. But all that we can know is our own inner processes. So how do we get to know God? His answer, we can’t. We have to settle for having faith because our knowledge is limited and insufficient.

    Kant would the first person to deny that “all we know is our own inner processes”. He was perfectly aware that if one starts from that assumption, one cannot escape skepticism — that’s precisely what he learned from his careful study of Hume.

    You’re no doubt right.

    There is a well-known belief amongst philosophers, beginning with Hegel, that Kant’s error was his “subjectivism,” and that this was what led to his agnosticism about things in themselves. I do think that Kant’s agnosticism about things in themselves was a mistake, but his “subjectivism” is not the root of the problem.

    Kant believed that the outer experiential world was a representation of a reality that was beyond our capability of knowing. We do however have some innate knowledge which we arrive at through other means than experience. If you are still willing to continue this discussion, would you say that’s a fair assessment?

    Steiner claimed that Kant believed “there exist necessary truths, brought into being by pure thought, free of all element of experience” and that he denied “to experience the possibility of attaining to equally necessary truths.” Do yoy agree with this?

    In my opinion Kant believed in an unbridgeable duality whereas Goethe believed in a monistic polarity where by means of “gentle empiricism” reality, albeit a dynamic evolving reality, was within reach of those who went about it in the right way. This was a major difference between the thinking of both men.

  21. For Charlie

    Ring pulls.

    One of my cousins (I have many) married a mariner (sub-mariner, to be precise) and, as they lived in Portsmouth, offered us a bed for the night so my wife and I could spend an evening with them and catch the morning ferry to France rather than the slow and expensive overnight sailing. A convivial evening ensued, though my cousin and husband retired early pleading tiredness. I was exhorted to help myself to the beers (Ring-pulls!) which I did. I sort of noticed odd little black objects around the ring-pull but just wiped them away and carried on.

    The bed was a sofa-bed but I could have slept anywhere after the intake of beer. At breakfast, my cousin apologised for the early night explaining there had been a bit of a tragedy as their cat had been run over just outside their house just before we arrived and they had brought it in and laid it on the sofa-bed where it had passed away. She hadn’t mentioned it earlier, not wishing to put a damper on the evening.

    I reflected on this while scratching various itches on my wrists and ankles. I haven’t drunk beer from a can since.

  22. CharlieM:

    Kant wished to proceed by revolutionising the way that metaphysics is dealt with by following, “the example set by geometers and physicists.”

    Indeed — but let’s be careful to notice what Kant thinks allowed for the revolution: it was the freedom of thought with regard to the senses.

    In the previous pages, Kant claims that the breakthrough of ancient Greek geometry, relative to Egyptian practices, is that the Greeks thought of geometry as an autonomous discipline with its own rules and procedures, distinct from whatever transpires in the world in which geometry is put to use. Likewise Kant praises Galileo, Torriceli, and Stahl as devising experiments in physics and chemistry — we manipulate nature based on our conceptions, and thereby detect and describe new causal patterns, that were previously undetectable by naive observation. The chief role of experience is to show us where our designs are mistaken and our experiments fail.

    From this Kant proposes an experiment in the method of doing metaphysics: instead of asking “how we can get knowledge of what objects in themselves are really like?” he proposes asking “what are the minimal structures that a mind must have in order to be aware of objects?” And from this he goes to speculate what sorts of capacities and structures a mind must have in order to construct awareness of a world from a barrage of sensory modifications.

    But, one might ask, how would we know if this experiment was successful? What would the criterion of success even be? As Kant sees it, the fundamental problem with metaphysics is that it had gotten a bad reputation, for the following reason.

    The three basic questions of traditional Western metaphysics were, “does God exist?”, “is the soul immortal?” and “do we have free will?” One can construct a comprehensive, consistent metaphysical system in which the answers to those question is “yes”. But it is also possible to construct a comprehensive, consistent metaphysical system in which the answers to those questions is “no”. So how could we ever tell which is right? Here reason is divided against itself: there is no rational basis for preferring one vs the other.

    But whereas Hume thinks this stalemate is a good reason for rejecting all metaphysics altogether, Kant thinks that this stalemate is a result of not doing metaphysics in the right way. The success condition of the Kantian experiment is that it would end reason’s divide against itself by showing why both materialism and theism are correct (in a way) but also mistaken (in a way).

    In my fairly limited understanding here it seems to me that although Kant thought that space and time were fundamentally metaphysical and had no existence save for mind.

    He does think that space and time are only how our sensibility represents objects, and aren’t features of things in themselves. This was his way of trying to resolve the stalemate in physics between the Leibnizians (space and time are only relations between things) and the Newtonians (space and time are the absolutely real background in which objects interact).

    But the framework of space and time can only be understood by using mathematics.

    I’d put it the other way around: we can only understand mathematics in terms of the framework of space and time.

    The way in which he tried to resolve epistemological problems was based on mathematics.

    As I indicated above, I don’t think this is true. For one thing, if it were true, then Kant’s own claims would be presented as deductively valid proofs, which is how he understood mathematics. And they aren’t. In fact he was extremely critical of Descartes and Spinoza for how they took mathematics as a model of how to metaphysics.

    He resolved the dilemma of how his experiential perceptual world related to the objective world by transferring the objects of sense from the outer world to his inner consciousness.

    This isn’t right. Kant does not “transfer objects of sense from outer world to inner consciousness”.

    If “objects of sense in the outer world” means “objects of outer sense” — the physical things we’re aware of, like tables and TVs — and “inner consciousness” means “objects of inner sense” — the mental things we’re aware of, like thoughts and feelings — then consider: in those terms, if Kant had transferred objects from the outer world to the inner world, he would have concluded that space is an illusion but time is not. This is one way of understanding Berkeley’s position, and it is not Kant’s.

    The real world out there was to remain unknowable.in its essence so we should restrict our enquiries to getting a better understanding of what we can know.

    If by “essence” you mean “object considered independent of their relation to us,” then yes, we cannot know anything about objects independent of their relation to us, because our knowledge of them involved our relations with them.

    He assumed that we can know mathematics a priori.

    Indeed, but how could it be otherwise? If mathematics were a posteriori — in Kant’s sense of what that would mean, anyway — then mathematical concepts such as “is equal to” and “is congruent with” would be built up out of sensations such as colors, shapes, and sounds.

    CharlieM: Kant believed that the outer experiential world was a representation of a reality that was beyond our capability of knowing. We do however have some innate knowledge which we arrive at through other means than experience. If you are still willing to continue this discussion, would you say that’s a fair assessment?

    No, I wouldn’t say so. What you said here is misleading in the following sense. It suggests that the outer experiential world is a representation of an unknowable reality, in contrast with an inner world, a mental or psychological world, that is knowable immediately and directly as it is in itself. And that is precisely what Kant intends to reject.

    Rather, Kant would say that the world of physical objects as represented to us in spatial terms is our construction in response to how outer sense is affected by things in themselves (but we cannot say about their essential properties).

    But also, the world of mental events and mental states as represented to us in temporal terms is also our construction in response to inner sense or introspection is affected by ourselves in ourselves, or what is called “the noumenal self”.

    It is true that Kant thinks there is a priori knowledge independent of experience, but this is brought to bear equally in the construction of the outer world from the affections of outer sense (the ‘external senses’) and the construction of the inner world — our thoughts, feelings, moods, aspirations, beliefs, dreams, etc. — from the affections of inner sense or introspection.

    Steiner claimed that Kant believed “there exist necessary truths, brought into being by pure thought, free of all element of experience” and that he denied “to experience the possibility of attaining to equally necessary truths.” Do you agree with this?

    Yes, insofar as Kant thought that we cannot derive necessary truths from experience — the necessity that we discern in the world as experienced is what we bring to bear in how we imagine the world to be, based on the rules that constrain how the imagination functions.

    In my opinion Kant believed in an unbridgeable duality whereas Goethe believed in a monistic polarity where by means of “gentle empiricism” reality, albeit a dynamic evolving reality, was within reach of those who went about it in the right way. This was a major difference between the thinking of both men.

    I won’t speak for Goethe here, but in my understanding of Kant, he is fully committed to the subject-object mutuality thesis: there cannot be objects without there being a subject to take those objects as objects, and there cannot be a subject without there being objects against which the subject can conceptualize itself as a subject.

    That’s consistent with the further thought that we cannot know anything about objects as they are independent of any possible relationship with us.

    As I see it, once you realize that we cannot know anything about an object without standing in some relation with that object, because knowledge is a relation between the knower and the known, it’s just obviously true that we cannot know anything about things in themselves, because things in themselves are defined as what objects are in themselves independent of any relation to us.

    In other words, Kant’s agnosticism about things in themselves isn’t some dramatic earthshattering truth — it’s an analytic truth, perfectly obvious and completely uninteresting.

  23. Alan Fox,

    Hi Alan, I can sympathise with you on your flea experience. Once I bit into the crust of a chip shop pie and looking in at the meat I could see a nicely cooked bluebottle. A second time I bit into a cheese pasty and again some sort of insect was just beyond my bite marks. I wonder how many creatures I’ve eaten inadvertently.

    It did put me off for a short while but it wasn’t long before I was scoffing pies again. As long as any beastie that has become trapped is well cooked, who cares?! But I’d draw the line at live fleas 🙂

    Another time when we were going on holiday to Cornwall we stayed overnight at a friends house on the way down. When we got up I noticed little black things jumping off the carpet onto my ankles. Nasty looking red spots started to appear on my wife’s legs and when I pulled the cover off our bed we could see them jumping about at the bottom of the sheet. My wife is obviously allergic to flea bites as they didn’t affect me anywhere near as much. For her the very noticeable spotty look put a bit of a damper on sunbathing on the beach. Even the regular application of cream didn’t stop the marks lasting for weeks.

  24. Kantian Naturalist: In other words, Kant’s agnosticism about things in themselves isn’t some dramatic earthshattering truth — it’s an analytic truth, perfectly obvious and completely uninteresting.

    It will take me some time to comprehend all that you’ve said in this comment. Hopefully it will help me to clarify any faulty thinking on my part.

    Meanwhile I don’t think that positing unknowable things in themselves is an obvious truth.

    Goethe said that one should never search behind the phenomena, they, in themselves, are the teaching. Archetypes do not sit behind phenomena, they are themselves phenomenal.

  25. CharlieM,

    Sometimes emotion rules the intellect. A few years ago, I was invited to a do at a local bistro run by a Dutch guy who was developing a new line of business. Food from insects. His idea was intensive production of mealworms. The evening involved trying snacks of mealworms prepared in imaginative ways. He had all the facts regarding how nutritious mealworms are and much more sustainable insect protein is compared to mammalian and fish sources. Still didn’t make the snacks enjoyable.

  26. CharlieM: Meanwhile I don’t think that positing unknowable things in themselves is an obvious truth.

    I meant it’s an obvious truth that we cannot know things in themselves, and that’s because “things in themselves” is defined as “things considered independent of their relation to us”.

    We cannot know whether or not things as we experience them as the same as they are when we’re not experiencing them — how could we?

    CharlieM: Goethe said that one should never search behind the phenomena, they, in themselves, are the teaching. Archetypes do not sit behind phenomena, they are themselves phenomenal.

    I suspect that one of the real underlying issues here is about the acceptability of direct realism. Goethe is a direct realist; Kant is not.

    I’ll need to think about how to unpack for us why Kant rejects direct realism. I think his arguments are sophisticated and quite profound.

  27. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM:
    Kant wished to proceed by revolutionising the way that metaphysics is dealt with by following, “the example set by geometers and physicists.”

    Indeed — but let’s be careful to notice what Kant thinks allowed for the revolution: it was the freedom of thought with regard to the senses.

    In the previous pages, Kant claims that the breakthrough of ancient Greek geometry, relative to Egyptian practices, is that the Greeks thought of geometry as an autonomous discipline with its own rules and procedures, distinct from whatever transpires in the world in which geometry is put to use. Likewise Kant praises Galileo, Torriceli, and Stahl as devising experiments in physics and chemistry — we manipulate nature based on our conceptions, and thereby detect and describe new causal patterns, that were previously undetectable by naive observation. The chief role of experience is to show us where our designs are mistaken and our experiments fail.

    But Kant believed that our conceptions are gained a priori and we add them to nature. What right has he to judge them as being a priori knowledge?

    From this Kant proposes an experiment in the method of doing metaphysics: instead of asking “how we can get knowledge of what objects in themselves are really like?” he proposes asking “what are the minimal structures that a mind must have in order to be aware of objects?” And from this he goes to speculate what sorts of capacities and structures a mind must have in order to construct awareness of a world from a barrage of sensory modifications.

    But, one might ask, how would we know if this experiment was successful? What would the criterion of success even be? As Kant sees it, the fundamental problem with metaphysics is that it had gotten a bad reputation, for the following reason.

    The three basic questions of traditional Western metaphysics were, “does God exist?”, “is the soul immortal?” and “do we have free will?” One can construct a comprehensive, consistent metaphysical system in which the answers to those question is “yes”. But it is also possible to construct a comprehensive, consistent metaphysical system in which the answers to those questions is “no”. So how could we ever tell which is right? Here reason is divided against itself: there is no rational basis for preferring one vs the other.

    But whereas Hume thinks this stalemate is a good reason for rejecting all metaphysics altogether, Kant thinks that this stalemate is a result of not doing metaphysics in the right way. The success condition of the Kantian experiment is that it would end reason’s divide against itself by showing why both materialism and theism are correct (in a way) but also mistaken (in a way)

    Yes, Kant believed that up until his time metaphysics had been a mere groping, getting nowhere. He was trying to put it on a sure scientific footing. He wanted to do for knowledge of reality gained through concepts what Copernicus had done for outer reality. He wanted to centre concepts in our subjective minds and not in the objects of sense. Copernicus pointed out that the heavens did not revolve around the observing subject but the subject revolved around the sun. Kant performed a similar reversal of the placing of concepts.

    Goethe grouped concepts into ideas and these ideas he claimed to experience in perceptions. For him their reality was beyond subject and object. He saw that there was a fundamental unity and that any duality conceived of was an artificial construction of our own making.

  28. CharlieM:
    But Kant believed that our conceptions are gained a priori and we add them to nature. What right has he to judge them as being a priori knowledge?

    I don’t understand this question.

    Yes, Kant believed that up until his time metaphysics had been a mere groping, getting nowhere.

    Yes, but was he mistaken about that? I mean, consider it this way: Berkeley tells us that matter doesn’t exist, and only minds are real. Hobbes tells us that only matter exists, and mind is just a term for a kind of complex mechanical function. How on earth is anyone supposed to figure out which of them is right?

    He was trying to put it on a sure scientific footing. He wanted to do for knowledge of reality gained through concepts what Copernicus had done for outer reality. He wanted to centre concepts in our subjective minds and not in the objects of sense. Copernicus pointed out that the heavens did not revolve around the observing subject but the subject revolved around the sun. Kant performed a similar reversal of the placing of concepts.

    True, but I think you’ve lost sight of why Kant wants to do this: because he thinks that if we do this, we will be able to resolve the debates within metaphysics, by demonstrating which positions are false (e.g. Berkeley’s and Hobbes’s) and showing how conflicting, rival positions are part of a larger, more encompassing truth.

    Goethe grouped concepts into ideas and these ideas he claimed to experience in perceptions. For him their reality was beyond subject and object. He saw that there was a fundamental unity and that any duality conceived of was an artificial construction of our own making.

    That sounds nice, but it looks just as dogmatic as any of the metaphysical theories that Kant criticized.

  29. Kantian Naturalist:

    In my fairly limited understanding here it seems to me that although Kant thought that space and time were fundamentally metaphysical and had no existence save for mind.

    He does think that space and time are only how our sensibility represents objects, and aren’t features of things in themselves. This was his way of trying to resolve the stalemate in physics between the Leibnizians (space and time are only relations between things) and the Newtonians (space and time are the absolutely real background in which objects interact).

    But the framework of space and time can only be understood by using mathematics.

    I’d put it the other way around: we can only understand mathematics in terms of the framework of space and time.

    Good point. So would you say that Euclid was able to come up with his postulates through his experience of working with figures in space?

    The way in which he tried to resolve epistemological problems was based on mathematics.

    As I indicated above, I don’t think this is true. For one thing, if it were true, then Kant’s own claims would be presented as deductively valid proofs, which is how he understood mathematics. And they aren’t. In fact he was extremely critical of Descartes and Spinoza for how they took mathematics as a model of how to metaphysics.

    Taking reality and separating it into ‘world of appearance’ and ‘thing in itself’, is an act of division. This is a basic mathematical operation.

    He resolved the dilemma of how his experiential perceptual world related to the objective world by transferring the objects of sense from the outer world to his inner consciousness.

    This isn’t right. Kant does not “transfer objects of sense from outer world to inner consciousness”.

    If “objects of sense in the outer world” means “objects of outer sense” — the physical things we’re aware of, like tables and TVs — and “inner consciousness” means “objects of inner sense” — the mental things we’re aware of, like thoughts and feelings — then consider: in those terms, if Kant had transferred objects from the outer world to the inner world, he would have concluded that space is an illusion but time is not. This is one way of understanding Berkeley’s position, and it is not Kant’s.

    I don’t mean that he claimed there is nothing but our inner experiences and the outer world would not exist if it were not for them. I mean he thought the laws and ideas pertaining to the outer world of experience were something we produced from our sense data. They did not belong to the things themselves. For him what we experience are representations ‘in our heads’.

    The real world out there was to remain unknowable.in its essence so we should restrict our enquiries to getting a better understanding of what we can know.

    If by “essence” you mean “object considered independent of their relation to us,” then yes, we cannot know anything about objects independent of their relation to us, because our knowledge of them involved our relations with them.

    But there is nothing in existence that is truly independent.

    He assumed that we can know mathematics a priori.

    Indeed, but how could it be otherwise? If mathematics were a posteriori — in Kant’s sense of what that would mean, anyway — then mathematical concepts such as “is equal to” and “is congruent with” would be built up out of sensations such as colors, shapes, and sounds.

    Perhaps they are built up from our experiences of observing the world. I look down at my hands, they are similar to each other, but separate. I have acquired the concept of duality. My fingers give me the concept magnitude. I observe a certain congruence between my hands. I have obtained the concept of equal magnitude.

  30. CharlieM:
    Good point. So would you say that Euclid was able to come up with his postulates through his experience of working with figures in space?

    Well, Kant would no doubt say that Euclid made explicit in axioms the formal structure of spatial representation that is intrinsic to finite minds.

    But I don’t share Kant’s insistence that space and time are transcendentally ideal.

    Taking reality and separating it into ‘world of appearance’ and ‘thing in itself’, is an act of division. This is a basic mathematical operation.

    Are you suggesting that every conceptual distinction is a mathematical operation?

    I don’t mean that he claimed there is nothing but our inner experiences and the outer world would not exist if it were not for them. I mean he thought the laws and ideas pertaining to the outer world of experience were something we produced from our sense data. They did not belong to the things themselves. For him what we experience are representations ‘in our heads’.

    Well, yes and no. It depends on what you mean by “in our heads” here.

    It’s true that Kant thinks the laws that govern the physical world of outer experience are our construction: we use to make sense of sensory consciousness, and without them, our sensory consciousness would be “less than a dream.”

    But it’s also crucial, for Kant, that the same exact point holds for the mental world of inner experience: here too everything that we experience as a mental phenomenon is a construction.

    What’s tricky to appreciate about Kant — it took me a long time, and my students struggle with this too — is that empirical physics and empirical psychology are on the same epistemic footing by being both equally grounded in transcendental psychology.

    But there is nothing in existence that is truly independent.

    As you know, I agree with this metaphysical claim — I’m probably more of a Spinozist than Kantian these days! — but in a way, that gets at Kant’s point by other means: if nothing is truly independent from everything else, then that holds true for the relation between the mind and the objects that it encounters.

    Perhaps “the myth of substance” can and should be dissolved from both directions — from the metaphysical direction, as with Spinoza and from the epistemological direction as with Kant.

    Perhaps they are built up from our experiences of observing the world. I look down at my hands, they are similar to each other, but separate. I have acquired the concept of duality. My fingers give me the concept magnitude. I observe a certain congruence between my hands. I have obtained the concept of equal magnitude.

    Aye, but here’s the rub: do you acquire the concept of duality from observing your hands — or do you already need the concept of duality in order to see them as similar but separate? (Likewise for congruence and magnitude — do we acquire these concepts from experience, or do we need to already have these concepts in order to experience the world as having these features?)

  31. CharlieM: So would you say that Euclid was able to come up with his postulates through his experience of working with figures in space?

    We — or some of us — have a natural tendency to idealize. I see Euclidean geometry as an idealization of our ordinary experience in spatial measurement. I don’t know enough about Euclid to be able to say whether that is what motivated him (or them, the Euclideans).

    Taking reality and separating it into ‘world of appearance’ and ‘thing in itself’, is an act of division. This is a basic mathematical operation.

    I don’t like that way of putting it. I don’t see that there is any act of division.

    Studying human cognition, one must distinguish between reality itself and how our brains deal with that reality. Our brains build our experience. What we can say about reality itself is, at best, a weak inference from that experience.

  32. I think Charlie was equivocating the word “division”. To be charitable, he may view this as just wordplay.

  33. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Kant believed that the outer experiential world was a representation of a reality that was beyond our capability of knowing. We do however have some innate knowledge which we arrive at through other means than experience. If you are still willing to continue this discussion, would you say that’s a fair assessment?

    No, I wouldn’t say so. What you said here is misleading in the following sense. It suggests that the outer experiential world is a representation of an unknowable reality, in contrast with an inner world, a mental or psychological world, that is knowable immediately and directly as it is in itself. And that is precisely what Kant intends to reject.

    I wasn’t implying that he regarded all of inner thoughts and feelings as giving direct access to reality. I was saying that he regarded some knowledge, for instance knowledge of mathematics, as being innate. What would you take a priori knowledge to mean?

    Rather, Kant would say that the world of physical objects as represented to us in spatial terms is our construction in response to how outer sense is affected by things in themselves (but we cannot say about their essential properties).

    What proof is there that we can’t say anything about their essential properties? Goethe, Steiner and many others would say that they have experienced reality beyond this limit set by Kant.

    But also, the world of mental events and mental states as represented to us in temporal terms is also our construction in response to inner sense or introspection is affected by ourselves in ourselves, or what is called “the noumenal self”.

    Thinking and memory overcomes the limits set by time and space. If we look at how Goethe studied plants we can see how he broke through the veil of the senses set up by Kant. By taking all of his sense experiences of plant life he was able to unify these in a way which revealed the reality that was there. Our senses shatter reality into what first appears to us as a multitude of pieces but through our thinking minds we can slowly return to unity that which tore apart in the first place. It is ‘things in themselves’ that are a human construction. Everything is interconnected. And thinking gives us the power to reconnect.

    It is true that Kant thinks there is a priori knowledge independent of experience, but this is brought to bear equally in the construction of the outer world from the affections of outer sense (the ‘external senses’) and the construction of the inner world — our thoughts, feelings, moods, aspirations, beliefs, dreams, etc. — from the affections of inner sense or introspection.

    How can knowledge be obtained without experience of some sort? It is through experience that we reconstruct reality.

    Steiner claimed that Kant believed “there exist necessary truths, brought into being by pure thought, free of all element of experience” and that he denied “to experience the possibility of attaining to equally necessary truths.” Do you agree with this?

    Yes, insofar as Kant thought that we cannot derive necessary truths from experience — the necessity that we discern in the world as experienced is what we bring to bear in how we imagine the world to be, based on the rules that constrain how the imagination functions

    .

    Imagination in Goethe’s terms is not a flight of fantasy. Imagination for Goethe was the process whereby careful and exact examination of phenomena is then followed up by using the mind to interrelate the separate phenomena in a way that doesn’t try to force together in an artificial way. Imagination consists of recombining sense images.

    In my opinion Kant believed in an unbridgeable duality whereas Goethe believed in a monistic polarity where by means of “gentle empiricism” reality, albeit a dynamic evolving reality, was within reach of those who went about it in the right way. This was a major difference between the thinking of both men.

    I won’t speak for Goethe here, but in my understanding of Kant, he is fully committed to the subject-object mutuality thesis: there cannot be objects without there being a subject to take those objects as objects, and there cannot be a subject without there being objects against which the subject can conceptualize itself as a subject.

    That’s consistent with the further thought that we cannot know anything about objects as they are independent of any possible relationship with us.

    As I see it, once you realize that we cannot know anything about an object without standing in some relation with that object, because knowledge is a relation between the knower and the known, it’s just obviously true that we cannot know anything about things in themselves, because things in themselves are defined as what objects are in themselves independent of any relation to us.

    In other words, Kant’s agnosticism about things in themselves isn’t some dramatic earthshattering truth — it’s an analytic truth, perfectly obvious and completely uninteresting.

    What justification is there for claiming that our senses give us representations of the world out there? This is not an unquestionable truth.

    How do we arrive at the concepts of subject and object and where do we make the split?

    Delving into the philosophy of Kant opens up a lot of interesting questions and produces no end of disagreements I’m sure. He has certainly had a big influence on how modern science goes about its business.

  34. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Meanwhile I don’t think that positing unknowable things in themselves is an obvious truth.

    I meant it’s an obvious truth that we cannot know things in themselves, and that’s because “things in themselves” is defined as “things considered independent of their relation to us”

    We cannot know whether or not things as we experience them as the same as they are when we’re not experiencing them — how could we?

    This type of thinking follows from the belief that our senses give us nothing more than a representation of things. Focusing on vision, It should be considered a possibility that observation gives us reality and the representation is the mental picture that remains when we look away.

    As Steiner put it

    Thus the mental picture is an individualized concept. And now we can see how real objects can be represented to us by mental pictures. The full reality of a thing is given to us in the moment of observation through the fitting together of concept and percept.

    If an average healthy person looks at a horse but believes it to be a cow it is not the fault of their vision. It’s due to a faulty concept. (In the book quoted from, Steiner explains how he is using the terms ‘percept. and ‘concept’.)

    CharlieM: Goethe said that one should never search behind the phenomena, they, in themselves, are the teaching. Archetypes do not sit behind phenomena, they are themselves phenomenal.

    I suspect that one of the real underlying issues here is about the acceptability of direct realism. Goethe is a direct realist; Kant is not.

    I would call Goethe a realistic idealist. He perceives ideas.

    I’ll need to think about how to unpack for us why Kant rejects direct realism. I think his arguments are sophisticated and quite profound.

    I think he rejects direct realism because he treats our sense experiences as representations.

  35. CharlieM: This type of thinking follows from the belief that our senses give us nothing more than a representation of things.

    I’m inclined to think you have that backwards.

    Your kind of thinking requires that the senses give you representations.

    From my way of looking at it, the senses are creative. So I’m inclined to agree with Kant’s view, that we cannot know the world in itself. We can only know the world that we have created, based on our interactions.

  36. CharlieM:
    I wasn’t implying that he regarded all of inner thoughts and feelings as giving direct access to reality. I was saying that he regarded some knowledge, for instance knowledge of mathematics, as being innate. What would you take a priori knowledge to mean?

    Kant does think that innateness is what explains pure a priori representations, both conceptual and intuitive. Personally I don’t think that’s at all correct. But I understand why that made sense to him.

    What proof is there that we can’t say anything about their essential properties?

    Because knowing what they are like in their relation to us can tell us nothing about what they are like when they are not in a relation to us.

    Goethe, Steiner and many others would say that they have experienced reality beyond this limit set by Kant.

    Sure, and so do Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle and every other charlatan hawking their wares on YouTube. To meet Kant’s challenge, they would need to be able to demonstrate to the skeptic that they are entitled to their claims about experience-transcendent knowledge. “Keeping an open mind” is just an invitation to let yourself be fooled by someone else’s bullshit. The experiments in science and proofs in mathematics succeed in demonstrating why the skeptic is wrong to disbelieve in climate change or insist that arithmetic is reducible to first-order logic. Kant wants metaphysics to be able to meet the same epistemic standard.

    Thinking and memory overcomes the limits set by time and space.

    That seems pretty obviously false, since every thought is an act of thinking, and every act of thinking unfolds in time.

    Our senses shatter reality into what first appears to us as a multitude of pieces

    I don’t think that is true, at all.

    but through our thinking minds we can slowly return to unity that which tore apart in the first place.

    How could you know that the unity of the object which is restored through imagination is the same unity as the unity that the object in itself had prior to shattering by the senses?

    It is ‘things in themselves’ that are a human construction. Everything is interconnected. And thinking gives us the power to reconnect.

    The phrase “thing in themselves” only means that we can conceive of what reality is like, independent of our contribution to the construction of knowledge. That is, Kant thinks of our cognitive experience of the world as a co-construction between the world and the mind. But because our mind is involved in that construction, we cannot know what the world is like independent of our involvement.

    What justification is there for claiming that our senses give us representations of the world out there? This is not an unquestionable truth.

    I don’t know what you mean by “the senses give us representations of the world out there”.

    How do we arrive at the concepts of subject and object and where do we make the split?

    Historically speaking, the subject-object distinction (NOTE: not a dichotomy!) comes about in how Kant and later neo-Kantians interpreted what Descartes was doing. Personally I don’t think it’s a good reading of Descartes.

  37. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM:”But Kant believed that our conceptions are gained a priori and we add them to nature. What right has he to judge them as being a priori knowledge?”

    Kantian Naturalist: “I don’t understand this question.”

    Sorry I’ll rephrase that. What right has he to interpret some knowledge as synthetic a priori. Kant gave an example of 7+5=12 as being synthetical a priori. Steiner answered, “It is impossible that I have absolutely no point of reference in the subject-concept which leads me to the predicate-concept.” Here Steiner argues that Kant is treating the unit as primary when he should be treating magnitude as primary.

    Surely before judging certain knowledge to have been obtained prior to experience we should examine how our knowledge is obtained in the first place. This is Steiner’s starting point. The division into thinking subject and objective reality is already an act of cognition and so should not be taken as the starting point.

    CharlieM: “Yes, Kant believed that up until his time metaphysics had been a mere groping, getting nowhere.”

    Kantian Naturalist: “Yes, but was he mistaken about that? I mean, consider it this way: Berkeley tells us that matter doesn’t exist, and only minds are real. Hobbes tells us that only matter exists, and mind is just a term for a kind of complex mechanical function. How on earth is anyone supposed to figure out which of them is right?”

    No I don’t think he was mistaken. He pointed out the problems of metaphysics, but did he provide an adequate solution to these problems?

    CharlieM: “He was trying to put it on a sure scientific footing. He wanted to do for knowledge of reality gained through concepts what Copernicus had done for outer reality. He wanted to centre concepts in our subjective minds and not in the objects of sense. Copernicus pointed out that the heavens did not revolve around the observing subject but the subject revolved around the sun. Kant performed a similar reversal of the placing of concepts.”

    Kantian Naturalist: “True, but I think you’ve lost sight of why Kant wants to do this: because he thinks that if we do this, we will be able to resolve the debates within metaphysics, by demonstrating which positions are false (e.g. Berkeley’s and Hobbes’s) and showing how conflicting, rival positions are part of a larger, more encompassing truth.

    And his “truth” was that there are limits beyond which knowledge cannot reach.

    CharlieM: “Goethe grouped concepts into ideas and these ideas he claimed to experience in perceptions. For him their reality was beyond subject and object. He saw that there was a fundamental unity and that any duality conceived of was an artificial construction of our own making.”

    Kantian Naturalist: “That sounds nice, but it looks just as dogmatic as any of the metaphysical theories that Kant criticized.”

    You may think it dogmatic but it points to a method others can follow and discover for themselves the reality of this conception. There is no such thing as a horse “in itself”. It’s as if Kant was looking behind a mirror to find the cause of the image it contained. Goethe would say that the reality consisted of the light, the mirror and the observer.

  38. Kantian Naturalist: CharlieM: “Good point. So would you say that Euclid was able to come up with his postulates through his experience of working with figures in space?”

    Kantian Naturalist:: “Well, Kant would no doubt say that Euclid made explicit in axioms the formal structure of spatial representation that is intrinsic to finite minds.

    But I don’t share Kant’s insistence that space and time are transcendentally ideal.”

    Here Steiner gives an explanation of how we might regard space as existing in separation from us but we have arrived at a geometric conception of space by means of an unconscious apprehension of its three dimensions during our development. By walking upright, orientating ourselves left and right, and experiencing depth through vision we place ourselves in the dimensions of space. The development of geometry was taken from how we ourselves are oriented in space.

    If I look at a tree it seems a though i am ‘in here’ looking at the tree ‘out there’ but in actual fact in my opinion I am as much ‘out there’ as ‘in here’.

    The ‘here’ and ‘now’ of time and space are abstract concepts.

    CharlieM: “Taking reality and separating it into ‘world of appearance’ and ‘thing in itself’, is an act of division. This is a basic mathematical operation.”

    Kantian Naturalist: “Are you suggesting that every conceptual distinction is a mathematical operation?”

    There is a mathematical element to it. Didn’t Kant say that every science is only as real as the mathematics it contains, or words to that effect?

    CharlieM “I don’t mean that he claimed there is nothing but our inner experiences and the outer world would not exist if it were not for them. I mean he thought the laws and ideas pertaining to the outer world of experience were something we produced from our sense data. They did not belong to the things themselves. For him what we experience are representations ‘in our heads’.”

    Kantian Naturalist: “Well, yes and no. It depends on what you mean by “in our heads” here.

    By “in our heads” I was trying to give the impression of “in here” as opposed to “out there”. Within the perceiving subject if you like.

    Kantian Naturalist: It’s true that Kant thinks the laws that govern the physical world of outer experience are our construction: we use to make sense of sensory consciousness, and without them, our sensory consciousness would be “less than a dream.”

    But it’s also crucial, for Kant, that the same exact point holds for the mental world of inner experience: here too everything that we experience as a mental phenomenon is a construction.

    Kant was being consistent. here.

    Thinking about this position with respect to the triangle (yet again). We can grasp the idea of a triangle (ideal triangle) in our minds although only approximations of this triangle in the outer world of our perception. Do we all construct our own version of this ideal triangle? If so what is it that distinguishes each version?

    Kantian Naturalist: What’s tricky to appreciate about Kant — it took me a long time, and my students struggle with this too — is that empirical physics and empirical psychology are on the same epistemic footing by being both equally grounded in transcendental psychology.”

    It’s true that we can only know what is in our minds.

    CharlieM: But there is nothing in existence that is truly independent.

    Kantian Naturalist: As you know, I agree with this metaphysical claim — I’m probably more of a Spinozist than Kantian these days! — but in a way, that gets at Kant’s point by other means: if nothing is truly independent from everything else, then that holds true for the relation between the mind and the objects that it encounters.

    Yes, and there is a tendency to regard “objects” as entities in space without regards to time.

    Kantian Naturalist: Perhaps “the myth of substance” can and should be dissolved from both directions — from the metaphysical direction, as with Spinoza and from the epistemological direction as with Kant.

    Why stop at two. It’s good to examine things from as many positions as possible.

    CharlieM: Perhaps they are built up from our experiences of observing the world. I look down at my hands, they are similar to each other, but separate. I have acquired the concept of duality. My fingers give me the concept magnitude. I observe a certain congruence between my hands. I have obtained the concept of equal magnitude.

    Kantian Naturalist: Aye, but here’s the rub: do you acquire the concept of duality from observing your hands — or do you already need the concept of duality in order to see them as similar but separate? (Likewise for congruence and magnitude — do we acquire these concepts from experience, or do we need to already have these concepts in order to experience the world as having these features?)

    And that is worth thinking about.

    I hold the concept ‘duality’ in my mind. Do I add this concept to all perceived dualities such as my hands, or the poles of a magnet, or is this an inherent feature of what is perceived? Rather than adding concepts, could we be acquiring them through recognition? Is it in the nature of magnets to partake in duality? Is duality subjective, objective or beyond subject and object? Subject and object are themselves concepts

  39. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: So would you say that Euclid was able to come up with his postulates through his experience of working with figures in space?

    Neil Rickert: We — or some of us — have a natural tendency to idealize. I see Euclidean geometry as an idealization of our ordinary experience in spatial measurement. I don’t know enough about Euclid to be able to say whether that is what motivated him (or them, the Euclideans).

    It has been proposed that the ancient Greeks learned geometry from the Egyptians. It was used in Egypt for land management.

    Euclid’s postulates involve drawing lines and figures.

    He defines a line as length without breadth. Obviously this can never be achieved by drawing so we have to make do with approximations. There are no right (straight) lines in the physical universe, there are only approximations. But the concept that Euclid defined holds true for any person at all times. This is a higher truth.

    CharlieM: Taking reality and separating it into ‘world of appearance’ and ‘thing in itself’, is an act of division. This is a basic mathematical operation.

    Neil Rickert: I don’t like that way of putting it. I don’t see that there is any act of division.

    Not even a mental act?

    Neil Rickert: Studying human cognition, one must distinguish between reality itself and how our brains deal with that reality. Our brains build our experience. What we can say about reality itself is, at best, a weak inference from that experience

    What brain are you talking about? Would that be our perceived brain or the brain in itself behind the perceived brain?

  40. DNA_Jock:
    I think Charlie was equivocating the word “division”. To be charitable, he may view this as just wordplay.

    Or number play. I view it as mental arithmetic 🙂

  41. Neil Rickert:

    CharlieM: This type of thinking follows from the belief that our senses give us nothing more than a representation of things.

    Neil Rickert: I’m inclined to think you have that backwards.

    Your kind of thinking requires that the senses give you representations.

    No it only requires that our memories and mental pictures formed after the event gives us representations. Our senses give us partial, limited reality, not representations. I look out of my window and see and hear a wood pigeon. This is reality. It flies off. I close my eyes and bring up an image of the scene complete with sound. This is a representative cognition.

    Neil Rickert: From my way of looking at it, the senses are creative. So I’m inclined to agree with Kant’s view, that we cannot know the world in itself. We can only know the world that we have created, based on our interactions.

    Do the paleontologists create the dinosaur bone that they study? Does the fossil record tell us nothing about reality?

  42. CharlieM: Not even a mental act?

    What makes an act “mental”?

    I really dislike talk of “mental acts”, “mental states”, etc. It seems quite misleading.

    What brain are you talking about? Would that be our perceived brain or the brain in itself behind the perceived brain?

    We are talking about what we are talking about. You can decide what you think that is.

    I suppose you could be said to be making an ontological distinction. By contrast, I see ontology as pointless.

    Do the paleontologists create the dinosaur bone that they study? Does the fossil record tell us nothing about reality?

    The paleontologist create ideas, ways of describing. That’s not creating bones.

    The fossil record tells us nothing about reality in itself. It tells us a great deal about reality as we choose to understand it.

  43. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: I wasn’t implying that he regarded all of inner thoughts and feelings as giving direct access to reality. I was saying that he regarded some knowledge, for instance knowledge of mathematics, as being innate. What would you take a priori knowledge to mean?

    Kantian Naturalist: Kant does think that innateness is what explains pure a priori representations, both conceptual and intuitive. Personally I don’t think that’s at all correct. But I understand why that made sense to him.

    Yes, I would say that Kant was a very deep thinker, influential philosopher, and he had good reasons for thinking the way he did.

    CharlieM (re the world of physical objects): What proof is there that we can’t say anything about their essential properties?

    Kantian Naturalist: Because knowing what they are like in their relation to us can tell us nothing about what they are like when they are not in a relation to us.

    So regarding the fossils I mentioned in my previous comment, can we know nothing about their nature, their history, their place within evolution except in the context of our perception?

    CharlieM: Goethe, Steiner and many others would say that they have experienced reality beyond this limit set by Kant.

    Kantian Naturalist: Sure, and so do Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle and every other charlatan hawking their wares on YouTube. To meet Kant’s challenge, they would need to be able to demonstrate to the skeptic that they are entitled to their claims about experience-transcendent knowledge. “Keeping an open mind” is just an invitation to let yourself be fooled by someone else’s bullshit. The experiments in science and proofs in mathematics succeed in demonstrating why the skeptic is wrong to disbelieve in climate change or insist that arithmetic is reducible to first-order logic. Kant wants metaphysics to be able to meet the same epistemic standard.

    And epistemic standards are precisely why Steiner wrote his books, ‘The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World Conception’, ‘Truth and Knowledge’ and ‘The Philosophy of Freedom’. Epistemology must begin from a point which has eliminated all presuppositions as far as is possible.

    During a later phase of his life he talks about his experiences but he asks that nobody should take these as accepted fact. He does give advice for anyone wishing to attain similar experiences but leaves it up to the individual whether they wish to do so. He would have considered it a waste of time to try to convince sceptics.

    We can all transcend the limits set by Kant without the requirement for having some sort of mystical experience. Goethe seems to have done precisely that.

    CharlieM: Thinking and memory overcomes the limits set by time and space.

    Kantian Naturalist: That seems pretty obviously false, since every thought is an act of thinking, and every act of thinking unfolds in time.

    The acts of thinking may unfold in time but the contents of our thoughts as concepts are not restricted in this way. The concept triangle is not confined to space or reliant on time.

    CharlieM: Our senses shatter reality into what first appears to us as a multitude of pieces

    Kantian Naturalist: I don’t think that is true, at all.

    Lions see the herds of herbivores as so many mobile items of food. They have no idea of their place within higher classifications, their evolutionary history, their relationship to other organisms, the functions of their organs and so on. No lion will be thinking about the functions of a wildebeest’s organs when it is tearing lumps of liver out of its body. Yet on the whole lions have much keener senses than we do. They perceive all these objects around them without making the connections that we are capable of making.

    CharlieM: but through our thinking minds we can slowly return to unity that which tore apart in the first place.

    Kantian Naturalist: How could you know that the unity of the object which is restored through imagination is the same unity as the unity that the object in itself had prior to shattering by the senses?

    I’m sure you agree that observation involves much more than the senses. We don’t find the unity of objects, we find unity in relationships.

    CharlieM: It is ‘things in themselves’ that are a human construction. Everything is interconnected. And thinking gives us the power to reconnect.

    Kantian Naturalist: The phrase “thing in themselves” only means that we can conceive of what reality is like, independent of our contribution to the construction of knowledge. That is, Kant thinks of our cognitive experience of the world as a co-construction between the world and the mind. But because our mind is involved in that construction, we cannot know what the world is like independent of our involvement.

    Do you think that we are being deceived by scientists when they tell us that DNA can tell us something about the relationship between organisms? What is your view on the reality of the big bang or the reality of the evolution of life on earth?

    CharlieM: What justification is there for claiming that our senses give us representations of the world out there? This is not an unquestionable truth.

    Kantian Naturalist: I don’t know what you mean by “the senses give us representations of the world out there”.

    Well think about colour. Do you think that colour has any reality in the world apart from the way it is taken to be as an experience of wavelengths of light? In other words how it is conceived as represented to us due to our visual system.

    CharlieM: How do we arrive at the concepts of subject and object and where do we make the split?

    Kantian Naturalist: Historically speaking, the subject-object distinction (NOTE: not a dichotomy!) comes about in how Kant and later neo-Kantians interpreted what Descartes was doing. Personally I don’t think it’s a good reading of Descartes.

    And epistemology should not begin by asking the question, “What can I know?” because in doing so a judgement has already been made. A distinction between subject and object.

  44. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: Not even a mental act?

    Neil Rickert: What makes an act “mental”?

    Activities such as doing mental arithmetic, these are mental acts.

    Neil Rickert: I really dislike talk of “mental acts”, “mental states”, etc. It seems quite misleading.

    I don’t see what is so misleading about mental activities.

    CharlieM: What brain are you talking about? Would that be our perceived brain or the brain in itself behind the perceived brain?

    Neil Rickert: We are talking about what we are talking about. You can decide what you think that is.

    I suppose you could be said to be making an ontological distinction. By contrast, I see ontology as pointless.

    I’m not sure how you can omit ontology if you want to discuss reality.

    CharlieM: Do the paleontologists create the dinosaur bone that they study? Does the fossil record tell us nothing about reality?

    Neil Rickert: The paleontologist create ideas, ways of describing. That’s not creating bones.

    The fossil record tells us nothing about reality in itself. It tells us a great deal about reality as we choose to understand it.

    So reality as we understand it bears no relationship to reality in itself?

    Would you say that the evolution of life is an objective fact or a human creation or what? Is there no reality to evolution as we understand it?

  45. CharlieM: I don’t see what is so misleading about mental activities.

    I don’t see what’s so special about them that they deserve a special name.

    You mentioned mental arithmetic. But mental arithmetic is just arithmetic.

    Philosophers refer to beliefs as “mental states”. But I can be said to have a belief even when I am not currently thinking about it. So what is mental about that?

    Using “mental” in descriptions such as these seems to just introduce a new category which is not well defined.

    I’m not sure how you can omit ontology if you want to discuss reality.

    I have not found ontology to be useful, but I still discuss reality. Where’s the problem?

    So reality as we understand it bears no relationship to reality in itself?

    Or perhaps the expression “reality in itself” is mostly a philosopher’s mistake.

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