Monday, 24 December 2007

Happy Holidays!

I'm off to Scotland for the Holiday season, so the Space of Reasons will be going into brief hiatus. However, I'll be back early in the new year. Our first item of business will be to finish the series on McDowell's Kant. See you then!

Monday, 17 December 2007

McDowell's Kant (Part II)

In my previous post, I concluded that the question that motivates McDowell’s Kant may be put as follows:
(Q1): How are we to reconcile the Kantian claim that experience involves making judgements with the Lockean conception of experience as the means by which objects are given to us?
One straightforward response to (Q1) is to distinguish between two meanings of the word “experience” as used by Kant in the Critique. The first, which I will refer to as narrow experience (or N-experience), refers to raw “sensory impressions”. N-experience corresponds with the Lockean conception of experience. The second, which I will refer to as wide experience (or W-experience), refers to “empirical knowledge”.

On the present proposal, when Kant talks about experience involving the understanding, it is W-experience that he has in mind. Thus, on this picture, the categories only apply to experience understood in terms of empirical knowledge or W-experience. However, N-experience, which corresponds to the Lockean conception, does not involve the activity of the categories or the understanding. The upshot of this distinction is that it is only for W-experience that the understanding is required, thus avoiding the problem articulated in (Q1). I will refer to the reply to (Q1) that trades on the two meanings of experience adumbrated above as the two-tier approach.

However, many would consider two-tier approach problematic since it seems to undermine the efficacy of Kant’s argument in the Critique as a reply to Hume. Recall, according to Kant, the purpose of the Transcendental Deduction is to show that the categories are a priori conditions of the possibility of experience (See: A 84/B 116—A 95/B 129).[2] Now, according to Hume, we do not perceive objective, publicly observable states of affairs, but only subjective “impressions”. The only way to gain access to the objective world is via an inference to physical objects as the cause of our impressions. However, Hume impugns any such inference as unwarranted. Thus, we are left only with the flux of unconnected subjective experience.

Kant’s strategy in the Deduction is to argue that Hume’s view of experience is mistaken since it omits certain structural features without which we could not have the sorts of experience we unquestionable do have. Kant begins with an assumption which Hume himself accepts:
(K4): Experience is possible
He then sets out to show in the Deduction that:
(K5): If experience is possible, the categories have objective validity
If successful, Kant’s argument is supposed to establish the conclusion:
(K6): The categories have objective validity.
Given (K6), Hume is no longer entitled to his denial of the reality of causation and his sceptical argument is thwarted.

But suppose we interpret the word “experience” as it appears in the Deduction to mean “empirical knowledge”. Then we must build into (K4) everything Kant means by empirical knowledge as set forth in the Critique. Now empirical knowledge, for Kant, is knowledge of an objective world governed by causal laws. However, if we take experience as it appears in (K4) to include all of this, then Kant’s argument would beg the question against Hume. Thus, if we interpret “experience” as empirical knowledge, we would no longer be entitled to see the Deduction as a reply to Hume. The upshot of this is that if we wish to maintain that the relevant arguments in the Critique are effective vis-à-vis Hume, we must also renounce the two-tier account.

In my next post, I will look at a more sophisticated reply to (Q1) that avoids the above criticism, and which is loosely based on the reading of Kant advanced by Béatrice Longuenesse.

Monday, 10 December 2007

McDowell's Kant (Part I)

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on McDowell. So for the next few posts I will be returning to this blog’s original inspiration with a series on McDowell’s Kant. In the next few posts I will be attempting to re-express the dialectic McDowell sets up in the introduction to Mind and World in Kantian terms, thereby displaying the deeply Kantian nature of McDowell’s project. I begin with Kant’s claim that “experience itself is a kind of cognition requiring the understanding” (Bxvii). Thus, we arrive at the first Kantian principle I wish to exploit in my discussion of McDowell’s Kant:
(K1): experience requires understanding
How are we to interpret the word “understanding” as used by Kant? Perhaps the closest thing to a definition can be found in A69/B94, where Kant writes: “We can reduce all acts of the understanding to judgements, so that the understanding in general can be represented as a capacity for judging.” Thus, we arrive at our second central Kantian principle:
(K2): understanding =def a capacity for judging
We can combine (K1) and (K2) to arrive at our third Kantian principle:
(K3): experience requires a capacity for judging
I take (K3) to be one of the key insights of Kant’s Copernican revolution in philosophy. Broadly speaking, Kant’s Copernican revolution amounts to the claim that the formal features of the empirical world (i.e., space and time and the categories) are transcendental impositions of the subject’s mind. For example, when one takes one’s experience to be of a mind-independent object, one is essentially judging that that object is located somewhere in space. Kant makes this point explicitly in the first edition of the Critique, where he posits: “experience consists of judgements”.[Kant, 1998] p. 202. fn.]

Putatively, judgement involves commitment to something being the case. Thus, to say that experience involves judgment is to say that experience involves actively taking a stand on how things are. But this seems to run counter to the conception of experience as passively registering the way things are, prior to and independent of taking a stand on whether or not things are that way. This suggests at least two ways in which experience putatively contrasts with judgement. First, experience is passive while judgement is active. Second, experience simply registers that things are a certain way, while judgement involves being committed to things being a certain way.

The forgoing considerations are meant to register what I believe to be a set of pre-theoretical intuitions regarding the nature of experience. These pre-theoretical intuitions seem aptly captured in the Lockean empiricist idea that experience is the means by which objects are given to a subject. On this picture, one may proceed to make judgments based on experience, but experience itself consists in simply registering sensory impressions. Thus, on the Lockean empiricist picture, experience does not seem to require a capacity to judge. If this is right, then both (K1) and (K3) would be false on the Lockean empricist account. If we wish to preserve the idea that experience is the means by which objects are given, within a broadly Kantian framework, then we must find some way to reconcile these two sets of intuitions. I have suggested that this is what McDowell wishes to do. This brings us the first formulation of the question that motivates McDowell’s Kant:
(Q1): How are we to reconcile the Kantian claim that experience involves making judgements with the Lockean conception of experience as the means by which objects are given to us?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

The 2007 Dewey Lectures

...begin tomorrow! This year, Columbia University's Dewey Lectures will be delivered by Tyler Burge. Although I have only recently began examining Burge, I am already a big fan of the clarity and precision of his writing. As for his ideas, let's just say that he is one of the main philosophers I hope to spend lots of time thinking about over the course of my future philosophical career. In short, I am quite excited that he will be delivering the Dewey lectures this year.

The overall title of the talks is "Self and Self Understanding", and the schedule is as follows:

Lecture One: "Some Origins of Self"
December 3rd 2007, 6:15-8:00 PM, Davis Auditorium (Shaipro), Reception to Follow

Lecture Two: "Self and Constitutive Norms"
December 4th 2007, 6:15-8:00 PM, Davis Auditorium (Shapiro)

Lecture Three: "Self-Understanding"
December 5th 2007, 6:15-8:00 PM, Heyman Center Common Room