Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

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AshvinP
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Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

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We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without.” ― Immanuel Kant

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Immanuel Kant, for my money, ranks in the top five of most brilliant and influential philosopher's of the last five hundred years. Perhaps at #1. That is not a claim I make lightly! The world is a big place and five hundred years is a lot of time. There was no shortage of brilliant and influential thinkers who appeared and left their unique impressions on the world during that period. Existing fields of inquiry spurned more thinkers than ever before and entirely new fields of inquiry were created, including all of modern science. Regardless, my money is still on Kant.

I am going to disqualify the scientists right off the bat for one simple reason - transformations in philosophical outlooks have always preceded corresponding transformations in science and technology throughout human history. Although the lag time between those transformations has been decreasing, the relationship has still held. As we will discuss below, many of the most influential scientists were also influenced by Kant's philosophy explicitly or implicitly. I am also going to disqualify the inventors of technology for the same reason.

So that only leaves the philosophers and theologians. The latter have steadily declined in their influence during that era which culminated in the "death of God". Of the philosophers, I suspect many people would be tempted to go with David Hume. I disqualify Hume because Kant's core philosophy engaged critically with Hume and it seems clear to me that Kant's epistemology won out over Hume's. After that only one other name comes to mind - Rene Descartes. Although many people still don't realize it, Descartes' philosophy has influenced the collective experience and thoughts of the Western world at the deepest level.

In Descartes' philosophy, we find a clear division of the world into 'spirit-mind' and 'matter'. The former became the private realm of inner experience and the latter became the public realm of knowledge. We can systematically study the realm of matter and share the results with others, but, according to Cartesian dualism, we cannot do the same for the realm of mind. It is no overstatement to say that Descartes' mind-matter divide helped make all of modern science possible. It provided a framework in which individuals could distance their subjectivity from the world of 'things out there', if not in practice then at least in theory.

Even in Descartes, though, we can imagine a thread which connects the two realms; a reality in which the private overlaps with the public; the 'inner' with the 'outer'. It would take the brilliance of a mind like Kant's to make our imaginations an exercise in futility. Kant's most well-known and influential insight now rests at the base of that branch of philosophy we call "epistemology". Rather than asking about the true essence of the world we live in, as was common for all Western metaphysics since Plato, Kant desired to shift the discussion towards the question of how the world can even appear to us in a way that makes it an object of our knowledge.

Kant answered his own question as follows - by the time we become conscious of our experiences of the world 'out there', our internal organization has already structured those experiences with categories. Further, those categories cannot be said to correspond with any aspect of the underlying reality; categories which cannot be said to directly link up with the "things-in-themselves". Let's imagine we have a sense perception X and another sense perception Y. Before we become aware of those perceptions, our unconscious intellect has already structured the perceptions into the category of cause (X) and effect (Y) so that Y always follows from X.

The a priori cause-effect judgment our mind unconsciously imposes on the perceptions reflects no knowledge whatsoever of the essence which underlies X, Y or the X-Y relationship. If X and Y actually exist and they happen to be in an actual cause-effect relationship, then it would be nothing more than dumb luck that we stumbled upon it. There is nothing within our conceptual judgments and the experiences structured by them which directs us towards such a conclusion about the underlying reality. It was a brilliant maneuver by Kant to reverse Hume's relationship between perceptions and judgments - judgments come before perceptions.

The same reversal holds true for any of the usual qualities and relations which we seem to experience, according to Kant. Substance and attribute, necessary and contingent, unity and multiplicity - these are all added to experience through our own unconscious intellect before we are even aware of the experiences. What is undeniable for Kant is that the appearances of the world as our intellect finds them (phenomenon) can never be traced back to the things-in-themselves (noumenon). The latter remain forever beyond our sensory and cognitive capacities; imprisoned behind an impenetrable wall of a priori judgments.
Ideas for [Kant] are nothing other than the higher points of view of reason from which the lower entities, which the intellect has created, are understood. The intellect brings soul phenomena, for example, into a relationship; reason, as the faculty for ideas, then grasps this relationship as though everything went forth from one soul. But this has no significance for the thing itself; it is only a means of orientation for our cognitive faculty. This is the content of Kant's theoretical philosophy insofar as it can be of interest to us here...

This world is a manifoldness of things in space and of processes in time. The fact that precisely this thing confronts me or that I experience precisely that process is of no consequence; it could also be different. I can think away the whole manifoldness of things and processes altogether. What I cannot think away, however, are space and time. For me, there can be nothing that is not spatial or temporal. Even if there were some non-spatial or non-temporal thing, I can know nothing about it, for I can picture nothing to myself without space and time.
-Spirit Guide
I forgot to mention - our entrance into the genius mind of Kant and, if all goes according to plan, our break out through to the other side will be aided by a Spirit Guide who shall remain nameless for now. Back to Kant - he was a genius and prolific spirit and therefore my short critique cannot possibly do his output justice. Still, the above ontic-epistemic division is clearly found in Kant's philosophy. It is that claim, precisely as it has been stated by our Spirit Guide above, which has been the most influential force in the world for centuries now. Kant himself put the task before him succinctly:
I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.
― Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
Perhaps no words have shaped the Western world more since Christ walked the Earth. The Kantian ontic-epistemic divide has impressed deeply upon nearly all of the major thinkers within philosophy, science and politics since the 18th century. It also sprawled its tentacles through the Church. Kant's influence on subsequent German philosophers, who were incredibly influential in their own right, is obvious. Philosophers such as Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. The latter two thinkers deserve an honorable mention here for their critically insightful efforts.

Schopenhauer began to bridge the Kantian divide with his assertion that the essence of Reality is the volitional Will shared by all creatures. Since the noumenon is Will, we can experience it by introspective practice; an meditative emptying of our consciousness of all "illusory" representations until we are only left with experience of pure Will. Another way of attaining such experience is through [good] art and music. The problem with Schopenhauer's thought was, ironically, that all ideas about the Will must also be disclaimed as illusory and epistemically unhelpful. A conceit such as that restores the ontic-epistemic divide for all intents and purposes.
Schopenhauer carried to extremes the view that all conceptual content is only subjective, is only a phenomenon of consciousness. With him, it is absolutely out of the question for the idea to have participated as a real principle in the constitution of the world. For him, will is the exclusive world ground. Therefore Schopenhauer could never find a way, with any content, of handling the specialized branches of philosophy...

The individual entity, the individual phenomenon, cannot be of interest to Schopenhauer, for he knows only one essential thing to say about it: that it is a manifestation of the will.
-Spirit Guide
Friedrich Nietzsche further specified Schopenhauer's Will to be a "will-to-power"- a Will in service of at least one tangible aim. For Nietzsche, reacting to the increasingly abstract and detached philosophy of his era, all important metaphysical concepts must be found within the sphere of daily experience rather than 'out there' in abstract intellectual space or within the still depths of ascetic practice. "Power", in that sense, is a radical interest in one's own ambitions and creations within life. It can either be willed consciously, which leads to 'healthy' states of being, or it can operate unconsciously within the guise of "obedience-duty", "virtue", "selflessness", etc., which then yields to pathologies of every sort. If we are able to harness our own will-to-power, to be truly free, then we must necessarily experience the noumenon in that process.
Attend! This is my gospel for their ears: I am Zarathustra, the godless, who asks, Who is more godless than I, that I may rejoice in his teaching?

I am Zarathustra, the godless; where do I find my equal? All those are my equals who determine their will out of themselves, and who push all submission away from themselves.
-Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
Yet Nietzsche's world-conception remained frustratingly incomplete before he himself suffered from a pathological state and died. It may be for that reason alone we must withhold from him the mantle of most influential philosopher. While Nietzsche's philosophy remained relatively contained until decades after his death, the Kantian divide has continuously influenced not only philosophers, but Western intellectuals of all sorts for several centuries up to and including the present day. Below are some of the more notable ones along with some mostly intuitive speculation on how the divide manifested in their systems of thought:
  • Charles Darwin - On the Origin of Species was published in 1859 and Darwin's evolutionary theory was a revolutionary development in our understanding of human history. Yet what stands out the most in Darwin's conception of evolution was his exclusive focus on the evolution of only the outer forms of life. Therein lies an implicit assumption that nothing can be known about the inner soul life of living beings. What appears to distinguish humans from non-humans, our self-reflective consciousness, is completely ignored. This glaring hole in Darwin's thought is a direct result of the Kantian divide. If not for that, then Darwin's theory may have also addressed the evolution of consciousness itself.

    Karl Marx - The force of outer form obsession is strong in Marx. When the realm of noumenon, i.e. the inner realm of human souls, remains forever beyond our reach, metaphysics itself becomes a useless enterprise. What is left for the intellectual aims of humanity is economic and political theory; a one or, at best, two-dimensional concern for relationships of resources and power. Human existence is reduced to a class struggle dialectic which is projected backwards through human history and forwards into human destiny. Spirituality, i.e. the search for higher realms of knowledge, is viewed as nothing more than an "opiate for the masses". Marx famously remarked that he "turned Hegel on his head", and I would add that he used Kant to do it.

    Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung - The connection here is a bit more tricky, especially for Jung. But it is hard to deny that the psychoanalytic term "unconscious" implies a realm of experience extremely distant from our everyday conscious experience. A realm engulfed in pure darkness like a black hole from which no light can escape. To be fair, the psychotherapeutic aim was to make increasingly more of the unconscious realm conscious, but the implication was also that there would always be a remainder of pure darkness; an event horizon past which all intellectual knowledge is effectively annihilated. Both of these seminal psychiatrists of the 20th century admit to being heavily influenced by Kant's philosophy.

    Albert Einstein - Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts that nothing in the Universe can travel faster than the speed of light. Following from that, his equations also predict the existence of black holes from which no light or information can escape. There is a physical "event horizon" past which we can know nothing, like the psychic event horizon of the unconscious. The main difference between Einstein's theory and those of Freud/Jung is that the former's equations predicted black holes despite his desire to avoid doing so. It would therefore be unfair to say Einstein was theorizing under duress of the Kantian divide. On the other hand, physicalist science in general was most certainly held under the spell of such philosophical influences.
There are of course many more influential thinkers who we could add to the list, but my aim is only to establish a general pattern of influence. The intellectual giants discussed above are not to blame. They were instruments of much deeper forces in my view; necessary forces in the course of the development and maturation of humanity. So what is more important now is to identify those thinkers whose world-conceptions were not consumed partially or wholly by the Kantian divide. These are the spirits who will become crucial for humanity's reconstructive aims in the decades and centuries to come. There are a few who come to mind immediately.

Here in the United States, we have the pragmatists such as William James and Charles Sanders Peirce who sought to re-conceptualize our idea of "Truth". Rather than "Truth" as a series of abstract concepts about nature which directly mirror the real state of 'things' existing beyond our conscious experience, the pragmatists recognized Truth as a practical knowledge which cannot come from anywhere but our direct experience. It was a deft maneuver because, even if the Kantian divide holds firm, the meaning we find from pursuing concrete aims is proclaimed more True than the state of 'things' we can never experience or know.

Across the Atlantic in England, we have brilliant philosophers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Owen Barfield who, unfortunately, rarely get recognition as such. To say they are underappreciated would be a gross understatement. Early in the 19th century, Coleridge was already busy at work attempting to restore the human individual to her rightful place as a microcosm of the macrocosm. Everything objectively meaningful in the Cosmos can be discerned from the inner workings of the individual, according to Coleridge, especially in the process of Thinking ("primary imagination").
The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am.
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographica Literaria
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Owen Barfield was the best commentator on Coleridge (see What Coleridge Thought), but also a brilliant philosopher in his own right. He conducted deep studies on the evolution of language meanings (philology), particularly in the English language but also in ancient Greek. From that study, he discerned the corresponding transformations in our conscious experience of the world. Words are the "fossils of consciousness", according to Barfield and under metaphysical idealism there is only consciousness. Therefore his view implicitly holds that our language-concepts and percepts can link back to the underlying conscious activity from which they spawned. And with stark contrast, Barfield knew that it was the task of 20th century man onwards to "save the appearances" (phenomenal world) from the clutches of the Kantian divide.
If people say the world we perceive is a 'construct' of our brains, they are saying in effect, that it results from an inveterate habit of thought. Why does it never occur to them that a habit is something you can overcome, if you set about it with enough energy?
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The appearances will be 'saved" only if, as men approach nearer and nearer to conscious figuration and realize that it is something which may be affected by their choices, the final participation which is thus being thrust upon them is exorcised with the profoundest sense of responsibility, with the deepest thankfulness and piety towards the world as it was originally given to them in original participation, and with a fuller understanding of the momentous process of history, as it brings about the emergence of the one from the other.
-Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction
Another philologist and deep philosophical thinker was Martin Heidegger, who stood somewhat apart from traditional Western metaphysics. Heidegger, especially in his later works published after World War II, made a compelling case for rejecting the Kantian divide. He embraced a philosophy in which the phenomenon of daily life concealed yet also unconcealed Reality (Aletheia). What conceals Reality is the multitude of bare perceptions separating the world into isolated fragments, and what unconceals its essential relations is the human activity of Thinking (what Barfield referred to as "conscious figuration" above).

Rather than turning away from the perceptions of everyday life to speculate abstractly about concepts with our intellect, Heidegger wanted us to confront those perceptions with our Reason for the precise aim of reuniting them with their proper concepts. There was a magical way in which bare perceptions (including thought-perceptions) which draw away from us in daily life also call upon us to Think. It was the spiritual duty of every individual to heed that call (see Heidegger's lectures, What is Called Thinking?). He was certainly not alone in this perspective.
A thing is a unity for our reason and the separation into “thing-in-itself” and “thing-for-us” is a product of our intellect. It will not do, therefore, to say that what is attributed to a thing in one connection can be denied it in other connections. For, whether I look at the same thing one time from this point of view and another time from that: it is after all still a unified whole...

The method must therefore consist in our answering the question, with respect to each thing: What part does it have in the unified world of ideas; what place does it occupy in the ideal picture that I make for myself of the world? When I have understood this, when I have recognized how a thing connects itself with my ideas, then my need for knowledge is satisfied. There is only one thing that is not satisfying to my need for knowledge: when a thing confronts me that does not want to connect anywhere with the view I hold of things.

The ideal discomfort must be overcome that stems from the fact that there is something or other of which I must say to myself: I see that it is there; when I approach it, it faces me like a question mark; but I find nowhere, within the harmony of my thoughts, the point at that I can incorporate it; the questions I must ask upon seeing it remain unanswered, no matter how I twist and turn my system of thoughts.
-Spirit Guide
Heidegger spearheaded 20th century phenomenology and produced insights which will surely resound in Western philosophy for much more time to come. Yet he is still a relatively recent thinker and was heavily indebted to another thinker who came before him. That would be the German contemporary of Kant who directed his brilliance in the complete opposite direction of Kant's ontic-epistemic divide - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Most people know Goethe as the poet who wrote Faust and would be surprised to find out that his scientific and philosophical output was just as remarkable.
One sees at once that [Kant's philosophy] is the polar opposite of the Goethean philosophy. Given reality is determined, according to Kant, by us ourselves; it is as it is because we picture it that way. Kant skips over the real epistemological question...

Kant accepted the customary concept of what knowing is and asked if it were possible. According to this concept, knowing is supposed to consist in making a copy of the real conditions that stand outside our consciousness and exist in-themselves. But one will be able to make nothing out of the possibility of knowledge until one has answered the question as to the what of knowing itself. The question: What is knowing? thereby becomes the primary one for epistemology. With respect to Goethe, therefore, it will be our task to show what Goethe pictured knowing to be.
--Spirit Guide
We find this pattern often in the history of human thought - an occluded stream which flows 'underground' and parallel to the more obvious and noisy stream at the surface. The latter quickly wields all of the popular cultural influence while the former continues to flow quietly and patiently, biding its time. Goethe's philosophy in particular held a decidedly noble view of humanity and it's capacity for experience and knowledge of higher realms. Much like Heidegger, Goethe saw the magical redeeming quality of human Thinking, yet he arrived there a few centuries ahead of everyone else.
Were not our eyes profoundly of the sun
How could they behold the light?
Were not our strength from God's own being won.
How could we feel so in Things divine delight.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Something Like the Sun
Goethe was not interested in Kant's definition of "knowledge". What Kant considered knowledge Goethe rejected as irrelevant speculation about concepts which had become untethered from the concrete world. Instead, "knowing" for Goethe was disciplined, attentive and generous observation of the phenomenon which confronted him so that he could explore his own ideal and objective relationships with them. He did not feign an "objectivity" in his scientific or philosophical pursuits which simply does not exist in the real world. Goethe's desired to add back to the perceptual appearances what rightfully belonged to them but had been taken away.

If Kant's maxim was that it is impossible to directly experience and know a thing-in-itself, Goethe's maxim was Res Ipsa Loquitur - "the thing-speaks-for-itself".
In our knowing, however, we create a picture of the directly given that contains considerably more than what the senses — which are after all the mediators of all experience — can provide. In order to know nature in the Goethean sense, we must not hold onto it in its factuality; rather, nature, in the process of our knowing, must reveal itself as something essentially higher than what it appears to be when it first confronts us.
...
At first, the world presents itself to us as a manifoldness in space and time. We perceive particulars separated in space and time: this colour here, that shape there; this tone now, that sound then, etc... Precisely because the perceptual picture is something incomplete, something unfinished in itself, we are compelled to add to this picture, in its manifestation as sense experience, its necessary complement.
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Knowing would be an absolutely useless process if something complete were conveyed to us in sense experience. All drawing together, ordering, and grouping of sense-perceptible facts would have no objective value. Knowing has meaning only if we do not regard the configuration given to the senses as a finished one, if this configuration is for us a half of something that bears within itself something still higher that, however, is no longer sense-perceptible.

There the human spirit steps in. It perceives that higher element. Therefore thinking must also not be regarded as bringing something to the content of reality. It is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.
-Spirit Guide
Our Spirit Guide was responsible for working intensely on Goethe's archive at the end of the 19th century. He came to know Goethe's philosophy inside and out, and he saw in Goethe a kindred spirit who refused to retreat back into metaphysical abstractions like so many of their respective contemporaries. Rather, they wanted to immerse themselves in the phenomenal world and mine its depths for all the treasure it had to offer to genuine seekers of knowledge and wisdom. They dared to imagine a world-evolving essence which we can truly experience and know in our hearts and in our minds.

Our Spirit Guide's name is Rudolf Steiner and he, more than anyone else, has preserved the anti-Kantian strain of Goethe's science and philosophy for posterity. One of Steiner's core philosophical works was a book called The Philosophy of Freedom. It is a relatively short and masterful exploration of the human spirit in its confrontation with the phenomenal world, including the world of all moral values. Steiner also designed a spiritual center in Switzerland and named it the Goethaneum.
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At the beginning of his Critique of Reason [Kant] takes two steps that he does not justify, and his whole edifice of philosophical teachings suffers from this mistake.

He right away sets up a distinction between object and subject, without asking at all what significance it has then for the intellect to undertake the separation of two regions of reality (in this case the knowing subject and the object to be known). Then he seeks to establish conceptually the reciprocal relationship of these two regions, again without asking what it means to establish something like that.

If his view of the main epistemological question had not been all askew, he would have seen that the holding apart of subject and object is only a transitional point in our knowing, that a deeper unity, which reason can grasp, underlies them both, and that what is attributed to a thing as a trait, when considered in connection with a knowing subject, by no means has only subjective validity.
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The contemplation of things in their connection to us always remained for [Goethe] a quite subordinate one, having to do with the effect of objects upon our feelings of pleasure and pain; he demands more of science than a mere statement as to how things are in their connection to us. In the essay The Experiment as Mediator between Subject and Object, he determines what the task of the researcher is: He should take his yardstick for knowledge, the data for his judgment, not from himself, but rather from the sphere of the things he observes.

This one statement characterizes the deep antithesis between the Kantian and the Goethean way of thinking. Whereas with Kant, all judgments about things are only a product of subject and object, and only provide a knowing about how the subject beholds the object, with Goethe, the subject merges selflessly into the object and draws the data for his judgment from the sphere of the things. Goethe himself says therefore of Kant's adherents: “They certainly heard me but had no answer for me nor could be in any way helpful.
-Rudolf Steiner, Goethean Science
God died in the modern era, as Nietzsche proclaimed, and we killed Him. Now man wanders about his spiritual desert searching for his misplaced soul. We have been estranged from the eternal Source of our perceptual organs, which then leaves the spiritual chasm exceedingly vast. As Nietzsche also proclaimed, the only possible consequence of such a heinous crime is a species perpetually on the shores of nihilism as the waves grow larger and crash further inwards. Occasionally, our souls become especially alienated and we decide to test the waters. Other times, we ignore the waves and hope they will recede on their own. So how much longer can we really delay the inevitable consequences of the Kantian divide?
When the velocity of progress increases beyond a certain point, it becomes indistinguishable from crisis.
-Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances
Perhaps we do not have much longer, but profound thinkers like Goethe, Steiner and Barfield have shown that the Kantian divide is nothing more than a mental habit we have grown accustomed to. It is a psychological 'complex' which operates within our soul (psyche) undetected. As with any unhealthy complex, the first step is to recognize it exists and disclose it to ourselves - this we call confession. Next we acknowledge that we cannot continue to live in its possession and remain true to ourselves - this we call repentance. Finally, we implement a voluntary, disciplined, and sustained practice of dismantling the complex to make room for new ideal configurations to take root within us - after this, we say that we have been baptized in the Spirit.

None of the above can be undertaken with arrogance or pride - it is not we who achieve a transfigured form but the living Spirit working within and through us. What is required at first is only a modicum of faith in this Spirit who can imbue us with the power necessary to become who we are. It is a trust that, when we seek genuinely and diligently, we shall find that the world of phenomenon is not other than the world of noumenon. We will then come to know deep within our being that the thing-speaks-for-itself and it is our responsibility, and ours alone, to heed its call. Only that is worthy of free beings.
When the healthy nature of man works as a whole, when he feels himself in the world as though in a great, beautiful, worthy, and precious whole, when his harmonious sense of well-being imparts to him a pure, free delight, then the universe, if it could experience itself, would, as having achieved its goal, exult with joy and marvel at the pinnacle of its own becoming and being.
-Goethe, Aphorisms in Prose
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
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Eugene I
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Re: Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

Post by Eugene I »

Nice writeup! My comments are here

It's also worth mentioning that this way of knowing the noumenon through it "speaking to us" trough pure ideas is possible if and only is such ideas do exist and belong to the realm of noumenon, which is exactly the Platonic assumption. In other words, your writeup is an implicit statement of Platonism, albeit a beautiful one :) But I think it should be stated explicitly.
"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kanzas anymore" Dorothy
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AshvinP
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Re: Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

Post by AshvinP »

Eugene I wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 6:21 pm Nice writeup! My comments are here

It's also worth mentioning that this way of knowing the noumenon through it "speaking to us" trough pure ideas is possible if and only is such ideas do exist and belong to the realm of noumenon, which is exactly the Platonic assumption. In other words, your writeup is an implicit statement of Platonism, albeit a beautiful one :) But I think it should be stated explicitly.
Thanks!

All Western idealism is "Platonic" in the sense that he was the first Western philosopher to express such ideas comprehensively, so it's not a very useful label within the West. Anyway, the ideal content is not an assumption if we are actually experiencing it all the time, including at this moment. The real assumption here is that what we are experiencing as ideal content is actually an illusion of some sort, whether due to a priori categories (Kant) or because it is all epiphenomenal from mindless matter or some other reason we come up with.
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
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Eugene I
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Re: Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

Post by Eugene I »

AshvinP wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 6:46 pm Anyway, the ideal content is not an assumption if we are actually experiencing it all the time, including at this moment. The real assumption here is that what we are experiencing as ideal content is actually an illusion of some sort, whether due to a priori categories (Kant) or because it is all epiphenomenal from mindless matter or some other reason we come up with.
Well, materialists are also actually experiencing the ideal content of their representation of the world as "material". Does such fact prove materialism true? Yet idealism considers such representation as "illusion" (or more precisely, mis-representation). But instead of "material" representation, the Western Platonic idealism substitutes it with "the world of Platonic ideas". Still, many versions of Western idealism such as Schopenhauer's, William James's, Hume's, Bernardo's and so on, are not Platonic.

There is an uncountable number of various ideal representations of the world, including materialistic, dualistic, Platonic (including all theistic), non-Platinic idealistic, flying spaghettis monster's and all sorts of other metaphysics. How do we know which one of them is true? All attempts to "prove" any of such metaphysics and "disprove" the others are futile, although we can still present reasonable pro and con arguments. One of such arguments is the principle of parsimony that Bernardo uses extensively, and such principle actually argues against Platonism.
"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kanzas anymore" Dorothy
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Cleric K
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Re: Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

Post by Cleric K »

Excellent essay, Ashvin! Great journey to this core point that we must resolve!

Eugene I wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 6:03 pm I don't know much about Schop's approach, but speaking for the Easter non-dual one, the way to close the Kantian divide is to experientially realize that we and all the reality appearing phenomenally IS the noumenon existentially, and its noumenal aspects (such as beingness and awareness) can be experientially directly known prior to exercising any thinking, and can be experienced as inseparable from the phenomenal aspects. Then, in addition to that, thinking can be exercised as well to comprehend the "comprehendible" aspects of reality as much as possible.

The noumenon can speak to us in two possible ways: through us directly knowing/experiencing its noumenal aspects prior to exercising any thinking, and trough us comprehending the primordial Platonic ideas that belong to the realm of the noumenon (providing that such ideas indeed exist) through our thinking ability. Even if the Plationic assumption is true, that does not invalidate the direct-experiential approach, but rather they would complement each other.
Eugene, there's no need of Platonic world if you allow for thinking to think about reality and not only of abstract (and possibly existing in some separate world) ideas. You implicitly allow this when you think about your own meditations. I suppose you'll agree that when you think about the mystical experiences you don't assume you're dealing with abstract ideas but with ideas resulting from direct knowledge. This is one instance where you admit that there's a point of contact between thinking and direct experience. There's no reason to fantasize any Platonic world when you think about the reality of your meditations - you are thinking ideas that are part of reality, the noumenon.

Now the questions transforms. It's not about the existence of ideas but what restrictions we put on what can be experienced in direct way and what not. This is the real dividing line. So mysticism solves the Kantian divide by allowing for an experience where they have point of contact. But that's all. As far as thinking is concerned, it remains entirely within the abstract, with the exception of thinking about the mystical experience - this is the only idea that is not abstract but proceeds from reality. So the question now is "are there any real limits to what can be known in the direct way? Or any limits are self-imposed limits?"
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Eugene I
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Re: Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

Post by Eugene I »

Cleric K wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 10:29 pm Eugene, there's no need of Platonic world if you allow for thinking to think about reality and not only of abstract (and possibly existing in some separate world) ideas. You implicitly allow this when you think about your own meditations. I suppose you'll agree that when you think about the mystical experiences you don't assume you're dealing with abstract ideas but with ideas resulting from direct knowledge. This is one instance where you admit that there's a point of contact between thinking and direct experience. There's no reason to fantasize any Platonic world when you think about the reality of your meditations - you are thinking ideas that are part of reality, the noumenon.
The ideas can result from experience, relate to experience, reflect it, point to it, describe it. But they are never "equivalent" to the experience itself and can never fully embrace it. This observation comes as a direct result of my meditation experience when I compare the direct conscious experiences and my ideas about them. You are right that the ideas themselves are part of the experience and part of the noumenon, they constitute the "content" of the thoughts, and the thoughts are inseparable part of the direct conscious experience and of the noumenon. Yet, the ideas only constitute a part of the fullness of the experience, a "reflective" part of it. And they can also reflect the experience more or less precisely (or even entirely imprecisely), and can easily mis-represent it. They can also literally create fantasized and fabricated worlds with all thinking activity happening within the framework of these worlds and these worlds can feel so real and convincing that people spend most of the time living in them and confusing them with reality. this is actually what most people do - they live mostly in the fabricated worlds of their thinking and unable to distinguish it from the factual reality of the direct conscious experience. They look at the screen of a world (and the visual experience of the picture on the screen is definitely real) and fantasize that the "things" depicted on the picture have some independent reality apart from being only shapes on the screen, and in addition to that, that the ideas they have about those things are also real and true. They live in a mind-fabricated fantasy world, welcome to the Matrix. Materialists live in the fantasized world of material universe, material objects and minds made of material neurons, and these fantasies feel absolutely real for them. The noumenon has a fascinating ability to fool itself into believing in the independent reality of the content of its thinking.
Cleric K wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 10:29 pm Now the questions transforms. It's not about the existence of ideas but what restrictions we put on what can be experienced in direct way and what not. This is the real dividing line. So mysticism solves the Kantian divide by allowing for an experience where they have point of contact. But that's all. As far as thinking is concerned, it remains entirely within the abstract, with the exception of thinking about the mystical experience - this is the only idea that is not abstract but proceeds from reality. So the question now is "are there any real limits to what can be known in the direct way? Or any limits are self-imposed limits?"
That is what we do in meditation: decipher between the direct pre-thinking reality of conscious experience and the ideas that are contents of thoughts (with thought being also part of the direct experience). By turning on and off the thinking we can experience the pre-thinking reality and then see what thinking does and adds to it. In this way we do not deny thinking, but understand the proper role for it and learn not to be fooled by its content, but experience it for what it actually is: just thinking carrying all sorts of ideas. Once we become free from being fooled (and enslaved) by thinking, we can then fully use it to the best of its ability and appreciate its power and beauty.

The real epistemological question is how and in which way our ideas relate to the reality, to the noumenon? What can we know about noumenon with our ideas in addition to what we can know from the direct conscious experience of it? We should approach this carefully knowing from our previous experience and history of science and philosophy and our private lives how many times thinking fooled and deceived us. We believed in the reality of turtles holding the world, the totemic gods, the fairies and Santas, the physical fields and forces, material objects in the "external" world etc., and it all turned out to be thinking-fabricated fantasies existing nowhere eles other than in the contents of our thoughts. We should not be discouraged by these failures, thinking is a powerful faculty and we just need to learn how to use thinking properly.
Last edited by Eugene I on Sat Apr 10, 2021 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

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Eugene I wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 8:09 pm
AshvinP wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 6:46 pm Anyway, the ideal content is not an assumption if we are actually experiencing it all the time, including at this moment. The real assumption here is that what we are experiencing as ideal content is actually an illusion of some sort, whether due to a priori categories (Kant) or because it is all epiphenomenal from mindless matter or some other reason we come up with.
Well, materialists are also actually experiencing the ideal content of their representation of the world as "material". Does such fact prove materialism true? Yet idealism considers such representation as "illusion" (or more precisely, mis-representation). But instead of "material" representation, the Western Platonic idealism substitutes it with "the world of Platonic ideas". Still, many versions of Western idealism such as Schopenhauer's, William James's, Hume's, Bernardo's and so on, are not Platonic.

There is an uncountable number of various ideal representations of the world, including materialistic, dualistic, Platonic (including all theistic), non-Platinic idealistic, flying spaghettis monster's and all sorts of other metaphysics. How do we know which one of them is true? All attempts to "prove" any of such metaphysics and "disprove" the others are futile, although we can still present reasonable pro and con arguments. One of such arguments is the principle of parsimony that Bernardo uses extensively, and such principle actually argues against Platonism.
The materialists are not experiencing anything "material", as we define that word metaphysically. That is simply the assumption they add onto a direct experience of qualia of concreteness, color, shape, motion, etc., and it is usually an unconscious assumption unless they are well-versed in philosophy. Eastern mystical approach is doing the same thing in the opposite direction - it takes the direct experiences of conscious forms and adds the assumption that they are emergent and illusory. It's not quite as flawed as the materialists, because the Eastern mystics can actually experience states in which the forms do not seem to exist anymore. Yet they are still denying the direct experience of memory, time, meaning of the mystical state, etc.

They are still making unnecessary assumptions about the direct experiences. And when philosophically questioned about those assumptions, it becomes a matter of metaphysical relativism, i.e. we cannot "prove" the direct experiences are real with certainty so all interpretations of those experiences are equally valid. That move is usually justified by appeals to "compassion", "equality", "tolerance", etc., or some form of the Kantian ontic-epistemic limit as outlined in the post. There is nothing parsimonious about positing an ontic realm of awareness separate from another realm of "emergent" forms, with the latter acting as gum-like substance stuck onto the base realm of non-ideational awareness.

Also I am not sure how you placing William James in the Hume-Schopenhauer category. Pragmatism is much more aligned with phenomenology of Steiner-Heidegger, as well as their spiritual approach, than analytic idealism and atheistic approach.
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Re: Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

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AshvinP wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 11:52 pm Eastern mystical approach is doing the same thing in the opposite direction - it takes the direct experiences of conscious forms and adds the assumption that they are emergent and illusory. It's not quite as flawed as the materialists, because the Eastern mystics can actually experience states in which the forms do not seem to exist anymore. Yet they are still denying the direct experience of memory, time, meaning of the mystical state, etc.
I said it many times: there are Eastern schools that do this, but those are rather on the fringes. The straight Buddhism never said that the experiences of the forms are illusory, on the contrary, the direct conscious experience of the forms is the actual reality, together with their beingness and awareness that are also always inseparable part of the direct experience of reality. But what it does say is that the ideas that reflect and interpret these experiences can be "illusory" and mis-representative of reality. And even when the ideas are not grossly mis-representative, they still never describe and represent the reality (of noumenon) fully and comprehensibly. That is again what materialists do: of course they do not experience matter directly, but they do experience their ideas about matter and they confuse theses ideas with reality.
AshvinP wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 11:52 pm They are still making unnecessary assumptions about the direct experiences. And when philosophically questioned about those assumptions, it becomes a matter of metaphysical relativism, i.e. we cannot "prove" the direct experiences are real with certainty so all interpretations of those experiences are equally valid. That move is usually justified by appeals to "compassion", "equality", "tolerance", etc., or some form of the Kantian ontic-epistemic limit as outlined in the post. There is nothing parsimonious about positing an ontic realm of awareness separate from another realm of "emergent" forms, with the latter acting as gum-like substance stuck onto the base realm of non-ideational awareness.

Also I am not sure how you placing William James in the Hume-Schopenhauer category. Pragmatism is much more aligned with phenomenology of Steiner-Heidegger, as well as their spiritual approach, than analytic idealism and atheistic approach.
I said this before: the moment you equate the content of thoughts with reality, you lose any ability to distinguish between the reality as it actually is, and the infinite number of mind-fabricated realities produced by thinking. Everything we can think of and imagine becomes equally real: fairies, material objects, Santa-Clauses etc. How do we distinguish between "right" and "wrong" content of thinking? We need criteria of truthfulness to do that, but the very criteria of truthfulness are also only ideas and contents of our thinking, and the number of possible truthfulness criteria is also unlimited with different criteria contradicting each other. How do we select the "right" criteria of truthfulness? We run into a bad infinity of the search for the truthfulness criteria. And we end up is a real mess of phenomena of conscious experience mixed with and indistinguishable from ideas and imaginations as the contents of thoughts where everything imaginable is equally real together with everything experienced - from the reality of feeling of redness of an apple to the reality of imagined Santa Claus.

The only way we can deal with such situation is to distinguish the content of our thoughts from the rest of the reality, with understanding that the content of thoughts is also a part of reality, but an "imaginative" and emergent part of it. And then we need to establish certain criteria of truthfulness of out thoughts, knowing the fact that the very criteria are also only ideas. And the only reasonable way to find such criteria is to ground them into the rest of the reality - the reality of our direct conscious experience minus the content of the thoughts. In this way such criteria can establish a correspondence between the reality of direct experience and the content of thoughts. We can distinguish a relatively "truthful" ideas from relatively "wrongful" by how accurately they reflect and represent the reality of our direct conscious experience.
There is nothing parsimonious about positing an ontic realm of awareness separate from another realm of "emergent" forms, with the latter acting as gum-like substance stuck onto the base realm of non-ideational awareness.
As I said before, such posing is simply a statement of the experiential fact that the awareness is unchangeable and unconditioned aspect of the conscious experience and forms are ever-changing and ever-conditioned aspect of it. There are no more metaphysical assumptions drawn from it. Such assumptions still can be drawn and some propositions can be made about the "special" metaphysical status of awareness, which some teachers and schools of of non-duality do, but I agree that they are not very parsimonious. But if we take the Buddha's position, he never actually drew such assumptions, he only stated the plain experiential fact of non-conditioned and non-emerging property of awareness and differentiated it from the experiential fact of the ever-changing property of forms.
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Re: Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

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Eugene I wrote: Sun Apr 11, 2021 12:31 am
AshvinP wrote: Sat Apr 10, 2021 11:52 pm Eastern mystical approach is doing the same thing in the opposite direction - it takes the direct experiences of conscious forms and adds the assumption that they are emergent and illusory. It's not quite as flawed as the materialists, because the Eastern mystics can actually experience states in which the forms do not seem to exist anymore. Yet they are still denying the direct experience of memory, time, meaning of the mystical state, etc.
I said it many times: there are Eastern schools that do this, but those are rather on the fringes. The straight Buddhism never said that the experiences of the forms are illusory, on the contrary, the direct conscious experience of the forms is the actual reality, together with their beingness and awareness that are also always inseparable part of the direct experience of reality. But what it does say is that the ideas that reflect and interpret these experiences can be "illusory" and mis-representative of reality. And even when the ideas are not grossly mis-representative, they still never describe and represent the reality (of noumenon) fully and comprehensibly. That is again what materialists do: of course they do not experience matter directly, but they do experience their ideas about matter and they confuse theses ideas with reality.
What you are doing is even worse (not ethically, but metaphysically). It would be more consistent/coherent with a general idealism, even if not with our experience, to claim no forms whatsoever exist ontically. You are claiming forms do exist ontically, but the idea-form is the one exception that is actually emergent. It necessitates an ontic-epistemic dualism because now there are two categories of forms which are treated differently. Then we have to explain how awareness and non-idea forms give rise to idea-forms and how/why they interact with each other. We have to explain why there are idea-forms when they are altogether unnecessary to ontic non-ideational awareness.
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Re: Res Ipsa Loquitur: Kant vs. the World

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AshvinP wrote: Sun Apr 11, 2021 12:45 am What you are doing is even worse (not ethically, but metaphysically). It would be more consistent/coherent with a general idealism, even if not with our experience, to claim no forms whatsoever exist ontically. You are claiming forms do exist ontically, but the idea-form is the one exception that is actually emergent.
I'm repeating again: I never made any claims about the "ontic" existence of anything, the only ting I said was:
But if we take the Buddha's position, he never actually drew such assumptions, he only stated the plain experiential fact of non-conditioned and non-emerging property of awareness and differentiated it from the experiential fact of the ever-changing property of forms.
AshvinP wrote: Sun Apr 11, 2021 12:45 am It necessitates an ontic-epistemic dualism because now there are two categories of forms which are treated differently. Then we have to explain how awareness and non-idea forms give rise to idea-forms and how/why they interact with each other. We have to explain why there are idea-forms when they are altogether unnecessary to ontic non-ideational awareness.
We can try to explain it, but we don't have to.
But, as I said, distinguishing between the content of thoughts and the rest of the forms and whatever there is to the reality is the only way I can see to avoid a mess of not being able to distinguish our ideas and imaginations (Santa clauses, material objects, turtles holding the world, gods and fairies) from reality.

Another possible way to avoid this mess is to pose that some ideas are "true" in an absolute sense and some other ideas are "wrong", claiming the existence of absolute truthfulness criteria. This is basically what Platonism does. But such position equally brings an ontic-epistemic dualism between the "true" and "false" ideas. Some kind of dualism is inevitable here as soon as we attempt to distinguish between accurate and inaccurate representations of reality with ideas: we either (at least epistemologically) distinguish all ideas from the rest of reality, or we distinguish "true" ideas from "false" ones relying on the existence of some absolute criteria of truthfulness (arguably claiming their "ontic" status). In the latter case we would also need to explain where such criteria of truthfulness came from. Well, the theistic version of idealism always has a simple answer to all such metaphysical questions: God made them this way. Anyway, regardless whether such absolute criteria exist or not, humanity was not able to find any of them yet as a result of the millennia of development in philosophy, science and spirituality.
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