Tuesday Quought: Transzendentale Methodenleere
“We have found, indeed, that although we had contemplated building a tower which should reach to the heavens, the supply of materials suffices only for a dwelling-house, just sufficiently commodious for our business on the level of experience, and just sufficiently high to allow our overlooking it. The bold undertaking that we had designed is thus bound to fail through lack of material – not to mention the babel of tongues, which inevitably gives rise to disputes among the workers in regard to the plan to be followed, and which must end by scattering them all over the world, leaving each to erect a separate building for himself, according to his own design. At present, however, we are concerned not so much with the materials as with the plan; and inasmuch as we have been warned not to venture at random upon a blind project which may alltogether beyond our capacities, and yet cannot well abstain from building a secure home for ourselves, we must plan our building in conformity with the material which is given to us, and which is also at the same time appropriate to our needs.”, Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Reclam, 1966, p. 726 – this is the semi-official English internet translation of the original passage.
[I am re-posting this from another blog of mine out of nostalgia. This is a favorite quote of mine and my quought of 2008 actually is, in an endearing kind of way, something that has stayed constant in my head over the past 30 odd years.]
I know: a poet he was not. Nevertheless, this is a sublime poetic truth. It is much like my history teacher (the forever unknown Jef Arras) told me twenty years before I mustered the courage to read, happily unguided as ever, this rather annoying but great book: there was philosophy before and after Kant, and only the latter is of real significance.Immanuel shifted philosophy into proper scientific progress. It took some time for it to be widely felt. The truth is that many still today – but more about that later – dive head first into the concrete wall of trying to explain everything, and, more specifically, everything at once. The sad truth is that the big pockets of tower-building megalomania can be found in scientists blabbering out rather haphazard ‘philosophical’ truths, getting them into playing yes/no games with the most profound stupidities of organized religion.
But let’s be positive. Since Kant philosophy is no longer polemic & rhetoric but a place where people can cooperate (for instance using the great arts of both polemic & rhetoric). Although he does not finally get to stating it outright, the spirit introduced is the spirit that more than a century later was explicitly put in words by Carnap: philosophy not as a means to get the final word but as a means to allow a community of builders to erect a workable community where at least what is said can be clearly understood. A search, if you will, for how a first word could ever be uttered as well as understood in the way it had been intended to be understood (& so to the by now not yet classical enough: & so forth & so on).
What then is the plan?
For sure not the plan Kant was thinking of, or at least not in the specific way he was thinking of it. The plan is unwinding literally, to the extent that only the process, the form of a plan, remains. Philosophy is no longer a place to make those big substantive claims about this, that or even the other. What remains is slight at best for those in need of fast mental food – but this lack, if a lack it is, is made up big time by the universality of what is still claimed as to the due process of our reasoning (and consequently of our moral living). How we progress in philosophy is how we progress in everyday life, maybe, if we are to progress at all but that’s the subject of many other quoughts.
Let me self-indulgently quote from my – probably forever unknown – thesis: “Commonsense Reasoning: Do Humans Think?”. More specifically a passage directly following the Kantian quote of today’s quought:
“The debates within the cognitive sciences pretty much feel the same way the Scholastic debates must have felt to I. Kant. Divisions inspired by strong principles alongside a substantial fragmentation on very specific matters. Specifically with reference to so called ‘higher’ cognition one finds rather heated debates between a more rationalist point of view and a more empiricist view.
My, maybe somewhat overambitious, contention is that by and large the analogy holds. The divisions and debates referred to above mask a more profound issue similar to the one Kant dealt with. This common source consists in the shared view that the mind should be able to mirror, in principle, the external human behaviour of reasoning. In other words, the brain is a minature computer of sorts on which all overt reasoning can be implemented and the brain is, as well, the source of the mind.
In the terms of the quote above, I hold that these views ‘are bound to fail by lack of material’, in the brain. There is more to the social practice of reasoning than can be accounted for by the mere operation of the brain. At the same time there is more to the operation of the brain than can be functionally accounted for using the basic terminology of pure reason.”
With this I at least achieved this: I was quoted somewhere.
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