Was Kant really that skeptical?

kant-i-75x83Some readers of Explaining Postmodernism object that I over-interpret Kant’s skepticism. Some prefer a gentler, more objectivity-friendly Kant. So while I quote Kant a lot in making the argument that Kant’s philosophy is radically subjectivist and the critical step down the road to postmodernism, not everyone is convinced.

So I am grateful to Quee Nelson for the following fine collection of quotations from various of Kant’s works, all supporting the Kant-as-subjectivist thesis. The quotations are included in the Appendix to Nelson’s (recommended) The Slightest Philosophy.

“It still remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us … must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof.” Critique of Pure Reason, B519.

“All objects of an experience possible for us are nothing but appearances, i.e., mere representations, which … have outside our thoughts no existence grounded in itself. … The realist … makes these modifications of our sensibility into things subsisting in themselves, and hence makes mere representations into things in themselves.” Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, 13, Note II.

kant-silhouette-75x134“The senses … never and in no single instance enable us to know things in themselves.” Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, Part I, Book I, Chap. I, sec. II, 55.

“Things in themselves … cannot be objects of experience.” Critique of Pure Reason, A385.

“Matter … is nothing other than a mere form or a certain mode of representation of an unknown object.” Critique of Pure Reason, B45.

“Nothing intuited in space is a thing in itself … what we call outer objects are nothing but representations of our sensibility the form of which is space. The true correlate of sensibility, the thing in itself, is not known, and cannot be known, through these representations; and in experience no question is ever asked regarding it.” Critique of Pure Reason, A370.

kant-profile-75x94“External objects (bodies) are merely appearances, hence also nothing other than a species of my representations.” Critique of Practical Reason, Part I, Book I, Chap. I, sec. II, 54.

“The objects with which we have to do in experience are by no means things in themselves but only appearances.” Critique of Pure Reason, B520.

“Appearances are not things, but rather nothing but representations, and they cannot exist at all outside our minds.” Critique of Pure Reason, B235.

“Phenomena are not things in themselves, and are yet the only thing that can be given to us to know.” Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Part One, Remark II, 288-289.

“The non-sensible cause of these representations is entirely unknown to us.” Critique of Pure Reason, A494/B522.

“As we have just shown that the senses never and in no manner enable us to know things in themselves, but only their appearances…we conclude that all bodies together with the space in which they are, must be considered nothing but mere representations in us, and exist nowhere but in our thoughts.” Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Part One, Remark II, 288-289.

kant-stamp-75x88“Your object is merely in your brain.” Critique of Pure Reason, A484/B512.

“It is also false that the world (the sum total of all appearances) is a whole existing in itself … appearances in general are nothing outside our representations.” Critique of Pure Reason, A507/B535.

“Since space is a form of that intuition we call outer … we can and must regard the beings in it as real; and the same is true of time. But this space and this time, and with them all appearances, are not in themselves things; they are nothing but representations and cannot exist at all outside our minds.” Critique of Pure Reason, A492/B520.

“The understanding itself is the lawgiver of Nature; save through it, Nature would not exist at all.” Critique of Pure Reason, A126.

“If I remove the thinking subject, the whole corporeal world must at once vanish.” Critique of Pure Reason, A383. [See: Primacy of Consciousness]

“If then, as this critical argument obviously compels us to do, slightest-philosophywe hold fast to the rule above established, and do not push our questions beyond the limits within which possible experience can present us with its object, we shall never dream of seeking to inform ourselves about the objects of our senses as they are in themselves.” Critique of Pure Reason, A380.

“I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” Critique of Pure Reason, Bxxx.

Source: Quee Nelson’s The Slightest Philosophy at Google books. Also available at Amazon.

Related on Kant:
My interpretation of Kant’s epistemology in Chapter Two of Explaining Postmodernism.
Kant on collectivism and war.
Is commerce rendering war obsolete?
Education: Locke versus Kant.
Philosophy’s longest sentences, Part 2.
Kleist: How Kant ruined my life.
On “giving back”.
Kant and modern art.
Is modern art too complicated for us? [with quotations from Kant's Critique of Judgment].
Heine on Kant: The Department of Great Putdowns.

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7 Responses to Was Kant really that skeptical?

  1. perogruyo says:

    Kant is a bug. Really. Had he ever at least prepare his breakfast?

  2. Scherie says:

    This is something I can never understand about certain people whom I’ve read that misinterpret Kant’s philosophy. Some actually believe his philosophy is for reason. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, I don’t think they have read his entire works completely.

    I want to relay a something that happened to me during undergrad. I took a philosophy and society course (I attended a Jesuit college so we had a 9 credit hour requirement to take philosophy). I’ve always enjoyed philosophy and understanding the world around me. But in this class, I found Kant unintelligible. I would try to read the entire text of his work: Grounding for The Metaphysics of Morals. The class was pretty much a German philosophy course (go figure!)

    In any event, I went to the professor’s office hours, almost begging her to tell me what is this man trying to say. She nearly jumped out of her seat and told me not to read the actual text, but to only go by her lectures in class!?!?! I was shocked because I had never had a professor tell me not to read the actual text. I think this is the reason why so many smart individuals could miss the mark on Immanuel Kant and his destruction of reason and man’s mind. I should have known then that something was up. It took some time through my own initiative to investigate further that Kant deserved to be called: THE ALL DESTROYER.

  3. JKop says:

    Destroyer huh… The function of Kant’s transcendetal idealism is to justify empirical realism. Not empirical idealism, nor scepticism. Kant is the great defender of reason.

    As for misunderstandiings of his philosophy, e.g. that he would be an empirical idealist or a sceptic, I might add that if ‘things-in-themselves’ is a theoretical limit for possible knowledge, then it does not entail a mystic allusion of something actual yet unknowable beyond that limit (like a limit is not a border).

    And on his transcendental aesthetics, things are known by their appearances, which are partly, but only partly, conformed by concepts of pure reason. Hence what we know empirically is real!..add lots of intensional arrows here ;)

  4. Jeff Perren says:

    I wonder how Fred Seddon would respond to these?

  5. I want to relay a something that happened to me during undergrad. I took a philosophy and society course (I attended a Jesuit college so we had a 9 credit hour requirement to take philosophy). I’ve always enjoyed philosophy and understanding the world around me. But in this class, I found Kant unintelligible

  6. Dan Langlois says:

    Kant’s philosophy is ‘radically subjectivist’. Pal, stop. As actually is mentioned in one of the comments above, he’s an empirical realist, his term. ‘Radically subjectivist’ is not his term, and I don’t think it’s meant particularly formally, else maybe we can clarify the term. Is there some other kind of subjectivist that doesn’t sound as bad? More moderate counterparts? Whose not taking subjectivism to its proper conclusions, is, perhaps, a failure of theoretical nerve, in Kant’s eyes? Or who prefer their ‘proper’ subjectivist insights?

    I wonder what might be the core claim of radical subjectivism — the essence of the position. How can there even be anything radical about ‘subjectivism’, is this something of which Aristotle was not aware? Is ‘subjectivism’ not a position that ‘goes back’? Does Kant
    reject classical two-valued logic or something? What is the not easily defended position? I thought subjectivism was something like that all points of view on reality are equally valid. This is not Kant’s view. Or, that there is not undeniably a reality. Not Kant’s view. Kant’s view isn’t one that you can’t live your life by, or that you can’t conduct an analysis based upon, as it were. Most non-psychotics operate most of their waking life, as what, –realists? I suppose?

    Does Kant deny that what makes a statement valid is the degree of correspondence between the idea and external reality? No. Doubtless, this is how you interpret the quotes that you give. You see Kant’s excessive oppositionalism, or some other problem with authority, when he says ‘Appearances are not things, but rather nothing but representations, and they cannot exist at all outside our minds.’ However, this is merely true, as you should be able to see for yourself. This is merely a well-functioning reality orientation. Kant is discussing, here, a hierarchy of methods for assessing and dealing with reality. There is such a thing as objective knowledge, for Kant.

    Also, “It still remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us … must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof.”

    You offer this as ‘supporting the Kant-as-subjectivist thesis’. As if, it is possible to disagree. What is your claim, that you *are* able to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof? And….go.

  7. Dan Langlois says:

    I wonder what might be the core claim of radical subjectivism — the essence of the position. I thought subjectivism was something like that all points of view on reality are equally valid. This is not Kant’s view. Or, that there is not undeniably a reality. Not Kant’s view. Kant’s view isn’t one that you can’t live your life by, or that you can’t conduct an analysis based upon, as it were. Most non-psychotics operate most of their waking life, as what, –realists? I suppose?

    Does Kant deny that what makes a statement valid is the degree of correspondence between the idea and external reality? No. You may see it as Kant’s excessive oppositionalism, or some other problem with authority, when he says ‘Appearances are not things, but rather nothing but representations, and they cannot exist at all outside our minds.’ However, this is merely true, as you should be able to see for yourself. This is merely a well-functioning reality orientation. Kant is discussing, here, a hierarchy of methods for assessing and dealing with reality. There is such a thing as objective knowledge, for Kant.

    Also, “It still remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us … must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof.”

    You offer this as ‘supporting the Kant-as-subjectivist thesis’. As if, it is possible to disagree. What is your claim, that you *are* able to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof? And….go.

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