Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kant's Best Shot: "Objective Reality"

In the Transcendental Deduction, Kant hauls out his big gun against Hume's "associationism:" he calls it "objective reality."  The idea is that if you run your lumber through Kant's three-stage lumber mill, inserting raw logs of sense impressions into the circular saw that slices the sense impressions through the forms of intuition, and then you assemble the manifold of resulting log intuitions into the synthesis of a stacked pallet, then you can judge the resulting stack of Grade A two-by-fours as a "necessary unit of the apperception in the synthesis of intuitions."

Why is this objective?  Because writes Kant, "[the] transcendental unity of apperception is that unity through which all of the manifold given in an intuition is united in the concept of the object.  It is called objective on that account[.]"(§18, B140)  Get it?  Since the thinker has united his manifold of sense impressions into a unified single object, he now has an objective reality.  The "subjective unity of  consciousness"  (Hume's association) is merely a "determination of inner sense" without the uniting into a single object.

So while we have merely a bundle of sense impressions we don't have a unified object, and therefore no objective reality.

What Kant seems to be trying to argue is that an objectively valid judgement is one that makes a claim, an assertoric judgment, as "this body is heavy."  This is a claim that can be agreed to or denied by others.  The statement that "bodies and heaviness seem to go together," i.e., a weaker claim than Kant's phrase "If I carry a body I feel a pressure of weight" comes closer to the Humean idea of a bundle of impressions.

But really, it seems to be much more sensible to accept Hume's skepticism that you can never really apply objective criteria to a truth claim about an association, and move to modern neo-pragmatism and say that look, the science is settled on this, at least a low velocities, so we know, from our concepts of the understanding, that bodies are heavy and bodies of gold are really heavy.  Until someone proves us wrong.

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