Monday, November 26, 2012

Does Kant Rescue Cause and Effect from Hume?

Perhaps the stickiest wicket that Kant faces in his Critique of Pure Reason is to roll back Hume's argument that there ain't no such thing as cause and effect.  For Hume, all we can say about events in the world is that B follows A.  We can never say that A caused B.

Since the Brits invented cricket, you can see that the German Kant would have to be really on his game to deal with the googlies from bowler Hume.  (Although I don't know if googlies had been invented yet).

In a way, Kant's whole transcendental machinery is designed to deal with Hume's challenge: what warrant can there be for any assertion of A being the cause of B?  The whole idea of the external experience of objects as appearances rather than things-in-themselves is the center of Kant's cunning plan to deal with Hume and his tricky bowling.

Kant makes his argument that, for any experience in the world, there must be a rule that predicts the occurrence of an event from a previous event, for if there were no rule in the mind connecting events then indeed all sequences of perceptions would be merely subjective, received impressions having no connection with any outside object.  On that view there would be no way to cognize any outside object.

The cunning trick is, of course, that we are not talking about events-in-themselves or outside-objects-in-themselves.  The events are appearances, impressions that the mind processes into unified judgments about what is going on out there.  If I see a boy in the neighbor's yard in the act of throwing a baseball towards my house I take note of that appearance.  If half a second later I receive the impressions of a crash and tinkle in the front room and a a boyish squeak from the neighbor's yard, I am justifying in applying a rule that baseballs thrown at my house are quite likely to hit my house and that the appearance (or hear-ance) of a crash and tinkle shortly after the appearance of the neighbor boy and his baseball justify my judgment that it was the boy wot done it.

It all revolves around the appearances vs. things-in-themselves game.  In the game of appearances I could always be wrong.  It's possible that I didn't see the other kid across the street and his baseball.  Or it could be that a meteorite came out of the sky and broke my window.

But none of that matters.  What matters is that Kant's transcendental machinery describes how my sensibility receives impressions from the outside world, which I process in accordance with my forms of intuition about space and time and then combine them into a manifold using the categories of understanding.  Then I apply judgement to bring the manifold to a unified experience of possible external objects of experience.  But those objects are only appearances, not things-in-themselves.

Good old Kant.  Gin clear, as always.  And four runs for the K√∂nigsberger against the best bowling in England.

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