This also was a bit of an eye-opener for Kant. He recognised that there were issues here that needed to be addressed. He agrees with Hume that there is a fundamental sense in which our knowledge is constrained by experience. Where he most fundamentally takes issue with Hume is that he draws a crucial distinction between—as he puts it—what we can think and what we can know.
We can have thoughts about things that we can never hope to have any insight into, but where, nevertheless, the very process of thinking about those things can still play a significant role in our lives. So, one striking and obvious example of this, which we will be talking about a little bit later, is the existence of God. This is an issue that lies beyond the reach of our own experience. He spends a large part of the Critique of Pure Reason laying into these attempts. It is still a perfectly legitimate and interesting question.
On the one hand, he is curbing our pretensions to know more than we can; but, on the other hand, he is doing so as a means of opening up the ground for the possibility of faith. What exactly is going on there? This is an absolutely crucial distinction that permeates the Critique of Pure Reason and is very relevant to all of the later work as well. Basically, it is a distinction between appearance and reality. Many philosophers have believed that there is a fundamental distinction between appearance and reality.
Introducing Kant: A Graphic Guide
The way this comes about is that, in the process of exploring the scope and limits of our rational knowledge, he comes round to the view that some of what we can know through an exercise of reason can only be explained if it is due to us imposing a framework onto our experiences that is already built into our minds. An analogy that is very often used to illustrate this idea, which is in some ways a crude analogy, but in other ways, I think, a very helpful one, is that of a pair of spectacles. Among other things, he thinks that even the fact that we experience things in space and time is due to these native spectacles that we carry around with us.
Space and time themselves are part of the spectacles. This is why you get this fundamental division between appearance and reality. Kant is adamant that we can never take these spectacles off.
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Knowledge is restricted to the world of appearances. Is that what Kant is saying, that we have brains that are only able to cope with things which occur in space and time and can be explained in terms of cause and effect? We have to think of it as something even more profound than that. No doubt, there are all sorts of interesting ways in which our brains do condition how we experience things: perhaps there are differences between us and other animals so far as that goes, and perhaps there are differences between us and aliens on other planets, if there are such beings.
But those are themselves matters of empirical investigation. Our brains are themselves physical objects. It can at most be seen as another illustration of the idea. That is another important point in this connection. Kant believes that these discoveries that he has come to about this fundamental distinction between appearance and reality and all that comes with it are discoveries that are themselves the product of pure rational reflection.
Here he is doing philosophy, not science: whatever else it is, the Critique of Pure Reason is a philosophical work. To go back to something that I was saying earlier, originally a lot of the material in the Groundwork was meant to be in the Critique. How was it that a book that was originally supposed to be fundamentally about ethics ended up being the Critique of Pure Reason? But he was also well aware that recent advances in science, in particular the success of Newtonian mechanics, looked as if it was posing a threat to the very idea of ethics. It was looking increasingly as though everything that happens in the world could be explained as the result of inexorable causal laws.
The popular view that more and more people were beginning to take seriously was that the world basically consisted of a lot of tiny billiard balls knocking into each other in such a way that, in principle, you could predict with absolute certainty everything that was going to happen. Kant took that picture very seriously. The very idea of a distinction between right and wrong looks as if it is under threat as well. He somehow needed to be able to reconcile his commitment to Newtonian science, and to the principle that every event has a cause, with his equally ardent commitment to the possibility of free will.
How is free will possible in a phenomenal world that is all about cause and effect? He goes back to the idea that there is a fundamental distinction between appearance and reality, between the phenomenal and the noumenal. Everything is completely causally determined in the phenomenal world. So how can there be freedom in the phenomenal world?
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There really is no room for freedom in the phenomenal world. Complete causal determination does indeed rule out freedom, says Kant. How then does he square the circle? The answer is: by appeal to the distinction between appearance and reality. Our freedom is a feature of how we are in ourselves. This is something that works at the level of reality, rather than at the level of appearance—although it does mean that, just as in the case of the existence of God, strictly speaking we have to regard our belief in our own freedom as an article of faith. We hope we are because without freedom nothing in our lives seems to make sense.
Much of the Groundwork is concerned with developing the idea of what he calls the categorical imperative. The Groundwork is divided into three chapters.
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One thing that I think is important to appreciate is that he takes himself to be preaching to the converted. He thinks people already know perfectly well how to distinguish between right and wrong. People already have a sense of the distinction between right and wrong. What he can do, as a philosopher, is take this basic knowledge that people already have and systematise it.
So, he draws a distinction between categorical imperatives and hypothetical imperatives. Both you and your friend are thoroughly into this game and getting a lot of pleasure from your activity. When I said you should take tennis lessons, it was all based on the assumption that you would be interested in improving your game. I can turn around to you and say, well, you should be. There are certain things that we should simply do, full stop, irrespective of our aims and aspirations. Add to Wishlist. USD Overview Immanuel Kant laid the foundations of modern Western thought with his attempts to delimit human reason as an object of philosophical inquiry.
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This brand new graphic guide provides a comprehensive introduction to the schools of thought and This brand new graphic guide provides a comprehensive introduction to the schools of thought and key figures in continental philosophy.
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