Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kant on natural purposes, part the VIth


This is a continuation of section 72, and it’s brief, the primary purpose being to round out Kant’s initial presentation of the two families of theses in regard to NOOPs. The last post (V) set out the two views from the “idealist” or “it ain’t really out there” camp. This present post sets out the members of the “it’s really out there. Honest.” camp, or as I’ve also been calling it, the “guidance family.” Lay on ParaKant:

The two hypotheses that embody realism with respect to the purposiveness of nature also fall into two categories sorted according to where they locate the purposive activity they posit; either within the physical world itself, as an aspect of the universe, or on the other hand, hyperphysical, or supersensible, something distinct from, yet somehow acting upon that universe. In both cases, what is essentially differentiating, when compared to the “idealist” theories, is that the explanation makes some sort of use (analogical or otherwise) of the concept of something mental acting with intention.

1. The physicalist thesis maintains there is something analogous to mental power and intention, and that this something is in some way interior to the universe and animating all of matter, making it, (once again speaking analogically with our own self-experience), ‘alive’ much in the same way that we consider ourselves to be alive because we control our human bodies. In short, the physicalist postulates a ‘life of matter.’ The universe is alive according to this view.

Working with that analogy, we can see that the physicalist thesis can be read in two ways. According to the first, that animating principle is a world soul, that is; it is something included in the universe, connected to, but distinct from the matter which it animates, a sort of animating principle. On the second view, the animating principle is an intrinsic feature of matter, not distinct from it. Either one of these views can be labeled “hylozoism”

2. The second “realistic” hypothesis (the hyperphysicalist thesis) explains the purposiveness of objects in the universe by reference to a metaphysically separate original non-physical basis of that universe, (something that is, at the same time because we are dealing here with the “realist” camp) intelligent. That’s just a long-winded way of saying that this hypothesis explains the purposiveness of nature via a conception of transcendent God. This is theism.


Now, this is all relatively clear, but Kant feels the need to point out, in a footnote, that the views he’s just presented are in fact representative of the tendency in metaphysics, for philosophers to work out all the logically possible positions for any given philosophical question. About that, he is surely right. But, what he has to say in that footnote, and exactly how it connects with the main text in 72 needs some ‘splainin’ Ricky. Here’s the not-so-alles-klar- footnote:

This shows that, in most speculative matters of pure reason, and in the realm of dogmatic metaphysical assertions, the schools of philosophy have usually tried all available solutions to a given problem.

Thus, regarding the problem of the existence of NOOPs some philosophers have tried to explain the origins of these objects via the postulation of lifeless matter doing its thing (the atomists), others have tried postulating a lifeless God (Spinoza). Others have given the notion of living matter a go (panpsychism) and still others make use of the notion of a living non-physical God (good old fashioned theism).

For us, (as we think critically about the positions as heuristics) there is no alternative except, if necessary, to drop, hold in abeyance, or ‘bracket out’ the objective or metaphysical readings of these positions, as positive assertions as to how the universe actually is. Instead we will weigh them critically, and focus on how they relate to our cognitive powers (and their limitations). This will provide the principle of purposiveness in nature with a ‘validity’ that, while not the big hairy type of validity that the dogmatist hopes to substantiate with his big hairy metaphysically robust readings of these ‘systems of inquiry’, is yet substantial or valid in the lesser way of being a maxim that is useful, and sufficient for the safe use of reason.


Ok, I’m outta gas. Next section, 73, Kant goes into more detail in regard to these four theses, and we’ll find him doing a better job of explaining why it is he thinks atomism is a dead end as an explanation (or a heuristic on the more cautious reading of the principle). He’ll also treat, in a more sustained manner with Spinoza, panpsychism and theism. In the end, he thinks theism is the position with the lesser difficulties.