Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kant on natural purposes, part the XIth


We now are moving into section 75, with the ponderous (shocking eh?) title “Critical Solution of the Antinomy of Judgment. The concept of an objective purposiveness of nature is a critical principle of Reason for the reflective judgment.” Kant is here reminding us of the “antinomy” he presented way back in section 70. He is also going to spend some time rehashing some earlier arguments we have seen since then. But, that’s just Kant. He does tend to repeat himself. On to you Parakant:

It is one thing to say:

“The origins or production of certain things in nature or of nature as a whole is only possible through an agency or cause that determines its actions according to some design’;

BUT QUITE ANOTHER THING to say:

“Because of the peculiar limitations and constitution of my cognitive faculties, when I infer or judge concerning the very possibility of these things, their production, their origins, I have no other choice but to conceive of that cause, whatever it may be, as if it were operating via design, that is analogously to the causality of an intelligence.”

For the umpteenth time, I’m telling you all there is a logical difference here. In the first statement I’m making a claim about objective matters of fact. Because I am attempting this task, I am therefore committed, or “bound” to establish the objective reality of that concept of a designer.

But, in the latter statement, I am making a statement about the limitations of my cognitive faculties, pointing out things that ‘fall out’ from their peculiar nature. The former is a proposition that makes an ontological commitment. The latter is a proposition concerning itself with my subject, my cognitive faculties.


To be really unhelpful, Kant decides he is a going to dredge up some terminology from a bit earlier to make his point abundantly (*cough * cough*) clear. Do you remember, in section 70 when he talked opaquely about Reason (with a capital ‘R’ no less) making prescriptions or pronouncements concerning judgment, assigning it roles, as it were? Well, get a load of this. [This is the original (in translation) of the last paragraph above from ParaKant]:

“Thus the former principle is an objective proposition for the determinant Judgment, the latter merely a subjective proposition for the reflective Judgment, i.e., a maxim which Reason prescribes to it.”


As I said way back then, sometimes it just pays to ignore the obscure bits and move on. So, we are a-movin’ on:

We are as a matter of fact indispensably obliged to ascribe the concept of design to nature, if we wish to investigate it, though this ‘obligation’ or this indispensably necessary approach is only obligatory or indispensable when it comes to NOOPs, organized products in nature, in short; organisms, beasties, plants and the like.


Ok, we’ve seen him saying this earlier, no surprises, but annoying terminological clusterfark coming up:

This concept (of the 'designedness' of organisms) is therefore an absolutely necessary maxim for the empirical use of our Reason...


There. Did you see it? Big “R” reason is now being used empirically. Wait a minute. Hold the logic truck up a minute. I thought big “J” judgment was supposed to be a-doin’ all this high falutin’ empirical research. What’s that you say? Reason provides general guiding principles that look to be some sort of logical consequence of the way we treat things as we investigate, or deal with the world? OK. Move on. Forget about it. It’s just terminological architectonic. In the end it doesn’t make that much of a difference.

Now, once it is admitted that this maxim, serving as a sort of guiding thread for the study of organisms in nature, is in fact useful, and verified as respectable, because useful, then we must at least give that maxim a try as applied to nature as a whole. We should attempt to use it as a tool for discovery, considering now not only organized beings, naturally occurring objects with apparent purpose, but also the whole darn shebang, the environment these NOOPs inhabit, which is ultimately the whole universe. Why? Because it may very well be that many of nature’s laws or other important constants might be discovered, which would otherwise remain hidden, because we have no insight into its “inner hidden mechanism”. That’s why.

But, as we make such efforts, we do need to keep in mind that the maxim, in the case of organisms, is indispensable for discovery, but in the case of the inorganic, it is not. We could do without it. Consider Newton and Galileo. They didn’t need the maxim to discover the laws of motion. In fact they made quite a bit of fuss about not needing God every step of the way.


I’ve substantially edited that passage, leaving some things out, adding the bit about Newton and Galileo. So sue me.

Now, the concept of something whose existence is possible due to the workings of a designer also includes, interestingly, the concept of that same thing being something that is contingent with regard to the regular humming of the laws of nature. We do not normally think organisms must, of necessity come into being due to the humming along of the laws of nature. It is otherwise with falling objects. We do conceptualize them as necessarily falling in accord with the laws of gravitation.

Yet, even if we conceptualize organisms as being contingent in this sense, we do nevertheless conceive of them operating in accord with those laws, even though their particular arrangement as organized beings is contingent. Similarly, we do not think watches ‘fall out’ as a result of the regular humming along of nature, but we nevertheless see that as they operate, they follow those laws, indeed they must.


I’ve substantially added to this passage. So now we’re even.

In fact, the best proof that the world as a whole is similarly contingent is an argument like this. This is the only “valid ground of proof” that the whole kit and caboodle is dependent on a being outside the universe for its origin, that is also, indeed must be, intelligent. Teleology then finds the consummation of its investigations only in theology.


Ok, done for now. Sure looks like Kant is going to make that ontological jump. Hey look, I’ve proven God exists! Not so fast. He’s going to hem and haw on that, as we have already seen in this series, gnawing on that logical point we opened this particular post with. More next time as we continue in section 75.

Phil Harris pipes in: Hemin’ and a Hawin’ ain’t the half of it Klyde...er Kant. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. You’ll see.