Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kant on natural purposes part the XIIth

Wherein, after a long hiatus, the series is finished, complete with its repetitions, and appearances by Phil and Remley.

Our hero has by now argued that the theistic hypothesis is the best able from a family of four purported explanations of the apparent purposiveness of certain objects in nature (organism). Unlike the “idealist” explanations, which postulate that the apparent purposiveness is indeed just that “apparent,” it can flesh out an account in a way that moves beyond what we have called a mere logical possibility (please refer to earlier posts for details). Unlike the “hylozoic” explanation, its partner in the “realist” camp, theism does not end up arguing in a circle, or indulging in what Kant thinks is a self- contradictory thought of “living matter.”

Along the way, he has also bludgeoned us over the head with the fact that he does not want to be taken as arguing for the full ontological import of this thesis. He argues that we can safely say it is superior as a heuristic device, lying behind scientific and practical (reverse engineering type) investigation as a sort of working presupposition. He does not feel comfortable with claiming he has “proven” that God exists. We have seen this caution voiced over and over again; much to chagrin of Frankie and Phil. They wonder why he cannot bring himself to make the ontological leap. Granted that he has established the relative superiority of the theistic hypothesis, and indeed argues for something like its practical inevitability as we humans approach the world in attempts to explain NOOPs, they wonder why this does not count as a proof, or at least as grounds for some sort of inference for the ontological proposition that is the heuristic proposition’s twin.

Over to you Paraphrased Kant (as before in plain font):

But, in the end what now can we say does the most complete Teleology prove? (In other words: What can we infer from the fact that of the four logically possible explanations of the apparent teleology we see in NOOPs, theism comes out on top, not only in regard to its fecundity as a heuristic, but in its ability to generate a tolerably fleshed out narrative structure in explaining how it is NOOPs come to be?) Does this relative superiority in fact prove that there is such an intelligent being?


What it does show is that given the limitations of our cognitive faculties, the nature of our experience, and the principles we use to reason, we are simply unable to form a concept of the possibility of such a world as ours unless we postulate a “designedly-working” supreme being as the cause of that world.
We are not in a position to lay it down as objective fact that such a being exists. We can say, however, that by dint of our cognitive limitations, because of the nature of our subjectivity, when we reflect upon nature, and wish to form judgments about it, that those efforts of thought and those investigations can be carried out in no other fashion than by that guiding principle of a highest designing cause.

Remley steps in here: You know Curley (Phil) I’m beginning to think that you may be right in saying that I should have been circumspect in introducing you to I.K. He does seem to repeat himself. We’ve heard all this before haven’t we?

Phil: Yep. We have, and he aint never answered my question. He just keeps repeating the same thing. (He now turns to Kant) I asked you earlier: why can’t you just go ahead and make this inference you’re talkin’ about Clyde?

Kant: I was just getting to that – and don’t call me “Clyde.”

Now, if this proposition, (that the world is here due to the actions of a supreme and transcendent designer) falls out as an inevitable and necessary maxim of our human judgment, and it is found to be satisfactory for speculative and practical use of reason (i.e., not only for broad philosophical purposes, but for the nitty-gritty of natural science, at least with regard to investigating NOOPs), and it is, of the four hypotheses canvassed earlier, clearly the superior, I should like to know what we lose by not being able to prove it as also being valid from non-human points of view, as an objective matter of fact.

Phil interjects: But that’s exactly what I’ve been saying! Answer me already!

Kant continues while Remley holds Phil back:

It is indeed quite certain that we cannot adequately learn things about, nor explain organized beings as to their internal structure according to merely mechanical principles of nature. We can say that it is absurd to even make the attempt or to hope for some sort of Newton to appear on the world stage who can make comprehensible to us how even a blade of grass could come about by the entirely unguided actions of natural laws. We must absolutely deny such insight to men…

Phil now calmed (to Remley): This guy ever heard of Darwin?

Remley: What’s Australia got to do with this?

Phil: Never mind.

Phil: An’ ya know Rem, he’s gonna hedge his bets right about now too. He’s always building up, and then yankin’ it away. You know that, dontcha Rem?

Kant (as if on cue):

But then, how can we say that we know that in the very bowels of nature, if we were able to penetrate to the principle within it which sets or specifies natural laws constants and so forth, that there cannot lie hidden way down in there, in its mere mechanical and unguided workings, a sufficient ground for the possibility of organized beings (NOOPs)? Would it not be very presumptuous of us to deny this possibility?

Phil: Oh for the love of God. There he goes yankin’ it away again.

Kant: We cannot assign probabilities when it comes to judgments of pure Reason...

Phil: Hold it there Clyde! What does that mean?

Remley: Phil, I think I can explain. You remember the other day when we were discussing whether or not the universe had a beginning in time?

Phil: At the Musician’s Union ball?

Remley: Yes.

Phil: I don’t remember much about that night.

Remley: Well, Kant here made one good argument that the world must have had a beginning in time, and another good argument that it could not have had a beginning in time. They both look equally convincing as matters of logic, and we have no other way to assess their relative merits. Probabilities just don’t figure in. So, we’re stuck. Buridan’s ass in the middle of the bridge.

Phil: I resent that implication. Buridan's ass? Speak for yourself Frankie.

Remley: But you get the idea?

Phil: Yes I suppose so. (Turns to Kant) Do go on thou wigged Prussian friend.

Kant: We can’t judge affirmatively or negatively about the proposition, because it, like the notion of the present state of the world following upon a previous time, is one of those peculiar and very basic presuppositions with which we make sense of the world, if my argument in the present case holds.

We can only say this much with certainty: If we are to judge according to what is permitted us by our very nature (and by this, I mean the conditions and limitations of our reason), we can place at the basis of the possibility of organized beings, these NOOPs, nothing other than an intelligent being. This notion alone, out of the four possibilities we canvassed in the last several posts, is in accord with the maxim we inevitably must make use of in the final analysis when we reflect upon these things and investigate them using scientific methods. It alone is in accord with what is in all practical effect a ground, which, though it is subjective (an artifact if you will of our nature, and limitations) is inseparably attached to the human race.

Phil: You’ll excuse me if I say something about this?

Kant: You’re asking me now? Go ahead.

Phil: You have a genuine suspense in the one case but not in the other. In regard to the notion that the present state of the world was preceded by another, you end up, by following out the argument, with two contrary pictures of the world. One says it has a beginning, the other says there ain’t no beginning. You follow?

Kant: Yes.

Phil: Well, now look at your four theories concerning NOOPs. You’ve argued that one is superior to the others by a fairly wide margin. We know the next best competitor, what you call “mechanism” (that is, unguided operations of natural laws) can explain the non-organic world to a great degree. But, you claim that it is “absurd” to make an attempt to use these to explain how DNA came into being, with its full functionality, and it is no good “hoping” for someone that would play for that explanatory enterprise, the role Newton played for explanations in the world of the inorganic. So, there is no state of suspense as there is in the ‘time’ case. There is no basic presupposition that generates two equally plausible but opposed pictures of the world. In fact, a plausible picture of the world emerges that blends the two points of view, the mechanical and teleological. Why not make your inference?

Why indeed? That is, after a fashion, the way forward for Kant. BUT, he never relinquishes his caution. In the following sections of the CJ he nevertheless takes up the challenge of constructing and fleshing out this suggestion of blending the two views, generating a fascinating view of the universe as designed for a purpose, man, not surprisingly, being central to it all. Aristotle in Enlightenment garb if you will. Maybe I’ll get to going over this portion of the CJ in the future. Maybe.

Exit question: If this picture of the world, this 'presupposition' is "inseparably attached to the human race" as we can assume other aspects of our cognition and reasoning are, (such as the concept of causality) AND we can assume that there are elements of human experience that persist because they are by and large accurate reflections of actual states of affairs, then it seems a case can be made that this present thesis, like the thesis that there is an external world causally interacting with us, is warrented.

WWKS? (What would Kant Say?) No doubt, he'd urge caution.