Nietzsche on Genius

Human, All to Human is considered one of Nietzsche’s lesser works, and I would tend to agree. But in one particular area he seems particularly prescient: that masterful work is more the result of blood, sweat and tears than native genius.

Basically, Nietzsche’s Human, All to Human beat Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers to the punch by over a hundred years. They even both agree that about ten years of hard work is required to attain that level of mastery we define as genius in a particular field.

Here’s Nietzsche in his own words:

163. The seriousness of craft.

Speak not of gifts, or innate talents! One can name all kinds of great men who were not very gifted. But they acquired greatness, became “geniuses” (as we say) through qualities about whose lack no man aware of them likes to speak; all of them had that diligent seriousness of a craftsman, learning first to form the parts perfectly before daring to make a great whole. They took time for it, because they had more pleasure in making well something little or less important, than in the effect of a dazzling whole. For example, it is easy to prescribe how to become a good short story writer, but to do it presumes qualities which are habitually overlooked when one says, “I don’t have enough talent.” Let a person make a hundred or more drafts of short stories, none longer than two pages, yet each of a clarity such that each word in it is necessary; let him write down anecdotes each day until he learns how to find their most concise, effective form; let him be inexhaustible in collecting and depicting human types and characters; let him above all tell tales as often as possible, and listen to tales, with a sharp eye and ear for the effect on the audience; let him travel like a landscape painter and costume designer; let him excerpt from the various sciences everything that has an artistic effect if well portrayed; finally, let him contemplate the motives for human behavior, and disdain no hint of information about them, and be a collector of such things day and night. In this diverse exercise, let some ten years pass: and then what is created in the workshop may also be brought before the public eye.

But how do most people do it? They begin not with the part but with the whole. Perhaps they once make a good choice, excite notice, and thereafter make ever worse choices for good, natural reasons.

Sometimes when reason and character are lacking to plan this kind of artistic life, fate and necessity take over their function, and lead the future master step by step through all the requisites of his craft.

And interestingly, it would seem that Nietzsche developed this line of reasoning to spite Wagner, his erstwhile friend, who believed very much in his own native genius.

Refuting Oneself Elegantly: Plato’s Third Man Argument

In the Parmenides, Plato did what he knew would be done by someone else anyway: he refuted a central plank of his own philosophy, the Theory of Forms. When Aristotle came along to do what Plato had already foreseen and further the refutation, the argument was already old hat. Nevertheless, Aristotle had chosen a far better example to illustrate the point, an example which also lent itself to a snappy title by which the argument is now known: the Third Man argument.

The Third Man argument is a nifty delight that is often confusingly expounded. I reckon I can do better, so here now I explicate either triumphantly or to no avail.

The Simple Part

There’s a single Form for each recognisable object or quality in the real world, all of which are the imprecise and inferior copies of their respective ideal Forms. Thus, we can recognise all real-life rectangles as rectangles, for instance, because we have the Form or essence of rectangles in our heads. So when presented with soccer pitches, books and rulers, we can assign them to the group headed by the ideal rectangle that we have a mental picture of and dub them all rectangles.

The Confusing Part
Soccer pitches, books and rulers are very distinct yet are nevertheless rectangles. If these rectangles are so distinct from each other, the one ideal rectangle must be just as distinct from the variety of rectangles in the real world as the real-world rectangles are all distinct from each other. Thus, how can the one ideal rectangle be of use in categorising all real-world rectangles as rectangles? Alternatively put, if the one ideal rectangle is itself a rectangle that heads the group that includes soccer pitches, books and rulers, how is the ideal rectangle itself recognised as a rectangle let alone as the ideal rectangle?

The ideal rectangle must itself be recognised as an ideal rectangle just as a real-world rectangle is recognised as a real-world rectangle. A real-world rectangle is recognised as a real-world rectangle via the ideal rectangle. Thus, if we want to identify the ideal rectangle as the ideal rectangle, we can do so only via the ideal of the ideal rectangle.

The Easy Part Once You’ve Understood the Confusing Part
Of course, we’ve now got ourselves a reductio ad infinitum or an infinite regress: if the ideal of the ideal rectangle is needed to identify the ideal rectangle, then the ideal of the ideal of the ideal rectangle will be needed to identify the ideal of the ideal rectangle and so on to infinity. And if we’ve got an infinite regress, than the Theory of Forms doesn’t explain much at all.

The Third Man Argument in But Three of its Forms

Substitue man for rectangle in the explanation above and you have Aristotle’s Third Man argument (the first man is the real-world man, the second the ideal man, the third the ideal of the ideal man). Substitute large for rectangle in the explanation above and you have Plato’s own refutation of his Theory of Forms. (Large, though, is a confusing example because it’s so difficult to imagine an ideal of something that is a relative quality. Cold is the absence of heat, so small can be considered the absence of large, nevertheless it’s still difficult to conceive of the ideal of large). Leave rectangle as rectangle in the example above and you have my own somewhat simplified version of the Third Man argument.

The Thesis: Scepticism and Unattainable Certainty, Transcendental Idealism and Humanised Epistemology

It took a year, but eventually I got 23,000 or so words out of my computer and onto paper as part of my thesis. It goes by the rather ponderous and, some would say, wanky title of Scepticism and Unattainable Certainty, Transcendental Idealism and Humanised Epistemology.

Feel free to download the thesis in full, and may a whole slew of universities be inundated with my plagiarised work.

The introduction is below.

Scepticism and Unattainable Certainty, Transcendental Idealism and Humanised Epistemology


Western philosophy has had to contend with scepticism since its first days. Carried through the millennia has been a constant questioning or undermining of human cognition that, in its extremer forms, distrusts what we ordinarily experience and introduces a pervasive sense of doubt into what we think we know. Descartes, the inaugurator of modern philosophy, famously attempted to arrive at indubitability in the face of thoroughgoing scepticism after feeling himself adrift in the milieu of intellectual upheaval that he was living through. And such was his work’s impact that it drew the attention of the Western philosophical tradition more closely towards epistemological matters and guided the inquiries of those that came after him down the same path.

I argue, however, that this focus on scepticism leads only to philosophical dead ends. By making it the centrepiece of a philosophical program, one must either vanquish scepticism by establishing absolutely certain knowledge, as Descartes attempted to do, or one must pragmatically deal with the consequences of an undefeated scepticism, as Hume suggested. Yet by even entertaining the notion that an absolute certainty can be attained, I contend that an irrefutable doubt is injected into human affairs that enfeebles other more fruitful avenues of philosophical analysis by placing too arduous a condition on its development. Such scepticism pushes enquiry further away from its anchor in the ordinary perplexities of human experience, thereby making the pursuit of certainty for its own sake the arbiter of what makes for meritable philosophy rather than the insightful analysis of the less-than-definite way we live our lives. This is not to say that pure logic, for instance, is of no consequence, or that philosophy should be a simple affair free of abstraction. Rather, philosophy needs to be aware of its own limitations as a human endeavour and engage in its enquiries accordingly if it is to best examine life and thought.

The first chapter of this thesis is devoted to the analysis of how Descartes dealt with scepticism in the guise of methodological doubt. The analysis will centre on two specific areas: firstly, the extent of Descartes’ methodological doubt and whether or not what he left unquestioned is of significance; and, secondly, the philosophical result of applying Descartes’ methodological doubt if one were to admit that it had merit. My contention is that Descartes’ methodological doubt either does not go far enough or is inconsistent with other parts of his own philosophy, and, even if these shortcomings were overlooked, the exercise of methodological doubt results in a hampered philosophy whose enduring utility is limited.

The second chapter looks at how scepticism plays out in Hume’s philosophical work. Although an empiricist, I maintain that Hume, like Descartes, was left with consciousness as the sole indubitable point from which to build his epistemology. Hume’s empiricism, however, precluded him from recourse to metaphysical entities, and the naturalism he espoused was his means for explaining why we do believe in notions such as causality and the substantial self even though sceptical arguments demonstrate that they are unjustified. In this way, Hume’s naturalism is a pragmatic palliative to scepticism’s ills, although I argue that the palliative fails to properly account for the unremitting doubt that is at the centre of his philosophy.

Kant, however, found a way out of the sceptical impasse by reframing the epistemological debate. Kant is rightly considered as the synthesiser of the rationalist and empiricist positions, but what is often overlooked is the important role transcendental idealism plays in his dealing with scepticism. In much of the copious commentary on his Critique of Pure Reason, transcendental idealism is disparaged as fanciful or incoherent and many have attempted to extract what they find admirable in Kant’s work from the unwanted bedrock. Contrariwise, certain commentators have staunchly defended transcendental idealism from its detractors and have attempted to show its integral place in Kant’s philosophy. I take up the cause of the defenders, and, in the process, argue that transcendental idealism introduced a new framework from which to ask epistemological questions by undermining the starting assumptions behind Cartesian and Humean scepticism. Where before one only had recourse to arrive at absolute certainty in order to defeat scepticism or accept the consequences of unremitting doubt, I contend that transcendental idealism changed the nature of the epistemological debate so that more radical sceptical arguments are marginalised as undecidable. As a result, I maintain that transcendental idealism provides the justification for trusting a much larger portion of our ordinary experience in our epistemological enquiries, thereby enabling a renewed focus on developing philosophy that deals with the full weight of our lives.

In the third and final chapter, I examine what role transcendental idealism plays in the Transcendental Deduction, where the heart of Kant’s epistemology resides. I argue that Kant’s epistemological approach meant he could avoid falling prey to scepticism and having to prove that our cognitions match up with a more privileged, real or absolute reality that we as humans cannot access. Instead, Kant outpointed scepticism rather than delivering a knock-out blow by asking what we can justifiably be sceptical of given his groundbreaking model of human cognition. Kant’s model of human cognition had both active and passive aspects so that a conception of the world is constructed out of inchoate sensory data which is received. This meant Kant could draw a line between what can and cannot be known so that the certainty he was attempting to attain is much less ambitious in nature. As a consequence, ordinary human experience and its preconditions were able to form the foundation of Kant’s philosophy so that a model of human cognition could be developed that addressed human concerns without needlessly worrying about reality in a more absolute sense. I argue that not only does excising transcendental idealism from the Critique undermine its metaphysical support, but, more generally, any philosophy without transcendental idealism as its undergirding is tantamount to refusing to acknowledge the limitations of being human. Transcendental idealism is the means by which philosophy can address ordinary human problems without the spectre of scepticism hanging over its head, and any work done on the presumption that a picture of absolute reality can be developed will find a quixotic outcome at best.


The Bernstein Lectures on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: Lecture One: The Introduction

Jay M. Bernstein conducted a series of lectures on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in 2006 that were recorded by his students. I found these lectures and their transcriptions at, and they came to be invaluable in my study of Kant. So now, I provide the transcribed notes, at least to the first lecture, here in HTML format.

Lecture One: Introduction

Tape 1 of 3

00:00: Kant is the modern philosopher, the crossroad through which all modern philosophy passes, both analytic and continental.

All the interesting problems in modern philosophy are located in Kant. It is not that modern philosophy stays with Kant, but it moves on in directions from Kant.

1:00: Kant as “the modern philosopher” in an odd way puts to an end what many thought to be the very questions of modern philosophy.

A famous characterization of modern philosophy is that it departs from the Medieval and Aristotelian question “what is there?” or “what is the world like?”, and begins with Descartes’ question “how do I know what is there?”

2:00: Modern philosophy is the idea that epistemology is first philosophy rather than metaphysics or ontology.

This is certainly what Descartes intended—this is picked up in the rationalist and empiricist programs following in line from Descartes.

2:30: Kant is challenging this very program. He challenges it first in a footnote in a preface to the first edition: (editor’s note: this should be in the second preface)

However harmless idealism first may be considered in respect to the central aims of metaphysics, it still remains a scandal to philosophy.

Jay points out that the CPR begins, not with a philosophical problem, but a scandal. A certain naughtiness. And also a rumour, an unsettledness floating around in the environment:

…it still remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us, and from which we derive our whole material of knowledge, even for our inner sense must be accepted merely on faith.

That is Descartes idea that we only know from God or Leibniz’s idea of theodicy as the condition for the possibility of knowledge. In that case, we would only know some object like a table is in front of us on the basis of faith.

Kant says this is outrageous. And any philosophy operating on this condition is a scandal.

4:30: Kant’s philosophy is not quite epistemology but a kind of displacement of epistemology, and exactly how that displacement occurs, how successful he is, is what the book is about.

His successes are idealist, like Hegel, or existentialist, like Heidegger—Being and Time wants to say the same thing about the scandal.

5:00: Kant’s critical system depends on there being three critiques:

  • Critique of Knowledge/Pure Reason
  • Critique of Morality/Practical Reason
  • Critique of Judgment/Beauty and Teleology

The three critiques are a displacement of the transcendentals of medieval metaphysics, those items taken to be the structures of the cosmos in medieval thought, which are in Kant broken up.

That means that the world is broken up. That is why Kant is modern. There is no longer a whole intelligible universe in which we are going to locate ourselves and find our place. That was the medieval, Aristotelian, Platonic view: there is a whole, a cosmos, of which we are a part, have a place.

7:00: The three critiques all by themselves are a displacement of that cosmological-metaphysical view of the world.

Therefore they announce modernity by saying that what used to be thought of as features of the cosmos—the nous, truth, beauty—are best thought of as features of human reason—modes or ways of thinking about or apprehending the world.

Truth or knowledge is a way of encountering objects, morality is a way of enacting our life with others, beauty is a way of appreciating objects.

8:00: The turn away from the world…

This is the fragmentation of the original unity of the world. That is part of Kant’s modernity. There is no longer a great God as the unity.

What we have to investigate is not the world in its unity but our different and irreducibly different ways of encountering the world.

What we are interested in is the world as seen not from the perspective of God, but from our own perspective.

9:00: The self-consciousness grounding Kant’s program is that he wants to think the problem of the meaning of the world as the ways in which human beings approach or encounter the world; the ways in which we take it up.

Which is to say, he is trying to articulate the very nature of what it means to be human in terms of the ways in which we encounter the world.

He tries to define what makes the human perspective on the world, human, our perspective, not some lesser way of trying to be a god or a saint, or whatever

So what Kant does to modern philosophy is changes the question, changes the topic. This is what all great philosophy does.

Tape 2 of 3

00:00: It is not a question of how human knowing approaches divine knowing. It is not the question of how we can get a God’s eye view of the natural world—which is still for many the project of natural science. The view from nowhere, as in Thomas Nagel or Bernard Williams on Descartes.

Kant says that that view is untintelligible. That project of trying to attain a God’s eye view from nowhere is untintelligible.

1:00: He doesn’t ask either how humans can approach saintliness or mimic divine goodness. The last thing you want to try to do is be like Jesus.

Kant says in the first chapter of the GMS, ‘if Jesus should appear, walking down 5th Avenue, what we need to ask is does is behavior conform to the character of the categorical imperative’. Does he behave as a good moral person as we understand that.

It is not our job to mimic him, he has to conform to our modes of morality, or he isn’t good.

This is Kant’s Copernican turn.

2:00: So Kant’s question becomes: what is it for human beings to have access to the world?

And to ask that question Kant thinks is equivalent to a view about who we are—it is a question of self-knowledge.

He says in the first introduction, p. 12:

It is a call to reason to undertake anew the most difficult of all its tasks (namely that of self-knowledge) and to institute a tribunal which will assure to reason its lawful claim and will dismiss all groundless pretensions not by despotic decrees but in accordance with its own eternal and inalterable laws. The tribunal is no other than the critique of pure reason…”

3:30: We have this idea with Kant that this book, this quest for self-knowledge, in which we are, reason is, both the judge, the prosecutor, the defendant, and the jury.

How is that possible to take up all those stances is what Kant is trying to think in his notion of ‘critique’.

‘Critique’ is that process of self-criticism that allows for that process of evaluation.

4:00: So on the story as we are telling it, Kant is the first self-conscious philosopher of finitude—trying to assert the meaning of the human against any theological metaphysical view of the human.

Therefore Kant is enacting a ‘critique of metaphysics’, as he says.

5:00: What is Kant’s essential strategy?

He tells us that what he wants to do is displace both rationalism and empiricism—displace epistemology altogether.

He wants to dissolve the dispute between rationalism and empiricism.

And the strategy is an interesting one, because in order to dissolve the stalemate, he is going to do what has come to be called using Ramsey’s maxim.

Frank Ramsey was a Cambridge philosopher who was around during the time of Wittgenstein. Ramsey’s maxim states:

it is a heuristic maxim that the truth lies not in one of two disputed views, but in some third possibility which has not yet been thought of, and which we only discover by rejecting something assumed as obvious by the two disputants

So the strategy to get around the two views in impasse, rationalism and empiricism, is to find a third view. But we find this third view by first discovering something both the disputed views agree on and negate it. You negate the premise of their debate and you start a third view.

7:00: So what then is the central thesis that both empiricists and rationalist to be true?

What are the crude mythologized view of these two positions?

In order to get what is going on in Kant, you have to have a good amount of Leibniz and Hume in your back-pocket. Along with Descartes and Locke, these are his constant talking points.

8:00: Rationalism:

For the rationalist position, Kant was always thinking Leibniz, and not Descartes, and Leibniz’s disciple Christian Wolff. Kant used Wolff’s textbook of metaphysics for many years.

Rationalism is the claim that all knowledge is rational, derived from pure reason. All ideas are, at least virtually, in us. For Leibniz, they are in us in “petite perception”—a forerunner of the unconscious—or simply as modifications of the mind before they are brought to the full light of consciousness.

For the rationalists, our perceptions of the physical world are only confused conceptions. Hence, clear and distinct sense perceptions of the kind we get through counting and measuring must conform to, if not be identical with, clear and distinct conceptions of number and magnitude.

Ultimately, it is the reducibility of ordinary perceptual knowledge to the claims of mathematical physics—in Descartes and Leibniz.

They took it that mathematical physics was a rational product of the mind.

So for the Leibnizian view, the idea is the perception = consciousness and consciousness is nothing different than the person, which is nothing different than the soul, which is no different than the “windowless monad”.

The model for Leibniz the way a Cartesian mind is at the end of the first Meditation. We don’t need to go further for Leibniz.

11:00: The question is now: how is it that if we are locked up in our own minds, if we are windowless monads and the only thing we can know is what is in our own minds—that is the claim of rationalism, then how is it that what you see and I see are the same?

June 16, 1712, in a letter to (Debass ?), Leibniz writes:

It is true that what occurs in the soul ought to agree with what takes place outside it… (but that assume there is something outside my mind, and that is what has already been denied) but for this, it is enough that events taking place in one soul correspond both with one another… (the events taking place in my soul must be internally consistent and coherent) and with those taking place in another soul. Nor is it necessary to posit anything outside all souls… (because really everything else is a soul too, even rocks, they are just low-grade souls. All the universe is nothing but souls of different levels and intensities).

13:30: This is the thesis of the pre-established harmony.

The idea is that at the beginning of time God created billions of monads, and each monad is nothing but a computer program.

The thought is that all these computer programs are coordinated with one another. So, the entire universe is formally nothing but one complex analytic judgment—it is just the program unwinding as it was set by the principles of God. God operates on some principles of elegance, like sufficient reason and non-contradiction, simplicity, etc., and this is how the universe is designed.

15:00: So for the rationalist, all knowledge is on the model of mathematics, which is to say all knowledge is taken as in principle analytic. True in terms of what it is to be that program—something that can derived from the logical manipulation of symbols.

One of the best books on Leibniz is by Bertrand Russell—a beautiful as (?)—because they are so wacky and buy into the simplicity and elegance of logic and run with it as the principle of the universe. And Russell and (?) do.

16:00: All knowledge is on the model of mathematics.
Sense perception requires pre-established harmony and is nothing but confused conceptual analysis.

The theorems of physics depend on an appeal to theodicy. The idea is that knowledge is grounded in faith. You need some idea of God who is really good, beneficent believer in analytic simplicity to design all this—the ‘great computer program in the sky’.

And Einstein thought this—God does not play dice with the universe. That is his critique of quantum physics. He thought quantum physics was simply theologically incoherent.

16:30: For this view of the computer program set for all times and places, then freedom is nothing but a wretched subterfuge. You may say as an exaggeration that there is a tacit equation between activity and understanding.

Perception is a confused conception. So if I step back from my perceptions, when I become active, instead of receiving or thinking I am perceiving, when I begin to analyze, then I grasp objects.

17:30: Empiricism:

Our mythologized empiricism begins from the thought that we learn everything from experience. Our connection to the world occurs through sensible affection.

Kant believed that if this thought were followed through consistently—and he thought that what saved Hume was that he was too sensible to follow through consistently—that if it would be followed through consistently it could only lead to skepticism.

18:30: The skepticism would be totally anti-metaphysical, anti-science, and anti-mathematics. That is what really bothered Kant.

Another way in which Kant is modern is that he takes it for granted that the best account of the physical world is the one given by Newtonian physics.

All these philosophers took for granted that if you wanted to know about the constitution of the natural world, ask natural science, which gives us the lowdown on nature.

19:00: Therefore if Humean account could not account for Newtonian science, then it was to be dismissed.

The problem for the empiricists is that universal statements are inductive and merely probable.

But since mathematical truths are necessarily true and not merely probable, empiricism must be false.

One could say that mathematics is simply the logical manipulation of symbols. And Hume takes this view in the Enquiry.

Hume has two different accounts of mathematics. One in the Treatise, which is inductive and probabilistic, and one in the Enquiry, in which he goes for an analytic account of mathematics.

There he says propositions of this kind, geometrical or mathematical, are:

…discoverable by the mere operation of thought without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never were a circle or a triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would forever retain their certainty and evidence.

21:00: Mathematics is then just like the laws of thought itself—the manipulation of symbols in accordance with the laws of thought or logic.

This doesn’t satisfy Kant because it won’t give us what we want: an account of Newtonian physics, which includes a Euclidean account of space, because for Kant that Euclidean account of space is not just true of thought, it is true of the world.

Therefore, Hume’s view here in the Enquiry (laws of thought) is as skeptical as the first in the Treatise (inductive and probabilistic) because there is no way of justifying the application of merely logical truths of geometry to the space of physics.

If you think the physical world really is constituted in a Euclidean way, then you will be dissatisfied with empirical epistemology.

22:00: So it is still the case for empiricism that knowledge of exiting things is based on the sense.

What we will see later is that Kant’s real worry is Hume’s theory of causality.

Hume’s skepticism amounts to the thought that there is no objective knowledge of matters of fact either in or beyond experience. This is to say that there are no necessary truths about the world. It is all contingent, probable, inductive, could be the opposite. But that is to say that every bit of knowledge could be the opposite—every truth could be false.

23:00: Leibniz’s dogmatism conversely wants to claim a priori knowledge both of what is in and what is beyond experience.

Leibniz things that if you sit down at your desk and you think long and hard you can discover the truth of everything.

That is why it is said that Leibniz was the last to know everything there was to know.

24:00: Hume and Locke made all knowledge sensible or sensualized and therefore made us always passive in our relationship to the world.

Leibniz intellectualized appearances, things that seemed to be passive receptions were better realized to be analytic truths, dependent on the mind.

25:00: So what is the thesis these ostensible opposite share? What is their shared premise?

There is but one ultimate faculty of knowledge.

Mind or the sense, take your pick, but it is one or the other.

Rationalism says all knowledge comes form the mind, empiricism says all knowledge comes from the senses.

Kant says there is not one ultimate faculty of knowledge. On the contrary—this is the driving thesis of Kant, this is why at some moments Kant is screamingly obvious—his big thought is that all knowledge requires thinking and sensing in coordination with one another.

At some level it has got to be true. At some level we are both minds with active powers and bodies who receive and engage the world by sensibility, and that knowledge involves somehow coordinating these two streams—how did anyone not think of this earlier?

27:00: You have to see the power of the desire for one ultimate faculty to see the power of Kant’s breaking with that thought.

So Kant wants to claim that in order to know and to act it is necessary to both see and think.

That leads to some of the most famous passages in the CPR:

A51: Thoughts without content are empty; (so that is his critique of rationalism. Thoughts without sensible affection are empty, you can’t just have ideas in your head and think that it says something about the outside world. The world matters, you have to be in contact with it) intuitions (singular representations, sensory bits of awareness) without concepts are blind (I get bombarded by sensations. That doesn’t do anything. I’ve got to so something with them. I’ve got to work them up. Merely having a sensual perceptions, until I do something with them—which we will call conceptualizing—until I conceptualize it, it isn’t worth anything. It is just a ‘causal episode’).

29:00: That is, “it is just as necessary to make our concepts sensible as it is to make our intuitions intelligible”, to bring them under concepts.

Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind. It is just as necessary to make our concepts sensible, that is to add the object to them in intuition as to make our intuitions intelligible, that is to bring them under concepts.

30:30: So the crux of the matter is that episodes that we are going to count as knowing of the world is a matter of bringing intuitions under concepts.

Next we have to get straight what are concepts, what are intuitions, and how are they going to get hooked on to one another?

31:30: Questions:

A windowless monad is a consciousness that has no relationship to anything external to it. So the most obvious thing to say about the Leibnizian world is that there is no “trans-uent” (?) causation. That is one thing externally affecting another thing is incoherent.

Windowless means everything is contained in my head. Monads are coordinated with one another but cannot touch one another. There could not be a Leibnizian account of touch.

This is Descartes’ first meditation.

Berkeley thinks that God is active. So a Berkeleyan universe is really a crazy paranoid universe—no matter where you look, God is there. You see a tree and it is God fooling with your mind.

Jay recommends Arsinage’s (?) book on Berkeley because she shows that Berkeley is a neo-Deluezian.

Kant is saying that this idea of the view from nowhere, because it imagines you could see the world from somewhere and nowhere at the same time, is a contradiction in terms.

So what we think of as modern naturalism is for him a contradiction in terms, or high-theology.

Empiricism doesn’t allow for Newtonian physics because it makes all knowledge merely probable.

The claim for Newton is that the laws of causation and all that are necessarily true.

With empiricism you have either analytic and trivial or empirical and contigent.

Tape 3 of 3

00:00: We have to acquire a certain Kantian vocabulary.

We begin with concept.
A concept is a general representation of what is common to several objects. All concepts are general. Only the use of concepts can be divided into general and particular and singular.

At A320, Kant says “A concept refers to an object mediately by means of a feature [eines Merkmal—a mark] which several things may have in common.”

Concepts refer to objects mediately. The “mediately” is important here because this is really about mediation. And the idea is that we are not in immediate contact with objects but we respond to objects by mediate features of them, which several objects have in common.

2:00: The other definition he gives of a concept is at A106 where he says that “A concept is something universal that serves as a rule”.
A rule for organizing, gathering, and “synthesizing” the objects in front of us. It is a rule governed operation.

So concepts are organizing principles for consciousness. And concepts are derived from reflection upon what appears to us.

We will talk in detail about this, because this is one of Kant’s great insights, concepts are not “mental images”

3:00:Intuition: At A320, Kant defines an intuition as a “singular representation that refers immediately to its object.”

Intuitions are a kind of representation. Namely, they are singular representations, that refer immediately to their objects.

4:00: Concept and intuition vocabulary in Kant is a version of the distinction between general and particular instances.

If any item, Kant contends, is ever to enter into our conscious experience, we must be able to classify it, to recognize it as possessing some general characteristics which it shares or could share with other items. And which are distinguishable from other such characteristics.

In order to recognize an object we must be able to see it as having some general characteristics which it could share with other objects.

So it has to be:

  1. shareable, in principle usable more than once; and
  2. it must be distinguishable from other such characteristics.

5:30: So the concept “red” refers to all the different instances of red. It is a general characteristic, multiply usable, and it is distinguishable from the concepts of yellow, green, blue, purple, as well as round, square, etc.

The concept, therefore, of “yellow” must be a general concept applicable to more than one object. And to be a legitimate empirical concept, it must be capable in principle of applying to at least one object, otherwise it is empty.

As such, there must be objects to which it might apply, even if it does not in fact because they are blue or purple.

To say that we must have concepts in order for empirical knowledge to be possible is just to say that we must have such recognitional abilities. And this is the crux of the matter.

For Kant a concept is a capacity or an ability we have. To recognize to classify, discriminate, and to organize.

7:30: That is why, as opposed to empiricism and to rationalism, a concept is not a mental image.

Both empiricism and rationalism though of concepts on the model of a mental image. That is, an impression or an idea.

What would red be for an empiricist: an impression of red.

That is nothing for Kant. Rather, to possess the concept red is to posses an ability to pick out and discriminate red objects from yellow ones.

And if you cannot do the work of discrimination, you do not have the concept.

So concept possession is tied to recognitional capacities and abilities.

8:30: So Kant is already breaking from the percpetual conception of knowledge. He is not saying that to know is to see something, to have an idea in the mind’s eye, to have some intuitive awareness. Rather for him to know is to have an ability. Hence, knowledge for Kant, all knowledge is discursive. It is a matter of judging—of doing things with concepts in relationship to objects.

9:00: No less evidently, if these abilities are ever to be exercised, we have to have something to exercise the ability on, otherwise our abilities are just sad and lonely.

There must be material on which I exercise the concepts. And these are particulars of the general concepts that I encounter in experience.

We think with concepts. Instances of concepts are always sensible, they are presented to us in sensibility. An instance is always something sensible. And the process of intuiting—Kant’s word for becoming sensibly aware—is the process for Kant whereby we become aware of particulars.

So intuitions for Kant are synonymous with what we become aware of through the process of intuiting.

11:00: This vocabulary already does get us into the two-part theory of knowledge. The very vocabulary of concepts and intuitions already requires that episodes of knowledge involve thinking—an active recognitional capacity in relation to a sensible instance in which I subsume, classify, recognize, the instance under the concept.

12:30: So Kant’s classifactory system—the concept-intuition structure—is really his way of dealing with four structural dualisms:

  • concepts against intuitions;
  • form against matter (what orders and what is ordered)
  • general or univeral against the particular;
  • spontaneous or active against passive;
  • intelligible against sensible.

And with that Platonism is gone.

14:00: The divided line is not a divided line, but is a matter of what is connected up in order to make knowledge.

It is about the synthesis of the intelligible and the sensible, that is how knowledge occurs.

The left side was rationalist, the right, empiricist.

Kant’s simple thought is that all knowledge involves both thinking and sensing. The application of concepts to intuitions is simply the overcoming of that dualism.

15:00: There is a problem here that we will come back to often.

Kant wants to say that episodes of knowledge involve the application of concepts to intuitions.

But he also wants to say that it is because of concepts, because we bring the intuition under the concept, subsume it, that we recognize the thing as the thing it is, by bringing it under a concept.

Here is the question: if we only know what a thing is in light of its being brought under a concept, how do we know which concept to apply to it?

16:30: That is, if concepts do all the work of making the sensible intelligible, then what role do intutions play independently of the concept?

They seem to get all their meaning from the concept.

One quick answer—found in Henry Allison’s book (p. 67)—this is the answer that was given by Jay’s PhD supervisor which he spent four years criticizing.

Allison says that, admitting a problem:

nevertheless, a tension if not an outright contradiction has often been noted between the official definition of an intuition as a singular representation and the account of sensible intuition. The problem is that according to Kant’s theory of sensibility, sensible intuition provides the mind only with the raw data of conceptualization, not with determinate knowledge of objects.

Such knowledge requires not only that data be given in intuition, but also that it be taken under some general description or ‘recognized in a concept’, as Kant phrases it.

So Kant says only then can we speak of the representation of an object. Only when we have used a concept can we talk about something as a representation of an object. Up to then all we have is ourselves in some indeterminate sensory state. Just a sensible state.

Kant gives clear expression to this central tenet of his epistemology in his famous formula. Intuitions and concepts constitute, therefore, the elements of all our knowledge, so that neither concept without an intuition in someway corresponding to them nor intuitions without concepts can yield knowledge.

The key to the resolution of this conflict was well expressed by WH Walsh who remarks that a Kantian sensible intuition ‘is only proleptically an awareness of a particular’.

The point here is simply that although intuitions do not in fact represent or refer to objects apart from being brought under concepts in a judgment, they can be brought under concepts, and when they are, they do represent objects.

21:00: Intiutions have the power of being a potential representation of an object, but it only actualizes that potentiality when it is brought under a concept.

The question is simply how do we know which concept we need to actualize that potentiality if the possibility of awareness all comes from the concept?

So there is a puzzle here. On the one hand, what Kant says seems to be obviously true, that knowledge involves concepts and intutions, a using of our capacities to receive data from the world and then to shape it and to form it in representations of a world and of objects.

On the other hand, it is hard to understand exactly how this process can occur in a way that allows the sensible side to do its job.

23:00: We will call this the problem of judgment.

But let’s assume for now that we can somehow overcome this problem.

24:00: Now that we have this framework, let’s see what it can do by itself.

Kant believes that just by putting this framework into place—all knowledge requires concepts and intuitions—he can refute dogmatic rationalism, metaphysics.

He does this simply by carrying on the tradition of empiricism.
Since all knowledge requires intutions, sensible perceptions of particulars, then whatever subject matter is such that no intuitions are available, then those things are outside knowledge and are nothing to us epistemically.

25:00: For example, the concept ‘God’, unless you can have an intuition of God, a sensible appearing—God, the immortality of the soul, freedom, the self, the Cartesian subject, these are all things for which no sensible intutions are available therefore we can have no knowledge of them—they are irrelevant to knowledge.

These are things that are just outside our ken, and we don’t have to exert much energy worrying about them.

Although Kant does spend some time showing what he thinks is wrong with some accounts of these things.

27:00: But Kant thought that he could do more with his conceptual apparatus. He also thought that he could refute Humean skepticism.

The challenge of rationalism for Kant is easy because there is obviously an empiricist aspect to Kant. The critique of empiricism is more complicated and difficult. Hume challenges the validity of the causal principle—namely the principle that every event has a cause, or the principle that if something occurs, something else follows from it according to a rule. These are the two different versions of the causal principle.

Kant thinks, this is part of the big game of this book, Kant thinks that the causal principle is part of the intelligibility of the world. For Kant, the thought of an uncaused event is the thought of something “miraculous”.

If you deny the causal principle, you are agreeing that there can be miracles—events that happen for no reason at all. Kant thought that that made the activity of knowing the world impossible. What do you do with a world in which miracles happen?

There is no science, there is no reasoning or argument, there is no knowledge, there is no instrumental control.

Kant is committed to the idea that we are committed to the idea that every event has a cause, and he argues even more strongly that in the second analogy, that this is necessary to imagine the temporal unity of the world. To imagine a miracle is to actually imagine a rupture in the temporal ordering of the world as a whole.

29:00: Hume argues that this principle cannot be empirical, because if it is empirical, then it is not necessary. For Hume everything empirical is contingent, and therefore not necessarily true.

But equally it could not be a truth of reason either, because then the following event would not be something that was logically distinct from its cause.

The idea of necessary connection wants to hold together two thoughts: that the cause and the effect are distinct but necessarily connected.

So for Hume, and of course he is right, heating water to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and the water boiling is not a logical truth. Clearly, there could be a world in which water boils at different temperatures.

31:00: The truth of a causal episode is not true in virtue of the meanings of the terms involved. And therefore it cannot be an analytic truth, in Humean terms.

Therefore, for Kant it is not an empirical truth because it is not necessary and it is not an analytic truth, because causality involves events that are not logically distinct.

Hence, the causal principle must be false.

32:00: A lot of the CPR is meant to answer this dilemma, and it takes about 350 pages. But in order to think about it, Kant has to come up with a whole bunch of concepts again.

He has to get rid of this Humean idea that everything is contingent and everything in the mind is analytic.

That is what is causing the problem. He has to come up with a strange new notion—the notion of the “synthetic a priori ”.

So the causal principle is going to be a synthetic a priori truth: the notion of a truth that is neither what follows from the meaning of a word—an analytic truth—nor an empirical truth that we discover in the world.

33:00: To do this we need a new vocabulary.

With Kant we are always trying to master a language, and then you figure out the practices that go along with it.

It may take 14 weeks, but the CPR is actually a very simple book. But you have to do a lot of work to get to the simplicity.

34:00: There are three sets of notions that Kant uses:

  1. a priori vs. empirical (a posteriori)
  2. analytic vs. synthetic
  3. necessary vs. contingent

36:00: Looking first at the a priori

Kant wants to say that the project of the CPR, we haven’t yet broached the program, is to show how much understanding is possible apart from all experience.

He wants to say that apart from our scientific business of looking at the world and doing experiments and coming up with theories, there is a way of standing back and reflecting back on our experience of knowing and in which we can come up with knowledge about the possibilities of knowing that do not themselves depend upon any particular episodes of knowing.

It is a question of how much we can know apart from all experience.

38:00: That is the same for him as the question of how are synthetic a priori judgments possible.

The truths of philosophy that interest Kant are synthetic a priori , but so are the truths of mathematics, geometry, and the axioms of mathematics.

So there is a whole lot of synthetic a priori truths. A priori judgments are those whose truth can be validated independently of experience.

Kant suggests no more than that necessity and universality are both sufficient conditions for something being a priori .

That is, if something is necessarily true, we have to be able to know that it is true without looking at the world—this is what it is to know independently of experience.

39:00: It follows from this that whatever is known to be true a priori cannot be falsified by experience.

Therefore what can be falsified by experience, if it is true at all, is true a posteriori.

Further, what is a posteriori true cannot be necessarily true. It contains only assumed and comparative universality for Kant, never strict universality which allows no exceptions.

Hence, any empirical causal judgment is not necessarily true.

40:30: The crux here is that a priori and a posteriori refer to the way in which judgments are validated.

A priori here means a priori before experience and a posteriori means after experience.

So a priori is simply a way of asking what can we know independently of experience, before any concrete particular experience.

41:30: If you are an empiricist, the usual claim is that the only things that can be known a priori are analytic truths.

Analytic truths and synthetic truths are types of propositions or judgments or statements and do not refer to how they are validated.

An analytic truth is a judgment or a proposition in which Kant actually gives to versions or criteria of analyticity: the container thesis and the container thesis.

43:00: The container thesis is the thesis in which Kant says the “predicate term is included in the subject term”.

So the predicate, like ‘yellow’, is included in the concept ‘gold’. Or the predicate ‘extended’ is included in the subject ‘body’.

Therefore, you don’t have to look at the world to know that a body is extended; it is true in virtue of the meaning of the concept.

It is discoverable simply through analyzing, pulling apart, the subject term.

analysis—luein, to take apart, dissolve.
[Medieval Latin, from Greek analusis, a dissolving, from analūein, to undo : ana-, throughout; see ana- + lūein, to loosen; see leu- in Indo-European roots.]

44:30: For technical reasons, this turns out to be too narrow a definition of analyticity, so analytic philosophers operate with another version—the contradiction thesis.

The contradiction thesis states that we can discover whether or not a proposition is analytic by trying to negate it. If the negation of a proposition is a contradiction, then the proposition is analytically true.

It is simply a contradiction to say ‘this is a body and it is not extended’, because what we mean by a body is that it fills space. The criterion is that holding the opposite of the proposition is impossible.

46:00: A synthetic proposition, therefore, is one in which we add to the concept of the subject a predicate which has not in any way been thought in the subject.

Subject is a concept, predicate is a concept, and we are saying that the predicate adds something to the subject.

So we better also say that we are not merely putting these two ideas together—as an empiricist would imagine it—we are not simply associating one idea with another, but we are claiming that the subject term, “table”, picks out an object of which it is true of that third thing that the predicate holds “is brown”.

So a synthetic judgment is a relationship between the subject and predicate concept with reference to a third thing.

And let’s say that the third thing is an intuition.

48:30: Synthetic judgments relate subjects and predicates to intuitions.