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Old 21st November 2012, 07:32 AM   #1
joesixpack
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Can't understand Kant

I'm trying to slog through "Critique of Pure Reason", and I'm wondering if one of the more educated members of the forum could help me out. I'm barely into the introduction and I am confused by a couple of things. I can't tell if it's the translation I'm using or what, but I'm missing his underlying point in this passage;

Quote:
The question now is as to a criterion, by which we may securely distinguish a pure from an empirical cognition. Experience no doubt teaches us that this or that object is constituted in such and such a manner, but not that it could not possibly exist otherwise. Now, in the first place, if we have a proposition which contains the idea of necessity in its very conception, it is a if, moreover, it is not derived from any other proposition, unless from one equally involving the idea of necessity, it is absolutely priori.
I believe that he refers to tautological truths here, based on some of the lectures I've listened to. "All bachelors are unmarried men" is an a priori truth. Am I understanding this part correctly?

Continuing;

Quote:
Secondly, an empirical judgement never exhibits strict and absolute, but only assumed and comparative universality (by induction); therefore, the most we can say is—so far as we have hitherto observed, there is no exception to this or that rule. If, on the other hand, a judgement carries with it strict and absolute universality, that is, admits of no possible exception, it is not derived from experience, but is valid absolutely a priori.
He seems to be saying that empirical truths are conditional. I am having a difficult time imagining what judgment carries strict and absolute universality that is not tautological. Or maybe my standards of tautology are too loose? For example, "All fish have gills" seems like it may be an absolute and universal truth because having gill structure is something that all fish have by definition (though all animals with gills are NOT fish) but this seems taotological to me.


Quote:
Empirical universality is, therefore, only an arbitrary extension of validity, from that which may be predicated of a proposition valid in most cases, to that which is asserted of a proposition which holds good in all; as, for example, in the affirmation, "All bodies are heavy." When, on the contrary, strict universality characterizes a judgement, it necessarily indicates another peculiar source of knowledge, namely, a faculty of cognition a priori. Necessity and strict universality, therefore, are infallible tests for distinguishing pure from empirical knowledge, and are inseparably connected with each other. But as in the use of these criteria the empirical limitation is sometimes more easily detected than the contingency of the judgement, or the unlimited universality which we attach to a judgement is often a more convincing proof than its necessity, it may be advisable to use the criteria separately, each being by itself infallible.
It seems that he's saying that strict universality (as opposed to empirical and arbitrarily assumed universality) is the fundamental characteristic of a priori truth. I think the lecturer I was listening to was using mathematical propositions as examples of this, "There is no number so great that one cannot be added to it".

Am I getting this right? I want to make sure I understand all this before I proceed because it'll make a dog's breakfast of this if I don't.
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Old 21st November 2012, 08:32 AM   #2
Merton
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Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
I believe that he refers to tautological truths here, based on some of the lectures I've listened to. "All bachelors are unmarried men" is an a priori truth. Am I understanding this part correctly?
I wouldn't say he's referring to tautologies, though that's not too far off base. Tautologies are true because they are themselves, whereas a priori knowledge can be true because it was derived from another a priori truth, probably via a syllogism. Basically, he's saying that necessity is one criterion for distinguishing pure cognition from empirical cognition. If round is a necessary property of a ball, then you know a priori that all balls are round.

Quote:
Continuing;

He seems to be saying that empirical truths are conditional. I am having a difficult time imagining what judgment carries strict and absolute universality that is not tautological. Or maybe my standards of tautology are too loose? For example, "All fish have gills" seems like it may be an absolute and universal truth because having gill structure is something that all fish have by definition (though all animals with gills are NOT fish) but this seems taotological to me.
Again, I'd steer away from labeling these tautologies, but you seem to get the basic gist. Anything that is absolutely universal, rather than only presumably universal due to lack of conflicting evidence, is another distinguishing factor of these two types of cognition (in addition to necessity). This is basically working the previous paragraph backwards: if all balls are round in a strict, absolute sense, then round is a necessary property of a ball.

Quote:
It seems that he's saying that strict universality (as opposed to empirical and arbitrarily assumed universality) is the fundamental characteristic of a priori truth. I think the lecturer I was listening to was using mathematical propositions as examples of this, "There is no number so great that one cannot be added to it".
He's not quite saying that absolute universality is the fundamental characteristic, but that, although he's already told you how both of these criteria will distinguish a priori from a posteriori knowledge, you needn't use both of them; you can use one or the other. This makes sense because they are essentially two sides of the same coin: necessity implies absolute universality, and absolute universality implies necessity.

Quote:
Am I getting this right? I want to make sure I understand all this before I proceed because it'll make a dog's breakfast of this if I don't.
Other than a few minor quibbles, it seems like you've got it. Kant is nowhere near an easy read, so good on you!
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:14 AM   #3
eight bits
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You might be interested in this free on-line course

http://archive.org/details/LectureCo...rdDienWinfield

Here's the teacher's website

http://www.phil.uga.edu/directory/richard-dien-winfield

Or if you prefer something in video

http://www.academicearth.org/courses...of-pure-reason

Hope that helps
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:20 AM   #4
joesixpack
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Thanks Merton, I appreciate the feedback. I'm certain that I'll have many more questions as I work through this.
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:21 AM   #5
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Joesixpack reading Kant is an unusual cruel punishment, and no it's not the translation.
I would rather read the phone book of NYC than any of Kants musing (been there, done that, but never again!).
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:30 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by gambling_cruiser View Post
Joesixpack reading Kant is an unusual cruel punishment, and no it's not the translation.
I would rather read the phone book of NYC than any of Kants musing (been there, done that, but never again!).
Kant is a pie loaded with heavy, thick noun filling covered with a layer of frothy adjectives topped with a cherry . It appears substantial but really has little content but caution is noted, it can produce brain gas.
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:35 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by tsig View Post
Kant is a pie loaded with heavy, thick noun filling covered with a layer of frothy adjectives topped with a cherry . It appears substantial but really has little content but caution is noted, it can produce brain gas.
Kindly do not interrupt the word game. Thank you.
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:35 AM   #8
joesixpack
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Originally Posted by eight bits View Post
You might be interested in this free on-line course

http://archive.org/details/LectureCo...rdDienWinfield

Here's the teacher's website

http://www.phil.uga.edu/directory/richard-dien-winfield

Or if you prefer something in video

http://www.academicearth.org/courses...of-pure-reason

Hope that helps
Thanks eight bits, I'll check those out. I've been listening to these lectures;

http://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/podca...of_pure_reason
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Old 21st November 2012, 09:38 AM   #9
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Are we discussing phenomenological tautologies or tautological phenomonoligies?
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Old 21st November 2012, 10:05 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by dafydd View Post
Are we discussing phenomenological tautologies or tautological phenomonoligies?
I prefer the quality of qualia as it applies to a moonstruck duck.

ETA: stick "quantum" into the sentence for added gooey scientificness

Last edited by tsig; 21st November 2012 at 10:06 AM.
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Old 21st November 2012, 02:24 PM   #11
Soapy Sam
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That would be "scientificity" .
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Old 22nd November 2012, 12:42 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by tsig View Post
I prefer the quality of qualia as it applies to a moonstruck duck.

ETA: stick "quantum" into the sentence for added gooey scientificness
Duck has sufficient scientificacyness on its own.
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Old 22nd November 2012, 01:25 PM   #13
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It's been many years, like a generation or so, since I read Kant and discarded him, but as I recall, it helps a lot to read Hume first, because much of what Kant made up is in response to the difficulties he and others found in Hume's empiricism. In particular, the inability to universalize and figure out laws from experience. This is not to say that one must agree with Kant, but Hume helps to understand where he was starting.
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