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2/12/2018 1:16 am  #1


Kant and PSR

I've been reading Gaven Kerr's excellent little book Aquinas's Way to God recently. For anybody not familiar, it's essentially a book-length treatment of Feser's rendition of the 'Thomistic Proof' in Five Proofs of the Existence of God.

Naturally it differs in the details, but one of the more interesting brief discussions concerns Kant's objection to the PSR. I've been lead to believe Feser's rejection of Kant in Five Proofs is a relatively straightforward straw man, insofar as Kant, contra Feser's claims, never argues we believe PSR or causal principles on the basis of experience, but on the contrary know them a priori as conditions for the possibility of experience.

Kerr's objection seems a bit more on point. He makes two basic criticisms, which I can copy / paste for future posts if need be. First, he argues Kant ignores a third possibility, i.e. even if something like PSR is essential to thought (which Kerr agrees with), we might argue that the same applies to the world insofar as it's thinkable in the first place. I take this to mean something like the following: If PSR is merely a law of thought, then we think of the world falsely. Yet we don't think of the world falsely, therefore PSR is not merely a law of thought.

Secondly, Kerr seems to argue the strict Kantian view seems to lead to absurdities. He points out some followers of Kant have argued we cannot apply PSR to the world because, since our thoughts are structured by the PSR, this prejudices how we apply PSR to the world. 

Kerr essentially argues a reductio here, i.e. this view seems to imply we cannot objectively predicate our modal notions of the world insofar as we possess those model notions in the first place, which entails to predicate modal notions of the world we mustn't know modal notions. Yet surely this is absurd, and, Kerr says, it seems to require something like a Cartesian notion where the mind is completely empty of anything if we're to objectively say anything about the world; or more generally thought cannot be prejudiced by thought if we're to accurately say things of the world.

Admittedly I'm not very familiar with Kant, so, if anyone here is, I was hoping I could get some thoughts on these issues, or, at least, some pointers in the right direction for further readings.

Last edited by UGADawg (2/12/2018 11:11 am)

 

2/12/2018 11:27 am  #2


Re: Kant and PSR

As far as I remember, Feser simply states that the fact we come to know PSR from experience (if we do that) there is really no reason to limit such a principle to the world of experience as such, as if it would not be valid in the numenon. Kant argues that our principles of thought do not apply to the numenon, only to our experience of things. Unless one were to accept Kant's highly controversial conception of nature and human knowledge; for Kant, we just cannot know the noumenon, we can't say anything about it, only our experience. It's not a strawman, just a simple retort. Especially in analytic philosophy, it is highly unlikely that Kant's conception will be accepted.

To me, Kant's objection that our principles (including psr) only apply to our experience and we can never know anything about the noumenon, is ultimately incoherent:

1) Consider a typical empirical argument for PSR: PSR is the best explanation for why things do not pop into existence with no cause or explanation whatsoever.
2) Kant's insistence that we must limit such a principle to our experience comes off as ad hoc against the simplest explanation, but suppose we buy Kant's thinking in order to accept the objection, and we only take it that it's impossible for things to pop into existence in our experience, but that it is possible in the noumenon (PSR holds for our experience but not for the noumenon)
3) Now we can entertain the following possibility: if PSR does not apply to the noumenon, then mysterious beings could be popping up into existence in the noumenon all the time, and such beings could also be causing things to pop up into existence unexplained *in our experience*
4) But this clearly does not happen, so the same argument we limited to a conclusion about "our experience" would also lead us to conclude that PSR is indeed true in the noumenon, beyond our experience, and thus we avoid the scenario in 3.
5) Alternatively, one could try to hold that, like 3, there could indeed be a multitude of beings coming into existence all the time in the noumenon with no explanation whatsoever. But such beings cannot make things pop into existence *in our experience*, because order is how we experience things. However, the problem is that this option is not really available for the Kantian, since it entails that we can know sure objective facts about the noumenon: whatever beings there are in the noumenon, they CANNOT make things pop into existence wih no apparent explanations whatsoever in our experience. They also cannot change the way we experience things (which could also be happening all the time if PSR is false). But then Kant's whole division of the noumenon and the world of experience becomes blurred, and we contradict his view that we cannot come to know objective facts about the noumenon. Then we have no reason to accept Kant's objection in 2, and indeed we have reasons to reject it.

Moreover, the overall bizarreness of the kantian PSR in such a case speaks against it. Why wouldn't any noumenon beings be able to cause effects in our experience that would only seem to be unexplained? It wouldn't even technically violate our "experience PSR" since ultimately the effects would have causes (in the noumenon), just would seem unexplained to us. Can't things seem unexplained to us? Etc.

 

2/13/2018 6:38 pm  #3


Re: Kant and PSR

Well, my point was that Kant isn't reasoning like: we know PSR from experience, therefore it's only valid for experience. In fact, Kant thinks the opposite is true, i.e. we know PSR prior to experience. And in fact, for Kant, the kinds of facts that result in us coming to know PSR have nothing to do, of themselves, with the question of which domains PSR can be validly applied to. So while it's true to say the inference from "we learn PSR from experience" to "therefore PSR can only be applied to experience" is a bad one, it's decidedly not Kant's inference, so it's neither here nor there.

My worry regarding your objection (5) is just that the Kantian would presumably say however the noumena act on us causally, we'll interpret those causes as being consistent with PSR, since interpreting our experience in light of PSR is a condition required for the possibility of experience in the first place.

Last edited by UGADawg (2/13/2018 6:38 pm)

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2/13/2018 9:09 pm  #4


Re: Kant and PSR

UGADawg wrote:

Well, my point was that Kant isn't reasoning like: we know PSR from experience, therefore it's only valid for experience. In fact, Kant thinks the opposite is true, i.e. we know PSR prior to experience. And in fact, for Kant, the kinds of facts that result in us coming to know PSR have nothing to do, of themselves, with the question of which domains PSR can be validly applied to. So while it's true to say the inference from "we learn PSR from experience" to "therefore PSR can only be applied to experience" is a bad one, it's decidedly not Kant's inference, so it's neither here nor there.

My worry regarding your objection (5) is just that the Kantian would presumably say however the noumena act on us causally, we'll interpret those causes as being consistent with PSR, since interpreting our experience in light of PSR is a condition required for the possibility of experience in the first place.

 
Sure enough but my point is that if we do not accept Kant's controversial views about nature and knowledge, we have no reason to limit PSR to experience. Even if we come to know it a priori. Which I believe is also one of Feser's points -- more often than not people say "Kant refuted this or that" without realizing that Kant's arguments depend on his controversial system which is not very popular today. A critic can't have its cake and eat it too.

About your reply to 5, that is precisely my point. That is an open possibility, but not for the Kantian, because what it implies is that through the argument I just made we ended up arriving at a conclusion that holds not only for our experience but for the noumenon also. The noumenon *cannot* cause anything that could appear to us to be unexplained. But this is incoherent withh Kant's view that we cannot really come to know anything objective about the noumenon, and takes away all the force of kantian objections. In a sense we can even say that we have reached principles that apply all across the board, beyond our experience binding also anything in the noumenon: the principles that condition our experience. So 5 is not at all an open possibility for the Kantian. We therefore have no reason to limit PSR to our experience, and in fact have good grounds for rejecting such a limitation.

Moreover, it seems to me that there is also an additional problem here: our experience does not structure the world in a way that every phenomenon we see has an apparent explanation. More often than not we come in contact with phenomena for which we have no explanation whatsoever; in such cases, we don't actually conclude that there is no explanation whatsoever and these are just brute facts, rather we believe there are explanations to be found, but we just weren't able to find them. The explanations are beyond our ken. If that is the case, however, then the situation gets even worse for the Kantian: an infinity of unexplained beings could pop into existence in thhe noumenon with no explanation and for no reason whatsoever, and then cause bowling balls to be appearing in our experience ex nihilo. Why would this be a violation of our "experience PSR"? The bowling balls would not really be brute facts at all: they would all have causes in the noumena. They would, just like certain phenomena we come across in ordinary experience, just *appear* to not have explanations; we wouldn't find any explanation for them just like we don't for many things. So how exactly should our experience even preclude these bizarre scenarios from occurring -- which we know do not occur, as all kinds of thigs could just be popping up into existence at random if it were possible, but which by themselves would not be categorically different from known cases of unexplained phenomena? Why should our experience preclude such occurrences only "to that certain extent"? So it seems that, additional to the problems in option 5, our experience really should not be able to preclude these bizarre things from happening if PSR were not true in the noumenon.

Last edited by Miguel (2/13/2018 9:12 pm)

 

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