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Fr. 472

December 30, 2013

Indeed, the skeptical idealist challenge posed by FP helps reason in that it forces us to consider well the assumptions underlying our everyday intuitions. For, unless we grant the same existential status to both inner and outer objects as immediately perceived representations, we run the risk of introducing inconsistencies in our reasoning about outside objects. Unless we are prepared to grant an epistemically unavailable mode of existence to those outside objects with which we have countless interactions, space must be considered nothing more than the way in which outside objects qua “perceptions are connected with one another” (A378). Such is the only path forward on Kant’s account. To do otherwise amounts to reintroducing things in themselves and forbidding ourselves the means to acquire certainty of their existence.

There might appear something suspicious about this argumentative move in the sense that the necessity to adopt Kant’s perspective stems from the demands of reason rather than the constitution of outer objects. Does his account give us sufficient reason to believe that representation is the most relevant form of existence in our everyday lives? Or does this move stem from mere expediency in the absence of positive motivations for his account?

In addition to this negative motivation, Kant puts forward the consideration that “one cannot have sensation outside oneself, but only in oneself, and the whole of self-consciousness therefore provides nothing other than merely our own determinations” (A378). In arguing that our foremost concern with existence is that of our effective reality, Kant does seem to get something fundamentally right in suggesting the incoherence of non-experiential knowledge. Although Kant does not enter into such considerations himself, we can reasonably extend his argument in adding that we qua experiencing subjects cannot get outside of our own minds, as it were. Supposing that we were able to build an artificial mind designed to experience the world in a fundamentally different way from ourselves, any knowledge that we might obtain of things in themselves in the world would necessarily be mediated through our own experience of the mind’s non spatio-temporal findings. Such a consideration is perhaps a stronger motivation for transcendental idealism than the seemingly expedient identification of perception and reality.

Similarly, we could advance the positive motivation of simplicity or economy of principle, to which Kant himself makes no reference. On this view, Kant’s transcendental idealism is preferable to FP in that representation of outside objects is no different from the objects themselves and, thus, the number of ontological entities is reduced. To this we might add that there is no prima facie reason to think that the same reality could not be accorded to representations of inner objects as outer (even if this otherwise contradicts FP’s main conceit). Accordingly, Kant’s is the more expedient path, for, with empirical realism, there is no need for inference or second-order maneuvers as reality is given. On the contrary, empirical idealism requires just such inference or second-order maneuvers in that reality must be secured. In the end, simplicity represents one motivation for preferring Kant’s treatment of “surplus reality” to that in transcendental realism.

If these solutions do not entirely seem to escape the expediency objections, this owes to considerations of expediency being central to the project itself. For, given that Kant sets out from the impossibility of securing existence in a strong sense and then moves to secure a weaker, modest, albeit sufficient sense in the effective reality of representations, there can be avoiding considerations of expediency without misconstruing the project entirely. After all, such developments are necessary for human reason in the form of metaphysics to overcome its illusions and assume the secure foundations of science. On a final note, we might recall that what is outside of experience is also outside of the realm of human affairs.

Although the effective reality of representations does therefore seem to meet the motivation underlying FP and its everyday intuitions, the question remains if the means by which this motivation is secured do not depreciate reality such that it is no longer recognizable as such by the experiencing subject. While the question of alienation certainly surpasses the scope of this discussion, there is at least some reason to wonder whether Kant can legitimate a weak form of existence for outside objects without thereby alienating experiencing subject from experienced world. Is modest existence enough? This question will, however, have to be left for another time.

For all of these reasons, we can affirm that, while Kant is largely convincing in his critique of transcendental realism, there are certain ways in which he does not do enough to motivate his account in positive fashion, a shortcoming of which we have sketched some overly brief remedies. Moreover, despite his care with the language of his text, the radical transformation of the experiencing subject’s relation with experienced world risks passing for a moderated form of skeptical idealism, whatever the reality of those claims. This risk accounts at least in part for the revisions of the Paralogisms in the second edition, as well as the elements of FP that pass into the “Refutation of Idealism” of the second edition (B275-B279). In sum, Kant’s account, while broadly persuasive, seems undermotivated in certain important respects.

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