[Topics: Critical Idealism, Empiricism, Metaphysics, Rationalism]
Controlled Demolition:

How Immanuel Kant Rescued the Field of Metaphysics by Tearing it Down

 

Immanuel Kant Sketch by M.R.P. - metaphysics

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

In popular discourse, the word ‘metaphysics’ is used derisively to refer to baseless mysticism. But that’s not how philosophers use the word. In philosophy, metaphysics stands alongside topics like epistemology, ethics, and logic as a major branch of the field. Put simply, for philosophers, the word ‘metaphysics’ refers to the field that concerns itself with the nature of being. Accordingly, this field asks extremely fundamental questions, like: At the lowest level, what is there in reality? What constitutes the identity of a singular thing? And how and when does one thing ever become a different thing?

Given such important and fundamental subject matter, it may surprise you to hear Immanuel Kant’s account of the state of metaphysics toward the end of the Enlightenment: “All false art, all vain wisdom, lasts its time but finally destroys itself, and its highest culture is also the epoch of its decay. That this time is come for metaphysics appears from the state into which it has fallen among all learned nations” (Kant Prolegomena 998).

In these words, and others like them, Kant mounts an attack on the metaphysical philosophy of both his contemporaries and of the centuries leading up to his lifetime. He felt that the field amounted to little more than a highly formalized version of what the word ‘metaphysics’ conjures among laypeople today: baseless mysticism. It was baseless, he felt, because it amounted to nothing but coherent guesswork (i.e. as long as folks kept their systems consistent, they were entirely unfalsifiable); and it was mystical, he felt, because it was completely disconnected from the actual grounds of all knowledge (i.e. it was not pertinent to our actual experiences in life, our possible experiences in life, nor the conditions that make experience in general possible).

But despite these glaring flaws he identified, Kant felt the field was not entirely beyond salvaging, and he himself made a concerted effort toward clearing away the centuries of mistakes in order to provide a new and firm ground from which to build anew.

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[Topics: Critical Idealism, Empiricism, Metaphysics, Rationalism]
Controlled Demolition:

How Immanuel Kant Rescued the Field of Metaphysics by Tearing it Down

was last modified: February 3rd, 2024 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Critical Idealism, Phenomenology, Speculative Realism]
The World According to Headphones:

A Defense of Immanuel Kant against Recent Criticism by Speculative Realists

 

Immanuel Kant, painting by Jean-Marc Nattier - anthropocentrism, speculative realism, object-oriented ontology

Immanuel Kant by Jean-Marc Nattier

Introduction:

There has been a recent trend in philosophy, particularly by some working under various flavors of speculative realism (such as objected-oriented ontology and speculative materialism) to accuse Kantian metaphysics of problematic anthropocentrism—meaning the undue privileging of humans or humanity. These accusations seem to result from a belief that Immanuel Kant’s intervention in philosophy amounted to an expansion of the powers of the human mind, placing it in charge of the category of reality. That is, however, not what Kant did.

Nor does Kant ‘privilege’ humans as subjects while ‘degrading’ non-humans as objects. After all, in his terminology all subjects are objects to each other—and to the extent that something apparently inanimate could be construed as a subject (perhaps through the metaphor of a physical reference frame, or through some notion of panpsychism), all humans are objects to it.

Speculative realists speak disapprovingly of what they call the ‘correlationism’ that pervades Kant, as Kant observes that we will only ever have access to our representations of (and the relationship between) reality and our mind, without ever having direct unmediated ‘external’ access to either. Somehow speculative realists interpret this sharp limitation and restriction that Kant places on the scope of human knowledge as instead being an empowering or even ‘reifying’ of human knowledge.

Now, I could list and flatly deny such claims for a while longer. But that doesn’t seem very productive. So, instead, I’d like to take a step back and mount a proper defense against such ideas. I’ll do this by using this article to explain (in the broadest and most accessible strokes I can) what the low-level insights of Kantian philosophy actually involve.

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[Topics: Critical Idealism, Phenomenology, Speculative Realism]
The World According to Headphones:

A Defense of Immanuel Kant against Recent Criticism by Speculative Realists

was last modified: March 24th, 2023 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Consciousness, Evolutionary Biology, Panpsychism, Philosophy of Mind]
Mind Turning Backward:

A Critique of My Own Evolutionary Argument in Favor of Panpsychism

 

Introduction:

Detail from BrainChain by Willem den Broeder - consciousness, panpsychism, criticism

Detail from BrainChain by Willem den Broeder

Several years ago, I wrote and published an article advancing a defense of panpsychism from the perspective of evolutionary biology. It was an explicitly exploratory article, opening with a lengthy discussion of the nascence of serious philosophy and science of the mind—and ending with a declaration that my feeling that panpsychism is a solid response to the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ is one of my least resolute and most tentative philosophical beliefs.

Due to this overt humility in the text of the article, I expected readers to see an opportunity to convince me that my arguments failed. Unfortunately, though I have now read many responses to my article in forums and elsewhere, I have been disappointed in the inability of such comments to point out any genuine flaws in my arguments. I say this is a disappointment not out of smug self-satisfaction regarding the arguments in question, but rather because I personally feel that the arguments do have genuine flaws. That my article has flaws was a baseless instinct when I wrote it, which has developed since then into a reasoned position. At any rate, I hoped that I was starting a conversation, but really I seem to have simply given people an opportunity to deliver their stump speeches about why they feel panpsychism is ridiculous without the need for examination (a trend I had hoped to curtail with the way I wrote that article’s introduction).

Although people have generally been more than willing to offer mature critical responses to many of my articles, such responses have not materialized for that article in particular. Thus, over the years, something odd has become clear to me: if I want to see a set of objections that really grapple with the arguments I advance in that particular article, I am going to have to write the set of objections myself. So . . . that exercise in navel-gazing is exactly what I’m going to do now; you might say that this is me writing criticism of a thinker that I truly consider to be my intellectual equal! Let’s get this over with . . .

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[Topics: Consciousness, Evolutionary Biology, Panpsychism, Philosophy of Mind]
Mind Turning Backward:

A Critique of My Own Evolutionary Argument in Favor of Panpsychism

was last modified: December 8th, 2023 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Epistemology, Philosophy of Religion, Skepticism]
Meditations on Descartes:

Examining Objections to the Main Argument of René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy

 

René Descartes Sketch by M.R.P. - Meditations on First Philosophy, Cartesian Circle

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

It is likely the case that no other work of philosophy has had an influence which is at the same time so massive and so different from the intended effect of its writer as Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes. In setting out to provide the thinking world with certainty about the accuracy of their perceptions, the reliability of their intuitions about the soul, and the existence of God—Descartes instead accidentally cast a spell of doubt over the ensuing centuries of epistemology and metaphysics.

This occurred because, perhaps regrettably, Descartes did a far better job of demonstrating the all-consuming challenge posed by following skepticism to its logical conclusions, than he ever did of overcoming that challenge. As it happens, I agree with the assessment of most philosophers that Descartes succeeds brilliantly in tearing the world down, then fails miserably in building the world back up. But I have found that my reasons for believing that usually differ from theirs . . . and I have also found that this difference sometimes stems from them not having a solid grasp on the logical structure of Descartes’ Meditations. For instance, the most popular objection to his argument is that it is an example of circular reasoning, and hence blatantly fallacious; that objection is a great example of a misguided response that misunderstands the case being made.

So, I decided to write this article, in order to both provide a clear presentation of Descartes’ argument against skepticism, and to also survey and evaluate an array of objections one might make against it. Now, let us explore together how René Descartes unintentionally left us all so mired in doubt:

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[Topics: Epistemology, Philosophy of Religion, Skepticism]
Meditations on Descartes:

Examining Objections to the Main Argument of René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy

was last modified: April 13th, 2023 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Internet, Philosophy of Education]
Traditionally Progressive Education:

On the Philosophy of Education, and the Internet’s Role in Future Learning and Social Change

Introduction:

Mental Calculation. In Public School of S. A. Rachinsky by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky - philosophy of education - internet - The Gemsbok

Mental Calculation. In Public School of S. A. Rachinsky by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

A couple of months ago, I was speaking with a man who teaches computer programming part-time at a university in the Midwestern United States. At some point in the conversation, he asked me what I thought the biggest problems facing the USA were. Knowing that we both had shared interests in science and philosophy (two vast and fascinating subjects with, as I have previously written, a lot of overlap), I wanted to give him a solid answer.

After a moment’s consideration, I told him that I thought there were two upper echelon issues, from which stemmed—to varying degrees—all of America’s other problems: the first, I said, is our unequal, low-quality (and so perpetually self-diminishing) education system, and the second is corruption among powerful public and private members of society. He quipped that I had really presented just one issue, as the latter is a product of the former, and the lack of consistent, high-quality education for every citizen is then the only candidate for the top spot.

I am not particularly sure that I can agree with him, as I find it entirely possible that intelligent and well-educated people can still exercise power corruptly in the absence of proper transparency and regulation. But the notion that many of the commonly noted big issues in any given country can be traced back to some manner of inadequacy in that country’s education is a point of definite agreement between us.

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[Topics: Internet, Philosophy of Education]
Traditionally Progressive Education:

On the Philosophy of Education, and the Internet’s Role in Future Learning and Social Change

was last modified: August 23rd, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski