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Alina​ ​Wang November​ ​19,​ ​2017

Kant's​ ​Paralogisms​ ​and​ ​Antinomies

In ​The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explains that all experience and knowledge depends on a priori conditions of cognition, and empirical laws and transcendental concepts are not derived empirically from the contingencies of experience but are rather grounded in these a priori conditions. In the first part of his work, the Transcendental Analytic, Kant showed that experience is made possible by the a priori condition of the pure concepts of the understanding. In the second part, the Transcendental Dialectic, Kant argues for how knowledge is made possible by the a priori condition of the transcendental ideas of pure reason. In this paper I will begin with a summary of Kant’s theory of transcendental ideas. Then I present two particular transcendental ideas that help show the profundity of his overall theory; transcendental ideas are irresolvable, paradoxical notions for us, which have given rise to heated dogmatic disputes in both rationalist and empiricist traditions. But in fact, they stand in for noumena, which we simply cannot ever access due to our cognitive​ ​limitations.

Transcendental​ ​Ideas Transcendental ideas are pure, or empty of any empirical content, and are the idealistic aims of any explanation or formulations of knowledge. As how imagination synthesizes the intuitional manifold according to the pure concepts of the understanding to make empirical experience, the understanding makes inferences according to the teleological ideals of transcendental ideas to make explanations and knowledge. There are three kinds of transcendental ideas, which stand for three possible kinds of explanations or bodies of knowledge: (1) the categorical, or the pure subject that has no predication, which gives us psychology (2) the hypothetical, or the absolute unconditional that is the condition of all appearances, which gives us natural science and (3) the disjunctive, or the totality of all beings, which gives us theology. Whenever we try to explain any phenomenon, we make inferences about immediate observations and connect them to more abstract, universal judgements. Then we can make further inferences about these abstract judgements, and this process amounts to an inferential chain that idealistically arrives at one of these three transcendental ideas. However, our reasoning can never arrive at the actual referents of these transcendental ideas, due to limitations on our cognitive capacities. Because these transcendental ideas stand beyond the limits of​ ​reason,​ ​whenever​ ​we​ ​try​ ​to​ ​make​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​them,​ ​we​ ​inevitably​ ​encounter​ ​irresolvable​ ​paradoxes. Kant presents the paradoxes of each transcendental idea, the empirical and rationalist dogmas that try to resolve these paradoxes, and the deficiency of these accounts. The problem with these philosophical dogmas is that they take the inevitable tendencies of our reasoning processes as either logical or empirical fact and neglect that these tendencies are in fact determined by transcendental ideas, which are unknowable. These transcendental ideas are like ​noumena, which refers to anything in itself, as independent of our experience and cognition. By definition we could

never fathom the noumena, but we know that they exist, due to their necessity in defining the limits of our sensibility and in making synthetic knowledge objectively true relative to the world within our sensible limits. Likewise, transcendental ideas are necessary given the nature of our reasoning processes, and at the same time, they are impossible to be understood given the nature of our reasoning​ ​processes. Kant compares his project of presenting the transcendental ideas, and explaining how the limits of reason force us into the appearance of paradoxes, to the case of optical illusions, where we can become aware that they are merely illusions, and yet the appearance of the illusion subsists and it is impossible for us to remove them from our visual experience. In both cases, there are fundamental limitations to our cognitive capacities that present to us apparent realities, and when we realize that these realities are mere illusions and tricks of the mind, they still persist in our experience. Nonetheless, by recognizing these transcendental ideas are incomprehensible and unknowable noumena, we can become aware of how all the appearances and knowledge in our experience are relative only to our experience and have this limitation, and resist the temptation to pursue​ ​our​ ​concepts​ ​as​ ​literal​ ​truth​ ​(the​ ​fault​ ​that​ ​many​ ​philosophers​ ​make).

Paralogisms The paralogisms correspond to the transcendental idea of an absolute subjectivity independent of all predication or particular determination. There are four paralogisms, or distinct ways that we can possibly make sense of the self when we reflect on it and try to formulate systematic knowledge about it. Each way has its own inherent paradoxes. They are (1) the subject as substance, or eternal and unchanging while only surface representations change, (2) simplicity, or that the self cannot be divided or destroyed, (3) unity or numerical identity, or that the self that appears at different times is the same self and not a plurality, and (4) in relation to objects, or how the self interacts with external objects. All four are related, and crucially, they are ​not empirical realities but rather merely transcendental ideas. The problem with the history of theorizing about the self or soul is that philosophers take these four paralogisms to be literal truths, existing independently of our thought, rather than noumena that are unknowable. The pursuit of these inherently paradoxical concepts forces philosophers to assume dogmatic positions, which then compete with each other without possible resolution, because they refer to transcendental ideas that are simply beyond our limits of reason. But how can Kant claim that the transcendental idea of an absolute subjectivity necessarily exists, if it is impossible to access? Given all of our thoughts and experiences, there must be a unifying ground that enables us to relate thoughts and experiences together, and this unity is the self. Although we can never experience it, this transcendental, absolute​ ​subjectivity​ ​does​ ​exist. I will focus on the second paralogism of simplicity. This paralogism refers to the absolute subject that is indivisible, the same agent behind all the diverse thoughts and appearances, and the unification of these diversity of representations. There is not a multiplicity of subjects responsible for the multiplicity of thoughts that occur. This understanding is intuitive and obvious in our

reasoning and experience, and yet formally, neither rationalist nor empiricist approaches can account for it. General logical reasoning and examination of experience alike cannot arrive at this conclusion. The rationalist approach at best can take the concept that there exists an aggregate substances of inner sense (e.g. representations or appearances). But then there are two possibilities in ascribing subjectivity to these thoughts; either there is an absolute unity that represents this aggregate, or this aggregate truly stands as a collection of discrete substances. Logical reasoning alone cannot give more weight to either option. But it is commonsense that only the former possibility is true; there is a single continuous stream of consciousness is composed of diverse thoughts. Furthermore, if a number of people stood near each other, and each person had a different thought, these diverse thoughts would not come together to form a single unified self. So, a purely rationalist approach fails to account for the absolute simplicity of the subject; a subject is indivisible, and so thoughts occurring in one subject are strictly unified in this single subject and cannot​ ​be​ ​divided​ ​and​ ​distributed​ ​among​ ​different​ ​subjects. Kant also points out no matter how much rationalists wish to disassociate themselves from empiricists and forward their theoretical foundation as distinct, the rationalist approach to psychology is still fundamentally empirical. For example, Descartes’ introspective method that arrives at the ​cogito ergo sum is restrained to empirical representations of the self. When we sit back and reflect on who we are, apart from engagement in any particular thought or experience, we are still confined to sensing ourselves through our intuitive faculties. Every conclusion about our subjectivity is synthesized according to the pure concepts and gives us an ​appearance of self, or a mere​ ​empirical​ ​representation. The empirical approach likewise cannot account for the paralogism of simplicity. An empirical approach would take experience as the basis of knowledge. But in direct experience alone, when we have thoughts in the present moment, we cannot directly experience that there is one simple, indivisible subject that has these thoughts. Simplicity of the pure subject cannot be known through empirical investigation. Also, if we try to imagine this simplicity, our imagination would only produce more representations that distances us further from the true simplicity of the subject. There is an inescapable circularity in thinking about the self. At best, when we reflect carefully on inner subjectivity as apart from empirical experience, we are constrained to have thoughts about this subjectivity and not touch the subjectivity in itself. Kant’s transcendental method is a clever escape from this necessary circularity of reasoning. Instead of trying to identify the nature of the pure subject, Kant looks for the necessary conditions that make empirical experience and reasoning about the self possible. It is impossible to access the transcendental idea of simplicity through either rationalist​ ​or​ ​empiricist​ ​approaches. Kant argues that these rationalist and empiricist approaches fail because they try to derive this simplicity out from concepts or intuitions of experience of the self. But in fact, this simplicity, as a transcendental idea, ​precedes all experience. It makes possible and sets strict limits on our reasoning capacities. We are ‘condemned’ to know our selfhood as a unified, simple substance, and to be deficient in the cognitive capacities to truly make sense of it. We can only experience thoughts

and appearances as discrete substances and cannot use rationality or intuition to explain how they are necessarily unified in a simple self. We can know this conclusion of a simple subject solely because​ ​it​ ​is​ ​necessary​ ​to​ ​explain​ ​our​ ​subjectivity​ ​and​ ​formulate​ ​knowledge​ ​on​ ​psychology. However, there is a paradox to this transcendental simplicity of the pure subject. In order to represent the subject as simple, or absolutely unified and indivisible, we have to think of the subject as a conglomeration of thoughts or objects of inner sense only. We can only understand the subject as separate from the outer environment. Otherwise, if we imagined the subject would be dispersed over various objects in the environment, which are obviously divisible and discrete, and in this case we lose the necessary simplicity of the pure subject. However, with this distinction between self and matter, there arises all the classic issues of the mind-body problem: how can external substances interact​ ​with​ ​internal​ ​substance? Kant dissolves the mind-body problem. He grants that objects in the external world have physical properties (e.g. extension and impenetrability) that inner sensations could never have. But it is this fundamental exclusivity between them that gives rise to the illusion that they are ontologically distinct substances, which is the mistake of both rationalists and empiricists alike. Kant reminds us that all external objects are in fact mere appearances, or inner representations synthesized by our cognitive faculties. Likewise, all inner sensations are also synthesized by us. So, objects of outer and inner sense share a deeper nature; both are grounded in the same ultimate unity of subjectivity. It turns out, the intuition that we are subjects distinct from the objects in the environment is illusionary, and in fact we are share the same nature as these outer objects, or these outer objects depend on and share our nature. A transcendental examination of the idea of simplicity​ ​collapses​ ​the​ ​traditional​ ​subject-object​ ​duality.

Antinomies Next, in the antinomies of pure reason, Kant discusses the hypothetical category of transcendental ideas, or the “cosmological” ideas that guide our explanation of the origination of the universe and causal reasoning in natural science. The cosmological transcendental idea itself is “the unconditional unity of objective conditions in appearance of its content,” or the ultimate unconditional condition, from which all other conditions and appearances are derived. It is both the very first causally, and also the ultimate unifying ground of all conditions. This transcendental idea determines our reasoning capacities; when we try to naturalistically explain any phenomena, we look for the conditions of it and are aware that these conditions rest on even more previous conditions. All our explanations are incomplete, but they aim at this ideal of the unconditioned first cause. There are four antinomies, which each focus on different paradoxical aspects of this notion of an unconditional cause: (1) the absolute completeness of a whole that is composed of all appearances, (2) the divisibility of this whole, (3) the arising or origination of an appearance, and (4) the​ ​dependence​ ​or​ ​contingency​ ​of​ ​appearances.​ ​I​ ​will​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​the​ ​third​ ​antinomy. The third antinomy states that causality is not the only principle at play in the natural world; we must also assume a higher order of causality called “freedom” in order to makes sense of how we

understand empirical laws of causality and explain the natural world. Empirical causality is simply the law that there are preceding conditions that determine any given appearance. By contrast, freedom is the functional nature, or power of causality, of any given cause; we can understand it as the violation of the lawfulness of causality. Freedom is the power to create a new series of conditions without having been determined by any previous condition. It is the unconditioned cause. It refers more than our psychological experience of being free agents but concerns all actions and​ ​events,​ ​whether​ ​cosmological​ ​or​ ​psychological. However, this notion of freedom is a source of philosophical confusions and dogmatic conflicts. The only way to avoid such dogma is to understand that freedom is just a transcendental idea, which is a noumenon that can never be known. It has no empirical or logical reality for us whatsoever. We can only know experiences and representations that have been synthesized according to the pure concepts, including that of causality. However, the noumenon freedom would be a violation of causality altogether, and so it must defy this pure concept; it cannot undergo the synthesis according to this concept if it is to retain its true content. So, it is impossible for us to ever fathom freedom itself, since we can only know representations of freedom that are synthesized according to the pure concepts. At best, we can understand the concept, and not the content, of freedom through a transcendental analysis. Nonetheless, many philosophers are deceived, bestow their deficient experiences or conceptions of freedom with literal validity, and use this deficient version of freedom to try to explain the origin of the universe naturalistically. But because ultimately freedom is beyond the boundaries of reason, these philosophers can only make dogmatic, and​ ​not​ ​reasonable,​ ​assertions,​ ​which​ ​results​ ​in​ ​irresolvable​ ​conflicts,​ ​which​ ​Kant​ ​aims​ ​at​ ​dissolving. There are two primary, conflicting cosmological dogmas concerning freedom: (1) there is a prime-mover or ultimate first cause, and freedom is real, or (2) there is an infinite universe of causal connections spanning back in time without end, and there is no freedom. Kant points out the immediate problems of assuming an infinite universe in (2). According to Kant, infinity is incomprehensible, and the only way to argue for this claim is to simply dismiss the incomprehensibility of its content and commit to it as brute fact. Alternatively on (1), philosophers are committed to a prime mover, which is the absolute first cause for all the motions of the universe. However, there are deep conceptual issues on this account as well; in what manner could a first cause begin the universe? There must have been an absolute nothingness that somehow gives rise to conditions and appearances, which is already incomprehensible; it is beyond our reasoning and experiential capacities to know how an absolute absence of space and time could suddenly become an absolute positivity of space and time. Furthermore, if the first cause were material, then it would be conceptually impossible for it to be a first cause, because as belonging to the material universe it would necessarily be conditioned by a preceding cause. However, if the first cause were non-material, we end up with the conceptual problem of interaction, similar to that of the mind-body problem as described in the paralogism of simplicity of the pure subject. Additionally, by committing to the literal notion of freedom, it is impossible to explain why not many phenomena in

this world have this power of freedom or defiance of lawfulness, which would end up with a world of​ ​total​ ​chaos.​ ​Given​ ​the​ ​uniformity,​ ​causal​ ​necessity​ ​to​ ​nature,​ ​there​ ​could​ ​not​ ​be​ ​this​ ​freedom. We are all necessarily constrained by inherent limitations of reason. Then, many philosophers fall for the illusion that phenomena exist in themselves rather than recognizing that they are merely appearances synthesized by a priori conditions. Philosophers end up basing their theories on axioms that perpetuate irresolvable problems, such as the mind-body problem, the problem of an infinite universe, and the problem of free will. But once we understand that freedom and other features of transcendental ideas are a noumena that we, by necessity, can never apprehend, we can be at peace with the irresolvability of the conceptual paradoxes it entails as a conceptual or empirical notion. Kant’s antinomies and paralogisms aim to point out that some undeniable, necessary features of experience and reasoning processes that are in fact illusory. These necessary features are due to the limitations of our cognitive capacities, rather than due to veridicality of some reality in itself. Given this unknowability of noumenal realities, we can see that the most abstract truths such as a pure subject or unconditional cause that we take as irresolvable paradoxes are in fact completely fine and natural in their noumenal nature, but it is simply that we are condemned to misunderstand these noumena and construe them into forms that contain these paradoxes.

Citations Kant, Immanuel, Paul Guyer, Allen W. Wood, and Immanuel Kant. 1998. ​Critique of Pure Reason. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University​ ​Press.