Against Rationalism and Empiricism


kantImmanuel Kant’s Main Transcendental Question (Third Part) argues that we should seek the appropriate subject of every predicate of a thing.  The reason to quest for the subject behind every predicate is that our power of reason and understanding might be increased.  Kant would also have us search in such a manner unto infinity, or as far as we might be capable of in our own lifetimes.

Understanding what preceded each cause, and being able to know the consequence that follows in every case is supposed to help us in our capacity for reason, but in my reading this kind of quest can only confuse or misguide Man.  Kant wants us to search for the cause behind every observed event into infinity as our own lifetimes permit, but he also claims that we could never find a “first cause” because of the limitations inherent to senses.  The human mind can only be frustrated and confounded by what comes to feel as indefinite, or trying to explore an endless chain of causations within an infinite universe.

I will attempt to argue that it is not only impossible to find an original cause, but also that such a quest can only be to the detriment of Man.  I will argue this by showing that this manner of philosophical inquiry directs Man towards a materialistic and secular conclusion for all things, why this is undesirable, and how this can be prevented by subscribing to a religious or philosophical mysticism.

Kant argues that we should seek the cause of all things into infinity, or as long as we are capable of, and this puts us in a strange position when pondering what the Infinite is and whether or not anything good can come from an investigation into the same.  French philosopher Rene Guenon argues that the Infinite does exist, but that it is completely beyond our ability to express or communicate.  Guenon also argues that there cannot be an Infinite chain of causes behind each event because this would imply a multiple of infinities that would necessarily limit each other.  Therefore there can be only one singular Infinite completely beyond our powers of comprehension, and also beyond our ability to express.[1]

English philosopher Gilbert Keith Chesterton argues that it is undesirable for Man to seek the cause of all things, or for us to attempt to cognize the universe and all existence in its entirety.  Chesterton argues that when we attempt to make the universe into something complete and fully cognizable, that is, when we try to intuit the Infinite and non-empirically observable phenomena in our lives that it effectively makes our world smaller, and also limits our sense of imagination.[2]

This article will follow each step in Kant’s Main Transcendental Question (Third Part), and my criticism will follow before restating each subsequent step.  Kant starts the Main Transcendental Question (Third Part) by explaining what it is concerned with, and what the limit of his metaphysical inquiry is.  He would have us focus on evaluating those things which can never be affirmed or denied by experience alone, and also recognize that the purpose of the Main Transcendental Question (Third Part) is to carve out a space for the legitimacy of science.[3]  This space is carved out and put together by affirming an infinity of possible experience.

“Each individual experience is only a part of the whole sphere of the domain of experience, but the absolute totality of all possible experience is not itself an experience, and yet is still a necessary problem for reason, for the mere representation of which reason needs concepts entirely different from the pure concepts of the understanding, whose use is only immanent, i.e., refers to experience insofar as such experience can be given, whereas the concepts of reason extend to the completeness, i.e., the collective unity of the whole of possible experience, and in that way exceed any given experience and become transcendent.”[4]

Kant is implying that there is a singular Infinite, and also that it is beyond any measure of our capacity to experience, and that’s why he calls that infinity of possible experiences transcendent, because they’re beyond our faculties of perception.  Kant’s infinity of possible experience is about the material world and things that we might perceive, or receive objects of recognition from, and this is a problem for my interpretation of his views.  I do agree with an interpretation of Kant’s absolute totality of experience existing within a singular infinite, but he has not stated whether or not each individual experience exists as an infinity of cause and effect relations.

Guenon challenges Kant’s infinity of possible experience by defining the infinite as something that is totally and completely beyond the sensuous realm.

“The Infinite, according to the etymology of the term which designates it, is that which has no limits; and if we are to preserve this word in its strict sense we must rigorously limit its use to the designation of that which has absolutely no limits whatsoever, excluding here everything that only escapes from certain particular limiting conditions while remaining subject to other limitations by virtue of its very nature, in which these limitations are essentially inherent-as, from the logical point of view which simply translates in its fashion the point of view that can be called ‘ontological’, are those elements implicated in the very definition of the things in  question.”[5]

What this means is that there cannot be an infinity of possible experiences, but there can be an in definitum of possible experiences.  This also necessarily implies that our own world is not infinite, but that it does exist within a singular infinity.  Assuming an infinity of possible experiences would also lead us to believe that there is an infinite chain of predicates behind each subject, and that there could be multiple infinities.  This is not possible because the infinite is, by definition, without boundary and one infinity would necessarily be limited by the existence of another infinity.

The next step in Kant’s argument is to evaluate the validity of any subjective experience, specifically saying that we cannot take a subjective experience as being an objective judgement about the Thing In Itself.  Because of the impossibility of having anything other than a subjective experience this sounds like we would be forever stuck watching a passage of illusions.  As a precaution to this pitfall, Kant divides reason into the antinomies of pure reason as a means to further set science outside of dogma, and thus protect reason.  The categories are supposed to help us trust pure reason because it allows us to confirm concepts through experience.[6]

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, but more specifically for our matters his Main Transcendental Question (Third Part) is an incredible attack against the power, authority, and control of the Church.  One of the reasons for this is that Kant’s Transcendental Question (Third Part), and the next step in his argument, is that he regards the cosmological as irrelevant because it cannot be confirmed through experience, it cannot be given in concreto.[7]  This would be more troubling yet to the Church’s position on the eternal and everlasting qualities of the human soul.  Kant desires for us to search out the subject behind each representation of the substantial as deeply as we can, but he also says that it is impossible for us to truly know even the I.  The substantial is that which remains after all accidents, or predicates as Kant describes them, have been removed, and it is that substantial that we are seeking but can never know because of the limited nature of our sensibilities.

“It has long been observed that in all substances the true subject – namely that which remains after all accidents (as predicates) have been removed – and hence the substantial itself, is unknown to us; and various complaints have been made about these limits to our insight.”[8]

He asserts further that the soul is only an object of possible experience because we cannot measure it or its persistence through space and time.  The soul could exist as an object of possible experience during the life of Man, but not after.  The impossibility of learning about that essential thing that defines the I is not a problem for Kant, because he recommends that we all should seek out the predicate behind each subject into infinity or to the extent we’re able.[9]  Supposing that a person might be able to search for the predicate behind every subject “into Infinity” or for an extended and long-lasting period of time he or she could only ever find a chain of cause and effect relations relating to the material world.  This chain would appear as existing in definitum, and could quite possibly be taken as an objective observance of a quality of the Infinite.  This manner of investigation and inquiry can only find and confirm things that are of this world.  Saying that Man could learn of his beginnings in this way would be the same as saying that a hair could learn of it’s own existence by turning and growing inward.  Kant would hope that we would not make such a mistake, and Guenon agrees– but for a different reason.

“This formation of the indefinite from the finite, of which we have a very clear example in the production of the series of numbers, is only possible on condition that the finite already contain the indefinite potentially, and even were the limits extended so far as to be lost to sight, so to speak-that is, to the point at which they escape our ordinary means of measurement-they certainly are not abolished thereby; by reason of the very nature of the causal relation it is quite obvious that the ‘greater’ cannot come from the ‘lesser’, nor the Infinite from the finite.”[10]

Guenon is asserting that the only thing we could ever learn when trying to reach the substantial is that the world we live in is finite and limited but that the only thing it can ever show is that the Infinite exists, that our world is a part of it, and that any investigation into an object of experience can only affirm that our world and all things within it are only objects of possible experience.  This means that there is not an infinite chain of causes behind each subject, or object or possible experience.  Guenon explains that there can be only one infinity.

“The Infinite on the contrary, to be truly such, cannot admit of any restriction, which presupposes that it be absolutely unconditioned and undetermined, for every determination, of whatever sort, is necessarily a limitation by the very fact that it must leave something outside of itself, namely all other equally possible determinations.”[11]

The next step in Kant’s argument is that the Thing In Itself can never exist as an object of experience, and that we can never know any object outside of experience.  In whatever manner that we might measure the existence of the soul, Kant would also have us presume that the soul’s existence, rather it’s property as a possible experience, comes to an end at death of the body.  This is another significant challenge to religious dogma on the the nature of the soul, because it would logically entail that there is no eternal life after death, and that there is no eternal and lasting quality to the soul.  This would also necessarily require that the soul and body exist as parts of a complex body, and that the soul is not a simple object.[12]  Supposing that we could observe the soul as a simple substance, and also that we could have a measured and empirical observation of it, then we could never presume anything about it as a Thing In Itself, and if we did then it would mean that we remain unconvinced by the antinomies of pure reason.[13]

Kant finishes the Main Transcendental Question (Third Part) by addressing the bounds of the universe and the capacity for human abilities to explore it.  He affirms that it is impossible to determine the beginning of the universe, and also that the only possible objects of experience exist in space and time.  The faculties of human perception are forever and permanently incapable of perceiving and experiencing everything about any given object.  It does not matter whether the object has infinitely many parts, or if it has a finite number of simple parts, the power and faculties of human perception will never be able to experience an object completely.

“But from this it follows that we should take nothing that we can attain for a final subject, and that the substantial itself could never thought by our ever-so-deeply penetrating understanding, even if the whole of nature were laid bare before it; …”[14]

This is a particularly troubling prospect because Kant’s assertion that all subjects have a predicate, that each predicate is the subject of a previous predicate, and that Kant would have us investigate each predicate behind every subject with our limited senses.  This is a curious thing for the human mind to fathom because it is impossible to form a concept of the Infinite, even a priori.  Any investigation into the predicate behind every subject would only lead a thinker into an in definite series of evaluations, and conditions and could give an impression of the infinite.  The antinomies of pure reason are supposed to be the safeguard that stops us from taking our subjective experiences for being objective statements about the Thing In Itself, or from taking an experience or impression of the in definitum as an observance of Infinite conditions.[15]  Guenon agrees with Kant here, too, but he chooses to emphasize that we can relate nothing of what we learn of what we have learned to understanding anything about the Infinite.

“What matters is that we should clearly understand whence the limitation comes and on what it depends, so that we attribute it only to our own imperfection, or rather to that of the exterior and interior faculties currently at our disposal as individual beings, which as such effectively possess only a definite and conditioned existence, and do not transfer this imperfection, which is as purely contingent and transitory as are the conditions to which it refers and from which it results, to the unlimited domain of the universal Possibility itself.”[16]

Guenon does not disagree with Kant’s position that we cannot know the predicate behind every subject, but Guenon differs from Kant in saying that we cannot learn anything about the Infinite or of the cosmological, we can only learn about things as they exist in the world and the relation of those things to other things.  Kant challenged the validity of things, or that which we take as being a thing, by confining us to the antinomies of pure reason.  He did not dismiss the existence of anything outside of empirical observation, but he did dismiss it as being valid for the basis of judgements.  On the other hand, Guenon affirms the existence of the cosmological but does not dismiss its importance for failure to be empirically observed and measured.  The consequence of dismissing the empirically unobservable as a basis for reason and judgement is that Man can only legitimately accept a secular humanist worldview.

Cosmological and theological thought is important to Man, and we shouldn’t rule it out as a source of wisdom, guidance, laws, or as a basis of judgement for how the universe and our daily lives function, or how we should interact with others.  The un-empirical and unreasonable things in life, or rather their propositions, are an important part of the human thought, judgement, and reasoning.  They deserve a place in the world alongside science and empirical reasoning.

English philosopher Gilbert Keith Chesterton defends the necessity of the empirically unprovable, and succinctly states why a secular humanist worldview is fundamentally flawed.

“The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things.  They are not fantasies:  compared with them other things are fantastic.  Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal, though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong.”[17]

A world of reason based on empirical observation and Kant’s antinomies of pure reason would invalidate even the tamest myth or legend as an acceptable source of reasoning or judgement.  Chesterton also defends a worldview which does not require rationalism and empiricism to grant validity to judgement and reason, saying that there does not need to be a reasonable cause and effect relationship between all things for them to be considered a justifiable sources of judgement and reason.

“But the scientific men do muddle their heads, until they imagine a necessary mental connection between an apple leaving the tree and an apple reaching the ground.  They do really talk as if they had found not only a set of marvellous facts, but a truth connecting those facts.  They do talks as the connection of two strange things physically connected them philosophically.  They feel that because one incomprehensible thing constantly follows another incomprehensible thing the two together somehow make up a incomprehensible thing.  Two black riddles make a white answer.”[18]

Chesterton does not seek to invalidate science, rather he seeks to affirm the existence of the supernatural and cosmological and carve out a place for it to live.  Reason and empiricism aid us to think of a thing in its entirety, or as being whole, and Chesterton does not have a disagreement with us conceiving the concept of a thing as whole and complete.  His disagreement is with those who take up the secular, materialist, and rationalist worldviews as an alternative to religion.

“I have remarked that the materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought.  These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large.  The size of this scientific universe gave one novelty, no relief.  The cosmos went on for ever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance such as forgiveness or free will.  The grandeur or infinity of the secret of its cosmos added nothing to it.  It was like telling a prisoner in Reading gaol that he would be glad to hear that the gaol now covered half the county.  The warder would have nothing to show the man except more and more long corridors of stone lit by ghastly lights and empty of all that is human.  So these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine.”[19]

Whether the universe is finite, in definite, or infinite is not Chesterton’s concern.  Living without the Divine and those things that are beyond the antinomies of reason is horror and depressing materialism wherein we can only find the profane secular humanism.

The universe might be extending infinitely and without bound, or it might be shrinking and collapsing at an impossible rate, but the debate about whether or not either one is true is still ongoing.[20]  Let us presume that there is an immortal being who begins to count from zero to ten, and that this being intends to count for all time into infinity.  We will also presume for the sake of argument that there is another being who has been counting down from all time towards zero.  Whether or not either of these scenarios is possible, and granting that the former is more plausible than the latter, we can compare these two scenarios to whether or not there is a first cause to everything that exists as an object of possible experience, or even the infinite universe.  If nothing existed before the first immortal being began to count, or if nothing could exist after the second immortal being stopped counting– where would that leave us?  Neither conclusion from the two scenarios gives reason to be optimistic about discovering the original cause behind all other causations, or the subject ahead of every predicate.  In the case of the immortal being counting down nothing would exist after arriving at zero, and in the case of the immortal being who began counting from zero to an indefinite and unending number nothing existed before he started to count.  In both scenarios it means that the universe and everything in it either inexplicably started from nothing or will eventually be halted and returned to nothing for all time.

The solution is to accept a Christian mysticism point of view, and attribute the beginning and end of the universe to nothing less than the actions of God, and this lets us escape the nihilistic conclusions that rationalism and empiricism gives us.  The book of Revelations teaches Christians that God was the beginning, and that God will be the end, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”[21]  This un-empirical and non-rational method of reason and judgement allows us to investigate the Infinite without casting aside religion, and without losing ourselves to the nihilism of secular humanism.

 

Works Cited

[1] Henry D. Fohr, trans., Samuel D. Fohr, editor, The Multiple States of Being (Sophia Perennis: Hillsdale, N.Y., 2001) 10 – 11. <http://nazbol.net/library/authors/Rene%20Guenon/Ren%E9_Gu%E9non_The_Multiple_States_of_the_Being____2001.pdf>

[2] Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Grand Rapids, MI., n.d.) 41. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/chesterton/orthodoxy.pdf> Note: Orthodoxy was first published in 1908.

[3] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 79-80.

[4] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 80.

[5] Henry D. Fohr, trans., Samuel D. Fohr, editor, The Multiple States of Being (Sophia Perennis: Hillsdale, N.Y., 2001) 7. <http://nazbol.net/library/authors/Rene%20Guenon/Ren%E9_Gu%E9non_The_Multiple_States_of_the_Being____2001.pdf>

[6] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 80 – 81.

[7] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 83.

[8] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 85.

[9] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 83 – 87.

[10] Henry D. Fohr, trans., Samuel D. Fohr, editor, The Multiple States of Being (Sophia Perennis: Hillsdale, N.Y., 2001) 8. <http://nazbol.net/library/authors/Rene%20Guenon/Ren%E9_Gu%E9non_The_Multiple_States_of_the_Being____2001.pdf>

[11] Henry D. Fohr, trans., Samuel D. Fohr, editor, The Multiple States of Being (Sophia Perennis: Hillsdale, N.Y., 2001) 9. <http://nazbol.net/library/authors/Rene%20Guenon/Ren%E9_Gu%E9non_The_Multiple_States_of_the_Being____2001.pdf>

[12] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 87 – 90.

[13] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 90 – 91.

[14] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 86.

[15] Gary Hatfield, ed., Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: New York, NY., 2004) 92 – 100.

[16] Henry D. Fohr, trans., Samuel D. Fohr, editor, The Multiple States of Being (Sophia Perennis: Hillsdale, N.Y., 2001) 12. <http://nazbol.net/library/authors/Rene%20Guenon/Ren%E9_Gu%E9non_The_Multiple_States_of_the_Being____2001.pdf>

[17] Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Grand Rapids, MI., n.d.) 31. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/chesterton/orthodoxy.pdf> Note: Orthodoxy was first published in 1908.

[18] Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Grand Rapids, MI., n.d.) 33. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/chesterton/orthodoxy.pdf> Note: Orthodoxy was first published in 1908.

[19] Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Grand Rapids, MI., n.d.) 40. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/chesterton/orthodoxy.pdf> Note: Orthodoxy was first published in 1908.

[20]  Phys.org, “Cosmologist suggests universe might not be expanding after all,” <http://www.sea.org/archive/newapproach.html>.

[21] Rev. 22:13


  • SimplyFred

    I’m having a problem with anyone who insists on a separation between the practice of religion and the practice of science. When you separate the two, young people with brains have to make a choice. They have to opt out of regular church attendance to be able to finish school. Young people in school should, while in church search, seek out verses in the bible supporting and leading to progrees in science. As for example, this verse, wherein JESUS anticipates Brownian Motion: (LUKE 21 : 29) And he spake to them a parable. Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand.
    Fact is, science is every bit the moral absolute as religion. Witnessed by this remark from Johannes Kepler. “When I consider in my mind the beautiful order. How one thing issues out and is derived from the next. Then it is as though I had read a divine text. Written not with words but rather essential objects. Saying man, stretch thy reason hither, that thou mayest comprehend these things.”
    Make me king, I’ll pass a federal law saying MENSA meetings have to take place in Church.

kant

By: Thomas Buhls



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