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Saturday, April 18, 2009

What is meant by 'in the mind'? (part 3)

In the third of his 1903 Lowell Lectures, Peirce has the highest praise for Kant (CP 1.522). Yet he includes Kant in his remark that ‘all modern philosophy of every sect has been nominalistic’ (CP 1.19). ‘Kant was a nominalist; although his philosophy would have been rendered compacter, more consistent, and stronger if its author had taken up realism, as he certainly would have done if he had read Scotus’. Of course Peirce himself was a realist, as he went on to explain (CP 1.20):

In a long notice of Frazer's Berkeley, in the North American Review for October, 1871, I declared for realism. I have since very carefully and thoroughly revised my philosophical opinions more than half a dozen times, and have modified them more or less on most topics; but I have never been able to think differently on that question of nominalism and realism.

According to Peirce's Berkeley review, a realist like himself will ‘deny that there is any reality which is absolutely incognizable in itself, so that it cannot be taken into the mind’ (CP 8.13). Thus he would reject the idea of a ‘Kantian thing-in-itself’ (CP 6.108, 1892). Is this where Peirce parted company with Kant? He wrote in 1905 that the ‘Kantist has only to abjure from the bottom of his heart the proposition that a thing-in-itself can, however indirectly, be conceived; and then correct the details of Kant's doctrine accordingly, and he will find himself to have become a Critical Common-sensist’ (CP 5.452).

Yet Peirce appears to take a different perspective on Kant in the 1871 Berkeley review itself (CP 8.15):

what Kant called his Copernican step was precisely the passage from the nominalistic to the realistic view of reality. It was the essence of his philosophy to regard the real object as determined by the mind. That was nothing else than to consider every conception and intuition which enters necessarily into the experience of an object, and which is not transitory and accidental, as having objective validity. In short, it was to regard the reality as the normal product of mental action, and not as the incognizable cause of it.

Is this compatible with Peirce's later remarks about Kant's nominalism and the ‘Kantian thing-in-itself’? We might try to account for the differences by guessing that he changed his mind about Kant after 1871. But in a later lecture from the same 1903 Lowell series quoted above, Peirce returned to the subject of Kant in a fashion very similar to his 1871 remarks. He did so in a passage which he described in advance as ‘so brief that only the most thorough student of philosophy could fully grasp the meaning of it at the single hearing.’ Since it is so brief, i will quote it here in full:

The first thing to be taken into consideration is the general upshot of Kant's Critic of the Pure Reason. The first step of Kant's thought – the first moment of it, if you like that phraseology – is to recognize that all our knowledge is, and forever must be, relative to human experience and to the nature of the human mind. That conception being well digested, the second moment of the reasoning becomes evident, namely, that as soon as it has been shown concerning any conception that it is essentially involved in the very forms of logic or other forms of knowing, from that moment there can no longer be any rational hesitation about fully accepting that conception as valid for the universe of our possible experience. To repeat an example I have given before, you look at an object and say ‘That is red.’ I ask you how you prove that. You tell me you see it. Yes, you see something; but you do not see that it is red; because that it is red is a proposition; and you do not see a proposition. What you see is an image and has no resemblance to a proposition, and there is no logic in saying that your proposition is proved by the image. For a proposition can only be logically based on a premiss and a premiss is a proposition. To this you very properly reply, with Kant's aid, that my objections allege what is perfectly true, but that instead of showing that you have no right to say the thing is red they conclusively prove that you are logically justified in doing so. At this point, the idealist appears before the tribunal of your reason with the suggestion that since these metaphysical conceptions, that repose upon their being involved in the forms of logic, are only valid for experience and since all our knowledge is relative to the human mind, they are not valid for things as they objectively are; and since the conception of existence is preeminently a conception of that description, it is a mere fairy tale to say that outward objects exist, the only objects of possible experience being our own ideas. Hereupon comes the third moment of Kant's thought, which was only made prominent in the second edition, not, as Kant truly says, that it was not already in the book, but that it was an idea in which Kant's mind was so completely immersed that he failed to see the necessity of making an explicit statement of it, until Fichte misinterpreted him. It is really a most luminous and central element of Kant's thought. I may say that it is the very sun round which all the rest revolves. This third moment consists in the flat denial that the metaphysical conceptions do not apply to things in themselves. Kant never said that. What he said is that these conceptions do not apply beyond the limits of possible experience. But we have direct experience of things in themselves. Nothing can be more completely false than that we can experience only our own ideas. That is indeed without exaggeration the very epitome of all falsity. Our knowledge of things in themselves is entirely relative, it is true; but all experience and all knowledge is knowledge of that which is, independently of being represented. Even lies invariably contain this much truth, that they represent themselves to be referring to something whose mode of being is independent of its being represented. This is true even if the proposition relates to an object of representation as such. At the same time, no proposition can relate, or even thoroughly pretend to relate, to any object otherwise than as that object is represented. These things are utterly unintelligible as long as your thoughts are mere dreams. But as soon as you take into account that Secondness that jabs you perpetually in the ribs, you become awake to their truth. Duns Scotus and Kant are the great assertors of this doctrine, for which Thomas Reid deserves some credit too. But Kant failed to work out all the consequences of this third moment of thought and considerable retractions are called for, accordingly, from some of the positions of his Transcendental Dialectic. Nor in other respects must it be supposed that I assent to everything either in Scotus or in Kant. We all commit our blunders.
(CP 6.95)

Perhaps it is my blunder to suggest that the various remarks about Kant quoted above are somehow incompatible. But i confess that i don't quite see how they can all be included in a single consistent view. On the other hand, i can't take very seriously the idea that Peirce changed his mind about Kant's nominalism and then changed it back again. Probably i am missing some nuances of Peirce's logic here, or just don't understand how his realism relates to Kant's nominalism. If so, maybe some intrepid blog reader (nobody else would have got this far!) can straighten it all out for me (and possibly for others too).

Even if that doesn't happen, i think the long quote just above (CP 6.95) is worth several readings, as an elucidation of Peirce's realism. So maybe that's enough to justify this post.


Eugene Halton said...

Peirce: "This third moment consists in the flat denial that the metaphysical conceptions do not apply to things in themselves. Kant never said that. What he said is that these conceptions do not apply beyond the limits of possible experience. But we have direct experience of things in themselves..."

So is Peirce claiming that Kant was right to say “that these conceptions do not apply beyond the limits of possible experience” but wrong in not seeing that “we have direct experience of things in themselves,” that is, direct experience of things in themselves is within possible experience? Hence, in Peirce’s words, “Kant failed to work out all the consequences of this third moment of thought and considerable retractions are called for, accordingly, from some of the positions of his Transcendental Dialectic.”


gnox said...

Hello Gene –

The way i read this, Peirce is articulating what he takes to be Kant's ‘third moment’: that we DO have direct experience of things in themselves, and therefore ‘the metaphysical conceptions’ DO ‘apply to things in themselves.’ (He uses a double negative to say this, as he often does in his logical discourse.) In other words, we are capable of knowing things as they really exist outside of our minds. I'm no expert in the field, but i believe Kant is often read as denying this; so Peirce is swimming against the current here, in saying that Kant didn't make that mistake. (He says in this passage that Kant made mistakes, but not what they were.)

This much seems clear to me – according to Peirce, Kant denies that the thing-in-itself is incognizable. What's not clear is how this denial is related to the nominalism which Peirce ascribes to Kant elsewhere; and whether Peirce held this same view of Kant back in 1871 when he wrote that ‘what Kant called his Copernican step was precisely the passage from the nominalistic to the realistic view of reality.’ Does all this have something to do with Peirce's distinction between the real and the external? I'm not sure, but this question seems to lie right on the interface between Peirce's logic and his metaphysics.


Ben Udell said...

It seems to me that Peirce later keeps his 1871 view of realism ("In short, it was to regard the reality as the normal product of mental action, and not as the incognizable cause of it") consistent with his view that the real is independent of our thoughts about it, by his distinction between particular minds or particular comminds, which do not determine reality, and mind in general, which does.

It would be good to know where Kant says that we have direct experience of things in themselves, as Peirce seems to be saying, otherwise Gene is quite right and Peirce is saying that Kant is virtually a realist insofar as his philosophy is poised, tottering ready to become realism in consequence of an inevitable recognition of the secondness which continually jabs us - yet that Kant failed to recognize such consequences.

Just to add to the mix, here's Peirce in Memoir 21, Draft D - MS L75.259-262 (the Carnegie Application), 1902:

"[....] But granting that he in this way proves the truth of an a priori proposition, it follows that antecedently to this proof it was an idle hypothesis, and that its only support is a purely experiential argument. But that is pure positivism; and Kant's doctrine really seems to be nothing but nominalistic sensualism so disguised that it does not recognize itself. Of course, it may be said that Kant only maintains the concepts, not the judgments, to be a priori. In the first place, this is directly contrary to Kant's own opinions. In the next place, universality and necessity are characters of propositions, not of terms. In the third place, Hume himself, even as Kant misrepresents him, [and] much more [i.e., and all the more] in his true character, would have been ready to admit that some forms of thought arise from the nature of mind. Some persons who have believed themselves to be Kantians hold that as soon as a proposition is shown to be a priori, it is beyond all criticism. That is utterly contrary to the spirit of Kant. [....]"

Clark Goble said...

Peirce here sounds very Heideggarian. There was a whole debate about this in Heidegger. (There was a debate over whether Heidegger was an idealist or traditional realist - much like there was about Peirce and Dewey) Heidegger's view was roughly that the thing-in-itself made no sense as things always reveal themselves as something. Yet there was also a hidden or withdrawn aspect to the thing. That is we are always experiencing the thing but within experience the thing always appears as something. And the real is that appearance as something.

I'm not suggesting we turn to Heidegger here. Just that there seems a similar move. Reality is the end of cognition rather than the source. Yet the source is related to that end reality. (Through secondness as action or resistance for instance) Like Ben said, I think Peirce sees Kant as "almost there." Peirce is saying that if we think through Kant we'll arrive at Peirce's position rather than the orthodox Kantian position. (A move Heidegger interestingly makes explicitly, much to the consternation of historians of philosophy.)

Clark Goble said...

An other quick thought. Kant says in Opus Postunum (653) "...the difference between the concept of a thing in itself and the appearance is not objective but merely subjective. The thing in itself is not an other Object, but is rather an other aspect of the representation of the same Object." Traditionally this is taken to be the difference between the finite and infinite aspects of the object. Something Peirce himself clearly thought about with his notion of continuity.

Peirce might here be taken to be acknowledging that the thing in itself is experienced but simply not cognitized due to the finite nature of human judgment or representations. That is playing with the multiple senses of experience. The idealist's error (and this is brought up by Dewey) is in thinking experience consists only of knowledge.

gnox said...

Thanks for these comments, Clark, they help to bring more perspective to these questions. I've read little of Heidegger (just Being and Time) and even less of Kant, so the main upshot of all this for me is to revise my reading of Peirce, which is under constant revision – every time i read something of his, it alters my understanding of what i've read previously. I'm also touched by the possibility that Peirce's reading of Kant might have also been under revision like that, despite his very intensive study of the Critic of Pure Reason very early in life. (Though i wouldn't bet that he changed his mind about Kant as much as i keep changing my mind about Peirce.) Fallibilism applies just as much to reading as it does to theorizing.