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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fragments of an ongoing dialogue between Whitehead and Kant

Echoes of the dialogue between Whitehead and Kant that goes on often in my mind:

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Alfred: I actually would like to restate something I said before, and correct what I now think was too much of a concession from my part. I previously said I would start out endorsing your first Critique and then proceed speculatively thereafter. I now think the speculative flight I like to take would be taking off too late if the Critique in its entirety is accepted - and the flight won't go high enough. What I do like in the Critique is that it establishes that experience brings in the concrete (extension and contemporaneity) - it adds movement to the world. Experience is what requires space and time. There is a constitution of space and time - what I call concrescence - for experience. Plus, it also brings in substantiality which cannot be placed by in a transcendental sphere, in a sphere that makes experience possible. Substances are there for experience and in fact I would say that they are required for one type of experience - the one involving propositional feelings...

Immanuel: I can see you still want to find in the Critique - maybe not in all of it as you are now saying - the taking off ground for a general speculative notion of experience that would have a much greater extension than what I envisaged. You are still ready to understand experience beyond the realm of what you experience - that is, you're ready to say there is experience (or events, or whatever) beyond the pale of the phenomenon. Or are you not?

Alfred: I guess I have no reason not to do it. And I have a diagnosis of why you feel entitled to stop in the pale you have drawn. Actually, this is the bit I cannot swallow in the Critique: the distinction between the empirical and the transcendental. The transcendental subject is placed outside the realm of experience - even if empirical subjects are experienceable. I do speak of a bifurcation, and in fact against it. But it is not primarily the one between what is experienced (ultimately by a transcendental subject) and what transcends that experience, but rather the bifurcation that puts in one side what is available in experience - the phenomenon - and what constitutes the (transcendental) subject capable of having experience. It is the bifurcation between the phenomenon and the transcendental that forces you towards placing the noumena beyond the pale. For one thing, the substantiality of the transcendental subject - and of any transcendental item - cannot be understood as being a requirement of experience, it is something that makes experience possible and yet removed from its scope. I see this as endorsing the choice Descartes has made when he created the bifurcation of what is available to the thinking subject and what takes place in an entirely different realm, that of the res extensa. He was hostage to the idea that ultimately reality cannot be entirely made of what the cogito is made of, but of substances and their qualities. In your case, you're still having substances and their qualities as removed from experience, not in the noumena but in the transcendental realm that you want to place outside the scope of experience.

Immanuel: Well, in my experience I make judgments that I can state and I can investigate (transcendentally) how they are possible - what has to be in place for empirical judgments to be operative. Such investigation looks like some kind of metaphysics, it is certainly not empirical for they determine the conditions for experience to happen. I can look towards the transcendental by examining experience not in its products, but in its underpinnings. That is, I can ask what has to be present in the subject for experience happen, who is the subject that is capable of experience (as I know it, in terms of making empirical judgments). What else could I possibly do to engage in this transcendental investigation?

Alfred: I actually agree that part of the transcendental investigation as an investigation of what experience requires has to be done through looking at experience at work (and not taking in its products). But the bifurcation comes in when you establish an ontology for this transcendental realm, an ontology with a transcendental subject and its properties. How can this knowledge of substance be done if not in an Aristotelian manner? That is, you take one type of actual entity - pretty much humans - and assume they are relevantly similar to each other as far as taking in experience and setting up the conditions for experience to happen are concerned. Then you go on and say: these are the subjects of experience and they are enduring substances with a number of properties (a priori forms and categories etc.) This is where you go astray because you assume the transcendental to be modeled on a metaphysics of substances and qualities, and not in what is experienced.

Immanuel: Hold on, hold on. I've heard many times that I made experience hostage to human cognitive equipment and therefore made phenomena anthropocentric. And I've protested many times as well because transcendental philosophy is not anthropology - it is neither empirical nor rational anthropology. It is about what makes empirical judgments possible. It is an entirely different endeavor for it is about a transcendental subject, not about the human...

Alfred: I think you do make your transcendental subject all too human (and maybe, in another sense, too different from concrete empirical subjects). But I'm not pressing this point now. I actually would say it doesn't matter who the transcendental subject is, what matters is that it is a substance and her properties can be disclosed. It is also that is on the side of the bifurcation where experience cannot reach. My worry is that there is not enough concreteness in the transcendental subject - whatever binds us, me and all the other empirical subjects of experience, is bound to be arbitrarily drawn. Even if I take for granted that we have the capacity to make empirical judgments in common, I cannot dismiss the possibility that other features of the experience of some of us would be terribly relevant. I'm sometimes more like animals than like my fellow empirical subjects...

Immanuel: One has to take the maximum common denominator, otherwise one ends up going beyond what experience can tell...

Alfred: I've got to do it, and, mind you, you've got to do it too. You're talking about the experience of all empirical subjects. You say you're talking about empirical subjects as such - the common denominator. But what determines what is the relevant common denominator? And why do you stop short of all actual entities? There is this tree-for-us, which is not the tree-in-itself, granted, but why this "us" has to have a limit in its extension that makes it smaller than the class of all actual entities?

Immanuel: You know why, because there is some structure to experience, something that has to do with reporting empirical judgments. The transcendental realm is made by empirical reporters. This is how I can recognize experience. You say reporters have an unwarranted substantiality. You could be right about this bifurcation I inherited, maybe it is not the best way to go about picturing the transcendental alongside with the phenomena. But still I don't see how you can miss the difference between making an empirical judgment and not being a reporter at all. I think this is really all I need: there is a structure to any empirical report capable to make judgments. And experience cannot disclose this structure. To be sure, there could be experience of a different sort altogether, as I guess you believe. But they are beyond the pale - that is, I guess we both agree they are not phenomena, but I think they are not transcendental, they simply transcend our possible experience.

Alfred: On my book, as you know, without the bifurcation the transcendental and the empirical have to be merged together and a different picture emerges because no experience is the sole parameter. The pale is pushed farther, you see. Anyways, let me ask you something. When you talk about empirical reporting and what can be recognized as such, I wonder, who the empirical reporter reports to?

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