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Heidegger’s History of Metaphysics, Part Eight:
Kant, Heidegger, & the Critique of Metaphysics

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Giacomo Balla, Science Against Obscurantism, 1920

6,034 words

Part 1 here [2], Part 2 here [3], Part 3 here [4], Part 4 here [5], Part 5 here [6], Part 6 here [7], Part 7 here [8]

1. Metaphysics, Natural Science, and Nihilism

My last essay [9] ended with the observation that there are clear points of convergence between Kant’s thought and Heidegger’s. This is hardly any accident, of course, since Kant inaugurates the tradition of “transcendental philosophy” that culminates in the phenomenological approach of Husserl and Heidegger. I will have something to say in my next essay about how Heidegger reads Kant in the light of phenomenology. For now, let us focus on one very obvious similarity between the two thinkers: both are forceful critics of the Western metaphysical tradition. It seems reasonable to suppose that Heidegger viewed Kant as a natural ally. Was this the case? How are their critiques of metaphysics similar, and how are they different? I will explore these questions in the present essay. 

The discussion in the previous installment might have led the reader to believe that Kant’s objections to metaphysics are entirely based on epistemological considerations. Kant’s first Critique explores the nature and limits of human reason, and winds up arguing that metaphysics (at least as hitherto practiced) exceeds the bounds of what we can legitimately claim to know. However, Kant was also preoccupied with the moral problems posed by metaphysics. In the preface to the second edition of the first Critique, he attacks the “schools” and “school philosophy,” by which he means rationalism. He states that it is the duty of the schools,

by means of a thorough investigation of the rights of speculative reason, once for all to prevent the scandal which, sooner or later, is sure to break out even among the masses, as the result of the disputes in which metaphysicians (and, as such, finally also the clergy) inevitably become involved to the consequent perversion of their teaching. Criticism alone [i.e., Kant’s “critical philosophy” alone] can sever the root of materialismfatalismatheismfree-thinkingfanaticism, and superstition, which can be injurious universally; as well as of idealism and scepticism, which are dangerous chiefly to the schools, and hardly allow of being handed on to the public. [B xxxiv; italics in original] [1] [10]

Here, Kant gives us a list of all the things he has set himself against, emphasizing each target with italics. How does rationalism lead to all of these? In brief, it is by raising men’s hopes, and then dashing them. Rationalist philosophers like Descartes and Leibniz claim they can prove the existence of God and of a moral order to the universe. This seems like a boon to Christians who may harbor fundamental doubts, especially in the face of scientific advance that seems to leave no room at all for God and the moral order. Unfortunately, the arguments of the rationalists are highly problematic, and the result is that there is no agreement among them. Well-meaning individuals seeking to strengthen their faith through the books of these thinkers are bound to be disappointed — and quite possibly delivered into the arms of materialism, fatalism, atheism, free-thinking, fanaticism, and superstition. [2] [11]

Since we discussed Berkeley in the last essay (and the strange coincidence of Berkeley’s ideas and those of Leibniz), it is worth noting that Berkeley held more or less the exact same concern regarding “school philosophy.” In Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (1713), Hylas says to Philonous,

I was considering the odd fate of those men who have in all ages, through an affectation of being distinguished from the vulgar, or some unaccountable turn of thought, pretended either to believe nothing at all, or to believe the most extravagant things in the world. This however might be borne, if their paradoxes and scepticism did not draw after them some consequences of general disadvantage to mankind. But the mischief lieth here; that when men of less leisure see them who are supposed to have spent their whole time in the pursuits of knowledge professing an entire ignorance of all things, or advancing such notions as are repugnant to plain and commonly received principles, they will be tempted to entertain suspicions concerning the most important truths, which they had hitherto held sacred and unquestionable. [3] [12]

Berkeley believes he can safeguard “the most important truths” by eliminating the concept of matter and arguing that the world just is our ideas. (Readers curious about exactly how this solution is supposed to work are referred to the Dialogues.) For his part, Kant believed that his demolition of metaphysics had saved belief in God and the moral order. Famously, Kant said in the first Critique, “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith” (B xxx; italics in original). However, Kant accomplishes this by simultaneously delimiting both what can be known by metaphysics and by the natural sciences. 

Had Kant simply argued that metaphysics cannot actually make good on its claims concerning God, morality, or anything else, this would not necessarily have put the brakes on materialism, determinism, and atheism. In fact, it could have made them much stronger and more virulent. What was necessary, in addition, was to show that we still had warrant for believing in God and morality, even if there were no reasons for believing in them. Otherwise, one might simply respond to the Kantian critique of metaphysics as follows: “If no one — neither the clergy nor the philosophers — can give good reasons for believing in these ‘sacred’ truths then I shall reject them. Especially since modern science seems to give positive reasons for denying not only any kind of immaterial divinity or soul, but also the reality of human freedom. The universe seems to be thoroughly material, and everything in it appears to be the result of antecedent causes, including human actions.” 

Kant was thoroughly committed to the Enlightenment’s celebration of reason and rejection of religious dogmatism, so why would he not have embraced such a conclusion? The reason is that Kant had an equally strong commitment to the inviolability human dignity — and the basis for human dignity, Kant believed, was the moral consciousness. This means our capacity to freely choose to act according to moral laws — indeed, to freely “legislate” the moral law for ourselves. No other animal is aware of the idea of the good, an idea which is counterfactual; i.e., knowledge of the good tells us not what is, but what ought to be. No other creature (that we know of) feels itself bound by obligations to such an idea. 

The sense in which we are “bound” by the good or the moral is quite different from how we, and other creatures, are bound physical laws such as the law of gravity. When I fall and hit the ground, we say that my body “obeyed” the law of gravity, but the truth is that I could not have disobeyed. I can disobey the moral law, however. I must freely choose to obey moral injunctions and, furthermore, it is not enough, Kant insists, to merely behave in accord with morality; my actions must instead flow from a free commitment to moral principle. For example, I might perform an act of generosity simply because it will curry the favor of others. If I do, then I am being generous; I am outwardly conforming to a moral rule that enjoins generosity. However, since my action is performed from ulterior motives and not out of a pure and simple commitment to the moral principle, my action deserves no moral credit (no praise, in other words). I acted generously, but for the wrong reasons. My action was not immoral, it was actually in accord with morality; but it was non-moral, because the accord was merely outward.

To change the example a bit, suppose that I acted generously because I am in fact somehow determined to always be generous, and that I have no choice in the matter. (Suppose I am a genetic freak, “programmed” to always be generous, or suppose I have received a post-hypnotic suggestion to do so.) Would my generosity be moral, or deserve moral credit? Kant answers that it would not. If I cannot help being generous, if I have no choice in the matter, then I no more deserve moral credit for my generosity than I do for my respiration or the circulation of my blood, which I also have no choice about. It follows from all the above that freedom, or free will, is a necessary condition of morality. If we are not free to choose our actions, and to act according to different intentions, then morality is impossible. This is a problem that Hume had already recognized. 

The trouble is that the modern scientific worldview has no place for freedom. It insists that everything that happens is governed by the principle of sufficient reason: everything is determined by causes or reasons. To put it crudely, everything that happens is made to happen by something else. Science applies to human action the same principle it applies to the behavior of animals and non-living things: it searches for the causes that compel us to act in particular ways. Thus, science will typically attempt to explain all of our actions on the basis of environmental or biological factors (heredity, hormones, etc.). “Freedom,” to the scientist, seems to be a cause that is itself uncaused; it seems to violate the principle of sufficient reason. To be consistent, the scientist must reject it as a fantasy. He will insist that though we might believe that we freely choose to be generous, in fact our actions are determined by antecedent causes. And even in Kant’s time, scientists were able to present some convincing explanations for what “causes” us to do this or that. 

For Kant, this presented an enormous problem. On the one hand, he could not deny, nor did he want to deny, the power of science to explain the world around us, and to explain much about ourselves. Yet science seems to reject freedom, and without freedom there is no morality. Science thus seems to undermine human dignity, turning us into nothing more than a pretentious variety of ape that deludes itself into thinking it is free. For Kant, this conclusion was intolerable — not just because it is offensive, but also because it denies my very real, vivid, and compelling experience of myself as acting freely according to certain intentions. 

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You can buy Collin Cleary’sWhat is a Rune? here [14]

2. Man the Unnatural Animal

Kant’s solution to this problem was to delimit the sphere within which science can make claims. [4] [15] In the previous essay in this series, I explained Kant’s distinction between “phenomena” and “things as they are in themselves.” Phenomena are objects as they appear to us, whereas things in themselves are those same objects considered insofar as they do not appear. Right now, I am experiencing the phenomenal laptop — the laptop as it appears to me. As to the laptop as it is in itself, as it exists independently of my knowledge, this, by definition, I can never know. Now, Kant leaves open the possibility that things in themselves might be quite different from how they appear to us. [5] [16] And he leaves open the possibility that there might be all sorts of things that exist independent of our experience that we are simply not equipped to know. Those things also have the status of things in themselves, for Kant, since they can never appear, and we may speak very loosely of their inhabiting the “realm” of things in themselves. [6] [17] 

Now, the relevance of this distinction for the problem of freedom and morality is as follows. Kant argues that science, since it is based in observation and experiment, is restricted to the domain of phenomena. In other words, it is empirical: it makes sense out of the world that appears to us. This is the case even when it discovers objects that do not appear to the naked eye. These still “appear” to the scientist in some manner; for example, under a microscope or as readings on instruments. Further, the scientific approach, for Kant, is simply a conscious, methodical application of the categories and judgment forms of the understanding which he argues, in the first Critique, already operate in an unconscious, pre-reflective manner in structuring empirical knowledge. As to the realm of things as they are in themselves, science can say absolutely nothing about that. 

Kant affirms that though we think of ourselves as free we never actually have a sensory intuition of “freedom,” and the sciences, again, seem to exclude the possibility. In short, we do not appear to ourselves to be free; there is no experience of freedom in the phenomenal realm. [7] [18] But what about in the realm of things as they are in themselves? As I am in myself, independently of how I appear to myself, to my awareness, might I be free? Kant thinks that this is a definite possibility, on the principle that objects as they are in themselves may be quite different from their appearances. However, since we cannot know things in themselves, we cannot prove that this is the case. This need not disturb us, though, since Kant affirms that we can and do think ourselves as “noumenally” free. Further, we are actually compelled to believe this; it is an inescapable feature of our intellectual constitution. (Yes, ironically, we are compelled to believe that we are free.) 

Kant is entirely correct in this latter claim, which can be verified by anyone who simply reflects on the last time he made a moral choice (any sort of choice would do, but let’s focus on moral choices). Consider: when you decided you had an obligation to, for example, tell the truth in a given situation, was it not accompanied by the strong conviction that you were choosing to do this, and could have chosen otherwise? Our minds are built in such a way to believe this — it is part of the a priori “programming” we discussed extensively in the last essay. It is knowledge of ourselves held independently of sense experience, because, as we have seen, the senses unaided give us no intuition of freedom, nor do the senses when augmented and operationalized in the service of science.

This means, in short, that Kant has placed human freedom, our very essence and the basis for what we think of as human dignity, beyond the reach of the empirical sciences. There is absolutely nothing that could be brought forward by the sciences that could shake our conviction that we are free. Now, readers may balk at this. Isn’t my belief in human freedom shaken every time I read a new book on, say, the evidence for genetic determinism? No, it is not. For as soon as I put the book down and find myself in a situation where I am called upon to make a moral choice — say, the choice to tell the truth or to be generous — I will once more be seized by the conviction that my choice is free and could be otherwise. That book will be completely forgotten.

We may also note that Kant “saves” belief in God and a moral order (i.e., cosmic justice) in a similar fashion. Kant argues that the human moral consciousness requires the tacit belief in a kind of “ordering principle” that will eventually bring about justice, even if we do not see justice done here and now. [8] [19] When you see the unjust going unpunished (or the just being punished) you may notice that your thoughts are accompanied by a conviction that seems to say, if it spoke, “Wait. This will not stand. In the end, these wrongs will be righted.” This is another a priori conviction that seems universal to human thought (though it expresses itself differently in different cultural contexts [9] [20]). It is the tacit belief that there is a kind of cosmic justice at work — and this presupposes some kind of cosmic intelligence that sorts things out. 

Kant is not saying that God and a moral order exist; he is saying that we are so constituted as to believe that they exist. And if we did not, then we might quickly give up on trying to be moral, since empirical knowledge teaches us that injustice very frequently goes unpunished. Why strive to be moral when we continually see the good suffering and the wicked getting off scot-free? Our tacit conviction that wrongs will or must be put right, though it is not based on anything empirical, keeps us plugging away, trying to be virtuous and hoping for the best. 

These arguments have been the source of great controversy. However, our focus here is on Kant’s treatment of human freedom, because here we see an interesting coalescence between Kant and Heidegger. Kant safeguards freedom and human dignity from the threat of scientific materialism and “fatalism” by quite literally locating these in the mysterious world of things as they are in themselves. It is important to see that the implication of this is that Kant is in effect declaring that human nature is not a part of nature at all, and cannot ultimately be understood in naturalistic terms.

Interestingly, Heidegger is basically in complete agreement with Kant on this score. The agreement is in terms of the broad outlines of Kant’s position, not in terms of its detail. Heidegger also rejects the idea that there is any way to understand human nature, Dasein, naturalistically. But it is not just the human moral consciousness that Heidegger places beyond the reach of naturalism, but the whole of transcendental subjectivity (which is also a clear implication of Kant’s position). For Heidegger, meaning only exists for human beings, and transcendental subjectivity is the source of all meaning. 

To put the matter as simply as possible: things only show up as “meaningful” for human consciousness. Meanings are only “for us.” We deal with things we take to have meanings at every moment of our lives (I know what each thing in front of me right now is; I know the meaning it has for me, or for us). But except in cases where we have to consciously struggle to discover what something is, my experience of the world is one in which things seem to show up with meanings already “attached.” Or, to put it another way, I am always seeing things through the meanings they already have for me. I am not consciously aware of doing any “work” to bring about this experience of a world saturated with meaning. In fact, this is because the “work” is done by transcendental subjectivity, operating behind the scenes. [10] [21] 

Now, the meanings we encounter in our experience of the world include the sort of meanings ascribed to objects by the natural sciences. The scientist, too, experiences the world as saturated with meaning, though some of the ways in which objects show up as meaningful for him may be quite beyond the capacity of the laymen. Transcendental subjectivity is a necessary condition for scientific meaning as well, because, as noted above, it is a necessary condition for all meaning-giving. All scientific attempts at making things meaningful presuppose transcendental subjectivity as the horizon within which those things become meaningful in a scientific manner. Therefore, since meaning in the empirical sciences presupposes transcendental subjectivity, the sciences cannot account for, cannot explain transcendental subjectivity. Human nature is, in short, beyond the reach of naturalism.

There is an important caveat we must add to the above account, however. Although Heidegger begins from the Kantian-Husserlian understanding of transcendental subjectivity, he later comes to reject the language of “subjectivity” altogether. (This is a function of his critique of the representationalist tradition, which leads him to reject the traditional subject-object dichotomy.) Thus, transcendental subjectivity comes to be recast as “the Clearing” (Lichtung). I have discussed this concept at length in the first essay that launched this series, “Heidegger Against the Traditionalists [22].” 

In moving beyond the language of subjectivity, Heidegger believes he is being truer to our experience when we try to give a phenomenological description of how what has been called “transcendental subjectivity” shows up for us. The “transcendental structures” discussed by Kant and the tradition he inaugurated do not in fact show up for us as “subjective”; there is nothing “selflike” or personal about them. [11] [23] Instead, they seem to be an other within which objects become meaningful and to which we seem to be mysteriously attuned; an other that is not in any way empirical (i.e., not known to the senses), but also inescapably real, since all things are knowable or meaningful only within the “light” given by these transcendental structures. Now, if we identify transcendental subjectivity with human nature, as I did earlier, then Heidegger’s shift to the language of the Clearing has an important implication: human nature is revealed not only as nothing natural, it is also, in an important sense, nothing human. We do not possess the Clearing; in a real sense, it possesses us. But what we are is defined in relation to it. 

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3. The Roots of Metaphysics and Science

It is now time to step back and assess where we have arrived in our understanding of the Kant-Heidegger relationship. To sum up: I began this entire discussion by noting that while Kant’s criticisms of metaphysics are epistemological in nature, what motivates those criticisms is his awareness of the moral problems posed by metaphysics. It leads, he thinks, to skepticism, atheism, materialism, etc. — all of which may be summed together, conveniently, in one concept: nihilism. However, merely to demonstrate the impossibility of rationalist metaphysics would not be enough, since this would likely deliver well-meaning people into the arms of the scientific materialists — and thus, once more, into nihilism. Kant’s answer to this is to delineate the nature and limits of human knowledge in such a way that metaphysics is defeated and, simultaneously, the sphere in which science can make its claims is strictly limited. The result is that Kant makes a space, as it were, in which human nature can exist unmolested by empiricism and skepticism — and with it freedom and moral conviction, which are the source of human dignity and alone give meaning to life. 

Needless to say, Heidegger is also worried about nihilism. With Kant, he believes that the Western metaphysical tradition leads to it. And, like Kant, he also sees modern science as an expression of nihilism, in its attempts not just to manipulate and control all of nature, but to reduce the human to a natural object. Further, both philosophers see metaphysics and modern science as having a common root, though they give very different accounts of what this is. 

For Kant, the common root is the “ideas of reason.” These have the status of “regulative ideals”: ideals that motivate us to keep thinking, investigating, and synthesizing our knowledge. In his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant lists three such ideals: we seek knowledge of the “complete subject,” knowledge of the complete “series of conditions,” and knowledge of the “complete complex of that which is possible.” Kant refers to these ideals respectively as “psychological,” “cosmological,” and “theological.” These are part of the a priori constitution of the mind and they serve to motivate, among other things, the scientific quest. Scientists seek complete knowledge of the self, of the causal chain that is the universe, and of the ultimate laws and conditions that determine what may or may not exist in this universe. Science will never actually attain such complete knowledge, but in striving for this goal science continues to advance. 

Now, metaphysics happens, according to Kant, when the ideas of reason get hypostatized; i.e., when they go from being regulative ideals to being misconstrued as actually existing “things.” For example, the psychological idea postulates a “complete subject” about which we strive to attain complete knowledge, but does not assert the actual existence of any such thing. However, the metaphysician imagines that the complete subject is indeed an actually existing thing that exists right now, whole and entire, beyond the sensory realm; a “substance.” He dubs it “the soul.” The cosmological idea is similarly hypostatized as “the cosmos” considered as a totality existing in its own right. [12] [26] The theological idea, needless to say, is hypostatized as God. 

Thus, for Kant metaphysics has the status of a perversion of reason. It is a kind of sickness that human beings often fall into, given the tendencies of the human mind. Metaphysics is not a legitimate endeavor in its own right; it is merely a deluded pretender to the mantel of science. By contrast, the empirical sciences, motivated by the regulative ideals of reason in their positive function, produce real knowledge and are benign — so long as they know their place. 

Heidegger entirely rejects this understanding of metaphysics, and of the relation of metaphysics to science. To avoid equivocation, we must note first of all that “metaphysics” has a broader connotation for Heidegger than it does for Kant. Indeed, what he refers to as “the metaphysical tradition” means more than just the writings of certain philosophers. Heidegger believes, in fact, that philosophers primarily give voice to the spirit of the times. “Metaphysics” thus refers to broader cultural trends. Now, arguably Heidegger does see metaphysics as a perversion — as a falling away from a more authentic relationship to Being, and as culminating in nihilism. However, he does not make the sort of distinction that Kant does between metaphysics and science. In fact, it is actually possible to say that for Heidegger modern science can be located within the “metaphysical tradition.” Just how is this the case?

First, Heidegger famously claims that the metaphysical tradition “forgets Being,” by which he really means that it forgets the Clearing. Recall that the Clearing (aka transcendental subjectivity) is the fundamental condition for meaning. It is only within the space opened up by the Clearing that beings become meaningful for us. (Again, for a fuller discussion of this point, see my essay “Heidegger Against the Traditionalists.”) The metaphysical tradition “forgets” the Clearing in which beings are, and discourses entirely about beings, taking them as ultimate. This claim is original with Heidegger (indeed it is the Heideggerean claim), but it has an analogue in Kant’s critical philosophy. Kant, remember, rejects the idea that transcendental subjectivity/human nature can be understood naturalistically, i.e., in terms of natural objects or forces or conditions (again, because “nature” is only given within transcendental subjectivity, not the other way around). In Heideggerean language, this error consists in confusing Being (or the Clearing) with beings, or trying to understand the ontological (what relates to Being) in terms of the ontic (what relates to beings).

Furthermore, the metaphysical tradition understands beings in terms of their availability to human subjects for understanding and manipulation. What counts as a “being” is what is available to human consciousness. This process begins in Plato, for whom a being is a form or eidos, which literally means “the look” of something, presented to human awareness. (See my essay on Platonism [27].) In its modern inflection, metaphysics issues in “representationalism”: beings are understood as what is “thrown against” a human subject, or what stands opposed to us, ready to be “represented” within the subject’s interiority, and ready to be mastered and controlled. How? Through the scientific method, of course.

For Heidegger, it is representationalism, in fact, that constitutes the common root of both modern metaphysics and modern science. Thus, the most fundamental response to both consists in a critique of representationalism. We can also make an even stronger claim: nihilism is made possible by representationalism, since representationalism constitutes the foundation both of modern metaphysics and of the ambitions of modern science. Thus, a response to nihilism must include, at the very least, a critique of representationalism. It must also include, of course, an alternative to representationalism — and we will be exploring Heidegger’s alternative in future essays. 

Now, it is fascinating to note that good old Berkeley, despite all his faults, saw representationalism as the villain of modern history as well. Berkeley, as I noted in my last essay, affirms a version of phenomenalism: he argues that all that exists are ideas in minds. He rejects representationalism because it holds that ideas are ideas of something; but Berkeley, again, rejects anything existing outside the mind’s ideas. Further, he believes that representationalism leads to what we would call nihilism. In his Philosophical Commentaries, Berkeley states “the supposition that things are distinct from ideas takes away all real truth and consequently brings in a universal scepticism, since all our knowledge and contemplation is confined barely to our own ideas.” [13] [28] In other words, our ideas are the only objects of which we are directly aware. But if we hold to the representationalist model and postulate that those ideas are somehow “copies” of things existing independently of them, we will forever be ensnared by scepticism, since there is no knowledge of those independent things, and thus no way to tell if our ideas faithfully copy them or not. 

Berkeley’s solution: reject representationalism and affirm that the ideas we know directly are the only objects that exist (our ideas do not copy the world, they are the world). The problem is that Berkeley in effect rejects only half of representationalism: the contention that ideas correspond to things outside our minds. However, he retains the representationalist claim that we are directly aware of (internal) ideas. As Kant might have put it, he takes “ideas” as things in themselves which are immediately, transparently, and thus miraculously given to us. But this is, in fact, the most problematic aspect of representationalism. To repeat something of an oversimplification I offered in my last essay: Berkeley eliminates the “out there” of representationalism while preserving the “in here.”

Given the centrality of representationalism to Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics, we must inquire about how Kant situates himself with respect to it. The short answer is that he also sets himself against representationalism. But how successful is his response? Our answer to this question will really determine how we will have to situate Kant in Heidegger’s account of the history of ideas: does Kant really succeed in overcoming metaphysics, or does he buy into some of its root assumptions? And what of Kant’s account of Being? I have thus far said nothing about this. We will explore these issues in the next installment.

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Notes

[1] [29] I am using Norman Kemp Smith’s translation of The Critique of Pure Reason (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965). Reference is to the marginal pagination, standard in all editions of the Critique. “A” refers to the pagination of the first edition (1781), “B” to the second edition (1787).

[2] [30] Possibly the two less obvious points here concern “fanaticism [Schwärmerei] and superstition [Aberglauben].” Here Kant refers to a perversion of religious belief — what Hume called “superstition and enthusiasm.” For example, the adoption of peculiar religious cults, such as fundamentalism (a belief in the literal truth of the Bible). This can result from an encounter with rationalism because rationalism tends to breed “misology”: an antipathy to reason, leading to an attraction to its opposite. By “fatalism” (Fatalismus), Kant means determinism, which denies human freedom. What of “idealism and scepticism”? Note that Kant says these are “dangerous chiefly to the schools.” By “idealism” he means the position that nothing exists save “ideas.” By “scepticism” he means a position like Hume’s, which held that if something exists beyond our ideas, we cannot know it. These afflictions are a danger to intellectuals or academics, but it is obvious that there is little danger that they will be adopted by the public, in the way that materialism or atheism might become widely influential. 

[3] [31] George Berkeley, Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous, ed. Robert Merrihew Adams (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1979), 7-8.

[4] [32] To be clear, Kant does not claim to legislate such a limit; he claims to have discovered it. 

[5] [33] Indeed, things in themselves must be quite different from how they appear to us, since, for one thing, they are not in space and time. For an explanation of this, see my previous essay on Kant.

[6] [34] Although speaking of a “realm” or “world” of things in themselves is almost unavoidable, it should not be taken literally. The reason is that it seems to entail the “in here”/“out there” distinction (the “world” in here, in my mind, and the “world” out there) that is at the root of the representationalist paradigm that Kant is, in fact, trying to overcome. Kant’s relationship to representationalism is problematic, and I will explore it in the next essay.

[7] [35] At the end of the previous section I noted that we have a vivid and compelling “experience” of ourselves as free. Yet just now I have claimed that for Kant we do not “appear” to ourselves as free. Isn’t this a contradiction? No, because “appearance” is always used in Kantian philosophy to mean sensory appearance. I do experience myself as free, but not in the sense that I see, hear, touch, taste, or smell freedom. So what sort of “experience” of freedom is there? This is a question Kant cannot really answer, because he does not have a developed concept of the sort of experience that we are having when we become aware of aspects of subjectivity that are not given by the senses. What his philosophy is missing, in fact, is the idea of phenomenology — a type of second-order “experience” with its own unique, non-sensory form of awareness and its own unique forms of evidence. 

[8] [36] This position has roots in Leibniz’s philosophy, as I argued here [7].

[9] [37] For example, one culture may postulate that the wicked are punished in the afterlife, while the good go to a place of reward. Another culture may postulate reincarnation, in which one gets one’s just desserts through being reborn in either a more desirable situation, or a less desirable one.

[10] [38] For more information, see my essay “Heidegger Against the Traditionalists [22].”

[11] [39] This move on Heidegger’s part is analogous to the response of Schelling and Hegel to Kantianism, as it was re-invented by J.G. Fichte (to whom I will devote a later essay). Fichte had recast Kantian transcendental subjectivity (or, in language truer to Kant, “the transcendental unity of apperception”) as the “Absolute Ego.” But, as Schelling was the first to ask, why treat this as an “ego” (as an “I”) when there is nothing personal, self-like, or egoic about it? The result was the shift to the language of “the Absolute,” which transcends the subject-object distinction entirely. There are very interesting parallels to Heidegger’s thought in these ideas, and I believe that his indebtedness to the “Absolute Idealists” has not been sufficiently appreciated. But there are also important differences. 

[12] [40] Of the three acts of hypostatization, the cosmological one is the most difficult to understand. Kant is not saying that the cosmos does not exist, in the sense of saying that these here things don’t exist. What he means is that “the cosmos” is an idea of the total unity of these here things. It is an idea of a “one,” and science does indeed operate with the ideal of working toward knowledge of how all things are part of one unified system. Nevertheless, this is merely an ideal. If we claim that there is a unified system existing right now, a cosmos, then we have hypostatized the ideal. This shows up when metaphysicians raise such questions as “what is the cause of the universe?” This question assumes a cosmos that is “thinglike”; it assumes that the cosmos is a kind of individual (a one) that something else (another individual) could “cause.”

[13] [41] Quoted in Frederick Copleston, A History of PhilosophyVol. V: Hobbes to Hume (New York: Image Books, 1985), 228.