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Kant- Prolegomena 03.pdf

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Peter King

KANT: PURE NATURAL SCIENCE (I) [1] The second part of the main transcendental question is: How is pure natural science possible? Unlike the case of pure mathematics in Part One, Kant first has to convince us that there is something that can reasonably be called ‘pure natural science’. This differs from what Kant calls ‘empirical science’ (or sometimes ‘actual science’), which says things like “Salt is soluble” or “Friction generates heat” or “Repression leads to neurosis.” Instead, a ‘pure natural science’ is the body of necessary a priori laws that apply to anything we could ever call ‘natural science’. Kant mentions two such laws in §15: the propositions that “Substance is permanent” and “Every event is determined by a cause according to constant laws” [295]. Such laws are obviously synthetic, Kant seems to believe, since they clearly include more in the predicate than in the subject. This gives what Kant will call in §23 a ‘physiological system’ [306]. [2] It may help to have an idea of the overall strategy before diving into the details. Here in Part Two, Kant is concerned with the cognitive faculty of understanding (unlike Part One which was concerned with the cognitive faculty of intuition). Natural science is an enterprise in which we try actively to understand something, which, in Kant’s view, is a matter of formulating judg- ments. It turns out that the key feature of scientific judgments is their claim to objectivity—that’s what sets them off from mere reports of experience. Now in the late eighteenth century, when Kant was writing, it was generally assumed that logic is the study of the way the mind works: more specifically, the study of the ‘possible forms of judgment’. Still more specifically, it had pretty well universally assumed for twenty centuries that Aristotle’s logic was a successful for- mulation of these ‘forms of judgment’. Hence Kant approaches natural science by categorizing the twelve forms of objective judgment derived from Aristotelian logic. These forms of judg- ment each include pure concepts, and they categorize the various kinds of physical knowledge we can have. Nowadays we don’t think this, due to the revolution in logic that dates from the beginning of the twentieth century, but the spirit of Kant’s enterprise is still very much alive. Anyway, Kant’s argument turns on a precise understanding of the nature of logic that is used in science. [3] Here we go! The first move Kant makes in his discussion is to draw a distinction in §18 among kinds of judgments [298]: (J1) Judgments of perception are “only subjectively valid”; they require merely the “logical connection of perception in a thinking subject,” and not any “pure concept of the understanding.” (J2) Judgments of experience are “empirical judgments, so far as they have objective validity”; they require, “besides the representation of the sensuous intuition, special concepts originally generated in the understanding, which make the judgment of experience objectively valid.” Kant also tells us several times that a judgment of perception merely connects or compares perceptions whereas a judgment of experience does something further ([299], [300], [301], [304]). An example that may help to illustrate the difference between (J1) and (J2) is suggested by Kant’s remarks in n.12 of §20 [301]: (J1*) The sun is shining and the stone is warm (J2*) The stone is warm because the sun is shining. Kant puts forward two claims about judgments of experience: (i) they involve a concept not derived from experience, e.g. the concept of causality; (ii) such concepts are universal and nec- essary features of judgments of experience, and hence synthetic a priori. He takes (i) to be clear from Hume. What about (ii)? [4] Kant argues for (ii) by claiming that judgments of experience have intersubjectivity or, equiv- alently, objectivity (§§18–19). He has to argue both directions for equivalance. First direction: if an empirical judgment is objective then it is universal and
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