Choose an argument from modern philosophy that we studied on the problem of know

Choose an argument from modern philosophy that we studied on the problem of knowledge. For example, choose Descarte’s argument, Locke’s, Berkeley’s, Hume’s, or Kant’s. This paper has 2 parts. In the first part, you will fully reconstruct the argument and explain it. In the second part, you will give your reaction to it. You can discuss whether it’s a string argument or a weak argument and then give your reasons. The rubric is as follows:
State clearly the author’s position. Here you must decide what position the author is taking.
Fully reconstruct a supporting argument. The author gives several arguments to support their position. Choose one and explain it step by step.
Critical Analysis. Here you give your reaction to the argument and position. Ask yourself if the argument is strong or weak, does it support the author’s position?
Your paper must have at least 300 words, no more than 500.
10pts total possible.
Reaction paper should be based off Lecture Notes below.
Lecture Notes – Modern Philosophy: The Problem of Knowledge
Descartes, Locke, Berkeley
This week we will be concerned with the problem of knowledge. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge. There are many and various questions in the problem of knowledge. The question that we will be concerned about is whether human beings are capable of certitude. Can we, as human beings, be certain about anything? To consider this question we will look at the arguments of Rene Descartes, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. This week we will be concerned with the first three.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
Descartes is known as the father of modern philosophy. In part, this is due to the fact that he lives at the close of the medieval period and thus at a time a great changes in science and religion and other human inventions. For example at the beginning of the 1500’s Copernicus had shown, by way of mathematics, that the earth is not at the center of the universe. Kepler and Galileo demonstrate that Copernicus is right through their own calculations and inventions like the telescope. In 1485 the printing press was invented by Gutenburg. The first book that he printed was the bible. In fact, if you like, you can see one of the first four copies of the bible that Gutenburg printed at the Harry Ransom Center on The University of Texas at Austin campus. The bible, by way of the printing press, gradually became available to more and more people. In 1517, October 31st, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses against the corruption of the Catholic Church, hoping that it would reform itself, for example, that it would end the selling of indulgences. Martin Luther said, “A layman armed with scripture is better than a pope or cleric without it.” In 1521, he was excommunicated from the church and Protestantism began. What slowly came to an end with the end of the middle ages is the authority of the church as the basis of truth. With human inventions and human research what was being shown is that human beings can find truth about reality through their own capacities and not rely on authority to know truth. Descartes is primarily known as the father of modern philosophy because he incorporates the new science into his philosophy. This is the moment in history that we find Descartes.
Descartes is known as a rationalist. A rationalist is someone who claims that reason is the primary source of knowledge. Reason is superior to the senses and is what we use to distinguish reality from illusion. Descartes also held that we have innate knowledge, knowledge that we are born with. He called this knowledge, a priori knowledge. On November 10, 1619, Descartes wrote in his journal that he had had three consecutive dreams in which he determined that he had a mission: to find truth by way of reason alone. He, in effect, questions the truth of any of the opinions or ideas that he holds. He recognizes, in other words, that many ideas that he has are ideas that he considers to be true simply because of sense perception or that he learned them from some authority. But is that enough to ensure their truth?
In 1637 Descartes wrote a book entitled, Discourse on Method, in which he make an introspective turn to investigate the operations in the mind that he can use to find the truth, if it exists, and then devises a method that he can use such that the conclusion that he arrives at is one that he can trust.
Since it is the nature of the mind to know things, it will automatically arrive at truth, if it is to be had, when the mind functions according to its own natural mode of operation. Now the mind has many operations, the task is to isolate those operations that are the surest pathways to truth. Some operations of the mind will not lead to truth, even if truth is available. You have to be careful that you are not using an operation that is in itself incapable of arriving at the truth. The two operations that Descartes claims are those which in themselves can arrive at truth are: intuition and deduction.
Intuition is an intellectual activity of such clarity that it leaves no doubt in the mind. It is not the fluctuating testimony of the senses, nor the misleading judgments of the mind. As Descartes explains, intuition is “the conception which an unclouded and attentive mind gives us so readily and distinctly that we are wholly freed of doubt.” Thus, “it springs from the light of reason alone.” Deduction is all necessary inference from other facts known with certainty. For example, say you know with certainty that All A are B and All B are C. Then you necessarily infer that All A are C. In a deductive argument the relationship between the premises and the conclusion is one of necessity such that if the premises are true then the conclusion deduced must be true. It is impossible to have a false conclusion if the premises are true. Induction is another way of arguing, but in an inductive argument the relationship between the premises and the conclusion is one of probability. Thus, an inductive argument cannot be used to arrive at a conclusive answer to the question of whether we can be certain because its conclusion can only ever rich the highest probability which always falls short of necessity. Descartes is then limiting greatly the mental operations that can be used to find truth. In this way he also redefines the criteria of truth to be: what is clear and distinct to the knowing mind. You cannot rely on what others have thought, nor accept things solely on authority. Your capacity to think by way of intuition and deduction is what will guarantee the worth of the conclusion that you come to.
The next task is to outline the method that is to be used. Too often people pay little attention to the method that they use to accomplish a task such that when they find that they were unable to complete the task or achieve the results they wanted they conclude that the task is not doable. But whether you achieve the results you want depends almost solely on the method that you use and how accurately you follow it. Said in another way, if you want different results than ones you have now, then you have to change something that you do. Descartes writes that our curiosity is blind such that we often conduct our minds along unexplored routes. He gives the example of someone looking for treasure who roams the streets hoping to find that a coin might have been dropped. This is not a sure-fire way of finding treasure. There are better methods.
Descartes writes that the best method consists of certain, simple rules such that if observed accurately will never allow you to assume what is false as true, will never allow you to spend your mental efforts to no purpose or avail, but will allow you gradually to increase your knowledge. The whole of his method can be briefly understood by the following four precepts:
1) Never accept anything as true unless I clearly know it to be so.
2) Divide into as many parts as possible
3) Begin with the simple and move to the complex
4) Be so complete in my review and so general , as to omit or leave out nothing.
The “I” is the most important part of the first precept. The point is that there are many ideas that we claim to have about the world that we assume to be true because we learned them by our senses or authorities of one kind or another. But the only idea that you claim to be true that is in fact true is the one that you yourself clearly know to be true. For example, you know that 2 + 2 = 4 is true. That 2 + 2 = 4 is something you know because you understand each of the components and understand the operation of addition. Your kindergarten teacher might have told you this truth, but this is merely the occasion of your learning it. When you grasp it yourself, then you, yourself know its truth. This is what Descartes is saying. We have many ideas in our mind that we hold as true that we have not actually examined ourselves and come to know as true through our own rational processes. Anything that we have not fully examined ourselves, we cannot claim to be true. So in the first precept, Descartes tells you to throw out all those ideas that you have that you yourself do not know to be true, those ideas that are not clear and distinct to your knowing mind. Hence, this method is known as the method of doubt. The first precept instructs you to doubt everything, if something is left standing in the wake of this doubt, then it is something that you know to be true. In terms of precepts 2 and 3, think of reading a paragraph. If you have any hopes of understanding what a paragraph means, then you must break it down to the level of its smallest components, the words, and ensure that you understand their meaning and then the roles that they play within a sentence and then how each sentence relates to each other sentence, etc… The fourth precept means that you must review everything that you have done as to leave no stone unturned. If you accurately follow this method in studying for the next exam, you will make an A.
Having isolated the operations of the mind and devised an appropriate method, Descartes now proceeds to see if the human mind is capable of certainty, if we are able to know something that is certainly true. In his book, Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes employs his method of doubt. Please read Meditations 1 and 2 now.
Descartes is sitting in his study, frees himself from distraction, and he writes that he recognizes that in the past he held something to be true that he found out later was not true. This is a universal human experience, maybe like Santa claus? Since it is the case that human beings are, thus, prone to believe something as true that is really false, Descartes says that he “must once for all seriously undertake to rid myself of all the opinions which I had formerly accepted and commence to build anew from the foundation, if I wanted to establish any firm and permanent structure in the sciences.” As a philosopher he wants to know that what he claims to know about reality is in fact, true. But given the fact that we are able to believe something to be true that really isn’t, he throws out every opinion that he has subjecting them to doubt. Only if he finds something that is really true, what is clear and distinct to the knowing mind, is science possible at all.
He begins with the knowledge about the world that he knows by way of the senses, for he says, “All that up to the present time I have accepted as most true and certain I have learned either from the senses or through the senses.” But the senses have at least once deceived him, and it is better not to completely trust that which has deceived you even once. But then he considers that, while it is certainly acceptable to doubt what your senses tell you that is far away from you, it does not seem so to doubt what is close at hand. For example, to doubt that the sun moves across the sky is one thing, to doubt that you are sitting in a chair (if you are) is quite another. But then Descartes remembers that he has had dreams in which he dreams that he is sitting in a chair while in fact he is in bed fast asleep. In the dream he was utterly convinced that he was sitting in the chair. So not only are the senses capable of deceiving him, but dreams also. Then, in order to fully carry out the first precept, Descartes engages in what is for him, the most extreme case of doubt. He imagines that, instead of God, there is an evil genius that deceives him at every thought. The evil genius deceives him that he has a body, that there is the sky, the earth, etc… The evil genius is a thought experiment that allows Descartes to completely and inexhaustibly doubt every idea he has because in such a context of absolute deception, the question arises as to whether anything could be known as true.
In Meditation 2, Descartes finds that something does, in fact, remain in this context of extreme doubt. In order for the evil genius to deceive him, he must exist. The evil genius cannot convince him that he does not exist, because in order to be deceived that he does not exist, he must exist. If he thinks he does not exist, he still exists in order to think he does not exist. If he thinks he exists, he exists in order to think that he exists. The one, certain truth that he has is every time that I think I exist I exist. This has come to be known as the “cogito” which is Latin and means “I think.” The “cogito” is the statement that you have probably heard, “I think, therefore, I am.” Now that Descartes has found one truth, which remains true, even in doubting it (try to doubt it and you only affirm it) he knows that the human mind is capable of truth. But a problem arises here that he must deal with. Even though the evil genius is but a thought experiment, he still must get rid of it. The only thing he knows for certain is that he, Descartes, exists, but nothing else. But what is Descartes? A thinking thing. In other words, when he says, “I think, I exist,” the “I” can only refer to his mind and not his body. Why? Because he only knows of his body by way of his senses and his senses can yet be deceived. So he must get rid of the evil genius and find a standard of truth, and this will be God. So in Meditations 3 and 5 Descartes offers a proof of God’s existence.
The proof is an ontological proof, like Anselm, because the tool that Descartes can use is reason, he does not have access to sense experience yet. The proof is based on three rationally true claims:
1) Something cannot be derived from nothing. (Even if there is not something at all, the truth of this claim remains because its truth is based on the meaning of the terms.)
2) A cause must have at least as much reality as its effect.
3) That which is more perfect cannot be a consequent of the less perfect.
Based on this claims that he can know as true because he sees their truth as based on the meaning of their terms, he offers the following proof:
1) Everything has a cause, including my ideas
2) I have an idea of God as a substance that is infinite, independent, all-knowing, perfect, etc…
3) Nothing less than God is adequate to be the cause of the idea of God.
4) Thus, God exists.
Descartes, as a human being, is a finite being. As a finite being, he is unable to cause the idea of the infinite. As a finite being, he is imperfect. That which is imperfect cannot cause the idea of the perfect. Only that which is perfect can do so. Since Descartes cannot have caused the idea of God, then something else must have caused it, but this can only be a perfect being, God. The claim here is that that which is perfect entails existence.
Now that he has shown that God must exist and that God is perfectly good, etc…, then Descartes can claim that since his mind is capable of knowing something clearly and distinctly, his own existence, then whatever else he knows clearly and distinctly must also be true, because God as perfectly good would not deceive him. Thus, Descartes argues that he is able to know that there are things that his senses tell him that he can know to be true.
The last idea that I want to talk about comes at the end of Meditation 2. Descartes considers the base of our knowledge, is it sense perception or reason? Consider the following two sets of qualities:
White Clear
Cold hot
Solid liquid
Honey taste tasteless
Floral smell odorless
Based only on these two sets of characteristics, are they referring to the same object or two different objects? Since they oppose each other, you would have to conclude each set indicates its own object which is not the object of the other set. These are qualities that your senses perceive. Now based solely on these sets of qualities, do you necessarily know what object they qualify? Can your senses tell you?
Descartes uses the following example. He holds a piece of wax, noting all of its qualities (column 1) and then moves it into the fire so that it melts and then notes its qualities (column 2). The qualities have radically change. Do we say then that this is two different pieces of wax or the same piece of wax under different conditions? What allows you to know that it is wax and that it is the same piece of wax? Not your senses, what they tell you is that they are two different objects. Thus, it must be reason that is the basis of knowing that it is wax, and what wax is.
In the last paragraph Descartes points to another problem, a language problem. We say that we see “wax” but, in fact, all that we see are visible qualities. He uses the example of looking out the window and saying that he sees men walking on the street below, when all he sees are hats and coats. For all he knows, there may be automatic machines underneath the hats and coats. The point is that we say that we see “wax” when all that we really see is color. Wax is what something is, but we do not see this “whatness.” We judge the qualities that we sense to be “wax.” We misspeak and say that we see what it is that we judge. Thus, wax is not something that our senses give us. As a judgment, “wax” is what reason tells us.
John Locke (1632-1704)
John Locke is one of the three British Empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, Hume). An empiricist is someone who is opposed to rationalism (Descartes) and who claims that all knowledge comes from experience. John Locke is also interested in showing that human beings can be certain. He specifically asks whether the human mind is capable of discovering the true nature of the universe. To answer this question in an affirmative way he argues that he must show that there is a real connection between the ideas we have in our mind and the extramental reality. In other words, can I know if the idea I have of a tree directly corresponds to the tree that exists outside my mind. If I have no way of showing that the ideas I have in my mind are really connected to the things that exist outside of my mind, how can I know if I am knowing the universe as it really exists?
What Locke is seeking is the “origin, certainty, and extent of human knowledge.” He wants to describe knowledge in order to determine its limits and to establish whether we have access to certainty. Locke claims that knowledge is restricted to ideas generated by objects of experience. Experience is the origin of our ideas. There are two types of experience: external and internal. External experience is sensation. Internal experience is reflection. Thus, all ideas come through the senses or from reflection. Reflection is the “mind taking notice of its own operations, operations that begin once ideas come from sensation.”
If the origin of knowledge is experience, Locke is expressly rejecting innate knowledge. He describes the mind as a “tabula rasa” or blank slate. He sometimes calls the mind “an empty cabinet waiting to be furnished” or “a white paper void of all characters.” Since the senses provide the ideas to the mind, Locke understands the mind to be fundamentally passive. Locke rejects that there is any innate knowledge.
There are two types of ideas, simple and complex. Simple ideas are passively received by the mind in single file, one by one. Complex ideas are actively put together by the mind as a compound of simple ideas. For example, apple is a complex idea, a compound of simple ideas like its shape, its solidity, its color, its taste, etc..
How are ideas related to the objects that produce them? Objects have qualities. Locke defines a quality as the power to produce any idea in our mind. Qualities are what the senses literally perceive. He distinguishes between two types of qualities, primary and secondary qualities.
Primary qualities really exist in the objects themselves, and thus, there is an exact resemblance between the primary qualities and the ideas of these qualities in the mind. There are five primary qualities: solidity, extension, figure, motion or rest, quantity. You can think of these qualities as objective. A snowball looks round because it is round; roundness exists in the object.
Secondary qualities produce ideas in our mind that have no exact counterpart in the object. Secondary qualities include: colors, sounds, tastes, and odors. Whiteness and coldness are not in the snowball. Secondary qualities exist in the relationship of the perceiver to the perceived.
Since Locke is interested in knowing whether we are able to discover the true nature of reality, primary qualities are centrally important. It is by way of the primary quality that Locke is able to establish a real connection between the idea in the mind and the object which exists outside the mind. When you know a primary quality you are knowing an objective truth about the object, you are knowing an aspect of the object as it really is. So we can discover the true nature of reality.
The problem that occurs now has to do with the fact that the nature of the quality is to depend on something else, even the secondary quality. We never see “red” just by itself, it is always a red something. So how do we explain the existence of qualities, and moreover, the fact that we always experience certain qualities always going together such that we know things like apple or tree or pencil?
Locke’s answer to this is substance. Substance is something in which qualities subsist. Substance, thus, contains powers that give regularity and consistency to our ideas. Locke contends that substance must logically exist in order to account for the existence of qualities and the regularity of our experience of them. The problem is that we have no direct experience of substance itself. Do a thought experiment, hold up an object to yourself, strip away the secondary qualities and then the primary, what are you left holding, nothing. The object of sense perception is quality. If the qualities are stripped away there is nothing left to perceive. Nonetheless, Locke argues that even though we do not have a clear and distinct idea of substance, still we must conclude that it is there.
While Locke claims to have established a connection between the ideas in the mind and the objects outside the mind, by way of the primary quality, there are difficulties with his theory, like the notion of substance that Berkeley will seize upon.
George Berkeley (1685-1753)
The question of whether when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound, is usually attributed to Berkeley. Berkeley is an empiricist like Locke, rejecting innate knowledge and viewing the mind as a blank slate. But he goes farther in addressing just what we are able to perceive. He contends that “to be is to be perceived.” (esse est percipi) We are only able to say that something is when we perceive it. All that we can mean by being is perception. If you are not now perceiving something, can you know absolutely that it exists? Berkeley argues no. In response to Locke, then, he makes two basic claims:
1) There is no matter or substance. If you cannot perceive substance, then you cannot say that it is.
2) There is no distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Locke’s distinction between the two requires that there be a substance for the primary qualities to inhere in. But without substance, there can be no difference between them. All qualities are thus like secondary qualities, exist insofar as they are perceived
Thus, all that an object is is the sum total of the perceived qualities. Still, Berkeley argues that we can have certain knowledge about the world, but to get there, he must demonstrate that God exists. Don’t worry about his proof of God’s existence, but do know that he appeals to God in order to account for the continued existence of things that we are not now perceiving. God functions like an omniperceiver. He is an “omnipresent eternal mind” that continuously perceives the world. Thus, God is really the source of our ideas as God is the cause of the existence of things and the orderliness of this existence.
What we know are our own ideas but these ideas are communicated to us by God.
David Hume (1711-1776)
David Hume is the third British Empiricist that we are studying. Again, as with Descartes, Locke, and Berkeley, we are concerned with the argument that Hume gives in terms of knowledge and certainty. Hume considers whether either reason or experience can give certainty and concludes that neither is able to do so. Hume divides the objects of human inquiry into two kinds, matters of relations and matters of facts.
Matters of relations and Matters of facts
Hume writes that the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic are examples of matters of relations. The truths in each of these sciences are simply matters of relations of terms in the propositions. Their truths are like the truth of the statement: “A bachelor is an unmarried male.” But such a statement is true whether a bachelor actually exists or not. Matters of facts are matters about the world. But to know if propositions about facts are true, we must go outside the relationship of terms or the meanings of the terms to experience. For example, to know that the building is tall we have to look to experience.
We have two tools to investigate truth, reason and experience. Reason is very helpful in understanding matters of relations and even pointing out a fact in experience. But reason cannot show that a proposition about matters of fact is true. For example, to know that the following statement is true, you would have to have experience: Two atoms of hydrogen plus one atom of oxygen makes water. No amount of thinking about hydrogen and oxygen could lead you to this conclusion; you would have to experience it to know this. So reason falls short of being able to confirm truths about the world. So Hume then looks to see if experience is capable of confirming truths about reality. We will now consider his argument on experience.
Contents of the Mind
Hume contends that the total contents of the mind are impressions and ideas. Impressions are the original stuff of thought. Impressions are lively and clear when you have them. Ideas are copies of impressions and are therefore less lively. The difference between impressions and ideas likes in the degree of vividness. To feel pain is an impression, the memory of it is an idea. Three things to remember about impressions and ideas:
1) Without impressions there are no ideas
2) For every idea there must be a prior impression
3) Not every idea reflects a corresponding impressions
As an empiricist, Hume sees the mind as a “tabula rasa” prior to experience. Thus, without experience there is nothing in the mind. That is why without impressions there are no ideas. You can have ideas that are fantastical, like gold mountains or unicorns, but even though you have no impression of a gold mountain or unicorn, you still had to have some impression that would give rise to such an idea. In other words, you needed to have an impression of gold and an impression of mountain.
How do we explain thinking? Hume understands thinking as the patterns by which ideas group themselves in our mind. When we think, we notice that ideas group themselves or are somehow associated with another idea that springs to mind. Think about what is called the stream of consciousness. What you will notice is that it is not by mere chance that one idea follows another. There is some associating quality by which one idea naturally introduces another. Hume calls these groupings or the way ideas group themselves, habits of associations. Thus the way we think is something that develops from our experience. There are three habits of association:
1) Resemblance – one idea is associated to another by a likeness, for example, the picture of a friend resembles the friend, or some smell has the likeness of another, like when you say oh, that smells like a rose.
2) Contiguity – ideas are related to each other in time or place. For example, if you have the idea of Alamo, you might next think of the battle that happened there, or the last time you were at the Alamo, or the Menger hotel.
3) Cause and effect – ideas are related to each other causally. For example, you might see a wound on someone’s arm and the idea of what caused it might spring to mind.
Hume says that there might be other habits of association, but these are three that he recognizes. It is important to observe that cause and effect is a habit of association. That we think about and explain events in a causal way is a habit that develops by experience. This is important to note because the causal principle, the law of cause and effect, is the foundation upon which all our scientific knowledge of the world depends. What this means is that we explain the world based on cause and effect such that we treat cause and effect as really existing and observable. That what we call the cause has a real and necessary relation to what we call the effect. But Hume questions whether this is the case or not.
Law of Causality Argument
Hume questions what is the source of our knowledge of causality? Do we have an impression of a cause or an impression of an effect that grounds our knowledge of them? To answer these questions, Hume looks at our experience of two events that we call cause and effect. In looking at these two events, he tries to find that impression that gives rise to the idea. Consider the following two events:
Event A Event B
The impact of the cue ball against the 8 ball The movement of the 8 ball
So we are all standing around the pool table and observe these two events, A and B. Why does B happen? All of us would answer because of A. In other words, we would understand that A causes B. The impact of the cue ball against the 8 ball causes the 8 ball to move. Now, Hume asks, what do you literally observe happening? He finds three things:
1) Contiguity – A and B happen near each other in time and place
2) Priority in time – A happens before B
3) Constant Conjunction – B follows A
If you really reflect on your experience of two events that you call cause and effect, Hume argues that you will not find an impression of cause. All you will find is contiguity, priority in time, and constant conjunction. But just because two events happen near each other in place and time and one happens before the other and one happens after the other does not mean that there is a necessary connection between the two events. As Hume writes, every effect is a distinct event from its cause. Cause and effect are labels that we give to events that we experience repeatedly in the same way over and over again. In other words, the only reason why we label two events as cause and effect is due to repeated experience. But just because two events repeat themselves over and over and over again, a hundred times over again, does not REQUIRE that they happen in the same way the next time. Just because the sun has risen every day of your life does not require that will rise again tomorrow.
The point here is that there is a flaw in the law of causality. There is no necessary connection between an event that we call cause and an event that we call effect. Why underlies causality is repetition, but repetition does not offer necessity, nor does it give certainty. Think about how often we label something as a cause and find out that we are wrong. The only reason why we label something as cause is due to past repeated experience. But knowing the past does not put you in the position of making absolutely certain predictions about the future. Thus, absolute knowledge or certainty is impossible, both by reason and by experience. Hume ends up in skepticism. Skepticism is the claim that knowledge is impossible.
This does not mean that Hume would light a match in a room full of dynamite unless he wanted to blow up. What Hume has ruled out is certainty, not probability. What Hume has shown is important, especially in terms of developing a scientific method. What one strives for in an experiment is repeatability of results in other laboratories and a high degree of probable success.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Immanuel Kant is one of the most important philosophers, next to Plato and Aristotle, in Western Philosophy. He revolutionized the way that we think about knowledge, the mind, and reality. You cannot overestimate his influence even in terms of the way you think about the world.
Kant read Hume and said that when he did, he “awoke from his dogmatic slumber.” To be dogmatic is to arrogantly assert as true unproved or untested or unexamined principles or ideas. To slumber, of course, means to sleep, to be unconscious or unaware. When Kant read Hume, he realized that he had been holding onto assumptions, that in an unconscious way, he took to be true. Reading Hume made him aware of these assumptions and aware that he had been holding them to be true even though he had never fully examined them. Now, Kant actually thinks that the argument that Hume gives on causality is a very good argument, and to a certain degree, agrees with Hume. Where he disagrees is the beginning and the end. Hume ends up in skepticism; Kant does not want to end up in skepticism because, as he will show, the human being does have access to certainty. He does not agree with the assumption upon which Hume makes his argument, but this assumption is the one that Kant realized he had been holding but now understood as wrong. What is this assumption?
That knowledge is the result of the mind conforming to the world. Remember how Locke tried to demonstrate that there is a real connection between the ideas in our mind and the objects in the world by way of the primary quality. That somehow our ideas conform to the objects in the world. Indeed, on the everyday level, this is how we operate, for example, how we test whether a student has learned. But when you are seeking to explain reality in an ultimate or scientific sense, Kant agrees with Hume, we cannot do it if we hold this assumption that the mind conforms to the world. But Kant realizes that this assumption is what is wrong and he turns it on its head.
The Copernican Revolution
Kant argues that knowledge is the result of the world conforming to the mind. And he calls this claim his “Copernican Revolution.” Remember Copernicus is the astronomer who showed that the earth was not at the center of the universe. This dramatically changed the way people understood themselves and the universe. Overturning this assumption and claiming that the world conforms to the mind, has the same dramatic upheaval in terms of how people viewed themselves and the world. What does it mean to say that the world conforms to the mind?
What we call the world is a result of the way our mind structures reality. The reason we see and experience the world in the way that we do is because of the particular mental structure that we have. If we had a different mental structure we would not see the world that we do now, we would see and experience a different world. Think about how a dog is in sheer heaven when he comes to a corner where other dogs have been. He smells things we cannot even imagine. His world is literally different due to his mental structure and the structure of his senses. Think about how there are mind-altering drugs, which in turn alter reality. What Kant argues is that the basis of knowledge is not the world outside our mind and being able to show that we have an accurate idea of it; Hume shows that this is not possible. Rather, the basis of knowledge is the structure of the mind itself. The mind receives raw data from the senses and turns that data into an idea, into something knowable. Moreover, the mind will itself be a source of knowledge; it will add to the knowledge that arises through the senses.
Kant makes his arguments concerning the mind, knowledge, and reality in his book, The Critique of Pure Reason. It is in the Introduction of this book that he makes the case that his claim that the world or object conforms to the mind is the right claim, over Hume, and indeed the whole history of philosophy. To make this case, Kant argues that he must show that there is some knowledge that the mind or the understanding itself adds to that knowledge that we gain through sense experience. In other words, he must show that sense experience is not the sole source of knowledge, as the British Empiricists held. If he can find such knowledge that is independent of sense experience, then he will have grounds to reject empiricism. Kant also rejects the rationalism of Descartes, who held not only that reason is the primary source of knowledge but also contended that we have innate knowledge. Kant rejects that we are born with knowledge and also sees that knowledge is the result of the cooperation of the knower and the known, so sense experience is certainly required for knowledge. Kant does not synthesize rationalism and empiricism, but radically changes how we understand knowledge and the mind and reality; Kant’s philosophy is known as a transcendental philosophy, a philosophy that claims that the world or object conforms to the mind.
Kant recognizes two different realties: noumenal and phenomenal:
Noumenal Reality: the-thing-in-itself
Phenomenal Reality: the-thing-as –we-experience-it
We did not have access to the noumenal realm; we do not know the thing-in-itself. What we have access to is the phenomenal reality which is the reality that we experience. Now this sounds like what we talked about with Protagoras, the Sophist who claimed that knowledge is perception. Protagoras ended up in relativism though because for him perception was subjective, dependent on the individual doing the perceiving. Since Kant claims that the mind is what structures reality, and all human beings have the same fundamental mental structure, then even though we only have access to the world as we experience it, our fundamental experience of the world is the same for all of us.
Kant argues that space and time are the lenses through which we see the world. The fact that we experience the kinds of physical connections between objects that we do, the fact that we experience the world in space and time, are facts of our mental structure. Kant contends that the mind is further organized into 12 categories which are based on the following four fixed forms or concepts in the mental structure: quantity, quality, relation, and modality. Kant claims that this mental structure or organization is fundamentally the same for rational beings. Think about the fact that we all have the same fundamental bodily structure down to our DNA. We are in fact so much the same that we can transfer organs from one body to another. So it can certainly be argued that we have the same basic mental structure. This would also account for the fact that our fundamental experience of the world is the same for all of us.
Kant now turns to the question of whether we have knowledge that does not, in fact, could not, come from sense experience. If you turn to Reading 29 in the second part of your book, p. 210, you will find an excerpt from The Critique of Pure Reason. In this excerpt Kant shows that we do have such knowledge, and explains what that knowledge is.
He begins by observing that “all our knowledge begins with experience.” Notice that he does not say that all our knowledge comes from experience. He recognizes that we do need information supplied by senses. But the form of this information is sense data, not ideas, like Locke believed. This sense data, upon being received by the faculty of understanding, kicks that faculty into operation and it begins to process it, organize it, and make it intelligible. The mind is not a “tabula rasa,” a blank slate that simply passively receives ideas. The mind is the maker of the idea. The mind is an intricately complex structure that has its own operations and faculties. An analogy to it might be this. The lungs of a full term infant just before birth are complex and fully developed but have not yet worked as lungs. As soon as the first breath of air is drawn after birth, the lungs kick into action. They are complexly designed so as to be able to process the air, taking from it what we need, and exhaling the rest. The air is processed by the lungs so that it is useful to us. So while we do not have innate knowledge, nor rely solely on the senses for all knowledge, the sense data received by the mind is essential to knowledge. This sense data is not yet knowable until it has been processed by the mind.
Now Kant asks, is there any knowledge that I have that is independent from sense experience, knowledge that the faculty of understanding supplies itself? To answer this question he describes two types of knowledge and two types of judgments that we make about the world.
A priori knowledge- knowledge that is absolutely independent of experience. It is unconditional, universal and necessary
A posteriori knowledge – knowledge that is dependent upon experience.
Analytic judgment – the meaning of the predicate is contained in the meaning of the subject. The point of the analytic judgment is to clarify and define. The example that Kant gives of an analytic judgment is: all bodies are extended. To be extended is to take up space. This is what a body does. A bachelor is an unmarried male is another example of an analytic judgment.
Synthetic judgment – the meaning of the predicate gives additional information to the meaning of the subject. The point of the synthetic judgment is to build our knowledge. An example of a synthetic judgment is: The building is tall.
What Kant does now is to consider the possible combinations of these 4:
A priori A posteriori
Analytic yes no
Synthetic ? yes
All analytic statements are a priori, none are a posteriori. The reason why is because the truth of the analytic statement is based upon the meaning of its terms. It is a truth that is demonstrated by reason alone. Most synthetic statements are a posteriori because their truth depends on empirical data, so you need experience. But Kant argues that there are some synthetic statements that are nonetheless a priori, for example:

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