Kant and the Verificationism

In a much-cited essay, Barry Stroud (1968) argues that, to any claim that the truth of some proposition is a necessary condition of some fact about our mental life, the skeptic can always reply that it would be enough for it merely to appear to be true, or for us merely to believe that it is true. Transcendental arguments, he claims, at best demonstrate how things must appear, or what we must believe, rather than how things must be. Anti-skeptical transcendental arguments of familiar sorts are thus left with a gap to fill. Stroud’s contention—which is now widely accepted—is that such arguments, when aimed at refuting epistemic skepticism, can only close that gap by adverting either to a sort of verificationism or to idealism. In the case of Strawson’s arguments above, even supposing that we must be in possession of some criteria for applying concepts of other minds and/or an objective world, this fact only has anti-skeptical consequences if we also accept that there is no meaningful concept-application without experiential criteria sufficient for knowing whether the concept is instantiated. As Stroud points out, such a principle is implausible. Further, if we accepted such a principle, other aspects of transcendental arguments would be superfluous. All we would have to show is that we meaningfully employ external-world concepts; it would be impossible for any form of skepticism to be meaningful or intelligible.
As Stroud goes on to point out, another way of closing the gap between it being necessary that things appear a certain way and things being that way, would be to embrace an idealism that reduces how things are to how things appear, or must appear, to us. Kant did not rely on any verificationist principle in making the case against skepticism, but according to many scholars his “transcendental idealism” made possible the jump from how things must be experienced by us to how things must be by reducing objects of experience to mere mental representations. But such idealism is unacceptable to most: embracing idealism to answer the epistemic skeptic results in a Pyrrhic victory at best.
Despite Stroud’s blanket assertion, it should be noted that the verification/idealism objection only applies on a case-by-case basis. Some arguments that take the form of transcendental arguments may have other deficiencies, but do not rely on either verificationism or idealism. A few scholars have observed that Descartes’s “Cogito, ergo sum” argument can be re-conceived as a transcendental argument:
(1) I think.
(2) In order to think “I think,” it is necessary to exist.
(3) Hence, I exist.
This argument meets the criteria for a transcendental argument: it takes a fact about one’s mental life as a premise, adds that some extra-mental fact is a necessary condition of the truth of that premise, and concludes that the extra-mental fact holds. This argument would turn on the claim that the statement, “I do not exist” (or better, the proposition that no one exists) is performatively self-defeating in the sense that the fact of its performance counts as conclusive evidence against its truth. That is what connects the mental fact (I am thinking about whether I exist) to the relevant extra-mental fact (I exist). Regardless of how this argument might fail in some other respect, it presupposes neither verificationism nor idealism in closing the gap between the internal and the external.


Taken objectively, morality is in itself practical, being the totality of unconditionally mandatory laws according to which we ought to act. It would obviously be absurd, after granting authority to the concept of duty, to pretend that we cannot do our duty, for in that case this concept would itself drop out of morality (ultra posse nemo obligatur). Consequently, there can be no conflict of politics, as a practical doctrine of right, with ethics, as a theoretical doctrine of right. That is to say, there is no conflict of practice with theory, unless by ethics we mean a general doctrine of prudence, which would be the same as a theory of the maxims for choosing the most fitting means to accomplish the purposes of self-interest. But to give this meaning to ethics is equivalent to denying that there is any such thing at all.
Politics says, “Be ye wise as serpents”; morality adds, as a limiting condition, “and guileless as doves.” If these two injunctions are incompatible in a single command, then politics and morality are really in conflict; but if these two qualities ought always to be united, the thought of contrariety is absurd, and the question as to how the conflict between morals and politics is to be resolved cannot even be posed as a problem. Although the proposition, “Honesty is the best policy,” implies a theory which practice unfortunately often refutes, the equally theoretical “Honesty is better than any policy” is beyond refutation and is indeed the indispensable condition of policy.
The tutelary divinity of morality yields not to Jupiter, for this tutelary divinity of force still is subject to destiny. That is, reason is not yet sufficiently enlightened to survey the entire series of predetermining causes, and such vision would be necessary for one to be able to foresee with certainty the happy or unhappy effects which follow human actions by the mechanism of nature (though we know enough to have hope that they will accord with our wishes). But what we have to do in order to remain in the path of duty (according to rules of wisdom) reason instructs us by her rules, and her teaching suffices for attaining the ultimate end.
Now the practical man, to whom morality is mere theory even though he concedes that it can and should be followed, ruthlessly renounces our fond hope [that it will be followed]. He does so because he pretends to have seen in advance that man, by his nature, will never will what is required for realizing the goal of perpetual peace. Certainly the will of each individual to live under a juridical constitution according to principles of freedom (i.e., the distributive unity of the will of all) is not sufficient to this end. That all together should will this condition (i.e., the collective unity of the united will) — the solution to this troublous problem — is also required. Thus a whole of civil society is formed. But since a uniting cause must supervene upon the variety of particular volitions in order to produce a common will from them, establishing this whole is something no one individual in the group can perform; hence in the practical execution of this idea we can count on nothing but force to establish the juridical condition, on the compulsion of which public law will later be established. We can scarcely hope to find in the legislator a moral intention sufficient to induce him to commit to the general will the establishment of a legal constitution after he has formed the nation from a horde of savages; therefore, we cannot but expect (in practice) to find in execution wide deviations from this idea (in theory).
It will then be said that he who once has power in his hands will not allow the people to prescribe laws for him; a state which once is able to stand under no external laws will not submit to the decision of other states how it should seek its rights against them; and one continent, which feels itself superior to another, even though the other does not interfere with it, will not neglect to increase its power by robbery or even conquest. Thus all theoretical plans of civil and international laws and laws of world citizenship vanish into empty and impractical ideas, while practice based on empirical principles of human nature, not blushing to draw its maxims from the usages of the world, can alone hope to find a sure ground for its political edifice.
If there is no freedom and no morality based on freedom, and everything which occurs or can occur happens by the mere mechanism of nature certainly politics (which is the art of using this mechanism for ruling men) is the whole of practical wisdom, and the concept of right is an empty thought. But if we find it necessary to connect the latter with politics, and even to raise it to a limiting condition thereon, the possibility of their being united must be conceded. I can easily conceive of a moral politician, i.e., one who so chooses political principles that they are consistent with those of morality; but I cannot conceive of a political moralist, one who forges a morality in such a way that it conforms to the statesman’s advantage.
When a remediable defect is found in the constitution of the state or in its relations to others, the principle of the moral politician will be that it is a duty, especially of the rulers of the state, to inquire how it can be remedied as soon as possible in a way conforming to natural law as a model presented by reason; this he will do even if it costs self-sacrifice. But it would be absurd to demand that every defect be immediately and impetuously changed, since the disruption of the bonds of a civil society or a union of world citizens before a better constitution is ready to take its place is against all politics agreeing with morality. But it can be demanded that at least the maxim of the necessity of such a change should be taken to heart by those in power, so that they may continuously approach the goal of the constitution that is best under laws of right. A state may exercise a republican rule, even though by its present constitution it has a despotic sovereignty, until gradually the people becomes susceptible to the influence simply of the idea of the authority of law (as if it possessed physical power) and thus is found fit to be its own legislator (as its own legislation is originally established on law). If a violent revolution, engendered by a bad constitution, introduces by illegal means a more legal constitution, to lead the people back to the earlier constitution would not be permitted; but, while the revolution lasted, each person who openly or covertly shared in it would have justly incurred the punishment due to those who rebel. As to the external relations of states, a state cannot be expected to renounce its constitution even though it is a despotic one (which has the advantage of being stronger in relation to foreign enemies) so long as it is exposed to the danger of being swallowed up by other states. Thus even in the case of the intention to improve the constitution, postponement to a more propitious time may be permitted.1
It may be that despotizing moralists, in practice blundering, often violate rules of political prudence through measures they adopt or propose too precipitately; but experience will gradually retrieve them from their infringement of nature and lead them on to a better course. But the moralizing politician, by glossing over principles of politics which are opposed to the right with the pretext that human nature is not capable of the good as reason prescribes it, only makes reform impossible and perpetuates the violation of law.
Instead of possessing the practical science they boast of, these politicians have only practices; they flatter the power which is then ruling so as not to be remiss in their private advantage, and they sacrifice the nation and, possibly, the whole world. This is the way of all professional lawyers (not legislators) when they go into politics. Their task is not to reason too nicely about the legislation but to execute the momentary commands on the statute books; consequently, the legal constitution in force at any time is to them the best, but when it is amended from above, this amendment always seems best, too. Thus everything is preserved in its accustomed mechanical order. Their adroitness in fitting into all -circumstances gives them the illusion of being able to judge constitutional principles according to concepts of right (not empirically, but a priori). They make a great show of understanding men (which is certainly something to be expected of them, since they have to deal with so many) without understanding man and what can be made of him, for they lack the higher point of view of anthropological observation which is needed for this. If with these ideas they go into civil and international law, as reason prescribes it, they take this step in a spirit of chicanery, for they still follow their accustomed mechanical routine of despotically imposed coercive laws in a field where only concepts of reason can establish a legal compulsion according to the principles of freedom, under which alone a just and durable constitution is possible. In this field the pretended practical man thinks he can solve the problem of establishing such a constitution without the rational idea but solely from the experience he has had with what was previously the most lasting constitutions constitution which in many cases was opposed to the right.
The maxims which he makes use of (though he does not divulge them) are, roughly speaking, the following sophisms:
1. Fac et excusa. Seize every favorable opportunity for usurping the right of the state over its own people or over a neighboring people; the justification will be easier and more elegant ex post facto, and the power can be more easily glossed over, especially when the supreme power in the state is also the legislative authority which must be obeyed without argument. It is much more difficult to do the violence when one has first to wait upon the consideration of convincing arguments and to meet them with counterarguments. Boldness itself gives the appearance of inner conviction of the legitimacy of the deed, and the god of success is afterward the best advocate.
2. Si fecisti, nega. What you have committed, deny that it was your fault — for instance, that you have brought your people to despair and hence to rebellion. Rather assert that it was due to the obstinacy of your subjects; or, if you have conquered a neighboring nation, say that the fault lies in the nature of man, who, if not met by force, can be counted on to make use of it to conquer you.
3. Divide et impera. That is, if there are certain privileged persons in your nation who have chosen you as their chief (primus inter pares), set them at variance with one another and embroil them with the people. Show the latter visions of greater freedom, and all will soon depend on your untrammeled will. Or if it is foreign states that concern you, it is a pretty safe means to sow discord among them so that, by seeming to protect the weaker, you can conquer them one after another.
Certainly no one is now the dupe of these political maxims, for they are already universally known. Nor are they blushed at, as if their injustice were too glaring, for great powers blush only at the judgment of other great powers but not at that of the common masses. it is not that they are ashamed of revealing such principles (for all of them are in the same boat with respect to the morality of their maxims); they are ashamed only when these maxims fail, for they still have political honor which cannot be disputed — and this honor is the aggrandizement of their power by whatever means.2
All these twistings and turnings of an immoral doctrine of prudence in leading men from their natural state of war to a state of peace prove at least that men in both their private and their public relationships cannot reject the concept of right or trust themselves openly to establish politics merely on the artifices of prudence. Thus they do not refuse obedience to the concept of public law, which is especially manifest in international law; on the contrary, they give all due honor to it, even when they are inventing a hundred pretenses and subterfuges to escape from it in practice, imputing its authority, as the source and union of all laws, to crafty force.
Let us put an end to this sophism, if not to the injustice it protects, and force the false representatives of power to confess that they do not plead in favor of the right but in favor of might. This is revealed in the imperious tone they assume as if they themselves could command the right. Let us remove the delusion by which they and others are duped, and discover the supreme principle from which the intention to perpetual peace stems. Let us show that everything evil which stands in its way derives from the fact that the political moralist begins where the moral politician would correctly leave off, and that, since he thus subordinates principles to the end (putting the cart before the horse), he vitiates his own purpose of bringing politics into agreement with morality.
To make practical philosophy self-consistent, it is necessary, first, to decide the question: In problems of practical reason, must we begin from its material principles, i.e., the end as the object of choice? Or should we begin from the formal principles of pure reason, i.e., from the principle which is concerned solely with freedom in outer relations and which reads, “So act that you can will that your maxim could become a universal law, regardless of the end”?
Without doubt it is the latter which has precedence, for as a principle of law it has unconditional necessity. On the other hand, the former is obligatory only if we presuppose the empirical conditions of the proposed end, i.e., its practicability. Thus if this end (in this case, perpetual peace) is a duty, it must be derived from the formal principle of the maxims of external actions. The first principle, that of the political moralist, pertaining to civil and international law and the law of world citizenship, is merely a problem of technique (problema technicum); the second, as the problem of the moral politician to whom it is an ethical problem (problema morale), is far removed from the other in its method of leading toward perpetual peace, which is wished not merely as a material good but also as a condition issuing from an acknowledgment of duty.
For the solution of the former, the problem of political prudence, much knowledge of nature is required so that its mechanism may be employed toward the desired end; yet all this is uncertain in its results for perpetual peace, with whatever sphere of public law we,are concerned. It is uncertain, for example, whether the people are better kept in obedience and maintained in prosperity by severity or by the charm of distinctions which flatter their vanity, by the power of one or the union of various chiefs, or perhaps merely by a serving nobility or by the power of the people. History furnishes us with contradictory examples from all governments (with the exception of the truly republican, which can alone appeal to the mind of a moral politician). Still more uncertain is an international law allegedly erected on the statutes of ministries. It is, in fact, a word without meaning, resting as it does on compacts which, in the very act of being concluded, contain secret reservations for their violation.
On the other hand, the solution of the second problem, that of political wisdom, presses itself upon us, as it were; it is clear to everyone and puts to shame all affectation. It leads directly to the end, but, remembering discretion, it does not precipitately hasten to do so by force; rather, it continuously approaches it under the conditions offered by favorable circumstances.
Then it may be said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of pure practical reason and its righteousness, and your end (the blessing of perpetual peace) will necessarily follow.” For it is the peculiarity of morals, especially with respect to its principles of public law and hence in relation to a politics known a priori, that the less it makes conduct depend on the proposed end, i.e., the intended material or moral advantage, the more it agrees with it in general. This is because it is the universal will given a priori (in a nation or in the relations among different nations) which determines the law among men, and if practice consistently follows it, this will can also, by the mechanism of nature, cause the desired result and make the concept of law effective. So, for instance, it is a principle of moral politics that a people should unite into a state according to juridical concepts of freedom and equality, and this principle is based not on prudence but on duty. Political moralists may argue as much as they wish about the natural mechanism of a mass of men forming a society, assuming a mechanism which would weaken those principles and vitiate their end; or they may seek to prove their assertions by examples of poorly organized constitutions of ancient and modern times (for instance, of democracies without representative systems). They deserve no hearing, particularly as such a pernicious theory may itself occasion the evil which it prophesies, throwing human beings into one class with all other living machines, differing from them only in their consciousness that they are not free, which makes them, in their own judgment, the most miserable of all beings in the world.
The true but somewhat boastful sentence which has become proverbial, Fiat iustitia, pereat mundus (“Let justice reign even if all the rascals in the world should perish from it”), is a stout principle of right which cuts asunder the whole tissue of artifice or force. But it should not be misunderstood as a permission to use one’s own right with extreme rigor (which would conflict with ethical duty); it should be understood as the obligation of those in power not to limit or to extend anyone’s right through sympathy or disfavor. This requires, first, an internal constitution of the state erected on pure principles of right, and, second, a convention of the state with other near or distant states (analogous to a universal state) for the legal settlement of their differences. This implies only that political maxims must not be derived from the welfare or happiness which a single state expects from obedience to them, and thus not from the end which one of them proposes for itself. That is, they must not be deduced from volition as the supreme yet empirical principle of political wisdom, but rather from the pure concept of the duty of right, from the ought whose principle is given a priori by pure reason, regardless of what the physical consequences may be. The world will by no means perish by a diminution in the number of evil men. Moral evil has the indiscerptible property of being opposed to and destructive of its own purposes (especially in the relationships between evil men); thus it gives place to the moral principle of the good, though only through a slow progress.
Thus objectively, or in theory, there is no conflict between morals and politics. Subjectively, however, in the selfish propensity of men (which should not be called “practice,” as this would imply that it rested on rational maxims), this conflict will always remain. Indeed, it should remain, because it serves as a whetstone of virtue, whose true courage (by the principle, tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito [Yield not to evil, but go against the stronger” (Aeneid VI. 95).]) in the present case does not so much consist in defying with strong resolve evils and sacrifices which must be undertaken along with the conflict, but rather in detecting and conquering the crafty and far more dangerously deceitful and treasonable principle of evil in ourselves, which puts forward the weakness of human nature as justification for every transgression.
In fact, the political moralist may say: The ruler and people, or nation and nation, do each other no injustice when by violence or fraud they make war on each other, although they do commit injustice in general in that they refuse to respect the concept of right, which alone could establish perpetual peace. For since the one does transgress his duty against the other, who is likewise lawlessly disposed toward him, each gets what he deserves when they destroy each other. But enough of the race still remains to let this game continue into the remotest ages in order that posterity, some day, might take these perpetrators as a warning example. Hence providence is justified in the history of the world, for the moral principle in man is never extinguished, while with advancing civilization reason grows pragmatically in its capacity to realize ideas of law. But at the same time the culpability for the transgressions also grows. If we assume that humanity never will or can be improved, the only thing which a theodicy seems unable to justify is creation itself, the fact that a race of such corrupt beings ever was on earth. But the point of view necessary for such an assumption is far too high for us, and we cannot theoretically support our philosophical concepts of the supreme power which is inscrutable to us.
To such dubious consequences we are inevitably driven if we do not assume that pure principles of right have objective reality, i.e., that they may be applied, and that the people in a state and, further, states themselves in their mutual relations should act according to them, whatever objections empirical politics may raise. Thus true politics can never take a step without rendering homage to morality. Though politics by itself is a difficult art, its union with morality is no art at all, for this union cuts the knot which politics could not untie when they were in conflict. The rights of men must be held sacred, however much sacrifice it may cost the ruling power. One cannot compromise here and seek the middle course of a pragmatic conditional law between the morally right and the expedient. All politics must bend its knee before the right. But by this it can hope slowly to reach the stage where it will shine with an immortal glory.


This Post is concerned with the relation between Kant’s Categories as transcendental forms of thought and function words as relating to innate pre-linguistic patterns of brain organisation. The Tables above are from Max Müller’s176 translation; Kemp Smith’s178 translation is the same except for minor points such as ‘reciprocity between agent and patient’ in place of ‘reciprocity between the active and the passive’. Kant’s procedure was to derive the Table of Categories from the preceding table of Judgements. The contents of both are a priori, that is they are constituents of the functioning of the human mind before any application of them to externally derived aspects of the world. As Sir William Hamilton pointed out (below), Kant’s categories are totally different from Aristotle’s Categories (predicaments) which were concerned with a quasi-zoological categorisation of the real objects of the world. Kant is classifying the functions of the human mind as applied to thoughts, perceptions, internal mental activity of all kinds. The Categories are effectively innate constituents of the human mind [though Kant does not use the word ‘innate’] in the same way as Time and Space are a priori conditions under which all human perception takes place.
Sir William Hamilton commented: “It is a serious error to imagine that, in his Categories, Aristotle proposed, like Kant, ‘an analysis of the elements of human reason’. The ends proposed by the two philosophers were different, even opposed. In their several Categories, Aristotle attempted a synthesis of things in their multiplicity – a classification of objects real, but in relation to thought; Kant, an analysis of mind in its unity – a dissection of thought, pure but in relation to its objects. In reality, the whole Kantian categories must be excluded from the Aristotelic list, as determinations of thought, and not genera of real things [Sir W.J.Hamilton Essays and Discussions in Meiklejohn177 p. 80]. The confusion and misunderstanding, resulting from Kant’s borrowing the term Categories from Aristotle, is analysed by other commentators, for example, George MacDonald Ross.
In investigating how language is possible, how a thought can be transduced into an utterance, a spoken sentence, Kant’s classification of the processes of the brain/mind is relevant. Sellars179has pointed out that one way of considering the Kantian categories is to think of them as essentially grammatically-derived: “We are construing mental judgements as analogous to sentences. Kant’s categories are grammatical classifications. The category of causality, for example, is the form ‘X implies Y’; there is no image of causality as there is an image of a house. The categories with which Kant is concerned in the Critique are the pure categories, specialized in their turn to thought about spatio-temporal objects; we cannot abstract the categories from sensations or images. Kant’s categories are forms and functions of judgment. They are grammatical summa genera. Aristotle’s list of categories is haphazard [confusing] them with generic concepts of entities in the world. A theory of such concepts must be carefully distinguished from the grammar of thought.”[emphasis added]
 If Kant’s Categories, as Sellars suggests, are to be thought of as aspects of a necessary grammar, then this establishes a link with theorising about the biological bases of language (Chomskyan UG etc.) To say, as Sellars does, that the pure categories are specialised to thought about spatio-temporal objects is too narrow, unless ‘objects’ is taken in a very wide sense as the potential content of all thoughts, all operations of the mind. How did Kant arrive at these quasi-grammatical categories, or more generally these pre-linguistic modes of functioning of the mind? The transition Kant proposed was from forms of judgment (with no origin outside the mind) to forms of thought generally (the Categories). However, the transition, as Kant formulated it, was, as has often been pointed out, in many ways unsatisfactory. Explanation and justification later in the Critique is confusing, even confused. Kant, rather unhelpfully, says: “I purposely omit the definitions of the categories in this treatise. In a system of pure reason, definitions of them would be with justice demanded of me, but to give them here would only hide from our view the main aim or our investigation, at the same time raising doubts and objections, the consideration of which, without injustice to our main purpose, may be very well postponed till another opportunity.” One looks, without much success, in the latter part of the Critique for the promised clarification.
In the absence of Kant’s clarification, what exactly are the contents of the Categories as pure forms of thought and where do they come from? To construct a plausible account of what each category means, or refers to, one has to make use of function words from which, by hypostatisation or abstraction, terms such as ‘hypothetical’, ‘necessity’, ‘contingency’, ‘possibility’, ‘disjunctive’, ‘plurality’, ‘reality’, ‘existence’, are derived. The categories, seem to derive from the set of function words which each language contains: ‘if’-then’, ‘must-may’, ‘can-cannot’, ‘either-or’, ‘more-less’, ‘is-is not’, ‘why-because’, ‘some-all’. Rather than Kant’s formulaic presentation of the Categories, it is the array of functions, labelled by function words,which constitutes the ‘pure’ basis of all thought and thoughts, the means by which different concepts, different elements in the mind are linked together, put in relationship with one another. Function words cannot be derived empirically from any external perception or experience and constitute the innate a priori pre-linguistic structure from which all grammars are derived, a manifestation of universal brain-processes, human neurophysiology, to which names have become attached in world languages. There remains the question, touched on in the section on the acquisition of function words by children, how these brain functions came to be labelled with specific word-forms. To say that we find the words in the ambient language which children acquire is no sufficient answer. Children acquire the words because the functions precede the words and the words are judged appropriate for the functions which children already have. But how in the original development of any language, in a given community, did the function word come to be attached to the function? How did a member of the community come to name a function with the word ‘if’ or ‘or’? The answer must be the same as that for the labelling of any internal, subjective, experience, that the neural structure or process, the patterning of the experience, was transduced in the form of a motor patterning externalised as an articulatory gesture, so producing a word-sound structurally related to the neural patterning of the experience. The function word generated by one individual could be recognised by others as referring to the particular function because the sound of the word matched the neural patterning of the function for them as it did for the originator of the word. For example, the word ‘if’ (or the equivalent word in any other language)was first generated by a single individual; there is nothing external from which ‘if’ can be derived, so ‘if’ must have been derived from pre-existing neural patterning. Function words can be seen as marking real categories of human neural functioning on which the grammatical organisation of language has been constructed.
[Extracted from THE CHILD AND THE WORLD 2005 pp. 1-48]

Kant, Hegel, Durkheim, and the Teleology of Knowledge

To appropriate Emile Durkheim’s ideas to positivist and synchronic analyses of social integration, sociologists tend to minimize or ignore the idealistic and metaphysical underpinnings of his work (Knapp, 1985: 1-2). Durkheim’s relationship to German idealist traditions consequently receives little attention. Durkheim’s sociology of knowledge, however, is grounded in Kantian concepts and problems. In Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Durkheim presents his concept of the collective representation as a solution to a basic problem of Kantian epistemology – the problem of the origin of the categories of understanding. In the conclusion of Elementary Forms, Durkheim also presents a concept of universalization which, like the historical outlook of Kant’s Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View, envisions a progressive integration of relations among societies. For Durkheim, as for Kant, this process is conditional to the efflorescence of human reason; for Durkheim, an objective cosmopolitan “truth” is unveiled through the process of universalization (1965: 493). Kant’s ethics are as pertinent to Durkheim’s epistemology as Kant’s historical teleology; Durkheim conceives of collective representations as bases for rules of conduct which are felt by people, in effect, as categorical imperatives, compelling people to act in accord with the collective moral exigencies of society. For Durkheim, the moral authority of collective representations is essential to social consensus and a stable social order. Durkheim’s concepts of the collective representation and the process of universalization, then, correspond to Kantian concepts, and Durkheim acknowledges the relevance of Kantian philosophy to his epistemological and moral considerations (1965: 494).

Kant’s influence on Durkheim is traced to the French neo-Kantians, Emile Boutroux and Octave Hamelin, but principally to Charles Renouvier, who rejected Kant’s a priori transcendental deduction of the categories. Renouvier argued that the categories are derived from experience and that will and moral choice are implicated in their construction. Renouvier also rejected Kant’s distinction between phenomena and numina; the phenomenal and the real are, for Renouvier, virtually identical. Further, he rejected Kant’s distinction between speculative and practical reason, or between knowledge and moral belief. As Renouvier wrote, “La sé paration kantienne de la raison spé culative et de la raison pratique est une illusion” (1906: 164). For Renouvier, all knowledge depends upon a “will to believe.” By elaborating upon these various arguments, Durkheim concluded that the categories are socially determined and that they are objective “presentations” (Lukes, 1973: 54-58). Consistent with Renouvier’s conflation of speculative and practical reason, Durkheim also concluded that collective representations are bases for ethics as well as cognition.
G. W. F. Hegel’s monumental system, in which material nature is conceptualized as an objectification of infinite reason, manifests a teleological vision of history (1956, 1977). Consistent with many Western metaphysical cosmologies dating back to ancient Greece, it tells a story of the descent of spirit from and return back to its intrinsic perfection. In Hegel’s view, the development of human thought in history manifests a progressive self-realization of the essential unity of absolute spirit or Geist. In the self-realization of Geist in human consciousness, phenomenal contradictions or tensions are progressively reconciled in higher syntheses of thought. The notion that human history moves toward a reconciliation of tensions appeared earlier in Kant’s concept of the “cosmopolitan condition” and reappears in Durkheim’s concept of universalization. Although Durkheim ostensibly repudiated theories which reconstruct the world as it should be, in accord with Renouvier’s rejection of deterministic doctrines of progress (Gunn, 1922: 185-204; Logue, 1993: 100-116), teleological imperatives of human history are incorporated into Durkheim’s epistemology beneath a social scientific guise.
Kant argues that the data of sense are not intrinsically coherent but are made coherent by the faculties of mind (1949). The mind’s imposition of categories of understanding upon sense impressions confers order on subjective empirical experience. People can know “phenomena,” or the world the mind interprets it, but cannot know the essential realities of things or “things in themselves” which exceed the mind’s epistemological scope. In Kant’s view, then, analyses of the categories of understanding are fundamental to the epistemological project. Kant, however, rests on the assumption that the categories are necessary facts of human intelligence and does not explain their origin.
Kant also argues that the human mind abides in the domain of numen, or spirit. The activities of mind are thus free and not subject to the natural laws that govern material nature. However, he also holds that:

Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event are determined by universal laws….The means employed by nature to bring about the development of all the capacities of men is their antagonism in society, so far as this is, in the end, the cause of lawful order among men….After many reformative revolutions, a universal cosmopolitan condition, which nature has as her ultimate purpose, will come into being as the womb wherein all the original capacities of the human race can develop. (1963: 11, 15; 23)

Like the optimistic teleologies which characterize Christian chiliastic doctrines as well as many Western idealist cosmologies of history, Kant thus conceives of human history as ultimately governed by a purposive design.
Durkheim sought a sociological and scientific solution to the problem of the origin of the categories of understanding. He presents collective representations – internalized social prescriptions for thinking, acting, and feeling – as functionally equivalent to the categories (1964: 2; 1965: 21-33). Just as Kant asserts that the coherence or order of sensory experience depends upon the categories, so for Durkheim social order depends upon collective representations. Seeking to understand how social order could be sustained in the modern world despite secularization and the emergence of individualism, Durkheim further conceives of collective representations as the means by which categorical imperatives, conceived as the moral exigencies of a social collectivity, are operationalized in society. Durkheim’s ethics differ from Kant’s insofar as for Durkheim, moral imperatives are collectively formulated and variable and are not, as in Kant’s scheme, invariable moral laws; for Durkheim, moral imperatives must be congruent with the functional exigencies of a given society. Notwithstanding these conceptual differences, collective representations, like categorical imperatives, demand that the actions of individuals are deferred to collective moral requirements. As constituents of a collective moral consciousness which transcends the individual, collective representations, once internalized through socialization processes, insure that individuals are constrained by the exigencies of a social collectivity. In a modern society, they thus assume the ethical functions of religious moral prescriptions and provide Durkheim with a solution to one of his principal sociological problems: How is social order possible in a secularized world? For Durkheim, therefore, categories of understanding, conceived sociologically as collective representations, function as bases for ethics as well as cognition.
Trying to work through Kant’s belief that the categories of understanding entail intrinsic epistemological constraints, but also uncovering, like Kant, a teleological imperative governing human history, Durkheim conceives of a progressive liberation of human objectivity through a progressive liberation of human thought. Collective representations entail epistemological constraints but these constraints may eventually be overcome because, according to Durkheim, human thought tends to undergo a process of universalization:

It is this international life that has already resulted in universalizing religious beliefs. As it extends, the collective horizon enlarges; the society ceases to appear as the only whole to become part of a much vaster one, with indetermined frontiers, which is susceptible of advancing indefinitely. (1965: 493)

Due to a progressive integration of collective representations particular to given societies with those of other societies, objects of thought may eventually “be organized according to principles which are their own, so logical organization differentiates itself from the social organization and becomes autonomous” (1965: 493). Through processes of inter-societal interaction, then, there is an apprehension of an objective cosmopolitan truth toward which humanity is “constantly approaching, but which in all probability we shall never succeed in reaching” (1965: 493). This truth is manifest in the nature of the cosmopolitan life itself by virtue of its integration of diverse spheres of thought. If the cosmopolitan life were ever fully realized, Durkheim asserts, this objectivity would be realized. While Durkheim doubts that this objectivity will ever be fully apprehended, he asserts that it is progressively approached. In his view, all societies have attained some measure of the international life and tend to attain more of it in their processes of development:

There is no people and no state which is not a part of another society, more or less unlimited, which embraces all the peoples and all the States with which the first comes in contact, either directly or indirectly; there is no national life which is not dominated by a collective life of an international nature. In proportion as we advance in history, these international groups acquire a greater importance and extent. (1965: 474)

Durkheim, then, in accord with Hegel’s objective idealism, appears to have been attracted to the idea that human knowledge inexorably strives toward an apprehension of truth. Like Kant, Durkheim finds that the categories of human understanding, which he conceives as socially constructed collective representations, constrain our apprehension of this truth. For Durkheim, however, unlike Kant, constraints on human knowledge are due not to the intrinsic limitations of categories of mind but to the social limitations of collective representations. He may therefore reason that due to the changeability of collective representations through time, their social limitations may be lessened. In Kant’s scheme, there is no possibility for changing categories of mind which are considered to be intrinsic, fixed, universal, and subjective. But for Durkheim, collective representations may be transformed in tandem with processes of social change. In his view, the epistemological limitations of collective representations are not lessened by intra-societal processes of change. For him, the “subjective elements” of individual societies are the principal cognitive constraints upon the human apprehension of truth; these can be overcome only by processes of inter-societal interaction in which collective representations become more objective. As he writes, “[C]ollective representations… contain subjective elements, and these must be progressively rooted out, if we are to approach reality more closely” (1965: 493). The process of the universalization of thought that he hypothesizes depends upon the emergence of a cosmopolitan life in which diverse spheres of collective representations are integrated. The cognitive limitations of these spheres, in his view, are lessened in the process of their integration, reaching toward an apprehension of an objective cosmopolitan truth.
A sociological variant of Hegel’s objective idealism can be inferred from Durkheim’s universalization scheme, despite its abstraction from Hegelian processes of dialectical conflict. In keeping with Durkheim’s habitual underestimation of processes of conflict, he apparently conceives of the process of universalization as relatively seamless, whereas Hegel acknowledges that processes of the reconciliation of disparate modes of thought can entail traumatic upheavals of conflict. Consistent with Hegelian dialectical processes, however, Durkheim’s universalization scheme implies that a cosmopolitan truth unfolds through progressive syntheses of categories of thought. Differing sharply from Hegel, who explained the development of human knowledge as a manifestation of the inexorable drive toward self-realization of Geist in history, Durkheim attributes the transformation of human knowledge principally to social processes.
According to Hegel, the teleological imperatives of Geist are gradually actualized through the historical development of human thought. Geist attains a self-realization of its essential unity through the development of the world spirit or Weltgeist– Geist as it is collectively manifest in human consciousness. For Hegel, the categories of the human mind’s interpretation and organization of phenomenal experience are not fixed, but evolve through stages which eventually culminate in the self-realization of Geist in human thought. Through human thought,Geist is impelled to find its intrinsic unity out of diverse phenomena and to resolve the phenomenal contradictions, manifest between “theses” and “antitheses,” with which it is constantly confronted. These contradictions are resolved in the forms of “syntheses” in variable ways according to the stages of history. For Hegel, then, categories of understanding are historically variable. The human mind’s continual struggle with phenomenal contradictions involves perpetual processes of reflection which result in new syntheses of thought. These contradictions constitute constraints upon human knowledge which are slowly but consistently overcome. As new modes of thought are synthesized, old modes of thought are transcended. For Hegel, unlike Kant, categories of human understanding correspond with what is real, so there is no hiatus between the objective world as it appears to the human mind and the world “in itself.” As Geist progressively apprehends its own intrinsic unity through human consciousness, it is freed from the contradictions which characterized transcended stages of thought. Freedom is in turn progressively manifest in human consciousness through the inexorable self-realization of Geist. Geist’s perpetual journey toward self-realization proceeds according to stages of development to which the human mind is historically bound. Human knowledge is thus historically constituted through the unfoldment of Geist. In its actualization of Geist’s teleological imperatives, the human mind is perpetually compelled to struggle against historically determined phenomenal contradictions. As human thought overcomes these contradictions, it progressively apprehends “truth” as manifest in the intrinsic unity and freedom of Geist.
Durkheim’s concept of universalization bears parallels to Hegel’s teleological scheme. The universalization of thought, in Durkheim’s scheme, results from an integration of diverse spheres of thought and corresponds with Hegel’s concept of the self-realization of Geist in its resolution of historical contradictions. The process of the universalization of thought is constrained by the diversity of spheres of thought which must eventually be reconciled with one another in order to achieve the goal of a functionally integrated international life. The process of universalization thus depends upon progressive syntheses of variegated spheres of human thought. As the cosmopolitan life develops, these syntheses manifest in new constellations of collective representations in which diverse spheres of thought are integrated. Collective representations are thus transformed and an objective cosmopolitan truth, as an epistemological goal of this process, is approached.
Conceptual parallels between Durkheim and Hegel can be attributed to direct influence only by conjecture. Durkheim may well have studied Hegel, but he makes few references to Hegel and makes no references to the conceptual parallels in his writings. As Peter Knapp observes, any explicit associations with Hegel would not only have undermined Durkheim’s efforts to establish sociology as a scientific discipline but also would have exposed Durkheim to French nationalistic intellectual attacks (1985: 9-10). It is clear, however, that many of the authors who exerted important influences on Durkheim, including the French neo-Kantians and the German historicists, were greatly indebted to Hegelian thought (Knapp, 1985: 3-4). Renouvier, for example, taking Hegelian dialectics as a point of departure, attempted a dialectical deduction of the categories on the basis of the fundamental category of relation, conceiving of the categories as syntheses of theses and antitheses. These various authors were influenced by Hegelian concepts which in turn appear to have affected Durkheim’s own theoretical synthesis. Knapp observes that among the most significant of such concepts is Geist, which Hegel conceives of as prior to and constitutive of human consciousness and which bears correspondence to Durkheim’s concept of the collective representation (1985: 4-6). Rejecting Hegel’s concept of the metaphysical constitution of human consciousness by Geist, Durkheim conceives of the categories of understanding, understood as collective representations, as socially constituted. Also rejecting Hegel’s concept of the metaphysical basis of historical processes, Durkheim uses his concept of universalization to support a sociological telos of human history. The teleological imperatives of Geist are sociologically transposed in the concept of universalization. In universalization, a hypothesized progressive human apprehension of objective truth is conceptualized in terms of social rather than metaphysical processes.
In Primitive Classification (1963) as well as Elementary Forms, in debunking Kant’s concept of a priori categories of understanding, Durkheim demonstrates the social determination and variability of the categories. This variability, in his view, applies even to apparent universal categories such as time, space, number, cause, and substance (1965: 22, 28). His concept of the social constitution of human knowledge may thus appear to obviate a notion of objective truth. For Durkheim, concepts of truth manifest the “absolute ideas” of a society which transcend particular experiences of individuals (1965: 485). Even scientific findings, if not in accord with collective representations, “will be denied; minds will be closed to them; consequently it will be as though they did not exist” (1965: 486). Although “logical” thought appears in all societies because it is essential to the intelligibility of cognitions, the forms it takes are socially variable (1965: 487). In response to this apparent relativism as well as Durkheim’s late interest in American pragmatic philosophy, it has been argued that Durkheim was moving toward a relativistic social pragmatism similar to that of George Herbert Mead (Stone and Farberman, 1970). Durkheim, however, asserts that our apprehension of truth is socially variable, but not that there is no objective truth (1965: 484-486). His more or less tacit epistemological objectivism is evinced in his concept of the universalization of thought.
While Durkheim rejected Kant’s concept of a priori categories of mind, his concept of the collective representation preserves Kant as well as Hegel’s view of categories of human understanding as ideal or nonmaterial things. Durkheim conceives of collective representations as nonmaterial social facts. Although collective representations can be represented in material things, they are socially constituted and objectified in nonmaterial domains of mind. Their essential existence is in the minds of individuals and in the moral consciousness of society. Thus he recognizes that attempts to analyze collective representations by empirical means alone are problematic:

Thus renovated, the theory of knowledge…keeps all the essential principles of the apriorists; but at the same time it is inspired by that positive spirit which the empiricists have striven to satisfy….The categories are no longer considered as primary and unanalyzable facts, yet they keep a complexity which falsifies any analysis as ready as that which the empiricists content themselves….[T]o succeed in understanding and judging them…there is a whole science which must be formed, a complex science…to which the which the present work brings some fragmentary contributions in the nature of an attempt. (1965: 32-33)

Perhaps as a means of a more complete understanding the categories, then, Durkheim might have been attracted to a method resembling Max Weber’s Verstehen.
Durkheim rejected the Kantian concept of a fixed and static set of necessary and universal categories of understanding not only because it precluded a sociological theory of knowledge but also because it could not account for his observations of the variability and changeability of the categories (1965: 28). Hegel recognized the variability and transience of the categories but his assertions of metaphysical causation also obviate a sociological epistemology. Durkheim’s epistemology not only explains both the transience and social causation of the categories but also invests the categories with moral and teleological significance. For Durkheim, in accord with Kant’s epistemological scheme, the categories, as collective representations, organize and give coherence to human thought. They are also bases for social cohesion by virtue of the moral imperatives that they manifest. Durkheim’s concept of the collective representation, then, sociologically transposes both Kant’s concepts of the categories of understanding and the categorical imperative. By reasoning that collective representations are socially constructed, variable, and change in accord with the development of the cosmopolitan life, Durkheim’s also overcomes the cognitive constraints of the categories of understanding. In his view, an objective cosmopolitan truth is gradually approached in a process of inter-societal interaction which leads to the progressive universalization of collective representations. By further reasoning that collective representations are objective presentations, in accord with Renouvier’s repudiation of the Kantian concept of the constitution of “things in themselves” by a numinous domain which exceeds the scope of human understanding, Durkheim also overcomes Kant’s view of the categories as “primary and unanalyzable facts.”
Durkheim’s concept of the progressive universalization of thought entails objectivistic and tacitly dialectical ideas which correspond with elements of Hegel’s philosophy of knowledge. Collective representations, by their objectivity and transience, are thus rendered closer to Hegel’s concepts of the categories of understanding than Kant’s. For Durkheim, categories of human thought, conceived as collective representations, are bound toward freedom by their progressive liberation from the epistemological constraints of subjectivity, and toward an objective cosmopolitan truth by their progressive integration of diverse spheres of thought. Durkheim’s sociology of knowledge thus preserves the traditional optimism of Western metaphysical teleologies of history dating back to ancient Greece.
Questions about the veracity of the teleological dimension of Durkheim’s sociology of knowledge will have to remain unsettled. Every nomothetic sociological scheme which has hypothesized that there are laws of development which govern human history has been fraught with empirical hazards. Because of these hazards, the least empirically problematic sociological approach to the analysis of human historical processes, it appears, is an idiographic one like that of Max Weber which admits of unique constellations of circumstances with less predictable outcomes.
Throughout the twentieth century, accelerated processes of travel, immigration, international commerce and the global proliferation of mass communications media have hastened the emergence of a cosmopolitan life in many parts of the world, especially in the United States. In many ways these processes may appear to have led to a fruitful integration of many varied cultures. But in many areas where cultures and ethnic groups have mixed, persistent antagonisms have also emerged, manifesting in reactions of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, bigotry, discrimination and worse. In cases where diverse cultures and groups appear to have successfully integrated, the question of whether this integration manifests “objectivity” and an apprehension of cosmopolitan truth is intrinsically problematic because the question would have to be subject to highly variable philosophical criteria regarding the nature of truth. Perhaps for Durkheim, the integration of diverse spheres of thought that these situations manifest do reflect the objectivity that he had in mind.
In the triumphant and hopeful aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama (1992) developed a theory that societies tend to evolve toward liberal democratic forms in processes which are stimulated by inter-societal interactions. If Fukuyama is correct, and if one construes that liberal democracies manifest a kind of cosmopolitan truth, Durkheim’s thesis would be strengthened. But even if some societies move in this direction, it appears that only some do, and many societies seem to remain perpetually entrenched in very undemocratic forms of life.
While optimistic teleologies of human history and knowledge tend to possess strong intellectual, aesthetic, and emotional appeals which have seduced many great minds, they tend to fail to bear up to empirical scrutiny. The most influential of such teleologies in the modern era were in the ideas of Hegel, Karl Marx, and positivist philosophy. Hegel predicted that with the progressive self-realization of the intrinsic unity and freedom of Geist in human consciousness, the institutions of human society will in turn progressively manifest principles of freedom. Marx predicted that the course of human history would culminate in the establishment of a communist utopia that is free of social relations of economic exploitation and domination. Positivist philosophies, which emerged with the ideas of the Marquis de Condorcet, Claude-Henri Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte in the aftermath of the French Revolution and which exercised a strong influence on the development of Durkheim’s functionalist perspective on society, expected that ideal forms of society would eventually appear as a result of the progress of reason, science, technology, and industry. In retrospect of the manifold horrors of twentieth century history, the maintenance of beliefs in such hopeful historical schemes has required increasing degrees of faith. Among sociological forecasts for the development of Western societies, the one that seems to have proven to be the most consistently reliable is Max Weber’s pessimistic view of the progressive rationalization and disenchantment of the social world. But if one is faithful to Weber’s own idiographic principles of analysis, one would have to admit that all the historical tendencies of societies, even those of rationalization and disenchantment, are subject to change.
(Deniz Tekiner, 2002)


Cours Vincennes : synthesis and time (14/03/1978)
We are returning to Kant. May this be an occasion for you to skim, read or re-read The Critique of Pure Reason. There is no doubt that a tremendous event in philosophy happens with this idea of critique. In going into it, ourselves, or in going back into it, I had stopped reading it a very long time ago and I read it again for you, it must be said that it is a completely stifling philosophy. It’s an excessive atmosphere, but if one holds up, and the important thing above all is not to understand, the important thing is to take on the rhythm of a given man, a given writer, a given philosopher, if one holds up, all this northern fog which lands on top of us starts to dissipate, and underneath there is an amazing architecture. When I said to you that a great philosopher is nevertheless someone who invents concepts, in Kant’s case, in this fog, there functions a sort of thinking machine, a sort of creation of concepts that is absolutely frightening. We can try to say that all of the creations and novelties that Kantianism will bring to philosophy turn on a certain problem of time and an entirely new conception of time, a conception of which we can say that its elaboration by Kant will be decisive for all that happened afterwards, which is to say we will try to determine a sort of modern consciousness of time in opposition to a classical or ancient consciousness of time. Why it is that it was Kant who created the philosophical concepts of this new consciousness of time, making his philosophical expression possible, does not concern us or in any case does not interest me, but what I would like to say is that it is indeed this sort of consciousness of time which takes on a philosophical status in Kant, and which is completely new. I will proceed by numbered points because I’m always working with the idea that to each point corresponds a type of concept, and once again, I will be happy if you grant me at the end of these lessons that philosophers are precisely this, that they are no less creative than painters or musicians, simply that they create in a determinable domain that is the creation of concepts. Firstly, what does Kant understand by the a priori which he opposes to the a posteriori? These are common terms. In some cases new words must be invented, and this happens with Kant when he creates the notion of the transcendental, which is a very strange notion, transcendental subject… no doubt you will tell me that the word existed before, but it was rarely used and it marked no difference from the ordinary word transcendent, whereas Kant gives it a very special sense: the transcendental subject, he almost created a word… in the case of the a priori and the a posteriori he borrows a word, but he completely renews its sense. A priori, in the first place, means: independent of experience, that which does not depend on experience. In opposition to a posteriori which means: given or givable in experience. What things are a priori? Note that I don’t ask myself: does the a priori exist, which is to say, are there things independent of experience? The question of existence is secondary, we must first know what a thing is in order to be able to say and reply to the question of existence: does it exist or not? I’m saying that if it exists, what is something that would be independent of experience? Thus not givable in experience. Nothing complicated so far, Kant takes this up very quickly, the a priori in this sense is the universal and the necessary. Everything that is necessary and universal is said to be a priori. Why? It certainly fulfills the first condition of the a priori: not given in experience, because, by definition, experience only gives me the particular and the contingent. With expressions of universality and necessity it is always so necessarily, as also with certain uses of the future tense, or expressions of the type “each time”: each time I bring water to 100 degrees it will boil. Philosophers have said this for a very long time: there is something in this which is not given in experience. What is it? It’s the expressions: “always”, “necessarily”, or even the future tense. What experience has given me is, strictly speaking, that each time I have effectively brought water to 100 degrees, it has boiled, but in the formula “water necessarily boils at 100 degrees”, the necessarily is not an object of experience. Similarly if I say “all objects of experience” – do I have the right to say this? We don’t even know if “all objects of experience” is not nonsensical. Supposing that it is not nonsensical, “all objects of experience” are not given in experience, for the simple reason that experience is ???? Thus you can always make a summation, a sum of the objects you have experienced, but this sum is indefinite. 
Thus the universal and the necessary by definition are not givable in an experience since an experience is always particular and contingent. So that gives us a second determination of the a priori. The a priori was first of all what is independent of experience, in the second place it is what is universal and necessary. 
Third point: how can this universal and necessary be defined? There is already something extremely delicate here. To say that something is independent of experience doesn’t prevent this something perhaps being applied to experience and only to it. The question of application is entirely different. When I say “water will always come to a boil at 100 degrees”, I don’t know where this idea of “always” comes from, since it is not given to me in experience, I don’t know where this idea of necessity comes from, since it is not given to me in experience, this doesn’t prevent the fact that “always” is applied to water, boiling, 100 degrees, all things which are given in experience. Let’s suppose then that the a priori is itself independent of experience but applies to objects given in experience. In other words the universal and the necessary are said of objects of experience; perhaps they are said of other things as well, but they are said of objects of experience. What is universal and necessary? What would these universals and necessaries be which can be said of objects of experience? Here is introduced a notion which is famous in philosophy, that of the category. A certain number of philosophers have even made or proposed what are called tables of categories. There is a famous table of categories in Aristotle. With Kant, who did not escape a strong influence from Aristotle, there will be another table of categories. What is a category? A category is not just anything in philosophy, it’s as rigorous as a scientific notion in another domain. What is called a category is a universal predicate, or universal attribute if you want. Which is to say a predicate which is attributed to, or predicated of, or said of any object. This notion of “any object” is bizarre. I say “the rose is red”. What is that? “The rose is red” is not complicated, it’s a relation between two concepts, the rose and red, and if I say “what is universal or necessary in that?” I can reply: nothing. Not all objects are roses, not all roses are red. Not all reds are the colour of roses. I would say that there is an experience of the red rose and that this experience is particular, contingent, a posteriori like all experience. 
Compare this judgement: “the rose is red” to this other judgement: “the object has a cause” or even “the rose has a cause”. 
I see a difference straight away, which is that the concept of rose defines what will be called a class in so far as it is an a posteriori concept, the concept of rose defines a class or set. Red is a property of a subset of this set, the subset formed by red roses. I can define a set according to what it excludes and in relation to what it excludes: all that is not a rose. The set of roses is carved out of a broader set which is that formed by flowers, and the set of roses can be distinguished from the rest, which is to say all the flowers which are not roses. When I say “all objects have a cause”, am I not in another domain completely? Evidently I am, I am completely in a different domain because to have a cause is a universal predicate which is applied to all objects of possible experience, to the point that I don’t even need to – or I believe that – but that makes no difference because “I believe” will become an act that we will have to analyse – I believe that if an unknown object emerged in experience before my eyes, this object would not be an object if it didn’t have a cause. To have a cause or to be caused is a predicate of a wholly other type than the predicate “red”. Why? Because the predicate “to be caused” – to the point where we can wonder, after reflection, is that really a predicate or is it something else? – the predicate “to be caused” is predicable of any object of possible experience, to the point where it is not going to define a set or a subset within experience because it is strictly coextensive with the totality of possible experience. 
Moreover, we must go back. When I said that the totality of possible experience has perhaps no sense, now we have the response: the totality of possible experience makes no sense in itself, but it is precisely to the extent that there are predicates which are attributed to all possible objects, which are thus more than predicates, and this is what Kant will call conditions, they are the conditions of possible experience, it is thus via the notion of conditions of experience that the idea of a whole of possible experience will take on a sense. There is a whole of possible experience because there are predicates or pseudo-predicates which are attributed to all possible objects and these predicates are precisely what are called categories. I’ll cite some examples of categories according to Kant: unity, plurality, totality (with Kant they come in threes). 
Reality, negation, limitation. 
Substance, cause, reciprocity. 
I’ll stop there. In what sense are these categories and not predicates of the type red, green, etc…? They are categories or conditions of possible experience for the simple reason that any object is only an object to the extent that it is conceived as one, but also as multiple, having the unit parts of a multiplicity, and in this forming a totality, any object whatever has a reality. On the other hand, it excludes what it is not: negation, and by virtue of this it has limits: limitation. Any object whatever is substance, any object whatever has a cause and is itself cause of other things. 
That’s enough to be able to say that my notion of object is made in such a manner that if I encountered a something which did not allow the categories be attributed to it, I would say that it is not an object. 
So there we have as a last determination of the a priori, they are the conditions of possible experience, which is to say universal predicates as opposed to empirical predicates or a posteriori predicates. 
I could define the categories in the simplest way as being the predicates of any object whatever. Thus you can yourselves make your list of categories according to your mood, according to your character… what would be good would be to see if everybody came up with the same list of categories. In any case you do not have the right to cheat with the word. To make your list of categories is for you to ask yourselves what is for me predicable of any object whatever. I have already given a certain list of them, with nine categories. In fact, for Kant, there are twelve of them, but I left three aside for later; you see: unity, plurality, totality, affirmation, negation and limitation, substance, cause, reciprocity or community. 
To finish with this first point, I am saying that the categories, qua predicates of any object whatever, are a priori, and they are conditions of possible experience; understand that it is through them that the notion of possible experience takes on a sense. 
To the question: does the whole of possible experience mean something? No meaning [sens] at all if we remain in an a posteriori approach, because in an a posteriori approach I am led to make an addition: the roses, the flowers other than roses, the plants which are not flowers, the animals, etc…. I could go to infinity like that and nothing tells me that I have a whole of possible experience. On the contrary, experience is fundamentally fragmented, it is opposed to a totalisation. If Kant launches this very very new notion of a totality of possible experience it is because he is in a position to define, to say: yes, there is a level where the whole of possible experience takes on a sense, it is precisely because there are universal predicates which are attributed to all things, which is to say are attributed to any object whatever. Thus it is a priori that the notion of the totality of possible experience will be founded. 
Is there anything else besides the categories that can be a priori, which is to say, universal and necessary? The reply is yes, and this other thing is space and time. Because every object is in space and in time, or at least in time. But you will say to me straight away, very well then, why not make a category of them, why not add space and time as two categories? Because space and time are also, it seems, predicates. Obviously, Kant has the most serious reasons to not want to and he will go to great pains to distinguish the categories on the one hand, and on the other hand space and time. There will thus be two sorts of a priori elements: the categories and space and time. Why doesn’t he want space and time to be among the categories? I will give a reason very quickly which will become clear afterwards: it is that the categories qua predicates of possible experience are concepts, whereas Kant fundamentally holds that, these are a priori representations, a priori representations or concepts, while space and time are presentations. There you also have something very new in philosophy, it will be Kant’s work to distinguish presentation and representation. So there will be two sorts of elements in the a priori. 
My second point is Kant’s importance at another level, which is the notion of phenomenon, and that also is very important. There Kant operates a kind of essential transformation of a word which was frequently employed previously in philosophy. Previously philosophers spoke of phenomenon to distinguish what? Very broadly we can say that phenomenon was something like appearance. An appearance. The sensible, the a posteriori, what was given in experience had the status of phenomenon or appearance, and the sensible appearance was opposed to the intelligible essence. The intelligible essence was also the thing such as it is in itself, it was the thing in itself, the thing itself or the thing as thought; the thing as thought, as phenomenon, is a Greek word which precisely designates the appearance or something we don’t know yet, the thing as thought in Greek was the noumenon, which means the “thought”. I can thus say that the whole of classical philosophy from Plato onwards seemed to develop itself within the frame of a duality between sensible appearances and intelligible essences. You can see clearly that this already implies a certain status of the subject. If I say that there are appearances and that there are essences, which are basically like the sensible and the intelligible, this implies a certain position of the knowing subject, namely: the very notion of appearance refers to a fundamental defect in the subject. A fundamental defect, namely: appearance is in the end the thing such as it appears to me by virtue of my subjective constitution which deforms it. The famous example of appearance: the stick in water appears broken to me. It’s what is called the rich domain of sensory illusions. So much so that in order to reach the thing in itself the subject must in fact overcome this sort of constitutive infirmity which makes it live amongst appearances. It’s Plato’s theme: leave appearances to find essences. 
With Kant it’s like a bolt of lightning, afterwards we can always play clever, and even must play clever, with Kant a radically new understanding of the notion of phenomenon emerges. Namely that the phenomenon will no longer at all be appearance. The difference is fundamental, this idea alone was enough for philosophy to enter into a new element, which is to say I think that if there is a founder of phenomenology it is Kant. There is phenomenology from the moment that the phenomenon is no longer defined as appearance but as apparition. The difference is enormous because when I say the word apparition I am no longer saying appearance at all, I am no longer at all opposing it to essence. The apparition is what appears in so far as it appears. Full stop. I don’t ask myself if there is something behind, I don’t ask myself if it is false or not false. The apparition is not at all captured in the oppositional couple, in the binary distinction where we find appearance, distinct from essence. 
Phenomenology claims to be a rigorous science of the apparition as such, which is to say asks itself the question: what can we say about the fact of appearing? It’s the opposite of a discipline of appearances. What does an apparition refer to? The appearance is something that refers to essence in a relation of disjunction, in a disjunctive relation, which is to say either it’s appearance or it’s essence. The apparition is very different, it’s something that refers to the conditions of what appears. The conceptual landscape has literally changed completely, the problem is absolutely no longer the same, the problem has become phenomenological. For the disjunctive couple appearance/essence, Kant will substitute the conjunctive couple, what appears/conditions of apparition. Everything is new in this. 
To make things a little more modern, I would just as well say: to the disjunctive couple appearance/essence, Kant is the first who substitutes the conjunctive couple apparition/sense, sense of the apparition, signification of the apparition. There is no longer the essence behind the appearance, there is the sense or non-sense of what appears. Grant me at least that even if what I say remains just a matter of words, it’s a radically new atmosphere of thought, to the point where I can say that in this respect we are all Kantians. 
It’s obvious that thought, at that time, was changing elements. People had for a long time thought in terms which didn’t come from Christianity but which fit in very well with Christianity, in the appearance/essence distinction, and towards the end of the eighteenth century, prepared no doubt by all sorts of movements, a radical change takes place: for the whole appearance/essence duality which in a sense implies a degraded sensible world, which even implies if need be original sin, is substituted a radically new type of thought: something appears, tell me what it signifies or, and this amounts to the same thing, tell me what its condition is. 
When Freud comes up and says that there are certain phenomena which appear in the field of consciousness, what do these phenomena refer to, Freud is Kantian. How so? In a way that is at the same time very general but also very rigorous, namely that, like all those of his era and since Kant we spontaneously think in terms of the relation apparition/conditions of the apparition, or apparition/sense of what appears, and no longer in the terms of essence/appearance. 
If you don’t see the enormity of the reversal, admire the fact that the subject, in my second couple, the subject is not at all in the same situation. In the disjunctive couple appearance/essence, the subject is immediately condemned to grasp appearances by virtue of a fragility which is consubstantial with it, and the subject requires a whole method, it needs to make a whole effort to get out of appearances and reach the essence. In the other case, what makes the subject take on an entirely different value? It’s when I say that every apparition refers to the conditions of the appearing of the apparition, in this very statement I am saying that these conditions belong to the being to whom the apparition appears, in other words the subject is constitutive – and understand this well, otherwise it’s a radical misinterpretation – the subject is constitutive not of the apparition, it is not constitutive of what appears, but it is constitutive of the conditions under what appears to it appears to it. 
I mean that the substitution of the conjunctive couple phenomena-conditions, or apparitions-conditions ensures a promotion of the subject in so far as the subject constitutes the very conditions of the apparition, instead of constituting and being responsible for the limitations of appearance, or the illusions of appearance. There is indeed a subject, Kant will say, which is subordinated to appearances and which falls into sensory illusions; it will be called the empirical subject, but there is another subject which is evidently neither you nor me, which above all is not reducible to any empirical subject, which will be from that point on named the transcendental subject for it is the unity of all the conditions under which something appears, appears to whom? Appears to each empirical subject. It’s already beautiful as a system of ideas. I hope you can feel its extent, it’s a tremendous machine. 
To finish this second point, I’ll make two corrections: Kant is at the turning-point of something, so it’s more complicated than I’m making it out to be because he keeps something of the old essence-appearance difference, and effectively he will say all the time: do not confuse the phenomenon with the thing in itself, the thing in itself is the pure noumenon, which is to say it is what can only be thought, while the phenomenon is what is given in sensible experience. So he maintains the disjunctive duality phenomenon/thing in itself, noumenon. It’s the duality of the couple appearance/essence. But he gets out of it and he is already in another type of thought for a very simple reason for he says that the thing in itself, it is so by nature or the noumenon – the thing in itself can be thought, it is thus noumenon, but it cannot be known. So if it can be determined, it is a completely different point of view than that of knowledge; so we don’t bother with it or at least we will bother about it in very special conditions. 
What counts from the point of view of knowledge and of all possible knowledge is the other couple, apparition-conditions of appearing, conditions of the fact of appearing. 
Once again if I sum up this reversal it’s the one which consists in substituting for appearance-essence, apparition-conditions or apparition-sense of the apparition. 
If you ask me what these conditions of appearing are, fortunately we have got somewhere because our first point gave the answer, the conditions of appearing, which is to say the conditions of the phenomenon, in so far as the phenomenon is what appears, we will not look for an essence behind the phenomenon, we will seek the conditions of its apparition, and in fact the conditions of its apparition are, the categories on one hand and on the other space and time. 
Everything which appears appears under the conditions of space and time, and under the conditions of the categories. By this fact space and time on the one hand and on the other the categories are the forms of all possible experience and they belong not to things as they are in themselves, but as forms of all phenomena, as forms of all apparition, space and time on the one hand, the categories on the other hand are the dimensions of the transcendental subject. Time is already completely involved here

In your opinion, which of Kant’s ideas have universal and enduring value? Part. II

Other views on the immortality of the Kant’s ideas:

Christine Korsgaard: Many of Kant’s ideas have an enduring value. I suppose I would place two at the top of the list.
The first is the idea embodied in Kant’s Formula of Humanity, the idea that every human being is to be treated as an end in himself or herself. This way of expressing the categorical imperative sets a high ideal for human relationships and interaction, and yet at the same time resonates with people’s actual moral experience. It captures something very important about the kind of treatment we hope for from one another. Of course the Formula of Humanity rules out certain obvious ways of treating others badly: treating another as a mere means, or running roughshod over her interests and concerns. But it also rules out treating others “well” in the wrong way – treating another with paternalism and disrespect, treating her like a child or a pet who cannot be expected to know what is best. Kant’s ethics commands not only that we avoid taking our interests to be more important than the interests of others, but also that we avoid assuming that our judgment is better than the judgment of others. It commands that we share decisions as equals. I think that Kant’s is the only ethical theory that commands that human beings treat one another as adults who share both the right and the responsibility of determining the fate of humanity and through humanity of the world.
The other is the basic idea of the Copernican Revolution itself. I take that basic idea to be that the laws of reason are our laws, human laws. The laws of reason are laws that we impose upon nature rather than laws that we find already realized there. This idea is associated with a kind of metaphysical modesty – we cannot just assume that nature will meet the standards that seem intelligible to us – and at the same time with an assumption of responsibility: it is up to us to make sense both of the world and of our relations with each other; it is up to us, to human beings, to make the world a rational place. Although Kant himself attached a doctrine of faith to these ideas, I take the basic idea to capture an essentially secular vision of the human plight, and one to which most of humanity has yet to face up.
These two ideas come together in one of my favorite remarks from the Critique of Pure Reason:
“Reason has no dictatorial authority; its verdict is always simply the agreement of free citizens, of whom each one must be permitted to express…his objections or even his veto.” (A738-9/B766-7).
That remark embodies a radically modern, frightening, inspiring, vision of where human beings stand in the world and to each other.

Beatrice Longuenesse: I am not sure what you mean by ideas having “universal value.” I suppose you mean something like this: ideas have “universal value” if they do not merely reflect the state of science, morality and culture at a particular time (in this case, Kant’s time), but would at any time and in any social/cultural context help human beings come to terms with their own condition, indeed help answer the question Kant set for himself as the central question of philosophy: “What is a human being?”
I think having defined the task of philosophy as the task of answering this question and conducting one’s life in accordance with the answer one will have given to this question, is itself of universal value. Also of universal value is the core point common to all three Critiques: understanding human beings (i.e. understanding their capacity for knowledge, for morality, for aesthetic creation and pleasure, for purposeful activity) is understanding the conflicted ways (rational *and* irrational) in which they relate to themselves in thinking and saying ‘I’.

Robert Louden: I believe that many of the core ideas of Kant’s ethics have universal and enduring value. If I were to pick just one, I would choose the second formula of the categorical imperative: “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” (Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Academy Edition 4: 429).

Robert Makkreel: I think that Immanuel Kant’s importance as a philosopher lies in his efforts to explicate the conditions for making justified claims about the world as well as for judging what is valuable and worth striving for. His strategy is to locate those formal conditions that are most likely to gain us normative agreement. By placing form before content, Kant hopes to sidestep psychological prejudices rooted in content and regress to those transcendental conditions that are presupposed by all inquiry. The inevitable price we must pay in striving for cognitive agreement is to limit the scope of our claims. The idea of basic limits is central to Kant’s conception of the world as lawbound. To experience nature as governed by causal laws and to see ourselves as moral beings freely submitting to rational laws is to acknowledge dual limitations on ourselves–from without and from within. External limits reduce our power, but the setting of inner limits can actually lead us to strengthen the highest side of ourselves.
For me the most significant contribution that Kant made to philosophy is to supplement his original determinant mode of judging the world with a reflective mode that introduces the idea of lawfulness without law–a felt order that is exemplary. This is especially important for applying philosophical critique to the arts and to the human sciences. Since determinant judgment proceeds from a given universal to particulars, it clearly involves a subordinating mode of thought. Reflective judgment, however, proceeds from particulars and can be said to be a coordinating mode of thought. Determinant judgment appeals to universals to either describe the nature of particular objects or explain their behavior by subsuming them under the laws of the understanding. Reflective judgment, by contrast, is an expansive mode of thought that appeals not just to the understanding, but to reason as a framework for interpreting particulars. Being comparative, reflective judgment is less concerned with finding the universals to which particulars can be subsumed than in locating commonalities that particulars may share.

Arthur Melnick: Kant’s most enduring contribution was to make the study of the human mind a method for investigating the nature of the world. Whatever else, for Kant, the world that concerns us must conform to the conditions of our thinking and understanding. This makes possible a metaphysics that is independent of the method of empirical science and is grounded, rather, in the philosophical study of thought and cognition (transcendental logic). In one way or another a great deal of philosophy since Kant has looked at the world in this «for-us» way as something that is relative to our mind or our language or our phenomenological experience or our social institutions or our cultural norms.

Susan Neiman: Kant is the only thinker in the history of western philosophy to clearly distinguish between the claims of reason and the claims of reality, and to give equal weight to each. I take the beginning of the “Transcendental Dialectic” of the Critique of Pure Reason to be the most important part of his work: having given us a detailed analysis of what it means for an object to be real, he turns to discuss what it means for ideals to be real. They are neither fantasies, nor wishes, nor Vorländer’s well-meant but fatal als ob; but entities with their own sort of force and power, whose reality cannot be the same as that of objects of experience. For their task is to question the necessarily limited experience with which we are confronted, and to challenge reality to meet the claims of the ideal – be it a just society in the practical realm, or a complete and transparent science in the theoretical realm. Kant’s metaphysics has thereby a crucial political function. One the one hand, it provides reason with the basis to change the world to meet its own standards. This is crucial in order to answer conservatives like Hume, for whom reason is impotent to decide any of the questions which determine our lives. It is, on the contrary, custom and tradition which insure our conviction that the sun will rise tomorrow, as well as our preference for preserving worlds to itching fingers. Having undercut the legitimacy of reason in the realms we already experience, it is no surprise that Hume, and disciples like Burke, should be chary of its use in uncharted waters. If custom and tradition have preserved us thus far, it is wiser to follow them than the allegedly untried demands of reason. By strengthening the claims of reason Kant’s metaphysics, by contrast, provides the groundwork for radical social change. At the same time, his emphasis on the demands of experience should undercut those utopian thinkers who wish to proceed without much attention to it – with the disastrous consequences the 20th century has seen. Thus even more than his moral philosophy Kant’s metaphysics provide the foundation for a stance towards the world that is mature without being resigned, hopeful without being naive.

Thomas Nenon: I think there are many, but to name just a few ideas that have been particularly important and will continue to be important, not just in academic philosophy: Kant’s insight in the role that structures of human thinking are constitutive for all objects of human cognition, his emphasis on the irreducibility of the moral to the expedient or advantageous, and the introduction of a notion of regulative ideals as an integral part of scientific as well as political thought.

And in your point of view? which of Kant’s ideas have  universal and enduring value?

Kant’s Derivation of the Principle of Autonomy

Some hold that Kant’s conception of autonomy requires the rejection of moral realism in favor of “moral constructivism.” 

What do you think about the following discussion on Kant’s conception of legislation?

In the first section of theGrundlegung, Kant begins with the concept of a good will as the only unqualified good. A good will acts not out of inclination, but from objective practical laws. For a being with needs this means that a good will acts from duty, according to an “ought”. Because duties or moral obligations are categorically rather than hypothetically commanded, this means that a will that acts from duty is not determined by material motives but by pure practical reason, out of respect for the moral law. Thus Kant writes,
For since, other than the law, the imperative contains only the necessity that the maxim be in accord with this law, but the law contains no limiting conditions, nothing remains for the maxim of action to accord with other than the universality of law itself. The only thing the imperative actually represents as necessary is this conformity. 

The essential thing is the law-like, properly legislative form. Pure practical reason can determine our will to act only on maxims that are appropriate for universal legislation. A will that is so determined is a good will. And that is the only way a good will can be specified. Kant infers a principle: “the idea of the will of every rational being as a universally legislative will.” 

He explains:
“According to this principle, all maxims are rejected that can’t co-exist with the will’s own legislation. Thus, the will is not merely subjected to the law, rather it is subjected in such a way that it must also be regarded as self-legislating and precisely on this account, above all, as subjected to the law (of which he can consider himself author).”
Moral necessity, Kant argues, must be based on the self-legislation of a will, because, otherwise, this necessity would have to be based on an interest, which would contradict the requirement that moral necessity be a categorical necessity. This analysis generates the third formulation of the categorical imperative: “Act only such that the will can at the same time regard itself, through its maxim, as universally legislating” and is supposed to be the basis for the dignity of humanity.

We assume that this derivation of the principle of autonomy is more or less familiar. The present question, of course, focuses on the metaphysical significance of the requirement that agents regard the moral law as self-legislated. Does this imply that the moral law is a positive law or a human creation? That it is the object of a procedure of construction rather than discovery? While our contemporary conception of legislation might suggest such conclusions, there has been remarkably little discussion of Kant’s conception of legislation. One explanation for this is that in theGrundlegung and the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, Kant never elaborates his conception of legislation. But there is some interesting material in the Metaphysik der Sitten. In the introduction Kant wrote:
A (morally practical) law is a proposition that contains a categorical imperative (a command). The one who commands (imperans) through a law is the legislator (legislator). He is the author (autor) of the obligation in accordance with the law, but not always the author of the law. In the latter case, the law would be a positive (contingent) and arbitrary [willkürlich] law. The law which obligates us a priori and unconditionally by our own reason can also be expressed as proceeding from the will of a supreme legislator, i.e., one that has only rights and no duties (hence from the divine will), but this only signifies the idea of a moral being whose will is a law for everyone, without his being thought of as the author of it.”
Here Kant explains his conception of legislation in connection with his distinction between the author of obligation in accordance with a law and the author of a law. Unfortunately, the point and significance of the distinction seems obscure. As is often in the case in Kant’s writings, especially the Metaphysik der Sitten, a passage absent its context may remain cryptic. But further study of this distinction reveals an anti-constructivist strand in Kant’s thought which lies at the core of his conception of legislation.

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