Chapter 5 :Epistemology


The Epistemological Theory of Immanuel Kant

(NOTE:  You must read only those linked materials that are preceded by the capitalized word READ.)

Immanuel Kant  (1724-1804)
  painting of Immanuel Kant

Images of Kant:

Introduction to Kant and his Epistemology by Tom Kerns

READ  Detailed overview of Kant  by reading all sections until you reach Kant’s Ethics 

For Kant there is :

  • unity of consciousness

  • unity of being

  • unifying act of the mind 

To account for this and our relation to being, Kant postulates that there must exist rules for thoughts, which he calls CATEGORIES that are innate and necessary for UNDERSTANDING.  Without such rules operating there is no way to account for our knowledge of such ideas as:

               substance/space/time/unity/plurality /cause and effect/ possibility/necessity/reality 

Knowledge has both form and content.

      Form or structure of Knowledge of reality- reason  -CATEGORIES- part of the way in which the mind operates

      Content of the knowledge of reality -  provided through the senses 


 But, there is a fundamental distinction to be made of two types of KNOWLEDGE

  1. KNOWLEDGE of the thing as it appears through our senses as filtered by the brain-phenomena

This is possible and what we generally call knowledge of the world

  1. KNOWLEDGE of the thing as it is in itself  noumena

This is not possible for humans can never get beyond or away from the categories of the understanding which shape and influence all that the human experiences because humans can never think without using the mind -brain and thus involving its structure and manner of operating..

For Kant humans will never know things as they are in themselves because humans can never think without their brains and the brains are so structured as to provide for arrangements and ordering and connecting elements for human thought to occur.   It is as if the humans must always see things through colored glasses because they cannot remove them.  Therefore the universe will always appear through the tinting of those glasses. Humans will never know how the universe actually looks. Humans may get close but can not experience the thing itself directly.

 How do we acquire ideas?

Kant combines ideas of the rationalists and the empiricists. 

Rationalism                             Empiricism

 innate                                   empirical

a priori                                  from experience

 How is knowledge organized in the mind?

 Mind introduces new principles of order into experience and arranges and stores and tests arrangements and tests the efficacy of those ideas and arrangements. 

                            Transcendental Idealism


 all propositions are    a priori        empirical

                               analytic        synthetic

I.   Analytic  a priori:    e.g.  math, definitions

II.  Analytic empirical   don't exist

III. Synthetic a priori: categories, rules, principles

                                         part of perception

                                         part of thought

IV.  Synthetic empirical: all physical claims- this includes all of the sciences.

  Suggested Reading:  Kant: Kritik der reinen Vernunft or the Critique of Pure Reasont

View: Dr. Richard Brown on Kant and the  Synthetic a priori

Transcendental Idealism  noumena and phenomena 

Kant’s contributions of the distinction of types of knowledge and of the role played by the order of the brain remain a dominating influence over thinking about epistemological issues to this day.

Immanuel Kant is considered to be one of the world's greatest philosophers. In his account of epistemological theory of knowledge, called transcendental idealism, he claimed that “the mind of the knower makes an active contribution to experience of objects before us”. He meant that whatever we already know through our experience makes it easier for us to acquire new means of knowledge. Accordingly, Kant  specified two  sources of our knowledge, which are the mind’s receptive capacity (sensibility), and the mind’s conceptual capacity (understanding). He thought that it would be impossible for people to have any experience of objects, which are not placed in space and time. These conditions of sensibility are due to our consciousness, which must “apprehend objects as occupying a region of space and persisting for some duration of time”. However, sensibility by itself doesn’t make judging objects possible. It takes also understanding, which provides the concepts, the rules for determining what is “common or universal in different representations”. He said, “without sensibility no object would be given to us; and without understanding no object would be thought. Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind”. He meant that in order to think about some object it takes understanding, which assigns concepts, based on the object’s sensation input, to identify what is common and general about it.

Nevertheless, empirical derivation discussed above is not sufficient to explain all of the concepts that arise in the human life, such as causation, substance, self, identity, space, time, etc. It’s due to the fact that these concepts are products of our experience, which is constituted by ideas. Therefore, “Kant postulates that there must exist rules for thoughts, which he calls Categories that are innate and necessary for understanding” all of the concepts. In addition to mind’s conceptual contribution to experience only that special set of concepts organized into these fundamental categories of thought make empirical concepts and judgments possible. Although these concepts cannot be experienced directly, they are present when particular judgments of objects take place. Plus, “since objects can only be experienced spatio-temporally, the only application of concepts that yields knowledge is to the”. Kant rejects any kind of knowledge that goes beyond the bounds of sensation because there can be no objects for the understanding to judge, rightly or wrongly. While Kant is a transcendental idealist he believes the nature of objects as they are in themselves is unknowable to us. However, the knowledge of appearance is...possible. Therefore, knowledge of the things can never get beyond the categories of understanding, which shape and influence all that the human experiences. Accordingly, human will never know how the universe actually looks because they aren’t able to think without any arrangement and order of elements. Kant’s theory of knowledge combines rationalism and the empiricism in his account to distinct types of knowledge and the principles of mind‘s order.   Andrzej Lagodzinski  (QCC, 2001)

Proceed to the next section.

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