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31 October 2012—Rural Religion in China (31)
31 October 2011—Middles: Middle of Nowhere
|[a] Appearing to consciousness RF|
We continue today with one of the best explanations I have ever read of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. It is embedded in Brian Magee's superb autobiography Confessions of a Philosopher. As we head toward the Husserlian Swirl, let's continue to unpack the Kantian underpinnings of phenomenology.
|[b] Representation RF|
And, as before, we'll consider it our Prolegomena to Any Future Phenomenology. Yesterday we were nearing a Kantian crescendo, and today the Copernican analytical magic is revealed.
And Kant points out that if, instead of assuming that knowledge must conform to objects, we looked at the situation from the opposite end, and thought in terms of objects conforming to knowledge, we would find that the impossibilities and self-contradictions vanished. Everything then falls into place and makes obvious sense. However, it will go on being counter-intuitive. We shall find it impossible to feel as if objects are conforming to our knowledge rather than the other way round. However, that ought not to get in the way of our knowing it to be true.
After all, Kant might have said, knowing in reality—knowing as actually experienced and lived—does not start from the object and then somehow make its way to becoming experience in a subject. It starts as experience in a subject. In other words, we have no choice but to start from where we are. We start with experience and then seek an explanation of it. That is what actually happens. Now, says Kant, if we keep sight of the fact that we can only ever experience objects through the mental, sensory, and other apparatus that we have for doing so, and in terms of the forms and modes and categories mediated by that apparatus, then inescapably it follows that what we experience can come to us wholly and solely in those terms.
|[c] Pondering RF|
This is what Kant means when he says that objects conform to our knowledge of them. A writer can describe a scene in words, and then the representation you have is a verbal description. But the only representation of the same scene that a camera could make is a photograph, or a series of photographs; it could not possibly make any other sort, although there are in principle an indefinite number of radically different kinds of representation that could be made of the same scene. The only representation of it that could be made by sound-recording equipment would be a sound recording: it could not take a photograph. And so on and so forth—and so with our brains and our nervous systems and our senses: they represent reality in terms determined by their own nature; and that is all they can ever do; and this constitutes the only experience and the only knowledge we can ever have.
If we start from this consideration we find ourselves able to explain what empiricism is terminally unable to explain, namely how it comes about that our knowledge conforms to objects.
Ponder that. We'll spend just a bit more time on Kant...since his phenomenal world lies at the heart of the Western phenomenological tradition.
 Brian Magee, The Confessions of a Philosopher (New York: Random House, 1997),148
Magee, Brian. The Confessions of a Philosopher. New York: Random House, 1997.
|[d] Phenom RF|