Kierkegaard formed a system of ethics based upon the notion that we ought to hold a teleological suspension of the ethical in order to enter a higher realm of morality, referred to as the religious life. The purpose of this essay to determine whether we can consider this to be a synthesis of Kant’s and Aristotle’s moral philosophy, to which I shall argue we can but only as a partial synthesis since Kierkegaard omits elements of both Kant and Aristotle.
In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard draws out a system of ethics where we ought to move towards what he considers to be the highest virtue, faith, by means of a teleological suspension of the ethical. Before I go on further it would be best if I point out that by virtue Kierkegaard does not mean an excellence of character in the sense Aristotle does, instead the term virtue is implemented to mean something more along the lines of what we ought to have in order to be considered noble. So To avoid confusion between these two terms I shall use the term arête when referring to virtue in the Aristotelian sense.
One of the fundamentals to Kierkegaard’s ethics is that man has three modes of living; the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. The aesthetic life is one in which we pursue a hedonistic lifestyle constantly chasing pleasure, consequently never staying with any one thing for too long. The ethical life is sometimes referred to as living in accordance with the Universal (this is done within Fear and Trembling), by which it is meant living in accordance with some form of universal moral law, such as Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Finally the religious life is one in which we have removed any sense of duty to the ethical life and become a self-legislating body which obeys only the law it gives itself in such a way that allows us to become “a relation that relates itself to itself” [Kierkegaard, SD, XI:127], by which it is meant that we become capable of reflecting upon ourselves in order to receive autonomy making us free from universal maxims as we become able to decide our own path. It is by deciding what path to take and sticking to it ‘religiously’ that Kierkegaard argues that we acquire faith, thus faith does not necessarily mean belief in a deity (although it can), but instead sticking to a decision without doubt, as Rudd states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment” [Rudd, pg:71].
The idea of faith being the highest virtue is demonstrated through what is known as the four sub-Abrahams within Fear and Trembling [Kierkegaard, FT, pp:8-13], and later on where he states “but he who strove with God is greater than all [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:16], but it is within the third sub-Abraham that Kierkegaard reveals to us a second theme vital to the overall system…the virtue of love…we briefly see this virtue within the following passage: “when the child is to be weaned the mother is not without sorrow, that she and the child grow more…apart” [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:12], it is possible to read this passage in a way which means that love is bittersweet for even though the mother loves her baby and draws the warmth from that bond, there will be times when the same love will cause pain. Yet we ought not to abandon love because of this possibility of pain, but embrace it as it is through sacrifice that we are able to move from the ethical to the religious, via a teleological suspension of the ethical, which Rudd explains as “refusing simply to take his standards of good and evil from his society” [Rudd, pg:121].
This notion of love now needs to be explained in more detail for Kierkegaard uses love in a very specific way, one in which could be synonymous with the Confucianist virtue ren or the Greek term agape, both of which mean a universal, unconditional form of love. The notion of love is described in Works of Love where the importance of love is made explicit in the passage: “to cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception, it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity…one who is self-deceived has locked himself out and continues to lock himself out of love” [Kierkegaard, WL, pp:23-24]. Later on a description of what love is comes to us as Kierkegaard says “by its fruits one recognises the tree …in the same way love also is known by its own fruit” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25] meaning that we do not know love in any other way than through the acts of love made by others, but more specifically it is the acts of Christian love which Kierkegaard is referring to for he states “the love of which Christianity speaks is known by its own fruit- revealing that it has within itself the truth of the eternal” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25].
This is why it could be argued that Kierkegaard’s view of love is synonymous with ren and agape for Christian love, according to Kierkegaard, is universal “the Christian teaching is to love one’s neighbour , to love all mankind, all men, even enemies, and not to make exceptions, neither in favouritism nor in aversion” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36] and unconditional “God you are to love in unconditional obedience, even if what he demands of you may seem to you to be your own harm” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36]. Hence the leap from ethical to religious is made by abandoning any universal moral laws, and/or conformities to social norms, in order to serve our own moral maxims (God, the eternal) with unconditional obedience whilst also treating all others equally for if we “love a human being more than God…this is a mockery to God – the same holds true of friendship and erotic love” [Kierkegaard, WL, Pg.36]. Therefore once we have entered the religious life we ought to show respect to every element of mankind equal to the unwavering respect we show to our self-made moral maxims otherwise we risk slipping back into the ethical or aesthetic life.
To summarise Kierkegaard’s ethics is not one of universal maxims, or a system devised to tell us how to act (unlike Kant’s), but one which tells us to choose our own path and stick by it just like we would stick to our religious faith in a deity. This does sound similar to Nietzsche’s concept of divorcing ourselves from the herd morality in order to determine our own path through life, a concept which I argue is fundamentally Aristotelian (I shall return to this later). But in order to make this movement from ethical to religious we ought to learn to love ourselves and others in equal measure for if we did not we would see no reason to unconditionally obey our moral maxims, or care for the society around us which brings us the things necessary for a life of contentment (food, water, shelter, companionship and so on). Now I shall move on to demonstrate how this model of ethics is similar to, and different from Aristotle’s in order to show how close the two systems are.
Aristotle argues that the moral hero is one who pursues happiness as happiness is the end goal in itself, “happiness on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor…for anything other than itself” [Aristotle, 1097b], which bears some semblance with Kierkegaard who in part two of Either-Or writes “the beautiful was that which has its teleology within itself” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:245], so the ‘beautiful’ or noble agent is one who has the end goal within themselves. Kierkegaard later adds that happiness can be found within his work, his calling, for “our hero works for a living; this work is also his delight; he carries out his calling” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:266], hence Kierkegaard, like Aristotle, believes that each agent has a function and it is by working within your function that we become heroic for “all things have a function…the good and the well is thought to reside in the function” [Aristotle, 1097b]. This claim is strengthened further when we consider Rudd’s claim that “one can only avoid the necessity of judging one’s life in moral terms by evading long-term commitments. But to live such a life is to be in despair, for a life without commitments is one without purpose” [Rudd, pg.69] . Therefore the moral agent is one who follows his commitment to his function.
However where Kierkegaard and Aristotle deviate is at the point where Aristotle holds that man has no choice over his function within society, whereas (as demonstrated above) Kierkegaard argues that we are able to decide for ourselves what function it is we are to commit to. I speak of functions, in regard to Kierkegaard, here not just as jobs but also roles and relationships following on from Rudd who states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment to roles and relationships”. So when I talk about functions in relation to Kierkegaard I use the term is a broader sense than when in relation to Aristotle who specifically means a role within society. As a result of this we can consider the agent’s function, for Kierkegaard, is to commit to his role within the workplace (following E-II, II:266) and to commit to his relationships with his neighbours (following WL, pg.36),
Although Rudd argues that there is a more important end goal and it is this which separates the religious from the ethical, “an absolute telos…is the primary overriding task for each individual to bring him-or herself into the right relationship with God” [Rudd, pg.134]. But if we take Kierkegaard from a non-Christian perspective and equate God with the absolute good then we Rudd’s statement becomes one which means the primary end goal to bring himself into the right relationship with their own moral maxims and not a set of universal laws or socially constructed ethical code.
To summarise Kierkegaard’s system follows Aristotle in the sense that both accept that the good can be found in pursue your social roles, as this is part of the love for one’s neighbour as by fulfilling your social role you help society as a whole progress. Also by living in accordance with a self-devised system of morality we can find similarities between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who as I stated earlier is arguably Aristotelian in essence within his moral system. Although Kierkegaard is not completely Aristotelian as there is no mention of habituating virtues, and Kierkegaard believes that social roles are not pre-ordained but freely chosen and this is where the two thinkers differ within their systems. I shall now go on to discuss Kierkegaard in relation to Kant.
Pattison argues that Kierkegaard’s system contains some links with Kant’s since “figures who remove themselves from the moral accountability of their contemporaries and act as if they are beyond good and evil…would seem to be anti-Kantian, they also, in another way give expression to another Kantian theme, the pursuit of maximum autonomy” [Pattison, pg.106], and for Kant autonomy is “the property of the will by which it is a law to itself” [Kant, 4:440]. Pattison also adds “If one sees the argument of The Critique of Practical Reason as a genuine attempt to establish the requirement of belief in God via the concept of the supreme good…the Kantian analogy is strengthened still further” [Pattison, pg. 101]. Thus Kierkegaard’s concept of moving from the ethical to the religious if seen as a notion which brings us closer to God, and since the religious life is the ultimate good for Kierkegaard, then it does show Kierkegaard to be Kantian.
However Pattison does recognise that there are also differences between the two systems as he acknowledges the faults within Kant’s categorical imperative. The example he gives us is based upon the idea that to do only what is universalisable can result in situations which undermine the maxim which has been universalised, such as “in feeding the cat I am neglecting all the cats who may be dying even now of malnutrition” [Pattison. Pg.113], therefore ‘I ought to feed the cat’ as an universalisable maxim would be ‘I ought to feed every cat’ or ‘Everyone ought to feed the cat’. The former results in an impossible maxim since no single person could feed every cat on the planet (especially if we count every species of cat such as lions and tigers). The latter on the other hand results in everyone feeding the single cat you own which would result in the cat becoming ill through overfeeding. Thus this is why Kant’s system fails and why Kierkegaard argues that the ultimate good lies beyond the ethical and in the religious, based upon just the one imperative “helping the neighbour to love God, rather than ameliorate any concrete worldly problems” [Pattison, pg.118].
Another difference between the two systems is that Kierkegaard does not tell how to act or which rules to follow, but instead tells us that we ought to break away from the ethical systems of the herd, move beyond good and evil, and become a law onto ourselves in a movement that brings us closer to maximum autonomy. Whereas Kant explicitly tells us how to act for he says “act that use humanity always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” [Kant, 4:429] and “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” [Kant, 4:402].
To conclude Kierkegaard’s system of ethics can be seen as a partial synthesis of kant’s and Aristotle’s as it contains Kant’s notion of pursuing maximum autonomy, and Aristotle’s concept of fulfilling your social roles as a way of loving your neighbour whilst being a law only unto ourselves. However Kierkegaard has not made a complete synthesis of the two as he omits the categorical imperative from Kant and the notion of habituating arête in order to pursue happiness. Arguably this would a deliberate omission since the two concepts are incompatible as Kant classes any pursuit of happiness as a hypothetical imperative as he says “the imperative that refers to the choice of means to one’s own happiness…is still always hypothetical” [Kant, 4:416].
• E-II – Either-Or Part II
• FT – Fear and Trembling
• SD – Sickness Unto Death
• WL – Works of Love
• Aristotle, (1995), ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’, in Barnes. J, The Complete Works of Aristotle (Sixth Reprint), Chichester: Princeton University Press
• Kant. I, (1998), Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (translate by Gregor.M), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1983), Sickness unto Death (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), Princeton: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1987), Either-Or Part II (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New Jersey: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (2005), Fear and Trembling (translated by Hannay. A), London: Penguin Books
• Kierkegaard. S, (2009), Works of Love (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New York: Harper-Collins
• Pattison. G, (2005), The Philosophy of Kierkegaard, Chesham: Acumen
• Rudd. A, (1993), Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical, New York: Oxford University Press
• The Holy Bible (King James Version), (2000), Michigan: Zondervan
Kant argues that “it is impossible to imagine anything at all in the world…that can be called good without qualification- except a good will” as “a good will seems to constitute the indispensible condition even of our worthiness to be happy”. This is Kant’s opening to his view on morality in which he explains that all post-Kantian morality has been based on a posteriori foundations where we take happiness to be the good. What Kant proposes is a theory opposing this in the sense that the moral good is a priori and comes from out will to do what is right via a sense of duty to do what is morally good. This a priori moral good Kant calls the categorical imperative which is a highly desirable concept of morality to have although it requires some amending before it can be seen as a feasible model for morality.
To understand the categorical imperative we must first explain the whole moral system Kant is in favour for beginning with the first point. It is argued “the moral worth of an action done out of duty has its moral worth…in the maxim…with which the action is decided upon…not in actualizing the object of the action”, meaning moral satisfaction does not come from the actualization of some abstract goal such as eudaimonia, pleasure or virtue, but from the moral act in itself. This is because the moral worth of an action can “be found…in the principle of the will…the crossroads between its a priori principle…and it’s a posteriori motivation”, or in other words our duty to act morally and our desire to be seen as being moral, thus the will acts as a synthesiser combing the a priori duty with the a posteriori desire into one simple product which drives us towards moral action.
What is meant here by the term duty is “the necessity of an act done out of respect for the law”, only by the law Kant is not referring to man-made law but an overarching a priori universal law. This universal law can be understood as an ‘I ought’ statement as “I ought never…act in such a way that I could not also will that my maxim should become a universal law” so not only ‘must’ we act in accordance to our maxim but it must be a maxim compatible with the universe so that everyone can adhere to it at all times without exception, or as Kant puts it “moral laws must hold for every rational being”. Therefore any maxim devised by our will must first go through the test for universalisability to ensure it is an universalisable maxim, if it passes it becomes an objective principle, if it fails it becomes a subjective principle.
Now “an objective principle…is called a commandment…the formulation of this commandment is called an Imperative”. So any objective principle which passes the test for universalisability is an imperative of which, Kant argues, there are two kinds; hypothetical imperatives which “declare a possible action…to the attainment of something that one wants”, and categorical imperatives which “would be one that represented an action as itself objectively necessary, without regard to any further end.”. An example of a hypothetical imperative would be ‘to succeed in passing this module I ought to study Kant well’ the reason this is hypothetical is because it relies on the ‘I’ in question to want the success of passing the module but not every one wants this, a majority of people care nothing for the success in passing a Kant module, thus it cannot be willed upon everybody. However an example of a categorical imperative might be ‘I ought not to lie as I have a duty to adhere to the principle of honesty’ this can be universalised as we can will everyone to tell the truth consistently otherwise there would be little or no room for honesty.
Kant claims that there is one golden categorical imperative which rests above all others and it is “act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”, as was stated earlier only Kant goes on to explain that one maxim of such a kind ought to be taken more importantly than others “a human being…does exist as an end in himself, not merely as a means to be used…a human being must always be viewed…as an end”. If we all adhere to this moral maxim then we shall move towards a moral utopia in which we all follow the universal law that is the categorical imperative, Kant calls this utopia the ‘kingdom of ends’ about which he says “a being who must regard itself as making universal law by all the maxims of its will…leads to a…very fruitful concept- namely, that of a kingdom of ends…the systematic union of different rational beings under common laws”. Hence the categorical imperative is to treat others in such a way that we can will everyone to treat each other in the same way in order to bring about this moral utopia.
A supporter of Kant’s theory is the developmental psychologist Kohlberg who drew up a model which maps the moral development of individuals. Kohlberg came to realise that a majority of individuals today are grounded upon stage four moralities with some elements of stage five moralities. Thus modern society is grounded upon what Kohlberg calls ‘conventional morality’. However Kohlberg argues that Kant’s deontological ethics is beyond the morality of the majority of modern individuals as it is grounded upon stage six moralities. From this it could be argued that since politics and social thinking is moving towards an age of post-modernism then we too should me moving into ‘post-conventional morality’ based upon stage five-six morality (or possibly stage seven). Therefore in Kohlberg’s view Kant’s moral theory is highly desirable, thus we ought to strive towards a kingdom of ends and live by the categorical imperative.
Kant’s theory of the categorical imperative has also been applied, to some extent, to the political sphere by Rawls in his theory of social justice. His idea of selecting principle of justice from behind a veil of ignorance where “no one knows his place in society, his class…or social status, nor…his fortune in the distribution of natural assets”, this ensures that we do not select principle which benefit us at the expense of others which can be interpreted as Kant’s categorical imperative of not using people as a means to an end since by exploiting others to gain their fair share of resources we have used them as a way (a means) to acquire our desire (an end). Rawls even argues that for this categorical imperative, although never actually mentioning it in such a way, to work there must first be a principle in place which ensures “no one should be advantaged or disadvantaged by natural fortune”, this principle is the principle of political equality, this principle ensures that all individuals are covered by an equal distribution of political freedoms so that those of higher social status are able to manipulate and exploit those lowering down the ladder. Furthermore we can see the direct link between Rawlsian justice and Kantian ethics by a point brought up by Scruton, “if we are to find an imperative that recommends itself on the basis of reason alone, then we must abstract from all distinctions between rational agents”. Or to explain this in another way to build a categorical imperative we must place ourselves behind a veil of ignorance. Therefore not only is the categorical imperative desirable but it also has some practical application.
Kant’s categorical imperative of treating agents as an end in themselves and not as a means to an end does, to a greater or lesser extent, the Christian ethic described in Matthew’s Gospel, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” as we would not want to be used by another as a way of helping them fulfil their desire so we ought not to do this to others. Even the utopia of a kingdom of ends has the distinct echo of the biblical utopia of a kingdom of God. Given Kant’s Christian upbringing it is of no surprise that his moral theory has Christian undertones even “Kant regarded…the categorical imperative as the philosophical basis of the famous golden rule, that we should do as we would be done by” so it was by no accident that Kant’s theory was based upon Christian teaching.
However this is where the categorical imperative breaks down as Kant argues it is an objective principle done out of duty, but if being a Christian ethic then it is done out of a duty to God and therefore only those who follow the Christian religion making the whole concept a subjective, and hypothetical, system as it relies on the condition ‘if you are Christian then you ought to follow this rule’. It would therefore bear no force upon those of other faiths unless we do employ Rawls’ veil of ignorance to abstract ourselves from our religious beliefs and then agree on following Kant’s categorical imperative out of not a duty to God but a duty to each other as free, rational agents.
Another argument which can be made against the categorical imperative is that it can permit actions which are deemed immoral or even illegal under current ways of thinking. If we were to ask the question, if an axe murderer who comes knocking on our door asking if X (fill in the name of someone who cherish) is in are we then obliged to tell the truth? The utilitarian viewpoint is to argue we ‘must’ lie on this occasion as the misery inflicted upon the murderer by not killing X is outweighed by the happiness of X and yourself for having X still alive at the end of the day. However Kant argues that we ‘ought’ to tell the truth here as we have agreed to follow the categorical imperative and because of such we would not want to be lied to so we must not lie to others regardless. What is then even stranger is the categorical imperative also then demands us to kill the murderer since he is acting on the maxim ‘I expect to be able to kill others so I expect others to kill me’ so we have to first follow our maxim and then adhere to the murderer’s. This sounds controversial but if we refer back to Kohlberg’s then the utilitarian view on this is based upon stage four morality whereas Kant’s view is stage six and therefore we should try to adhere to Kant’s view rather than the utilitarian view. However since the law and social conventions are still stuck in stage four morality to move into Kantian thinking requires a complete overhaul of the legal system, social conventions and the way we see morality, not as a pursuit of happiness but as doing what is our duty to ourselves and others. Such an overhaul is unfeasible as it requires a slow and steady series of amendments to what we now have to want we want at the end, thus for the time being the categorical imperative is not a feasible moral theory.
In the video game Final Fantasy IX we come across an interplanetary moral dilemma where the planet Terra is dying so Garland, the overlord of Terra, constructs a new planet called Gaia and creates a new race of conscious humanoid beings who are free, rational agents. The problem here is “all the people of Gaia were created…to house the souls of the people of Terra” once Terra had perished, neither side had been informed about this and both sides are being used as a means to an end, in this case the end being to save the people of Terra from extinction. As the game progresses you find out “all parties are angry with this” however it is not because they have been used as a means that they are angry but because they have not be informed about being used in such a way. A group of post-Kantian thinkers known as ‘moral autonomy Kantians’ uphold that “it’s morally acceptable for a person- by virtue of being a rational, autonomous agent- to give permission to be used by others” so long as all parties are fully informed about is involved, for example in the world of Final Fantasy “players…can summon Guardian Forces (GFs) …for the purpose of defeating the enemy…these GFs must…agree to assist the player” and the players are informed that their character loses its free-will during this period as the GF takes complete control of the character’s body, just as the GF is informed that when summoned it is open to harm from whatever beast it has been summoned to deal with. This means the categorical imperative to one that can be twisted so long as a form of social contract has been established between all parties, which Kohlberg states is a stage five morality and therefore is more desirable than utilitarian models we have in place currently. It also offers a more feasible model than the original, stage six moralities, categorical imperative as it does not require a large reconstruction of society.
To conclude Kant’s notion of an a priori morality based upon the categorical imperative where we treat each other as an end and not as a means to an end is one that is desirable, according to Kohlberg’s scale of moral development, but not feasible in the original format Kant provides, instead we should follow the slightly amended version proposed by moral autonomy Kantians which allows us to be treated as a means to and end so long as we have consented to be used in such a way if a feasible moral system based upon Kantian deontology. Personally I believe a more relative system of ethics is required and particularly favour Aristotle’s virtue theory (with a few amendments made), but what do you guys think?
- Arp. R and Fisk. S, 2009, ‘Objectification of Conscious Life Forms in Final Fantasy’, in Beaulieu. M and Blahuta. J, ‘Final Fantasy and Philosophy the Ultimate Walkthrough’, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc, pp 72-87
- Kant. I, 2002, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (Translated by Zweig), Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Rawls. J, 1999, A Theory of Justice (Revised Edition), Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Scruton. R, 2001, Kant a Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press
- The Holy Bible accessed at http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A12&version=NIV [accessed at 14:59 6th March 2010]
- http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm [accessed at 13:19 6th March 2010]
- http://psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/a/kohlberg.htm [accessed at 14:09 6th March 2010]
 Kant. I, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, 2002, 4:393
 Ibid, 4:393
 Ibid, 4:399-4:400
 Ibid, 4:400
 Ibid, 4:400
 Ibid, 4:402
 Ibid. 4:412
 Ibid. 4:413
 Ibid, 4:414
 Ibid, 4:414
 Ibid. 4:421
 Ibid. 4:428
 Ibid. 4:433
 See appendix one
Rawls. J, A Theory of Justice, 1999, pg.11
 Ibid, pg.16
 Scruton. R, Kant a Very Short Introduction, 2001, pg.85
 Matthew 7:12
 Scruton. R, Kant a Very Short Introduction, 2001, pg.86
 See appendix one
 Arp. R and Fisk. S, 2009, ‘Objectification of Conscious Life Forms in Final Fantasy’, pg.74
 Ibid, pg.74
 Ibid, pg.74
 Ibid, pg.77
Before deciding whether transcendental idealism is a defensible viewpoint, transcendental idealism must first be defined, and separated from the other forms of idealism so that a better understanding of what it proposes can be obtained. Then it needs to be compared to other forms of idealism to see, of the different forms of idealism, whether it can be defended as a valid idea. After this it shall be subjected to three forms of realism to see if it can stand up to the traditional opponent of idealism. I am confident that transcendental idealism, when properly understood and argued, will not only be shown to be a defensible notion, but show that it is fully capable of revealing the other forms of idealism and all kinds of realism to be untenable in comparison.
To begin with definitions are in order, so what, exactly, is idealism? Idealism is the view that ‘the physical world exists either only as an object for mind, or only as a content of mind, or only as something itself somehow mental in its true character’ (Sprigge, 1998). That is to say that the world of our sensations, or outer sense, is to a greater or lesser degree mind-dependant. It is the degree of dependency the physical world has to the mind that is under dispute in idealism. Some like George Berkeley claim that only two kinds of things exist, minds and ideas, and that the physical world is nothing more than a collection of ideas in the form of sense data. Others, like Kant, (2007) would strongly argue against this as they claim that whilst our sense experience relies on the synthetic a priori truths of space and time which are reliant on our minds, what we sense as physical objects are only ‘mere impressions’ and not what they are as things-in-themselves [A 491].
As for the definition of ‘transcendental’ in this context, Kant gives it to us earlier on in the ‘critique of pure reason’ at [A 12] where he says: “I entitle transcendental all knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode our knowledge of objects in so far as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori.” According to this, then, transcendental idealism concerns our minds and their cognitive operations, its functions and limitations. This is as opposed to the mistaken impression that some could make that by transcendental he meant to make claims of things beyond our scope of understanding, for he makes no claims about the nature of things-in-themselves, other than the fact that they exist as things-in-themselves in so far as they are things-in-themselves [B xxvi]. With this understood, Kant’s transcendental idealism shall now be compared to other forms of idealism to see if it is defensible in that regard.
First up is the ontological (or dogmatic) idealism of Berkeley (Sprigge, 1998). Expanding on what has been said on this earlier, there are two reasons why Berkeley believed the physical world was made up of ideas. The first claim is that the only way we can have empirical evidence for the existence of physical objects is if these objects are conceived as collections of ideas which cohere in experience. The second assertion is that both primary and secondary qualities of objects are mind-dependant, as the factors that make the apparently secondary qualities mind-dependant can equally be said to be valid for claiming the same for primary ones. The challenge transcendental idealism has to deal with here is this, if these two reasons given by Berkeley are true, as far as we can make out, is not the idea that there might be something beyond our senses which is responsible for ‘appearances’ that lies outside of our minds as a thing-in-itself merely multiplying entities beyond their necessity?
Kant would say not for, whilst agreeing with the second claim in so far as they regard ‘mere impressions’, it being something that needs both our sense experience that requires the a priori intuitions of space and time, and concepts that require the logical function in judgements and categories of our faculty of understanding. He would disagree that things-in-themselves are objects, ‘Without sensibility no object would be given to us, without understanding no object could be thought’ [A 51] for something to be an object for us it requires both the intuitions and the concepts, therefore the things-in-themselves are not objects.
Kant doesn’t claim that they are objects, for nothing can be said of things-in-themselves other than they can be thought [B xxvi – B xxvii], so to say there is a multiplication of entities is false because rather than there being ‘appearances’ and things-in-themselves as two separate ‘things’, one exists and the other is the ‘mere impression’ of the thing-in-itself upon our minds. As time and space are intuitions they are mind-dependant and they and the things that rest upon them cannot be part of what things-in-themselves are, so things-in-themselves bear no resemblance to the ‘mere impressions’ whilst at the same time being the same entity. Kant asserts that we can know that things-in-themselves exist, and that there are more than just minds and their ideas. To do this he takes ‘time’ which both he and Berkeley would agree exists in the inner sense (for Berkeley ALL that exists resides in the inner sense), and puts forward the following two arguments:
Firstly, I am aware of myself as being in time. Being in time presupposes something permanent perceptionally. But this permanence cannot come from me because my existence in time relies upon this permanence. Therefore my perception of this permanence is only possible because of a ‘thing’ outside of me, not an ‘appearance’ of a thing outside me which means that my awareness of being in time is possible only because there are actual things I perceive outside of me. Secondly, that my awareness of being in time is linked by necessity of being aware of the possibility of being in time. Therefore it is linked by necessity to the existence of things outside of me as the state of being in time, which means the awareness of my own existence is at the same time a direct awareness of the existence of other ‘things’ outside of me [B 276].
This not only defends transcendental idealism against Ockham’s razor, but eliminates the idealism of Berkeley, as it shows there is more than just minds and ideas, and gives a good case for the existence of things-in-themselves. Another form of idealism is the problematic idealism of Descartes [B 274 – B275], who argues that objects outside of us in space cannot be proven, as we are unable to prove anything outside of our direct experience, which is that of the ‘cogito’ or inner sense. This is equally defeated by the above argument as it shows that our inner experience of the ‘cogito’ is only possible if we presuppose the experience of objects outside of us in space.
Next up are the varying kinds of ‘realism’, but what is meant by realism, and how is opposed to idealism? Well realism (Craig, 1998) is the belief that everything about our sense experience, or outer sense, is mind-independent and that what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell is the world as it really is. As all idealism relies upon some element of mind-dependence, they are opposed in regards to our minds and sense experience. There are three main variations of realism that shall be tackled, naive (or direct), representative (or indirect), and transcendental realism, these shall be explained below.
Naive (or direct) realism (Heil, 2006) is the view that we perceive things as they really are. That the properties that we find are mind-independent – colour, shape, taste and such are direct properties of the perceived objects themselves. Direct realism claims that there is no noumenal realm of things-in-themselves, as what we see are things-in-themselves. It is considered epistemically direct, but does not have to be causally direct in nature.
Representative (or indirect) realism (Dretske, 2006) is the idea that whilst there is a world of mind-independent objects, we don’t directly perceive them, we only directly perceive the effects of these objects upon us. As opposed to direct realism we don’t see things-in-themselves, but whereas transcendental idealism makes a similar claim, indirect realism differs by stating that what we perceive in the effects of these objects upon us are actually the properties that things-in-themselves possess.
The final kind of realism that shall be looked at is transcendental realism (A 369). Transcendental realism is put forward by Kant as the opposing transcendental view. This differing outlook states that both time and space are independent to our sensibility, and that outer experiences are to be considered things-in-themselves and also exist independently of our senses. Because of this they are outside of our pure concepts of the understanding.
Kant has a response to each of these forms of realism corporately, as they all possess the common thread of declaring time and space to be outside of our minds, and inherent in the objects of our outer experience, conversely this is one contention that they all have in common against transcendental idealism as it holds the diametrically opposed view that time and space are indeed internal to our minds. To defend transcendental idealism against these forms therefore, it shall be shown in two arguments why time and space are internal to us, and how realism is an absurd notion.
The first argument shows how space and time can be seen as internal to us, and is proposed like this: The existence of myself (and hence my inner state) is necessary because I am self aware [B 55]. Self awareness of my inner state is only possible if objects outside of me are presupposed. Before objects can be cognized time and space must be presupposed. If time and space are presupposed before experiencing objects of outer sense, then time and space are a priori. If a priori, then they are pure forms of sensible intuition. ‘The understanding can intuit nothing and the senses can think nothing’ [B 76], therefore to perceive objects requires both pure forms of sensory intuition and concepts. I am aware of external objects both conceptually and intuitionally, therefore time and space are internal to me
This second argument shows how if time and space are assumed to be external to us it can lead to absurdity [A 369]. For, if time and space are eternally self-existent entities outside of us that include everything within them, then outer appearances are things-in-themselves. If outer appearances are things-in-themselves, then they exist outside of our sensibility. If they exist outside of our sensibility, then they exist outside of the pure concepts of understanding. If we lack the sensibility and concepts of outer appearances, then we cannot know them. If we cannot know outer appearances, then we can only know inner appearances. If we can only know inner appearances, then we can only know our minds and its ideas. If we say we can only know our minds and ideas, then we are dogmatic idealists. If we claim to be dogmatic idealists, then time and space cannot be eternally self-existent entities outside of us that include everything within them.
If however, you argue that time and space is outside of us but subsists within objects [B57], then time and space can only be seen as relations of objects of outer sense. If only as relations of objects of outer sense, then these relations can only come about through experience. If only through experience, then a priori systems such as mathematics or geometry cannot be used to understand objects of the outer sense. We can understand objects of the outer sense with geometry or mathematics; therefore time and space do not subsist in objects. As you can see, when both arguments are brought to their conclusion both of the possible ways that time and space can be outside us are shown to be flawed, either it denies itself, or denies the self evident.
In conclusion, I would say that of the viewpoints expressed within this essay, transcendental idealism has shown itself to be the superior. In regards to Dogmatic and problematic idealism, it showed that our inner experience is only possible if we presuppose the experience of objects outside of us in space and successfully tackled the claim that it was falling foul of Ockham’s razor. In regards to naive and representational realism, it showed their claim that time and space is found within objects to put into question the far more self evident truths of mathematics and geometry with respect to our outer experience. Finally in regards to transcendental idealism, it showed that by claiming that time and space were eternally self-existent entities outside of us it self-refuted itself by unpacking through argument into a form of dogmatic idealism. Considering all this, I think that you will agree.
Craig. E, (1998), Realism and antirealism. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge.
Dretske, F. (2006). Perception. In: Audi, R. (Ed.) The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press. P654-658
Heil, J. (2006). Direct Realism. In: Audi, R. (Ed.) The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press. P237-238
Kant, I. (2007). Critique of Pure Reason. (Trans: Smith, N.K. 2nd ed.) U.K: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sprigge, T.L.S. (1998). Idealism. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge.
Let us first divide cognition into rational analyse,
And sensory perception which Descartes considered valueless,
Now reason gives us concepts which are true but tautological,
Sensation gives us images whose content is phenomenal.
Whatever greets are senses must exist in space and time,
Or else it would be nowhere and nowhen and therefore slime,
The space and time we presuppose before we sense reality,
must have innate subjective transcendental ideality,
Thus space and time are forms of our perception,
Whereby sensations are synthesised into orderly array.
The same must hold for rational conception,
In everything we think the laws of logic must hold sway.
But a problem here arises with respect to natural science,
While empirical in method on pure though it lies reliant,
Although for Newton’s findings we to Newton give the glory,
Newton never could have found them if they weren’t known a priori.
We know that nature governed is by principles immutable,
But how we come to know is inherently inscrutable,
That thought requires logic is a standpoint unassailable,
But for objects of our senses explanations aren’t available.
So let’s attempt to vivisect cognition,
By critical analysis in hope that we find,
The link between pure thought and intuition,
A deduction transcendental will shed light upon the mind.
You may recall that space and time are forms of apprehension,
And therefore what we sense has spatiotemporal extension,
Whatever is extended is composed of a plurality,
But through an act of synthesis we form a communality.
If we are to be conscious of a single concrete entity,
Each part of its extension must be given independently,
Combining in a transcendental apperceptive unity,
To which I may ascribe the term self–conscious with impunity.
The order of various sensations arises from connections,
Not be held in sense alone,
Our self creates the rules of their relations,
And of this combination it is conscious of its own.
While these rules correspond to scientific causal laws,
The question of their constancy remains to give us pause,
But once we recollect the source of our self-conscious mind,
To this perverse dilemma a solution we may find.
The self is nothing but its act in synthesis sublime,
This act must be the same to be self-conscious over time,
The rules for combination of its selfhood form the ground,
So what we perceive tomorrow by today’s laws must be bound.
These constant laws whereby we shape experience,
Are simply those which regulate our reason that is plain,
So don’t ask why the stars display invariance,
The cosmos is produced by your disoriented brain.
*This is not my own work but something I found on YouTube and proved useful in helping me remember the point of what Kant was suggesting to see the article it’s in original form a link to the YouTube clip has been attached*