Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kant's Pragmatism

It is the way of the spirit now to treat Kant as a "correlationist." This is derived from Kant's belief that we do not experience the "in itself" of objects but rather intuit their "appearing" as a phenomenon.  Correlationism then refers to two beliefs; that humans can only know an intersection of thought and the world and not the world itself and that human knowledge is necessarily finite, given that which appears is in constant flux. The former of these applies to Kant.  I generally agree with this interpretation, but one must resist its polemic content to understand the pragmatic aspects of Kant's thought. Kant is a correlationist in the best sense, as it relates to the ontologist.  He clears up the difficulties of imagining through our interpretive relation between other objects; he allows the human object as subject to understand the ways in which we are appropriated by other forces: forces of desire, of habit or of simple taste as much as by beauty, understanding and legal judgment. The positive sense of correlationism is that it maximizes our objective self-relation. It reads our thought out of objects, as the ontologist reads the objects out of us. While some may point to the Critique of Judgment as his most pragmatic work, I find his description of the dialectic in Critique of Pure Reason to show how representation is used to demonstrate a reality that is other than the dialectic.  Adorno states this explicitly at the beginning of Negative Dialectics, when he says, "Identity and contradiction of thought are welded together.  Total contradiction is nothing but the manifested untruth of total identification." Though he never takes it quite seriously enough to critique his own dialectical results against actual events, as in the revolutionary aspect of jazz; his answer is simply, there may be this non-identical surplus, but it is irrelevant without the dialectical hammer.  This may be true, but unless there is an interplay between the dialectic as immanent self-critique and as transcendental, as Kant treats it, one remains susceptible to the illusion of the form of the dialectic, as much as any of its sides. Anyway, here is Kant's take on the matter:

"Now we may note (as a sure and useful warning) that general logic, when regarded as an organon, is always a logic of illusion, i.e., it is always dialectical.   For general logic teaches us nothing whatever about the content of cognition; it teaches us merely the formal conditions for the agreement [of cognition] with the understanding, and these conditions are wholly inconsequential otherwise, i.e., as regards the [cognition's] objects.  Hence the impudent use of general logic as an instrument (organon), in order (at least allegedly) to broaden and expand one's knowledge, comes down to nothing but idle chatter, where anything one wishes is--with some semblance of plausibility--asserted or, for that matter, challenged at will.
     Such instruction is in no way compatible with the dignity of philosophy.  For this reason the name dialectic has been defined [redifined so that a dialectic is] included with a logic as a critique of dialectical illusion; and this is how we want it to be understood here as well." (Kant, 115, Pluhar)

It is apparent that Kant is warning against a danger in applying logic as if they are simple tools that produce things. This runs against the popular ontological appropriation of Heidegger's equipment. For Heidegger, equipment is the relation of an object, used as tool for an end, to the human that uses it. The object inheres in time. Its formal identity remains internally consistent as long as the material of the tool may produce its desired end.  A hammer is a hammer insofar as it may complete its ends as a hammer. As it is a hammer it is within the human's world, but it follows that once it loses its qualities of being a hammer, it still remains materially the same, or at least similar.  This is its relation to the earth. A tool withdraws from the world of the human into an earth of actuality. Recent ontologists have extended this concept to all objects. The logic runs that every object in its relation to another object, is in the process of withdrawing from that other object's world, and that as one object transforms, the sense of the other object is also transforming. Everything is then an object with a complex internal coherence and a given external sense, which may withdraw from the presence of another object. Each is translated as accorded by its external formal coherence, and is recognized by another object according to its own form of interpretation, which internalizes some qualities of the object. I am reminded of von Uexkull or Sebok's biosemiotics. Wherein each organism has a particular internal system of synthesis which derives from objects particular signs from other objects.

But this leads to a generalization that any logical apparatus also functions in this way; that they are objects that do, that may take us up simply as an object to do. But this is at best a will to falsehood as Deleuze puts it, a thing that is real insofar as it is treated real. Rather, logic is a means of clearing up our translation of external objects. Along side my evaluation of Foucault's notion of knowledge, it is suggestible that logic is not knowledge, it is not ideally active in objects, but instead is a means of interpretation peculiar to humanity.  One must use a logic as a resistance to the natural disposition which an object produces, otherwise the logic loses its interpretive function and becomes externalized as an object.  Logic is not an object but an internal aspect of human interpretation. It may become an object, but this dissociation causes it to be reified and invalidated. Our current economic and political situation bares this out.  The dissociation of logic from interpretation to being an object in itself subjugates humans to abstract objects. This is the imperative of critique, to destroy the ridiculousness of reified logical objects. The ontologist skirts this demand by describing a logic as a dynamic self-differentiating object. But this is the most destructive and undesirable form of logic; that is a logic that has become knowledge and acts independently of the truth. In the attempt to free objects from humanity, the ontologist often loses sight of the need to free humans from objects, and the way that this process entails the use of epistemological and critical means.

The dialectic should be used primarily to demonstrate the actual impossibility of its content.  To propose two dichotomous elements is to say 'these elements do not exist as they function in this form, they only exist in thought'. That it exists only in thought is in line with the notion of a human as an object at the level of other objects; the difference being that it reads out of our interpretation of actual objects a form predetermining that object. It is then coherent to say that each thought has an objective relation, but that all objective relations are not necessarily thought. One thinks through the dialectic the diagram or non-identity of being. One constitutes out of the ambiguity of being an image that gives it consistency.

As I said before, the critical is the objective self-relation of a human, its inherence in itself. This self-relation may be experienced in a natural way or in a critical way.  But the unhistorical and natural way of thinking can fall into two traps; that it treat a particular empirical belief as a formal contradiction of another belief, or that it uses a logical form in general, the dialectic, to produce the truth. This danger calls upon a particularly human demand, something quite outside of ontology. No matter how austere a logic, how functional its use; it must also account for reification and for the objectification of logic.  It must be able to differentiate between the inherence of an object within the world of other objects and the internal coherence of the human as an object translating other objects.  This is an immanently human need. That we produce a functional philosophy, but that we also account for the gaps of its description; in the failures of logical axioms as what they produce becomes other than what they state. It is doubtful, however austere the descriptive consistency of an ontology, that it will be able to skirt the critical demand, because that demand is in itself a major aspect of our interpretive relation to the world.

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