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A Philosophical Question

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Posted by Paul R. Martin on June 3, 2003 15:22:43 UTC

As part of my continual attempts to learn something, (if not to catch up with those who already have learned something, then at least to keep myself moving in the same direction they went), I was reading Kant this morning. A question occurred to me that I would like to ask of anyone who would care to respond.

Historically, it seems that philosophers frequently use familiar objects as examples, or in analogies, when discussing ideas. The ancients talked about caves, candles, and bronze spheres; in the 17th century they talked about clockworks and looms. Since these objects exist, it seems natural and useful to use them in this way.

My question is this: Since some modern objects have characteristics and properties that might have been unimaginable to earlier philosophers, do modern philosophers re-read earlier works with some of these modern examples in mind?

This question came to me as I was reading part of "Critique of Pure Reason" ("Deduction of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding - III Of the Relation of the Understanding to Objects in General, and the Possibility of Knowing them a priori").

As I read, I had in mind two modern examples of apprehension that I am sure did not occur to Kant. One is the apprehension of the 3-D structures in those random dot pictures. The other is the apprehension of the virtual objects presented to us via Virtual Reality (VR) goggles.

I'll quote the passage I was reading so you can try the same thing yourself. The passage follows Kant's development and definition of several words which I will attempt to summarize: Phenomena + Consciousness yield perceptions and objects of knowledge; imagination + perception yields apprehension. Here is Kant:

"This imagination is meant to change the manifold of intuition into an image, it must therefore first receive the impressions by its own activity, which I call to apprehend.

"It must be clear, however, that even this apprehension of the manifold could not alone produce a coherence of impressions or an image, without some subjective power of calling one perception from which the mind has gone over to another back to that which follows, and thus forming whole series of perceptions. This is the reproductive faculty of imagination which is and can be empirical only.

If representations, as they happen to meet with one another, could reproduce each other at haphazard, they would have no definite coherence, but would form irregular agglomerations only, and never produce knowledge. It is necessary therefore that their reproduction should be subject to a rule by which one representation connects itself in imagination with a second and not with a third. It is this subjective and empirical ground of reproduction according to rules, which is called the
association of representations.

"If this unity of association did not possess an objective foundation also, which makes it impossible that phenomena should be apprehended by imagination in any other way but under the condition of a possible synthetical unity of that apprehension, it would be a mere accident that phenomena lend themselves to a certain connection in human knowledge.
"

In the two examples I suggested, the "unity of association" of the virtual 3-D objects does not possess an objective foundation in any sense that Kant could have imagined, and yet it is no "mere accident that [the] phenomena lend themselves to a certain connection in human knowledge". Doesn't this suggest that some of the conclusions that have been drawn about the possibilities for some underlying material substrate should be re-thought? Or has someone already done all that?

Warm regards,

Paul

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