Kant: Reconciling subjective and objective

Immanuel_Kant_(painted_portrait)This article is on Kant and research philosophy after ontologicalrealist asked me if I knew of the revolution that Kant had brought to research philosophy. You can read his take on it here

My primary challenge was that I hadn’t read Kant in quite a few years and even when I did, my primary focus was on his ethics, not on his work to unite the objective and the subjective.

The core of Kant’s argument (which ontologicalrealist also speaks of) is a statement that what perceive to exist in the outside world, is interpreted and influenced by our own perspective. In embryo it is an argument that is echoed by Thomas Kuhn in that even in the pure sciences, every researcher will interpret evidence based on their subjective view of a topic. A computer without software is a paperweight, once we add an operating system, we can tell the computer to do things, the things we can tell a computer to do, depends on the software.

Kant’s argument is that human beings through existing develop a software that is similar enough that we can see that a certain atomic structure, in linear time perception and using the English language is a chair.

So, to Kant nothing can be objective because everything is interpreted by the subjective. So to Kant my argument in this post is not sound because when I describe the objective what I’m really talking about is a subjective perception of something that exists.

To structure Kant as a syllogism:

Major premise: Objective reality exists regardless of perception

Minor premise: Human perception is always subjective

Conclusion: Therefore, human beings can never observe objective reality.

Conclusion

My subjective perspective on this is that we have to accept that humans are subjective creatures, we are the sum of our experiences, our knowledge and our biology. However, in order to make progress, mind-independent standards of epistemology have to exist. I agree with Kant, we will never know if our way of perceiving the world is the only one, or if there are beings that perceive reality in a different manner.

True objectivity is not attainable, but objectivity in this is defined as “A view of reality that is entirely perseption-independent”. Objectivity as used in my post, is taken as being “Human-mind independent” as in “can be proven by logic and evidence”. This is the human standard of objectivity. There are 2 definitions, beware of which is used.

 

Kant’s argument is in a sense the opposite of “cogito ergo sum”. Descartes statement “I think therefore I am” is the statement that lays the foundation for metaphysical solipsism. In many ways Kant’s argument is solipsism in epistemology.

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2 comments on “Kant: Reconciling subjective and objective

  1. Not sure if that syllogism quite holds. I’d change the major premise to something like:
    Objective reality exists regardless of perception but its observation requires an objective observer.

    Anyway, I’ve been reading your blog back from the start and enjoying the introduction to formalised philosophy and this form of logic. I come from a background in science and have done a fair bit of logic in the mathematical sense, which is probably about as objective as it’s possible to get since you can avoid many of the problems of defining terms. In that way we’ve created tools that allow a subjective being to come to strictly objective conclusions.

    Similarly, logic and philosophy seems to be a way that a subjective being can get much closer to objective conclusions without being able to go there directly. Similar to how we can manipulate nano-scale particles despite being able to neither see nor touch them directly.

    (Some mathematicians may argue with that since many axioms taken as a priori can take a hell of a lot work to prove e.g. Russell and Whitehead’s famous 300 pages to prove 1+1 =2)

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    • My approach to logic outside of an academic approach tends towards more probability. Mathematical logic I agree with your position that you get around the eternal work with ensuring terms are defined and that the wording of premises is bulletproof.

      I would recommend reading some Thomas Kuhn for a very interesting argument that since all of us bring our subjective knowledge bases and notions to the interpretation of evidence, science is in fact a relativist discipline. A major issue with human minds is that we are hardwired to make a myriad of logical fallacies while being very vulnerable to bias. The purpose of the scientific method for instance is to remove the researcher from the process in a sense.

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