Tips for Novices in Kantland

by Philip McPherson Rudisill

Edited slightly on 2/11/2019

In order to prepare for Kant's thinkng in the Critique of Pure Reason (CPR), I suggest that the student give some attention to a different way of looking at, or having a perspective of, the world. Normally when I spy a dog sitting ahead at the corner and then see him blur a bit as I drive toward him and then see a mailbox where the dog and the blur were, I am consciousness of being able to say (although I never bother to say it or even think it): my eyes played a trick on me and I took the mailbox for a dog, because it has the appearance of a dog from that distance. But there is then another possible take on this, and that would be to take these appearances for things on their own, existing exactly in that way, where a physical dog morphs into a physical mail box. Just try to utilize this latter take for awhile. And think, when you spy something like this dog-mailbox-transformation, who could say what might follow next, e.g., a battleship or a rooster?

In order to get into such an alternative view of things, notice that things "approach" you as you approach them, e.g., focus on a traffic sign ahead when driving and notice how it approaches you as you drive toward it and how it also gets larger. And try looking down at your feet as you walk along and watching the earth beneath your gait moving as though a treadmill--but don't bump into something!! See the brightening of the tree at dawn and ignore the presence of the sun and instead see the tree as though the tree itself were growing brighter, as a thing on its own, literally and physically changing in its substance as a thing, much as a fire and the sun each produce their own light. Think about how you might appear in the eye of a dog when you are dressing or undressing. Is this a metamorphosis? Is the thing on its own morphing (myself in pajamas) so that there is then another thing on its own (myself dressed)? And think about how the pictures of me clothed and then unclothed are similar even as I am similar to my brother and my father and sister. And does the dog realize that my skin is not a suit of clothes, but part of me myself. I'm not sure my dog would be surprised to see two (or more) of me at once, for he does so when he looks toward me as I stand in front of a mirror. We are speaking here essentially of an Alice-in-Wonderland sort of world, where tiny doors at a distance could be discovered to be physically tiny doors close up (and not just looking smaller at a distance). This is a world where appearances and the looks of things are treated as things on their own; where your single upraised index finger will insist upon splitting into two ghosts as it approaches your nose (if you are looking with two eyes).

Another suggestion. Notice how suddenly a face appears in the cloud or in the brush of bushes, and then try wondering if the dogs and very young children might not also see such "creatures" and take them for real things that come into and go out of existence and can pop up anywhere without warning. What shall we call such a look at things, such a perspective? The animal look or perspective or take? Or perhaps the natural take, the perspective that nature takes, for it seems so certain that the things that appear on the retina of our eyes are real and exist just as they appear to us. It seems counterintuitive that we would not see these impressions on our eyes and our other sense organs as real things as they appear, rather than simply representations of things.

One of the things that Kant is going to do in the Critique of Pure Reason is to examine how it is that we have the one take on the world and not the other. One take (the human) can be called "real" and the other "illusion," the real seeing the products of the senses as merely representational and the other (or illusionary) taking and treating appearances as things on their own where things in physical fact do get smaller at a distance and sometimes even go out of existence (and not just out of sight)

What I hope to accomplish here is to open the student up to one of the problems that Kant is planning to solve, namely since all we ever have to deal with comes forth as an appearance in our eye (and other sense organs), how in the world did we ever come to, and accept, the notion that there were something else, something which did not appear, but which made the picture of the thing be treated as just that, a picture or image, and not a real thing, but only the way the real thing appears to us, a representation of a real thing, but not the real thing itself. Obviously* it is something that we ourselves dream up on our own, and so one of Kant's tasks here will be to show how it is that we can just dream up an object ourselves and find that there is a real object and that what we spy is merely a representation of this real object. After Kant explains how this occurs he will be ready for his main task, namely explaining the embarrassment of pure reason regarding the object that it also dreams up and provides to the fray surrounding human knowledge, e.g., God, free will and immortality, and fails miserably (in Pure Reason) in this task.

* We could experiment a million times with a million different objects at different distances from us, and every time without fail the object will be, i.e., look, smaller at a distance than when closer to us.

So it will be worthwhile to try to experiment with taking the appearances all about us as real things. This then will give us the sense of Anschauung, our take on (or look at or perspective of) things which are not in the perceived object, but in the eye or brainarium* of the perceiver. And here there are the two possible ways of viewing things which we might call the animal and the human perspectives. And how is it that we are so sure (as we indeed are) that we have the "correct view" of things? As a hint: one enables us to unify all of our perceptions in a single consciousness by means of a posited nature-driven world, and the other does not, but rather leaves everything in a disjointed, albeit in a familiar and comfortable, chaos. For what sense will it make to dispute with a man at a distance and declare to him in no certain terms that he has lowered his voice and is physically speaking softer than he was when closer and has also grown physically smaller. Or imagine two people facing each other and arguing about who is here and who is there. Communication among beings who would look at things in this way would be very difficult. See Captain Hook and the Rainbow (on or about page 797).

* Consider: sunlight strikes a tree and some of it is reflected and enters through the lens of the eye and is projected (with left and right, and up and down all inverted) on the retina and is transfered via the optical nerves (with another reversal of left eye to the right side of the brain, etc.) and in the brain a correction is made and a projection arises of a vista which includes an image of the tree. This vista I call the brainarium.

Here is our common understanding. We look out and see trees and sky and mountains and agree that they are not illusions but real things out in space before us. We also know that what we see and sense about us in space, e.g., the trees and the mountains, are, as appearances, within our brainariums and not apart from us at all. What we actually see in our brainarium is not the real tree, but only an image of the tree and fundamentally only an appearance in the brainarium. And the same holds of all the senses, e.g., a physical contact is turned into electrical impulses and within the brain the feeling called touch arises. Indeed even time, like space, is merely a way that we have of looking at and viewing these vistas in our brainariums, or perspective of the inner sense.*

* When we think about and picture a memory, that picturing is now, and so the "before" is added by us as our way of viewing our representation in time.

In a word: it will be worthwhile to practice the two different Anschauungen or takes or looks or perspectives* and take notice of the plethora of appearances/Erscheinungen that pop up here and there.

* The most common English term for Anschauung among philosophy scholars is "intuition".

Example of making connections. Now we can also take a quick and preliminary look at how our understanding works and how it is by means of this connective understanding of ours that we are able to make connections in the world of our perspective. Consider this: I'm sitting out and reading on my porch. Suddenly I notice the sound of a light rain, but when I look up I see that the sun is shinning and it is a bright day. But I still hear the sound of rain.* This "disconnect" (of sunshine and the sound of rain) makes me wonder and I get up and look about and see no rain, but still I hear the sound. I look over to the garden close to the porch and see a potted plant which I had recently acquired. And I notice that the price tag left on the pot is blowing in the wind and striking against the pot and making the same sound as the patter of rain. Now suddenly a connection is made and I have an objective perception, or recognition, and everything fits together and makes sense, i.e., how I could have heard the sound of rain but with no rain in sight. At this point my perception ties in perfectly and objectively with my general experience and there is no more wondering. Such subjective perceptions like this and leading to a recognition happen all the time, only we normally don't pay any attention to our mental processes. Here the student should be on the lookout and when a disconnected subjective perception is turned into a recognition, if he can pay attention to what is going on in his head, he can see much of what Kant is talking about in his discourses on the functioning of the understanding. In this case it is a play of the connecting category of the understanding called causation.

* This is an example of a subjective perception, a reality but which doesn't (yet) fit in with my general understanding and experience.** This latter arises through my paying attention and being sure of the data. The German for "perception" is "Wahrnehmng" and means literally a "careful take".

** I say "yet" because there is an assumption (based on the makeup of human, connective understanding) that all appearances fit together, directly or indirectly, in a single all-encompassing experience. This assumption Kant refers to as the "affinity of all appearances." Because of this affinity we are on the lookout for connections and especially in coincidences and patterns of subjective perceptions and what might be called "out of whack", e.g., in the case of the sound of rain above.

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