Saturday, April 16, 2011

More Critique of Pure Reason: where things get slippery...

Where things get slippery about the relationship of the empirical to the synthetic a priori judgments can be seen in the example of math. We have empirical data that comes in, that may or may not be accurate in a very general way. We also have categories of thought and other mental faculties that assume that the world is a certain way, without that world actually having to exist. Most of the time the categories seem to line up with the empirical evidence, or at least when the categories shape our interpretation of empirical evidence what we get from it can be proved empirically to be right. So there's a correspondence, between categories and empirical data. But is that just a coincidence, something that only appears to be true based on our being surrounded by empirical data all the time? Couldn't we just be constantly generalizing from our surroundings?

Empirical data is both true and false in the sense that it's conditioned by our senses. We see within a certain wavelength, hear within certain frequencies, visually tune into some things more than others, taste in very unique ways compared to other animals, so our knowledge of what these things really are in all senses, not just in the way that we perceive them, is limited. Our knowledge of objects can be expanded by using other instruments to observe them, but for the most part we haven't had access to those things through our history. Yet, with the sense experience we have it's possible to navigate the world successfully, and with the categorical set up we have it's also possible to navigate the world successfully. This suggests that whatever reality is behind the empirical world that we interact with through our senses is something that our hardwired minds are also able to interact with successfully, more of less, without being able to directly experience it. How is that possible?

Take the example of math: without having any sort of real observations we can set up algebra problems, then solve them. Then, we can take the principles and formulas from the algebra problems and apply them to empirical situations and deduce knowledge from those situations that we didn't have direct access to before through either our immediate senses or our ordinary mental, non-mathematical, reasoning. Why should there be any correspondence, unless the mental categories were not only in touch with the general features of empirical reality but were capable somehow of generalizing to what is behind immediate empirical reality as well?

Which, not 'begs' since people always get upset when that's misused, but prompts the question: where do all these features of reality come from anyways?

No comments: