Kant, Idealism and Evolution


I'm certain this question must have been asked many times before, but I could not find an answer searching the archived posts here. So please excuse me as I am new to this forum and might have posted a duplicate.

My question is this: "If I take away the thinking subject, the whole material world must vanish, as this world is nothing but the phenomenal appearance in the sensibility of our own subject" (CPR, A 384).

So how does Kant reconcile this with the fact that the universe existed long before any perceiving subjects were around?

I am aware of one possible answer, namely that time itself is just a form of intuition, but this does not make it any clearer to me. Is he saying objects (such as suns and planets) existed, but not as phainomena, but noumena instead? Does not make it any clearer either.

I would appreciate any pointers, to either a post or article which could help me clear this up.


Posted 2020-01-10T02:38:09.560

Reputation: 11

3"Before" and "after" are only ways of organizing our experience, which includes the universe existing before us. It existed "before" us because our appearances line up that way, we happen to sequence them in time. But it makes little sense to ask what an atemporal entity independent of us, the thing in itself, was doing "before" us. To ask the question we fall into the "transcendental illusion", pretending to "look" at something beyond our experience as if through God's eye. But our eye isn't God's, and our categories of experience (like time and matter) do not apply beyond the experience. – Conifold – 2020-01-10T03:26:14.330

1What makes you say the universe existed before any perceiving subjects? Is this not an assumption? There is a popular view that the first division of the whole or first broken-symmetry was that of subject/object. . – None – 2020-01-10T13:15:55.470

1"What makes me say the universe existed before any perceiving subjects"? Well, Kant's own theory about the formation of stars in the early universe, for one. – henoida – 2020-01-10T15:48:12.357

"Perhaps our Earth existed for a thousand or more years before it was constituted so as to support people, animals, and plants." (Universal natural history and theory of the heavens, I:353) – henoida – 2020-01-10T16:47:02.713

1Other than ignoring your own birth, as a naturally occurring physical process, or do you hold that birth is simply a perception? Or do you hold to the idea that you, as a single human (experience) are the one and only. That would make you your own God. Think about it. CMS – None – 2020-02-09T17:13:48.010

@henoida Intelligences other than humans fall under Kant's theory. That he believes stars antedate humans does not imply that they antedate all intelligence. He has a strong attachment to his religion, which he tends to keep out of his philosophy, but never to actually violate. It includes Angels. – hide_in_plain_sight – 2020-02-10T17:49:09.763

@hide_in_plain_sight - Did Kant ever write about angels, or are you just inferring based on his Christianity that he would have believed in them (and perhaps given them an important philosophical role in making sense of the notion of describable physical events prior to humanity)? – Hypnosifl – 2020-06-08T18:29:03.150

See Wikipedia (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idealism)

– tkruse – 2020-06-10T04:54:59.323



Conifold's comment is elegant and helpful. You also asked for pointers to posts or relevant articles. I don't have one specific thing but reading around the subject can be really worthwhile and help attain a deeper understanding. If you're under time pressure this may not be so helpful but you can always pick and choose.

I would suggest - even if it sounds far too out of left field - reading books V-VIII of Plato's "Republic" (they aren't very long). I sometimes joke that philosophy was invented in those chapters (I certainly wasn't the first to say so!). Jokes aside, in addition to their profound general influence, there are some quite startling similarities with Kant's metaphysics. Even if you've read them before, you're never wasting time doing so again.

Foucault wrote about Kant although I'm not sure if he went beyond analysing the texts on ethics. Still Foucault has so many articles spread across various collections, it's worth having a quick look.

Bear with me here, I haven't wholly lost the plot but in 1865, a Scottish philosopher named James Hutchinson Stirling published the first English language commentary on Hegel called "The Secret of Hegel". A core part of the book involved tracing Kant's work through to Hegel's. It's been a while since I've read it but it's likely to contain material pertinent to your question.

Lastly, it may be worth seeking clarification in the work of Kant's 'disciples', Fichte and Schelling.

Adam Gold

Posted 2020-01-10T02:38:09.560

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Note that Kant clearly says that e.g. the moon exists when we are not directly looking at it (this is part of the very point of the Third Analogy of Experience). This "taking away" that he mentions in the passage you cite is very abstract: imagine a physical object with no possible concrete relationship with us, not even an intelligible relation with our very notions of physical possibility and actuality. One that we could never experience in a substantial way at all, more occulted than Russell's teapot. We have "taken ourselves away" from such objects, so what is there to say about them? {Not much; though in some cases, we are allowed a few sentences.} On the other hand, distant objects in space, even if they never actually do, at least can in principle enter into our connected experience; and the same goes for the aftermath of long-ago events (though here we must press the Analogies of Experience more strongly, to cognize that extra "term" of the analogy, via general causality).

Kristian Berry

Posted 2020-01-10T02:38:09.560

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