Kant's Refutation of Idealism


from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-transcendental/#RefIde

Dicker reconstructs Kant's Refutation of Idealism as saying: I can be aware of having experiences that occur in a specific temporal order only if I perceive persisting objects in space outside me by reference to which I can determine the temporal order of my experiences.

Am I right in thinking the "objects in space outside me" are representations?

I'm not sure what the point of this proof is, because I thought he refuted Descartes problematic idealism by saying transcendental idealism is empirically real, while transcendental realism is empirically ideal?


Posted 2014-01-29T05:52:18.963

Reputation: 51

1"objects in space outside me" are definitely representations. – iphigenie – 2014-01-30T00:22:56.193



Kant insists the perceived thing outside me (on which my awareness of the temporality of things in me depends) is ‘not…the mere representation of a thing outside me.’ (B275) So he means to deny that what Dicker calls ‘objects in space’ are representations, but as Kemp Smith observes, in the first edition Kant had said the opposite: ‘Outer objects (bodies) are mere appearances, and are therefore nothing but a species of my representations, the objects of which are something only through these representations.’ (A370, quoted in A Commentary to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, p. 313). Reinforcing this is that the only alternative referent for ‘thing outside me’ would be a thing in itself, but that won’t work here because the Refutation needs the thing outside to be perceived, i.e., be an object of experience.

Berkeley could accept the so-called Refutation of Idealism in B275, unless the perceived permanent thing Kant is appealing to is the thing in itself. Kant says Kant's view is an ‘empirical realism’ that distinguishes it from something he calls ‘idealism,’ but he hasn’t refuted anything just by claiming a label for himself. In Kant's theory, to be empirical is to be the product of a mind’s synthesizing, or some component of a mental synthesizer; a body is ‘real’ only in the way being a product or component of mental synthesizing lets a thing be real—which is compatible with Berkeley’s account of body. Berkeley never said anything that conflicts with Kant about the empirical reality of body.

I’m aware your question mentioned Descartes, not Berkeley, but part of the point is to challenge Kant’s positioning himself in opposition to both of them, whereas the real contrast is between Descartes on one side and Berkeley/Kant on the other. Kant distorts language when he calls Descartes an idealist; something even stranger is going on when he continues to call his own view ‘idealism’ after inserting a refutation of idealism. You’re right to be unsure what the point of his proof is.


Posted 2014-01-29T05:52:18.963

Reputation: 31

1It's great that you're citing the text and interpolating that with relatively well-known scholarship. But you seem to be dropping the qualifiers Kant specifies about 'transcendental' and 'empirical' realism and idealism (4 kinds). – virmaior – 2014-12-18T07:48:38.127

1In your second paragraph, the use of 'his' makes the argument unclear. Does his refer to Berkeley at both points it is used? – virmaior – 2014-12-18T07:51:29.270

@virmaior -- 'His' refers to Kant throughout the second paragraph. – user11994 – 2014-12-20T22:35:02.533

I've edited your post accordingly, but that seems to conflate a few things. My copy of the CPR is ~7000 miles away, but I'm not sure if you're using "empirical realist" in the same way Kant does. Kant calls himself a "transcendental idealist" separating himself from both empiricists and transcendental realists... (see for instance http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-metaphysics/).

– virmaior – 2014-12-20T22:44:14.447

1@virmaior -- Bennett gives A370 as his reference for this: 'The transcendental idealist', Kant says, 'may be an empirical realist.' (Kant's Analytic, p. 24) Strawson says, 'The transcendental idealist...is, Kant says, an empirical realist, according no superiority of status, as regards reality or certainty of existence, to states of consciousness over physical objects.' (The Bounds of Sense, p. 21) – user11994 – 2014-12-22T01:44:21.670

I think the point of both Kant's statement and the commentary is that transcendental realists believe the empirical is real and thus are realists about it. But if you look at how Kant thinks we encounter the real, it's doubtful any normal empirical realist is going to accept Kant's self-declaration on that point. Specifically, if you look at the manifolds of intuition which necessarily occur in the sensibility of these things for Kant... – virmaior – 2014-12-22T06:12:30.180


Descarte was an idealist, although not commonly seen as such (grounding mind-body interaction in God); and it was Spinoza that completed Descartes programme in his own way; mind-body are only two attributes of God, and not of his essence; so in God, but apart from Him.

Berkleyian idealism is a variation of Spinozas; and Kants innovation was find an argument that substituted the human consciousness for God (in a sense); its real, as its not grounded in anything so super-natural or transcendental as God; but note that Kant does have the inaccessible noumena; in the terminology of Jain logic, (in some sense) it is true but indescribable; one could argue that Kant has simply kept Spinozas God, but simply pushed him aside, or rather unknowable; in line with his dismissal of dogmatic theology.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2014-01-29T05:52:18.963

Reputation: 1