Metaphysics By Kant And Hume Essay, Research Paper
Metaphysics as Addressed by Kant and Hume
In the Prolegomena, Kant states that reading David Hume, “awakened him from his dogmatic slumber.” It was Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding that made Kant aware of issues and prejudices in his life that he had previously been unaware of. This further prompted Kant to respond to Hume with his own analysis on the theory of metaphysics. Kant did not feel that Hume dealt with these matters adequately and resolved to pick up where Hume had left off, specifically addressing the question of whether metaphysics as a science is possible.
Hume basically asserted in his writings that metaphysics, as a science, is not possible. He specifically drew on the theory of “causality”, which is the attempt by people to rationalize situations. These rationalizations deal with the experience of cause and effect. People tend to attribute patterns to things according to their cause and effect. For example, gravity causes the anything that goes up to come down- we have become so used to this principle that we have made a very definitive statement on the subject. Hume however, attacks this principle by claiming that we have not experienced every instance of this matter. It is not that it must come down, but that it happens to come down. He believed that any “all” or “must” statement is not reinforced through reason but through repetition. Because Hume feels this way, he then concludes that metaphysics is not possible.
Hume’s writing posed an interesting starting off point for Kant’s theories. As said before, Kant attributes Hume’s writing with waking him from his “dogmatic slumber.” He recognizes both Hume’s intelligence and the validity of his statements. However, he does not totally agree with all of Hume’s theories and attempts to discredit them in the Prolegomena. The basic question that Hume brings up and tries to answer is whether metaphysics is possible as a science- or to put it another way, are synthetic judgements possible a priori.
Brought to light now are more of Kant’s theories, influenced of course by Hume. Synthetic judgements- as opposed to analytical judgements- are judgements based on experience. A priori is another term that he uses as well. It is defined by Hume as uninfluenced by experience. Essentially he is asking a question that doesn’t seem possible- can we make judgements based on experience, with out actually experiencing it.
To answer this seemingly unanswerable question, Kant divides metaphysics into two forms- the general and the special. General metaphysics incorporates universal terms- everything that we can make general statements about with some validity. Special metaphysics, on the other hand, deals with separate and higher beings- there are deep roots in theology and religious beliefs in this aspect of metaphysics. This distinction allows him to view metaphysics in two different ways with two different outcomes.
Kant’s next step is crucial in dealing with the problem of metaphysics. He now takes what he calls the Copernican turn. Like Copernicus, Kant believes that we should not look to what we experience, but rather how we experience. Copernicus, in his theory on the apparent motion of the sun, turned away from the accepted belief that the earth revolves around the sun, a belief that seem to apply to the laws of common sense. Copernicus saw that the movement should not be placed in us, but in something else. His theory was eventually accepted because it had a greater explanatory value than the obvious, common sense statement.
Like Copernicus, Kant felt that we should try to remove ourselves and our influence from the explanation of metaphysics. In other words, he felt that we should look specifically to how we experience things. It was here that Kant turns to his theory of sensibility, or the “form of sensibility” as he calls it (Modern Philosophy, 591). Kant looks not to the exact experience, but rather the act of experiencing. He questions whether we are innately prone to see things in a certain way. Although he concedes that anything we know about the object we are seeing is posteriori (learned from experience) he goes one step further to assert that the actual act of seeing- how we see- is a form in itself.
This conclusion brings him to his next step- the consistencies in what we see. Although such descriptive words such as color, shape or function can change from one person’s experience to the next, every experience has both a space and a time. No matter who we are and what lives we lead everything must have a spatial and temporal origin. Furthermore, Kant also delves into Hume critique of the cause and effect relationship. Unlike Hume, Kant believes that everything must have a cause and an effect. The theory of cause and effect is our attempt to organize and make sense of what is given to us through sensibility (spatially and temporally). It is through this that Kant concludes that general metaphysics is possible.
Here Kant encounters a problem in his theories on metaphysics and the repercussions on his thoughts about sensibility. Spatial and temporal indicators only present the world in terms of human understanding but Kant is aware that there is a world that exists outside of this. He applies matters of faith to believe in things as they are in themselves, but he cannot explain them fully through science. He admits that there is a world that exists independently of our experience, but we also have a need to process things spatially and temporally, so the two can not exist together. He identifies this with his theories of phenomena and noumena. Phenomena explains the way we see things; how the world appears to us, while noumena explains the more abstract theory of the world outside of our structures and functions.
Finally, Kant reaches the conclusion that certain types of metaphysics are possible, while others are not. Transcendental, or general, metaphysics is possible if the Copernican turn is applied. Applications of all his theories- such as phenomena, spatial and temporal origins- led him to believe that this type of metaphysics, despite what Hume believed, is possible. He admits that transcendent, or special, metaphysics, is not possible. For us to go beyond our limits of thinking and to get passed spatial and temporal terms is not possible. Essentially, what special metaphysics is asking is to think beyond our limits of thinking, which Kant sees as impossible.
Hume’s work can be criticized from many angles- Kant’s writing is basically a critique of Hume’s thoughts. The most obvious critique is one brought up and dealt with by Kant in the Prolegomena, that Hume does not let himself go beyond the physical, obvious world. He finds fault with our understanding and grasp of the world, but does nothing to correct it. Although he feels that we can not accurately make statements with totally validity he does not let himself imagine a case where this might be possible. It was this skepticism that Kant addressed in his works.
Kant’s work is a little more difficult to examine. The one flaw that stands out is that Kant, like Hume, found an obstacle and did not try to make sense of it, rather they both just accepted it. Kant could not explain metaphysics on a transcendent level, so he simply turned to faith to justify the existence of it. He stood by faith much like Hume stood by skepticism. He relies blindly on faith to explain a large part of what he is trying to discredit Hume for. It is almost as if he is not making a definitive statement on the existence of metaphysics. Rather, he is caught in the middle, claiming that it may be true in one instance, but not in another.
Kant directly deals with the problems presented in Hume’s analysis of metaphysics. Where Hume stops his line of thinking and becomes skeptical as to the existence of metaphysics as a science, Kant picks up. He proceeds to analyze both the validity of metaphysics as a science and a force in our lives. Turning to the methods of other credible men in the scientific field- such as Copernicus- Kant develops a whole new approach to looking at the world. However, like Hume, Kant encounters an obstacle and does not find a solution for it.