Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Kant and the subconscious

In ‘Back to Kant?’ (posted on May 31) I noted that the ancients did not have a word for the subconscious, and that the sceptics could therefore argue that since the parts of the argument do not mutually co-exist the argument too will seem to be non-existent. I remarked that this argument ought to have alerted philosophers to the reality and the function of the subconscious, but that it, apparently, didn’t do so. But the fact that the ancients did not have the word for the subconscious did not mean that all of them failed to reflect on it. When Socrates says in Plato’s Phaedrus ‘I can’t as yet know myself (ou dunamai pȏ gnȏnai emauton); I am examining myself (skopȏ emauton), whether I am a beast more complex than a Typho [a hundred-headed monster] (eite ti thêrion on tunchanȏ Tuphȏnos poluplokȏteron), or a simpler, gentler being (eite hêmerȏteron kai haplousteron zȏion, 229e-230a)’, he is referring to and exploring the subconscious part of his being. – And so I asked: ‘What about Kant?’

In the ‘Introduction’ to the Critique Kant elucidates the difference between analytical and synthetical judgements. Concerning the former he says: ‘For example, when I say (Z. B. wenn ich sage:), “All bodies are extended (alle Körper sind ausgedehnt,),” this is an analytical judgement (so ist dies ein analytisch Urteil.). For I need not go beyond the conception of body in order to find extension connected with it, but merely analyse the conception of body in order to find extension connected with it (Denn ich darf nicht über den Begriff, den ich mit dem Körper verbinde, hinausgehen, um die Ausdehnung, als mit demselben verknüpft, zu finden,), but merely analyse the conception (sondern jenen Begriff nur zergliedern,), that is become conscious of the manifold properties which I think in that conception (d. i. des Mannigfaltigen, welches ich jederzeit in ihm denke, mir nur bewusst werden,), in order to discover this predicate in it (um diesen Prädikat darin anzutreffen;): it is therefore an analytical judgement (es ist also ein analytisches Urteil.).’ (Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, nach der ersten und zweiten Original-Ausgabe neu herausgegeben von Raymund Schmidt, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1956, p. 45; translations are  J. M. D. Meiklejohn’s, unless said otherwise.)

When Kant says that by analysing a concept one becomes conscious (bewusst) of its manifoldness, which one always thinks in it (jederzeit in ihm denke), he points to the subconscious in our thoughts.

The concept of synthetical judgements Kant elucidates with an example from geometry: ‘”A straight line between two points is the shortest,” is a synthetical proposition (Dass die gerade Linie zwischen zwei Punkten die kürzeste sei, ist ein synthetischer Satz.). For my conception of straight contains no notion of quantity (Denn mein Begriff vom Geraden enthält nichts von Grösse,), but is merely qualitative (sondern nur eine Qualität.). The conception of the shortest (Der Begriff des Kürzesten) is therefore wholly an addition (kommt also gänzlich hinzu,), and by no analysis can it be extracted from our conception of a straight line (und kann durch keine Zergliederung aus dem Begriffe der geraden Linie gezogen werden.). Intuition must therefore here lend its aid (Anschauung muss also hier zu Hilfe genommen werden,), by means of which, and thus only (vermittels deren allein), our synthesis is possible (die Synthesis möglich ist.) (p. 49).’

Kant notes that the apodictic certainty that accompanies such propositions misleads people to believing that they are analytic judgements: ‘We must join in thought a certain predicate to a given conception (Wir sollen nämlich zu einem gegebenen Begriffe ein gewisses Prädikat hinzudenken,), and this necessity cleaves already to the conception (und diese Notwendigkeit haftet schon an den Begriffen.). But the question is, not what we must join in thought to the given conception (Aber die Frage ist nicht, was wir zu dem gegebenen Begriffe hinzudenken sollen,), but what we really think therein, though only obscurely (sondern was wir wirklich in ihm, obzwar nur dunkel, denken,), and then it becomes manifest (und da zeigt sich,) that the predicate pertains to these conceptions, necessarily indeed, yet not as thought in the conception itself, but by virtue of an intuition, which must be added to the conception (dass das Prädikat jenen Begriffen zwar notwendig, aber nicht als im Begriffe selbst gedacht, sondern vermittels einer Anschauung, die zu dem Begriffe hinzukommen muss, anhänge.). (p. 50)‘ – Kant brings here to consciousness the distinction between that which we subconsciously think in a concept, and that which we subconsciously add to it by virtue of an ‘intuition’ in a judgement.

I have put ‘intuition’ in quotation marks, for it can be very misleading. The Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary gives two definitions of ‘intuition’: 1. ‘the ability to know something by using your feelings rather than considering the facts’, 2. ‘an idea or a strong feeling that something is true although you cannot explain why’. Kant’s Anschauung is a factual concept; it concerns our looking at what is in front of us.

When I put on my website ‘Human spiritual nature and the X of neurophysiologists’ and then its revised version ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’, I thought it was all I could ever say on the subject of the interplay between the subconscious and consciousness. Kant’s Critique appears to be opening for me a deeper and more nuanced understanding of this interplay.

In the last paragraph of the ‘Introduction Kant says ‘that there are two sources of human knowledge (dass es zwei Stämme der menschlichen Erkenntnis gebe,) (which probably spring from a common, but to us unknown root (die vielleicht aus einer gemeinschaftlichen, aber uns unbekannten Wurzel entspringen,)), namely, sense and understanding (nämlich Sinnlichkeit und Verstand,). By the former, objects are given to us, by the latter, thought (durch deren ersteren uns Gegenstände gegeben, durch den zweiten aber gedacht werden.).’ – Neurophysiology corroborates Kant’s hypothesis. Our sense-perceptions as well as our thoughts are related to the bio-chemic and bio-electrical activities of our neurons, which must be transformed and presented by the subconscious to our consciousness: Kant’s text is in front of my eyes; I perceive it by my sense (Sinnlichkeit), that is by my eyes, and think it by my understanding (Verstand); the subconscious is the common root (die gemeinschaftliche Wurzel) that brings perception and thought into unity.

No comments:

Post a Comment