This Cato Institute 2019 poll has some telling results about the state of people’s feelings toward a meaningful existence. What does it mean to have a meaningful existence? Religion, of course, says that a meaningful existence can only happen through religion. Without religion, people seem to seek meaning through politics. Once politics is seen for what it really is – a soul-shaped cavity overflowing with fetid swamp water where dreams go to die – people are left with nothing but hollow materialistic consumerism. When that fails to satisfy the need for purpose, the meaning-wheel comes full circle and people seek a metaphysics to explain how the world works. The most popular of which currently is identity politics.
How is it that we understand the world around us? I don’t just mean perceive it and react to it, but to understand reality, to have it mean something to us – what is understanding?
According to Kant, understanding has to come from a priori intuitions and categories of understanding. By an a priori intuition he basically means space and time. When one talks about an object that exists, it’s taken a priori that they mean something that extends into space and persists (no matter how transiently) through time. Kant says that spaciotemporal representations is merely the way we understand the world around us, but it may not be how reality exists in-itself. The form that our experience of reality takes is “imposed” onto reality, while the content of reality is supplied to us through our senses.
The 12 categories of understanding are what Kant deduced as our a priori conceptual structure for how we experience reality.
Whether you agree or disagree with the details of Kant’s list, it’s an interesting notion that there may only be a few simple inherent (a priori) ways that we are able to experience reality.
I think evolutionary psychology could explain why certain a priori categories of understanding exist – because they were required to survive. But, I’m interested in what people would see as being categories of understanding. Do you agree with Kant (and Eyedea) that the way we experience reality has to coincide with the way our mind organizes it? Could it be possible that the spaciality/temporality of existence is merely imposed on reality by ourselves as a way of organizing and understanding our experience of reality? If there are only a few a priori categories of understanding, what are they – do you agree with Kant’s list?
Our a priori way of understanding existence would seem to limit the way we can experience reality. The conditions in which we evolved are incredibly narrow and limited, and there would have been no evolutionary advantage to understanding reality in a way that took us outside this limited world view. This obviously creates some biases in our general assumptions about reality. For instance, it’s assumed that reality behaves in a cause-and-effect manner. Is it possible that causality is simply the way we experience reality? It’s also assumed in the scientific community that materialism is the metaphysical structure of existence. What do we really know about the metaphysical structure of material (mass/energy)?
Measuring and describing the change in material is not necessarily understanding it, but merely giving an empirical description of what is happening. How do we understand motion? It’s required that we have a fraction of memory for us to perceive motion – remembering where something was and seeing where it is now and experiencing this as motion, but how do we know that our experience of motion is the way it actually occurs?
Kant defended free will by concluding that nothing about our experience of reality can logically necessitate any ontological control over how reality is as a thing-in-itself. If we experience reality as being deterministic and materialistic, it does not logically follow that this is how reality exists in-itself. He said that the self exists on the level of thing-in-itself, and therefore does not necessarily have to follow the phenomenological laws of causality.
I wonder, though – is it possible for us to experience and/or know the thing-in-itself? Or are we forever trapped in the cave (or cubicle as Eyedea says in the song linked above) of our own a priori categories of understanding? Would it ever be possible for us to expand on the categories of understanding, or even add/create new ones? Is it possible that there are categories of understanding that geniuses have that other people do not have? Could the categories of understanding ever encapsulate the thing-in-itself? If we cannot perceive the thing-in-itself empirically, would it ever be possible to understand it rationally?