Resolving a Kantian Problem: Beyond Reconciliation to Formal Unity

Jordan-Stevens, Christopher
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University of Guelph

Kant grounds the possibility of a priori knowledge by reversing the traditional model of cognition. For him, synthetic a priori knowledge is possible only if objects conform to cognition; he “does not see how we can know anything a priori [about objects]” except if “objects conform to cognition”. Kant’s idealism (at least ‘in a nutshell’) consists in this tracing of objectivity back to functions that are, in fact, subjective. This idealism comes at a cost, however. For if we assume that objects conform to our cognition, then we are faced with the ‘thing in itself’, which is the unknowable, wahres Korrelatum (true correlate) of what appears. All kinds of metaphysically heavy problems follow from the introduction of this elusive, utterly transcendent entity. In my thesis, I hope to offer an alternative model to Kant’s own, one that is able to ground the possibility of a priori knowledge without having to resort to an idealism that results in the ‘thing in itself’. Instead of arguing that objects conform to cognition, I will claim that, at the formal level, cognition and its object are the same. They are not in need of reconciliation at all. In one way, I agree with Kant: we know this form of nature a priori because it resides in the mind. Contra Kant, however, I maintain that the objectivity of these forms – i.e. their validity with respect the empirical world – does not result from ‘subjectification’, or the constitution of objects by mind. I argue that his line of thinking develops not into rationalism or into an absolute idealism, but into a different conception of nature altogether.

Kant, Metaphysics, History of Philosophy