Immanuel Kant and the History of Psychology(Brett and Peters)

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Kant’s Philosophy divides neatly into the two realms of the natural world and the ethical world and although the discipline  of Psychology was only to officially announce its declaration of unilateral independence in 1870, the move toward separation may have begun with the Kantian Copernican revolution and the thinkers that reflected upon Kant’s Philosophy. Kant leveled such devastating criticism against metaphysics that of the three ideas of reason: God, Freedom, and the Soul, only Freedom survived his onslaught. The idea of God becomes dependent upon the idea of Freedom and the Soul disappears in favour of the concept of self-consciousness whose essential nature is defined by an act of the “I think”. But immediately that is said one has to also recognize that Kant believes that there are two kinds of selves operating in the arena of philosophical reflection, firstly, a noumenal self which is presupposed by experience but which can only be known in a segment of that experience: namely, moral action. Secondly, in Kant’s theoretical writings the natural sciences are then linked to the phenomenal self which post Kantian epistemologists and scientists  attempted to study as part of their reflections on the nature of this divided  subject.There are two levels of description involved in this latter theoretical project, namely empirical description and mathematical description which rely on the observational method of science and the logical method of mathematics.

In his earlier work, Kant was a rationalist and believed in the soul until encountering the work of  Hume who astutely pointed out that whenever we reflect upon our experience we never encounter a self or a soul but only a phenomenon, for example,  someone experiencing something or someone doing something.  This self, Kant argued, can be studied empirically by psychology, or what he called Anthropology, under the heading of “what man makes of himself”. Some critics have accused Kant of constructing a Psychology without a soul but that does not seem to be a just accusation. Kant is merely claiming that the soul is an idea in consciousness which can never be given in experience because this idea is equivalent either to the substratum or the totality of experience. Kant was with this complex move the first philosopher to systematically recognize the limits of metaphysical thinking.

Psychology, or Anthropology, as Kant would prefer to call it is wholly empirical but it could never be a science Kant argued because mental phenomena are in the flux of time and therefore incapable of measurement. Given the Copernican revolution and the conviction that knowledge is not solely the product of ideas which arise out of experience but is rather a structure regulated by the minds own activities, we can see how self-consciousness is a holistic idea with its own essential unity. The mind of the self is, Kant, argued made up of a receptive component which receives sensations from the outer world but even here there is a structuring activity of the mind present in the form of space and time which are a priori “forms of intuition” as Kant called them. The actual contents of the mind are as Aristotle would have argued, complex products of formed experience: there is no pure experience of pure matter coming from the outside proceeding inwards. Whatever comes from the external world will be shaped at the very least by the structuring features of space and time. Space and time were not acts of reason but rather capacities of the receptive part of the mind which Kant calls Sensibility. The mind is in fact divided into three “regions” sometimes called “faculties”(but not as far as I can remember, by Kant): Sensibility being the psychological part of the mind most connected to the body and through the body the external world, Understanding operates as a further shaping agency of the mind and is defined as a system of  categories which assist in the forming of logical judgments that  firstly,  relate principally to the totality of experience   and secondarily to the substrate(space and time and sensation). These categories are products of a thinking consciousness(“I think”)  and “are the necessary and only forms of all thinking”. This region of the mind is that which generates the truth function capacity of the mind and is still related to experience but in ways which are convoluted and partly psychological (via the shaping operation of  Sensibility). It is this truth-functional region of the mind which has a necessary connection to sensibility by placing it under its sovereignty: to such an extent that when I see lightning strike a tree at a particular place and a particular time I inevitably think “It is true that the tree is being struck by lightning”. Notice that this is not a necessary logical truth of the kind “Every time trees are struck by lightning we think that it is a fact that they are struck by lightning.” Obviously, the sensible/psychological part of the mind can dominate this environmental transaction by producing a fearful trembling or a fearful emotional response, which of course is a less rational response and that at first might seem as if it damages the universal case for seeing the world under the aspect of the true. Yet it does not do so for truth is a normative concept which basically amounts to claiming that one ought to see this under the aspect of the truth or to take another essence specifying example, “one ought to tell the truth when you promise to do so at a trial”. The concepts of promise and truth are logically intertwined. What does normative mean in this context? Only that we ought to view the scene under the aspect of the truth which obviously does not imply that I am doing so or will do so. The fearful emotional response might even have a representational content–a picture of an angry God, and if this is so this testifies to the presence of the synthesis of the imagination operating upon the content of sensory experiences. The imagination is named so because it works in the realm of images. Truth from the perspective of theoretical reason is, according to Kant the concern of natural science in its attempt to explain events in the natural world. The categories are thought to be a set of synthetic apriori judgments which constitute science. There are quantitative judgments that connect events and things in terms of mathematical unity plurality and totality or number which is connected in not easily expressible relations to time and space. There are dynamic judgments or ways of thinking that relate to the existence of objects, their reality, negation, and the limitation of a reality combined with the possible criticism of a negation. Relational and modality judgments more clearly than the other categories of thought take us into the realm of metaphysics and this confirms Kant’s commitment to the belief that metaphysics is a science but it also covers the principle of causation which is so important for organizing judgments of experience and scientific theory. Nature is defined as  “the whole object of possible experiences”.Judgments of experience are objective and deal with the necessary and categorical connection between things and events in contradistinction to judgments of perception where the connections are subjectively yet logically contained in the thinking subject. The difference between objective and subjective being the difference between the perceptions and intuitions organized by the concepts of the understanding or not. “The room is warm”  “I was frightened by the lightning” would be examples of subjective judgments of perception. There is here no expectation “that I or any other person shall always find it as I do now”. These judgments do not intend an objective reference but only the connection of two sensations in me. In the judgment of experience, I connect my perceptions or intuitions in consciousness in a general categorical way such that the connection is valid in general for any being using their consciousness in this manner. Perception becomes experience by the subsumption of that perception under a concept of the understanding and by the concept is meant the category which determines the form of judging that is to be used by the judging consciousness to determine or understand the “form of the perception or intuition. These concepts of the understanding are then transformed in the thinking process into judgments and there is a table of 12 of these ranging from singular, particular subjective judgments up to the categorical and apodeictic. Now here is the important conclusion that should be drawn from this discussion of natural science: Anthropology or Psychology can never become a Science because a science must be mathematical. Mathematics belongs principally in the domain of the category of the quantitative which requires a quantitative standard that could operate on the material it is applied to. Kant is clear that the part of consciousness which belongs to the realm of thought is not the kind of material that can be measured quantitatively or ordered in mathematical relations. Thought functions in the domain of reality,

Now here is the important conclusion that should be drawn from this discussion of natural science: Anthropology or Psychology can never become a Science because a science must be mathematical. Mathematics belongs principally in the domain of the category of the quantitative which requires a quantitative standard that could operate on the material it is applied to. Kant is clear that the part of consciousness which belongs to the realm of thought is not the kind of material that can be measured quantitatively or ordered in mathematical relations. Thought functions in the domain of reality, negation and limitation, (thinking something about something). It can have conditions and so the category of causal conditions may certainly be relevant in explaining how particular thoughts or kinds of thought come to be but this relates more to the substrate of thought than to outlining the totality of relevant conditions. The “I think” implies that I think something but it probably also implies some notion of self-consciousness which raises the thinking above that of the psychological realm of sensibility and its organizer, imagination. Thinking, that is, occurs at the fully mental realm of understanding and reason. Psychological states of consciousness are continuous and can be objectified by breaking the continuity into discrete units but self-consciousness is intentional and has a logical relation to the truth. O’Shaughnessy has the following to say on this important point:

 

“Self awareness necessitates awareness of truth. Thus, a child who regularly makes the sound “hungry” as a way of getting food, only thereby manifests self-consciousness and knowledge of the fact of its hunger, when it knows the sense of “I am hungry”, which consists in knowing it is true that he is hungry. Indeed, for any thinking language user to know any proposition is true, is for it to know that “P” is true. Self-consciousness requires that all knowledge, including that of the inner world, be for the self-conscious creature under the aspect of truth.”(Consciousness and the world)

O Shaughnessy continues to make another important point, namely that self-consciousness is only one, though perhaps the most fundamental of a circle of properties which constitute consciousness.

This dovetails neatly with the claim that Kant makes in the Anthropology, namely that when the child learns to use the word “I” correctly there is a dawning of a new kind of awareness of the world.

 

Now the criticism that Brett levels at Kant is the following: Kant’s  outlook was limited to the operations of reason. This is not an appropriate criticism given the fact that Kant sees three different aspects of the mind namely sensibility, understanding and reason and as can be seen from the argument above the categories are clearly functions of an understanding consciousness. Brett further goes on to argue that Kant thought that the higher powers of reason are the sole organizers of conscious life. Kant stands accused of ignoring the lower operations of consciousness, the sensible/imaginative psychological operations of the mind, but it is clear that this too is not a valid argument. Kant quite specifically argued in his work “Anthropology”  that the senses are not in any way an inferior form of consciousness but on the contrary are analogous to the people in a state who are ruled by a government who can affect the people but that in turn the government can be affected by the collective will of the people.  In the second book of the Anthropology Kant discusses feelings which are in one sense inhibitors of  reason(high levels of anxiety  can, we all know, inhibit the learning process), but in another sense the feelings of pleasure and pain can be united by the understanding to the ideas of good and evil and so “produce a quickening of the will”. This is quite aside from the positive contribution of aesthetic forms of consciousness to the leading of a flourishing life with a happy outlook onto a boundless future.  Indeed the psychological sensible aspect of consciousness becomes even more manifest when Kant takes up the way in which consciousness practically reasons about the ethical decisions that are taken in life. For it is here that the self as noumenon, as a metaphysical thing in itself  is revealed as bearer of the form of consciousness most defining of our human nature, namely the ethical form of consciousness which he then contrasts with what he regards as the empirical theories of Psychology which one could as well retrieve from the pages of novelists such as Fielding. This historically served as a challenge to future psychologists who were preparing the ground for a science of behavior which would become a source of knowledge about man. It was clear to Kant that moral action was sustained by a particular kind of reason for acting that should be characterized in terms of the universality and necessity of the maxims or principles one had for one’s action. These cannot be of the kind: “Whenever lightning strikes trees I am frightened ” because according to Kant that would fall under the heading of something that happens to man rather than the heading of what man intentionally and self consciously does. Intermediate between emotional responses and moral action fall instrumental actions on principles of happiness and practical reasoning, e.g. “Accumulating money makes me happy therefore I will take every opportunity to accumulate as much money as possible by any means possible”. This according to Kant is the principle of self-love in disguise and if it involves using people as a means to an end without according them the dignity one owes to them, then it is clearly  neither universal nor necessary but a product of the sensible region of the mind responding in accordance with the category of causation to cause events which result in the accumulation of money. That is, this behaviour quite rightly falls into the domain of the scientific, in virtue of the means-ends relation being cause-effect relations, and may be quantifiable. One should in this context of the quantification of action, however, remember ancient Greek warnings to the effect that feeding one’s desires merely creates a desire for more and this hardly seems a mathematical relation.

It was clear to Kant that moral action was sustained by a particular kind of reason for acting that should be characterized in terms of the universality and necessity of the maxims or principles one had for one’s action. These cannot be of the kind: “Whenever lightning strikes trees I am frightened ” because according to Kant that would fall under the heading of something that happens to man rather than the heading of what man intentionally and self consciously does. Intermediate between emotional responses and moral action fall instrumental actions on principles of happiness and practical reasoning, e.g. “Accumulating money makes me happy therefore I will take every opportunity to accumulate as much money as possible by any means possible”. This according to Kant is the principle of self-love in disguise and if it involves using people as a means to an end without according them the dignity one owes to them, then it is clearly  neither universal nor necessary but a product of the sensible region of the mind responding in accordance with the category of causation to cause events which result in the accumulation of money. That is, this behaviour quite rightly falls into the domain of the scientific, in virtue of the means-ends relation being cause-effect relations, and may be quantifiable. One should in this context of the quantification of action, however, remember ancient Greek warnings to the effect that feeding one’s desires merely creates a desire for more and this hardly seems a mathematical relation.

Indeed the psychological sensible aspect of consciousness becomes even more manifest when Kant takes up the way in which consciousness practically reasons about the ethical decisions that are taken in life. For it is here that the self as noumenon, as a metaphysical thing in itself  is revealed as bearer of the form of consciousness most defining of our human nature, namely the ethical form of consciousness which he then contrasts with what he regards as the empirical theories of Psychology that  one could as well retrieve from the pages of novelists such as Fielding. This historically served as a challenge to future psychologists who were preparing the ground for a science of behavior which would become a source of knowledge about man. It was clear to Kant that moral action was sustained by a particular kind of reason for acting that should be characterized in terms of the universality and necessity of the maxims or principles one had for one’s action. These cannot be of the kind: “Whenever lightning strikes trees I am frightened ” because according to Kant that would fall under the heading of something that happens to man rather than the heading of what man intentionally and self consciously does. Intermediate between emotional responses and moral action fall instrumental actions in accordance with principles of happiness and practical reasoning, e.g. “Accumulating money makes me happy therefore I will take every opportunity to accumulate as much money as possible by any means possible”. This according to Kant is the principle of self-love in disguise and if it involves using people as a means to an end without according them the dignity one owes to them, then it is clearly  neither universal nor necessary but a product of the sensible region of the mind responding in accordance with the category of causation to cause events which result in the accumulation of money. That is, this behaviour quite rightly falls into the domain of the scientific, in virtue of the means-ends relation being cause-effect relations, and may as a consequence be quantifiable. One should in this context of the quantification of action, however, remember ancient Greek warnings to the effect that feeding one’s desires merely creates a desire for more and this hardly seems a mathematical relation.

Moral action reveals the self as a thing itself with causa sui properties, i.e. the self-causes itself to think and act morally and this occurs in the realm of the noumenal and in the realm of what some analytic philosophers would call the ought-system of concepts. What one does is what one ought to do and what one actively does not do one does because that is what one ought to do. It is in this context that one demonstrates ones freedom from being externally caused to do what one does in contrast to internally and freely choosing to do what one ought to do or ought not to do. The good will is the free will. The good is what one ought to do. I ought not to accumulate money using people in an undignified manner to achieve the end of accumulating capital. This is the maxim of my not doing what my desire tempts me or causes me to consider doing. According to Brett this falls in the realm of the prescriptive in contrast to the realm of descriptive whose task is to describe what I, in fact, do, perhaps in accordance with the principle of causation. In this latter case, the reality of what it is possible to do falls on a continuum of possible action and encourages talk of efficiency and the causal framework which accompanies it. Here it might be possible to measure degrees of efficiency in a similar way to hitting the outer ring of a target with one’s bow and arrow  Thie rings of a target seems to measure the efficiency of an attempt to hit the bullseye. Emotional responses can also be measured scientifically when the issue is a standard which the body is measured by, e.g. one’s pulse rate: the lightning hits the tree and my pulse rate goes up to 150. The object of the emotion can also be related to this, lightning sends my pulse up to 150 whereas watching an exciting rugby match only increases my pulse to 120. We need both a constant variable and a comparison object if knowledge is to be generated in such a context. But there is no continuum of experience from the first person perspective in deciding whether or not to steal someone’s money ergo there can be nothing mathematical ergo, according to Kant, this realm of the mental cannot be the object of science. Now the normal scientific response to this is to claim that only the descriptive third-person perspective is objective and everything from the first person perspective–the perspective of the “I” is subjective. In a sense this is true but in a sense this response ignores the logic of the condition and unconditioned. The self is both the condition and in itself unconditioned(being causa sui, cause of itself) of self-consciousness. This logical requirement is the metaphysical basis of freedom. This is reflected in the Kantian rejection of the appeal to descriptive concepts in the relativisation of morality in which for example it is claimed that because Jack broke his promise to Jill to pay the money he owed her, this is sufficient grounds to question the universality and necessity of the moral duty that we ought to keep our promises. This type of reasoning confuses the realm of descriptive discourse with the realm of prescriptive discourse. “Promises ought to be kept” is the norm or prescription by which to measure how to judge what happens when Jack fails to keep his promise just as when someone murders someone at a bus stop we do not claim that this jeopardizes the universality and necessity of the law “We ought not to murder”. Of course as Kant maintained we can characterise one and the same action from both the point of view of practical reasoning and the principle of freedom(the first person perspective) and the view of theoretical reasoning : the principle of causality or determinism, the descriptive (the third person perspective) but it is important to realize that   this is merely the expression of  the old Delphic prophecy that it is difficult if not impossible to know oneself.