Monday, May 08, 2006

Kant poll

I recently stumbled across a poll over at Kant Blog. The question is: Do you believe in the 'two-worlds' or 'two-aspects' interpretation of transcendental idealism? I think that this is a nice idea and would like to encourage those who have an opinion on this matter to submit their views.

I personally favour an ontological reading of transcendental idealism. I do not think that an epistemic or methodological interpretation is sufficiently strong to do the work that Kant wanted it to do. This holds in particular with respect to freedom. Transcendental freedom plays a highly substantial role in the Third Antinomy, as well as in Kant's ethical theory. Both the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason rely heavily on transcendental freedom and I do not think that a merely epistemic reading of transcendental idealism is able to fulfil this role.

I am slightly dissatisfied with the 'two-worlds' v. 'one-world' distinction. I think that there are quite a few ontological readings of transcendental idealism that are still in some sense 'one-world' theories. In particular, I have in mind van Cleve's theory that treats phenomena as virtual objects. Van Cleve notes that the virtual-object theory "does not give us a dualism of two sorts of existent. ... My interpretation is nonetheless dualistic in the following sense: the distinction between appearances and things in themselves is a distinction between two separate universes of discourse - not between two ways of discoursing about the same class of objects." (Problems from Kant, p. 150) Similarly, Langton's interpretation of transcendental idealism as involving a distinction between intrinsic and relational properties is an ontological reading that does not quite fit the 'two-worlds'-label. Moreover, 'two-worlds' talk has some rather unpalatable connotations. It seems to suggest that these worlds have the same status, but I believe that it is perfectly possible to combine an ontological reading with the claim that the noumenal realm is ontologically prior to the phenomenal realm. Accordingly, it is probably better to distinguish between 'ontological' and 'epistemic/methodological' theories, rather than between 'two-worlds' and 'one-world' interpretations.


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