Is skepticism self-refuting? Immanuel Kant argued that although human knowledge comes from experience, nonetheless knowledge must be grounded in some necessary truths. It is hard to see how the existence of logically and metaphysically necessary truths is enough to ground human knowledge. Following Kant’s reasoning, there are certain types of knowledge we have no access to. I will argue that Presuppositionalism is more plausible than Kant’s skepticism about certain types of knowledge, and that from the Presuppositionalist perspective skepticism is self-refuting.
If we don’t assume that God exists, we find that we can’t reach certain conclusions and are left wanting. Kant was pivotal in transforming philosophers thought about human knowledge, and significantly impacted foundation of morality in his era. Kant saw the project of “metaphysics” or “first philosophy” as concerning itself with the second-order study of the way human inquiry or cognition itself can access whatever subject matter it studies , rather than a first-order study of the supernatural or incorporeal realm of being.
In Kant’s view, we are capable of certain types of knowledge about the world in virtue of the particular mental capacities or cognitive architecture that we happen to possess as human beings. In his unorthodox approach to metaphysics, he brought the critical spirit of the eighteenth century Enlightenment – the spirit of radical questioning and self-reflection that demands every human activity justify itself before the court of reason-to every area of life. According to Kant, logic cannot have any empirical part, otherwise it would not be universally valid.
In contrast, natural and moral philosophy can each have an empirical part. Despite this apparent division, Kant believed that all of our knowledge begins with experience. In the First Critique, Kant argues “For how should the faculty of knowledge be called into activity if not by objects which affect our senses, and which partly produce representations by themselves, partly rouse the activity of our understanding to compare, to connect, or to separate these representations, and thus to convert the raw material of our sensible impressions into a knowledge of objects which we call experience.
With respect to time, therefore, no knowledge within us is antecedent to experience, and all knowledge begins with experience… For it is quite possible that even our empirical knowledge is a compound of that which we receive through impressions, and of that which our own faculty of knowledge supplies from itself, and addition which we do not distinguish from the raw material until long practice has made us attentive to it and rendered us capable of separating one from the other. ”
Kant questioned whether or not there is a knowledge that exists independent of experience and even of the impression of the senses, and a possibility is that a priori knowledge fits this description. Kant asks, “where does experience take its certainty if all the rules by which it proceeds where always, again and again, empirical, therefore contingent, and hardly fit for first principles. ” The idea is that if we remove everything of empirical substance, there is still the space in which one existed.
The individual is now persuaded that the necessity by which that particular concept has forced itself, the individual is now forced to admit that the concept has a seat within his faculty. For example, truths of mathematics are a priori. Take the Peano axioms of arithmetic. In Peano’s axiomatization, one starts with the assumption that there is at least one natural number (zero). Additionally, there is a successor function, S(n), such that each natural number builds on the one before. So for any natural number n, S(n) is also a natural number.
Beginning with only a few simple and uncontroversial assumptions, one can then logically derive an entire system of elementary arithmetic. Clearly, mathematical truths do not derive from empirical observation. No one has ever observed a natural number, nor has anyone observed any mathematical function. Our knowledge of mathematical truths then seems like a good candidate for a priori knowledge. Although Kant lived over a century before Peano, he realized that certain types of knowledge transcend our human observations, such as mathematical or logical knowledge.
If metaphysics is defined as the science of first principles, a mental philosophy whose final aim is to understand how human cognitive processes are able to have knowledge of things in the world, how can we create something with knowledge that we possess without knowing where it came from? We would question, or should question where our knowledge has come from. A philosopher’s main source comes from analysis of concepts which we already have of objects. We are supplied with a great deal of information and knowledge because of this.
In fact, without our recognizing it, many things we come to know through a process of reasoning are merely logical consequences of things that we already believe or know to be true. Some of these are analytic truths. Kant defined analytic versus synthetic judgements as follows: an analytic sentence is one in which the meaning of the predicate is contained within the meaning of the subject. That is, an analytic sentence expresses a linguistic truth that does not require observation.
For example, the sentence “all bachelors are unmarried” is often claimed to be an analytic truth, since meaning of the term “bachelor” contains the concept of being an unmarried male. In analytic judgements, nothing is added through the predicate to the concept of the subject making it elucidatory, however, synthetic judgement suggests that a predicate not thought of at all initially, and that could not be extracted by analysis can have expansive judgements.
An example that Kant suggested was if one were to say that “all bodies are extended”, this would be an analytical judgement because we don’t have to go beyond the concept which one connects with the body. If one suggests, “all bodies are heavy”, now we have to go beyond the concept of strictly the body in order to evaluate the predicate, which is synthetic. This attempts to explain that empirical judgements, as such, are synthetic. An analytic judgement cannot by definition step outside its concept or parameters defined by the above.
There is no apparent tension between the possibility of both analytic and synthetic judgements. If we take the example of bodies m above, I may first acquire knowledge of the concept “body” analytically through the characteristics of extension, shape, etc. , all of which are thought in this concept. I can then expand my concept of body. Heaviness will always be a part or connected with the aforementioned and can add it, as a concept, synthetically. According to Kant, all mathematical judgements are synthetic.
Contrarily, Kant referred to what he called the unavoidable problems of pure reason itself-God, freedom, and immortality, as dogmatic as defined by its procedure. It engages confidently in beliefs without a preceding examination of the capacity or incapacity of reason. Kant was skeptical of “leaving the solid ground of experience to erect an edifice with knowledge we possess without knowing form whence it came. ” Kant viewed these dogmatic things to be not natural-to mean what justly and reasonably ought to happen, or what would be ordinary to happen.
With mathematics and science we have proofs that have been provided as working truths in the construction of each area. Buildings that stand because of physics and mathematics, bridges that are built, medical discoveries that cure disease, and many man-made wonders are the results of proven math and science. These appear to be and are tangible and easily ascertain the analytical judgement definition. For this reason, Kant realized that any attempts to establish metaphysics dogmatically would be null and as if they never occurred. The laws of reason according to him would not permit it.
Kant asked how is metaphysics as a science possible? Metaphysics itself takes on characteristics of dogma, while its dogmatic use without critique lands us in groundless assertions, to which other assertions, equally plausible, can always be opposed, and hence is skepticism. By virtue of the above statements grounded in their procedure, and by the examples noted, defined, and categorized according to Kant himself skepticism becomes self-refuting. However, this is only the case, according to Kant’s definitions if metaphysics is looked upon as dogmatic.
The bigger problem is that metaphysics as a science cannot deal with objects of reason, but of reason itself imposed upon it by its own nature. Kant defined pure reason as that which contains the principles of knowing something entirely a priori. It can only be called a critique and not a doctrine. It must be defined on its own special terms since categorically we refer back to the argument that skepticism is self-refuting. Transcendentalism deals not so much with objects, but about knowing objects. The title of the book is Critique of Pure Reason rather than Doctrine of Pure Reason.
The metaphysical right of religion went out at the time of the reformation. Even back to the time of Christ, Paul found himself deeply discouraged at times. “Paul was disappointed and perhaps disillusioned by his experience in Athens. He felt that he had gone at least as far as was right in the way of presenting his doctrine in a form suited to the current philosophy; and the result had been little more than naught. ” Barth viewed nature as resisting grace. Natural theology would be predisposed to grace. These views are not supported biblically.
The difficulty in following Kant’s views is that it places God, and thus dogmatics, in a box on the sidelines. It takes the supernatural out of the equation. There is no defined formula to produce miracles, but yet they still happen today. Miracles are an entirely different subject, and I won’t try to connect the two in this paper. Putting God in a box is not necessarily denying God, but subjugating Him to the bench where we can reach out and insert Him where we may, and then put Him back on the bench for subsequent arguments, either for or against a given position, depending on how much sing God in this manner helps the argument.
Kant categorized according to his own purposes in working to define terms and analyze inputs and outcomes accordingly. He perhaps genuinely pursued his ideals, but came up short in the area of working to define if there is a God, who, why, what, and where is God, and so on. One of the many dangers of this strategy is that Kant relegated God, and negatively influenced a movement that relegated God that became known as the Enlightenment.