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Kant’s Antidote To Idealism Essay

1230 words - 5 pages

Immanuel Kant’s doctrine of transcendental idealism contends that all we can know about external things lies in their appearances as they are presented to us and affect our sensibility. Initially, this may seem to be the same principle found in traditional idealism. However, unlike traditional idealists, Kant does not deny the existence of the external things. He believes that these objects are indeed real. However, we cannot know anything about their existence independent of us, how they may truly be in themselves; we can only know about their appearances, which are represented in us (Kant 40). The heart of the difference between Kant’s transcendental idealism and the traditional idealism of George Berkeley can be found in their opinion of space and time. Berkeley groups space in with experience. He considers it to be purely empirical, existing only in the world we perceive and known to us purely through experience (Kant 126). Kant, on the other hand, ascribes space and time to be a priori forms of pure intuition that lie inside of us, which allow for our perception of things, thereby creating their appearances (Kant 35). By first understanding Kant’s proof of space and time being a priori intuitions and how they relate to his distinction between appearances and things in themselves, we can proceed to contrast his views with those of Berkeley. When understanding their contrasting philosophies, it becomes clear that Kant’s transcendental idealism not only opposes Berkeley’s traditional idealism, but also, in the words of Kant, turns out to be its “proper antidote” (Kant 44).
Kant maintains that space and time are a priori intuitions that we possess and bring to objects to make their appearances possible (Kant 35). Space is not a part of the external object, but is a property of our intuition that allows for the possibility of perceiving appearances of objects outside us. It is this possession of “space in thought” that gives physical form to the external objects (Kant 39). Kant persuasively uses mathematics to prove space and time as being a priori forms of our sensibility that make empirical knowledge possible. Giving the spatial example of a line drawn to infinity, Kant correctly argues that this can exist only in our intuition and cannot be conclusively proven through experience (Kant 36). Kant claims that all mathematical concepts are first arrived at in intuition by use of space and time; spatial intuition allows for geometry, while temporal intuition forms arithmetic and its use of units (Kant 34-35). Furthermore, by adding new concepts, these a priori mathematical propositions can be amplified to become what Kant describes as synthetic a priori judgments. Giving the example of 7 + 5 = 12, the concept of 12 is not present in 7 + 5 but arrives through the use of intuition. The resulting 12 can also be proven empirically through the counting of objects (Kant 18-19). As Jon Perri concludes, Kant proves “that not only can we know something...

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