A phenomenalist interpretation of the Critique of Pure Reason
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I argue that Kant's transcendental idealism is best understood as a form of phenomenalism. I understand 'phenomenalism' to be the thesis that "objects are nothing but actual or possible perceptions." In Kant's terms, an empirical object is what a set of all of the actual and possible judgments of experience that refer to its particular empirical object have in common. Judgments of experience are the application of concepts to sensation passively received, making empirical objects mind-dependent but intersubjective. I argue for this view by showing first that Kant holds knowledge of things in themselves is impossible. All putative references to them in the text presuppose assumptions that we are not justified in making. Our reason necessarily requires us to make these assumptions and hence ascribe existence to things in themselves, but these assumptions are unwarranted. Therefore, there can be no real basis in Kant's texts for saying that things in themselves constitute a world of their own that affects the world of appearances (the Two-World View), that they are sets of unknowable properties of empirical objects (the ontological One-World View), or that they are aspects of empirical objects regarded apart from sensible intuition (the epistemological One-World View). Rather, only agnosticism about things in themselves is appropriate. Kant defines an 'actual' or 'real' thing as a thing either being given in experience or as being entailed by a given experience in conjunction with empirical laws. According to Kant, 'possible experience' has both formal (transcendental) and material (empirical) constraints. Any experience must accord with the formal conditions in order to count as experience in the first place, but any experience according with the material conditions, even if it never occurs, must be regarded as equally real as those that do. If my argument succeeds, then the Critique does not appeal to unknowable things to make sense of the world. Rather, it restricts our knowledge to the very class of objects that are within the bounds of possible experience, and it renders them completely transparent and accessible to the human mind.
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