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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Kant On Empirical Concepts

Immanuel Kant, in his First Introduction to the Critique of Judgment, talks about the conditions of forming a set of empirical concepts which cohere with each other. It is clear that some kind of coherence is necessary to ensure that the concepts that are obtained through comparison are connectable to each other in judgement.

In his most frequently discussed text from the First Introduction, Kant notes:
One may wonder whether Linnaeus could have hoped to design a system of nature if he had had to worry that a stone which he found, and which he called granite, might differ in its inner character from any other stone even if it looked the same, so that all he could ever hope to find would be single things — isolated, as it were, for the understanding — but never a class of them that could be brought under concepts of genus and species. 
Henry E. Allison, in his essay, “Reflective Judgment and the Purposiveness of Nature,” (Chapter 1;  Kant’s Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment), offers the following analysis of the above quoted note by Kant:
This note makes “explicit the requirement that a classificatory system reflect an underlying order of nature. Thus, whereas any number of such systems might be possible, the assumption is that there is one (and only one) that, as it were, “carves nature at its joints.” And the goal or regulative idea of a systematizer such as Linnaeus is to provide the system that reflects this order (or at least comes as close as possible to doing so). Moreover, since the classification of phenomena has to be based on observed uniformities and differences, the operative assumption must once again be that outer similarities and differences correspond to inner or intrinsic ones. To use Kant’s own example, objects with the observable features of granite must also be similar in their inner character; for otherwise there would be no basis for inferring from the fact that an object has granite-like features that it will behave similarly to other objects with these features.” 
According to Kant, a hierarchical system of concepts (in which every concept is itself both a species of the concepts contained in it and a genus for the concepts falling under it) is a necessary condition for the application of logic to nature, that is, for empirical judgment. (By “logic” Kant does not mean formal logic, but rather our discursive, conceptual abilities.)

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