A CRITIQUE ON KANT’S IDEAS OF EGO AND INFINITY BY KIDZU T. OWEH

ABSTRACT

During the 19th century, philosophy witnessed a great change from the usual dogmatic and sceptical traditions it use to have. This change was as a result  of Kant’s Critical Philosophy. Kant’s Corpernican Revolution marked the turning point. The central theme of his Corpernican revolution found its basis on the process of how the human mind acquires knowledge. Before Kant, it was assumed that it was the mind that conformed to objects of knowledge in reality. But Kant, through his synthetic a-priori proposition, knowledge could be derived of objects because they conform to the human mind and not the other way round. The objects conform to the analysis of the mind. The mind transforms the raw data given to the senses into a coherent set of elements, and results in the unity of experience. The unity of experience implies the unity of Ego. And unless there is this unity of experience between the several workings of the mind in accordance with the categories, knowledge of experience could be impossible. The ego is produced not by intuition but by pure reason. Kant thus said that we can never know things-in-themselves but as they appear to us. It is therefore the aim of this paper to demonstrate that though the notions of ego and infinity involved greater complexity in our attempt to continue to investigate them to nothingness, Kant’s critique of pure reason succeeded in pointing us back to some theory of signs, but never actually demonstrated a proof of the notions. Kant could not attain that infinity of the infinite reality. The denial of Ego and Infinity is a misjudgment of the objects of thought and a sceptical misnomer.

Keywords: Kant, Ego, Infinity, Critique 

 

INTRODUCTION

        The idea or concept of ego and infinity are some of the much often-recurring problems in philosophy. These problems can be clearly demonstrated by formulating strands of what can be seen or known as the commonest questions about the ego.

Questions like what am I? What kind of being or entity am I? And indeed, what exactly is the self and who is that self or the I? What constitutes the identity of the ego, if at all it is discovered’ is the ego unified or scattered? These are some of the philosophical questions that often arise on the one hand. On the other hand, questions still arise as to whether this self or ego transcends the finite plane or universe to the infinite? What is infinity? What is its realm? Can we ever experience infinity as it is? These and other potent questions that puzzle us do arise when we try to know and understand the reality of such metaphysical questions about the nature of the self and how possible we can arrive at infinity (Nnoruka, II).

In this paper, we shall refer to ego, and ‘self’ interchangeably as one concept, and infinity as another, in relation to the issues that appear from the point of view of Kant’s theory of knowledge. We will limit our topic by representing Kant within the context of his quest for pure reason in search of indubitable foundation of truth, and see whether we can choose to hold the same ground with him or not.

EGO
         Retrospectively, the 19thcentury philosophy witnessed a great change from the hitherto dogmatic and sceptical traditions of philosophy. This change which was to last the rest of the history of modern philosophy points to Kant’s critical philosophy. A corpus of literature available on the subject matter explained the term ego philosophically to mean, the central theme of  idealistic systems that declares the subject to be the primary active and regulating factor. Ego in this context is said to be an absolutely independent bearer of spiritual abilities.

                From Descartes, the notion was said to be associated with the problem of the ‘origin’ or the starting point in the building of philosophical systems. Descartes, pointed out that ego is the intuitive principle of rational thought and belongs to the thinking substance. Hume, the paramount ruler of the sceptics, rejected the notion of any substance. He reduced the self to a bundle of perception and nothing more. However, for Kant, there is the pure ego counter-posing the empirical ego from the transcendental unity of appreciation which becomes the motor of the categorical imperative, granted the rational power of the human mind (Rosenthal and Yudin, 134). In other words, Kant denied the existence of the ego by reducing it through his counter-position to say, it refers to nothing. If at all there is an ego, it is pure  reason. Kant’s attempt in this case was to reduce the ‘ego’ or the ‘self’ or the ‘I’ as being our thoughts since we cannot know a thing-in-itself. Uduigwomen, citied Chisholm as quoting Kant to say that:

This ‘I’ is indeed in all our thoughts, but there is not in                                                                this representation the least trace of intuition distinguishing the ‘I’ from other objects of intuition.We do not have and cannot have knowledge whatsoever of any such subject (43).    

          However, this remain a contradiction in Kant’s idea of the ego as we shall see in his analysis of what part the ego plays in our
attempt to acquire knowledge through pure reason. Of course, one
cannot say a ‘thing’s non-existence is its very existence, except we
accept logical amphiboly. That is, we may allow Kant the error of
unclarity of speech with his different meanings in this work.

Beyond Kant, it was considered by Fitche to be the absolutely creative principle which gives itself and all other existence as non-ego. Hegel rejects all this and traded a reversal of it to explain ego to mean a pure unity of objective self-consciousness. And for Freud, it was a biological principle where he dualises the ego and the superego following his psychological analyses of the human nature. And finally, Marx said ego was found exclusively in social relations where man is the crown of all human development in nature; man being his only creative power and motivator of social interaction, found in the material and the spiritual culture. According to Maurice Cornforth, citing Marx’s Critique of Political Economy:

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their social being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines the consciousness (54).

Cornforth therefore agrees with Marx that following this generalization about people with regard to our social being and social consciousness, materialism is given a meaning which draws the implications for us to understand our lives (the ego) in our nature and social environment.
          We had mentioned earlier that Kant’s critical philosophy marked the turning point for rational critical modern philosophy. There is no controversy that Kant’s Corpernican Revolution marked that turning point.

          The central theme of this Kant Corpernican Revolution in philosophy found its basis on the process of acquiring knowledge by the human mind. Before Kant, it was assumed that the workings of the mind conformed to object of knowledge in reality. But Kant by-passed both analytic and synthetic propositions of knowledge and progressed to introducing the synthetic a-priori knowledge. In Kant’s opinion, some knowledge is derived synthetically a-priori which is neither analytic nor a-posterior. And to show this, Kant posited his hypothesis to say that it is not the human mind that conforms to objects but objects themselves conform to the human mind. In this case, the mind describes the object its own way by imputing on the object what the mind thinks it to be. In other words, the objects conform to the analysis of the mind.

The question still follows, what makes it possible for the human mind to attempt to, or possibly have a unified grasp of reality around him? Given Kant’s analogy of the workings of the human mind, Kant impressed on us that the mind transforms the raw data a-priori given to our senses into a coherent and tightly connected set of elements. This therefore leads to the unity of our experience. The implication of which such unity of our experience implies the unity of what he called “Ego” or “the self”. At this point, Kant argued that unless there is such unity between the several workings of the human mind in accordance with the categories, we could have no knowledge of experience. According to the rationalist view, following Kant’s criteria of a-priori knowledge, we know by necessity and universality. Kant posited that:

If we have a proposition which in being thought is thought as necessary, it is an a-priori Judgment and ifa judgment is thought with strict universality, that is, in such manner that no exception is allowed as possible, it is not derived from exper-ience but is valid absolutely a-priori (43-44).

However, to have such knowledge involves what he calls the “sensible manifold” prompted by the sequences of ‘sensation’, ‘imagination’, combined with the internal powers of intuition a-priori. For Kant, it is the ‘Ego’ that is awakened by sensing the object, puts it in remembrance, characterizes it, and then makes imposition upon the object within space and time. Kant stated that it is within the context of some single subject that these activities take place. And holding still to his opinion, he argued that without this single subject (ego) there could be no knowledge. For if there were such multiplicity of subjects, whereas one subject has sensations alone, another, memory only, ad-infinitum, what he calls the “sensible manifold” could find no unification.

 What and where then is this thing Kant called the ‘ego’ that has all the promptings of unifying the various activities? At this point Kant says it is called the “transcendental unity of appreciation” which is not experienced directly but is implied by our real experience. The egois derived a-priori as a necessary condition for the experience we do have when we get knowledge about a unified universe; Kant in this regard counter-posed what is seen as pure ego to the individual a-posteriori ego, derived from a transcendental position of the unity of appreciation. For him, as we try to unify the various elements of experience, “we are conscious of our own unity, so that the consciousness of a unified universe of experience and our self consciousness happen at once” (Stumpf, 299).

 Kant affirms that the ego is produced not by intuition but by pure
reason. To him, the self is one of those three transcendental ideas that lead us beyond experience; God, self and the cosmos. They are transcendental because we can find no object of correspondence between them and our experience. The ego, he says, is the number one regulative idea which is viewed as the thinking soul or nature, representing all powers, all change and all appearances in space. Pure reason, he says, synthesizes all the mind’s activities into a unity by formulating the concept of ego (Stumpf, 300). Kant distinguished between what he calls transcendental idea from the transcendent. The transcendental ideas are those ideas of the noumenal realm which experience alone cannot take us there. The transcendent ideas are those belonging to actual being. Indeed, for Kant, there is a great difference between them, and such was the error committed by the earlier rationalists before him by treating both as though they are one. Since the ego or self, like the world and God, is regulative, (an idea which does not point to any objective reality such as we can have knowledge of it), Kant makes his point that it is our duty to consider it as a product of pure reason. Such idea, Kant says cannot be imputed to a-priori forms of time and space or a-posteriori category of cause and effect, because we imposed them upon sense experience.
         At this point, Kant shows explicitly the powers and scope of human reason. He said that in science it is possible for us to have a universal sense experience about what he called ‘the given’ because all men have the same structure of mind to order the events of sense experience. But we cannot have what he calls a science of metaphysics due to the fact that we cannot replicate the given when considering such noumenal ideas as ego or self, the world and God, as when we think of the phenomenon of a line betweentwo points (in mathematics) as the shortest distance.

           Kant argued further that we can have knowledge about the theoretical scientific world but to have knowledge about the speculative metaphysical or noumenal world makes the differential situation. Here, Kant demonstrated again how impossible it is for us to successfully discuss the ego within the context of experience even if we try to. This failure of the mind to do so is caused by what he calls the antinomies.

The antinomies therefore draw out the disagreement we do have in discussing the idea of ego when we attempt to assert it within the phenomenal realm of time and space of what it is not. This inability and failure on the part of the human mind, not being able to arrive at that indivisible realm, to know things in themselves is caused by the finiteness of knowledge. Kant asserts that the proper way we can demonstrate the thing-in-itself is to synthesize what is given in our experience of thought such that we can think of self in two ways. One as a phenomenon and the other as noumenon. But we can never have any proof of the concept beyond sense experience granted that the categories of the mind are starved of data to work on. Here lies the infinity and infinity realms which Kant makes us to know. Kant addressed the issue of infinity in relation to the idea of space and time. It follows from all Kant’s argument that there are apposite arguments to all his description, each nullifying the other. All we see about Kant is that the issues cannot be resolved by any proof or argument. Kant, in order to clear the coast about the cosmological antimony, set out in order what seems to be an equal argument.

                Kant argues in the first instance that suppose it be granted that “the world has no beginning in time”. Then it follows that “up to every given moment in time, an eternity must have elapsed, and therewith passed away an infinite series of successive conditions or states of things in the world”. However, since “the infinity of a series consists in the fact that it can never be completed by means of a successive synthesis”, we hold it that “an infinite series already elapsed is impossible, consequently a beginning of the world is a necessary condition of its existence” (Hutchins 579-580). Equally, Kant argued the other way round. If we grant that the world has a beginning, that beginning is an existence which is preceded by a time in which the thing claimed does not exist. And if we hold this supposition, Kant comments, then there must have been a time in which the world did not exist. It means there was a ‘void time”. How then can we organize things within a void time? Kant questioned. Since in this regard there is no part of any such time that contains a separate condition of being which we can make preference to that of non-being. That we may agree that many series of things exist in the world and having a beginning, the world, Kant refutes, cannot have a beginning. The world therefore is, “in relation to past time, infinite.

We sum it up to say that Kant proceeded with such magnitude of synthetically arguments to show how space is equally an infinite conception. All Kant did was to grant how human knowledge is short and limited to make assertion at all concerning the entire object of sense experience the world. It is true that the notion of infinity involves greater complexity so much so that we shall continue to attempt it to nothingness. But does our inability to represent it in our imagination render the concept meaningless? This is the point at which we shall proceed to pose a critique on Kant.

 

CRITIQUE    

Kant’s synthetic judgments marked a kind of dualization of critical philosophy, It was in it Kant saw and adumbrated the fact that there must be a universally and necessarily derived truth that cannot be derived from sense experience. For him, sense experience refers only to the singular and to the contingent.

The greatest challenge in Kant “Critic of Pure Reason” is that he never actually demonstrated a proof of what the concepts ‘ego’ and ‘infinity’ are other than a succession of mental phenomena drawn from some ascribed impressions. In other words, Kant, to my imagination, succeeded in pointing us back to some theory of signs which were notable in the philosophy of some medieval philosophers like William of Ockham. Mediating between the rationalist and the empiricists though, he succeeded in inserting a medium as Fremantle cited, “between the knowing mind and the knowable world”, on the one hand, and what cannot be known on the other, “in such a way that what had been for ages a means of knowledge became with him immediate object of knowledge (211-212). If we happen to say that Kant was not directing us to the things-in-themselves, but to his rational critical power, then we shall have rightly said correctly, like Coreth said:

 Kant’s critique of pure reason is but the self- critique of   metaphysics without being, of a metaphysics of essence and of subjectivity …, it was the critical self refutation of   a metaphysics which no longer deserved the name  metaphysics 24).

Coreth argued that Kant has demonstrated once and for all that metaphysics is impossible without a return to being. That Kant brought about the transcendental turn of philosophical thinking, which was to prove so important to modern philosophy. But as it is, Kant, in asserting the ‘self’ or ‘ego’ in one direction moved back to finite subjectivity, leaving a gap for metaphysics, if at all he was not attempting a metaphysics without metaphysics. We may appraise him for such pioneering work of the self-actuation of the finite which is said to be understood in the light of the conditions of its possibility, such conditions as are prior to it, and which transcend it.

How then, can a thing only implied, be a subject that formed the nucleus, the fulcrum around which every other thing is unified, and yet, it remains an intellectual mirage? Kant though had named it the transcendental unity of appreciation, yet said that we cannot experience it directly. As if we would ask him where the ego is manufactured, Kant said it is produced by pure reason. In this case, the ego becomes a metaphor for pure reason. The basis upon which if we were to further ask, what is the foundation of pure reason: Kant, if he were alive today would have driven us further to something another, we know not what. I share in Coreth’s opinion to say that with such universal and empty horizon of ego and infinity, we may not know as yet what ego and infinity are, to be discovered in the totality of the transcendental unity of appreciation. In fact, the pure knowledge of ego and infinity does not land us safely on our ground of intellectual acquisition and appreciation of knowledge. Kant never told us what really they are and how they are.

Granted that all branches of knowledge are linked together. And gr-

anted also that the subject-matter of knowledge is intimately united in itself, (as Kant had posed the problem of the thing-in-itself, which had further raised the problem of relativism in philosophy), is it not true that the science, into which our knowledge may be said to be cast, has some kind of multiple bearings on condition that an internal sympathy, such as Kant himself had shown, or rather the demand for comparison and adjustment is the case?

        From the outset of his philosophical curiosity towards a metaphysical science of pure reason, we can see Kant’s bias for the sciences over theosophy, just to align philosophy with science. But philosophy is ever philosophy and science is ever science. Such, they are, and we cannot contradict them, no matter our realm of knowledge. Since Kant himself had led the crusade of dualising philosophy critically, it is impossible for him to return us to the single theory lane of the physical sciences. Whereas philosophy takes the affirmative and the negative propositions of ‘false and ‘true’, its truth value remains. But it is not the case with a mechanical science that is by trial and error. Philosophy is more than what Halverson called “disciplined inquiry”. That is, referring to the sciences, because it leaves the domain of science and enter its own domain which is the foundation of human curiosity (4-5). As John Henry Newman would say, regarding how knowledge is used; concerning the attainment of truth which is the common end of all:

I have said already, that to give undue prominence to one is to     be unjust to another; to neglect or supersede these is to divert those from their proper object. It is to unsettle the boundary li- nes between science and science, to disturb their action, to de- stroy the harmony which binds them together... there is no sc-

ience but tells a different tale, when viewed as a portion of  a whole, from what it is likely to suggest when taken by itself, without the safeguard, as I may call it, of others (8-9).

In other words, much as we concede some appraisal to the physical sciences, we cannot compromise philosophy with them because we cannot all become Newtonian, or mechanical, acoustic (the causes of sound), thermal, electrical, magnetic, and other optical phenomena etcetera, as the case is. For it is reasonable to say that even the very dialectics involved in the shaping and reshaping of scientific reasoning is a property of philosophy.

 

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

If we were asked, what is actually the case about ego and infinity which Kant strives to give us an understanding into them? We would likely put our answer thus, taking Descartes’ precepts on his “Discourse on methods” in The Rationalists:

……not to accord belief to new opinions of which we had not the most certain demonstrations, and not to give express- ion to aught that might tend to the hurt of any one ... if in the matters to be examined we come to a step in the series of which our understanding is not sufficiently well able to have an intuitive cognition, we must stop short there (39-89).

Be that as it may, since Kant agrees partly with the empiricist on the one hand and partly with the rationalist on the other, he paved the way for his synthetic a-priori proposition of knowledge. In doing this, Kant demonstrated the finite scope of science to the phenomenal reality, and justified how we can use pure and practical reason in relation with the noumenal reality.

                Our quarrel with Kant, though academic, remains that he made us not to have an understanding into the infinity of human reason. But reasoning along with him as regards the ego and infinity, Kant left us gasping as to the proper definition and place which we can locate these aspects, what exist in the world out there, given his proposition of the phenomenal and the noumenal realities. Ordinarily, we may find it necessary to aver that Kant made an exception for himself by refuting previous dogmas before him explicitly, yet affirming with an implicitly sceptical bias what may be the case in the gamut of his speculation.

                Rollo May, believes that the ego or self, is a consciousness. The capacity to see one’s self from the outside makes the difference of a man from an animal. The ego for him is the source of man’s highest qualities. It underlies his ability to differentiate between the “I” and the world. That which makes him keep time, the ability to stand outside the present and try to imagine the self back in yesterday or the day to come ahead, “man can think in abstractions like ‘beauty’, ‘reason’ and ‘goodness’ (84-85).
          Conclusively, we seem to agree with Kant that there is nothing called ‘ego’ or ‘self’ but it is transcendental as he said. One thing is true, that of the many or diverse things in the world out there, something exists that keeps the unity of them in their diversity. And this perhaps, was why Kant said that “two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the starry heavens above and the moral law within” (Stumpt, 290). Our summation no doubt, relies on the fact that he could not attain that finitude of the infinite reality. This indeed, is the mitigating factor of his transcendental method. Is it not true that Kant says we cannot know a “thing-in-itself” or “the things-in-themselves”? Is it not true also that he posed a sceptical attitude to transcendentalism as it were? And if it be accepted that we cannot know the “things-in-themselves, are ego and infinity things-in-themselves? Therefore, we cannot know them as Kant argued. Kant therefore, placed a restriction on the possibility of reason, by the reason of his reasoning. In this case we may be correct to say Kant attempted to avoid dogmatism and yet, not a denial of the possibility of it following his assertions. This is a similarity of what the Sextus Empiricus’s school found of Plato’s Aristotle’s and the Stoics’ assertions about reality. And I conceive their opinion rightly that the problem of relativism raised in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is a misjudgment of the objects of thought. Thus, the denial of the ego’ and ‘infinity’ by Kant is a sceptical misnomer based only on his own perspective of apprehending reality at a given point in time and space. Hence, his own relative inconclusiveness.

 

 

 

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