The second important concern of our transcendental aesthetic is that it not merely earn some favor as a plausible hypothesis, but that it be as certain and indubitable as can ever be demanded of a theory that is to serve as an organon.
-Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
It is likely that as the transcendental aesthetic stands, it does not meet Kant’s self-imposed criteria. We must withhold judgement until at least the end of the first Critique, of course, but probably for the duration of all three of them. It seems that there have been many Kantians since Kant who have attended to this issue and I will attempt to make myself familiar with their efforts in the near future. Before we dispense with the aesthetic we will look at what Kant added in the second edition.
Now that which, as representation, can precede any act of thinking something is intuition and, if it contains nothing but relations, it is the form of intuition which, since it does not represent anything except insofar as something is posited in the mind, can be nothing other than the way in which the mind is affected by its own activity, namely this positing of its representation, thus the way it is affected through itself, i.e., it is an inner sense as far as regards its form.
A basic reiteration of the position stated earlier, with a twist at the end. Here we begin to talk about what time means for subject’s relation to itself.
Everything that is represented through a sense is to that extent always appearance, and an inner sense must therefore either not be admitted at all or else the subject, which is the object of the sense, can only be represented by its means as an appearance, not as it would judge of itself if its intuition were mere self-activity, ie., intellectual.
Color mine, as its somewhat helpful in parsing some of these sentences with less work. It is here that, as Deleuze will point out, Kant is addressing the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am.” Therefore I am what? A thinking thing. I think, therefore I am a thing that thinks. Deleuze spends a few paragraphs on this and I will try to keep my excerpt as short as one can.
The “I think” is a determination, which is to say a spontaneous act. It implies an “I think”, but a completely indeterminate “I think”. Descartes told us: well yes it’s completely indeterminate, but what difference does that make? Since the determination “I think” is enough to determine its determinate, “I am a thing that thinks”… What he has forgotten is that “I think” is a determination which implies something indeterminate, but also that does not tell us under what form the “I am” is determinable by the determination “I think”.
Kant’s reply: the form under which the “I am” is determinable is obviously the form of time. It will be the form of time; and you will come across this paradox that Kant will himself define in an admirable formula: the paradox of inner sense, the paradox of interior sense, namely the active determination “I think” determines my existence, the active determination “I think” actively determines my existence, but it can only determine my existence under the form of the determinable, which is to say under the form of a passive being in space and in time. So “I” is indeed an act, but an act that I can only represent to myself in so far as I am a passive being. I is an other. Thus I is transcendental.
In other words, the active determination of the “I think” can only determine my existence under the form of existence of a passive being in space and in time. Which amounts to saying that it’s the same subject which has taken on two forms, the form of time and the form of thought, and the form of thought can only determine the existence of the subject as the existence of a passive being.
And we will return to Kant once more and let him finish his own explanation.
Any difficulty in this merely depends on the question how a subject can internally intuit itself; yet this difficulty is common to every theory. Consciousness of itself (apperception) is the simple representation of the I, and if all of the manifold in the subject were given self-actively through that alone, then the inner intuition would be intellectual. In human beings this consciousness requires inner perception of the manifold that is antecedently given in the subject, and the manner in which this is given in the mind without spontaneity must be called sensibility on account of this difference. If the faculty for becoming conscious of oneself is to seek out (apprehend) that which lies in the mind, it must affect the latter, and it can only produce an intuition of itself in such a way, whose form, however, which antecedently grounds it in the mind, determines the way in which the manifold is together in the mind in the representation of time; there it then intuits itself not as it would immediately self-actively represent itself, but in accordance with the way in which it is affected from within, consequently as it appears to itself, not as it is.
A passive intuition is what we all possess, it means that I am capable of being affected by things and this results in sensations. An active intuition is something we do not possess, and it is an immediate and creative relation to a thing, not just perceiving but creating. We certainly are not that kind of being. What Deleuze is pointing out here is that I can only represent myself to myself as a passive being in time and space. So my “I think” was an active thing of spontaneity. But in order to represent myself to myself I must do so through the form of time. And thus the line of time splits me. This is Kantian alienation.
So I cannot even access myself as I am in myself. Even I am an apparition to myself, though not fully. This is the point of separation. The active, determining self that is “I think” and the determined, passive self that is represented by this act of spontaneity.
So here I am, I have my capability for sensation. My eyesight doesn’t cover all of the electro-magnetic spectrum, I can’t smell nearly as much as other animals, I can’t hear as well as other animals, and so on. On this level I am clearly not accessing things as they are in their totality, alone. And Kant will go on to say, not only this, but you really can’t say that time and space are ‘out there’ because they are necessarily the forms of your intuitions. Your mind has to represent its intuitions of external objects as having spatial relations and your mind has to represent its representations as having simultaneity and succession. And this form of perception applies to your perceptions of yourself. Fundamentally this feels very monumental but in ways that you can’t immediately assign consequences to.
And it is by this maneuver that Kant will rescue free will, or at least its possibility. For casuality, as we will see shortly, is one of the universal categories applicable to all phenomena. It is one of the a priori parts of the function of my perceiving. But beyond things as they appear, like time and space, causation can be said to have no reality. At least none that we can speak of, for we cannot speak of those things beyond the way in which they appear to us. If causality is deterministic, then how do we escape it? Our will is not a thing as it appears to us, but a thing in itself. And thus for our will there is no space nor time nor causality. This is very mysterious. Our will is thus truly noumenal and free to cause as it wants within the phenomenal world. For Kant, beings that possess reason possess will, and one of the attributes of the will is freedom.
Imam al-Ghazali and the occasionalist school of thought called Asharism maintain that God is the only cause of all effects, denying even the effective cause taken up by the Aristotelians. Things are because God wills it and only because of this. It is somewhat close to Hume when Ghazali says that when you apprehend fire burning cotton and say that the fire must burn the cotton for it has the property of burning and there is fire and there is cotton Ghazali responds that you have merely apprehended the simultaneity of fire and cotton but not causation. For Ghazali, we cannot actually perceive cause and effect, and much like Hume he would say that it is a human custom to ascribe causation to things that have some simultaneity.
The Ashari position on free will is one that runs between determinism and full freedom of action. Man cannot be the creator of any of his actions, for God has the only power, and God is the only creator, and thus man would seem very unfree. But the Asharis say this is not entirely so. They would grant that man can acquire (kasb) actions through their intentions. A man intends to pray and God allows this. In any case, it remains entirely within God’s will and power. We see causality and universality in this merely because it is God’s custom, so to speak, to cause certain things in relation to other things which He has caused. But it is not necessary.
Does it then follow that I can create intentions but not actions? What does it mean to create an intention versus an action? Or does God create both and thus my ability to freely intend is in effect something that is entirely veiled from me?
I wonder myself if we could not see some places where Kant and Asharism might find some agreement, though it would not seem it perhaps. For Kant, my will is free. The only thing we can say about the noumenal world is nothing. We don’t know a thing about it. But we know that we don’t know. And my will is in the noumenal world. And could that be the plane of kasb? Certainly when we attempt to speak of God and causation we are working with the faculties of perception that we have and what limits us certainly cannot limit God in any way for God is completely undetermined by anything. Kant would see the will as a first cause of my actions, but only because he limited causation to the world of the phenomenal and since Kant would say that you cannot apprehend God with your senses (and since talking about the mysterious immanence of God in the Qu’ran would frighten Kant with images of nomadic Turks on horseback we will spare him the anxiety for now) then he would not feel himself able to factor God into the scheme of causality.
But you could easily break with Kant and say that the will is in actuality the acquirer of your actions through its intentions. Would it be possible to agree with the Asharites that indeed there is no true causation beyond God but since we are dealing not in truth insofar as that is really referring to things in themselves then we are free and must and often do speak of causation in terms of phenomena? For even occasionalists use causation as a practical heuristic, a means of thinking and speaking and thus getting by in the world. And is causation even a coherent concept, and could it even apply on any level beyond as a heuristic? When we speak about God causing things is this merely a language that communicates to us in a way that we can understand truths about God, but only in the sense and form that we can comprehend them? For is not our thought limited by time, as Kant says? There is clearly much that is beyond thought’s capability. This is what makes the forms of intuition compelling, attractive. They speak to this innately felt sense of being limited within ourselves. Thought limited internally.
Of course, the meeting of these two conceptions isn’t peaceful. Kant desperately needs to preserve an empirical realm of phenomena that can allow for the assertion of truly universal things, the apodictic certainty of geometry, etc. and an Asharite can never admit that anything necessarily follows anything beyond God having willed it to be so. But Kant’s separation of phenomenal and noumenal worlds leaves room for a certain amount of play in these ideas, not that Kant or perhaps any Asharites would be very immediately comfortable with it.
According to a hadith qudsi, “The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me, but the heart of My believing Servant does contain Me.”
Though it is not a wholesale endorsement, especially in light of how little we have read, I will say that there is much that we seem to understand and embody as human beings, that is not directly speakable, which is not containable in a concept or a word or a phrase. So much unspoken and thus so much unthought and yet so much that is still there. The experience of reading the Qur’an, or reciting in prayer, imparts an inconceivable and indefinable something that is beyond just outer meaning. It gives one the feeling that as much is said in the words, so much is said around them, perhaps. The Divine Speech is a mystery but also something one can experience. And Kant seems to me to be, in part, respecting these boundaries. He is, after all, a great thinker of limits and structures and order. Many try to systematize within the Greek tradition, but there are inherent limits to this, I think. And thinking is what we ought to keep doing, and doing it in different directions, with care but exuberance for life, for the ability to find ways we previously didn’t have of speaking about truth. But remembering the limits in the process of this act, or these acts.