[hist-analytic] Kantotelian Reflections

jlsperanza at aol.com jlsperanza at aol.com
Mon Jan 31 13:20:27 EST 2011

D. Frederick and me are considering this neo-Kantian proposal of a 
solution to something like R. B. Jones´s problem (are the statements of 
descriptive metaphysics analytic?). I propose to comment on a review at

ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=1466 -


Strawson and Kant, Glock, H-J. (ed), Oxford, 2003, Mind Occasional 
Papers). (A. Chignell).

"This book collects the proceedings of a 1999 UK Kant Society 
conference held in honor of Sir Peter Strawson, who is heralded by the 
editor (not implausibly) as “the leading proponent of analytic 

Oddly, Grice was Kant lecturer at Stanford and Locke lecturer at 
Oxford. No such thing as the Kant Society, then?

"Like most Festschriften, the book is a smorgasbord: while each of the 
papers has something to do with either Strawson or Kant, there are 
some—such as Robert Stern’s paper on Strawson’s naturalism or John 
Hyman’s on the causal theory of perception—that don’t attempt to be 
about both. A less wieldy but more accurate title for the book would be 
Strawson and/or Kant."

But the implicatures of "and/or" are too technical to be true!

"Still, many of the contributions hang together nicely, and two in 
particular (by H-J. Glock and P.M.S. Hacker) offer illuminating 
accounts of Strawson’s place in the history of Kant interpretation and 
analytic philosophy in general."

Hacker was of course Grice´s successor (skipping Baker) as philosophy 
tutor at St. John´s.

"I will discuss those essays in more detail below. There are also two 
essays (by Eckart Förster and Henry Allison) on the third Critique, and 
two (by Tobias Rosefeldt and Maximilian de Gaynesford) on the Kantian 
view of the self. Another pair (by Graham Bird and Barry Stroud) 
compare the merits of Strawson’s “descriptive metaphysics” to those of 
traditional “revisionary” metaphysics, taking as a focus Strawson’s 
account of the synthetic a priori."

--- So it is this pair that dwells on Jones´´s problem. Bird is I think 
a Scots. I met Stroud. He was close friends with Grice at Berkeley.

"Strawson’s own “A Bit of Intellectual Autobiography” picks up where he 
left off in the Library of Living Philosophers volume (Hahn 1998), 
although in this essay he focuses more on his relationship to Kant."

I did read the Schlipp peace. Of course I would have preferred "A book 
in the living library of living philosophy" dedicated to Grice, but he 
was dead by then.

He (Strawson) deals with the teachings of Grice at large. Strawson was 
PPE, while Grice was Lit.Hum. Plus, Strawson got an infamous "second", 
not the first Grice had gotten. Shame on Grice who was Strawson´s 
teacher, though.

(The other tutor at St. John´s that Strawson had was Mabbott, who 
discusses how brilliant both Strawson and Grice were in the little 
known "Oxford memories" -- a book published by a minor publishing house 
in Oxford).

"The method in The Bounds of Sense, he writes, was “to preserve and 
present systematically what I took to be the major insights of Kant’s 
work, while detaching them from those parts of the total doctrine that, 
if they had any substantial import at all, I took to be at best false, 
at worse mysterious to the point of being barely comprehensible” (8-9)."

"barely comprehensible" is a good one!

"My neighbour´s three-year old child is an adult and understand 
Russell´s Theory of Types"

"I fail to see how that can be but just barely comprehensible".

"Strawson thus happily accepts the charge, often leveled by more 
serious historians of philosophy, that his rational reconstructions 
have as much to do with twentieth-century Oxford as they do with 
eighteenth-century Königsberg."

--- Oddly, Kant was an expert on Oxford. He could drop all the names of 
the ports on the Thames from the Estuary up to past the Isis. Genius!

"The rest of Strawson’s contribution is a pastiche (as its title 
suggests), ranging over his own personal history, a short critique of 
Rae Langton’s recent book on the first Critique, and a discussion of 
his relationship to Wittgenstein. He includes a strikingly 
non-Wittgensteinian brief on behalf of both the existence of “abstract 
intensional objects” (like propositions) and “the reality of subjective 
experience in all its richness and complexity,” concluding with a 
provocative embrace of the “Platonism and Cartesianism” that these 
doctrines involve."

Good for him!

"Like Strawson, some of the other contributors take a position on the 
issue of appropriate methodology in Kant interpretation. Kenneth 
Westphal, for instance, begins by explicitly rejecting Strawson’s 
approach, described as the “somewhat ahistorical attempt to recruit 
Kant to the ranks of the analytical metaphysicians, while discarding 
those metaphysical elements that refused any such absorption” (9)."

This is good. Shame on Strawson. Of course, Strawson and Grice WERE 
TEACHING Kant (as B. Aune has, also). So, in some respects, these are 
paedagogical notes. It´s the originality of these people´s approaches 
that should be especially focused. Not so much as attempts in exegesis 
or teaching.

"Westphal retorts that Kant’s philosophy will only seem plausible if, 
“instead of incorporating Kant’s transcendental proofs into present-day 
philosophical attitudes…[we] reconsider some of our current 
philosophical attitudes in order to understand and benefit from Kant’s 
transcendental proofs” (127)."

------ "Transcendental proof" is a bit of a mouthful. Grice preferred 
"metaphysical argument", simpliciter. These proofs may yield "weak" 
statements (modal data). A transcendental argument or metaphysical 
argument is weakly valid if it yields a weak statement about the 
possibility of a "concept" or object, not about its actual existence.

"In this spirit, Westphal argues that the Refutation of Idealism can 
succeed as an argument against external-world skepticism, but only if 
we first accept Kant’s “non-Cartesian” picture of the mind. This 
requires granting that any self-conscious experience involves both 
receptivity to external objects on the part of sensibility and active 
synthesis on the part of understanding.¨

Strawson´s title, "The bounds of sense", is of course, a pun. Kant, 
even though he did not have one idea of cognitive psychology, would 
distinguish between "sense", "sensibility", "undestanding", "reason", 
qua faculties. The "bounds" are the limits. The limits of our 
intelligibility lie in our perceptual abilities, as it were. Very 

"One wonders, of course, whether presuming this substantive thesis 
about our cognitive psychology doesn’t beg important questions against 
the skeptic and against empiricists generally. But Westphal provides 
some illuminating thought-experiments designed to give the thesis 
independent, intuitive support."

---- And then Grice was criticised for HIS "thought-experiments": The 
Martians in "Some remarks about the senses" being the first Martian 
type of those.

"Quassim Cassam’s essay, by contrast, is classic Strawsonian (and thus 
revisionist) Kantianism."

Revisionist = revisionary

"His stated goal is to salvage an important insight in Kant—that we can 
justify some synthetic claims involving the categories without appeal 
to experience—for the purposes of contemporary consumption."

As in Coca Cola?

"But in doing so he rejects as hopeless many of Kant’s own ideas about 
the a priori, including the anti-empiricist claim that the categories 
are not derived from experience."

THIS was Strawson´s and Grice´s main claim, and their return (via 
Grice´s classicism, classy) to Aristotle. Hence the idea of Kantotle 
(or Ariskant) as a greater philospher than both Aristotle and Kant.

"My sense is that most of the contributors would side with Cassam over 
Westphal in preferring the Strawsonian methodology—naturally enough in 
a volume honoring Strawson’s work."

"Although Stroud does not continue his famous controversy with Strawson 
over the efficacy and scope of transcendental arguments (Stroud 1968), 
Thomas Grundmann and Catrin Misselhorn do. In their co-written 
contribution, they argue (pace Stroud) that some transcendental 
arguments do have the capacity to prove something about 
mind-independent reality, rather than merely proving something about 
how we must conceive of it.¨

Grice (Reply to Richards, but I think also repr. in appendix to Grice, 
Conception of Value) argues that transcendental argument or 
metaphysical argument is PRACTICAL in nature (with the practical tag 
deleted, as it were). As such it yields results about philosophical 
faith, rather.

"This claim is Strawsonian in spirit, even though Strawson himself has 
now accepted Stroud’s criticisms and adopted a Humean-style naturalism 
as the metaphysical realist’s only viable response to skepticism 
(Strawson 1985). Grundmann and Misselhorn’s argument is flawed, 
however, by its reliance on the extraordinary premise that, 
“necessarily, our perceptual beliefs about the external world are 
largely true” (207)."

Grice was charming about that. Consider a stimulus or trigger. 
Sense-data do not challenge us. Objects do. Suppose someone is scared 
by a sense-datum of a lion. Surely that´s otiose. Typically, people are 
scared by a LION, not a sense-datum thereof. So, the epistemic status 
of sense-data has a value as long as they are mirroring some 
"ontological" status of the objects that are alleged to _cause_ those 

"Later I will suggest that their defense of this premise—via an 
externalism about content plus some overly strict rules about what it 
would be for a skeptical scenario to count as worrisome—raises far more 
questions than it answers."

Here, I would quote from Loar, who invented "externalism about content" 
-- "social content" his field of expertise.

The reviewer goes on.

"As anyone familiar with these names will recognize, Glock has done a 
nice job of bringing together authors hailing from the three main 
regions of contemporary Kant scholarship (the UK, North America, and 
Germany), and ranging in experience from the up-and-coming to the 
world-famous. It is particularly significant that there are so many 
Germans involved, since it is often assumed that the more 
philologically and historically oriented scholars on the Continent turn 
up their collective noses at the perceived crudities of Strawson-style 

I think they get partially irritated that neither Grice nor Kant ever 
cared to quote Kant in the vernacular. It´s good old Oxonian Abbott´s 
Kant they care to analyse, mainly.

"The fourteen essays together comprise a manageable 250-page volume 
which should be of interest to Kantians, Strawsonians, and many 
historians of analytic philosophy as well. In what follows, I will 
discuss the essays by Glock, Hacker, and Grundmann/Misselhorn in more 

"Glock’s and Hacker’s essays recount the well-known story of the 
emergence of analytic philosophy in Britain in the 20th-century, but 
are unique in that they highlight that tradition’s complex and often 
contested relationship to Kant."

This should interest Jones, as we´ve been discussing this. Consider 
Ayer, and his sojourn in Vienna. Consider Carnap and his connection 
with neo-Kantianism. Etc.

"The story starts with the rejection of neo-Kantianism and the 
Hegelianism that was its heir in Britain, a rejection that (allegedly) 
drove analytic philosophy to its anti-metaphysical extremes in the 20s 
and 30s."

Sticking to OXFORD helps. Bradley and Bosanquet (neo-Hegelians) were 
"FUN". It´s "Realism" alla Cook-Wilson etc. that set the trend. There 
is less of a "linguistic turn" in the corridors of power that Oxford is 
than Rorty would allow.

"It culminates with the collapse of the positivist program and the 
return to a chastened form of speculation in the 50s and 60s, aided at 
least in part by Strawson’s defense of descriptive metaphysics and his 
appeal to Kant as its primary forebear."

----- Well, yes, Ayer was thought of as too schematic for the 
"linguistic" types of the Austin generation. But there are more 
complications. They were also reacting, generationally, to Ryle. Even 
within the Play Group (Grice, Strawson), there WERE distinctions to be 
made (Hare, Hampshire, Hart, Nowell-Smith, Urmson, etc.).

"Glock also releases a salvo on Strawson’s behalf in the ongoing battle 
between idealist and non-idealist interpreters of Kant. The former 
think Kant is committed to the claim that the existence of external 
objects consists, at bottom, in facts about perceivers, and they appeal 
in support of this thought to passages in which Kant enjoins us to 
regard appearances “as being, one and all, mere representations” 

Well. This is the ph-operator (phenomenon)

p-The cat is on the mat.

As opposed to a n-operator (noumenon)

n-The cat is on the mat.

Surely it is more complex than that!

"Strawson often sounds like such an idealist interpreter, although he 
thinks of this as the “dark side” of the critical philosophy, and 
rejects it as unworkable."

Good for him!

"On the other side are the non-idealist readers (Glock calls their view 
“platitudinous”) who insist that Kant is merely saying something about 
the “epistemic conditions” under which subjects with faculties like 
ours can know something about mind-independent objects (29)."

Epistemic is a misnmer. This involves judgements, rather than knowledge 
per se. The beliefs may turn out to be false. But epistemic is used 
broadly in the lips of most philosophers.

"We have to cognize such objects, if we are to cognize them at all, as 
being in spatio-temporal and causal relations, but they can also be 
thought or considered in abstraction from such conditions."

Here we get to Strawsonianism. He would think of a "person" for example 
(the concept of a person) as a primitive (in the mind-body polemic) 
consisting of a spatio-temporal continuant. Grice favours such a view 
in "Personal Identity" ("I was hit by a cricket ball": Surely "I" must 
be a spatio-temporal continuant (rather than a mere thought) if a 
cricket ball can hit me).

"These “double-aspect” interpreters include many of Strawson’s critics, 
early and late—most notably Gerold Prauss and Henry Allison."

And my mother.

"Glock’s taxonomy here is rather simplistic, since there are any number 
of middle positions and hybrids on the market (Langton’s non-Praussian 
but still non-idealist interpretation is a case in point). The taxonomy 
aids Glock dialectically, however, since he can then suggest that 
Strawson has come to the rescue with a third position which is more 
attractive than either of its alternatives. The “analytic 
interpretation” is supposed to provide a way of thinking about Kant, 
and especially about Kant’s claims regarding the synthetic a priori, 
that is both historically respectable and philosophically superior."

If Kripkeanly ignorant!

"This claim is complicated, however, by the fact that “analytic 
Kantianism” is used somewhat loosely in this collection. Sometimes it 
refers broadly to the work of those like Strawson and Bennett who seek 
not so much to be historical scholars but rather (in Bennett’s words) 
to “fight Kant ’tooth and nail’“ as though Kant were a contemporary 
analytic philosopher sitting with us at the seminar-room table (19)."

Treat those who are dead and great as if they were great and alive. 
Grice´s motto. Introject into their shoes and do not fear to change the 
idiom in the proceedings.

"At other times “analytic Kantianism” is used more narrowly as a rubric 
covering those in the Kant industry who take Strawson’s descriptive 
metaphysics to be a good model of what Kant was up to (at his best), 
and reconstruct his philosophy accordingly. The latter is clearly what 
Glock means to offer as a viable third way between idealism and 

"But that leads, of course, to the question of what descriptive 
metaphysics actually is."

Jones´s point.

"Strawson himself, in Individuals, says this."


“Descriptive metaphysics is content to describe the ACTUAL STRUCTURE of 
our thought ABOUT THE WORLD, revisionary metaphysics is concerned to 
produce a better structure” (9).

The reviewer goes on:

"Precisely what to make of this distinction is widely-discussed in the 
Strawsonian tradition, and Glock, Hacker, and Bird provide detailed 
accounts in their respective essays. They agree, very broadly, that 
descriptive metaphysics involves the attempt to describe “the most 
general and pervasive features of human thought
about the world”

by inquiring into our

“conceptual scheme, the connections between the fundamental concepts we 
use to think about and describe the world” (18)."

The reviewer notes:

"If that is a fair characterization, then descriptive metaphysics is 
not much different from classic conceptual analysis, except that the 
concepts analyzed are, in Hacker’s words, “highly general, irreducible, 
basic, and, in a special sense, non-contingent” (49).¨

I would have thought Hacker could have gone that "if that is a fair 
characterisation", it was what Aristotle was up to!

"Examples include “experience,” “self-consciousness,” “objectivity,” 
“space,” “time,” and “causation,” and Kant’s identification of them as 
essential to our mode of cognition is praised by Glock as “the central 
insight of the Critique” (20)."

Seeing Jones´s point, I would add the concept of "truth", above.

"It is also noted here that most analytic Kantians agree that the way 
to exploit this insight is not to follow Kant over to the “dark side” 
of genuine idealism."

"This last point raises the concern, however, that despite the calls in 
this book to renew the enterprise of descriptive metaphysics, the old 
Stroudian worry has not yet been put to rest. The worry is simply that 
realism and descriptive metaphysics make excellent bedfellows with the 
skeptic. For without a commitment to idealism, what grounds are there 
for assuming that the empirical world conforms to the fundamental 
categories that the descriptive metaphysicians describe?"

Precisely Jones´s point, as per his commentary on stone-age physics and 
twentieth-century physics in connection with D. Frederick´s points.

"Again, even if a transcendental argument shows that we must conceive 
of the empirical world in a certain way, it seems that there will 
always be room for the skeptic to drive a wedge of doubt between that 
conception of the world, and the world as it really is."

This is still different from the STRONGER point by Frederick that we do 
not know what idea of "inconceivability" we are talking about here.

"As I noted earlier, Grundmann and Misselhorn address that problem in 
their essay by suggesting that we can justifiably ignore the skeptic 
because the scenarios he appeals to are not genuinely conceivable and 
thus not demonstrably possible."

In the seminar room! You can play the sceptic (as I did) for three 
weeks in academic philosophical circles. It gets boring any longer than 

"This is a highly controversial claim, and it rests on the assumption 
that for the world of a skeptical scenario to be conceivable, it must 
be “explanatorily coherent.”"

This relates to Frederick´s excellent point about

"Material bodies exist" in Locke and
"Material bodies do not exist" in Berkeley.

Esse-est-percipi IS conceivable, I think. Cfr.

"Oh, I see what you mean that this bachelor is a married one. I CAN 
CONCEIVE Your use of "bachelor". It´s just not mine. So, personally, I 
cannot CONCEIVE such a thing, but I´m glad you can. It´s NOT a small 
world, after all."

"A scenario fails that test if it appeals to “properties that are 
unintelligible, mysterious, or unexplainable within this world” (212)."

"But, first, why think it obvious that this constraint on 
conceivability holds? Can’t a world that is conceivable in the relevant 
sense contain some properties that are mysterious to us? Surely we can 
conceive of a world in which telepathy occurs, even though the 
relational properties between the minds involved would be quite 

True. We can also conceive of a NON-causal theory of perception! but 
I´m glad nobody cared to expand on it in a treatise!

"There is a large debate in the background here, and no consensus on 
the precise sort of conceivability that is a good guide to metaphysical 
possibility (cf. Yablo 1993 and Gendler & Hawthorne 2002)."

I think M. Della Rocca (of "Essentialism and essentialism" fame) has 
expanded on this too in an OUP collection on precisely this. It may 
relate to Peacke on "intelligibility" in a couple of essays in Mind.

"But let’s set that aside and suppose that we accept this constraint on 
the relevant sort of conceivability. It still isn’t clear why an appeal 
to a Cartesian dreaming scenario or Putnam’s brain-in-a-vat scenario 
fails the test. Grundmann and Misselhorn say that “explanations within 
other [conceivable] worlds need not follow the laws of our actual 
world, but there must be some laws that do the explanatory work within 
these worlds” (212)."

I think we are getting closer to Kripke, or Lewis. But we may not.

"But in some of the nearby worlds in which we are dreaming or envatted, 
surely there are such laws. In fact, in some of those worlds the laws 
are presumably the same as the laws in this world (the evil scientists 
in the nearest vat-worlds are simply much more advanced than we are in 
their understanding of neurobiology). There is thus no obvious reason 
to think that these worlds lack explanatory coherence."

So much talk on coherence reminds me of Bradley, who as a neo-Hegelian, 
held a coherentist theory of truth!

"A third, related point: it is unclear why Grundmann and Misselhorn 
think the skeptic has to accept the burden of showing that his 
scenarios are metaphysically possible by showing that they are 
conceivable in the relevant sense.¨

Is it conceivable that my neighbour´s three-year old is an adult? Not 
for Strawson or Grice (¨Sorry we do not know what you mean"). On the 
other hand (usually the right one), it IS mighty conceivable that this 
three-year old does understand the theory of Types. For "understand" is 
a vague notion, and surely my canary understands the principle of 
aerodynamics, when I let her out of her golden cage.

"His arguments will still have traction if he remains neutral about 
that, and simply highlights the epistemic possibility that, for all we 
know, the world of a skeptical scenario is both metaphysically possible 
and actual.""

This may relate to Frederick´s and Jones´s point about what sort of 
necessity is otiosely appealed, say, by Kripke.

"Epistemic necessity". All those prolifferations of "necessity" remind 
me of Grice when punning on "ichthyological necessity" in his Kant 
Lectures ("It is a necessity for fish to get oxygen from water via 
their gills").

The reviewere goes on:

"Let me emphasize that the main worry here is not about whether we can 
have justified beliefs on the basis of what descriptive metaphysicians 
tell us. For if they can show that we must conceptualize the world in a 
certain way, then no doubt we are justified in doing so on at least 
some conceptions of justification. The worry is rather about whether 
these inevitable, permissible, and in some sense justified beliefs 
adequately track reality. A merely descriptive analysis of fundamental 
categories cannot give us any assurance that they do. Kant puts the 
point this way:"

"If [the mind] has to conform to the constitution of the objects, then 
I do not see how we can know anything of them a priori; but if the 
object (as an object of the senses) conforms to the constitution of our 
faculty…, then I can very well represent this possibility to myself. 

Please translate to the German! I Kant imagine Kant speaking English! 
Kant we stick to GERMAN Kant?

"In sum: analytic Kantians (in the narrow sense) offer us nothing to 
put in the place of what many readers take to be Kant’s own bona fide 
idealism, and so despite the ambitions of their transcendental 
arguments, they remain vulnerable to the skeptic. On this score, I 
think Strawson himself has done a better job at seeing the deficiencies 
of his early view than some of his followers."

"As should be clear from this discussion, there is much that is of 
interest in this well-executed collection. The contributions are of a 
very high standard, although their content is somewhat disparate. 
Strawson and Kant is a fitting tribute to the man who has contributed 
more than anyone else to the rehabilitation of Kant studies in 
Anglophone philosophy."



Bennett, J. (1966) Kant’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge.
Gendler, T. S. & Hawthorne, J. eds. (2002) Conceivability and 
Possibility. New York: Oxford.
Hahn, L.E., ed. (1998) The Philosophy of P.F. Strawson, The Library of 
Living Philosophers, xxvi. Peru, Ill.: Open Court.
Kant, I. (1998) Critique of Pure Reason, trans Guyer, P. and Wood, A. 
New York: Cambridge.
Strawson, P.F. (1959) Individuals. London: Methuen.
--. (1966) Bounds of Sense. London: Methuen.
--. (1985) Skepticism and Naturalism. London: Methuen.
Stroud, B. (1968) “Transcendental Arguments,” Journal of Philosophy, 65.
Yablo, S. (1993) “Is Conceivability a Guide to Possibility?” Philosophy 
and Phenomenological Research, 53.

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