Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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January 07, 2008
conceptual subtlety        jargonization?

Below is a whimsical experiment in which TiR attempts to translate (a previous English translation of) the first paragraph of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason into only words that are monosyllabic.

First, the original, obtained here:

I. Of the difference between Pure and Empirical Knowledge

That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt. For how is it possible that the faculty of cognition should be awakened into exercise otherwise than by means of objects which affect our senses, and partly of themselves produce representations, partly rouse our powers of understanding into activity, to compare, to connect, or to separate these, and so to convert the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects, which is called experience? In respect of time, therefore, no knowledge of ours is antecedent to experience, but begins with it.

Second, the translation:

I. How the Stuff We Know With Our Sight, Smell, Sound, Taste and Touch is Not Like the Stuff That We Do NOT Know Through Sight, Smell, Sound, Taste and Touch

There can be no doubt that our minds can know. Nor can there be a doubt that, in a quite real sense, all of what we know has its root in the raw stuff of sight, smell, sound, taste, touch or, in a word, sense.

How could it not be that way? That's the way it is.

Or, to come at the same point from a path that's not quite the same, we might say that all we know starts with the fact that we have a life and live it.

In fact, it goes like this: A thing hits us, so to speak, in the nose or eye or ear or what have you. From this, we then know stuff, in a few ways. Our mind is made to come to life and go past the mere sight, smell or taste of a thing. Our mind will start to think, you might say, to think in more than one sense of the term, to work on the raw stuff of what we saw, smelled or touched. At that point, it is true that we can then say that we "know," in a whole new sense. What's more, we can "know" in more ways than one.

Here's one way we can know. When we see a thing with our eye, we can then "see" it in our mind too, with eyes closed, as it were. We can then play with what our mind sees. We can go out and look at more things with our eye. When, in turn, we can and do see more than one thing in our mind, we can start to mix and match the views, to make in there some more, brand new views.

Or this way: We can look with our eye at Thing X and Thing Y. Then, we can ask, "How is Thing X just like Thing Y? How is it not the same at all? How do Things X and Y link up to Thing Z? How do they not link up?" To boil down in one, merged pot what we get when we ask like this makes up a good part of what it means to know.

Or this way: Our mind can add, switch back and forth, and mix up all the stuff it knows. It can try to make a jump, say, from how a thing looks to how we'd bet it will feel, or from how a thing smells to how we hope it will taste. And so on. We start from sense then go from there, in our grasp of the world and our place in it.

Could it be that we, as men with minds and brains (or, dare I say it, souls?), can "know" in ways that go quite far past the realm of raw sense, in ways that climb high up to (or down from?) the realms of pure time and space, of the rules of math, of cause, of the true and false, of right and wrong, or good and bad or of God? We shall see. It could be that some of these are the first things we know and can know, ere we know all else.

In short, our minds go to work to know what it means to see, smell, taste, hear or feel things. More than this, our minds make use of, and go way past, the raw stuff of sense and start to judge things, then to judge how we judge things.

What do I mean by "think"? What kind of "work" do we do, so as to know? I will get to this. What does it mean to "judge"? I will get to that too, I swear. Oh boy, will I get to it all. Just wait and see, and try not to go to sleep on me. You can be sure that there's a lot more to it, in ways that move on a few planes at once, that you might not see with ease at first, than I can sketch out here, in the first few lines of the book. What if it takes me more than one big long book to get to it all? Don't be shocked if it does.

I should warn you, though, that, when I use some words, I will mean them in a way that may seem odd or new to you. But bear with me. All will be made clear.

Well, I kid. It might not be made clear, or not by me, at least. Some of you who read me may go so far as to say that I, Kant, am less than sure of what I mean when I use some of my own terms. Or it could be that, by the end of this book, my feel for what this or that term means will have roamed a bit, from where it was at first, or that I will change a bit in what I want to say, more than once, but not know it and thus not tell you when I have done so.

You may come too to have some doubt with the lines I try to draw, like the line that cuts what we "know" in two, with the "pure" type on this side and the type that's not pure on that side. You may think that I grant with my right hand what I take or hide from you with my left.

I don't know if all that's true. But if it is, so be it. And so what?

Be that as it may, the main point for right now now is this: In terms of time, it's not like we "know" first and then "sense" after that. No, flip the two: It's more like, in the line of time, we start with what we sense, with what we take in, and then much of the "to know" part comes next.

What do I mean by "take in", you might ask? Well, that phrase might not be so good. It could be that "screen" is more of a good way to put it. There may be no good way to put it, not to put too fine a point on it. The words may get in the way, as they say. Yes, you may start to feel that I think the best way to guide you is with fog, not with light.

To put part of the tale in rough terms, it could be that the mind has what you might think of as screens in it, screens that are built in, that give shape to the known world that we sense, that lay down the rules by which we can know what we sense, so that we can know things at all, in a form that we can grasp and is real to us in the first place.

So, it just might be that there's much more at the base, source and root of what we "know" than the raw stuff that comes in by way of sense. We might say that what we know does not start with what we sense, nor does it stop there. What we know may not rise from the same place that it starts, if you catch my drift.

Is there not, then, some sense in which we know the world erst we know it? How can that be? Sounds weird. Yet, as I shall show, it must be no way but that.

Thus, when we speak of what we "know," we speak not so much of what the world gives us, as if we just sit back and take it or wait for it. No. When we speak of what we "know," we speak less of what we get from the world, and more of what we bring to it. We speak not of what we have, but more of what we do, what we make, how we are, what we are and who we are.

I say this just to give you a vague sense of where I want to go here in my book. But you know what? Let's not go there just yet. What I've said so far, in broad strokes, will do for now. It's not all that new or weird to you thus far, right? I am sure you will say, "No, it is not." Good. Next. . . .

Disclaimer: TiR does not purport to have expertise on Kant, of any kind.