The transcendental “other”

St. Thomas argues that other is a transcendental, saying that if one is a transcendental showing the absence of division in se then other is equally transcendental in speaking to a division from another. These two must be co-extensive for us since we know by way of the principle of contradiction, and so can only understand X in relation to non-X.

One consequence of this is that it makes it impossible to say that there is any one homogeneous field for possible known objects. If there were such a field (say, of space or time, or of sensible experience) then it would not be understood under the principle of contradiction and so would be unintelligible to us. A homogeneous field of possible experience in fact renders all knowledge impossible.

And so if we posit a a priori ground of possible experience, it is impossible for it to have the sort of determination that can give all objects homogeneous features. This seems to be exactly the conclusion that Aristotle came to in De anima III. 4 when he concluded that the mind before it thinks can be no real thing. While it’s obvious that there are restrictions on what human beings can know, these cannot be reduced to the structure of the organ of thought but to the conditions under which it is presently operating.

 

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9 Comments

  1. April 23, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    “These two must be co-extensive for us since we know by way of the principle of contradiction, and so can only understand X in relation to non-X.”

    Can you provide a reference for this?

  2. April 23, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    It may be true that “we know by way of the principle of contradiction,” but it can’t be true that we know only by way of the principle of contradiction. We also, it seems to me and I’m pretty sure it seemed to Thomas, have a knowledge derived immediately from the experience of real beings.

    It may also be true that we understand X in relation to non-X, but I doubt that it is true that “we only understand X in relation to non-X. Wouldn’t we then also have to only understand non-X in relation to X, and thus be moving in a circle?

  3. April 23, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    “Only” there means a necessary condition, not a limiting condition. The sense is that every particular act of understanding presupposes the principle of contradiction, or at least all understandings that can be true or false.

    • April 23, 2014 at 5:48 pm

      Well, I am not sure. Very much off the top of my head: It seems to me that the principle of non-contradiction (as I prefer to call it), if we word it as “no being can both be and not be, in any one respect and at any one time,” is fairly complex. It seems further to me that it is a judgment that one would make only after being presented with an apparent contradiction. I have no difficulty in seeing it as a necessary truth, but I confess to being puzzled about its “firstness.”

  4. pseudonoma said,

    April 25, 2014 at 12:19 am

    I love the argument in this post.

    I wonder whether Kant would disagree? When you say:

    “And so if we posit an a priori ground of possible experience, it is impossible for it to have the sort of determination that can give all objects homogeneous features. This seems to be exactly the conclusion that Aristotle came to in De anima III. 4 when he concluded that the mind before it thinks can be no real thing. While it’s obvious that there are restrictions on what human beings can know, these cannot be reduced to the structure of the organ of thought but to the conditions under which it is presently operating.”

    I have two expectations of a Kantian response here.

    1.) The first is that Kant would agree with Aristotle’s statement that the mind before it thinks can be no real thing. The forms of pure intuition are,m just as are the possible forms of the unification of their manifold, not real unless they are informing (i.e. bringing into a synthetic unity, even if it be merely synoptic) some given matter. Even, as in the case of synthetic a priori judgment, when that matter is the pure material of time, nonetheless the unity is real only if that same pure matter is in turn a form for the material of sensation. The fact that there belongs to nature intensive magnitudes seems to testify to this unreal character of the a priori ground of possible experience. The intensive magnitude, as a measure of the quality of reality, is an inverse measure of the otherness of the given.

    2.) The more basic presupposition of otherness that Kant requires is of course manifest in his adoption of the distinction between original and derivative intuition, which lies at the basis of his characteriztion of a secondary otherness, namely that which obtains between understanding and sensibility; originary (“divine”) intuition is in no need of understanding, yet derivative, human intuition is. This already implies a primary meaning of intuition infinitely different yet analogous to himan intuition, which alone requires an a priori ground of possible experience because it is receptive. The homogeneity of, say, the pure sensibility, therefore depends both externally (in relation to a otherness of the given reality) and internally (in relation to the fragmentation of intuition) on a deeper otherness.

  5. pseudonoma said,

    April 25, 2014 at 1:31 am

    Another way to make the same point in a more succinct fashion would be: Kant requires that speculative reason make use of a negative conception of the transcendental other in order to conceive of any phenomenal object in its ground. Appearance, i.e. something’s entry into possible experience, can only be objectively conceived if that conception presupposes an indispensable negative conception of the noumenon, which is itself not nothing, but entirely other. For Kant, this would be on reason why the principle of non-contradiction can be a positive criterion for objective, i.e. synthetic a priori, judgement.

  6. D.S. Thorne said,

    April 25, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Do you have a reference for: “A homogeneous field of possible experience in fact renders all knowledge impossible.”

    Thanks


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