A contemporary Kantian anti-metaphysics

1.) Metaphysics = a science of God, soul, and the universe as a whole. 

2.) Any science seeks to discover new information that is relatively stable and goes beyond a mere catalog of observations- i.e. it looks for universal, rational truths.

3.) Any truth is either

a1.) Necessary, universal, rational = the a priori
a2.) Contingent, non-universal, experiential/ sensed = a posteriori


b1.) Discovered by insights about the meaning of terms and the use of language = analytic “All uncles had nephews” or “all wives are married” or “algebraic cancelling is making a term equal to 1”.
b2.) Discovered by insights that go beyond the mere meaning of terms and use of language = synthetic. “A cat is on the mat” or “Water is H2O”.

4.) Logically, this gives us four propositions:

i.) The analytic a posteriori. While we can say the words it is not a real possibility. Any statement that is true simply from the meaning of the terms will also be necessary and universal.

ii.) The analytic a priori. As just indicated, these are given. That said, they cannot give us science since we can’t develop new knowledge about the world from them. The statements are true only in the sense that they tell us how the language must be used.

iii.) The synthetic a posteriori. These are the normal truths of experience. As such, however, they don’t give us science since they don’t take a step beyond the merely observational.

iv.) The synthetic a priori = By elimination, if science exists at all it must exist here. So does it?

5.) Mathematics is clearly synthetic and a priori  since the stable and universal knowledge it gives us can’t be gathered merely from an understanding of how terms are used.

We can also extend this certitude to nature by noticing mathematical relations in it, but doing this requires that we observe a thing that has a repeatable, predictable behavior exercised in a controlled setting.

6.) But what would it mean to have synthetic a priori knowledge of God, the soul, or the cosmos? If we wanted a universal law of God or soul we would need to observe repeated, predictable behaviors of God or the soul in controlled settings. But we can only treat either of these as beings with free choice, and so we cannot understand them in a way that would give us universal and necessary laws. Metaphysics degrades God and soul, which is why rational investigation into either tends to lead to skepticism and atheism.

7.) We can only have synthetic a priori knowledge of what is repeatable, and therefore only of what is homogenous or one-of-many. By this criterion, we not only rule out knowledge of God and of the human person (for personality is irreducibly unique, even where we notice patterns in it) but also any knowledge of the universe. The universe cannot be one of many. Any claim to a knowledge of the universe as a whole (as is claimed by materialism, idealism, Naturalism, panpsychism, creationism) is ruled out by the uniqueness and totality of the supposed object of study.


  1. David said,

    May 19, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    I have a friend who is very sympathetic to this sort of thinking, so I’m quite intrigued by this discussion. Thanks for sharing. So, how would a Thomist respond to this? Is the problem in 3.a, and how Aristotle understands the intellect (i.e. abstracting forms from particulars to the universal)?

    • May 19, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      5 has problems with self-reference – if these are limiting criteria its hard to account for the criteria themselves.

      The basic problem for critical philosophies is Davidson’s proof that we can’t make any sense of a limiting conceptual scheme. The Thomist development of this would argue that a cognitive scheme could only belong to a physical organ but this would result in the scheme itself not being known (physical cognitive powers are not self-reflective). Our ability to know the scheme therefore rules out the possibility of its existence.

      All attempts to bracket human knowledge have failed. Chomsky’s humility is misplaced and mistaken, or at least is a description of our cognition only so far as it is biological, though purely biological entities do not see biology as an object. The closest we can get is specifying proper objects of various knowers, but these are not limiting descriptions but only descriptions of what is peculiar to the knower. Any intelligence is open to an object that is fully proportionate to both being and non-being.

  2. May 19, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    What about on its own turf? I think it’s fair to say this piece of anti-metaphysics is aiming at a relatively stable, universal truth beyond mere observation.

    God is unique and has free choice.
    A person is unique and has free choice.
    The universe, being the totality of all natural things, is unique.

    It seems each of these is either true by relation of terms (i.e., their uniqueness or freedom of choice is just part of what we mean by them), or it happens to be so in our experience that the gods, persons or universes we have met are free and/or unique.

    The same could be said of what we say about the thing we have deemed our target – metaphysics.

    ‘Un-x-able’? Seems like you either have to apprehend the nature of the thing or make it up yourself to say that, otherwise you’re stuck with ‘un-x’.

    It’s hard to make this anti-metaphysics more than an artefact of how we’ve chosen to define terms, or something that couldn’t be up-ended by experience tomorrow, without turning it into a metaphysics.

    • May 20, 2016 at 10:55 am

      Nominalist epistemologies will always struggle to explain how epistemology is possible if it is not based on an insight into the nature of the mind it is supposed to be describing and the objects that mind is said to relate to.

      I suppose a grue-bleen theorist will say that all the minds we have encountered so far can’t have insights into natures, and for all we know our minds might get such minds in 2031, but it’s doubtful that this argument can make sense without smuggling some supposed insight into a nature into the argument somewhere.

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