Human spirituality and the meta-Kantian critique

Kant makes a famous criticism of Wolff that he generalizes to all metaphysics before him, and so it can serve as a summary of the critical project:

[Wolff] would have been peculiarly well fitted to give a truly scientific character to metaphysical studies, had it occurred to him to prepare the field by a criticism of the organ, that is, of pure reason itself. That he failed to perceive the necessity of such a procedure must be ascribed to the dogmatic mode of thought which characterized his age, and on this point the philosophers of his time, as well as of all previous times, have nothing to reproach each other with.

So metaphysics failed because it forgot to give a rational criticism that would delimit the powers of reason itself. This raises the possibility of a meta-Kantian critique that demands that we first establish the conditions of the possibility of an organ critiquing itself. My claim is that this sort of meta-Kantian critique arises from the spirituality of human experience since it demands a cognitive organ that is distinct from its object only in ratio and not in re, i.e. for such a power the distinction between subject an object would be like the difference between the stairs up and the stairs down, not between stairs and the elevator.

To critique an organ is to give an account of its limits, but an essential part of doing this is to give an account of what is beyond those limits. Compare vision to proprioception – defined roughly as the sense we have in our inner ear that detects what direction is down. We know that there are possible experiences of EM waves outside of what our eyes can see, but there is no possible correct experience of what is down beyond what proprioception detects.

The criticism of cognitive organs demands resolving whether their limits are drawn in a larger field of possible experience – as is the case with vision – or whether the limits of the organ are coterminous with the field of its possible experiences, as is the case with proprioception. If the first, the critique of the organ requires knowing that there are possible objects of experience outside of our own but we could not experience them, if the second the critique of the organ demands knowing there are no possible experiences other than the ones we have.

If the organ of thought can critique itself it therefore has the resources to raise this question about thought and to come to some more or less reasonable conclusion. So are the “objects of possible human experience” like the EM waves that we see or like the ground that we detect? And to raise the meta-Kantian critique again, what sort of cognitive organ could decide that question? 

Minimally, it requires that what light is to the eyes or the ground is to proprioception, human experience is to human experience, i.e. the cognitive organ in question needs to be such that the distinction between object and subject is only in ratio and not in re. We therefore couldn’t model it either on the sense organs that detect features of the world, or on the central nervous system (whether as whole or part) detecting activity in another part.

There are, of course, all sorts of machines with a part that scans whether they are working as a whole, but this is not the model of cognition we are looking for. The copy machine in my office reports when any part of it is broken, including the part that scans for broken parts. But this requires that the part that scans be different in re from what it scans, since if it weren’t the scanning of what was defective would itself be a defective scan, that is, the report of something being unreliable would necessarily be an unreliable report, IOW, the error report that  “scanning part A101 is defective” would need to be disregarded.

So no physical system could serve as a model for the sort of cognition that the Kantian critique requires. Since all require distinctions in re between subject and object, either as one whole to another or one part to another part. But to be capable of answering the question of what limits there are to cognition requires a mode of cognition where the subjective-objective distinction is only in ratio and not in re.

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