PNC Ground Shifts to the Side of the Subject – Kant III
I’d like to pause, before answering that question, to mention that a reasonably complete theory of the rules of elementary formal logic, how we come to know them and their character of absolute necessity, and how it is possible to violate them would need to cover not only PNC. It should include in its scope also the fallacies of affirming the consequent (AC) and the fallacy of denying the antecedent (DA). (“If someone recently sat in this chair, then it will be warm; and it is warm, so someone recently sat in this chair.” “If it’s raining, then the sky is not entirely clear; but it’s not raining, so the sky is entirely clear.”) All adult interlocutors, however meager their formal education, know in practice that they should not violate PNC in their reasoning. But the unschooled seem oblivious to those other rules for their right reasoning and keeping to reality. This is especially so when the reasoning is not about such concrete matters as in my examples, but about more abstract matters as come up in disputations in politics and religion in which they mainly want the conclusion and are not keenly interested in whether a particular reasoning to it is valid. They generally take care to avoid PNC even in heated argument. Its invalidating character is ever close with them, and they know it’s ever close to all the participants or observers.
I suggest that PNC is more obviously mandated (than AC and DA are mandated) by the metaphysical principle of identity as to the which and the what in reality and that PNC is more obviously required for keeping hold of those identities and for communication concerning them. Although avoiding the fallacies of AC and DA also rests on those aims and on those aspects of identity in reality, they are less primitive and less fundamental for discursive cognition than the logical principle of noncontradiction. Nevertheless, the principles of barring AC and barring DA have the same absolute, perfectly general necessity and normativity as PNC.
Having acknowledged the tension between having logical principles such as PNC be at once absolutely necessary laws of human mind, yet crossable by that mind, Kant in the Jäsche Logic addresses how such error is possible. The faculty of understanding would make no errors were its judgments never under illusions it forms in its commerce with the faculties of sense (also KrV A293–94 B350–51). The sensory inputs themselves are not erroneous, for only judgments can be true or false. Kant is in keeping with Descartes’ view that errors all arise from allowing our will to outrun our understanding. We alone are responsible for all our errors.
That analysis of error is fine for a wide class of errors, but not, I say, for the class into which contradictions fall. Formal contradictions are judgment against judgment, and the rather obvious sources of contradictions in one’s judgments are limitations of memory and not drawing out all the implications of one’s various judgments. The latter source can range from evasion to plain economics of mental reflections in the course of a human day or life. Like most any philosopher before him, Kant can dig into our motives for the willful portions of such errors. He cannot explain and seems reluctant to admit the existence of one’s contradictions not willful.
Might Kant’s analogy help here, his analogy between logic and grammar, each discovered and become explicit by reflection on their natural employment, consisting of rules descriptively necessary yet normative? No. The problem is that when Kant speaks of the necessity of the rules of grammar being contingent rather than absolutely necessary, he does not mean that rules of grammar are probabilistic rules. He means they might have been otherwise, and that makes the analogy converge on congruence in the crucial respect. The grammar is as necessary within a language or range of languages as PNC is necessary in any possible setting. He cannot explain (or even acknowledge?) an error of grammar not willful any more than he can explain a contradiction not willful.
Peikoff 1964 does not attempt to delve into these various doctrines of Kant concerning the character and sources of error. He takes it, like some other contemporary philosophers, that one cannot succeed in holding onto the absolutism of logical rules while saying also that we can violate them and that they are due only to the constitution of the mind. So far, my mining of Kant on error confirms that estimation of Kant’s effort on his conundrum.
What about the kind of error Kant mentioned in the Anthropology in the preceding post? That was the error of mistaking linguistic signs for things they signify and vice versa. Such signs, Kant calls artificial, in contrast to natural indicators such as smoke for fire. Kant observed that people having common language can yet signify in their vocabulary concepts quite different one person to the next. He implies that this variance is due to infirmities in the faculty of signification, which rather suggests that if we were all working correctly in our linguistic significations, we should have no variance among persons in concepts signified by a word. I seriously doubt that, given the variance in individual backgrounds of experience and education and given the creativity in thought, especially in more abstract thought. Were Kant’s rigid connection between vocabulary and right concept correct, infirmity of word-concept powers would yet not explain how errors of logic or grammar are possible. The same goes under my denial of the word-concept complete rigidity of right signification, for then there is utter incommensurability between the would-be explanation and the thing to be explained, since the rules of logic and grammar are fixed, in Kant’s view, in all the heads talking and thinking to themselves and with others. Error of signification and its source (source pretty vague in Kant) does not help to explain error in logic or grammar.
The sort of error to which Kant draws attention most famously is the one that is mood lighting for his Critical philosophy. That is the error of letting reason run off into speculations about things as they are in themselves, things as they are beyond the bounds of possible experience. Kant’s advertisement for his critique of reason by reason is that all fundamental contradictory positions on metaphysical questions before his 1781 are resolvable once we realize that opposing answers are addressing the question in different senses. One side is addressing a question about a thing as it is in itself; the other side, as that thing is an object of possible experience (A395, Bxxvii). This error is an extrapolation from the kind of error Descartes and others had cautioned against: making judgments on things for which we are not in a position to judge. Rather, we should withhold judgment and not let our will outrun our understanding. Kant’s casting as error reason overstepping the so-called phenomenal district, reason stepping into the so-called noumenal district, relies on correctness of PNC. This overstepping error, Kant’s sweetheart, provides no help to resolving his problem of how absolute necessity of PNC is on account of the way the mind operates yet that mind is able to commit contradictions.
So I concur with the conclusion of Peikoff and others he cites that once Kant had the constitution of the subject the sole source of the purely formal and purely a priori, he was not able to stably maintain an absolute necessity of PNC and other principles of logic together with their normativity, which latter entails our ability to not adhere to such principles. I add that this same irresolvable mess arises for every other sort of cognition purely formal and purely a priori, whether analytic or synthetic, once Kant has squarely located their source purely in the constitution of mind, in its fundamental dynamics, not at all in the constitution of the world.
(In the next installment, I’ll cover Peikoff’s story of the shift of PNC ground to the side of the subject beyond Kant and the role of Kant in that further development to 1964. I’ll assess his account of Kant’s role and carry the story of the ground shift away from logical ontologism to the present.)