2. The Two-World Picture and Reference to the Noumena Now suppose we consider the other main interpretation of Kant: the two-world picture. This is the more traditional way to understand Kant and still, perhaps, deserves the nod. (Here I am not interested in which picture most accurately represents Kant, but whether Kant, taken any plausible way, gives support to the idea that we cannot refer to and think about God.19) On this picture, there are two disjoint realms: phenomena and noumena, the Dinge and the things of experience. To add another quotation: Accordingly, that which is in space and time is an appearance; it is not anything in itself, but consists merely of representations, which, if not given in us—that is to say, in perception—are nowhere to be met with. (A494, B522) Now when we think about the application of our concepts to the noumena, we see that this two-world picture divides into two subpictures. (a) The Moderate Subpicture. On the one way of thinking, (some of) our concepts apply to the things in themselves; we can think about them and refer to them, all right, but we can’t have any knowledge of them. When we think about them, predicate properties of them, what we have is just speculation, mere transcendental schein, and we deceive ourselves if we think we have more. Our knowledge doesn’t extend beyond experience; hence, it does not extend to the realm of the things in themselves. This would explain that bewildering variety and proliferation of metaphysical views Kant found so shocking. The reason, fundamentally, is really that all the metaphysicians have been just guessing, whatever their pretensions to apodictic conclusions and conclusive certainty. Our reason can’t operate in the rarefied atmosphere of the noumena, and the result of trying to do so is a mere beating of wings against the void. Of course Kant also represents his own work in the Critique of Pure Reason as knowledge and as certain and conclusive. And in that Critique he seems to tell us a fair amount about the Dinge: that they are not in space and time, that the world of experience is (in part) a result of a ‘causal transaction’20 between the Dinge and the transcendental ego, and that the latter has no intellectual intuition into the former. So the picture isn’t wholly coherent. Coherent or not, however, this picture doesn’t even suggest that we cannot think about and predicate properties of God. What it suggests, instead, is that when we do, we are not on the sure path of knowledge but on some much more hazardous climber’s trail of mere opinion. So the moderate subpicture, too, gives no aid and comfort to the claim that our concepts do not apply to God. (b) The Radical Subpicture. There is a more striking version of the two-world picture, however, on which we do get the result that we can neither refer to God nor predicate properties of him (call it ‘the radical subpicture’). On both versions of the two-world picture, the appearances are distinct from the things in themselves. The appearances are objects; they exist; they are empirically real. But they are also transcendentally ideal. And what this means, in part, is that they depend for their existence on us (on the transcendental ego) and our cognitive activity. We ourselves are both noumena and phenomena: there is both a noumenal self and an empirical self. The things in themselves somehow impinge on us (taken as transcendental ego), causing experience in us; there is a productive interaction between the transcendental ego and the Dinge (the other Dinge, since the transcendental ego is itself a noumenon), the result of which is experience, the manifold of experience. As it is initially given to us, this manifold of experience is a blooming, buzzing confusion with no structure. Perhaps it contains among other things what Kant calls ‘representations’ (Vorstellungen); these are of more than one kind, but among them might be phenomenal qualia, something like sense data, or Humean impressions and ideas. The manifold must be ‘worked up’ (Kant’s term) and synthesized by the application of the categories and other concepts. Thus we impose structure and form on it, and in so doing we construct the phenomena, the appearances. So the phenomena, the things für uns, are constructed out of the manifold of experience. Well, how do we do a thing like that? How do we construct a phenomenon (a horse, let’s say) from the manifold of experience? At this point, the radical subpicture diverges from the more pedestrian version of the two-world picture, for on the radical subpicture, we construct objects by applying concepts (representations, Vorstellungen) to the manifold. The world of appearance gets constructed by virtue of our synthesizing the manifold, which proceeds by way of our applying concepts—both the categories and other concepts—to the manifold. We can’t perceive or in some other way witness this construction; Kant says we are largely unconscious of the activity whereby we structure the manifold and construct the phenomena. Still, it proceeds by way of the application of concepts to the blooming buzzing manifold of experience. This would require a way of thinking about concepts and their function that is very different from the way of thinking about them I outlined above (a way according to which a concept is fundamentally a grasp of a property). And Kant suggests a different way of thinking of concepts: he sometimes calls them rules. Kant says that the understanding is the faculty of concepts; it is the source of our concepts. But he also says of the understanding, “We may now characterize it as the faculty of rules. … Sensibility gives us forms (of intuition) but understanding gives us rules” (A126, Kant’s emphasis). And he goes on to say, Rules, so far as they are objective … are called laws. Although we learn many laws through experience, they are only special determinations of still higher laws, and the highest of these, under which the others all stand, issue a priori from the understanding itself. They are not borrowed from experience; on the contrary, they have to confer upon appearances their conformity to law, and so to make experience possible. Thus the understanding is something more than a power of formulating rules through comparison of appearances; it is itself the lawgiver of nature. (A127) I don’t for a moment pretend that this passage or others that could be cited are easy to interpret. Still, the passage does seem to suggest that concepts are rules and rules are laws. What sort of rules and what sort of laws? Perhaps they are rules for synthesizing the manifold, rules for constructing the phenomena. This is the heart of the radical subpicture. Again, I don’t mean to suggest that this is Kant’s view, but some of what he says suggests it. (Some of what he says also suggests that it is false; that is part of his charm.) For example: “What is first given to us is appearance. When combined with consciousness, it is called perception….” Interpretative difficulties abound; the basic idea, however, is that concepts are rules, rules for the synthesis of the manifold and the construction of phenomena. (They are also laws, laws whereby the phenomena are constructed from the manifold of experience.) These rules apply to portions or bits of experience and, by way of their application, the phenomena are constructed. A rule of this sort perhaps specifies that certain portions of the manifold are to be combined or ‘thought together’ as an object. So, for example, consider your concept of a horse: it instructs you to associate, think together a variety of representations, a variety of items of experience, thus unifying that bit of the manifold into an empirical object: a horse. It is a rule which would say something like: think that particular congeries of representations together as a unity. Now again, I don’t mean to claim that this is a coherent picture or a coherent way of thinking about concepts; on the contrary, I believe that it is not. But note that if it is coherent, then (at least if all of our concepts have this function21 and only this function) our concepts will not apply to the noumena. Consider the concept being a horse. Understood this way, this concept is a rule for constructing phenomenal objects out of the manifold of experience. Of course it does not apply to the noumena: it cannot be used to construct an object out of them; they are not given to us (experience, the manifold, is what is given to us), and in any event they aren’t the sorts of things out of which phenomenal objects could be constructed. So it isn’t just that the concept being a horse does not apply to the Dinge in the sense that none of them, as it happens, is a horse (all are nonhorses), for then the complement of that concept—being a nonhorse—would apply. But that concept doesn’t apply either: it, too, is a rule for constructing objects from the manifold. It is another way of unifying, synthesizing the manifold. So thought of, a concept could no more apply to the Dinge than a horse could be a number. On the radical subpicture, therefore, our concepts surely wouldn’t apply to God, if there were such a person. For God would be a noumenon. God would not be something we have constructed by applying concepts to the manifold of experience (God has created us; we have not constructed him.) So, on the radical subpicture, we can’t refer to, think about, or predicate properties of God. This way of thinking clearly displays a deep incoherence: on this picture, Kant holds that the Dinge stand in a causal or interactive relationship with us, taken as transcendental ego(s);22 and he also says that they are not in space and time. But on the radical subpicture, Kant (at least if his intellectual equipment is like that of the rest of us)should not be able to refer to the Dinge at all, or even speculate that there might be such things. He certainly shouldn’t be able to refer to them and attribute to them the properties of being atemporal and aspatial, or the property of affecting the transcendental ego(s), thereby producing experience in them. He shouldn’t be able to refer to us (i.e., us transcendental egos), claiming that we don’t have the sort of godlike intellectual intuition into reality that would be required if we were to have synthetic a priori knowledge of the world as it is in itself. (On this picture, we might say, Kant’s thought founders on the fact that the picture requires that he have knowledge the picture denies him.) If this picture were really correct, the noumena would have to drop out altogether, so that all that there is is what has been structured or made by us. The idea that there might be reality beyond what we ourselves have constructed out of experience would not be so much as thinkable.23Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief (p. 19). Oxford University Press.
Thanks. I think Kant's transcendental idealism is a very interesting idea, although I'm not sure if many Philosophers actually hold to it (mainly because it is argued that the doctrine is incoherent). But if Kant's doctrine is correct, presumably only God can know things as they are in themselves.However, Schopenhauer argued that we can know at least some things in and of themselves, our own self. From my understanding, Plantinga is a direct realist when it comes to sensory experiences. Am I right on this? I think Plantinga's critique of Kant is a good critique But if Plantinga is a direct realist, I wonder if he holds to the naive view or the non-naive view. The latter distinguishes between primary and secondary qualities, which seems somewhat plausible.