Inductive Logic

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

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34. Contrary to Kant’s Unreason


1.    Experience, Space and Time

Among Kant’s fundamental errors was his assumption that empirical data is initially without unity, being a confused mass of myriad sensations, and that it needs to be united by rational means of some sort, before it can at all constitute an object of perception.

On this basis – and the use of many arbitrary assertions and woefully circular arguments[1] – he argued for the primacy of his a priori “forms of sensibility” (pure intuitions of space and time), i.e. that such “knowledge” of space and time is antecedent to (if not precedent to) any experience to which they are applicable and which they sort out and explain.

On what basis could Kant possibly claim to know that raw data is not unitary and needs unification, if he denies the possibility of access to raw data without a priori categories? How would he know about raw data and about the a priori forms, without reference to them first? How would he explain and justify his claim? Such a claim on his part is (if not plainly self-contradictory) of necessity arbitrary; it constitutes a hidden first premise of his philosophical system that he treats as axiomatic without valid reason. There is nothing obvious or absolute in this assumption of his. It is an unnecessary complication and mystification of the theory of knowledge. No transcendental knowledge of any sort is involved, but just say-so.

On the surface, Kant’s supposition that sensations need to be integrated before perception becomes possible might seem reasonable. If the perception is as commonly described perception of mental products of sensations, i.e. if what we perceive are presumed “representations” rather than the presumed external causes of sensations, then indeed one would expect some mechanism to fuse together the myriad sensory impressions (of the various sense organs, and the many parts of each sense organ). In ancient philosophy, this was called the “common-sense;” in neurology, one would refer this task to the brain.

However, this explanation of the role of sensation is a far from certain theory. Indeed, as I argue repeatedly here and elsewhere, it is an internally inconsistent and therefore untenable one. But even ignoring the paradox it entails, just consider the empirical facts involved. We cannot credibly even suppose that sensations are numerous and complex enough to produce images, sounds and other phenomena as rich as those we encounter in perception of physical objects.

When in my daily walks I look at the blue sky, the mountains, the lake, the greenery, the passersby and the colorful ducks, I do not for a moment suppose I am seeing images of such things great and manifold in my head, but naïvely consider that I see the things themselves. To opt for the hypothesis of images would mean that I am producing or reproducing in my mind an enormous quantity of data; just think of the amount of information involved in such an experience. Why suppose I am experiencing a parallel universe in my head, when I can just as easily suppose that I am seeing the universe itself? There is a difficult hypothesis either way, so why not opt for the simpler, more obvious supposition?

If philosophy has any need of a “Copernican revolution,” this admission of perceptual realism (as against the prevalent perceptual idealism) is surely it. It is a revolution much more radical than the one Kant proposed, and much more convincing.

This natural supposition of the common man seems much more reasonable than the one proposed by philosophers and scientists. It compares the qualitative and quantitative characteristics of what we call mental phenomena and what we call physical ones. The contrast in clarity and complexity is all too evident, and sufficient to suggest direct perception of external objects. It is true that some dreams we have are very sharp; some so much so that they seem like ‘visions’. But the large majority of visualizations and dreams are rather vague or approximate. Sensations could never conceivably suffice to reproduce the reality we routinely perceive.

Indeed, some scientists have expressed surprise at the simplicity of sensory messages (electrochemical processes in the nervous system), compared to the complexity of the content of consciousness they are supposed to produce. This suggests that the process of sensation has little if anything to do with perception as such, but rather concerns memorization. Through perception, we independently judge the correctness and reliability of our simultaneous memorizations. Without this distinction, we would be hard put to explain how we evaluate individual memories, and judge them right or wrong; all memories would be uncertain, impossible to evaluate.

Memorization is what makes imagination possible. Imagination is only possible after and as a consequence of memorization, in the way of a rearrangement of memories of experiences or of abstractions from such memories. Mental phenomena are – it is much more reasonable to suppose – merely weak and imperfect reflections of physical phenomena. Imagination, the willful recombination of memories, does not affect what we perceive, but only what we remember. Imagined theses, i.e. hypotheses, can be tested because we can refer to perception independent of memory; if we had no direct perception of externals, but only apparent memories, it would be useless to recombine them, because we could never test them.

Memory of an experience is not identical with the experience. The experience is primary, a given; the memory is secondary, a construct out of sensations. Apparent memories of external objects could not properly be called memories until they are validated through independent, direct perception of those objects. Until then, they have the logical status of mere “impressions or ideas” (to use Hume’s terminology) – i.e. they are just mental items, themselves not validated and therefore incapable of validating others. This is of course the ‘grain of truth’ in Hume’s theory, which gives it some power of conviction. But the ‘husk of falsehood’ in it is Hume’s willful failure to take direct perception into consideration, which results in self-contradiction.

Memories can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, i.e. accurate or inaccurate renditions of certain experiences. Memories can in time deteriorate (or be lost); we can also train our memory to improve. We judge memories with reference to the experiences they claim to represent or correspond to, using adductive techniques – which means we regard them collectively as somewhat hypothetical. We can instinctively[2] usually tell the difference between a memory and an imagination, but sometimes the latter are confused with the former. This is why we need adduction based on actual experience: to objectively judge the difference.

Mentalists and subjectivists express incredulity as to the possibility of direct consciousness of objects, and aver instead that cognitive processes necessarily produce mirages. It is unthinkable in their view that we directly perceive physical phenomena, but quite conceivable that we directly perceive mental phenomena. I ask: why this prejudice? Surely, the latter is as amazing and inexplicable as the former. In either case, consciousness of one thing by another is something best described as miraculous, for lack of a better word – whatever the presumed substance of its objects or distance from the subject. If we lose this sense of wonder, and regard consciousness as just some other routine “phenomenon,” we are skimming over something very, very surprising.

Those who prefer inner perception to outer have no argument in support of their thesis. The very distinction between inner and outer depends on the presupposition that we can tell a difference between them, if only in appearance. It follows that, at a phenomenological level, inner and outer – i.e. mental and physical – are on the same plane, equally capable of being the true state of affairs. There is no a priori or ab initio basis for a prejudice, one way or the other; the issue can only be resolved in a wider context, with the help of inductive logic.

The phenomenological truth of human knowledge is exactly the reverse of how Kant views it: first we experience raw data, and then only do we mentally process the information so obtained. Raw experience is experience of the totality of the here and now within the immediate range of one’s consciousness. It is essentially pure of rational interference, though reason is quick to try sorting it out almost as soon as it occurs. Thus, experience is initially unitary and only in a second phase is it rationally made to explode into seeming multiplicity, with variations in space, time and circumstance.

This is a truth evident to anyone who has practiced meditation to the stage of contemplation. One is constantly in the here and now, even though the scenery around one changes continuously in various respects[3]. In this cognitive posture, one is observing without comment of any sort (verbal or non-verbal). And indeed, even if thoughts do arise, they are viewed as just part of the scenery. The non-here and/or non-now are mental projections in the here and now; we here and now remember or imagine things beyond the here and now.

The self in fact always resides in the here and now, even if its attention is usually strongly drawn towards some place else and/or some other time. There seems to be a natural force (of varying intensity) pulling us away from the here and now, perhaps for biological reasons of survival. Nevertheless, through a contrary effort of stillness and silence, we can volitionally bring our awareness back in the here and now; and with much training this can become a habit.

Buddhist psychology has, in my view, well explained what it is that draws us out of the ‘here and now’ into the ‘there and/or then’[4]. It is the pull and push of desire (and aversion). We cling to (or away from) some passing content of the ever unfolding here and now, and become absorbed by it. Our attention becomes locked onto it for a while, fed by and feeding memories and fantasies. To avoid this malady, it is necessary to practice non-attachment.

The content of raw experience is essentially a continuous field, not only at any given moment but also from moment to moment. The division of experience into moments is already a rational act; experience itself is one across time. More precisely, experience is only of the present, and any consideration of past (memory) or future (anticipation) is rational rather than experiential. We are always in the present, whose changing appearance is all part of the present. Mental impressions of memory or anticipation may float over more present-seeming appearances, but they must be regarded phenomenologically as in the present too, and only separated out of it by rational reflection.

Similarly, the imaginary cutting up of the visual and other phenomenal fields into distinct parts – and on a later, more abstract plane, the distinction between whole and parts of space as such – this is rational activity that comes after actual experience. Such rational acts presuppose phenomena to act on, and therefore must lag slightly behind the experiences they are applied to. Nevertheless, they do not necessarily rely on memory, because what we experience as “the present” is not an instant, but a moment of time – i.e. the present has a temporal extension, it is not a mere point in time.

Thus, it is we who mentally cut experience up and then bind it together, through various rational acts. These acts occur in the present, like all existing things and events. Before we can locate ‘parts’ of experience variously in space or time, or classify them together in any way, we must differentiate them from each other. For example, we may choose to consider visible blobs of colors as distinct things; thereafter we may regard these items as spatially or temporally separate, or this color and that one to be the same or at least similar (the same to some extent but differing in shade, say).

It is clear from such analysis that locating things in space and time is a relatively complex act of reason. Before we can actually give things spatial and temporal dimensions (positions, shapes and sizes), we have to engage in numerous simpler acts of dividing and discriminating, equating and differentiating, comparing and contrasting, isolating and reassembling. Note that all of these acts involve affirmation, and some involve negation; they constitute rational judgments based on experience. But note too that none of these judgments need involve words, though they often do so because this facilitates them (especially when they are numerous and tangled).

Kant would regard all such rational acts as involuntary a priori characterizations of experience, but they are clearly not that. They are essentially voluntary acts of conceptualization, of various degrees of complexity. Usually, such acts are so deeply habitual that they are almost automatic. But in truth, they cannot be claimed automatic, because: (a) very often we lazily skip doing them altogether, and (b) if we do choose to do them, we must make a conscious effort to get them done.

Generally, the simpler conceptual acts tend to be done unthinkingly, whereas the more complex ones require more of an intellectual effort. No doubt, Kant was partly misled by this common observation into regarding space and time as “intuited” instead of as conceived. Contrary to what Kant suggests, no conception is needed to experience raw data. Concepts are later cognitive tools, used to organize the data already experienced, so as to draw inferences from it and build theories around it in pursuit of further information. They are thus far from a priori building blocks of human knowledge; they are quite a posteriori.

Kant proposed his theory of the forms of sensibility (space and time), as well as the forms of understanding (the categories of causality, etc.), in order to explain and somewhat justify our apparent knowledge of a material world beyond our senses, i.e. in the way of an attempt to mitigate Descartes’ mind-body dichotomy and Hume’s problems with induction[5]. In fact, however nice their motive, his proposals aggravated and perpetuated these philosophical difficulties.

Kant suggested, simply because he could think of no better explanation and justification of external knowledge, that reason molds experience in accord with these forms. According to this view, the forms of sensibility act on incoming experience in the way of a pigeonhole, and therefore of a straightjacket. But his assumption of forcible limitation naturally implied a distortion of experience by our faculties, for what is limited somewhat is necessarily twisted out of shape – i.e. it is other than it would otherwise be.

In Kant’s view, if the forms did not structure the raw data provided by the senses, experience would not be at all possible. He thus pretentiously claimed to know and to tell us “what makes experience possible,” But his theory certainly does not greatly elucidate that mystery, and it is doubtful anyone could answer such a question in sufficient detail. In any event, it is untrue that we need to know how experience arises in detail before we can at all rely on experience.

That experience is possible is given by the simple fact that it is, i.e. that we have experience. Experience is empirically given. There is no logical need for any other proof that it is possible! As for the reliability of experience, this is not something that can be proved by deductive means as a starting point. It is however something that can be reasonably assumed to begin with, and ultimately credibly established by use of inductive logic.

The argument in favor of experience would go as follows. Experience (whether by inner or outer perception, or by intuition) is all we have in the way of concrete content of consciousness. There is nothing else to refer to – for abstractions have no existence without previous experiences, i.e. they are evidently rational derivatives of experience.

Our abstract knowledge is simply an attempt to report and remember relatively briefly what we have found in experience so far and to try and anticipate what may come into it later. Such knowledge is mostly tentative – i.e. it may be right or wrong – and the way we determine its validity in each case is with reference to both experience and logic.

If experience is taken phenomenologically, as mere appearance, this starting point is quite sufficient, for it in fact assumes nothing beyond itself. Once we have experienced something, we know what we experienced, and (provided we remember it and remain lucid and honest about it) we will not be fooled by fanciful abstract constructs.

There is of course a need to distinguish between different types of experience: immediate experiences (whether material, mental or spiritual), and their derivatives, viz. memories, imaginations and anticipations (all of which are mental). Such distinction is partly evident at the outset, with reference to the character and intensity of the experiences, and partly the result of later ordering in accord with inductive logic.

There is no rational realm floating in the air, above, below, before, behind or beyond the realm of experience. The rational realm is an outcrop of the realm of experience. Reason helps humans make sense of the world of experience, after the fact. It cannot per se affect, modify or distort experience, because experience (i.e. our experiencing) invariably precedes it.

Reason needs something to act on before it can act at all; it cannot produce experience and it has no power to affect what has already presented itself to us. Reasoning always occurs in relation to some given content of consciousness, in response to some occurring or occurred experience. Reasoning cannot exist apart from some object of consciousness to reason about. This is true at all levels and in all areas of reasoning.

Consciousness per se has no phenomenal attributes, note well. It is the transparent relation between us (the Subjects of consciousness) and our percepts or concepts (the concrete or abstract objects or content of consciousness).

From this phenomenological ground, and the attendant deductive and inductive logical insights in accord with the laws of thought, we can gradually build up a reasonably true to experience body of knowledge. Reason is an efficacious tool of knowledge, if used with due regard to experience and logic.

Kant on the contrary believed that space and time cannot be found in or grasped from experience, and so can only be explained as impositions of specialized faculties that integrate sensations into perceptions. According to him, we cannot experience anything at all until after sensations have been artificially ordered in space and time by these faculties. The “forms of sensibility” thus forcibly give form to the sensible; and such ordering is therefore purely intuitive (in the Kantian sense of that term) and not empirical, a priori and not a posteriori.

The implication of such a viewpoint is that our notions of space and time are given and fixed, for everyone and forever. Yet the documented history of human thought on space and time is that our notions of them are uncertain, varied and changing. Still today, there are doubts and differences of opinion in these matters, and we continue to hope our understanding of them will further evolve.

This historical fact is sufficient proof that Kant’s theory that space and time are not empirical percepts or concepts, but forms somehow imposed by our faculty of sensibility, is wrong. For, to repeat, if Kant’s view were correct, there would be no change across human history in our ideas concerning space and time. We would collectively have a definite, common and static view of them. Our faculties could not adapt to changing data and yield new theories about space and time.

The truth is, our ideas in this field have evolved greatly through history, and also change as we individually grow and become more educated.

The Greek geometers and philosophers developed certain views of space and time. Zeno found certain difficulties in them. In modern times, Descartes invented coordinate geometry. Newton and Leibniz developed their differential and integral calculus. Kant’s deterministic-subjectivist view was itself one stage in the historical development of these notions. Many other philosophers have since had their say on the topics of space and time, notably Husserl.[6]

Among recent physicists, Einstein proposed revolutionary ideas, which tied time to space and adopted non-Euclidean geometry for them. Gödel showed that theory left some unanswered questions[7]. Hawking and others have lately greatly affected our views, with reference to black holes and the Big Bang. And of course, string theory with its additional dimensions no doubt further complicates matters.

All that goes to show that space and time are inductively developed percepts and concepts. Note well that not only the concepts, but even their perceptual basis varies over time: for instance, the discovery of the constancy of the measured velocity of light (through the Michelson-Morley experiments) greatly (thanks to Einstein theory of Relativity) changed our view of space and time. If these percepts and concepts were constitutional or structural as Kant implies, they would be static and independent of all experience.

This simple historical observation demonstrates incontrovertibly the inaccuracy of Kant’s mechanistic view of our knowledge of space and time. Kant’s view is rightly labeled “Idealism” (though not in the sense of Plato’s transcendentally existing Forms or Ideas), because it effectively divorces our percepts and concepts of space and time from experience. His theory implies that they are inventions of our faculties, i.e. ultimately equivalent to figments of the imagination, with no real relevance to or dependence on empirical data.

In my view, space and time are partly percepts directly given in experience, and partly concepts drawn by us from experience using logic (notably, the laws of thought). With regard to space: its first two dimensions are empirical facts evident through perception, while its third dimension requires additional logical work to be projected and so is more conceptual. As regards time: we do not perceive any such thing; it is entirely conceptual, though based on the perception of change. We experience phenomena in flux, and postulate time to make such change more reasonable.

More precisely put, regarding space, every visual experience involves spatial extension, at least in the sense of having two dimensions (though the latter characterization of space, in terms of dimensions, is a later and more conceptual development). What we call the third dimension (again, later, at a still more conceptual level) is the outcome of a rational attempt by us to make sense of certain apparent contradictions in the first two dimensions. For examples, that one thing seems to (over time) move behind or in front of another, or the effects of perspective (proximity and angle from the observer). To resolve such difficulties at the perceptual level, or interpret what we see, we introduce the third dimension, in the way of a successful inductive hypothesis.[8]

The location of auditory phenomena in space is a separate issue. The auditory phenomena are of course perceived, but their placement in space is always an inductive hypothesis, sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Similarly, the precise location of our touch sensations in our body and taste sensations in our mouth depend on an imaginary mapping of space, after physical space has already been visually perceived and understood. Thus, the phenomenon of space is primarily visual and only secondarily involves the other phenomenal modalities.

Furthermore, there seems to be two extensions of space, one mental and one physical. These may overlap transparently, in the sense that we seem capable of projecting some mental phenomena (hallucinations) into outer space side by side with physical phenomena. Moreover, it seems evident that mental phenomena cannot exist if we have not first come into perceptual contact with physical phenomena; that is, mental phenomena rely on memories of physical ones, which by the power of imagination we manipulate (in a second stage), as we will. Thus, mental extension is in a sense a product of physical extension. Nevertheless, the two spaces exist, and it would be an error to speak of the one and ignore the other.

If we consider measurement of extensions (comparing shapes, lengths of lines, areas of surfaces, volumes of bodies), it is possible in both spaces. Such measurement is based on using some concrete thing (like a physical or imaginary ruler) as an intermediary scale, to compare one length to all others. However, mental measurement of internal or external space (the latter by a sort of hallucination) is necessarily approximate (though some people are better at such estimates than others). Physical measurement is considerably more accurate, and we have found many ways to perform it.

The mathematical science of geometry is an attempt to explain and anticipate various apparent regularities in spatial existence. But this science has a great inherent difficulty, in that its basic units of consideration, viz. points, lines and surfaces, are not empirically given, whether in mental or physical space, but require purely verbal negative suppositions to be adequately defined. We cannot actually see a point without any extension, or a line or surface devoid of further thickness[9]. We have to specify by means of verbal negation what we intend concerning them. So, the points, lines and surfaces dealt with by geometrical theory are clearly and definitely concepts; they idealize percepts, but are not percepts. They are, at best, abstractions from approximate concretes; they not purely empirical objects.

All the above factors regarding space are mentioned here so as to remind us that what we call “space” has many aspects and involves many considerations. There is space in the purely perceptual sense, as it appears in any and all visual experiences. Visual experience without extension is inconceivable, contrary to Kant’s suggestion. We could not see only a dimensionless point; and in uniform light (or even total darkness) we would still see an extended space (or void). Therefore extension (in two dimensions, to repeat) is given in experience and does not need to be as Kant suggested imposed on experience.

Moreover, there is a subsequent development of the concept of space, first with regard to a third dimension, second in correlation with other phenomenal modalities (sound, touch, taste), and onward using more abstract considerations. By the latter I mean: giving space a name, developing a theory of space, the notion of dimensions, evolving a geometry of space, first Euclidean and then non-Euclidean, and so forth. At an advanced stage, we realize the relativity of spatial and temporal measurements, and develop a theory of relativity, then a theory linking space and time. And the conceptualization of space goes on and on, for there are still many unsolved mysteries.

Similarly, the word time refers to many levels of consideration, from the pure perception of motion in space and qualitative changes (visual or otherwise) – to very abstract concepts and complex theories. Time is not itself perceived but largely conceived with reference to experiences of motion and mutation. Time is a concept, and not at all a percept (unlike the first two dimensions of space). Indeed, the most perceptual part of change is that which is evident now (in the present); change occurring in the past and more so in the future requires still more conceptual means to grasp (notably reliance on memory and on imagination). Propositions have to be formulated and justified.

What is given to us in experience is motion and change; but since these seem to us to imply contradictions, we invent the concept of time to resolve the contradictions somewhat. We say: though this thing or moment differs from its predecessor or successor in my experience, there is no contradiction because they are in different positions in a “time” dimension. We thus invent time, somewhat in analogy to space, although such analogy has its difficulties, since it presents time as static rather than dynamic and fails to clearly distinguish between present, past and future.

We notice, too, that there are apparently an inner time and an outer one. That is to say, mental events call for a harmonizing concept of time just as physical events do[10]; and since these two sets of events seem to occur in separate domains, we can effectively speak of two time streams. Or eventually, perhaps, one time stream to explain both sets of events. Here again, the issue of measurement arises, using a physical clock or mental metronome (i.e. using certain standard motions or changes for comparison with others).

And here again, the concept becomes more and more abstract and complicated, as we seek to better understand it and build theories around it, and relate it to other things (like space, in the theory of relativity). Certainly, the concept of time is full of difficulties, which I need not go into here, for they are widely known. E.g. How stretched in time is the present? Where have past instances of the present gone, and where will future instances of the present come from? We hope over time we will overcome more of these epistemological and ontological difficulties and others we do not yet notice. Yet the concept of time is very useful, so we continue to use it anyway.[11]

What here should be stressed is that our concepts of space and time are built up inductively from various percepts. Inductively means using generalization and particularization, adductive logic (confirmation, rejection of theories). These concepts do not, as Kant implies, antedate and themselves form the percepts in some way. We should not confuse the formation of concepts out of percepts, with the Kantian idea that the percepts are formed out of sensations. For it is such confusion that gives Kant’s theory a verisimilitude it does not deserve.

For instance, Kant’s theory of space seems justified by our common belief that our eyes subdivide the light coming from a physical object, producing visual sensations that are reassembled in the brain to give us a complete image, which is what we allegedly see. But this scenario leads to logical difficulties, as discussed elsewhere. We must therefore on the contrary assume that we perceive the physical object itself, or at least the physical light from it, and not a mental image of it stored in the brain. In that case, the internal consistency of Kant’s theory is too shaky, and the theory must fall.

Furthermore, we should not be overly impressed by the fact that Kant’s ideas on space and time inspired new thinking in subsequent philosophy and science. Most famously, Einstein acknowledged some debt to Kant in this domain. A not-entirely-accurate viewpoint (like Kant’s novel subjectivism of space and time) can still lead to correct views (like Einstein’s more objectivist relativity of observations to observers). Fanciful notions can give rise to good ideas.


2.    Ratiocinations

Formal logic (including both its deductive or inductive branches) analyzes and validates all sorts of components and processes of human knowledge (or knowing). Looking at the totality of it, one may get the impression of a static collection of ways and means. But this is only, of course, the finished product, and we cannot claim to really understand logic till we have captured the many unit rational acts underlying every thought.

This refers to the smallest building blocks of dynamic thought, which we may call ratiocinations. In formal logic, we usually think of terms, propositions and arguments as units of thought. But in fact, such units are far from primary; they are mostly complex constructs, which we may call cogitations, made by various simultaneous and successive ratiocinations.

Ratiocinations and cogitations are of course all judgmental (to use Kant’s term), insofar as their truth is open to doubt or discussion to various degrees (which does not mean that they are necessarily or even usually false), in contrast to pure experience which must be taken as given (i.e. true in principle).

I suspect and suggest that when Kant formulated his theory of “pure forms,” the forms of sensibility and forms of understanding, he was trying to identify the rational acts that underlie what on the surface appears to most of us as thought. His distinction between “transcendental logic… which gives an account of the origins of our knowledge as well as its relationship to objects,” and “general logic… which abstracts from the conditions under which our knowledge is acquired, and from any relation that knowledge has to objects,” seems to point in that direction[12].

This programme of Kant’s was very interesting and laudable, although he erred in focusing directly on relatively complex concepts like space and time (which he classed as intuitions) and substance and causation (which he classed as simpler concepts), instead of on the more primitive rational acts which give rise to those concepts. The latter are admittedly close to basic; but since they can (as we shall presently make clear) be reduced to sets of the former, they are not as basic as Kant implied them to be.

We wish, nevertheless, to implement Kant’s good idea in its essence, and look for the true elements or irreducible primaries of reason. What are these ‘ratiocinations’? They are, first and foremost, acts of reason or rational acts, from which (in various combinations, in various circumstances) all others are gradually built up. To say that they are acts is to mean that they are acts of will, volitional acts, voluntary efforts of the subject of rational cognition, i.e. the soul, the one who thinks.

Note well, I am not referring like Kant does to some mechanisms or structural determinants that in some mysterious and uncontrollable manner form thought out of sensory impressions (first percepts ordered in space and time, then concepts ordered by the categories); and thus present us, take it or leave it, with a finished product of doubtful logical validity or certainty. Kant’s theory of knowledge makes ignorant, stupid and passive marionettes out of us, with no say over our noetic destiny. It is, as already mentioned, a self-contradictory position.

What I am saying is that the subject (i.e. you or me) is an active agent in the process of reasoning. It is no accident that reason and volition occur in the same biological entities – they naturally go together; they are mutually dependent faculties. They occur in individual humans in proportion to each other, because they are essential to each other’s functioning[13].

The elements of reason are not cognitive “atoms;” they are not notions, ideas, concepts, and much less propositions or arguments. They are not entities, but the means through which we produce such entities; they are cognitive events. And they do not just occur without our participation: they are thought by us – they are actions we are called on to take to advance in our knowledge of the world by way of reason.

‘Conception’ refers to the act of conceiving, i.e. to the cognition of abstract relations (notably those of similarity or difference). This concept is formed by analogy and contrast to that of ‘perception’, which is cognition of concrete phenomena (and to ‘intuition’, which concerns non-phenomenal concretes). Abstracts relate concretes to each other but are not phenomenal or concrete objects themselves.

Conceptual insight (which in a broadened sense includes logical insights of compatibility or incompatibility) is something indeed mysterious (a ‘seeing’ without eyes and whose objects are invisible). It is the miraculous human capacity for understanding, our distinctive act of intelligence.

Before any verbalization in terms of common nouns is possible or meaningful, some sort of conception is necessary. For this reason, any attempt to deny the validity of conceptual knowledge as such is absurd. It is itself conceptual, so it cannot logically deny conception as such. Thus, conception as such (though not necessarily every conception) is necessarily valid.

Whereas Kant told us what he regarded as conditions of perceptions, I would here like to stress the conditions of conception. These include an intelligent Subject, with the power of volition, able to build concepts out of percepts. Reason is impossible without volition. Volition is needed to wonder, to ponder, to intend, to research, to check results, to logically evaluate hypotheses, to change one’s opinion, and so forth. These are not functions that any machine-like entity can perform, but only someone with free will.

It is true that the effort involved in our simplest acts of reason is not always apparent. That is to say, much of our reasoning goes on subconsciously, indeed (for all intents and purposes) unconsciously. This might seem to confirm Kant’s essentially mechanistic position. The brain does seemingly continuously feed our minds with thoughts of all kinds, whether we like it or not. And if any effort is involved, it is rather the effort needed to stop thought – a far from easy feat. Are such thoughts “ours” in any meaningful sense? Are we just passive observers of them, or intelligent doers of them?

However, we can still profess and insist that thought is essentially volitional, by pointing out how simple, easy and quick the elementary rational acts are bound to be, and how they can become reflex and habitual and so almost invisible to us. Consciousness does not always imply self-consciousness, or consciousness of all aspects of a situation. We only become aware of our rational acts when they reach a certain level of complexity, difficulty and cumbersomeness, i.e. when an unusual, more conscious effort of thought is required of us. It is thus quite reasonable to claim that no thought is at all possible without some “presence of mind” (more precisely stated: “presence of spirit”), however minimal (or subliminal) it be[14].

This affirmation becomes all the more credible when we consider what specific acts might be listed under the heading of ratiocination. Certainly not all of Kant’s pure forms, although some of them might fit the bill. Two approaches are possible to answer our question. (a) We can proactively observe the rational acts through which we gradually build up our terms, propositions and arguments, even as we do them, or (b) we can retroactively analyze the genesis of our thoughts into the simpler components to which they are reducible.

However, as we do so, it becomes obvious that we cannot dichotomize all thought into simple and complex, or ratiocination and its products. It becomes obvious that there are in fact many gradations between the simplest, irreducible rational acts and the most complex static products of these. When I first proposed a concept of ratiocination some years ago, I had in mind certain very simple rational acts; but the analytic listing below (incomplete though it be) shows that the concept must be expanded somewhat.

Some rational acts are primitive (elementary, irreducible), but others (equally important) are composed of two or more simpler rational acts. More precisely still: composite rational acts are not merely the simultaneity or succession of two primitive acts, but a combination of acts such that the second one performed depends on the results of the first one performed. It is difficult to label such an act primary, since it includes another primitive act; but on the other hand, it is difficult to label it secondary, since it adds something new to the preceding. The word ratiocination should therefore not be taken too rigidly, and range across simple to more complex rational acts.

Moreover, I do not here propose a precise and comprehensive list of ratiocinations, but only make suggestions of some possible candidates for the job, in the way of illustrations. We do not have to have a fixed list, but may engage in an ongoing research project, using open-minded trial and error as our method. The answer to our question is not some dogmatic neat doctrine, but a heuristic and flexible way. We do not want to fall into the trap set by Aristotle and Kant of a finite number of specified units, or of an artificially symmetrical scheme. We may propose candidates cautiously, tentatively and reversibly; we may proceed uncertainly and change our minds. We do not have to claim omniscience in such a delicate and crucial matter.

The following, then, is a brief, non-exhaustive survey of how we acquire knowledge, with reference to some of the most important rational acts or ratiocinations:

  • Observation of the presence of something and its consequent affirmation. This is clearly a simple, primary act of reason, an acknowledgment of experience in accord with the law of identity.
  • Observation of the absence of something and its consequent denial. This act is not quite primary, because we must first think of some sought for presence and look for it (far and wide) and not find it (thus far). It is thus an inductive activity (and so open to later revision), rather than a simple act, and it refers to the second and third laws of thought as well as the first.
  • Observation is essentially a passive act, although one may observe the results of more active interventions (whether directed at the object or at the subject), called experiments. These, whether physical or mental, are also rational acts.
  • Mentally (or more precisely, spiritually) intending things, and physically pointing at them. These rational acts serve to tell ourselves (and each other, eventually[15]) what we mean to refer to during subsequent rational acts.
  • Distinguishing and isolating one thing in the field of experience from others, or subdividing one thing into two or more things. This is done by mental projection, and involves imaginary drawing of boundaries, so that some aspects of the whole are considered as one thing while other aspects are considered as other thing(s).
  • Making comparisons and contrasts of measure or degree. This involves observations of similarity and dissimilarity between things in the same field of experience or in different fields. Comparison is positive, and therefore more direct; contrast is negative, and therefore requires more processing.
  • On the basis of the preceding activities, we abstract aspects of things from things, and then group together things that are similar and separately things that are dissimilar. Note that negation is an important aspect of abstraction.
  • Abstraction is a crucial aspect of concept formation or conceptualization. Abstraction allows us to engage in classification, collecting distinct and similar things together; then developing hierarchies and orders of classes. Note that classification involves both integration and differentiation; including some things in a class implies excluding others from it[16].
  • After initially grouping some things together in a class, we may add on more cases, or remove some instances. These are the intentional processes of inclusion and exclusion. Such changes in subsumption are based at first on apparent similarities and differences between new and old instances.
  • Eventually, efforts may be made to explicitly define the common and distinctive character(s) between things classed together. Sometimes definition is immediate and fixed; but usually it is gradual, tentative and adaptive. A definition may at first be vague, then become more precise.
  • Naming a particular, or a concept that one has constructed (as above), is also a rational act. Such verbalization is not always necessary, but usually useful.
  • Measurement, of course, depends on number, especially as it gets more accurate. This depends on counting, starting with one then two or more successively. Note that the unit is formed by distinguishing (as above detailed); some grouping may be needed; numbers greater than one depend on reiteration of addition of one.
  • Also involved in measurement is the comparison and contrast of numbers (equal or unequal, i.e. greater or smaller). The numbers refer to entities (e.g. people or commensurable portions of a line) or to qualities (e.g. degrees of a color or speed of movement). The numbers involved may be the same, or considered approximately so; or they may different, or different enough to constitute a negation.
  • Numbers also make possible statistics, from which we develop frequency concepts like all, some, none, few, most, through which we define the quantity and other types of modality of propositions.
  • Proposing (i.e. formulating a proposition) categorically, then conditionally or disjunctively, are obviously complex rational acts, since they depend on many of the previously mentioned simpler acts being performed first (i.e. a proposition involves many concepts).
  • Propositions are initially singular and actual, and thus by implication particular and possible. We try to generalize them as far as possible, and have to particularize them as much as necessary. These are crucial rational acts, depending on the laws of thought and the principle of induction, and on numerical concepts.
  • Asking questions and looking for answers are rational acts, which help us advance in our conceptualizations and formulations of propositions. We make suggestions or speculations in reply, which we then must test before we can adopt or reject them.
  • Theorizing involves not only forming concepts and propositions, but also interrelating them together and with experience by means of various arguments. Theories may consist of one proposition or large and intricate conjunctions of propositions. What most distinguishes theorizing from mere proposing, however, is the invention of new terms, i.e. the use of imagination.
  • Frequently, we move from one abstraction to another by way of (rough or precise) analogy, using one conjunction of characters to construct another. This involves imagination, the power of reshuffling mental data at will.
  • An important aspect of theorizing is the search for causes, whether in the epistemic sense of reasons (attempted explanations, premises or items of evidence), or in the more ontological senses of causatives, volitional agents or influences of various sorts. For knowledge of causes in any of these many senses is the main source of our understanding.
  • Theories are always in flux, being constructed, modified or dismantled. If they fit in with the totality of experience and logical considerations they may be adopted; if they don’t they are rejected or at least made to adapt. This is the inductive process of adduction, which involves complex rules of comparison and contrast between competing hypotheses.
  • Arguing, from premises to conclusions, using inductive and deductive logical processes, like adduction or syllogism, is used to justify and clarify. Arguments are still more complex rational acts, dependent on previously formed concepts and propositions.
  • Arguments, and indeed the various rational acts preceding and succeeding them, refer to the laws of thought and the principle of induction. This means acknowledging appearances, looking for contradictions between them, looking for solutions to problems, judging truth and falsehood, estimating probabilities.
  • Logic may be exercised ad hoc, without using theoretical knowledge of logic, or may be applied with reference to logic theory previously developed or studied. Every insight or act of logic is of course a rational act. A movement of thought not disciplined by logic is irrational.

The above list shows many of the main rational acts involved in everyday reasoning. It is clear that the acts here listed are all deeply involved in the formation of concepts, propositions and arguments of all kinds. It is also clear that there are both inductive and deductive movements of thought in most of these various acts.

Note that some ratiocination is pre-conceptual and pre-verbal treatment of experiential data. It is distinctively aimed at perceived particulars, rather than at conceived universals. Such ratiocination prepares the ground for further thought - thought of a more conceptual variety. The latter is also composed of ratiocinations; for instance, naming is a distinct rational act, one of the many components of verbal thought.

If we analyze our rational acts closely, we find them all to be intelligent responses to the way things appear to us. Through them, we use given experiences to form concepts of varying complexity (for example, causation cannot be understood or known in a given case without first grasping and using affirmation, negation, classification, statistics and conditioning).

These constructs are not necessarily true in a given case, because the more complex they get the more they involve inductive assumptions (for example, assuming some negation by generalization). Nevertheless, the simplest ones are pretty reliable because of the narrow limits of their assumptions.

Some ratiocination involves direct insight, i.e. it refers to evidence given in experience alone (e.g. affirming, on the basis of observation of presence). Some, however, is more indirect, involving some reasoning (e.g. denying, on the basis of non-observation of presence). Thus, on the whole, ratiocination appeals to both experience and logic, and not merely to the one or the other.

It is clear from our list that ratiocinations are necessarily volitional at some level, in conscious accord with the laws of thought. We can do them, or abstain from doing them. We can do them conscientiously and correctly; or we can fudge them, and err. We retain the capacity to think irrationally, i.e. to misuse our powers of judgment. Purely mechanical acts (such as Kant conceived for us) cannot yield valid judgments, for validity is a value judgment presupposing freedom of action and of choice. Machines or computers may of course be programmed to do as we will them to; but in such cases, it is still our judgments that are evaluated, not theirs.

Since ratiocinations, and thence all thought processes, are acts of the Subject, and the Subject is a non-phenomenal entity known only through intuition, they cannot readily be pointed out in phenomenal terms. We can perceive their phenomenal products in us, but the productive acts themselves can only be apperceived, i.e. known introspectively by each one of us. For this reason, it is rather difficult to pin them down publicly. We can say that they occur, but we cannot describe them in terms of something more concretely manifest than our self-knowledge. That is no doubt why many logicians tend to ignore this important field of logic. Ratiocination is too insubstantial and psychological for their liking. They prefer to dwell on more solid and verbal objects of study.

None of this material is very new within my own works, or in general. What is being emphasized here is the need to be aware of all the little rational acts that underlie the larger, more commonly studied, movements of thought. A lot of work might be done by future logicians, to expand on this list and describe the acts involved more precisely, but we shall rest content with the present illustration. A more systematic study would ideally involve traversing the whole of formal logic in detail and noting the exact ratiocinations underlying each item in it. This field of logic could be called descriptive or generative (as against formal) logic[17].

Logic is mostly dished out to people like a menu, and a menu is of course no substitute for cooking and eating. The traditional rather static presentation is inevitable, as logic is a verbal educational tool; but we must try to keep in mind and somehow bring to the fore the more dynamic aspects, if we wish to give a true picture of logic. That is, how logic is “cooked up” by logicians and how it is “eaten up” by those who study it.

Conclusions. Some of the items we have listed are comparable to Kant’s categories. For instances, the first and second ratiocinations, viz. affirmation and denial, obviously correspond to Kant’s first two categories. The ratiocinations concerning numbers are related to Kant’s category of quantity. The ratiocination of proposing (which is, note well, dependent on other acts) can be assimilated to Kant’s categories of relation. Nevertheless, the two approaches are clearly different. Kant’s categories are on the whole not as basic constituents of human knowledge as the ratiocinations are.

There is a complex scale of gradation and interplay of mutual dependencies between most of our basic concepts. Some can surely be considered as direct outcomes of primary acts of reason. But others are complex products of many and varied such ratiocinations. It would be a gross simplification to lump all basic concepts together as equal “categories,” let alone assign them special powers of control over our thinking, as Kant attempted. There is no basis for considering our faculties of cognition as machine-like entities, which – using some arbitrary, possibly crazy “logic” of their own or programmed into them by nature – could well distort our experiences.

Space and time are, like substance and causation, rather basic concepts, which we form in quite ordinary ways by abstractions from experience. It is because we find the phenomena we experience (be they seemingly physical or mental) are extended, are changing, are seemingly constant in the midst of other changes, and are regularly conjoined and disjoined, that we form such concepts. Let us keep the horse before the cart. These concepts do not tell us what to think out of the blue – we make them what they are in accord with the way things seem to us in experience and in logic. They are tools of ours; we are not their playthings.

Furthermore, conception has many levels or degrees. At the lowest or notional level, it is produced by wordless rational acts, for instance just noticing that two things are distinctly alike in some respect and mentally classing them together on that basis. More precise measurement of the similarity may be sought. It may be decided that the items are worth not only grouping together, but also naming. Once the concept is named, it may become the object of detailed discussions. At an advanced stage, it may be more and more studied and complex theories about it may be formed.

Thus, we should not confuse the humble uses of the wordless concepts of space and time in particular acts of reasoning, with the grand intellectual abstractions and debates of physicists and philosophers about them. Similarly with regard to many of the categories. An ordinary person can properly identify a causal relation without being able to discourse on the ontological and epistemological basis of causality. If we do not keep this distinction of conceptual level in mind, we are likely to get confused about the order of things in knowledge. Kant tended to blur it.

To conclude the present essay, although Kant has been an extremely impressive and influential philosopher in the modern Western tradition, his description and critique of reason are far from credible and ought not to be taken so seriously. He was clearly in no position to criticize reason, because he evidently neither sufficiently understood its workings nor had the logical tools needed for such a task, lacking especially knowledge of the logic of paradox and that of induction.


3.    Induction of Contents and Forms

It should be noted[18] that induction of the content of propositions and induction of formal relationships between them (oppositions, eductions, syllogisms, and so forth) are subject to distinct rules.

To induce a proposition of whatever form with specific contents, i.e. a ‘material’ proposition (so-called in contrast to formal propositions, whether it concerns concretes or abstracts of matter, mind or spirit), one must have some empirical evidence that the relation concerned occurs in at least some instances. (This is ultimately true, taking knowledge as a whole: although of course some of our particular propositions are obtained from other propositions by deduction, the information that we deduced them from must eventually be grounded in experience.) Thus, for example, a proposition like ‘some swans are white’ requires that we actually observe some ‘white swans’. We would not ordinarily (i.e. usually, ignoring deductive intermediaries) accept the proposition that ‘some swans are green [like parrots]’ without having witnessed the fact. From such empirical particulars all our general knowledge is eventually derived, whether by generalization and particularization or by adductive reasoning (or by deduction from general propositions so derived).

This methodology does not apply to formal principles. The starting point of formal logic is the assumption that the relationship between any two forms of proposition is simple compatibility – until and unless they and/or their negations are shown to be incompatible in some way. Contrary to the claim of some modern logicians, we cannot “prove compatibility,” We can show examples - but the compatibility in the examples is in fact simply assumed because no incompatibility is found/proved (if only by logical insight). We must be careful in this context not to place the cart before the horse. Our attitude of demanding proof is correct, and our method of adducing example(s) is correct – for content. But for form – i.e. in formal logic – the procedure is the reverse: we must prove the implications rather than the non-implications.

For example, in the case of the doctrine of oppositions, the way we proceed is as follows: there exists (according to the laws of thought) only seven possible oppositions: contradictory, contrary, subcontrary, implicant, subalternating, subalternated, unconnected, it follows that when we cannot prove anything regarding the opposition between two propositional forms P and Q, we must assume them to be unconnected. Simply because: there is nothing else for them to be![19] We always proceed by elimination of unproven alternatives. We demand proof for the hard relations, not for the soft. The latter follow automatically, by virtue of our not having proven the former. That is the way logicians always proceed. To search for compatibilities is redundant, because there is no way to do it without circularity or infinity. Imagine all the propositional forms in the world now or ever: we do not have to show them all compatible before we use them. They are considered compatible until and unless we manage to show them otherwise.


Drawn from Logical and Spiritual Reflections (2008), Book II, Chapters 4(part),6,9:1.


[1]             Which I will not get into the details of here – to avoid turning this essay into another thick book. Some replies to Kant’s arguments are effectively given in this section further on, when I present an alternative thesis.

[2]             That is, by introspection or intuition, perhaps by “feeling” the different ways they are stored in the brain.

[3]             This perspective perhaps explains the Zen koan “Bodhidharma didn’t come to China” (Dogen, p. 152). It means: China came to Bodhidhama. That is to say, the stream of appearances associated with going to, being and traveling in China, including the appearances of Bodhidharma’s body in the midst of these geographical locations, was present in front of (or all around) him – but he never moved, never went anywhere (other than where his soul was all along).

[4]             Which we might identify with nirvana and samsara, respectively (though I do not pretend to have personally consciously experienced nirvana). Many useful illustrations are suggested by Zen masters in this context, such as: the still and empty self experiencing passing things and events is likened to the hub of a wheel; imaginations relate to other objects of experience like clouds in the sky, floating around in the foreground without really affecting the background. Note that the here and now is not a narrow expanse: since it has no boundary, it is potentially and therefore ultimately the “vast emptiness” of all space and time (to borrow a phrase from Bodhidharma in Dogen, p. 138).

[5]             One of Kant’s motives in formulating his doctrine of space and time seems to have been to differentiate the two phenomenal domains, the physical and the mental. But this is not truly possible, because these concepts have instances in both domains equally.

[6]             We should also keep in mind that there have been reflections on these topics in the East. See for instance, 13th century Japanese Zen master Dogen’s essay “The Time Being” (pp. 69-76). Kapleau, who includes part of this essay in his book, considers its insights, “realized … introspectively … through zazen” to “parallel … to a remarkable degree” modern scientific beliefs (pp. 307-11). I don’t know about that, finding it difficult to understand fully. But it any case it is interesting and challenging.

[7]             See Yourgrau’s instructive and interesting book on this topic.

[8]             Note that we could conceivably adopt an alternative, more positivistic hypothesis, and regard things as really disappearing when they go behind others and regard things as really changing size and shape as they change distance and direction relative to us (or we do relative to them). This possible interpretation of perspectives is not favored because it is much more difficult for the individual to manage in practice, and more importantly because of the irreconcilable contradictions it implies between the experiences of different individuals.

[9]             We only perceive rough approximations of those geometrical units: e.g. extended dots rather than points, and so forth. See my discussion of this in my Phenomenology chapters 8.2 and 8.3.

[10]            Note this well – it is not merely physical time that presents us with difficulties, but equally mental time. So, it cannot be argued that the difficulties are specifically physical, or specifically mental either.

[11]            See also my discussions of issues relating to space and time in Phenomenology chapters 2.4 and 6.1-6.3.

[12]            Here quoting from the aforementioned Wikipedia article, without my necessarily agreeing fully with this terminology or these definitions.

[13]            Higher animals may well have some (more limited or just different) rational and volitional powers too; if they do, or to the extent that they do (for I do believe they do), these powers are likewise necessarily proportional to each other.

[14]            I discuss various so-called involuntary acts of volition throughout my work Volition and Allied Causal Concepts, always postulating a minimum level of consciousness for them, since they are considered acts of volition, and all will is freewill. “Involuntary” in such contexts does not mean literally “non-volitional” but more mildly almost so.

[15]            Note that while one’s own “pointing” is an intention that we know intuitively, someone else’s “pointing” is ultimately understood by inductive means, i.e. by hypothesizing what might be intended and eliminating erroneous hypotheses, with reference to the enduring or repetition of such pointing in a changing context.

[16]            The only classes that include everything are terms like “thing,” in the sense of existent or real. Their contradictories (non-thing, etc.) are necessarily merely verbal fictions, i.e. essentially empty classes, in which we dump figments of our imagination that we cannot include. On this basis, we have a broader term “thing” that includes both things and non-things in the preceding sense. The value of such a broader term is that it allows us to name things that we are not yet certain about either way. That is, it has inductive value as a temporary way-station.

[17]            Or perhaps psycho-epistemology (borrowing the term Ayn Rand coined for another purpose).

[18]            Addendum, 2009-10.

[19]            Likewise, if we cannot prove both that P and not-Q cannot both be true and cannot both be false, then P and Q cannot be assumed to be implicants. If we cannot prove that P and not-Q cannot both be true, then P cannot be assumed to subalternate Q. If we cannot prove that P and not-Q cannot both be false, then P cannot be assumed to be subalternated by Q. If we cannot prove both that P and Q cannot both be true and cannot both be false, then they cannot be assumed contradictory. If we cannot prove that P and Q cannot both be true, then they cannot be assumed contrary. If we cannot prove that P and Q cannot both be false, then they cannot be assumed subcontrary. If none of these underlying relations can be proved, the two propositions must be taken as unconnected.

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