The Primacy of Time

Brandom, by connecting thought to reliably differential responsiveness dispositions to sensory stimuli instead of the forms of intuition, effectively licenses the empirical skeptic, like Metzinger or Bakker, to claim that the logico-mathematical laws of inference have no direct relation to the material world. This is the case because a metaphysical theory which equates the laws of deductive inference with the form of thought in general gives us no way to derive actual necessity from a merely conceptual necessity. However, the laws of logic and mathematics are such as to pertain to any domain of objects whatsoever. This is Frege’s lovely insight. Unfortunately,  this leaves open the question which asks what rules guide and constrain our decisions to apply certain concepts to certain objects. This also obfuscates the distinction between concept and object since it seems anything can be formulated as either a predicate or a subject. Fregean logic is promiscuous as to what kind of thing it lets into its system as long as the judicable object is brought inside according to the inferential relations described by the system itself. Quine’s pragmatist just-so story attempts to use the naturalistic theory of evolutionary adaptive success to underwrite the ‘satisficing’ adequacy of the Fregean predicative structure of judgment towards physical events in the world. Quine cannot refute the skeptic (“the Humean problem is the human problem”) but he tries to turn down the volume on the skeptic’s megaphone,  insisting that science seems to be good enough to ensure human survival even if it cannot provide us with any real knowledge. Brandom however, insists on the a priority of deductive logic by arguing as follows: we can judge a proposition to be true or false even if it has never been uttered before because its subsentential parts each bring with them inferential roles that operate as functions determining the truth value of the entire sentence. Thus, because our thought is so structured (subsententially) and such a structure allows us to know whether or not one sentence follows logically from another then we have access to a priori knowledge when we impose an inferential order on our propositions by decomposing them into the elements of the firstorder predicate calculus devised by Frege. However, Rödl points out Brandom’s failure. Just because our thought, if we are to make sense of it reflexively, must be interpreted as being subsententially structured, it does not follow that such a system is able to think itself isomorphic to the material world nor can such a system hope to show that an order which contains a predicative necessity inside of it is itself a necessary order. Brandom demonstrates only that thought must bear a predicative unity for us to deduce inferentially its a priori deductive inferential nature but according to Brandom himself, it is not of the essence of thought in general to be structred predicatively. However, if we can show that thought is necessarily formed into a predicative unity in order for thought to be thought, then we fulfill Brandom’s promise of deriving the a priori necessity of the forms of the finite intellect. By tying thought to intuition Kant connects us to the noumenon even when our judgments about it can be spurious. This keeps Kantian metaphysics within an ontological monism while allowing for a “methodological dualism”, in Brassier’s words. On this view, the predicative unity of judgment brings an element under the substance category as that which undergoes changes and a state category which pertains to the ways in which the substance judged changes from one state to the next. It is because the intellect can think substances that anything like the Fregean predicate calculus can even be intelligible. For existential quantification does not allow existence to be used as a predicate. That existence is not a predicate can clue us in to what it is: the formal apprehension of an object in intuition. In other words, the existential quantifier is a sign that the Categories are at work:
The category determines the object insofar as it can be determined in the form of the category under which it is thought. Rodl’s idea is this: if the category employed in a judgment determines the inferences we can make about a particular object, we need to give an account of how an object can be subsumed under a category in a non-circular way. Frege’s Basic Law V attempted to “take care of itself” (in Wittgenstein’s words) by defining an object by the concept extensions whose inferential value mapped the former to The True. However, Russel showed that such a system of definition cast itself in a vicious circle since there were some objects whose extensions mapped them to the True if and only if those objects’ extensions mapped the latter extensions to the True as well. Since the objects that we experience through sense perception are not produced by the intellect, and yet we determine their properties in judgment, deductive logic on its own, produces no knowledge. Kantian intuitive logic is, on the other hand, properly transcendental because it reveals how the formal contours of our thoughts trace the formal contours of anything existing in space and time. Thus, Kant’s anchoring of thought to intuition is, in Rodl’s opinion, the only way the mind can claim knowledge of the world. We can rehearse how this works very quickly: the intellect provides the categories from itself, these categories determine the object in accordance to their form only insofar as the object exists in space and time which are also the forms of intuition of the very same finite intellect. Thus, the intellect can think the categories and the forms of intuition purely; all it needs, because its faculty of intuition is receptive, is for the object to be given to it in sensation. That the object is given through the senses does not sully the pure form of its determinations. Consider for example, the intellect’s ability to determine its own objects (via what Spinoza called scientia intuitiva ) in pure geometrical space and arithmetic calculation without relying on sensibility to present it with an empirical object to judge. If we dispute the premise that the intellect provides the categories purely – perhaps we instead ponder them as by-products of evolutionary satisficing – then the picture of the world they present to us would not bear the blue regalia of the a priori but only the half-healed scars of adaptive fitness. This is Quine’s position.
Quine’s thesis can be summarized as follows: neither the propositional nor the predicative structure of thought should be thought of as a priori as if they sprung fully-formed from the head of the human intellect. Instead, we should think of the predicative unity of thoughts and the inferential order that connects them to each other as natural hypotheses or formal bricolages the mind stirs up as it tries to make sense of the sensory inputs that bombard it from birth. The formal construction of thought into object and concept, noun, adjective, verb, and so on, is just the mind’s way of organizing sense-data in a way that is manageable and conducive to practical survival. The a priori are simply those concepts which we are the least likely to give up since they occupy the largest portion of real-estate in the coherentist web of beliefs. But every such law is a coil that can be shuffled off if the need arises. Apriority is a priority; it is not an absolute.
Metzinger can be used to bolster Quine’s position: it is only our phenomenological PMIR that gives us the illusion of judging an object when in actual fact our acts in the world are purely receptively responsive. However, Rodl’s rejoinder can be made all the same: the PMIR may be precisely the mechanism necessary to get us into the position of judging something to be true or false. This is because judging objects in a unified stream of consciousness (with Husserlian pretension for example) allows us to think their temporality in relation to what is true and what is false. Without these phenomenological frameworks, our intellect could not come to the fore. But this does not mean that the judgments so accessed are logically vapid. To propose that there is no such thing as judgment is to propose that language does not exist, that Plato and all his footnoters have been doing nothing but squawking and scratching, that the human mind and all its contents are nothing but neuronal perspiration. Seeking the logical form of thought in the way the object relates to intuition is to reject the Myth of the Given used so much by rational empiricsts like Ayer and Russel (which opened up a space for incessant empirical skepticism), and at the same time, to reject the kind of Normative Functionalism favoured by Brandom, which relates logical inference to intuition only by invoking the essentially behaviourist notion of reliable differential responsive dispositions. Even Meillassoux’s ‘After Finitude’ thinks the pure form of temporal intuition. This can be seen when we consider his insistence upon the a priority of the principle of non-contradiction, a principle only thinkable in relation to an object judicable in time, i.e., a substance. Deductive logic freezes time so as to allow us to calculate the inferential relations between thoughts. But such abstraction because it is abstraction, can not precede but must follow upon thoughts with logical content. Exhuming the categories of the temporal from Kant’s Analogies of Experience (though they can also be exhumed in Hegel’s ‘Consciousness’ section of the Phenomenology of Spirit) allows us to read them back into other accounts of empirical perceptual judgments, such as the kind presented by eliminative materialists like Metzinger and Bakker and relied upon implicitly in the inferentialist judgments of Brandom and Sellars who have thus far failed to make explicit the temporal logic relied upon by deductive inference. Humean skepticism cannot even get off the ground if its rules out the possibility of judging something to be undergoing changes in states since to conceive of such a process is to predicate tensed states of a permanent substance persisting through time. Because time cannot be represented in thought by Frege’s concept-script by using a term name such as t, the phenomenological structure that allows us to apprehend the categories of the temporal can be shown to be transcendental, not accidental as Metzinger or Bakker would have us believe. Husserl and Heidegger in this sense, build their philosophies on a correct reading of Kant’s Analogies. It should be of no surprise that Rodl traces Kant’s dexterity on the logical structure of perception to his absorption of Aristotle who was, as we know, one of Heidegger’s core influences.General logic cannot take care of itself. It relies on Transcendental logic. ‘S was/is F’ can be abstracted into the predicate calculus – one simply freezes an otherwise tensed predication – by representing it as Fa. However, beginning with the concept-script, we can not abstract, contract or protract a judgment of the form Fa into one which represents itself as ‘S is/was F’. Attempting to do so brings one face to face with the insufficiency of such an atemporal system and should lead an attentive thinker to see the temporality inherent in the form of judgment in general; to think such a process is to demonstrate the necessity of the forms of intuition in relation to the categories of the Understanding, and completing such a demonstration is to think the Hegelian dialectic.


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