Revisal of Kant's Categories

From The Libertarian Labyrinth
Jump to: navigation, search



The categories of quantity, quality, relation, and modality, as developed by Immanuel Kant in his Critique on Pure Reason, lie so directly at the basis of the entire fabric of modern speculative philosophy, that any work done, either to render the application of these fundamental discriminations of thought more extensive and lucid, or to remove any lurking error in the classification itself, could not be other. wise than important. I propose in this communication to attempt both of these objects.

In respect to the first, the better understanding of the categories themselves, and especially outside of or beyond the abstract metaphysical aspect of the subject, the carrying of them over from being merely categories of the understanding into some objective sphere, and proving them in that manner to be also categories of Universal Being, what I shall attempt is only what is greatly needed in respect to the whole domain of abstract and transcendental thinking. It is alike characteristic of the transcendental Metaphysicians and of the modern Positivists, or the school of external Scientists, that they have kept mutually so well asunder from each other. If the former have carried their abstract truths into the realm of objective science at all, it has been feebly, and only, as it were, for the purpose of illustration or defense; and, if the Positivist School of investigators have drawn upon the Metaphysicians, as, in fact, they often have, and largely, for the better statement of the laws which they are formulating in the realm of Nature, and indeed for the discovery of the laws themselves, it has been for the most part without credit and often quite unconsciously. It will be the work of the thinkers of the future to narrow and span this gulf which severs Philosophy from Science, and to demonstrate the identity of law in both spheres. The abstractions of transcendental logic must be carried forward and outward into the domain of Nature on the one hand; and the observations, investigations and reasonings of the objective scientists must and will more consciously, and in the end gladly, come into subordination to the governing influence of metaphysical, logical and transcendental thinking.

At the moment, I have in view, however, nothing more than to point out with, as I hope, some accuracy, the actual expression, correspondentially, of the Kantian categories in the main of ordinary school grammar—language, of which grammar is the mere presentative science, being, as it were, the middle ground between the metaphysical and the physical domain; so that what is here accomplished in respect to language, may, by an ulterior application of the same analogy, be carried forward into the outer world.

The three categories* of quantity are Unity, Manifoldness, and Universality, which are no more than the same ideas which in respect to grammar we indicate by the terms "singular," "plural," and "common." These discriminations are made to apply, in the first instance, to nouns and pronouns, which are the entical parts of speech; but they are carried over thence into a formal relation with the verb, and are again expressed, at least as to the singular and plural, in the forms of the verb as they occur in Sanscrit, Latin, Greek, and the other more complex languages; and, in some slight measure, in all languages which can be said to have any grammatical development.

The verb, when analyzed and stripped of its connection with participial forms, is reducible entirely to the single verb to be, predicating existence, or serving as copula (of being or existence), expressing itself in the coupling of the substance with the attributive idea. "I love," "I read," "I speak," signify merely, as is familiarly known, "I am loving," "I am reading," "I am speaking"; so that the true verbal part of every such expression resolves itself into the idea of being; hence it is that the verb, as the core of grammar, is, at the same time, the core of logic; and its subject-matter is being itself, separating into the "Seyn" and "Nicht-seyn" of Hegel, or into the Reality (otherwise, and better, termed Affirmation) and the Negation of Kant's categories of quality.

We are thus conducted to this second considerable group of the categories. The affirmative locution, as "I love," the negative locution, as "I do not love," and the interrogative locution with its double form, affirmative and negative, "do I love?" and "do I not love?" are the first distinctive and most important modifications of the verb, prior even to considerations of tense and mode, and so obvious, direct, and simple, that grammarians have overlooked them, and have not provided any technicality for the expression of theses peculiarities. So far as affirmation and negation are concerned, it is quite obvious that we are here again in exact accord with the Kantian discrimination in question. It is not quite so obvious, but equally true, that the interrogative locution involves what Kant intends abstractly by the term "limitation." Spencer says rightly, "All distinction is limitation." To discriminate in thought, as in any affirmation or negation from its opposite, is to insert mental limitation between them. Interrogation implies doubt, and dubitation is the discrimination and the holding in the balance before the mind of opposite propositions. "Do I love?' stands always in correlation with the opposite form, "do I not love?" The mind balances or wavers along the line of difference between the two ideas; and, in this manner, interrogation implies and corresponds with "limitation" as exactly as "Reality" with negation and Affirmation with negation.

We pass, in the next place, to the categories of relation. These forms are double. The first, which is inherence and substance (substantia et accidens, or, better here, accidens et substantia), is denoted in grammar by the adjective and the substantive in their mutual relation, the former as accessory to the latter. It needs only to be observed that the idea of adjectivity must, however, be so extended as to include the accidents, or case-relations, of the noun substantive; that to say, substantives in all other cases than in the nominative or vocative, which oblique cases are then denominated, in the technicalities of grammar, accidents, and are as really adjectives as the words to which the name is usually restricted. It should be further observed that this relation is static, or occurs in space merely, and, as such, it has a relation to the modes of the verb, as will be pointed out subsequently.

The next of these categories is that of causality and dependence (of cause or agency, and operation or effect). This has a similar relation to the tense of the verb which appears best when the verb is in the active voice. The "causality," cause, or agency, is then represented by the nominative which names the agent, and the "dependence" by the verb which names the operation. The relation here is what I denominate motic, and thence it has the same relation to time, and so to tense, as that which the preceding static relation holds to space, and thence to the mode of the verb. The relation of the tenses of the verb to time is universally recognized. That of the static relation of substance and accidents to modes of the verb is more obscure, but will be brought into some lucidity by the following considerations. The oblique cases of the noun, really, as we have seen, adjective in character, pass readily, by contraction and condensation, into the class of words called adverbs. "Rarely" means, for example, "at rare times"; "often," at "frequent times," &c. All adverbs may, in this manner, be reduced to oblique cases of nouns; and yet it is the function of adverbs not now to qualify substantives as static objects in space, but to qualify verbs as motic processes in time; and so preeminently it is the office of the adverb to modulate or modify the meaning of the verb—a function, therefore, the same in kind as that which, in the more general way, and with regard to certain modes that can be so indicated, is fulfilled by the so-called mode or mood of the verb itself. Mode is merely adverbiality wrought into the form of the verb. It is seen, therefore, that the verb—now meaning the compound verb, including the participle—denotes "the becoming" (Werden), and that the mode of the verb is the transfer to this motic aspect of being of the first double category of relation which belongs primarily to mere substantive and static form of being (Seyn).

The third and final one of this group of categories is reciprocal action (the interworking between objectivity and passivity). In this there is clearly nothing else than what we denominate the voice of the verb and its changing form from the active to the passive voice, with its double or reflected form in the middle, or reflected voice, and its quiet subsidence into indifference in the so-called neuter verb.

We come now, in time, to the categories of modality, is which we are simply to take up, ex professo, the consideration of that which has been previously alluded to, and partially provided for, as the modes or moods of the verb. The etymological identity of the names here, and throughout this exposition, is so striking and convincing that I have hardly deemed it necessary to advert to the subject, and nowhere more striking and convincing than in the case now before us. These are also double categories; and it is in respect to this group that I have the twofold undertaking in hand, first, to point out the grammatical analogies, and, in the second place; to establish certain important inaccuracies in the exposition of this class of discriminations as made by Kant himself; and I shall now couple these subjects with each other. The first of these categories is named by Kant that of possibility and impossibility. It will be seen, on slight reflection, that what is here meant is no more than bringing forward, in a new and special point of view, the same dubitation, now appearing as the potential mode of the verb which was previously expressed under the name of "limitation" and which appeared as the interrogative locution of the indicative mode. "I do not know whether I shall go or not," the last clause falling into what is denominated sometimes potential and sometimes subjunctive modality, is very closely related to the interrogatives, "shall I go?" or "shall I not go?" This intimate relationship is curiously and strikingly indicated in the Latin language by the force of the conjunction "an," which serves equally to introduce an interrogatory, or a clause involving this subjunctive dubitation.

But what is here said by Kant is by no means what is intended, or should be intended, by him. "Impossibility" is very far from being the true dubitative antithet of the term "possibility"; for nothing can be more certain not to happen than that which is impossible. What is meant, or should be meant, is not "what cannot be," but simply "what may not be"; or "may happen not to come to pass." The compound relation is not between "may be" and "may not be" in the sense of "must not be," but that between "may be" and "may happen not to be." The antithesis is expressed in the phrase "whether is" or "is not," or by the phrase "may be" and "may be not"; and not by the phrase "may be" and "may not be," meaning "must not be," as when in peremptorily forbidding an act one says "that thing may not be," which last is the form that involves the idea of impossibility; and this notion of impossibility belongs not under this category at all, but, as we shall see presently, under the subsequent and final one relating to necessity.

The second of this series of categories is that of "being or existence" (the Hegelian difference between Seyn and Da-seyn had not yet been insisted on) and "not-being or non-existence." Here again we have simply brought, in the performance of a new role, a category with which we are familiar under the name of reality, or affirmation and negation, and so close is the identity that there seems to be no other reason for the repetition than that affirmative and negative modality affect subjunctive and potential forms of thought in this case; whereas, under the categories of quality, it is the direct or indicative assertion or denial which is in question.

We come in the end to the third of this series of categories, which is stated by Kant as necessity and accidentality. But attention is now to be directed to the important fact that this also is a false antithesis. The real accidentality, as affecting the verb, is expressed in the affirmative and negative alternation. A thing may be or may not be, and occurrence or non-occurrence may be attributed to chance; whereas whatsoever is necessary is excluded from all connection with chance or accidentality. The true antithesis here, that which is meant, or should be meant, by this double category is affirmative necessity" and "negative necessity"—the necessity to be or the necessity not to be (or to not be), one of which is just as peremptory as the other. The antithesis placed before us by Kant is really between the third and the second of this series of categories and is not that which is intended. And now it will appear, on closer attention, that negative necessity is exactly that impossibility which Kant has erroneously placed as the antithet of possibility. The true expression of the category here, therefore, is "affirmative necessity," called rightly by Kant "necessity," and "negative necessity" synonymous with impossibility.

The three categories of modality, as amended in accordance with these suggestions, will therefore stand thus:

1. Possibility and possibility not (to be). 2. Affirmative form and negative form of possibility and possibility not. 3. Affirmative necessity (command, imperative mode) and negative necessity = impossibility (inhibition, prohibition, negative form of the imperative mode).

Or, expressed verbally in the forms of the verb—1. "May be" and "may be not." 2. "May be" and "may not be"; hypothetically "is" and "is not." 3. "Must be," "let it be," "be"; and "must not be," "let it not be," "be not."

But affirmative and negative necessity are not confined the imperative mode, or to the modal form of the verb. They glide in, in a very subtle manner, in connection with all native locutions in a way which is now to be pointed out. Positive necessity lurks in the compound alternative proposition, "either IS, or is NOT"; that is to say, it is all affirmative necessity by excluded middle that one or the other true. This predication may be made with positive certainty of everything, either that "it is" or "is not." The alternative involved is therefore affirmative necessity, and we are, as it were, commanded to bide by the one or the other proposition. On the contrary, negative necessity is involved in the similar logical inhibition, or negative command, not to affirm that thing "is and is not" (meaning to be understood in the same time and the same sense), for this involves the logical principle of contradiction. Either "is" or "is not" as an unavailable alternative is therefore an expression of affirmative necessity; and "not (i.e. don't say) is" and "is not" is a similar expression of negative necessity.

These considerations lead us to another important observation in close connection with logical accuracy and true definition, not so directly, however, involved in the subject of Kant's categories. I refer to a prevalent, if not indeed, as I believe, a universal inaccuracy in the use of the terms "positive" and "negative." Nothing is perhaps better established in the common idea, even with those most versed in critical discriminations, than that these two terms, positive and negative, are legitimately antithetical to each other, while yet this is not the case. The term truly antithetical to "negation" or "negative" is "affirmation" or "affirmative." "Affirmative" and "negative" make therefore the true coupling of terms in this sense. The true antithet of "positive " is, on contrary, "dubitative" or "doubtful." A negative proposition is just as positive as an affirmative one. We deny as positively as we affirm; and that which is unpositive or nonpositive is simply undecided or doubtful.

There remains much to be said, in this connection, of the relation of the objective case to Objectivity, of the dative case to Teleology, etc. But, to avoid making this communication too long, I omit these additional considerations—say merely, in general terms, that Grammar repeats Logic throughout in a sense which has not heretofore been clearly expounded, or, so far as I am aware of, even intimated.

  • The categories, as in Seelye's translation of Schwegler's History of Philosophy, are as follows:

Quantity. Quality. Totality, Reality. Multiplicity, Negation. Unity, Limitation.

Relation. Modality. Substance and Inherence, Possibility and Impossibility. Cause and Dependence, Being and Not-Being Reciprocal Action, Necessity and Accidence