Practical reason as sorcery (i): Kant reconsidered


It seems to me that the ethical problems are adequately framed by Kant when he says that the domain of the moral code is outside ‘pure reason’, i.e. human behavior is not knowable: there can be no science of it as we do not possess the necessary level of abstraction to frame those problems..

Consider a mouse (or frog) trapped in a prime number maze : its nervous (i.e. computational) system has not enough power to generate the adequate abstraction (the prime number concept) and hence it needs to proceed heuristically.

The presence of a paradox in the `practical reason’ domain for the human beings (an example is the “Cuckoo-clock speech” above by Welles in “The Third Man”) is nothing but a clue that our abstractions of `pure reason’ are not adequate. The paradox is the point where the purely deductive structure of science has to make room for induction, for the heuristic behavior.

Kant said that the three Ideas of Reason (“Soul”, “God”, “World”) are thinkable but never knowable: in other words, I can perceive or think to (say) my freedom but never generate and employ concepts that are adequate to its knowledge (this is Kant’s Third Antinomy). An example of this may be Libet’s experiment: “randomness” and “determinacy” are the only abstractions that we currently possess, but whole classes of phenomena (among them the human behavior) may be intrinsically outside the scope of that dichotomy, hence they are not (currently) knowable.

Lets now examine the “currently” above. Some powerful minds – like Nobel prize winner Roger Sperry – have argued that one day science could capture families of empirical phenomena currently outside its scope, like the human behavior. A conference (and paper) of 1966 “Mind, Brain, and Humanist Values” argued just that, saying that neurobiology could already capture some stylized phenomena. Francis Crick mused often about “biochemical theology”, now known as Neurotheology.

The question is still sub judice, of course: that is precisely the reason why social sciences (economics, sociology, psychology etc) have been called “sorcery”: in other words they are still in a pre-Galilean stage.

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