Monday, July 28, 2008

D'Souza's Kantian Argument for Noumenal Reality

Dinesh D'Souza, in What's So Great About Christianity, uses Kant to argue that it's rational to believe that there is a world beyond our physical senses; i.e., that there is a non-empirical dimension of reality. For philosophical materialists the only kind of reality is empirical, sense-experiential. The world outside of our consciousness is accessible to our 5 senses, and is the only world there is. "The Enlightenment fallacy holds that human reason and science can, in principle, gain access to and eventually comprehend the whole of reality." (169) D'Souza writes that Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, showed that this is false.

Kant asks: how do we know that our human perception of reality corresponds to reality itself? Kant argued that "reality does not come directly to us but is "filtered" through a lens that we ourselves provide." (171) There is a world outside of us, but we do not apprehend it immediately. Rather, the external world gets mediated through categories in our mind.

D'Souza writes: "Kant conceded Berkeley's and Hume's point that it is simply irrational to presume that our experience of reality corresponds to reality itself. There are things in themselves - what Kant called the noumenon - and of them we can know nothing. What we can know is our experience of those things, what Kant called the phenomenon." (171)

For Kant, one can't know the ding an sich, the thing-in-itself. External reality remains permanently hidden to us. "All we have is the experience, and that's all we can ever have... We have no basis for inferring that the two [experience and reality] are even comparable, and when we presume that our experience corresponds to reality, we are making an unjustified leap. We have absolutely no way to know this." (173)

Kant is not against science. Science applies to phenomenal, not noumenal, reality. But who says noumenal reality even exists? That's the Kantian point D'Souza wants to establish. He writes: "For Kant, the noumenon obviously exists becauae it gives rise to the phenomena we experience. In other words, out experience is an experience of something... Kant contends that there are certain facts about the world - such as morality and free will - that cannot be understood without postulating a noumenal realm." (173) There is, therefore, on D'Souza's Kantian interpretation, a "world beyond our senses."

Have Kantian scholars or other philosophers refuted Kant here? Does D'Souza even have Kant right? He claims there's been no such refutation, in spite of Daniel Dennett's claim that there has been. D'Souza confronted Dennett on this, and says Dennett just got angry "but he didn't provide any refutations, and he didn't name any names." (174)

Dennett and others are seen by D'Souza as being under the "illusion of realism." "Realists like Dennett think of themselves as tough-minded empiricists, but they are not empirical enough to realize that all that is available to them are experiences and nothing beyond them... The empiricist assumes without any evidence or proof that his experiences somehow give him a magical access to reality. So completely does he indentify experience and reality that he cannot liberate himself from thinking of the two as one and the same." (175)