A Blog by Virgilio Rivas

Substance Abuse

What a hardcore Kantian is capable of


In one word, freedom, this is the secret to Kant’s Copernican revolution in philosophy. We agree with this except for the uncanny side Kant made freedom to perform. For purposes of this post, I will call this ‘substance abuse.’


Certainly the Copernican gesture of changing the way we look at things, a perspectival shift from ‘knowledge conforming to objects’ (arguably, the legacy of the dogmatism of Ptolemaic theory) to ‘objects conforming to cognition’ (the advent of a new science treading along a secure path) already reveals a secret—that the arbitrariness of changing the focus is not legislated by any a priori of reason. It is freedom as pure performativity which precedes the act of freely arriving at the a prioris of pure reason. Nonetheless, and in spite of appearances, freedom, even for Kant, does not possess an absolute founding character (more on this later). It is not difficult to argue here that as performance freedom is a non-intellectual value, an act that is not conceivable within the a prioris. The question that comes up immediately is whether freedom precedes the determinism of the a prioris or is revealed rather later as a consequence of applying the a prioris to objects of experience which for Kant necessitates that reason annuls itself. Simply put, the pure exercise of pure reason (intellectual or theoretical) succumbs to the unknowable which can only be approached by means of the practical use of pure reason.

As we emphasized in our earlier post, everything has to be given first to cognizability before ‘everything’ takes the form of the thinkability or transparency of appearing. Freedom as antecedent can only be revealed retroactively from the standpoint of pure reason. Yet, even as antecedent freedom has to be intrinsically cognizable which illustrates how Kant held on to the correlation between cognition and the cognizability of being as a permanent correlation. It must be cognizable; otherwise the retroactive standpoint of pure reason would fall under its own weight. Retroaction demands that the object of its examination must conform to its a priori demands. (That much can be said of how Kant defended the dogmatic procedure of knowledge without falling into dogmatism). Beyond this correlation freedom is non-existent.

But freedom exists, in fact, allowed by Kant to exist rather as a metaphysical postulate only that its certainty as knowledge is questionable from the standpoint of pure reason. Kant’s project is to investigate how such postulate could exist without legislation (of the a prioris). We learn from Kant that the key to unlocking the secret to this absurdity is a natural disposition. We are all predisposed to do metaphysics before the work of pure reason could initiate a reverse engineering. This engineering technique is cognitive and retroactive. In contrast, for a natural, that is, unlearned metaphysician, his belief in God is not achieved by any retroactive procedure, rather by simple and absolute performance. He performs God in the very act of performing his belief which makes God actual for him. Performing God is performing a natural metaphysics by non-intellectual means. In spite of appearances, however, Kant would not allow that this is an exercise of freedom on the part of the natural metaphysician for a natural metaphysician is simply ignorant of the cognizable condition on the level of reason’s practical use of the possibility of God! The level of his ignorance is such that it yields high risk of insanity which arguably treats freedom as transcendent to the givenness of limitation in which reality (or reality principle) breaks down (more on this).

Even so, insofar as the experience of God by an unlearned or pre-critical metaphysician does not need the precondition of cognizability of God for God to become an object of experience in the metaphysical sense, freedom actually precedes the a prioris of reason. He knows God exists because his belief is capable of moving him (close to Kierkegaard’s notion of subjectivity is actuality). This runs counter to the unknowability of the object of experience from the standpoint of the pure exercise of pure reason which can only allow itself to reduce an object of experience to its thinkability but not its knowability. Hence, a natural metaphysician is actually capable of knowing an object of experience by alone utilizing the practical side of pure reason. Though even at this point that he is performing something that he is not actually free to do so he is ignorant that he deploys the a prioris of reason. The poor fellow is actually predetermined. Like it or not, even an unlearned man has a prioris in his mind!

Indeed, the condition of possibility of a metaphysical postulate such as God is the annulment of the a prioris of pure reason (though, again, the poor believer is ignorant that his is an act of annulment). Someone like Kant has to tell our poor fellow that he is not actually experiencing an object of experience but simply believing he experiences the non-experienceable. But with uncanny twist, a natural metaphysician can unlearn his ignorance or his predisposition to dogmatic metaphysics if he learns the a prioris that for Kant actually condition his belief. (On hindsight, Kant himself was awakened from his dogmatic slumber).This is the kernel of what we described beforehand as substance abuse. What follows is our elaboration:

Let us administer an a priori ‘pill’ to a natural metaphysician. When the drug kicks in our guinea pig will be transported to a dimension in the past when he could see how he was not actually being himself when he was at his best self. The drug works as a liberator of ignorance. But the wonder of the pill is more than that. It actually allows the subject of the experiment an experience of the redoubtable—that with the pill he can experience freedom. This time freedom loses its metaphysical character. It becomes a permissible experience of metaphysics, a critical act. There metaphysics is liberated from natural disposition—a post-human metaphysics.

No sooner than reality barges in after the expiration of the pill another pill must be administered. Presumably this time it is the subject of the experiment asking for a much higher dose. It is precisely at this point when the subject becomes free, not anymore in the metaphysical sense, rather in the transcendental sense. The subject is now capable of explaining the possibility of metaphysics.


We can also argue that this experiment also works for the Copernican revolution in philosophy initiated by Kant. The perspectival shift of the Copernican is not dictated by the a priori rather by freedom. Freedom is not an apriori but performance. We have covered this already. Nonetheless we can extend the argument.

As performance however pure reason has no concept for it. Let us say it is pure sensibility, pure affect, without which no object can be experienced (‘thoughts without contents are blind’). Kant would further his argument in terms of introducing another correlation between intuition and concept—intuitions without concepts are empty. From the latter correlation we can obtain the conception that freedom (which is the result of the intuition of time and space initially producing an awareness of boundaries and limitations in which alone freedom can operate) cannot be actually free until it is given to cognizability or to the categories of understanding. So far this is Copernican—actuality is produced by the a prioris being made to reduce objects to conforming to reason. Yet we all know that as a consequence of Kant’s Newtonian view of science objects cannot of their own making conform to cognition. Objects are inert in a Newtonian universe. Cognition must rather make objects behave according to its designs which correspond to the categories of understanding. But, realistically speaking, this is only half-Copernican.

Recall here that freedom is what allowed the perspectival shift. It is not cognition that makes objects conform to it, rather something entirely non-cognitive, practical, to say the least. As we have emphasized in the preceding section, freedom has to be cognizable first before it can penetrate human understanding. Thus, what the Copernican revolution is all about is the cognizability of freedom to allow the perspectival shift to transform our scientific view of the world. And yet freedom is not an a priori for it to be cognizable. Even as a practical value, it cannot be recognized as performativity until the a prioris are suspended—in other words, the a prioris have to be first tested. They have to be there all along, at least, for Kant.

Nonetheless, the necessary presence of the a prioris does not prove anything. They cannot be assuming the necessary had not something entirely non-cognitive allowed their necessity. For purposes of consistency, the non-cognitive that we are referring here must not be a part of pure reason (its practical side) otherwise freedom would lose its integrity as that which purely allows the perspectival shift, a change of method of acquiring knowledge (from Ptolemaic to the Copernican) precisely because it would simply be the other side of pure reason, yet the same pure reason allowing its other side to maintain its self-coherence, calling the shots. Thus, there is no point to the assumption that the change of perspective initiated by Copernicus in science (and extended to philosophy by Kant) is made possible by the pure exercise of freedom, not reason, either intellectual or practical, rather by pure willing, or the will to truth that is irreducible to cognition and the cognizability of its practical value.

But to insist that it is pure willing would entirely belie Kant’s Copernican revolution. Certainly in the sense of will to truth Kant anticipates the ascetic ideal that Nietzsche accuses him of endorsing beneath his famous exhortation to dare use the full powers of reason. In a nutshell, the ascetic (nihilistic) ideal means that with the collapse of reason (prefigured in Kant by the annulment of reason to give room for faith) only the will can provide comfort.  Yet even the will has to be suspended for it was the will in the pure sense that encouraged the will to truth (the change of perspective from Ptolemy to Copernicus and now to the ever-increasing complexity of science that corresponds to the complexity of its objects of study) that shattered the illusion of willing that truth is attainable. Nonetheless, in spite of appearances, the will itself must be saved, as Nietzsche speaks of the last resort of the ascetic (in On the Genealogy of Morals).


I would like to end here with a question: Can we now say with utmost clarity (the dogmatic side of our position vis-à-vis Kant’s own) that to save the appearance of health, sanity and virtuous living, of necessity the ascetic must take substance abuse to a secure path?

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