"Absolute is coercion." -Allen Ginsburg

"At any time, however, an element of pure chance survives and will remain until the world becomes an absolutely perfect, rational, and symmetrical system, in which mind is at last crystallized in the infinitely distant future."

-Peirce, The Architecture of Theories

The search for a philosophical architectonic is the epitome of humanity's perpetual attempt to project its intellect into the cosmic sphere of pure reason. Though its heyday came in the scientific revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the idea of an absolute form or structure of knowledge for human experience reaches back as far as Plato's Republic.
Plato Fig.1

In the darkess of his cave, the pure forms of objects exist completely outside the human mind, which is only able to perceive a small portion of their true nature: they are shadows on the cave wall produced by an unseen fire. Persisting outside all human experience, the forms are an image of the ultimate wholeness and unity of the universe. They are the philosopher's dream, the ultimate good.

Kant's groundbreaking Critique of Pure Reason set out to construct a complete architectonic of human knowledge. Such a science- Kant's "pure reason" - seeks to discover the extent of a priori knowledge abstracted from purely empirical experience.

The search for a philosophical architectonic is the epitome of humanity's perpetual attempt to project its intellect into the cosmic sphere of pure reason.

It is essential to discover how the mind gains knowledge based simultaneously on experience and a priori synthesis, "that we may be able to determine the valid employment of all concepts in regard to the objects of knowledge of all these claims." According to Kant, basing experiential reasoning (reasoning from direct experience) on a priori concepts- apriori synthetic knowledge- is the only genuine addition to human knowledge. You might see the shadows of Plato's figures on the wall, but this knowledge is meaningless without a knowledge of the figures themselves.

Like the figures trapped in Plato's cave trying to reach an awareness of the forms, Kant's view of experience as grounded on premises not derived from experience presents a seemingly insoluble difficulty for the metaphysician. How is it possible to separate a priori knowlege from its base in experience?

The Answer?

Read how philosophers from Descartes to the American pragmatist Charles Peirce have attempted a solution to Kant's challenge.
Descartes's Meditations: searching for the ground of all knowledge. But without a belief in God, all the skeptic can be sure of is that she exists... When we can base consciousness on purely physical principles, Descartes' vision of the soul as an entity transcending the body seems antiquated. Descartes thinks he can prove the existence of material objects from first principles, but his entire reasoning rests on a preassumption of the validity of deductive argument, which he never addresses explicitly: a problem known as the Cartesian Circle.
Cassirer's vision of symbolic form. Peirce's house of knowledge: working from within.
The skeptic speaks. Reflections on the absolute.(*)

Is it possible to apply reductionism to the basic structures of human knowledge? If we can understand neurons on the most basic chemical level, can we program a computer to interpret abstract art?

Some final thoughts from Kant:

"A certain mystery lies here concealed; and only upon its solution can the advance into the limitless field of the knowledge yielded by pure understanding be mde sure and trustworthy. What we must do is to discover, in all its proper universality, the ground of the possibility of a priori synthetic judgements, to obtain insight into the conditions which make each kind of such judgments possible, and to mark out all this knowledge, which forms a genus by itself, not in any cursory outline, but in a system, with completeness and in a manner sufficient for any use, according to its original sources, divisions, extent, and limits. "


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This page constructed by Sheri Simmons '99.

May 25, 1996