Thursday, March 23, 2006

Illusion and Critique

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant introduces what he calls a "transcendental illusion": a concept of reason which seems to provide us with transcendent knowledge (knowledge which transcends any possible experience). A transcendental illusion arises in the following way: reason seeks the condition for the totality of conditions. It seeks the ultimate ground or foundation. In doing so, reason constructs a series of concepts: the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the freedom of the will. And these concepts really do seem to provide us with transcendent knowledge. But the analytic of cognition shows that they cannot, because nothing could even count as knowledge if it lacks sensible content, as these ideas do. Thus, Kant shows that the very idea of "transcendent knowledge" is a mirage.

The ideas of reason -- the transcendental illusions -- are illusions because they seem to provide us knowledge, but in fact don't. Yet they are transcendental illusions -- illusions that are somehow built into the very structure of the human mind. (Or of any mind that is recognizably like ours.)

(It should, of course, be noted that Kant goes on to argue that the concepts do have a necessary role in human life -- for although they provide us with no knowledge, they are required for morality, and more precisely, they are required in order for a being like ourselves to have a motive to be moral, and not merely a reason.)

The main limitation on Kant's theory of transcendental illusion is that it is too restrictive. On his analysis, transcendental illusion only arises through the work of reason's desire for totality.

Adorno and Deleuze, on the other hand, are transcendental philosophers who push the envelope of critique. It is not merely the desire for totality which is a source of transcendental illusion, they argue, but even the desire for identity, in the very stability of judgments, is illusory. This is what drives Adorno in Negative Dialectics and Aesthetic Theory, and it is also what Deleuze is driving at in Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense, and his work with Guattari.

Adorno and Deleuze (together with Wittgenstein) belong to the Third Enlightenment because they follow in Kant's footsteps in holding that even if the illusion is necessary, the critique of that illusion is no less necessary.

2 Comments:

Blogger Idealogen said...

Dr Spinoza is right when asserting..Adorno and Deleuze, on the other hand, are transcendental philosophers who push the envelope of critique. It is not merely the desire for totality which is a source of transcendental illusion, they argue, but even the desire for identity, in the very stability of judgments, is illusory.

This almost manic search for transcendental "foundations", be it Truth, God, Reason or whatever is, I believe, what Deleuze and Guattari call "interpretosis" - and that's a desease they are diagnosing!

Deleuze goes further and debunks the transcendental "subject" which has infected philosophy since Descartes.

On an intellectual level I get this, as well as his idea of "immanence" as the pure flow of life and perception without any distinct perceiver.

But I find it hard on a personal level to accept this way of thinking. Wouldn't this mean the impossibility of the individual as an active agent?

Comments (helpful, if possible) are welcomed.

All the best,

Orla Schantz

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your clear explanation of Kant's transcendental illusion!! you've saved my life!

9:04 PM  

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