Kant's invention

Experience can only lead to knowledge if it is organized by concepts which do not come from experience. A. Grandjean completely renews the interpretation of this paradox which forms the heart of Kant's metaphysics.

We have long awaited work that undertakes to do justice to the Kantian notion of experience. Certainly, all specialists know the test devoted The Kantian Theory of Experience by which Hermann Cohen had, from 1871, given form to the so-called interpretation nokantian. But the experiment that Cohen had in mind was primarily and by destination a scientific experiment. This led to a reduction of philosophy to a simple theory of knowledge backed by a determined state of science (Newton). The book by A. Grandjean, admirable in every way, takes the opposite view of this interpretation, holding that the experience of which Kant speaks is first and foremost an ordinary experience. But even more, it shows that experience thus understood is not only a principle of destruction of ontology: it is as such a metaphysical issue in its own right. He acquits himself of this task brilliantly, combining often disjointed qualities: conceptual rigor and speculative depth, clarity of exposition and density of style.

The misinterpretation of empiricism: constitution of experience and ontology

The commentary's relative disaffection for such a central notion is explained by an observation: Kant would only be interested in experience from the point of view of its conditions of possibility in a word, what he calls the transcendental, subtracts experience insofar as it grounds it. However, A. Grandjean will endeavor to question the presuppositions underlying this observation and complicate the diagnosis. A delicate undertaking, because the aim is above all not to attenuate the specificity of the transcendental by making it the driver of certain determined experiences, which is what all the interpretations inclined to give a psychologizing reading do. This book must in fact be read as a continuation of a first, Criticism and reflection (Paris, Vrin, 2009), in which the author fully assumed the character of the transcendental do both unpassable and impossible to constitute in object of knowledge. Also the transcendental is not produced by experience, in which every object is also each time the effect of a given cause.

It is therefore certain that, for Kant, the discourse on experience is not an empiricist discourse. But by holding on to this rejection, we miss its meaning. Also the entire first part of A's new book. Is Grandjean interested in the way in which Kant determines the empiricist position? It will be surprising at first glance that authors such as Locke, Hutcheson, Hume, Condillac or Rousseau are hardly present in the book: this is because empiricism is considered not as an effective tradition, but, according to its concept, as a Kantian invention an invention from which an original insight eventually becomes possible on what this Kantian point of view then constitutes, after the fact and by virtue of a certain tour de force, in a coherent historical flow. If Kant maintains that our concepts are only of use within the horizon of a possible experience, empiricism, starting from this same observation, interprets it wrongly. To be an empiricist is to maintain that, since our concepts only make sense for experience (thesis relating to use, to which Kant adheres), they must all come from experience (empiricist genetic thesis).

Kant addresses this bias with a triple reproach, from which the fact that this or that empiricist happens to be exempt would be less a credit to his credit than an indication of a form of inconsistency or a lack of radicality. First, empiricism thus defined fails to be a consistent philosophy of experience: it is incapable of founding the minimal ordering, which makes possible something like the appearance of a phenomenon in a subject. Empiricism leads to the dissolution of the fact of experience, it leads to skepticism. Second, empiricism provides fruitful rules for the exploration of natural phenomena, disqualifying any reference to metaphysical realities which would short-circuit this exploration (an immortal soul, an act of freedom, the existence of God, the invocation of which is each time a form of laziness and a renunciation understand nature); but it also tends to itself convert this healthy restraint into a positive decision on what is: empiricism conveys a materialist, fatalist and atheistic metaphysics. Thirdly, this drift is constitutive of empiricism insofar as it shares with classical rationalism the conviction which makes both a form of dogmatism: that all thought would be a idea of, in touch with what it is the idea of, in touch with being. This is why the persistence in Kant of the vocabulary of representation (inseparable from the horizon of a presence of being), must not conceal its transcendence in the thesis that all thought is of a conceptual order: it is the act of proceeding with the unification of a diverse given, which is seen thus constituted as an object and which assuredly is not one independently of it. In the absence of this critical turning point, the empiricist denunciation of rationalist metaphysics remains the expression of an underlying ontology. Kant breaks without restriction with ontology, but this break does not draw on a modest analysis of the understanding; it also consists of an emancipation of metaphysics, which will no longer be a metaphysics of being.

The treasure of empiricism: occurrence of the transcendental and anthropology

Once this critique of empiricism has been carried out, A. Grandjean could only retain the correct seminal intuition according to which the use of concepts is exhausted in the field of experience. Now the main originality of the work consists, in its second part, in taking seriously the shift that empiricism makes from the plane of use to the plane of genesis, not to validate the thesis of a origin empirical of all our concepts, but to defend the idea of ​​a occurrence of the transcendental even the experience that it constitutes. If the transcendental, with its structures a priori, does not derive from experience, it is not in the sense that it would always already precede it. Although it does not come from experience, it only happens through experience. This is the meaning of the assertion according to whicha priori is not innate, but acquired, in the mode of what Kant calls an original acquisition. This is true, on a theoretical level, both of the forms of intuition and of the categories; but the same can be said, on a practical level, of Faktum of the moral law: occurring on the occasion of a certain configuration of experience without leading it, it certainly does so in the mode of an immediate attestation of my duty which rejects any ratiocination, but this occurrence is no less inseparable from an entire prior moral pedagogy. What A. Grandjean had, in his previous work, spoken of as a fact of the transcendental then takes the more determinate form of a event: the fact of the transcendental does not precede its effective implementation, and this is impossible apart from our taking charge of a phenomenal datum that we constitute as an object of experience. The refusal of any derivation of the transcendental from experience should therefore not lead to the assumption that it could in a certain way exist independently of it.

But we must further refine this thesis which, in its generality, no commentator on Kant would dream of contesting. Empiricity, without being a productive cause of transcendental structures, is not the simple indeterminate pretext either: it is in a precise empirical context that the transcendental is capable of supervening experience. A. Grandjean speaks of it as an occasional cause of the transcendental, its ground, or even its condition. In fact, the choice of vocabulary is difficult: one would quickly pass off experience circularly as the condition of possibility of the transcendental, which is nevertheless nothing other than the condition of possibility of all experience. On the other hand, the legitimate desire to preserve the purity of the transcendental must not lead to ignoring an empirical foundation of the effective performance in which it is exhausted. This interpretive conviction of A. Grandjean is not a simple doctrinal subtlety. Its aim is to take charge, from the point of view of a transcendental philosophy, of the level of anthropological discourse, which would otherwise appear within the corpus Kantian, only as a -side, a recreation or a relapse. The main merit of this book, which is not lacking, is thus to stand on a crest line: not to reabsorb the transcendental into the anthropological, but not to misunderstand what the transcendental point of view is as such interested in. anthropology. For this reason, and not because Kant would have sacrificed an epochal spirit, the transcendental philosopher cannot fail to also be an assiduous reader of the empiricist tradition.

Hence a strong and luminous rereading of neglected passages, often disconcerting or even disturbing for the commentator, in theAnthropology from a pragmatic point of view especially. We know that every experience returns an original apperception; but is there nothing to say about the fact that consciousness can be altered in the state of dream, intoxication, madness?? We know that there is no effective experience except by putting into categorical form a given manifold in sensation, and the transcendental questioning remains there.; but if this suffices for the question of law, that of the conditions of possibility of an experience in general, should we judge the de facto structuring of our sensory capacity into five well-determined senses which cannot be superimposed in their respective performances as absolutely insignificant?? For not only is there no experience of which sensation is not an ingredient, but we must also take into account Kant's explicit declarations, according to which we would never have access to experiences if among our senses did not in fact include that of touch (for example, which we learn to relate to through our perceptions of objects distinct from the perceiving subject), nor indeed if we were all devoid of the sense of meaning (by which we learn to relate to the sign as a sign, which makes the formation of concepts possible).

We know that it is impossible for the determined forms of social existence (the difference of cultures, or even that of races related to the influence of climate) to deliver the meaning of moral experience, which would amount to assuming its relativization.; but must we believe that they would therefore have no impact on the possibility for us to access this moral experience in all its purity?? The demonstration is convincing: each level is verified by the paradox of an empirical condition which makes possible access to that whose meaning is, however, despite the empiricist, irreducibly in excess of that which allows access to it. From this point of view, the analyzes quA. Grandjean devotes two occasions (p. 258-267, then p. 297-303) to the first paragraph of theAnthropology from a pragmatic point of view have an exemplary value, taking as their specific subject the maturation of experience in early childhood and the way in which thought and language are linked, but at the same time establishing a fruitful interpretive line, and henceforth essential, for the whole of the book and for a considerable part of corpus Kantian.

Antoine Grandjean, Metaphysics of experience. Empiricism and transcendental philosophy according to KantParis, Vrin, 2022, 446 p., 39.