Yes we Kant! / Critical reflections on objectivity: its meaning, its limitations, its fateful omissions
In the Crisis of the European Sciences, Husserl points out that scientific objectivity, as it gradually took shape through the modern sciences in the form of a mathematization of nature, rests on a “fateful omission”, the one namely of forgetting to inquire back into the subjective-historical, dynamic and living context out of which it first of all emerged. This omission is of the essence, so he says, because without it, modern science would not have been able to realise what it has until this day. The production of objectivity intrinsically rests on the possibility to exclude that which is seen, from there on as historically subjective. Its fate is sealed in these terms, and it thus determines as such a specific space in which the necessary, the possible and the contingent are mutually defined. Descartes was perhaps the first to have pointed out this intimate connection, in acknowledging the need for a subjectivity – albeit as a res cogitans – in the midst of an overwhelming machinery of production of objectivity. Kant, however, more poignantly bears witness to this intimate relation between subjectivity and objectivity. In our view, he is the philosopher par excellence for having explored, throughout his three Critiques, but also in his pre-critical works, the idea that there can be no objectivity without subjectivity, and vice versa, that there can be no subjectivity without objectivity. It is indeed through the developments in modern science that subjectivity can appear in its capacity to contribute to the constitution of objectivity, as well as in its capacity to fail in this endeavour. And vice versa, it is through the articulation of subjectivity that objectivity can appear as intrinsically dependent on very specific subjectively grounded constitutive procedures. Most of the time, Kant has been read from a determinative, constitutive angle, and has as often been turned into a static, detached, and even obsessive thinker. His aim is considered to be to determine the limits and the range of the newly identified cognitive capacities as a neutral referee, without having to genuinely try them out. A divergent perspective is possible, however, that attempts to argue for a more dynamic view on objectivity, one in which objectivity is not seen as ultimately detached and static, but in which it is on the contrary the precarious and ever questionable result of dynamic processes of co-constitution. In this regard, there is certainly much to be learned from Kant’s third Critique, because that is the place where Kant most explicitly deals with the issue of coconstitution, and faces this problem in terms of the ways in which objectification encounters failure or disappointment (Enttäuschung). In the third Critique, his basic question is indeed the one about the meaning of a determinative or constitutive ambition, in the principled absence of the means to carry it through. What does this principled resistance, the encounter with an impossibility, that Kant so stubbornly exposes through the beautiful, the sublime and the living, mean? What is its place in his critical system and in critical thinking generally? What are its implications for a conception of objectivity that is, perhaps too hastily, conceived of in terms of neatly acquired and well defined capacities of subsumption under universal concepts? What are its implications for a conception of subjectivity that is, perhaps too quickly also, conceived of in terms of the subjective-relativecontingent. Clearly, Kant’s work, and most definitely his third Critique, is incompatible with a marked and static opposition between two terms, the subjective and the objective, leading to an oppositional space of subjectivism versus objectivism. But does this mean that the issue of resistance and failure, in the process by which objectivity and subjectivity are time and again codetermined and co-defined, is already sufficiently articulated? Is the figure of the “fateful omission” Husserl is referring to, and by which he also points at the historical dimensions of objectivity as well as subjectivity, already sufficiently explored? The aim of this three-day international workshop is to present and exchange various critical viewpoints on objectivity and subjectivity, and to more specifically focus on the various interpretations of necessity in its relation to contingency. This approach on the matter can find inspiration in Kant’s third Critique, that works out the idea that the need and the possibility to articulate the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity emerges to the extent that something resists the anticipative procedures of a living, actively engaged being. This need and this possibility are by him interpreted from within the background of contingently based feelings of pleasure and displeasure, that Kant considered as the constraining and enabling context – the horizon – within which eventually all processes of cognition and morality are to be situated, and in relation to which the faculty of judgment has a specific unifying role to play. But this source of inspiration should certainly not be considered as the only possible one. Husserl’s gesture to extrapolate the coconstitutive relation between objectivity and subjectivity to history is but one example of objectivity seen from a dynamical, contingently, historically and subjectively grounded background, the lifeworld. The meeting is certainly open to explore other backgrounds. To realize that end, we invite speakers from different disciplinary backgrounds – physics, mathematics, biology, psychology, … – and embedded in quite divergent philosophical contexts – continental/analytical, in as far as this distinction is a relevant one. This meeting is not in the first place about critically, exegetically, discussing Kant’s texts. Its aim is rather to inquire whether, and in what sense, a return to Kant and to neo-Kantianism can be important to open certain unsuspected perspectives on objectivity (and subjectivity). We conjecture that this approach can be relevant for (i) a contemporary reading of basic texts in the tradition of transcendental philosophy, (ii) a conception of objectivity that can have a relevance in current philosophy and in philosophy of science in particular, (iii) for the development of a transcendental viewpoint in philosophy of science, supplementing and challenging current dominant analytical viewpoints.