What is the nature of the unobserved world? In what way does it exist?
So what I mean is does it exist in some physical form? Or perhaps it just exists as a sort of function of language ('the engine under the hood' relates to discourse, right?)? Or does it exists as a sort of expectation of one thinks they will experience (such as the expectation of seeing a cup when you open the cupboard)? Or it just doesn't exist at all (what forest?!)?
The unobserved world is things like the forest when nobody is around. What exist in cupboards, beyond walls, under the hood, under the ground, behind your head, behind the moon, etc. Does the edible part of the banana pre-exist it being revealed through peeling? And if so, in what way does it exist? Does it look yellow before it is revealed through peeling the skin?
If unobserved prehistoric life didn't exist, how did it leave fossils behind?
You've already admitted observation into the discovery of the fossils. There is merely the perception of the fossil; no extrapolation backwards to the prehistoric life can do anything other than spin around in the circle created by the perception of the fossil and human reason. Or you can allow Berkeley his God shenanigans and have God watch the prehistoric life. If unobserved prehistory life left behind fossils which no one ever found, then the point is moot.
>So what I mean is does it exist in some physical form? Or perhaps it just exists as a sort of function of language ('the engine under the hood' relates to discourse, right?
You're a faggot.
Keynes once quipped that public figures who think they are expressing their original thoughts are usually echoing the words of some dead economist. The same might be said of the dead Kant in respect to science. While his thought provides a comprehensive modern framework for science, most practicing scientists have never read him and large swaths of the philosophy of science ignore or reject what they take to be muddled Kantianism.
Bertrand Russell and E.G. Moore were especially hostile to Kant, convicting him of logical errors and supposing that transcendental idealism rested on a mistaken faith in the inviolability of Euclidean Geometry, which Kant presented as the very model of the "synthetic a priori." These dubious charges stuck all the way through logical positivism and continue in the analytic tradition. Certainly Popper's demarcation criteria seem to reject Kantian approaches, or at least so Popper claimed.
Today, however, it seems that more philosophers of science may be open to Kant. Henry Allison offers detailed refutations of the above calumnies, and Kuhn was explicitly influenced by Kant in his anti-Popperian demarcation by "paradigms." He claimed that reading Kant while studying physics utterly altered his naive realism, though those are not his words.
As to the bigger picture. Bacon first described the emerging rift between the rationalists, "the spiders," who weave webs of theory (coherence theory, we might say) and the new empirical naturalists, "the busy ants," who gather bits of data (correspondence theory, roughly). The rift grew into Leibnizian mathematical rationalism and Humean skepticism. It was Kant's great project to merge and mutually limit the two on a firm metaphysical basis, in part to secure the basis of Newtonian physics.
His unique amalgam of coherence and correspondence theory is in many ways, and intentionally, a kind of philosophical version of the hypothetic-deductive framework of science, an expansion of knowledge by rational (conceptual) methods and experimental (intuitional) confirmation. And indeed science does undertake continuous active synthesis based on a priori assumptions of necessity and universality. Even the "experiment" is somewhat Kantian, in that it is hardly passive reception of sense data... the experiential confirmation in "common sense" is quite artificial and actively constructed.
Most working scientists tend to believe they are following analytical rules and discovering "correspondences" with hard "reality." So they look askance at Kantian idealism, regarding it as akin to Berkeleyan empirical idealism or some sort of structuralism. Such assurance was, of course, shaken by statistical mechanics in thermodynamics and then quantum mechanics. But such "shaking" may only register with a few...how many physicists, after all, have time to read Kant? Yet when pressed on theoretical issues many physicists will admit they are constructing models and cannot speak about the "ultimate reality," mere speculative metaphysics, unaware that they are defaulting to a near Kantian position.
Meanwhile, cosmology today seems to be weaving "theoretical webs" well outside any Kantian remit, moving far beyond experimental range and tumbling headlong into the Antinomies. In CPR B511, for example, we see hints of Copenhagen in "you never come face to face with anything unconditioned...." or "...neither a simple appearance [i.e., final particle] nor an infinite composition [i.e., material universe] can ever come before you." One might say Kant attempted to work out a physics that included the observer.
Of course, this is very general and it is easy to contrive this sort of cozy compatibility. I don't know enough about Kant yet to know where he might be in serious conflict with scientific practices, especially in theory of evolution... or perhaps in the evolution and "selection" of theories, where Hegel's criticism of Kant begins. I hope other will offer more specific references to Kant in current philosophy of science, since I'd like to know as well.
Lots of great stuff here!
Evolutionary theory and Kant's philosophy make for a fascinating pair. How could we avoid abandoning Kant, since he uses such intangible arguments to convince us that the human mind is presupposed by the existence of the natural world, whereas evolutionary theory presents us with such vivid evidence that humans and their minds are rather the result of natural processes? Kant is refuted, right?
Well, no - and we could give arguments as to why transcendental critique is much more immune to empirical discoveries than a more shallow reading of Kant might suggest. But what I think is more pertinent to the particular question of evolution is that Kant himself anticipated evolutionary theory (and he wasn't the first to, of course), defending hypotheses that are very similar to what Darwin would explore, and even defending a concept suggestive of abiogenesis. (Though it's important to keep in mind that for Kant, we must still think of these natural processes as goal-oriented, with the brute mechanistic laws of nature unviolated, but subordinated to teleological purposiveness.) I'll quote from section 80 of the Critique of Judgement at the end of my post.
But Kant's evolutionary sympathies are less surprising when we recall the nebular cosmological model he developed early in his career as an attempt to explain the history of our solar system - an attempt that was also remarkably prescient. Kant believed that the earth resulted from the accretion of particulate matter drawn together by gravity - so he couldn't believe that the human species has always existed. So then where did our minds come from, if space and time and all of the stars and planets within them are dependent on human minds, and thus couldn't produce human minds?
Kant's answer, of course, is that no matter how far back we trace the history of the universe, we are still only within the domain of phenomena; the history of our planet and our biological species is not an account of any thing-in-itself, but is only the best attempt of our cooperating transcendental faculties to produce a coherent, unified system of experience from the raw data given in sensation. These sensations - structured into spatiotemporal appearances, and structured into conceivable judgments, and structured into rational inferences and investigative procedures, can give us knowledge of natural history, but such knowledge is only constituted of conditions-as-appearance, never giving insight into any condition-in-itself.
Just as we can never explore all regions of space, but can use what regions we have explored to draw conclusions (with varying degrees of confidence) about what is spatially beyond those perceived regions and interacting with them (as with the discovery of Neptune, Kant might cite), so we can only start from our present span of time and build a scientific model of the past conditions that have led up to it. So there is, at bottom, no greater inconsistency here between transcendental idealism and evolutionary theory, as there is an incompatibility with transcendental idealism and the claim that I was born of two parents who were alive during a time that I didn't exist.
But the "I" that is known as a physical human body homologous with other great apes and vertebrates, and even the "I" that is known in inner sense as a remembering, imagining, desiring, science-inclined wonderer, is merely an empirical "I" at the same level as the phenomenal domain of natural history; there is also a more fundamental "I," the transcendental self, and *this* "I" cannot be explained by evolution, or nebular cosmology, or anything. The transcendental self can't even be known, since it is a condition upon which all knowledge is grounded.
> The agreement of so many genera of animals in a certain common schema, which seems to lie at the basis not only of their skeletal structure but also of the arrangement of their other parts, and by which a remarkable simplicity of basic design has been able to produce such a great variety of species by the shortening of one part and the elongation of another, by the involution of this part and the evolution of another, allows the mind at least a weak ray of hope that something may be accomplished here with the principle of the mechanism of nature, without which there can be no natural science at all. This analogy of forms, insofar as in spite of all the differences it seems to have been generated in accordance with a common prototype, strengthens the suspicion of a real kinship among them in their generation from a common proto-mother, through the gradual approach on one animal genus to the other, from that in which the principle of ends seems best confirmed, namely human beings, down to polyps, and from this even further to mosses and lichens, and finally to the lowest level of nature that we can observe, that of raw matter: from which, and from its forces governed by mechanical laws (like those which are at work in its production of crystals), the entire technique of nature, which is so incomprehensible to us in organized beings that we believe ourselves compelled to conceive of another principle for them, seems to derive.
> Now here the archaeologist of nature is free to let that great family of creatures (for thus must one represent it if there is to be a basis for the thoroughly coherent kinship that has been mentioned) originate from the remaining traces of its oldest revolution in accordance with any mechanism for it that is known to or conjectured by him. Here he can have the maternal womb of the earth, which has just emerged from a condition of chaos (just like a great animal), initially bear creatures of less purposive form, which in turn bear others that are formed more suitably for their place of origin and their relationships to one another, until this birth-mother itself, hardened and ossified, has restricted its offspring to determinate species that will degenerate no further, and the variety will remain as it turned out at the end of the operation of that fruitful formative power...
> One can call an hypothesis of this sort a daring adventure of reason, and there may be few, even among the sharpest researchers into nature, who have not occasionally entertained it. For it is not absurd, unlike "generatio equivoca," by which is meant the generation of an organized being through the mechanism of crude, unorganized matter. It would still be "generatio univoca" in the most general sense of the term, insofar as something organic would be generated out of something else that is also organic, even though there would be a specific difference between these kinds of beings, e.g., as when certain aquatic animals are gradually transformed into amphibians and these, after some generations, into land animals. A priori, in the judgment of mere reason, there is no contradiction in this. Only experience gives no example of it;