Epistemic Humility and Causal Structuralism

James Van Cleve

in Perception, Causation, and Objectivity

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199692040
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729713 | DOI:

Series: Consciousness & Self-Consciousness Series

Epistemic Humility and Causal Structuralism

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Rae Langton's book Kantian Humility offers a provocative interpretation of one of Kant's central theses and one of the arguments for it. The thesis is that we have no knowledge of things in themselves, which Langton interprets as meaning we have no knowledge of the intrinsic properties of things. We have knowledge of mind-independent things, not just of appearances, but what we know about these things is only how they are related to other things and to us, not what they are like in nonrelational respects or ‘in themselves'. This is the doctrine Langton calls Humility. Kant's argument for the doctrine is based on the premise that human sensory knowledge is Receptive — that we have knowledge only of those features of things that have some causal impact on our faculty of sensibility. But how does Receptivity imply Humility? Strawson complained that the link between the two is ‘a fundamental and unargued complex premise of the Critique'. Langton undertakes to identify the Kantian assumption that must be added to Receptivity to get Humility. However, her own reconstruction of Kant's argument still leaves a significant gap. This chapter tries to do for Langton's Kant what Langton did for Strawson's Kant: to identify and assess an unstated premise that is needed to make the argument go through. In this reconstruction, the missing premise is that causal relations hold (when they hold at all) of necessity. When contemporary philosophers maintain this anti-Humean thesis, they generally do so as a consequence of a view about property individuation sometimes known as causal structuralism. The chapter examines the credentials of causal structuralism.

Keywords: Rae Langton; Kant; Strawson; causal relations; causal structuralism; humility

Chapter.  5287 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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