Categories and negativity

Rational discussions on metaphysical and abstract topics.
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Categories and negativity

Post by Alfalfa »

1. If one can't have both cleverness of an athenian and the temperance of a spartan, in philosophical matters it's better to neglect eloquence. So much for an introduction. For this discourse I present the question about categories, which has troubled the great minds like Aristotle and Kant — separated by a great span of time, but united by an even greater appreciation of philosophy. They sacrificed countless years of their lives for a thorough investigation of the categories – and was it all in vain? How has their work stood against centuries of envious thinking? Kant was thoroughly influenced by Aristotle's famous piece of philosophy, while the originator of categories in turn was greatly inspired by Plato, his adversary in truth.

2. The place of categories in the whole of philosophy can in Kant's and Aristotle's case be understood with the sense they give for Plato's 'idea'. It's especially Kant's interpretation of philosophy as mere knowledge — for which everything is categorical and that which is not, is reduced to merely nothing. Interpreting the connection of categories and nothing, i.e. negativity requires (a.) interpretation of the difference between categories in Aristotle's and Kant's sense, (b.) interpretation of Plato's 'idea' more coherently, (c.) interpretation of Kant's and Aristotle's understanding of Plato's 'idea', and finally (d.) Plato's 'idea' as it's interpretations in relation to the categorical structures of Kant and Aristotle in their differences.

3. First of all, 'category' as a philosophical concept is not that hard to understand. More likely it's understood in this understanding so obviously it's easily look past. What would being “past” a category be like, i.e. not understanding it? Rather as “past” it's still understood, but as concealed in the “past” of understanding. As something “past”, it can become the object of understanding to trace back it's own “past” as it's precencing. In a way, in such tracing, understanding comes back to something it already was — it's hence merely made conscious of itself. Understanding having itself interpreted as such an understanding, is itself made conscious about itself. As such, understanding has an about-what as it's content — itself to be more precise.

4. Having understood itself consciously, understanding is that standing-under it's own understanding as the about-what of understanding – itself made conscious. Such self-consciousness can rather easily be made something, which “should” pertain to everything as the with (con-) of all knowledge (scientia) of things. One could even want to dig “deeper” the ground under for standing – what ever that “means”. For Kant, there's a so called 'substratum' — in the literal sense of what's under (sub-) the core (stratum), on which understanding stands. Kant thinks this substrate as no-thing, since it is not a thing, if a thing is categorical and categories presuppose an “underground” which remains impenetrable, dark and unknown for the categorical understanding.

5.   Understanding the underground of understanding is for Kant like sailing a ship on the waves of dry land — a “contradictio in terminis”, which necessarily ends in a shipwreck. Since for Kant all that is divine, is in the underground of understanding, philosophical understanding of divine wrecks itself. Kant's philosophy is quite like a navigational chart, which serves for the understanding as a warning of shoals. It's not so with reason, which for Kant is like a mole digging deep underground. So, for Kant understanding is catecorigal and reason is for it nothing as the underground of understanding — but like Hegel says, for Kant man himself is an amphibious creature.

6. Kant didn't publish a proper scientifical investigation about the difference of categorical understanding and non-categorical reason — he merely lets it, at least for the reader's part, run loosely through the whole of his philosophical system. A question here rises quite by itself about the supposed non-categority of no-thing.

7.  It can be confusing, how Kant's and Aristotle's notions about the “a priori”, i.e. the “before” of understanding's “past” are almost the same, although they differ in some key aspects. For Aristotle, categories are not strictly speaking aprioric, since they are, as the latin translation goes, 'praedicamenta' — those-spoken-before. One doesn't for Aristotle apriori “speak” something over another, since apriori is not a form of speech, i.e. 'logos'. This is not an important difference, since Aristotle's apriori has something under it, almost like Kant's apriori understanding. This “something” is for both the mere form of matter according to it's possibility, i.e. for Kant the possibility of aposteriori use of categories on actual objects and for Aristotle the all use of categories. Even so, for both there's something about-which apriori is, whether one calls it 'Verstand' or 'nous'. It's not here needed to explain more specifically what this something — i.e. time — is, even though it's an important question in it's own right.

8. Aristotle's categories have an important difference from Kant's. These categories were, unlike Kant presupposed, not “found” and listed then in a random order. Kant should've known better, since he knew, that for Aristotle 'quantity' means the general and 'quality' the specific. Kant uses the names of these in an almost opposite way, since for him 'Qualität' means the not-limited and 'Quantität' the limited, e.g. we speak of a ration of beer and mean it's quantity — a magnitude of this much or that much.

9. The specific meaning of quantity and quality for Aristotle determines more closely the structure of categories, which for us opens an important distinction in his meaning for substance (ousia). The question Aristotle proposed was, which of these is more like substance, quantity or quality? He answers, that it is quality, i.e. 'poion'. Then again, a quantity is also for Aristotle a ration — a 'megethos'. If Aristotle and Kant both define quantity as a magnitude, how come their understanding of quality is different? For Kant, quality is not a magnitude, e.g. one dark-roasted beer is no less dark-roasted than two beers, though there's a difference in quantity.

10. Aristotle's meaning for quality is similar, but with an important difference. While it's true that a pale beer is as pale as two pale beers, for Aristotle this is a quantity of three pale beers, not a quality. A quality is it's difference, e.g. dark is not pale. A pale beer has it's quality in it's difference to dark beer, i.e. as a difference in the genus of beers, it forms a specific 'species' of pale beers in contrast to dark beers. Even more, for Aristotle 'genos' is a quantity — the proper difference between a quantity and quality is then, that the species presupposes a genus, even though the genus doesn't presuppose the species. This is in it's core also why Aristotle says, that species is more like a substance — since it's a genus-and-species, it's more concrete than the genus-in-itself, which is in comparison an abstraction.

11.   Let's try to explain this more clearly. Kant's category of quantity as this or that much magnitude  doesn't presuppose a quality. Qualities are accidentally added to magnitudes, as quantities are in turn accidentally added to quality. Kant defines categories of quantity and quality independent of each other, even though they are combined in an empirical thing, e.g. a pure mathematical quantity doesn't have a quality. Aristotle's category of quantity doesn't presuppose quality, since it's an abstraction of quality — i.e. a mathematical quantity is of certain species of quantity and as such it's a qualitative quantity. Even if there was possibly a quantity without quality, it would be an abstraction without actuality.

12. Kant's categories determine aposteriori material things according to their possibility, which is the application of apriori categorical formal forms on formal matter, i.e. application on internal time — even space as apriori needs time as inner substrate, since space is the form of outer, which is based on the internal division of time, i.e. one second outside a second one, although this is formal matter of inner inner and inner outer — meaning, e.g. a great ball containing a small ball, so the inside of the greater ball has an outside of the smaller ball inside itself. Words 'inside' and 'outside' are relative like this, even though the sentence certainly looks like mere hodgepodge. Categories are apriori about internal time, which gives under-standing's categories — as the above standing — their under.

13. Since for Kant internal time has it's unity from the self, which gives time as manifold the unity about-which different now's in time are — this about-which is not in itself “in” time, but even “under” it as the 'substratum', of-what under-standing is about. Natural understanding presupposes a non-sensible substrate as the “Ding an sich”, which can't be sensed, but understanding anything in nature aposteriori is supposed to presuppose it. Nature's reality “in re” is understanding of this substrate, which for understanding is in itself nothing.

14. Aristotle's categories are also about-which, but this thing is not a self in Kant's sense, i.e. as if the substrate of categorical understanding were the same self as the self which is about itself. I'll rescue this jumbled sentence by an illustrative example: Kant's 'self' is like mirror's surface without reflection, as the possibility for reflection. Aristotle's self is different, since for him self as 'nous' is apriori not about the about-which as a pure possibility, but it's the first degree of actuality as the actuality of such possibility for self-mirroring. The mere possibility is here nothing, as for Kant, but the critical difference is that for Aristotle mere possibility can't be the about-which categories are, since it's indeed nothing and actual things aren't about nothing.

15. It's a strange thought of Kant, that categories would have their about-which as mere nothing, as if categories were more real in contrast to nothing, but Kant doesn't think so — categories have for him their reality by being about this “thing in itself”, even though this is not supposed in any way to be a thing of any kind. Nevertheless Kant thought categority only in combination with the thing in itself so that neither has about-which in “itself”, e.g. a quantity as such isn't about-what, although aposteriori every quantity is about this or that much this, which demonstrates that quantity as such isn't categorical.

16. Why then should the self in itself be a “thing in itself”? This expression — infamous for a reason — is misleading, since it can't possibly be the categorical about-which. Aristotle thought the “thing” more rigorously, since the possibility of reality is for him towards-which the first degree of actuality as such a combination. It doesn't matter here whether Aristotle's categories were aposteriori after apriori degree of reality, since in Kant's sense such apriori is categorical, i.e. self-consciousness. Kant's “thing in itself” is an abstraction of categorical thing reduced from categorical combination and can't be the about-which of categories — not apriori and even less aposteriori.

17. Kant's 'substratum' is even apriori an abstraction of the categorical thing and Aristotle's 'ousia' is hence a more appropriate apriori definition of reality in this aspect — albeit Heidegger's critique applies for Aristotle as well, since both's definition of apriori are in that aspect identical. Aristotle's towards-which as the first degree of reality for categories of reality, is categorically a quality. As a quality, it is self for itself, i.e. not like a mirror's surface, but the reflection of. The self is a quantity applying to self and itself both, like two beers are both beer, but as such applying it has self and itself as different, i.e. as a quality. As a quality it's like pale beer and dark-roasted beer, which contains there both the identity of both as beer, i.e. a quantity of two beers, but also the difference, i.e. quality of one as pale and the other as dark-roasted.

18. Even though the category of quality is here all and all more coherent, it's not a category as apriori actuality — this is why the category of quality is only more like a substance for Aristotle. Even the category of substance is not strictly a category, i.e. a mode of speaking about something. Real speaking about things makes their quantity grow and hence adds level of abstraction. Categories are more abstract than the substance and the category of substance is first, because it's least abstract.

19.  If I can presume, that even one reader has made his way this far — I don't mind not having a lot, since I'm not a very original thinker —, it's proper to begin interpreting Plato's 'idea' in a more coherent manner than Kant. Seneca translates Plato's 'idea' to latin by the word which should be used even today: face (facies). The influence on language, which different philosophies have worked for the last thousands of years of philosophical tradition, justify especially this word, since it's greek original 'eidos' is more likely translated as 'species', although even that word in a sense means the outward appearance of a thing that is spectated. 'Eidos' and 'idea' are not exactly the same word, since for example a greek expression “ton idiōtēn“ translates correctly to latin “ad vulgarem”. An idiot is in a sense also a vulgar person, but the fact that an 'idea' has it's roots in the idiot, goes largely unnoticed even in contemporary “philosophy“.

20.  An idiot is a person, who doesn't pay enough attention to others. He is so absorbed in himself, that he acts, walks, talks, etc. almost like he is the only person in the world. This is like a caricature of a would-be philosopher, who uses his mouth more than his ears, though nature has provided us with only one mouth and two ears for a good reason. The idiot is preoccupied with minding his own business — Plato's Socrates defines that doing only one thing, “hekaston hen”, is “to do one's own business (auton prattein) and not to be a busybody”. This is the platonic idiot and what he does is close to the 'idea'. This is not etymological play, especially if one reads originals in the original language. Without having an 'idea', the idiot could not occupy his mind fully with his business without taking account of others. This is giving everything a face-value: it's valuable, since I'm taking it on the face-value of it. The thingness of a thing is for Plato's Socrates constituted in the face-value of, i.e. the 'species' of a thing.

21.   People in general have no “idea” what an 'idea' means for Plato's Socrates. The general interpretation of 'idea' as a vapour-like essence is itself a vapour-like essence — it's rootless and because it floats freely, it will keep on going. It's rather great irony of the history of “ideas”, how 'idea' as a word invented by Plato, originally against the masses, was converted to something the masses foremostly “understand”. Nevertheless, even such a gargantua, for which it's mouth is dearer than ears, has a self. Having a self is being this and not that. A mistake in translation is a good example of something which is not nothing, albeit it represents a thing as something which it is not.

22.   As an example of platonic itself-by-itself (autohekaston) Aristotle compares platonic “man-itself (autoanthropos)” to a 'man (anthropos)' in general: “though the definition is the selfsame (ho autos logos) for man”, the definition won't carry over (ouden dioisousin) from the one to the other. What does this philosophical mishmash mean? When an idiot meets a man and takes him at his face-value, this is the man-itself. The problems start, when it's compared to the general — i.e. not ideal — concept of 'man'. The concept 'man' has magnitude and is thereby more abstract than the platonically concrete man-itself encountered as mere face-value. The problem is not that man-itself were abstract and man is concrete. Core of the problem is, that the definition (logos) is the same in both cases.

23.   Aristotle doesn't mean, that if something is a ”man” because he participates in the ideal ”man-itself”, these two should again participate in a general concept of some ”third man”, i.e. man-and-man-itself. Translators of Plato and Aristotle have blundered over and over, because of the weight of tradition, so even a ”tode ti” is translated as ”such-and-such” and ”toiondes” as ”that-which”! A category is not ”this here (tode ti)”, but a such-and-such (toionde), i.e. a category is more abstract than the mere face-value. Otherwise there should be a ”third man”. The definition, 'logos' of man and man-itself is itself. If the 'logos' didn't go-over, there wouldn't be definition as such-and-such, which applies to man and man-itself and the man and man-itself wouldn't have a common definition, i.e. they wouldn't have anything in common, though the word 'man' is same in both. The general definition of 'man' goes-over from the sameness of the general definition to the sameness of the man-itself at face-value.

24.   General definition has a face-value, but if it's face-value was selfsame only for itself and the man-itself had another face-value, they would have nothing in common and the applying of the (1.) general definition ”man” face-value to (2.) ”man-itself” face-value would be (3.) face-value ”'man' applied to man-itself” (3.). This is the famous and usually completely misunderstood ”third man” — Aristotle is not against generality in categorical sense, but he defends it. Aristotle has even acutely demonstrated the reason.

25.   I've already discussed Aristotle's proof about reality: real is a quality as a quality of quantity, i.e. reality apriori has a magnitude and magnitude is a generality of the manifoldof selfsame. This identity is indeed abstract, but as is the difference between genus and species, abstract identity is a part of anything actual. Aristotle separates categories from apriori proof of about-which to sharpen the demonstration of their apriori adequacy — categories as a general mode of speech are more realistic than Plato's 'idea' as selfsameness. As such, Plato's 'idea' doesn't have reality because it's not general enough.

26.   Kant interpreted Plato's 'idea' as his substrate, which can't be contemplated on natural understanding, but should as a ”thing in itself” abstracted from it's original categority, be considered in the realm of moral reason, i.e. as the perfect freedom of the selfsame from anything — God as an idiot minding eternally his own business. The fate of Kant's negative 'Ontotheologie' could be almost a premonitory paradigm of neglecting discourse with preceding philosophical traditions. Keeping in mind, that this is a ground on which even Kant shipwrecked, we want to begin delicately as a stonemason listening to the marble before his first cut.
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