Kant and Hypothetical Judgments

The logical form of a hypothetical judgment is “If P, then Q.”  This does not refer exclusively to cause-and-effect situations which are temporal in nature.  The statement “If P, then Q” merely states a necessary connection between P and Q.  If P is true, then Q must also be true.  Note that the example which Kant gives of a hypothetical judgment is not one of physical cause and effect: “If there is perfect justice, then obstinate evil will be punished.”  This hypothetical statement does not say that perfect justice causes the prosecution of evil; rather, it says that the two states of affairs are equal, and we cannot have one without the other.

Many hypothetical judgments are synthetic.  Here are some examples: (1) “If I drop an object, it will fall;” (2) “If I do not drink water, I will become thirsty;” (3) “If Romeo loves me, he will ask me to marry him.”  All these judgments are based on facts, not definitions, and they state that if the first proposition is true, the second must also be true.  We can also use the form “If P, then Q” for analytic judgments which are based on definitions.  Kant’s example of a hypothetical judgment, in fact, is analytic: “If there is perfect justice, then obstinate evil will be punished.”  Since the definition of “perfect justice” is a state of affairs in which all wrongdoings are punished, it is necessarily true that obstinate evildoers would be punished in such a world.  Note the difference between this judgment and the synthetic judgments which I offered above: all 3 of those judgments are dependent on other empirical facts for their validity.  (1) is dependent upon gravity, (2) on biology, and (3) on Juliet’s knowledge of Romeo and her expectations of love.  It is possible to imagine a state of affairs in which we do not have gravity, or humans do not need water, or love does not require a marriage proposal.  It is impossible, however, to imagine a world in which all wrongdoing is punished, but at the same time, wrongdoing is not punished.  Some other analytic hypothetical statements are “If I have gold, I have a yellow metal” and “If I own a dog, I own a mammal.”

Not all hypothetical statements are causal in nature, but the concept <cause> is still intricately linked with hypothetical statements.  To Kant, <cause> refers to a state of affairs in which each phenomenon A is necessarily connected to some phenomenon B which precedes it or succeeds from it.  “If I drop an object, it will fall” is a perfect example of a causal statement which is also a hypothetical judgment.  In this statement, the two connected phenomena are my dropping of the object and its falling.  Because the proposition outlines events which happen in succession and are linked such that one cannot happen without the other, we call it a causal statement.

I think that Kant derives the categories of pure concepts because he is uncomfortable with the uncertainty which pervades empiricist thought.  For instance, Kant denies that the causal law is empirically proven on the grounds that the causal law states that each phenomenon necessarily has a cause.  Inductive, empirical observation can never achieve this 100% certainty.  (Hume himself admitted that we have no good (or certain) reason to believe the sun will rise again each morning.)  Kant also disagrees with Hume’s claim that people are blank slates who learn everything from experience.  Kant thinks we must start with some substance in our brains – not facts, necessarily, but “programs” or strategies of thinking.  These strategies are the pure concepts or categories, and one such strategy is to link propositions through hypothetical judgment.  Because we have always had these concepts, we must be able to use them to learn about the world.

So, Kant thinks that <cause> cannot be derived from experience.  He also thinks that causal relations are rule-governed.  The rule which governs these relations, then, is this: every event must have a sufficient cause.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  If something appears to happen for no reason, we simply don’t understand the cause yet.

Therefore, it is possible (and necessary) to gain knowledge about the world using hypothetical judgments, and each proposition of a hypothetical informs us about the others.  In a two-part hypothetical judgment, the first proposition is the “ground,” or causal foundation, for the “consequent” second proposition.  For instance, if we split the judgment “If I drop an object, it will fall” into two statements, “I drop an object” and “An object falls,” our understanding of the situation noticeably decreases.  We know that if I drop an object, there must be some consequent result from this action, and if the object falls, there must be some ground (cause) for its fall.  If we causally link the two with a hypothetical, we lend clarity to both statements.

While hypothetical judgments can be both analytic and synthetic, Kant thinks that the causal law is only synthetic.  This does not seem problematic because all analytic hypothetical judgments are tautologies (If I have gold, I have yellow metal).  They do not establish a necessary succession between separate phenomena A and B; rather, they expand upon the definition of some proposition A.  Meanwhile, countless synthetic hypothetical judgments, including the three I mentioned earlier, are causal statements.  We can derive <cause> from the logical form of hypothetical judgments without committing to an analytic causal law because logical forms are neither analytic nor synthetic.  They are merely formal relations which belong to an independent epistemological class.  Therefore, we can freely derive exclusively analytic or exclusively synthetic principles from any logical form.

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