§2.4 — Kantianism is the matrix of modern philosophy, or the articulation of modernity within cognition, and it is everywhere, although not always – or even commonly – explicitly announced as such.* The proliferation of comparatively trivial elaborations and variations of transcendental philosophy, whose differences are systematically magnified by the dictates of intellectual fashion, attest to modernity’s one perennial cult – that of novelty. The critical task is to hold fast to innovation as such (transcendental synthesis), even as it becomes obscured by its own machinations. The new is as old as time. Since the essential novelty of time is a recursive function, critique tends intrinsically to meta-critique. It is at least questionable whether any firm boundary can finally be drawn between auto-critique and rigorously-determined self-reflexive consciousness. This is richly illustrated by the relation between modernity and the self-conscious cultural – and especially aesthetic – modernism that is perpetually driven to seek its limits, as also by modernism and its climactic hystericization as ‘postmodernism’. Inherently recursive critique necessarily critiques itself, and claims incessantly to have put itself behind itself. Precisely in its most unambiguous moment of triumph, it is already clambering onto the sacrificial altar, its throat tattooed with targeting patterns for the descending blade. The same reflex recurs wherever radical nonlinearity, or reflexivity, finds expression in creative destruction. Were it not for ripping up the foundations, modernity would have no foundations at all. The discovery of time is only this.
§2.41 — Since critique provides modernity with its essential meta-theoretical principle, the propagation of structural Kantianism far exceeds any explicit recognition of its dominion. A realistic cultural sociology of critique tends necessarily, therefore, to conclusions that might appear ungenerous (perhaps even ‘brutal’). While submission to the critical doctrine – in one or other of its variants – is normal, the lucid exercise of the critical operation is an exceptional cultural event, corresponding to a moment of pedagogical mastery, such as the genesis of an intellectual school. The independence of transmissible conformity from continuous insight is indispensable to the sustainable dominance of critique (it might quite reasonably be said: to its hegemony). Inescapably, the latent content of the doctrine or method – due to its sheer standardization – stresses the cognitive competence of its promoters, who are typically only indirectly, and instrumentally, engaged in its rigorous execution. The cultural economy of attention, as instantiated through academically-organized intellectual specialization, suffices to ensure that critique remains predominantly tacit. Its authority is confirmed, rather than contravened, by the rarity of articulate understanding. In its socio-cultural reproduction, then, critique is not in any unambiguous way self-advertizing. It proliferates – in larval form – without encountering regular demands for demonstration. Grasping its ubiquity requires an excavation. Crucially, the specific manner in which it is hidden as philosophy is essential to its sociological phenomenon. Ideological credibility typically substitutes for performative validation. Here is a docking-port, then, for the productive arrival of trustlessness in philosophy.
§2.42 — Standardly, critical machinery is distributed culturally through compression into a theoretical proxy, within which its operations remain latent, until patiently unfolded. The reliable signature of this metamorphic state is the theme of reality formatting, ordinarily glossed in turn – to very widely-varying degrees of vulgarity – as the subjective** construction of objects. This comparatively popular crypto-Kantianism is most commonly (and simply) known as ‘social constructivism’.***
§2.43 — Among the most influential modulations of this basic intellectual apparatus have been the analyses of objectification, fetishization, and reification, as found most insistently with the Marxian tradition of socio-political critique;**** modes of linguistic criticism oriented to the denial of meaning (i.e., to ‘metaphysics’), whether in the manner of Vienna Circle logical positivism, the pragmatics of the later Wittgenstein, or neurophilosophical eliminationism; the ‘destruktion’ or ‘deconstruction’ of ontotheology and the metaphysics of presence (Heidegger and Derrida); identity-political criticism of ‘social construction’; and the critical analysis of power as crystallized within an ‘épistème’ (Foucault). Competence at transcendental argumentation unlocks everything.*****
* An exceptionally brilliant example of contemporary Kantianism (that is not overtly advertized as such) is provided by Donald D. Hoffman’s interface theory of perception, which succeeds in demonstrating the profound consistency between naturalism and rigorously formulated transcendental idealism, once ideality is not conceived as an ontological ground, but rather as the target for skeptical attention. “Our perceptions are a species-specific user interface,” Hoffman writes. “Space, time, position and momentum are among the properties and categories of the interface of H. sapiens that, in all likelihood, resemble nothing in the objective world.”
See: ‘The Interface Theory of Perception: Natural Selection Drives True Perception To Swift Extinction’
Hoffman describes his epistemological naturalism as constructionist, but not conventionalist. As he remarks insightfully: “the conventionalist objection fails because it conflates taking icons seriously and taking them literally.” His Kantian reconstruction interlocks with the most basic problem engaged by the philosophy of mathematics. “These proposals all assume, of course, that mathematics, which has proved useful in studying the interface, will also prove useful in modeling the world. We shall see.”
** ‘Transcendental idealism’ – the objective idealism of the critical philosophy in distinction from the empirical or subjective idealism epitomized by Berkeley – is a diagonal construction. It designates an unsurpassable frame, and thus an absolute skepticism which cannot be distinguished from hyper-realism. It is ‘idealist’ only and exactly insofar as it exempts the real from idealization. The recognition of ideality is thus an act of delimitation, immanently executed (without reference to any ontologically-supportive structure of transcendence). The real is not subordinated to the ideal but rather, on the contrary, liberated from it. Kantian ideality is the merely ideal, rigorously conceived, as the systematic renunciation of an exorbitant claim. In the manner of the skeptics, therefore, it inclines to austerity. Through transcendental idealism, the sphere of objectivity is circumscribed, in the identification of inter-subjective constants which cannot have been derived from the thing (in itself). Our agreement has not been stamped by the Outside. The main tendency of the succeeding German Idealist tradition, therefore, can be considered – with appropriate terminological gracelessness – to be a de-diagonalization. It seeks a resolution of ontological ambiguity on the side of reason, by inflating ideality beyond its skeptical usage.
*** Of all the (non-technological) cultural applications of implicit Kantianism, ‘social constructivism’ is by far the most widespread. It adopts the insight that objects have non-empirical conditions of possibility, and generalizes it into a broad de-naturalization of all socio-politically significant categories, especially those pertaining to dimensions of human identity. In a reversal of the original transcendental proposition, the ‘constructed’ status of the objects in question is taken to imply that they are amenable to correction, subsequent to a sufficiently far-reaching (or ‘revolutionary’) re-organization of social relations. Structuralism, which laid the immediate theoretical foundations for the settled constructivist dogma, has its own characteristic translation protocol for critique. Within this framework, transcendental-empirical difference is re-directed into the distinction between language and speech (langue and parole), or codes and messages. The linguistic system is cast as the (transcendental) condition of possibility for the language event, or specific semiotic object. Further remarks on this cultural system can be found in Chapter 4.
**** The critical argument basic to Marx’s analysis of capital is that labor power, the transcendental condition of possibility for all social production (of commodities / objects), is itself subjected to objectification as a commodity. Capital production is thus denounced, implicitly, as a materialized metaphysics, or a system of illegitimate objectification. This theoretical identification of a systematic confusion grounds the Marxian theory of exploitation, since under normal capitalistic conditions, labor power is traded at a price consistent with the labor inputs required for its social reproduction, rather than that of its own productive capacity. Transcendental dialectic is no longer primarily expressed as insoluble philosophical disputation, but rather as class struggle. The contention that such antagonism is productive (and not merely a sterile diversion of theoretical attention) reflects Marx’s Hegelian departure from the Kantian matrix, and the conversion of the antinomies of pure reason into historical dialectics.
***** Of greater relevance to this work than the more-or-less explicitly philosophical adoptions of critique thus hastily listed is the cryptic lineage that binds the transcendental-philosophical noumenon to the diagonal production of intelligible incomprehension within formal systems (generating definite indications of the uncountable, uncompletable, and uncomputable). The tacit restatement of critique through the rigorous demolition of logicism (or programmatic analytical reductionism, in the fashion of Russell and Whitehead’s Principia), establishes the foundational theoretical matrix of the electronic epoch. Cantor, Gödel, and Church-Turing are, then, the true neo-Kantians, updating critique through a rigorization of the unknowable, adapted to the machine-semiotics of coding and computation.