Nov 052000

Philosophers often use the adjective transcendental, for example, when they speak of the transcendental consciousness, the transcendental intersubjectivity and so on. I will explain this seemingly difficult technical term as plainly as possible.

Immanuel Kant is the founder of the transcendental philosophy. 18th century painting of Immanuel Kant.

1. Realization of limitedness

Suppose someone realizes s/he is foolish. Is s/he really foolish? No. The really foolish do not know even that they are foolish. As the proverb goes, a little learning is a dangerous thing, but a little learning that you know a little is a more dangerous thing. Those who realize their own limits dare not behave recklessly beyond their limits. They are rather clever in this meaning.

Those who can recognize the limits of their recognition transcend the very limits. Those within the limits cannot see the limits. It is not until you transcend the limits that you can recognize the limits of recognition. It is this recognition of limits of recognition that is transcendental.

The word transcendental should be distinguished from transcendent. The suffix "al" means concerning, therefore the transcendental recognition means the recognition concerning transcending. The Omniscient and Omnipotent Being, who has no limits and, consequently, is not conscious of any limits, is transcendent, while the limited beings, which cannot but be conscious of their limits, are transcendental.

2. The paradox of transcendental recognition

Anyway, it sounds paradoxical that those who can recognize the limits of their recognition transcend the limits. Isn’t it self-contradiction because, if all our recognition is limited and the recognizing that we have the limits of recognition is also uncertain, not all of our recognition turns out to be limited?

The answer is no. Although our recognition is not always right, it is not always wrong. The utterance All of my utterances are wrong is self-contradiction, but the utterance Not all of my utterances may be right is not, because it does not completely deny the validity at both the object- and the meta-level.

3. The self-reflection of indeterminacy

But, can we really say that all of my recognition is indeterminate? We always presuppose a belief in doubting another that is incompatible with it. Although we cannot doubt all belief at once, we can doubt any individually. Suppose there were three propositions in the world. You cannot doubt all of three at once, but you can doubt A by presupposing B, B by presupposing C and C by presupposing A. So, you can doubt any proposition.

The transcendental recognition is the self-reflection of indeterminacy. Indeterminacy is a state that can be otherwise than it actually is. This otherness of recognition is the ground for recognition of otherness

The transcendental consciousness is the transcendental intersubjectivity. I said, those who can recognize the limits of their recognition transcend the very limits and this can be restated as those who can recognize the limits of their recognition can place themselves in another’s shoes. Though I am different from alter ego, I can understand the alter ego. This subtle position shows that I transcend and do not transcend the limits of recognition. On the other hand, it is often difficult for those to survive in the social network, who place absolute trust in their recognition without knowing their limits.

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