What Kant said to the skeptic

Science is one of the great triumphs of modern times. It has given us so many luxuries and benefits—and a few problems, too—but some of its over-zealous advocates go further and argue that science is synonymous with truth, and is its only expression.

This way of thinking—which fails to appreciate the modest ambitions of the truly scientific mind—is known as ‘scientism’, and is more a religious belief that decries any heretical detractors that don’t buy into their entirely materialist view of the world. Those who advocate scientism prefer to call themselves ‘skeptics’, although that’s a hopeless misuse of the term as the true sceptic is also dubious about science. Their patron saints include Richard Dawkins, James Randi, and Christopher Hitchens.

If you are unfortunate enough to be cornered by a ‘skeptic’, help is at hand from the unlikeliest of sources, that of philosopher Immanuel Kant. One of the essential points of his masterpiece, Critique of Pure Reason, is this: the world is not as it is, but how it appears to us.

The remark is obviously true—the world you perceive isn’t the same as that of the bat, for instance—and yet it has profound and remarkable implications.

The first part of the sentence kicks into touch the idea of materialism—that the world is exactly as it appears to be—and the second explains why: we perceive the world through our senses, and our senses are limited to the spectrums of colours, sounds etc that we can detect. Even equations that ‘prove’ black holes or parallel universes are part of the same stuff.

Kant went further, and suggested that even the supposed dimensions of time and space are nothing but grids that our brains impose on experiences in order to understand them.

Ultimately, it states that there is much, much more going than we can even imagine, let alone sense. For Kant, this provided the space for faith; for you…what?

So now you have a ready reply to the skeptic. Thanks, Immy.

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