Tuesday, June 28, 2011

About Philosophical Detective Work

From the novel in progress:

“I remind you of the four categories of understanding: we have first the a priori judgments, in analytic and synthetic form. We also have the a posteriori judgments, equally in analytic and synthetic forms. No other category of knowledge is possible, yes?”

“I don’t quite—”

“No, no, Monsieur. A moment, please. Of these four categories of understanding, the analytic a posteriori judgment is of course impossible, as you cannot be both experienced and ignorant relative to a phenomenon. That is childishly apparent, is it not? The synthetic a posteriori judgment is, as I have said, merely the useless impressions of the senses, and it also has no place in the establishment of a criminal’s identity.”


“No, no, Monsieur. I see your objection but you are mistaken. It is of course in the a priori judgment that understanding takes place. Attend: the analytic a priori judgments are true statements about theoreticals made without experience of the theoretical objects. Wondrous, is it not, that such knowledge exists! These judgments are what most people believe philosophy to be, but you and I, Monsieur, are aware that this is a terrific misunderstanding of philosophy, of course.”

“Of course.”

Patience was speaking in a rapid flow of words, her face and hands moving animatedly. She threw drops of water and flakes of cigarette ash here and there and her accent had thickened to the point where James was unsure if he heard everything correctly. Some of Patience’s words—a lot of them, James thought—meant nothing to him in any language.

“It is that final category of understanding,” Patience said, “that of the synthetic a priori judgment, which concerns us. The empiricists claim that such knowledge is impossible: true statements about objects within the living world made with no direct experience of the things themselves. This is metaphysics, Monsieur, and also religion if you allow the physical reality of the supernatural. It is as well, I need not tell you, the realm of the transcendental detective.”

Patience looked at James, her eyes bright with a triumph that was quite beyond him. Had she been talking about police work or not?

“Wait,” he said after a moment. “You’re saying that—I think—experiments and research don’t lead to knowing things. You’re throwing away science, then?”

“Oh, science.” Patience pronounced the word as a long, sibilant slur, as if it was an evil thing on her tongue. “Kant demonstrated most cleverly that what we experience empirically is never the thing itself, but is instead merely the sense impression—the passing mental representation—of the thing. We have awareness of what our poor senses report, but never of actual reality. Though we receive the reports from our fingertips when we touch our lover’s hand, we do not ever know our lover’s real hand. We know only what our fingertips whisper to our brains.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?”


  1. This is most excellent! Let's throw away science!

  2. This whole passage is an excuse to have Patience say, "our fingertips whisper to our brains." But yes, let's get rid of synthetic a posteriori judgments! Except that rules out drink recipes, and we would lose the fabulous Aviation cocktail (the most popular drink of 1935):

    1 part fresh lemon juice
    1 part maraschino liqueur
    3 parts gin

    shaken with ice and served in a martini glass with a lemon twist garnish.

  3. And science? Science never finishes what it starts!

  4. The nomenclature is unwieldy, but everyone still loves The Critique of Pure Reason! Have you seen the graphic novel of it? Fucking amazing.

    And science? Science smells like rotton eggs.

  5. In graduate school my science smelled like rotten eggs. Those were the sulfate reducing bacteria. Now my science smells like fresh cut grass. Those are the algae.

  6. Eventually, though, won't it come to something? Won't it be done?

    When I was doing dental bioarch, my science smelled like dust and bone. That was the dust and the bone. When I was doing forensic anthro, my science smelled like hot chocolate. That was the boiling of mummified flesh.

  7. Progress! Well done, Dr Malasarn!

    I am very lucky that Mighty Reader has The Encylopedia of Philosophy (4300 pages, 1500 contributors, originally published in 8 volumes!) on the shelf and was willing to help me find the relevant articles about Kant and epistemology, and then let me sit on the sofa reading and taking notes for hours on end while I attempted to wrap my not-philosopher's mind around Mr Kant's ideas. Hopefully I've got the Kantian taxonomy right. Some day soon I'll have a look at Mighty Reader's copy of Prolegomena, which is a sort of Guide to Immanuel Kant that was written by Kant himself when he found out that nobody understood The Critique of Pure Reason.

  8. Did you put those little marshmallows in the mummified flesh?

  9. Yeah, we had these little marshmallows shaped like dinosaurs, since people thought we were archaeologists, which they thought meant we would dig up dinosaurs.

    Now I want some buttered toast and hot chocolate.

    I've done grad work in philosophy and my dad's a philosopher (master in Kant, thesis in Hegel, I think) so if you ever wanna shoot the breeze philosophical, I'm always game.

  10. I need to learn more about the Tibetan Buddhist concept of self, so can you throw that into the stew as well?

  11. "Eastern" religions are my thing in cultural anthropology, so, yeah I can swing a pile of that into the stew. lol

  12. Mmm, stew. I am thinking now of the scene from "Rooster" at the temple with the bones in the pot. That bit made me hungry.

  13. I re-heated some left-over black pepper chicken stir fry I had made the other day.

    Might've been rooster meat in there.

    Eel free, though.