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×àñòü 3.

Mark Notturno


No doubt, causal expectations have an inborn basis: they are psychologically a priori in the sense that they are prior to experience. But this does not mean that they are a priori valid.

Karl R. Popper

Psychologism is sometimes described as the confusion of epistemological questions with psychological ones. Such a confusion can be seen in Hume's derivation of the fallibility of our knowledge from his theory of ideas. And it can, ironically enough, also be seen in Kant's derivation of the transcendental categories of the understanding from his idea that our knowledge is certain. I say `ironically enough', because Kant is famous for his anti-psychologism, which manifested itself in his explicit dictim that the laws of logic were not laws of psychology. But Kant, every bit as much as Hume, assumed that the way in which we acquire our knowledge has logical implications for the certainty that we can ascribe to it. And this is a confusion that can also be seen in more recent critics of psychologism, such as Gottlob Frege, who argue that our knowledge of logic cannot be based upon experience because it could not, in that case, be strictly universal, necessary, and apodeictically certain.

This idea that the certainty of our knowledge is logically related to its source underlies many of the best-known arguments for and against psychologism. It is a confusion that manifests itself in the tacit assumption that epistemology has logical implications for psychology, and vice versa. I regard it, in fact, as the basic confusion of psychologism. It is, in any event, the confusion that I will discuss today.


It is sometimes said that Hume argued from psychology to epistemology, and that Kant replied by arguing from epistemology to psychology. Our ideas, Hume said, are, as a matter of psychological fact, one and all copies of our impressions. From this, he `reduced' our idea of causality to a felt expectation that events constantly conjoined in the past would remain constantly conjoined in the future. And from this, he concluded that our knowledge of matters of fact is based upon nothing but custom and habit, and that reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions.

Kant replied by saying that our knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, and physics is strictly universal, necessary, and apodeictically certain and that strict universality, necessity, and certainty cannot be a product of experience, feelings and expectations. From this, he concluded that our ideas cannot all be copies of our impressions, and that rational beings must, on the contrary, come equipped with a priori concepts the so-called `transcendental categories of the understanding' including, among others, a concept of causation that involves necessary connection and not merely the expectation of a constant conjunction of events.

It is well-known that Kant did not argue that we have a priori certain knowledge. He simply pointed to Arithmetic, Euclidean Geometry, and Newtonian Mechanics as examples.

Kant's question was how such knowledge is possible. And since Hume had denied that it is, it is easy to think that Kant simply begged the question against him.

There is, however, an irony in Hume's psychologism that I find impossible to ignore. Hume said that our ideas are copies of impressions. He put this forth as a matter of psychological fact. And he derived an important methodological principle from it. We can clarify our ideas and in certain cases show that they do not exist by trying to trace them to the impressions from which they are derived.

Consider Hume's analysis of the idea of causality. Most people think that causality involves a necessary connection between cause and effect. But Hume found this idea unclear. And when he tried to trace it to a corresponding impression, he found that an impression of necessary connection does not exist. Hume said that what does exist, by way of impressions, is a feeling of expectation the expectation, namely, that the event we call `cause' will be followed by the one we call `effect'. Hume said that this feeling of expectation resulted from having repeatedly experienced the two events conjoined in the past.

But since this feeling of expectation is all that he found by way of impressions, Hume concluded that we do not have an idea of causality and necessary connection, and that the idea that we associate with the words `cause' and `necessary connection' is really the expectation of a constant conjunction between events.

I am not clear how it is possible to discover that an idea of necessity does not exist. But what is ironic about Hume's account is that it can be interesting only if it is false.

Hume introduced his theory of ideas not as an epistemology, but as an empirical psychology. His claim that our ideas are copies of impressions was presented as a matter of fact, and not a criterion for their legitimacy. His problem with the idea of causality was not that it is false. It was that we do not, as a matter of psychological fact, have one.

But if we do not have an idea of causality, then how can Hume's analysis come as a surprise? How can it be interesting? And why does it seem to be such a deflation?

If Hume's theory of ideas were an epistemology, then the answers to these questions would be clear. In that case, he could say that we can and do have an idea of causality but that we ought not, because it is not copied from preceding impressions. If Hume's theory of ideas were an epistemology, then there could actually be a point to his saying that we ought not have an idea of causality precisely because it would then be possible for us to have one. And if Hume's theory of ideas were an epistemology, then we could legitimately regard his analysis as a deflation of our idea of causality. We could be legitimately surprised by it, and we could legitimately regard it as interesting.

`My God', we could say, `I thought that my idea of causality was all right. But now I see that it is not, and that I really have the right to have only an idea of constant conjunction'.

But if Hume's theory of ideas were an epistemology, then we might also ask if there is any good reason at all to accept it.

There is a strange kind of double-think here. It is as if we were supposed to accept the theory as an empirical statement of the psychological facts justified by the fact that it is an empirical statement of the psychological facts and then use it to justify the rejection of ideas that, if the theory were really true, we could not actually have at all.

But Hume's theory of ideas is not an epistemology. It is presented as an empirical psychology. It does not say that we ought not have an idea of causality. It says that we do not have one and that we cannot have one.

Indeed, were it really impossible to have an idea of necessary connection, then it would make no sense at all to say that we ought not and cannot have one.

This, in a nutshell, is why Hume's psychologism is false. If his theory of ideas were true, then we simply would not be able to think that reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions.


Philosophers who opposed psychologism used to argue that it leads to subjectivism, relativism, irrationalism, and scepticism. And the fact that Kant and Frege criticized psychologism may say more about their belief in the possibility of objectively certain rational knowledge than anything else. It is, however, important to bear in mind their 18th century and 19th century understandings of psychology.

What Kant and Frege were referring to was empirical psychology, or the study of a psyche that, in the tradition of Aristotle's De Anima, was closely related to the body and its sensory organs. Psyche, for Kant and for Frege, was to be distinguished sharply from reason, or nous. And psychologism, for them, was the attempt to ground science entirely upon ideas provided by those bodily organs: ideas that, from Hume's empiricist associationist psychologist's perspective, were regarded as atoms of sensory experience, or feelings, to be distinguished from their antecedent impressions only by the force and vivacity with which they were felt.

`Anti-psychologism', in its classical Kantian, Fregean, Husserlian sense, is simply another name for anti-empiricism. It is driven, just as Hume's psychologism was driven, entirely by an epistemological presupposition regarding the validity of our knowledge the presupposition that rational knowledge is strictly universal, necessary, and apodeictically certain and not by any inclination or intent to expose or to criticize what I have here called `the basic confusion of psychologism'.


Here we have arrived at basics.

The basic disagreement between rationalists and empiricists was whether or not our knowledge of the world is based entirely upon sense experience. Empiricists said that it was; rationalists said it was not. But classical rationalism and classical empiricism did not distinguish too sharply between psychology and epistemology, and it is necessary for what follows that we do so here.

Psychology is the study of the mind. It relates to knowledge to the extent to which knowledge is acquired or created by the mind. Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It relates to the mind to the extent to which the mind imposes limits upon the validity of the knowledge that it acquires or creates. The basic disagreement between rationalist and empiricist psychology was whether or not our knowledge is reducible to sense experience.

But the basic disagreement between rationalist and empiricist epistemology was whether or not our knowledge can be strictly universal, necessary, and certain.

Psychology and epistemology, thus understood, are prima facie distinct. Psychology deals with how we acquire knowledge; epistemology deals with its validity. Anti-psychologists maintain that these are two entirely different issues. But classical rationalism and classical empiricism each presupposed, from the very beginning, that they were logically related.

Simply put, they both tacitly presupposed that the certainty of our knowledge is logically related to its source.

This idea that the certainty of our knowledge is logically related to its source was tacitly presupposed as much by Kant and Frege as it was by Hume and Mill. It is easy to understand why. Most philosophers believe that knowledge is justified true belief. Their question, when it comes to whether something is or is not knowledge, pertains to its justification. But even philosophers who demand justification by rational argument by arguments that show that the statement in question is logically implied by other statements that are known to be true recognize that this leads inevitably to infinite regress, and hence to no justification at all. One statement may be based upon another. But there cannot be statements all the way down. And most philosophers, when confronted with this problem, agreed that our knowledge must ultimately be based upon a source.

Psychologistic empiricists appealed to experience as the source of knowledge. Anti-psychologistic rationalists appealed to reason and a priori intuition.

Empiricists said that our knowledge is based upon and hence logically `reducible' to experience, where `experience' meant sense perception. They argued that it cannot, for this reason, be regarded as strictly universal, necessary, or certain. Rationalists said that rational knowledge is strictly universal, necessary, and certain. They argued, for this reason, that it cannot be based upon sense perceptions, and must therefore be based upon a priori intuition and reason instead.

The fact that Kant and Frege appealed to a priori intuition as a source of knowledge has led some philosophers to claim that their philosophies are psychologistic after all.

I do not want to deny that this is true. But putting it this way confuses things. The philosophers who voice these claims usually have a richer idea of psychology than philosophers had in the the 18th and 19th centuries. For them, psychology is the study of the mind, which may include reason as one of its faculties. But the basic disagreement between psychologism and anti-psychologism was not whether and to what extent mental faculties are involved as sources of knowledge.

It was which of our sources of knowledge could be regarded as infallible, and what kind of knowledge could be derived from it.

Hume and Mill said that sense perception is an infallible source, but that it cannot guarantee the truth of strictly universal generalizations. Kant and Frege said that a priori intuition is an infallible source, and that it can guarantee the truth of certain strictly universal generalizations.

The problem for empiricism thus became that of explaining why our knowledge appeared to have a certainty that it did not really have, and the problem for rationalism became of that of explaining how the constitution of mind allows us to apprehend knowledge that is strictly universal, necessary, and certain.

This is how things stood after Hume.

Hume said that the appearance of scientific certainty was due to custom and habit. Kant pointed to some examples of certain knowledge the existence of which would be impossible if Hume were right and told a story about the transcendental categories of the understanding in order to explain how certainty is possible.

This dialectic repeated itself a century later. Frege did not argue that logic and mathematics were a priori certain. He ridiculed Mill's attempt to carry empiricism into logic and mathematics, and arguing that logic and mathematics would be subjective and uncertain if what Mill said were true told a story about a dritte Reich to explain how it was possible to have objective certainty after all.

But all of this, in the twentieth century, has changed. Kant's examples, and with them the very idea that we can have objectively certain knowledge, have been discredited. Russell's paradox shows that even the logical intuition of our best logicians can lead to contradiction. Today we believe that no source of knowledge is infallible, and that what we regard as our best justified theories are not only fallible, but actually likely to be false.

Indeed, the argument that psychologism cannot account for the certainty of our knowledge is now regarded as one of the primary points in its favour.

Today, the problem for rationalists is not to explain how we can have objectively certain knowledge. It is to explain how our fallible empirical knowledge knowledge that cannot be justified either by experience or by reason can nonetheless be rational after all.


The tendency amongst empiricists to reduce our ideas to sense impressions has played havoc with our understanding of what constitutes our `experience'. I will, perhaps, comment upon this later. But in order to explain how fallible knowledge can be rational, we need to explain, and defuse, the basic confusion of psychologism. I have already suggested that the 18th and 19th century idea of psychology can be expanded so as to include reason, or nous, in its domain. I want, with this in mind, to now draw a distinction between what I will call `rationalist' psychologies and epistemologies, on the one hand, and `empiricist' psychologies and epistemologies, on the other.

The basic idea behind an empiricist psychology is that our ideas are, as a matter of fact, one and all products of our sense perceptions: so that our minds are blank slates that can be written upon only with the chalk of experience; so that there is nothing in our minds that was not first in our senses; so that our ideas are, one and all, either copies of our sense perceptions, or constructions made from copies of our sense perceptions. This is what I mean by an empiricist psychology. The basic idea of rationalist psychology is that this is not true. It is that we can have ideas that are not the products of our sense perceptions: either because the mind is not a blank slate, but is equipped with innate ideas; or because the mind has the power either to create ideas that are not reducible to sense perceptions or, if not that, then to apprehend ideas from an objective, albeit immaterial `third realm', which may or may not be the product of our own creation. This is what I mean by a rationalist psychology.

The basic idea behind a rationalist epistemology is that our knowledge, or at least some sub-segment of our knowledge, is strictly universal, necessary, and apodeictically certain; and that it is, for this reason, incumbent upon all rational beings to assent to it, so that those who do not assent to it cannot, for that reason alone, be regarded as rational. The basic idea behind empiricist epistemology is that this is not true. It is that our knowledge is not strictly universal, necessary, and certain either because it is based upon custom and habit; or because it cannot really be said to be true or false at all; or because it is relative to some time, community, or body of evidence; or and this is the view that I myself favour because we are, as human beings, inherently fallible and subject to error.

I have, thus far, characterized the basic confusion of psychologism as the idea that the certainty of our knowledge is logically related to its source. This is what fuses, and confuses, epistemology with psychology. We can see this confusion in the almost universally held tacit assumptions that empiricist epistemologies presuppose and entail empiricist psychologies, and that rationalist psychologies presuppose and entail rationalist epistemologies.

Thus Hume argued from empiricist psychology to empiricist epistemology, and Kant argued from rationalist epistemology to rationalist psychology.

To explain how fallible knowledge can be rational, we need only defuse the basic confusion of psychologism. To do this, we need only recognize that nothing prevents us from combining a rationalist psychology with an empiricist epistemology. We need, in other words, only to recognize that the fact that an idea is psychologically a priori does not entail that it is a priori valid.

This simple move allows us to explain how empirically fallible knowledge can contain concepts, such as causality, that are not based upon sense impressions. It also allows us to explain how empirically fallible knowledge can be rational.

But in order to see this, we need to reflect upon the problem situation that led to the fusion of epistemology with psychology in the first place.


Both empiricist and rationalist epistemologists assumed that knowledge must be justified and that its rationality depends upon the justification that we give it. To show that some statement or theory is not justified was tantamount to showing that it is not rational to accept it. The demand for justification, however, leads to infinite regress. And epistemology got confused with psychology when empiricists and rationalists tried to cut short the regress by grounding justification upon an infallible psychological source.

Philosophers today generally acknowledged that knowledge is irreparably fallible. The basic epistemological problem in the twentieth century has been how to account for its rationality. Most epistemologists, by far, have continued to demand that we justify our knowledge in order to regard it as rational. But they have been forced to weaken their concepts of truth and justification so as to enable us to do so. Today, many philosophers equate justification, and sometimes even truth itself, with the consensus of belief (or, at least, with the consensus of expert belief). In so doing, they typically accept some form of psychologism.

The problem with this form of psychologism is not that it renders our knowledge uncertain. It is that it forbids anyone from rationally challenging it. So long as we equate the rationality of knowledge with its general acceptance (or with its general acceptance by experts) those who disagree with it cannot be regarded as rational.

Psychologism in Hume and Mill and anti-psychologism in Kant and Frege were essentially about justification. So long as we demand that our knowledge be justified, there is little hope of avoiding the basic confusion of psychologism. But once we acknowledge that our knowledge is fallible, it is no longer clear why we should demand that it be justified or why we should regard its justification as a condition for its rationality.


The invention of non-Euclidean geometry set the stage for defusing the basic confusion of psychologism. But it did not quite succeed in defusing it. Kant had argued that geometry was a priori synthetic on the grounds that it was strictly universal, necessary, and apodeictically certain. Euclid's axioms did not seem to be true by definition. But their strict universality, necessity, and certainty could not be underwritten by experience. The invention of non-Euclidean geometry confronted us with a self-consistent but mutually contradictory alternative. And Frege, insofar as this is concerned, took the most consistent stance regarding it. Having agreed with Kant before its invention, he dismissed non-Euclidean geometry as an `historical curiosity' since there is nothing in the construction of a self-consistent non-Euclidean system, or in its combination with a non-Newtonian physics, that contradicts the idea that it is a priori synthetic.

But clearly the two could not both be true.

PoincarÂ's idea that it is a matter of convention whether we accept or reject the axioms of these self-consistent but mutually contradictory systems was the first real challenge to the idea that scientific knowledge must be true. His conventionalism can be interpreted either as saying that there is no truth or falsity to the matter, or as saying that what is true or false is determined by the conventions that we make. The problem, in either case, is that conventionalism gives us no real account of truth, and hence no real account of the rationality of science. But here, it is important to remember that the idea that our knowledge depends upon human decisions was forced upon Poincar because of his inability to justify the truth of either Euclidean or non-Euclidean geometry without appeal to conventional decisions of one form or another.

The problem, in other words, was not that neither Euclidean nor non-Euclidean geometry is true. It was that neither Euclidean nor non-Euclidean geometry can be justified, or shown to be true.


Karl Popper, to the best of my knowledge, was the first philosopher to defuse the basic confusion of psychologism. Our expectations, according to Popper, may be psychologically a priori without being a priori valid. We may, indeed, have ideas and knowledge prior to experience. But this knowledge, contrary to Kant, is not justified by the fact that it is prior to experience. It is not, according to Popper, justified at all. We therefore cannot infer from the fact that it is psychologically a priori that it is strictly universal, necessary, and certain. We cannot, in fact, even infer that it is true. And we should, for this reason, regard it as inherently fallible and subject to both error and revision.

What accounts for the rationality of our psychologically a priori knowledge, on Popper's view, is not that we can justify it. It is that we can reason about it. It is that we can derive statements from it that describe observable states of affairs. And it is that the observations that we make may lead us to accept statements that logically conflict with it.


But does defusing the basic confusion of psychologism in this way really help? Is Popper's fallibilistic anti-psychologism a solution to the problem of psychologism, or just another way of conceding to it?

In my Objectivity, Rationality, and the Third Realm, I argued that philosophers who opposed psychologism typically did so to provide for the possibility of rationally certain knowledge. This is true of Kant and it is true of Frege, both of whom equated objective knowledge with rationally certain knowledge. But Popper is obviously not typical in this respect. Indeed, when I began my work, I thought that Popper's position was either self-contradictory or a counter-example to my general claim. I found, instead, that it defused the basic confusion of psychologism. But in order to see this, we have to understand Popper's position in the context of his problem situation.

It is sometimes said that Kant was not concerned with refuting scepticism, or with justifying rational knowledge; that he began with the assumption that physics, arithmetic, and geometry were not only true, but a priori synthetic; and that he did not try to show that they were true, but only how it was possible for them to be a priori synthetic. I agree that Kant did not try to show that arithmetic, geometry, and physics are true. But it would be too naive to infer from this that he was not concerned with refuting scepticism or with justifying rational knowledge. It would completely ignore his problem situation, which was to refute the irrationalist epistemology developed by Hume, which in Kant's view was tantamount to scepticism.

Hume began with a psychological theory that said that all ideas are copies of impressions. He concluded, on the basis of this theory, that our knowledge of matters of fact has no firmer foundation than the subjective expectations that are formed by custom and habit, and that reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions. This is what Kant tells us awoke him from his dogmatic slumbers. But this does not mean that Hume was a sceptic.

On the contrary, Hume had no other reason to think that our knowledge of matters of fact is not necessary, and he was happy to agree with those who said that it is psychologically necessary for us to think in terms of cause and effect. Hume was not sceptical about human knowledge. He was sceptical about rational knowledge. He was sceptical, in other words, of the claim that our knowledge is based upon reason.

This is why Kant did not need to give a positive proof of the universality, necessity, and certainty of our knowledge of matters of fact in order to refute Hume. Kant needed only to construct a plausible alternative to Hume's psychology that could account for the rationality of our knowledge of cause and effect. This is the reason why Kant claimed that our a priori intuitions of space and time, our a priori categories of the understanding, and our a priori synthetic knowledge are common to, and definitive of, rational beings. But for Kant, irrational knowledge was not really knowledge at all. So his construction of an alternative to Hume's psychology was, in Kant's problem situation, an attempt to justify our knowledge and refute scepticism after all.

I do not think that Popper was trying to justify scientific knowledge. But similiar things can be said about his fallibilistic anti-psychologism.

Popper's problem was not how to justify our knowledge without falling into psychologism. It was to explain how our fallible empirical knowledge can be rational, given that we cannot justify it. Most philosophers who criticize psychologism regard rational knowledge as justified true belief, and justified true belief as certain. But Popper's problem was to explain how an epistemology that does not regard our knowledge as justified or as certain can avoid subjectivism, relativism, irrationalism, and scepticism.

Philosophers who say that psychologism leads to subjectivism, relativism, irrationalism, and scepticism typically do so because they believe that the justification that it offers is not good enough. For them, being good enough means being objective, absolute, and rational.

But for them, being objective, absolute, and rational means being justified and, ultimately, being certain.

Popper also thinks that psychologism leads to subjectivism, relativism, irrationalism, and scepticism because the justification that it offers is not good enough. But he maintains that our scientific knowledge cannot and need not be justified. And this changes everything. For if scientific knowledge cannot and need not be justified, then:

1. The objectivity of scientific knowledge can no longer be regarded as a product of its justification, since no statement can be justified;

2. The absoluteness of scientific knowledge can no longer be regarded as a product of its justification, since no statement can be justified;

3. The rationality of scientific knowledge can no longer be regarded as a product of its justification, since no statement can be justified; and

4. Scepticism or the denial that we have knowledge can no longer be regarded as the thesis that no statement can be justified, since no statement needs to be justified.

Since Popper agrees with the sceptic that our theories cannot be justified or certain, one might be tempted to regard his fallibilistic anti-psychologism as a concession to psychologism. But the difference is that Popper denies that our knowledge needs to be justified and, in doing so, offers an epistemology according to which our unjustified knowledge of matters of fact can nonetheless be regarded as rational.

Popper's epistemology can be stated as a response to Hume. Hume, according to Popper, was right to think that our knowledge has no firmer foundation than custom and habit. But he was wrong to think that custom and habit is a firm foundation, and wrong to think that reason is and ought to be the slave of our passions.

It may be impossible for reason to justify our knowledge or to show that it is certain. But we can use it to question our customs and habits and to exchange them for others that seem better than the ones we have.

Nothing seemed more certain than that the earth stood still. But the customs, habits, and passions that supported this theory did not withstand the critique of reason.

Our knowledge that the earth moves is not based upon custom and habit. It is not really based at all. It hangs, like the earth itself, suspended in mid-air. And there is nothing particularly bad about our knowledge being suspended in mid-air so long as we do not pretend that it is based (if only upon custom and habit).

Reason is not, and it ought not be, the slave of our passions. For we can, on the contrary, use our reason to examine our customs and habits as we do in philosophy and science and to replace them with others if others seem more desirable. Rational knowledge is not strictly universal, necessary, and apodeictically certain truth. It is simply knowledge that we have reasoned about and are willing to reason about again. With this account, Popper shows how to defuse the basic confusion of psychologism, and how we can reason about our knowledge without trying to justify it.


I would like to end this discussion with a few words about rationality, and then with a few more words about experience.

Most philosophers have regarded rationality as a property of knowledge. But rationality, on my view, is the task to resolve our disagreements through reason, as opposed to violence. In my view, it is not the contents of our beliefs the statements and theories that we believe but the way in which we believe them that should be regarded as rational or irrational.

What makes our beliefs rational is not that we are justified in believing them their contents, in any event, cannot be justified but that we are willing to seriously reason about them. It is, in other words, we who are rational or irrational. And we are so to the extent to which we are willing to examine and reexamine our beliefs.

There is an analogy here with the theory of falsifiability. Popper proposed empirical falsifiability as the demarcation between science and metaphysics. Scientific theories contradict possible observation statements; metaphysical theories do not. Popper characterized falsifiability in terms of theories and statements. But what he was really trying to criticize was the ways in which metaphysicians reject criticism.

I do not want to tie my theory of rationality either to statements or to observations. It is, again, not what we believe but how we believe it that should be regarded as rational or irrational.

But if we believe something in such a way that no possible experience observational or otherwise would ever give us reason to reject it, then the belief is an irrational one.

This, I want to emphasize, has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not our beliefs are true. The distinction, on the contrary, is whether or not we are willing to reason about them. Some of our irrational beliefs may well be true, and many of our rational beliefs are no doubt false. But we will never discover that our irrational beliefs are false by examining them.

One of the consequences of my theory is a very different characterization of the distinction between faith and rational belief. Philosophers have usually characterized this distinction in terms of justification. Rational belief is justified belief. Faith, the paradigm of non-rational belief, is not. Rational belief was belief accepted upon proof. Faith was belief that we accept without proof.

On my account, this characterization of the difference between faith and rational belief fails for the simple reason that no belief can be justified. Philosophers who agree that our beliefs cannot be justified typically say that all of our beliefs are, at base, grounded upon faith. I disagree with this, partly because I do not think that faith can provide a ground for our beliefs, and partly because I think that there is a world of difference between an unproved belief that we are willing to reason about, and one that we refuse to discuss.

But if this is true, then it follows that the distinction between faith and rational belief has nothing to do with the content of belief, but, like rationality itself, is based entirely upon the way in which beliefs are held. Doubting Thomas reasoned about the resurrection of Christ. But Heisenberg seems to have had faith in complementarity.

Rationality, in this sense, does not necessarily lead us to true belief. And it may not lead to true belief at all. But it does lead us to examine and reexamine our beliefs. By accepting the task of rationality, we come to know ourselves in a way in which we otherwise would not. For we discover, by reexamining our beliefs, what ultimately seems true to us.

In my view, being rational means that we:

1. Acknowledge our own fallibility;

2. Respect the beliefs of others as possibly true;

3. Try to resolve our disagreements through the power of reason, as opposed to the power of physical force;

4. Accept the task and responsibility of making judgements for ourselves;

5. Recognize truth as our regulative ideal in making judgements;

6. Recognize the law of non-contradiction as a criterion of falsity, and deductive logic as our organon of criticism.

We may be, but we ought not to be, certain of our theories. We have no good reason to be certain, and every good reason not to be. But it's not really certainty that is at issue here. It is our ability to reason about what is true. This is what rationality is about, and this is why we may regard our fallible empirical knowledge as rational, despite the fact that we cannot justify it.


How does experience fit into all of this? In my view, psychologism's attempt to justify statements with sense impressions has led many philosophers to adopt a distorted and useless idea of experience.

Psychologism, like most justification theories of knowledge, sought to eliminate from the realm of knowledge anything that could not be justified. This led to a theory according to which any idea that cannot be traced to the senses cannot be regarded as a product of experience.

But in my view, a good deal of our knowledge is the product of experience that we simply cannot trace exclusively to sense impressions. Our knowledge that the Modus Ponens is a valid argument form, for example, is the product of trying, and failing, to find instances of it having true premisses and a false conclusion. This need not involve sense impressions. But the only reason I know for saying that it does not involve experience is the distorted idea of experience that results from psychologism. And this is just one example. Our ideas of our selves, which Hume tried to reduce to bundles of perceptions, are also products of our experience, as are most of the ideas that he tried to eliminate when he found that they could not be traced to impressions.

Once we defuse the basic confusion of psychologism, it is, once again, clear that thinking itself is a form of experience that does not depend upon sense impressions, and that thinking otherwise, as I have argued above, can be interesting only if it is false.


Gonsalv K. Mainberger


1. Vergegenwärtigung des 17. Jahrhunderts

Port-Royal versetzt uns ins Frankreich des 17. Jh., ins 'Goldene Jahrhundert' (Âge d'or) literarischer, philosophischer und religiöser Produktion. Angesehene Gelehrte, fromme Adelige und berühmte Frauen fanden sich in Port-Royal zur Lebensgemeinschaft zusammen. Dort taten sich die Sprachphilosophen Antoine Arnauld, Claude Lancelot und der Logiker Pierre Nicole hervor. Sie orientierten sich nicht mehr am Sprachgebrauch des quasi-religiös geltenden höfischen Kanons. Sie fragten: Nach welchen Prinzipien funktionieren die innersprachlichen Mechanismen? In welchem Verhältnis stehen sie zu den externen, medialen Instrumentarien? Welche internen, das Subjekt erzeugenden, die 'Seele' beeinflussenden und zugleich befreienden Techniken müssen gelehrt und gelernt werden? Wie wird Sprachproduktion und Sprechintention vor jenen gerechtfertigt, die am Sprachgeschehen beteiligt sind?

Von heute aus betrachtet fragen wir: Wie verfuhren die an Bildung und Lebenskunst interessierten Pädagogen von Port-Royal? Welche Art von Gemeinwohl strebten sie an? Welches moralische Ideal war verpflichtend und erstrebenswert für die Moralisten, fleissigen Briefschreiber und Theatermacher? (Jean Racine war Schüler der Petites Écoles de Port-Royal; in seinem Testament bat er, in Port-Royal begraben zu werden und vermachte der Abtei die Summe von achthundert Pfund.) Die Argumentationsmittel ihrer Antworten waren die evidenzhaltigen Regeln der Raison, die unabänderliche Ordnung von Nature; dann die für die Oeffentlichkeit zur Schau gestellten Repräsentationen im Theater; hinzu kamen die emotional hochbesetzten Sprachgesten, die auf Rührung, seelische Bewegung und Handlungsbereitschaft zielten: bildliche Darstellung, prunkloser Stil, politisch wirksame, von der höfischen Gesellschaft fleissig zelebrierte Selbstdarstellung; bis auf heute nachwirkend war die intensive Selbsttechnik der Solitaires von Port-Royal, die in der ständigen Gegenwart des Absoluten und der Exteriorität lebten.

Aus der Situation der 'zweiten Moderne' heraus gefragt: Womit begründeten die Sprachtheoretiker, Grammatiker, Logiker und Rhetoren des 17. Jh. ihren Diskurs? Sie setzten sich unter Begründungszwang. Sie prüften die Diskurse auf ihre allgemeine Geltung, befragten die sie leitenden Prinzipien. Sie waren ausdrücklich darauf bedacht, dass ihre Texte bei den Lernenden wirksam wurden. Texte sollten nicht bloss intellektuellen Zuwachs erzeugen, sondern das Gemüt (l'âme, die Seele) bewegen, in den Lebensstil eingreifen. Die Gelehrtenkreise waren in öffentliche und hochemotionalisierte Polemiken (Gnadenstreit) verwickelt. Die Frage war, welche überzeugungskräftigen Diskurse am ehesten geeignet wären, Gegner, Andersdenkende wie Andersglaubende nicht nur zur Raison zu bringen, sondern in ihrem Ethos zu beeinflussen.

Gibt es in diesem sprachlich wie argumentationslogisch komplexen Bereich nun so etwas wie eine letzte Instanz? Kann im Rückblick auf das 17. Jh. eine durchgängige Einstellung beobachtet werden? Ist eine mentale Konstante auszumachen, die die Vielfalt verstehbar macht? Kann auf diesem Weg die Andersheit der damaligen Zeit präsent gesetzt werden? Mit einer positiven Antwort ist zugleich auch ein überzeugendes Motiv dafür gewonnen, sich überhaupt dem 17. Jh. zuzuwenden. Die Antwort lautet: Das 17. Jh. war das Jahrhundert der Persuasion, der mimetischen Kommunikation; im Medium der Sprache und der Technik der Innerlichkeit wurde das Ideal der Identifikation mit der höchsten Vernunft erzeugt. (Lagarde: La persuasion). Der raison war die abgründige Vernünftigkeit des unwandelbaren Schöpfungsgesetzes nicht zugänglich. Folglich ziemte ihm Verehrung und Unterwerfung. Im Pascalschen Sinn gewendet: Alle Vernunfttätigkeit führt in die Erfahrung des Tragischen. Das Saeculum selbst war zutiefst tragisch, erstickten doch Persuasion und Argumentation im Blute der Religionskriege.

Das 17. Jh. ist für das Thema dieses Kolloquiums einschlägig und von hoher Aktualität. Auch die jetzige Gesellschaft ist vielfältig ist und ebenso sprachorientiert wie es die Gesellschaft im Ancien Régime war. Aber die Differenz ist beträchtlich: an die Vernunft wird nicht mehr geglaubt wie im Rationalismus; von einer alles beherrschenden Schöpfungsordnung bleibt uns nach Shoah und Gulag vielleicht noch eine blasse Erinnerung; der Wandel und die globalisierten Transformationen des Marktes machen die einen arbeitslos, die andern fast allmächtig. Heute macht die Oekonomie uns zu Subjekten, im 17. Jh. war es die Literatur. Könnte uns die Beschäftigung mit Grammatik, Logik und Rhetorik neue Möglichkeiten des Denkens oder gar neue Existenzweisen erschliessen?

Das Sprachgeschehen ist derzeit allerdings vom totalen Umbruch heimgesucht. Die telematische Basistechnologie der Informationsgesellschaft hat die Kommunikation bis hinein in die mentalen Vorgänge ergriffen und verwandelt. Die digitale Revolution erzeugt zwar weltweite Kommunikation. Aber sie zerteilt und splittert auch auf, schafft klaffende Bruchstellen. Der Hauptgrund dafür: die Repräsentation, das Fundament der Sprachtheorien wie der demokratischen Systeme, ist erschüttert und weggebrochen. Wir steuern auf etwas ganz Neues zu, sind mit der Interaktivität des Audiovisuellen konfrontiert. Die Andersartigkeit dieser kommunikativen Interaktionstechnologie gibt Rätsel auf. Die Scheinlösung besteht darin, die Technik anthropologisch zu verklären. Dieser Trick aber hindert uns daran, dieses Novum angemessen zu begreifen. Die nackte Wahrheit lautet, die neuen Technologien sind ohne Vorbild. Meine These: Erst wenn wir das Sprachgeschehen, ganz im Sinne der Theoretiker des 17. Jh., als Technik begreifen, wird uns die Ambivalenz der kommunikativen Revolution bewusst. Mehr noch: die Einsicht dämmert, dass Ambivalenz unauflösbar, unsere Unangemessenheit dem Technischen gegenüber nicht wegzuleugnen, aber Dramatisierung fehl am Platze ist. Die Ambivalenz ist auszuhalten. Dazu hilft vielleicht die Beschäftigung mit dem Raum der Sprache und der in diesem Raum schon immer als Techniken tätigen Rationalitäten der einen Vernunft. Das ist denn auch Gegenstand meiner Ausführungen.

2. Texte und Techniken: die Repräsentation

Im 17. Jh. entfalteten sich innerhalb dieses Sprachraumes Grammatik, Logik und Rhetorik. Die drei arts, artes, Künste schlossen nach rückwärts an Renaissance und Scholastik an – von der sich Antoire Arnault, Pierre Nicole und Claude Lancelot abwandten und so einen beachtlichen Innovationsschub realisierten.

Die Sprachtheorie war damals der Zentralraum. In ihm entfalteten sich die Nebenräume der Zeichentheorie und der universalen Sprachregeln. Ihm schloss sich auch der Raum der evidenzhaltigen, vernunftgesteuerten Geistestätigkeit an; er war gefolgt von der suasorisch erzeugten Zustimmung. Diese galt den evidenzschwachen, innerweltlichen Faktizitäten, ebenso den externen, der raison naturelle nicht zugänglichen Offenbarungswelten. Um den zentralen Sprachraum herum siedelten sich die für das 17. Jh. typischen Aktivitäten an: die Spiritualität als vornehme Selbsttechnik der Innerlichkeit, damals in gesellschaftlichen Kreisen intensiv geübt; das Theater, Schauplatz für alles, was das Leben gnädigst verbirgt oder wovon die Menschen nichts wissen wollen; das höfische Zeremoniell, eine durch und durch imitatorisch-diskursive Sozialpraxis; schliesslich der in unüberschaubare Einzelräume und bis in noch heute unentdeckte Nischen sich ergiessende Strom der epistolarischen Tätigkeiten – Korrespondenz von Bossuet: mehr als 10 Bände; Schriften der umstrittenen religiösen Scharfmacherin Madame de la Mothe-Guyon: 35 Bände; Korrespondenz von Fénelon: kritische Ausgabe noch unabgeschlossen – dies alles bildete ein Gesamtgefüge sozialer und politischer, ästhetischer und philosophischer Repräsentationen. Die vorrevolutionär-frühneuzeitliche Gesellschaft war in den Prinzipien der raison gefestigt und an der nature, Ur- und Vorbild aller menschlichen Vorkehrungen, orientiert. Sie konstituierte sich aus dem gemeinen Volk als dem quasi-wortlosen Eigentum der Herrschaften, aus dem Adel sowie aus dem diesem angeschlossenen, vergleichsweise kleinen, aber wirkungsvoll oppositionellen und scharf zensurierten Stand der Gelehrten, der Poeten, Maler und hohen Geistlichen. Das Selbstverständnis der Eliten vollzog sich primär im Medium der Sprache. Die symbolisch-zeichenhafte Vergegenwärtigung war es, die vor allem andern als die reale Welt galt und als die authentische Selbstgegenwart der Subjekte erfahren wurde. Die repräsentierte Welt war die Primärwelt. Daneben galten der Hof und seine Feste, die Schule und die ihr verbundene Wissensautorität (1635: Gründung der Académie Française durch Richelieu), das Schloss und die Repräsentanten der von dort aus mäandrisch sich ausbreitenden Macht als sekundäres, wenngleich notwendiges Substrat. Oberste Instanz war das Wort, der Satz, der Diskurs.

Symbolische Vergegenwärtigungen waren umso massgeblicher, als sie ideologisch unverzichtbar waren. Denn erst an diesen Symbolen, an den projizierten Welten, an den alsbald zu Idolen verkommenen Statthaltern der weltlichen Macht wie der göttlichen Allmacht entzündete sich der Eifer der Imitation; erst von den im Zeichen repräsentierten Welten nährte sich die Persuasion; erst im Medium von Sprache, Zeichen und Symbolen bildete sich die höfische Gesellschaft heraus, festigten sich die religiösen Gemeinschaften, formierte sich die Republik der Gelehrten als diskursive, kommunikative Sprachgemeinschaft. Meine Ausführungen beschränken sich auf den im Titel angezeigten Sprachraum mit drei Suiten: Grammatik, Logik, Rhetorik.

3. Port-Royal: Laboratorium der Moderne

Port-Royal ist für das 17. Jh. hochbedeutsam und von eindrücklicher Exemplarität, ein herausragender Ort für Theorie und Praxis. Er markiert im Archiv der Transformationen der Sprache einen der Höhepunkte und scheint mir für unser Thema unverzichtbar. Port-Royal war zweifach präsent: Port-Royal im Montparnasse-Quartier des heutigen Paris, ehemaliges Kloster, heute L'Hôpital de la Maternité und als Patronym noch Métro-Station 'Port-Royal'; dann Port-Royal des Champs, ein inzwischen namenloses Gelände bei Rambouillet. Die letzten weiblichen Insassen wurden 1709 vertrieben, das imposante architektonische Ensemble, in welchem die Solitaires, unter dem offiziellen Titel Dames und Messieurs, lebten und schrieben, beteten und arbeiteten, wurde 1711 auf königlichen Befehl hin dem Erdboden gleichgemacht.

Die Akteure, Textproduzenten, Lehrer und Erzieher, schriftstellerisch hochaktive Aebtissinnen und Frauen, geistliche Lehrer und theologische Streiter, Logiker und Mathematiker fanden sich, mit Advokaten und Prinzen, in kommunikativ-imitatorischer Lebensgemeinschaft beisammen. Sie bildeten eine einmalige, glanzvolle Hohe Schule der Lebenskunst und führten eine radikalisiert theozentrisch-christliche Existenz. Die Messieurs de Port-Royal waren jenen artes, den arts, also den Techniken verschrieben, die damals die Lebenswelt bestimmten: l'art de parler (Kunst des Redens), l'art de penser (Kunst des Denkens), l'art de persuader (Kunst des Ueberzeugens), ebenso der ars scribendi, ars orandi, ars amandi und nicht zuletzt der ars moriendi: den Künsten des Schreibens, des Betens, des Liebens – des Sterbens.

Die Hauptakteure im Zusammenhang mit Grammatik, Logik und Rhetorik:

Antoine Arnauld (1612–1694, im Exil in Brüssel), genannt le Grand Arnauld, Solitaire, Vertreter des strikten Augustinismus und moderater Chef der Jansenisten; diese vertraten eine rigorose Gnadentheologie und in deren Folge eine, den freien Willen entmachtende Anthropologie. Die Gegnerschaft zu den Jesuiten und zum politischen Absolutismus führte zur Verurteilung der 'Häresie' durch Rom und zur Verfolgung unter Ludwig XIV. (Gründer des Jansenismus: Cornelius Jansen, holländischer Theologe, dessen berühmtes Buch 'Augustinus' (1628) die Gründungsakte der Bewegung ist.)

Claude Lancelot (1615–1695), Gründer der Petites Écoles de Port-Royal und einflussreicher Neuerer der Unterrichtsmethode für Fremdsprachen, Solitaire und Erzieher des Herzogs de Cheuvreuse und der Prinzen Conti; zieht sich nach der Auflösung von Port-Royal nach St. Cyran zurück.

Pierre Nicole (1625–1695), Moralist und Logiker, kehrt nach dem Exil in Holland nach Paris zurück; arrangiert sich dort mit der Obrigkeit.

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), unbeugsamer und scharf argumentierender Sympathisant von Port-Royal, unerbittlicher Jesuitengegner (Les Provinciales), erfindet die erste Rechenmaschine, berechnet den wirtschaftlich rentablen, noch nie und nirgends zuvor praktizierten Nahverkehr mit Kutschen innerhalb der Stadt Paris (Pascal: Dossier, [Mesnard] IV, 1375-1439); Autor der kleinen Schrift L'art de persuader, zweiter Teil der Abhandlung De l'esprit géométrique: Esprit de la géométrie ou la véritable methode (ders.; III, 360-428); hinterlässt ein chaotisches Konvolut samt einer Menge von Notizzetteln: Les Pensées.

4. Der Diskurs: eine Praxis der Subjektivität

Die philosophisch-literarische Produktion im 17. Jh. hat weitgehend Form und Qualität dessen, was wir heute Diskurs nennen: eine Praxis der Subjektivität, bestimmt durch Sprecher, Adressat und Medium. Die sprachtheoretischen Abhandlungen, die neue Sprachunterrichtsmethode, die Analyse der fundamentalen, in der nature wurzelnden Tätigkeiten des Geistes – die 'Kunst des Denkens' –, die durchwegs von rationalen oder dann autoritätsgestützten Argumenten begleitete Einflussnahme auf die Seele (l'âme), auf den Willen und auf den Fortgang des vom 'gefallenen Menschen' (homo lapsus) gewählten Lebensentwurfes insgesamt – alles in allem eine beispiellose, meist hochgemute, bei Pascal letztlich tragische Suche nach Affinität der Menschen unter sich, nach Vereinigung des Menschen mit Gott, eine mimetisch-imitatorische Technik zur Herstellung von Gemeinsamkeit im Denken und Handeln. Die von den Solitaires wie den Weltleuten gewählten Lebensstile hatten einen gemeinsamen Nenner: die Welt ist schlecht, keine menschliche Handlung kann das ändern. Unter diesem Vorzeichen arrangieren sich die einen wohl oder übel; andere nehmen am Kampf zwischen Gut und Böse aktiv teil; andere geben ohne Siegeshoffnung die Welt auf; andere verstummen und ziehen sich aus allen Weltgeschäften zurück. (Goldmann: Der verborgene Gott, 213f). Die Ideologie 'Port-Royal' gibt sich also teils kommunikativ und sozialverträglich, teils indifferent und kaum solidarisch, teils krass gesellschaftsnegierend und schlicht desolidarisiert.

Auf dieser Suche wurde das Arsenal von Begriffen und Praktiken teils neu erfunden, teils war es in der Tradition längst erprobt. Es zielte insgesamt auf ein Ethos, auf Haltung und Charakter. Im Subtext zeichnet sich das moderne Subjekt bereits erkennbar ab. Es entfaltet sich allerdings noch ausdrücklich zwischen zwei immerfort neu zu erlernenden Kompetenzen: der Lebenskunst und der Kunst des Sterbens. Es versteht sich von selbst, dass das so plazierte und sich selbstbezogene Subjekt im Akt seiner Entfaltung sich sogleich zurücknimmt. Weil unentrinnbar auf Endlichkeit hin programmiert, versteht es sich als kreatürlich, also durch und durch nichtig. Die alles verschlingende Zeitlichkeit geht zusammen mit der reflektierten, als Tragik erfahrenen Endlichkeit. Sie gibt den Welt-Masstab für menschliche Existenz ab. Die Termini hiefür: natura corrupta, homo lapsus: die im Sündenfall geschädigte, gebrochene Natur, der gefallene Mensch. Kein wie auch immer wirksames Mittel würde diesen Schaden je beheben können. Dem freien Willen, also dem Bösen wie dem Guten ausgeliefert, bleibt dem Menschen nur die freie Entscheidung, sich in den als Gnade erfahrenen göttlichen Willen zu fügen. Er bewegt den Menschen «zu dem, was dieser will (fait faire ce qu'il veut) und in eben der Angelegenheit, die er will, ohne dass diese Unfehlbarkeit der Operation Gottes in irgend einer Weise für die natürliche Freiheit des Menschen zerstörerisch wirkte...». (Pascal: Les Provinciales, [Chevalier] 887). Das ist ein eindrückliches Beispiel Pascalschen Scharfsinns, ein Lehrstück angewandter Logik und rationaler Argumentation, vollzogen in einem damals noch erfahrungsgestützten Bereich. Nach der Aufklärung gilt er als rein spekulativ, wird als blosse Idee und Produkt des überschwenglichen Verstandes apostrophiert. Wie stellen sich uns nun auf dem Hintergrund dieser Mentalität Grammatik, Logik und Rhetorik dar? Was erfahren wir im Medium dieser Sprachtheorien über die dem 17. Jh. eigene Konstante, die Persuasion?

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