In Kuhn's description of scientific history observations are interpreted through a prism of a priori presuppositions collected into "paradigms". Once discrepancies with expectations ("anomalies") accumulate paradigms are questioned and/or modified, and eventually discarded when a new paradigm emerges.

This is similar to how individual mind works on a smaller scale. A problem is first approached mechanically based on a priori (pre-learned) procedures. If unsuccessful these procedures are reflected upon and objectified, themselves made the focus of attention. As such they can be questioned or modified, and the problem revisited. Failing success the original approach may have to be discarded completely. In this case a new approach has to be learned or developed anew. As such it first appears as an object of study, and then has to be de-objectified and turned into a new operational a priori, internalized.

Kant, Husserl and other "transcendental" philosophers write a lot about the first half of the cycle, how to identify "natural attitude" ("a priori"), how to suspend it ("bracket out"), Kant even lists a priori he considers universal. But then we are supposed to arrive at some purified realm of "apodictic certainty" and "constitute" the things themselves. That's not how it works. Kuhn, on the other hand, describes how new paradigms emerge and are adopted in some detail.

One would think that there is the other half to the cycle on the mental side as well. I imagine it would involve speculation rather than contemplation, and then something like phenomenological augmentation instead of phenomenological reduction, bracketing in instead of bracketing out. Saccheri, Lambert, Bolyai, Gauss and Lobachevsky developed non-Euclidean intuition somehow, before any explicit models became available, because they had to grasp multiple parallels intuitively to get as far as they did.

Are there transcendental philosophy type studies of formation of new mental a priori (in the process of learning or inquiry), and of their incorporation into working intuition, not just of how they are identified and discarded? This would be parallel to new theory formation, testing, interpretation and reconciliation with other theories in science development.


1 Answer 1


I think Daniel Dennett's conception of the process of "multiply drafting" competing interpretations is a theory of this sort, even though he is not a transcendentalist. (At some point, a materialist can now take genetics as a dodge around the a priori and get to parallel problems.)

The basic description is that this is a uniform process that plays itself out in parallel ways on multiple levels, like a fractal with finite information. At the highest level, we as a society are comparing paradigms for basic sciences that will determine our technologies. At the lowest, various aspects of memory are writing their relevance into descriptive narratives that are then being edited for applicability and memorability to find a description for the scene directly before our eyes, which is the one that will be retained.

The retained narratives become what you are modeling as intuition, as only retained material can incorporate parts of itself into the contending narratives currently in play.

As I read it, your question is about the middle ground, where the conscious memory is asserting itself, and cultivating narratives. At this level, an individual, in my interpretation of this process, is focused consciously on coping how much of himself is embedded into thinking that may be transmitted consciously beyond himself. Too much, and it is merely an anecdote, a little less, and it becomes a theory with leverage, to much less, and it becomes stereotyped or vague maundering.

As a psychoanalytic type, I think we also transmit the aspects of this process that are discarded to those around us via more mundane interactions, so that they have another chance for incorporation into a narrative.

  • This is from Consciousness Explained, right, I'll have to look it up. Philosophers don't seem to be very happy with it though, judging by Wikipedia. How strange that transcendentalists didn't take it up, after Kant's miss with Euclidean geometry it would seem like a natural problem.
    – Conifold
    Oct 7, 2014 at 22:27
  • His point is to dispel the assumption of the Cartesian ego, but that requires explaining how learning works without a focal actor. The book is not mostly about this, it is mostly debunking competing philosophical threads.
    – user9166
    Oct 8, 2014 at 15:06

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