Watkins, Kant & anti-passivism

More Kant.  I am dipping into Eric Watkins’ book, Kant and the Metaphysics of Causality.  I can’t read it in full at the moment, but would love to hear from anyone who has.  It’s a crucial book to grapple with in terms of the intriguing suggestion that Kant believes in real causal powers.

Anita, are you willing to comment?  Others?!

I will say this: Watkins puts his finger on exactly what, in my view, is the key issue dividing those who believe in powers from those who don’t: Hume’s ontology is inert, says Watkins (rightly), Humean “causes” included.  Kant’s causes, by contrast, Watkins says, are active [specifically (he claims), they are active substances].  This is exactly the distinction that I would draw.  Do draw.  [I then further distinguish between activity (& the denial thereof), on the one hand, and necessity (& the denial thereof), on the other — as does Watkins too.   But I’ve still got Kant on the passivist side, with Hume, re: activity (though on the opposite side re: necessity), whereas Watkins has him on the activity side, with Aristotle, Leibniz, Reid and the like.]

I’m persuadable, if barely.  I say barely because it seems to me that the next problem will be something like where the dispositional properties that Watkins says Kant thinks phenomenal objects have — where those come from.  Will those dispositional properties be given by a category of transcendental subjectivity?  By empirical concepts?  By the sensuous manifold in virtue of which concepts aren’t empty?

I think Kant’s phenomenal objects are ontologically peculiar and unsatisfying anyway, even if we don’t add into the mix that they’re powerful.  I suppose a pandispositionalist will say that Kantian phenomenal objects have powers insofar as they have any properties at all — or “have,” via empirical concepts.  (I don’t think I’m a pandispositionalist though.)  But it’s that “or” that captures what my follow-up resistance will be: for reasons I’m not quite clear on yet, I’m worried that the fact that Kant’s phenomenal objects depend for their existence as (a) constituted objects and (b) constituted objects of one kind or another  — I’m worried that the fact they they depend upon transcendental subjectivity for (a), and upon empirical concepts for (b), will undermine any sense in which they can be powerful.

At best, it seems, we’d have a Kant who tells us that we cannot help but experience the world as both lawful and dynamic.

Dunno.  It’s interesting, though.  And not just for scholastic purposes.  It is interesting (I think) because it helps advance the project of developing a satisfactory powers-based metaphysics.

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