Iain Hamilton Grant: Movements of the World

“No deduction of grounds can achieve what reason demands, but reason cannot cease demanding it.”

              – Iain Hamilton Grant: Movements of the World: The Sources of Transcendental Philosophy

In No 3 (2011) Transcendence and Immanence of the Analecta Hermeneutica Iain Hamilton Grant tells us that the “transcendental is the in itself formless form of all forms that is always posterior to the unconditioned that generates it and is its ground, and that augments being in turn.” Grant separates out all empirically conditioned aspects of being from the unconditioned which gives rise to it, thereby revealing a transcendental logic that “divides the unconditioned from the conditioned, into what can and what cannot be synthesized into spatiotemporal objects”. The unconditioned is closed off to experience which “means in particular that the role of the unconditioned ground of all determination cannot be schematized as prior or posterior to the series of conditions within which alone time has purchase”.

Because of this what has come to be known as the transcendental turn “in philosophy has been considered a subjectivist supplanting of the ‘dogmatic’ concept of ground, a metaphysics capable of abandoning the temporal and causal depth from which objects emerge”. Instead of the need to look beyond the horizon point of spatiotemporal existence this transcendental philosophy toward a “systematic inquiry into causes that leads, ultimately, from metaphysics back to physics”.

The key question that his essay tries to answer is: What a naturalistic account of the transcendental might look like? Against all those from Fichte to McDowell, who protest that if being precedes thinking then the transcendental project would have to be abandoned, Grant argues that all such views stem “from an insufficient naturalism” that they do not go far enough. Instead what is needed is an adequate naturalism that can account for all domains of being, including the transcendental.

Grant seeks to provide the beginnings of a transcendental philosophy that clarifies both the “unconditioned ground” of all transcendental logic, as well as the normative appeal to explanations for object constitutions with cosmological scope, thereby reopening the naturalistic and ontological dimensions of that philosophy to contemporary scrutiny”. He hopes that by doing this to “attain knowledge of the forces that generate this knowledge and have brought it forth.” 1

Out of the Kantian matrix of possible accounts of transcendental philosophy Grant stipulates three forms: first, the grounding account, that posits a sequence of grounds that always terminate in the transcendental ideal, or the concept of an absolute ground; and, second, a productivist account that “entails the foundations of transcendental philosophy lie not in anything given, but only in what is made”; and, finally, there is Kant’s own account as a transitional account, or as “the production of transitions; instead of bodies being accorded primacy both in his physics and metaphysics, they are considered generated, late products of forces.”

This third form, the transitional account, “expands the domain of the aesthetic to furnish the foundations of reciprocity or community between activity and force. As a result, objects and subjects become reciprocally constitutive such that there neither are nor can be entities or events without their being capable in principle of impinging upon the sensitive faculties of a subject, just as the “formal principles of the phenomenal universe . . . are the schemata and conditions of everything sensitive in human cognition”.

After a lengthy discourse on Kant’s Categories of Relation that entails the quest of transcendental philosophy as the “inquiry into the form of all forms, or into the unconditioned ground, just as reason demands” he ends with an extended discussion of just what this means:

“The form universal with respect to all forms is, in consequence, the form that encompasses the derivation of the derived as the ground of the produced, the morphogenetic field, in other words, from which the object arises, rather than the Seinssphären [spheres of being] deriving from objects. “Being derived,” not “being bounded,” is the form of all form, and in order that being derived is possible, it is necessary that the origin of form is a dynamic.

Since as we have seen, no form can be ascribed to all forms if form is determined as Begrenzung, as “being bounded,” the form of all forms cannot have bounds, and “being bounded” must be a rejection of form. The form universal with respect to all forms is, in consequence, the form that encompasses the derivation of the derived as the ground of the produced, the morphogenetic field, in other words, from which the object arises, rather than the Seinssphären deriving from objects. “Being derived,” not “being bounded,” is the form of all form, and in order that being derived is possible, it is necessary that the origin of form is a dynamic problem such that the form thus originated is dynamic in character. The form of all form, the product of transcendental philosophy as such, is itself derived necessarily from what precedes it, from what it cannot produce. And since it must contain “being derived” in itself, the form of all form is grounding precisely insofar as it refers to a ground producing transcendental philosophy, a nature that, insofar as it produces, is precisely this producing of forms, amongst which is the form of all forms that is realized only through transcendental philosophy. How else might this happen? This is why we may say, with Schelling, that what is common to all forms is not this or that boundedness (spherical, hyperspherical, planar, etc.), but rather, insofar as they are produced at all, motion: “the essence of absolute identity, insofar as it is the immediate ground of all reality, is force.” (17)”

The key point for this derivative theory of form is its dynamism, its ability to ground all production of forms in force (motion) the “essence of absolute identity”. This is why Grant affirms a transcendental philosophy that supports the fundamental proposition that the “transcendental is the in itself formless form of all forms that is always posterior to the unconditioned that generates it and is its ground, and that augments being in turn”.

1. See Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 4, The Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms, trans. John Michael Krois (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 150.

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