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SKEPTICALITY: Extreme Fear: Interview with Jeff Wise
Skepticality--the Official Podcast of Skeptic magazine

Fear is a complex and a mysterious force that can, at times, sabotage our ability to think clearly, drive us to blind panic, or give us seemingly superhuman speed, strength, and powers of perception.

This week on Skepticality, Derek talks with author and daredevil Jeff Wise, contributing editor for Popular Mechanics and Travel + Leisure about his latest book, Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, which recounts Jeff’s “I’ll Try Anything” adventures as well as the science that illuminates the complexities behind our body’s responses to fear.

Folk-Wisdom Medicine versus Science-Based Medicine

For many years now there has been considerable debate between so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and mainstream science-based medicine. In reality there is no debate because there is only science-based medicine and everything else that has yet to be tested. In this op-ed (from the American Medical Associations’s Virtual Mentor Journal) Michael Shermer reminds us that skepticism should be our default rule of thumb when it comes to CAM claims.



Our Next Lecture at Caltech

Dr. Nancy Segal
Someone Else’s Twin: The True Story of Babies Switched at Birth

with Dr. Nancy Segal
Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 2 pm

IN THIS FASCINATING STORY, Dr. Nancy Segal, Professor of Psychology at California State University, Fullerton (and herself a twin and an expert on twin research) describes the consequences of unintentional separation of identical twins. She considers not only the effects on separated twins, but the implications for questions concerning identity, familial bonds, nature-nurture, and the law. Based on her extensive research into the psychology of twins and interviews with family members, Dr. Segal explores many questions of universal human significance: How do mothers know who their biological children are? How much does our family contribute to our sense of self? Are we more like the people who raised us or the people we are born to? Dr. Segal also examines custodial decisions concerning children who are the result of donated sperm or eggs by individuals outside the rearing family. She further elucidates the benefits to children from adoption.

Ticket information

Tickets are first come first served at the door. Seating is limited. $8 for Skeptics Society members and the JPL/Caltech community, $10 for nonmembers. Your admission fee is a donation that pays for our lecture expenses.

About this week’s feature article

In this week’s eSkeptic, Michael Dahlen examines Dinesh D’Souza’s Immanuel Kant-inspired philosophy that “reality as a whole is, in principle, inaccessible to human beings” and that “it is in no way unreasonable to believe things on faith that simply cannot be adjudicated by reason.”

Michael Dahlen is a managed accounts administrator for SEI Investments (SEIC: NASDAQ) and a freelance writer who has had articles published in The Objective Standard and Liberty. He holds an MS in finance and economics from Walsh College.

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What’s So Great About Kant?
A Critique of Dinesh D’Souza’s Attack on Reason

by Michael Dahlen

Dinesh D’Souza, a prominent conservative intellectual and a former White House policy analyst during the Reagan administration, has ambitiously defended Christianity in recent years. He wrote a New York Times best-selling book, What’s So Great About Christianity, and he has had articles published in the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor. He has also publicly debated prominent atheists including Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennet, and Michael Shermer.

For the most part, D’Souza has attempted to argue on the atheists’ own terms, that is, on the terms of reason, science, and evidence. He has tried to demonstrate that one need not accept Christianity on blind faith; one can accept it based on the facts. This characterization, however, of D’Souza’s position requires one major caveat. For the die-hard proponents of reason who are not convinced that the evidence supports the alleged truths of religion, D’Souza has a secret weapon up his sleeve: he resorts to brazenly attacking reason. Lacking all subtlety, he asserts openly, explicitly, “Human reason can never grasp reality itself.”1

In arguing against the validity of reason, D’Souza relies on the ideas of arguably the most influential philosopher in modern history, none other than Immanuel Kant. “Kant’s accomplishment,” D’Souza boasts, “was to unmask the intellectual pretension of the Enlightenment: that reason and science are the only routes to reality and truth.”2 Basically, Kant argued that the reality we perceive with our senses is not true reality; it is simply the reality “appearing” to us. True reality, the reality beneath the so-called appearances, is allegedly unknowable. “Perhaps the best way,” D’Souza states, “to understand this is to see Kant as positing two kinds of reality: the material reality that we experience and reality itself.”3 The world of appearances (material reality) Kant calls the “phenomenal world” whereas real reality (“reality-in-itself”) Kant calls the “noumenal world.”

According to Kant, we do not perceive reality as it is. Our senses and our minds provide us only with a distorted picture of reality, not reality itself. Echoing Kant, D’Souza argues that humans “see things in a limited and distorted way.”4 “Reality does not come directly to us but is ‘filtered’ through a lens that we ourselves provide.”5 As such, D’Souza continues, “our human minds have a built-in disposition toward illusion: the illusion that reality must be exactly the way we experience it.”6 Furthermore, when “we presume that our experience corresponds to reality, we are making an unjustified leap. We have absolutely no way to know this.”7

All of our knowledge, therefore, is allegedly just knowledge of “appearances,” that is, of a world the human mind subjectively creates. As Kant himself states, “all objects of any experience possible to us, are nothing but appearances, that is, mere representations, which…have no independent existence outside our thoughts.”8 “Kant’s argument,” D’Souza points out, “is that we have no basis to assume that our perception of reality ever resembles reality itself. Our experience of things can never penetrate to things as they really are. That reality remains permanently hidden to us.”9 Consequently, D’Souza concludes, “reason can never grasp reality itself.”10

Despite D’Souza’s blatant attack on reason and on our ability to perceive reality, he still wants to have things both ways. Amazingly, he says that he and Kant are not actually arguing against them.

Kant isn’t arguing against the validity of perception or science or reason. He is simply showing their significant limits. These limits cannot be erased by the passage of time or by further investigation and experimentation. Rather, the limits on reason are intrinsic to the kind of beings that humans are, and to the kind of apparatus that we possess for perceiving reality. The implication of Kant’s argument is that reality as a whole is, in principle, inaccessible to human beings. Put another way, there is a great deal that human beings simply will never know.11

If the “implication of Kant’s argument” is that reality is “inaccessible to human beings”—and that certainly is the implication—then he most emphatically is arguing “against the validity of perception or science or reason.”

These are quite abstract ideas. Before we analyze their merits—or lack thereof—let us concretize them; let us see what it would actually mean, in practice, if it was true that “reality remains permanently hidden to us.”

If a professional baseball player saw “things in a limited and distorted way,” that is, if his perception of the movement and location of a baseball was something other than what it actually is, then he would not be able to consistently hit ninety-five mile per hour fastballs. If a cardiac surgeon’s mind had “a built-in disposition toward illusion,” then he would not be able to successfully perform a coronary artery bypass surgery. If a pilot’s knowledge of his airplane, its controls, and its location in the sky did not correspond to reality, then he would not be able to lift his airplane off the ground, fly it across a continent, and safely land it at his targeted destination. If science could “never penetrate to things as they really are,” then the great innovators of our time would not have been able to create all the marvels of modern technology. For that matter, if reality is “inaccessible to human beings” and if our perception of reality did not at the very least “resemble reality itself,” then we would not be able to perform even the simplest of activities such as eating, walking, reading, or brushing our teeth.

That our experience, observations, or more precisely, our sensory perceptions provide us with direct awareness of reality is not “an unjustified leap” as D’Souza asserts. It is an axiom, an irreducible, self-evident fact.

D’Souza and Kant, however, are right about one thing: reality and our perception of reality are two distinct things; they are not identical. The erroneous idea that perception and reality are one and the same is a theory of perception known as “naïve realism.” In this view, human consciousness, allegedly possessing no nature of its own, does not have identity; it is nothing but a passive medium or a transparent mirror, simply reflecting reality “unfiltered.” According to this theory, sensory qualities such as color, odor, and taste exist in objects independent of humans. That is false, but that does not mean they are subjective qualities, existing in our mind independent of objects. A comparison will help to clarify this point.

Sensory qualities are similar to the concept of weight.12 Weight is not a quality existing in objects; it is a relation between objects caused by gravity (the attractive force between two objects possessing mass). An object weighs more on earth than on the moon because the earth has more mass, causing a greater gravitational pull. Just as weight, therefore, is a relational quality, not a subjective one, sensory qualities are relational, not subjective, as well. Such qualities are the result of external objects coming into contact with our senses. They are neither in the object alone nor in the mind alone; they are “object-as-perceived.”13 Does this mean that our senses distort our perception and that reason is incapable of grasping reality? No.

But D’Souza and Kant think otherwise. Although they are right that naïve realism is false, where they go wrong is in their tacit assumption that the only way we can directly perceive and grasp reality is if naïve realism were true. Because it is not true, because our consciousness is not a passive medium, because our consciousness has identity, perceiving reality by definite means, those means—the sensory organs—allegedly get in the way, acting as agents of distortion, preventing us from grasping reality.14 In essence, the only way we could directly perceive and grasp reality, in D’Souza’s and Kant’s view, is if we perceived reality unmediated by any causal process, that is, if we perceived reality magically, without any means.

That a causal process, however, mediates our perception of reality does not mean that we perceive reality indirectly. To argue that it does is to conflate the physiological with the cognitive. Physiologically, a causal process (which includes the sensory organs, neurological system, and brain) makes it possible, cognitively, for us to directly perceive reality. How we perceive is a separate issue from what we perceive. Nothing discovered about how we perceive can change the self-evident fact that our perception of reality is direct. We do not directly perceive the causal process involved (the how); we directly perceive reality (the what), which would be impossible without a causal process.

Our senses, therefore, are not agents of distortion. They are our form of apprehending or grasping reality, our means of awareness.15 And we are fully capable of distinguishing the formal aspects of our perception from the characteristics of objects existing independently of our form of perceiving them. For example, on the one hand, the taste of an orange is the result of certain chemicals in the orange coming into contact with the taste receptors on our tongue. That oranges contain Vitamin C, on the other hand, is a fact of oranges independent of our means of perceiving them.

Imagine an intelligent being with radically different sensory organs from our own. Such a being would perceive reality in a different way than we do, but it would not reach different scientific conclusions—as long as it was reasoning correctly.16 The things that would differ would be only its starting point—given its different sensory apparatus—and the specific steps of its reasoning. Such a being would perceive oranges differently than we do, but it would not come to different scientific conclusions about the nature of oranges. It too would discover that oranges contain Vitamin C.

In addition to arguing that our perception of reality is distorted, D’Souza also argues that our knowledge is limited only to our alleged distorted perceptions.

Consider a tape recorder. It captures only one mode of reality, namely sound. Thus all aspects of reality that cannot be captured in sound are beyond its reach. The same, Kant would argue, is true of human beings. The only way we apprehend empirical reality is through our five senses. But why should we believe, Kant asked, that this five-mode instrument is sufficient? What makes us think that there is no reality that lies beyond sensory perception?17

There are aspects of reality lying beyond our sensory perception insofar as there are numerous facts we cannot directly perceive, but that certainly does not mean that we cannot discover such facts. D’Souza says we cannot “perceive reality through sonar in the way that a bat does. Our senses place absolute limits on what reality is available to us.”18 No, we do not have a sensory organ detecting sonar, but this fact does not support D’Souza’s argument; it undermines it. We are still capable of discovering what sonar is and that bats can directly perceive it. Similarly, we also do not have sensory organs enabling us to directly perceive radiation, magnetism, or sub-atomic particles. Yet this has not prohibited us from discovering and acquiring knowledge of such phenomena. Most scientific knowledge consists of facts not directly observable or perceivable, but such knowledge is valid because it is rooted in a chain of reasoning ultimately derived from sensory perceptions.

On top of the problems with D’Souza’s argument discussed thus far, it also suffers from one fatal flaw. How does he know? How does D’Souza know we “see things in a limited and distorted way,” that our “minds have a built-in disposition toward illusion”? How does he know “our experience of things can never penetrate to things as they really are,” that “reason can never grasp reality itself”? How does he know “reality as a whole is, in principle, inaccessible to human beings,” that it “remains permanently hidden to us”? By what means does he know these things? Experience and reason? If not, then his conclusions are groundless. D’Souza, however, maintains that such conclusions are based on experience and reason. “It is Kant,” D’Souza states, “who starts with experience and then proceeds from it by steps that reason can justify. …Kant has arrived at [his conclusions] on the basis of reason alone.”19

One cannot rely on reason to demonstrate that reason is invalid because doing so presumes that reason is valid.

Essentially, D’Souza argues that experience and reason cannot grasp reality, yet he also argues that Kant has established this conclusion by means of experience and reason. This argument is clearly self-refuting: its content contradicts the very method it purports to be relying on. One cannot rely on reason to demonstrate that reason is invalid because doing so presumes that reason is valid.

If one is going to argue that the senses and reason are invalid and incapable of grasping reality, then what is the arguer relying on? Arguments are composed of concepts, which in turn are derived from the senses. If the senses are invalid, then all concepts are invalid—including the ones used to argue against the senses. Furthermore, an argument by definition is a process of reasoning. If reason is invalid, then so are all arguments—including the argument that reason is invalid. Any argument, therefore, attacking the validity of the senses or of reason is inherently self-contradictory.

What is D’Souza after in his case against reason? “Notice that Kant’s argument is entirely secular: it does not employ any religious vocabulary, nor does it rely on any kind of faith. But in showing the limits of reason, Kant’s philosophy ‘opens the door to faith,’ as the philosopher himself noted.”20 Opening the door to faith, therein lies D’Souza’s motive. “We learn from Kant that within the domain of experience, human reason is sovereign, but it is in no way unreasonable to believe things on faith that simply cannot be adjudicated by reason.”21 But what exactly does “unreasonable” mean if not believing something that “cannot be adjudicated by reason”?

Observe the double standard. As we already saw, D’Souza regards as an “unjustified leap,” as an act of faith, the axiom that our sensory perceptions provide direct awareness of reality. Yet he also says “it is in no way unreasonable to believe things on faith.” (By this he means religious ideas such as the immortality of the soul or the afterlife.) So on the one hand, D’Souza regards the acceptance of a self-evident fact as an unjustified leap of faith. On the other hand, he regards having faith in completely groundless religious ideas as “in no way unreasonable.”

In attacking reason, all D’Souza seeks is to plant the seed of doubt. One who doubts the validity of reason—and thus one’s own ability to grasp reality—will probably end up believing things on faith. But those who fall prey to D’Souza’s sophistry should know that he still has not made a valid case for faith. The argument “because reason is limited, it is therefore okay to have faith” is a non sequitur. It is just as absurd as saying, “because I do not have enough food, it is therefore okay to eat poisonous mushrooms.” Even if D’Souza had, by some inconceivable means, proved the impotence of reason, that in and of itself does not justify believing in ideas without any evidence to support them.

  1. D’Souza, D. 2007. What’s So Great About Christianity. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc. p. 173. Emphasis added.
  2. D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, p. 178.
  3. D’Souza, D. 2007. “What atheists Kant refute.” The Christian Science Monitor, October 17.
  4. Ibid., p. 168.
  5. Ibid., p. 171.
  6. Ibid., p. 175.
  7. Ibid., p. 173.
  8. Kant I. 1929. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Norman Kemp Smith. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 439.
  9. D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, p. 172.
  10. Ibid., p. 173.
  11. D’Souza, D. 2003. “Not So ‘Bright.’”, October 12.
  12. Kelly, D. 1986. The Evidence of the Senses: A Realist Theory of Perception. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. pp. 89, 99–100, 106–107.
  13. Peikoff, L. 1991. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: Meridian. p. 46.
  14. Ibid., pp. 49–51.
  15. Ibid., pp. 39, 42.
  16. Ibid., pp. 42–43.
  17. D’Souza, “What atheists Kant refute,” Christian Science Monitor.
  18. D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, p. 172.
  19. Ibid., pp. 175, 177.
  20. D’Souza, “Not So ‘Bright,’”
  21. D’Souza, “What atheists Kant refute,” Christian Science Monitor.

Skeptical perspectives on science, religion, and knowledge…
cover Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil? and
Can you be Good without God?

Dinesh D’Souza v. Michael Shermer

In this debate on what are arguably two of the most important questions in the culture wars today, the conservative Christian author and cultural scholar Dinesh D’Souza and the libertarian skeptic writer and social scientist Michael Shermer, square off to resolve these and related issues, such as the relationship between science and religion and the nature and existence of God. This event was one of the liveliest ever hosted by the Skeptics Society at Caltech, mixing science, religion, politics, and culture. Order the debate on DVD.

cover The End of Faith: Religion, Terror,
and the Future of Reason

by Sam Harris

This book was an instant bestseller because of its cogent arguments and literary clarity, in which Harris argues that because of weapons of mass destruction the world can no longer tolerate violent religions, and that in fact even moderate religious beliefs only encourage extremists by enabling their supernatural beliefs. Order the book.

cover Postmodernism and Science
by Dr. Tony Rothman

Does cultural upbringing affect the way scientists think about the world? Pulitzer Prize nominee and physicist Dr. Tony Rothman considers such deeply meaningful questions as: Is the universe knowable? Is the world symmetrical? Are doubt and certainty complementary? Can we learn anything from parallels between physics and eastern philosophy? What is science in a “postmodern” world? Order the lecture on DVD.



  1. MKR says:

    I am not surprised that a hack like D’Souza would get Kant completely wrong, but it appalls me to see someone basing a critique of D’Souza on the same erroneous interpretation of the philosopher. The account of Kant’s epistemology that Dahlen accepts is not even up to Cliff’s Notes standards. He should have simply attacked D’Souza’s argument on its own account and set aside any attribution to Kant.

  2. Lawrie Cherniack says:

    I am glad that MKR has said what s/he has said. Kant did not say what D’Souza said he said. Mr. Dahlen (or at least The Skeptics Society) should have known better than to rely on D’Souza and one quotation from the Critique of Pure Reason for an interpretation of one of the truly great philosophers. With all due respect to Mr. Dahlen, he does not seem to have studied Kant and his “refutation” of Kant is neither convincing nor logical.

    • Michael Dahlen says:

      If you (MKR and Lawrie Cherniack) disagree with my interpretation of Kant, at least have the intellectual integrity to explain why instead of resorting to smears.

      Kant postured as an advocate of reason, but if you understand the basic essence of his view, I believe it is quite clear he is not. According to Kant, reason and science only enable us to know the “phenomenal world” of “appearances,” which he says is nothing but a subjective creation of the human mind. As to reality-in-itself, the “nuomenal world,” Kant says reason and science cannot know it.

      Many prominent historians of philosophy interpret Kant in essentially the same way I do. Here are several examples, all describing Kant’s view.

      “The object as it appears to us is a phenomenon, an appearance, perhaps very different from the external object before it came within the ken of our senses; what the original object was we can never know.” Kant’s Critique “destroyed the naïve world of science, and limited it, if not in degree, certainly in scope,—and to a world confessedly of mere surface and appearance.” (Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, pp. 272, 275)

      “For the only world that man knows is the empirical world of phenomena, of ‘appearances,’ and that world exists only to the extent that man participates in its construction. . . . ‘reality’ for man is necessarily one of his own making, and the world in itself must remain something one can only think about, never know.” (Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 345)

      “Things-in-themselves must be thought, but are not knowable. In this way Kant won back the right to designate the objects of human knowledge as ‘only phenomenon.’” (Wilhelm Windelband, A History of Philosophy, p. 548)

      “It seems to follow that things have a nature in their own right, though it also follows that we can never have the remotest idea of what such things are like. . . . That we are forever excluded from knowledge of nuomena is clearly the conclusion to be drawn from Kant’s epistemology.” (W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. IV, p. 63)

      “we are bound to end up with Kant, that whatever certainty our science may have, it does not give us any light upon the basic structure of the world; in other words, that the mind of man cannot know reality as it exists.” (John Herman Randall, Jr. The Making of the Modern Mind, p. 270)

      “We see nature in a certain way because of the mental apparatus that we bring to it. . . . The mind does not derive the laws of nature from the physical world. Indeed, it is just the reverse: the mind imposes its own laws on nature. . . . Kant made scientific law dependant on the mind.” (Marvin Perry, An Intellectual History of Modern Europe, p. 188)

      “The fundamental question of reason is its relationship to reality. Is reason capable of knowing reality—or is it not? . . . Kant was crystal clear about his answer. Reality—real, nuomenal reality—is forever closed off to reason, and reason is limited to awareness and understanding of its own subjective products.” (Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, p. 28)

      If my interpretation and these historians’ interpretation of Kant are wrong, then by all means, enlighten us. Why are we wrong? And what is the correct interpretation?

      • Ramón Casares says:

        Kant is right,
        and pitifully he is not yet understood by many.
        He did not know about genetics or neurology,
        but he nevertheless got it mainly right.
        Now, I will try to update Kant for you.

        Your brain is not interested in reality, but in keeping you alive.
        Also, it is a fact that all the data we get from outside is processed
        by our perceptual system inside our brain in very complex ways.
        So reality, defined as the model that our brain builds of the outside,
        is as good as to keep us alive, but not more.
        Of course, it is just a matter of definitions,
        and you could say that reality is the outside world,
        but I find more useful to define it the other way.

        We can refine this model called reality as much as we like, but
        the only thing we can know for certain about outside is
        that it is a huge source of data.
        Of course, our finite means can not manage such big amounts of data,
        so perception is a compressor that summarizes the information
        we need to survive from the outside data stream.

        You see then why
        I have some reservations about talking of what it is outside, and
        I even doubt if we can give it a more specific name than outside.
        I mean, to lump collections of data into objects is one
        of the first operations that perception performs,
        so I guess that there are no objects outside.
        This, I think, is the primary source of quantum paradoxes.

        So the first tool we use to inspect our surroundings, perception,
        has some limitations,
        and it is wiser to be aware of them than not.
        Something similar can be said of our second tool, reason.

        Reason is not absolute.
        Reason is our way to produce new sentences
        that are not contradictory to previous sentences, that’s all.
        But sentences are what constitute language,
        and language is not a part of the reality;
        language is our tool to describe reality.
        A description is just a summary,
        i.e. it is using less information to say the same thing
        by omitting aspects that are not important for our current aims.
        So, in a more abstract way,
        reason is the way the syntactic engine in our brains works.

        And reason, as proved by Gödel, has also some intrinsic limitations.
        Again, there is a compressing tool between us and outside
        with its peculiar limitations, and it is wise to be aware of them.

        I agree with Kant that science,
        or, in fact, any human knowledge, has intrinsic limitations.
        This does prove that we can not reach a complete explanation
        of the world; it is pure skepticism.
        So, by defining God as that that we don’t understand,
        it will always be possible to prove that God exists,
        but it is meaningless.

      • Leonard Wahl says:

        D’Souza may be a fool, Mr. Dahlen, but he knows his philosophy better than you do. Nothing in Kant’s metaphysics or epistemology would prevent a batter from hitting a curveball or a pilot from landing his plane, or a physicist, for that matter, from theorizing the existence of subatomic particles. That one paragraph in your article outs you as a half-educated troll. All matter is phenomenal, which means it is already accessible to our senses, which means that the chain of reasoning you cite is not interrupted.

        Kant is trying to seek the limits of phenomenal knowledge, not to invalidate it altogether. You and I can agree on the laws of physics that describe gravity, for instance. What we cannot do, however, is agree on the existence of extra-phenomenal reality: the existence and attributes of God, the soul, etc. Now, the good rational materialist is content to say that that’s enough to show that we should just dispense with the whole notions of God and the soul, and I think if you were a little more well-read this is the conclusion you would articulate.

        But Kant goes further, and this is where his notion of subjectivity and your handbooks’ talk about reality being the mind’s “own making” come in. Kant thinks that the coherence of the world as we perceive it is a function of our perception and not necessarily of the world itself. He grants time and space (extension and duration) as a priori categories in human reasoning, not as aspects of reality, objectively speaking. This does not invalidate reason as you appear to define it. Think of it this way: the mind is a finely tuned instrument. It can anticipate the break of a pitch and can engineer jet engines and calculate the amount of vitamin C in an orange. But things like baseballs, airplanes, and oranges only exist as perceivable phenomena at all according to the categories of reason to which the mind has access. (The example of your hypothetical alien is irrelevant, because if the world as we know it is perceptible to him at all it is going to have to have the same basic categorical parameters–the same conceptual architecture.) The instrument of the mind is calibrated to perceive the world as having three dimensions of space and temporal duration and the concepts of unity and plurality and only subsequently the categories like color and smell. Kant’s question is whether this calibration is arbitrary or not. There is simply no way to be sure (and this is merely healthy scepticism and not some circular assertion to know what he claims he can’t know) that our perceptions correspond to “reality” in itself (which is a far more out-there idea than I think you realize).

        Why does this matter? It may not. It’s fair to say to hell with the noumenal realm and I’ll take my chances with phenomena. But then again that doesn’t leave you in any disagreement with Kant. You see, Kant was an eighteenth-century philosopher, so he (a) scrupulously took nothing (not even time and space) for granted in his metaphysics lest he beg the question of their existence, and (b) took it as part of his job to formulate not just a metaphysics and epistemology but an ethics as well. (You may remember that The Critique of Pure Reason was followed by a sequel, the Critique of Practical Reason. The third in the series, the Critique of Judgement, is important since it is the faculty of judgement that Kant uses as the bridge between his metaphysics and ethics.) Now ask yourself, my very rational interlocutor: would you rather subscribe to an ethic premised on the fiats of a conveniently extra-phenomenal deity or one based ultimately on the freedom of the human actor to judge his own actions?

        It’s an easy question, if, along with Kant, you use the noumenal/phenomenal severance to disavow all knowledge of the noumenal. Because we only perceive the world as we do, within the limits of human reason, and have have strictly zero knowledge of the noumenal realm, which is where we would find God, we have to reason our way through life, rather than pretend to have permanent, divine imperatives.

        You might see now the real flaw in D’Souza’s book. He flits around philosophy to borrow something that sounds good here and there, but without bothering to be intellectually coherent from one chapter to the next. It’s just bad philosophy to use Kant as a wedge to open a gap between science and the world, and then to fill that gap with Biblical theology.

        Kant himself was no atheist and you can look up for yourself the details of his ethical philosophy and what-not and make up you own judgements about it, but please, Mr Dahlen, recognize that you are not refuting his philosophy, only misunderstanding it. Kant ought to be cited approvingly by reason-loving people everywhere. Put down the bluffer’s guides and at least read a good encyclopedia entry on a philosopher if you’re going to try to beat him at his own game.

        Try the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( or the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (

    • Mario says:

      I think that you really love Kant’s work and that in turn makes you prone to argue against someone who is simply suggesting the limitations of his work, it’s nothing new that fanatics grab to something that they believe as a proof of their fallacy specially when it comes from someone regarded as trustworthy among scholars, just like claiming that Einstein was a religious man just cause he used the word god in a phrase.

      I’m not suggesting that you are siding up with that wacko D’Souza but it seams to anyone with decent reading of Kant’s ideas that Mr. Michael Dahlen has made a very good abstract of the aspects mentioned by D’Souza.

      Just like Darwin and Newton so is Kant’s work seminal but not definitive, their work caused a paradigm shift in their areas but that does not mean that almost everything they said was right, just that at least one of their ideas was revolutionary.

  3. Luke Seubert says:

    The conjecture that there is a “phenomenal world” apparent to our senses and reason, and the real reality – a “nuomenal world” – lying beyond the phenomenal world, is an invalid hypothesis.

    One of the requirements for a valid hypothesis is that it be falsifiable. There must be some way to find evidence which can disprove the hypothesis.

    But this “phenomenal/nuomenal” dual reality hypothesis can never be disproved. By definition, the nuomenal world lies beyond our ability to perceive it, to sense it. Therefore, nuomenal reality can never be disproved, nor proved for that matter.

    By the way, this phenomena versus nuomena, dualing realities nonsense is simply a restated version of Plato’s Theory of Forms. That too was scientifically invalid, and while interesting as a conjecture, ultimately pointless.

    Why do we keep regurgitating the worst of ancient Greek philosophy? All this Post-Modernism nonsense is just warmed over Pyrrhonism. The Stoics and Epicureans gutted that school of philosophy with a few rapier cuts of logic. Why do we keep resurrecting the dead?

  4. Dr. Sidethink Hp.D says:

    The reason Dr. Sidethink does not discuss these things is that it is more fun to listen to the deaf leading the blind.

    This is actually an extreme form of Logical Positivism.

    The main problem is that most folks have a lot of themselves invested in formal ideologies of sundry types and don’t want to hear anyone say
    what amounts to
    ” your ideas don’t make sense under scrutiny…They’re not EVEN bullshit”

    What they want to hear is
    “That sounds interesting…Tell me more”

    As a supporting example…
    In his early days, Terence McKenna gleefully relates the story of how he consulted with a professor at Berkeley about his theory of Psylocybin, E.T.’s, Teleology ,etc.etc.

    In conclusion he asked

    ” Doctor, does any of this seem fallacious ??”

    The reply..
    “My dear young man… It’s not EVEN fallacious”

    Dr. S

  5. hicusdicus says:

    I am not even remotely an academic or particularly well educated. The only thing that matters to me is right now and how it is going affect my future. If my 5 senses do not acknowledge things particularly things I have no control over why would I possibly care. Life is a flash in the pan with enough trip wires to keep one busy dodging and ducking. Hypothesis and theories are for folks whose life have become so uneventful that all they have to do is sit around and chew the fat till they croak. I have never cared for philosophy it borders on the paranormal and the what if syndrome . The paranormal and the what if’s are just distractions from ones mortality. Trying to give life to things that don’t exist and will never happen is what makes human intelligence the most over rated commodity on this planet.

    • Dr. Sidethink Hp.D says:

      What about them Broncs this year? ( losing two games in a row by one point at the last minute)??

      Broncs is more fun than Plato ,for some, but I don’t see the difference if everything is just bidin’ time until Himself shows up.

      Or is it (as you state ) the real meaning of life is to control stuff??

      BOB (TM) Church of the Subgenius
      ” Pack some Slack, Jack”

      Pope Bobby II
      69th Clench of the Stark Fist of Removal
      Reformed Church of the Subgenius

  6. Ray Weitzman says:

    D’Souza’s “reasoning” leads us to an anarchy of faiths and beliefs, which is exactly what we already have. The only problem is that the faithful are not anarchists but true believers. The only outcome of such a situation is conflict.

  7. robro says:

    I have little knowledge of Kant (college philosophy assignments, unfathomable German syntax) and none of D’Souza, but I bet…and hope…that he has no doubts about the actual reality of the phenomenal world when he’s driving.

  8. Karen Tallant says:

    Michael Dahlen’s article was interesting, but I can’t help thinking he may have made it more accessible to others by asserting the most important question early on: How does D’Souza know? Mr D. is asserting perception as fact while trying to argue fact as perception. Wha??? I appreciate Michael’s respect for Kant insofar as Kant has an importance in the history of thinking, but if we did not perceive reality; if our “minds have a built-in disposition toward illusion”, I’d imagine a lot of people weren’t motivated to undermine reason and critical thinking.

  9. Ted Fontenot says:

    What would Kant have known about the brain and the way it operates?

  10. B. G. Taiduma says:

    Reality exists, if not, why animals identify their young with an unerring instinct?

  11. Justin Case says:

    Reality is an illusion brought on by an alcohol deficiency.

  12. Ted Fontenot says:

    It’s illusions all the way down.

  13. Kurian Katticaren says:

    A sense of our limitation might as well contribute a little more to tolerance, respectful listening and silence of awe, and not to touting a male, white, greedy and capitalist GOD. Thomas Aguinas has said it beautifully: Tantum Ergo Sacramentum – Veneremur Cernui.

    People like Reagan and Bush and his ilks are the epitome of perverted, intolerant and arrogant intelligence seeking faith (warrants from beyond the pale of evidence and reason for their fanaticism). God help the Catholic Church if Tony Blair found his God there. He found God or a peg to hang his GOd on?

    I hope more of us will have faith seeking understanding. Taht his understanding will lead us to bow our heads in silence before the great mystery of life in all its fullness, diveristy and longing for fulness.

    Ad te creavit me domine, and inquiteum est spiritus mei, donec requiescat in te!”. Let our restlessness and loginig be for sharing and caring – and not for rationalising grasping, selfishness and jingoism.

  14. Bill says:

    Check out Kant’s letter to Hamann, asking for an explanation of what Hamann meant by intuitive understanding. It was sarcastic. There’s no there there. That’s it. Nothing there, nothing to critique. No concept to describe and note the inapplicability of. Nothing, nada. Just… empty words. Pretty, empty words. Whereof, thereof.

  15. W.S.S. says:

    Read Kant. Read Kant. Read Kant.

  16. M. Schatt says:

    D’Souza grossly misrepresents Kant’s ideas, which is regrettable. What is even more regrettable, is that Michael Dahlen seems to take D’Souza’s interpretation of Kant at face value. So let’s get this straight: Kant tried to separate the rational from the irrational for good. I doubt that he ever wrote that human perception is a distortion.
    The important thing to notice ist, that according to Kant time and space are not just physical facts, but modes of perception hardwired into our brains before we experience anything at all. As a consequence, we cannot perceive any other world than the world ruled by the pysical laws within time and space. In this sense our perceptions are limited, since we do not know whether there are other modes of perception in other beings, universes etc..
    The important thing is that Kant’s conclusion is NOT that this makes reason and faith kind of equal. Instead, he rather tends to dismiss speculations about the supernatural, because the world as we experience it has no place for these things and we cannot experience another world. Under the same token, our scientific laws are based on the way we experience the world and thus valid within our world. Which does NOT mean that religion is another valid way of explaining the world rationally.
    According to Kant, supernatural religion is speculation. When he wanted to “open the door to religion” this was meant in the sense of enlightened religion, a religion stripped of all supernatural pretensions, an enlightened rational teaching of morailty because any other form of religion would have to be based on speculation. It is exactly this kind of metaphysical speculation that fundamentalists as D’Souza are trying to rationalize. Using Kant as a means to achieve this is more than just a bit bizarre. It is a bit like using Richard Dawkins’ books to prove that the pope is infallible after all.
    Kant was a champion of scientific rationality and a destroyer of superstition, metaphysics and religious speculation. It is truly sad and absurd indeed that Dahlen does not defend the great philosopher against this absurd misinterpretation. Doesn’t he see it? Is he ill-informed about Kant?

  17. Lawrie Cherniack says:

    I hadn’t checked back until now, and had not realized that Mr. Dahlen responded to my brief comment (number 2 above). I am sorry that Mr. Dahlen took my comments as a “smear”, because I did not intend to offend him. I was, however, saddened by his attack on Kant based on secondary sources. (He quotes the great philosophical historian, Windelband, whose chapters on Kant are very brilliant; but unfortunately his quotation changes “phenomena” to “phenomenon” and misses the very point Windelband makes on that very page he quotes from.)

    Most of what I would have said in response has been said by others. But if I may contribute slightly to the discussion, I think the essence of Mr. Dahlen’s misunderstanding of Kant is illustrated in this quotation from Mr. Dahlen’s article:

    “Kant postured as an advocate of reason, but if you understand the basic essence of his view, I believe it is quite clear he is not. According to Kant, reason and science only enable us to know the “phenomenal world” of “appearances,” which he says is nothing but a subjective creation of the human mind. As to reality-in-itself, the “nuomenal world,” Kant says reason and science cannot know it.”

    Mr. Dahlen mistakes “reality” for what Kant would have thought of as “what is known to science”, and “subjective” for what Kant would have thought of as “objectively known through the (universal) human perception”. Kant never said, and never thought, that different people had different “perceptions” about the reality of the physical world. He believed that these phenomena were objective in the sense that they could be described, defined, and tested.

    Kant’s unknowable “reality” is very different from science. We cannot know that kind of reality because of the way our thinking and perception function. We cannot prove logic by using logic. We cannot prove reality by relying on our senses. We cannot go beyond that which we can know. We see things from the perspective of space and time and causality, which is what science describes and explains. Kant was trying to define, as a philosopher, whether space and time and causality can be proved as being “true”. His answer was that we cannot see beyond space and time and causality, and therefore we cannot know whether they are true or not — they just are our “reality”.

    The limitation that Kant puts on knowledge has there nothing to do with the kind of “reality” that Mr. Dahlen is talking about. Science as a way of knowing is objective and not subjective. It is simply that “objective” means in that context “knowledge from the way that we as human beings are able to see”. The explanation often given by philosophy teachers is that we see the world through glasses (space, time, causality) which are permanently implanted on us, and therefore we don’t know what the world is like without our glasses.

    Kant’s “unknowable” has nothing to do with scientific knowledge. It has to do with the limitations of human understanding. Kant was dealing with whether one can prove that there is or is not a God. He demonstrated that according to our human way of understanding things one can simultaneously prove the existence and the non-existence of God, and therefore that you cannot prove the existence of God one way or the other.

    With respect to some of the comments above, Kant was a truly religious man who believed that showing the inability to “know” whether God exists or not made room for faith in God; naturally, philosophers who followed him took a slightly different tack — if you can’t “know” whether God exists or not, then why have faith in God’s existence? Kant was “a destroyer of superstition, metaphysics and religious speculation”, but he was a devout Christian nonetheless.

  18. David says:

    It is astonishing that some commenters “correct” what they take to be “misinterpretations” of Kant by merely restating the arbitrary claims of Kant in an approving way as if they were self-evident. Kant began by rejecting the self-evident: we don’t have direct awareness of reality, according to him. We can be “certain” of the features of the “phenomenal” world only because our minds create it. That is an inversion of the truth and is not based in the self-evident. Time, space, causality, reality, existence, etc.–these are all allegedly categories created by the minds noumenal synthesizing agents, working on the noumenal data. But how does Kant know this? He states that the mind can have no access the noumenal realm. It is per se unknowable. In other words, it’s a complete concoction. One has to start with the given, the self-evident. And that’s existence and our awareness of existence. There is nothing else to be aware of. That things are what they are, act in accordance with their identity and are perceivable by us are all self-evident. That we perceive entities acting in accordance with our nature is not proof that our minds are imposing the category of causality; nor is there any way to get to such a conclusion by Kant’s endless litany of arbitrary assertions and transcendental “deductions.” All that our direct perception of reality means is that we directly perceive reality.

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