Can we have a metaphysics of frogs?

This was a question I was working on one day as I rode my bicycle down a country road in Benton County, Oregon south of Corvallis. I forgot if I first thought of in terms of frogs, but frogs are a good way to encapsulate it. What I did know was that I was riding through a wetland on a December day, looking at the trees and waters, and thinking how little they were accounted for in The Critique of Pure Reason. I should point out here that by "metaphysics", I am not referring to new age beliefs, or any type of crystal waving or wuwu, but to "metaphysics" in the traditional meaning, as an academic discipline asking philosophical questions about the nature of reality. I had been grappling with Immanuel Kant's philosophy, and as I stared at the well-named Muddy Creek, I wondered about the gap between Kant's philosophy and everything I saw. Because all the fractal intricacy of the watercourses, all of the diversity of the animals, plants and fungi, and even the human impact on the landscape, all of the history of the area, would have been collapsed under Kant's system of metaphysics. To Kant, a frog would have been described as a series of sensations of varying degrees, placed into the "sensuous intuitions" of time and space, and connected with a few logical ideas. Behind that is a "thing-in-itself", a mysterious thing we could never see because we would always have to view it through our categories. In a way, Immanuel Kant's metaphysics are like powdered milk, everything is broken apart into a bare series of impressions which are then reconstituted, in our minds, into something that we can imagine, and form mental connections with. And do you know anyone who likes powdered milk? Of course not.

So this, then, was my problem with Kant. What I thought he was missing. Everything that we might have thought about in terms of the essence of a frog, all the natural connections we made between frogs, and our feelings towards life, all the motion and curiosity of seeing a frog jump into a pool, all the art ever made showing the grace of a frog, coming out of its awkward form, all of the questions and wonder about metamorphosis, even the cultural weight of, say, Kermit the Frog, was was taken away. There was no essence of the frog. Just a series of datum points of sensations, put into the metaphysical idea of a body, extended in space, and persisting in time. And here, I have to make a small exception to something I said earlier: because at certain points, "metaphysics" was not clearly divided into an academic discipline and a source of supernatural cosmology. Medieval philosophers, for example, would have probably included the sun in its own metaphysical category, as having a teleological purpose and special position. But for, Kant, metaphysically, the sun and a rock are the same thing. Other traditions might have given animals like the frog a special positions, as symbols for metamorphosis, or connections between the water and the earth, but if we look at Kant, all that idea of essence is stripped away.

And after I was done thinking of this, as I slowly read my way through the Critique of Pure Reason (it is a dense book, it took me over two months to read), Kant actually addresses this in the final pages of the book, in an imagined dialog:

I ask: "Does the conception of extension belong to metaphysics?"
You answer: "Yes."
"Well, that of body too?"
"And that of a fluid body?"
You stop, you are unprepared to admit this; for if you do, everything will belong to metaphysics.
In the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant put a limit on what subjects can be discussed metaphysically, that is, in terms of basic principles of reality, and what we can understand only through experience, shaped by our own cognition. And frogs do not deserve their own metaphysical grounds. Maybe "Life" as a whole does, or the idea of "Self-organization", but particular forms of life don't deserve their own metaphysical status, regardless of our cultural or emotional attachment to them.

Immanuel Kant himself wrote extensively on other subjects, including aesthetics, ethics, politics, astronomy and other subjects, but he separated most of those from his "core" metaphysical thinking. Immanuel Kant was the first person to state that the Andromeda Nebula was a galaxy, but he did that as a piece of science, not as a piece of metaphysical cosmology. He separated what subjects could be developed through experience, or imagination, from what things could be understood through first principles. And Immanuel Kant would have put frogs as subjects of the first two.

And in doing so, Kant pretty much put an end to metaphysics. In the two centuries after Immanuel Kant, philosophers wrote about history (Georg Hegel), they wrote about the development of the individual personality (Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietszche), they wrote about the psychological construction of phenomena (Edmund Husserl, even though he denied that was what he was doing), they wrote somewhat dodgy anthropology (Martin Heidegger), they wrote social and psychological works (Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus), after thousands of years, they wrote about gender relations (Simone de Beauvoir), they wrote about history (Hannah Arendt), and they wrote books about I am not sure what (Michel Foucault). But for the past 200 years, while philosophy has diversified into different fields and perspectives, Kant's general limits on metaphysics have been respected by his successors, and modern writers of "mainstream Western philosophy" will not attempt to make a metaphysics of frogs.

So, to answer my own question: we can not have a metaphysics of frogs.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.