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“Report on the Kantian Categories,” dated 27 Mar 1913, is the first of three essays that Eliot wrote for “Philosophy 15: The Kantian Philosophy” (Harvard University, spring 1913). This graduate seminar on Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of two that Eliot took from Professor Charles Montague Bakewell (1867-1957) of Yale University, who was at Harvard on a visiting appointment. 1

There are perhaps three chief types in the history of the category, three distinct uses of the term:

the Platonic: the metaphysical and epistemological problems are equal and inseparable. (neo-Platonic: methodological and only provisionally metaphysical).

the Aristotelian: the category as an adequate account of an external reality.

the Kantian: an epistemological scepticism, grounded on certain practical postulates, arrives at a metaphysical system which is contingent upon the variabilities of these postulates.

The point here taken is, that while the Aristotelian problem is quite different from the Kantian, and the employment of categories so unrelated that direct comparison is impossible, the Platonic problem is similar to that of Kant, in so far at least that both Plato and Kant recognise as of fundamental importance the fact that metaphysics and epistemology coincide as one and the same problem. Only, the historical position of Kant made it necessary for him to start out from a much more sophisticated account of “immediate experience.” The world was divided for him into concept and percept, ideas and matter of fact. Now probably for Plato matter of fact was much more ideal, and idea much more real, than for Kant or for us; an affective difference which can with difficulty be elucidated and hardly proved, but which can be made more and more plausible, as a basis for drawing distinctions, between the two types of category.

For there is for Plato, in the first place, no possible addition to the matter of experience, of a ground of experience beyond this experience itself and beyond any conception we can form of this experience. The modern inquiry springs from the assertion of the exteriority of the matter of our experience to ourselves; and, in the next moment, shifting its point of discrimination, assumes that this first distinction moves of itself to a second distinction, a distinction between this sort of externality and another reality more external. For when the first externality has been explained, we forget the limitation which applied to this use of the word “external”; consciousness shifts its viewpoint, absorbs the external; but by its own necessity posits the external again. [As if from a relation A, X – having found the relation, say Ar 1X, we should then subsume X under A, and posit another X. (Ar 1X) = A. (Ar 1X), X 2to be found]. 2 The attempted solution of the artificial problem creates the issue between modern realism and idealism.

Now for Plato the distinction between the idea and the flux is not the internality-externality distinction of the concept-percept relation. Hence the category plays a very different role. The problem for Plato, I believe, consists not in the attempt to harmonise an ideal and a real world, but in the attempt to answer the question: how is it that the idea and the flux are (as we know them to be) the same thing? We must, in order to understand this attitude, set aside our questions of consciousness and its object, which for Plato had not arisen. (And we must, incidentally, admit I think that the ψυχή is merely provisional–the only ultimate reality for us being our conception of the complete world order). 3 The same problem (the identity of the flux and the idea) arises (in a less acute and vital form) for any immanence monism; but is more complex for Plato, because he declines to submit himself to the facile condensations of pure mysticism. Accordingly idea and flux are made relative to each other, but are relative also to our (more or less stable) point of view, from which there are inevitably degrees of reality, leading up to the Idea of...

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