Have you ever read a specialized concept and applied it to a different field to find interesting results? Known as ‘duality’ in Physics and Math, I love to do that. This time allow me to postulate Kant’s Categorie in light of politics.

Imagine Kant, Rousseau, Marx, Freud, and some ancient Vedic sage having some tea and talking politics. That’s what went on in my head the other day.

Let’s set aside all criticism of Kant’s philosophy, since everyone from Jacobi to Maimon, Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling or Hegel have done that. Let’s also overlook Kant’s terrible prose (at least not nearly as criminal as the unpalatable Lacant). In my head, that lively evening’s conversation revolved around Kant’s Categorie (as he wrote it in the original, although in modern German it would be kategorie).

In all of them (Quantity, Quality, Relation, and Mode) there’s a logical progression that reflects a kind of “social entropy”, not as in Bailey’s sociology theory, but in a more literal sense of the second law of thermodynamics applied to society.

With ’entropy’ understood as “state of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty”, the second law of thermodynamics states:

The entropy of isolated systems left to spontaneous evolution cannot decrease, as they always arrive at a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, where the entropy is highest. If all processes in the system are reversible, the entropy is constant. An increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes.

Let’s keep in mind key terms like “isolated systems”, “left to spontaneous evolution”, and “reversibility”, and let’s go back to Kant’s Categorie.

  • In Quantity we go from unit, to plural, to total.
  • In Quality we go from reality, to negation, to limitation.
  • In Relation we go from inherence and subsistence, to causality and dependence, to community.
  • In Mode we go from possibility-impossibility, to existence-nonexistence, to necessity-contingency.

He used logic deduction of metaphysics for these Categorie. We might think the logic of the XVIII Century was a bit too basic, but then again, we’re dealing with very basic categories here.

My point, and the reason why I imagined Kant, Rousseau, Marx, Freud, and some ancient Vedic sage discussing this, is the “from - to” that I used in each of those Categorie. As far as I know, Kant didn’t. He imagined, very much in line with his logical but rigid thought, that they were isolated categories. Either-or. Non-intersecting sets.

On the contrary, the fascinating aspect of this structure is revealed when we consider one of the terms I highlighted before: “evolution”.

Our natural (Quantity Categorie) reality evolves. So does, as a result, our social environment (Relation Categorie), accompanied by our understanding (Quality Categorie) of those evolutions. Finally, the Mode Categorie acts as a metaphysical frame to it all.

The ancient Vedic sage already knew that as we go from unit, to plural, to total, our relationships between ourselves and with the natural world would suffer. He tried to warn us thousands of years ago.

Rousseau and Marx (others like Hobbes, Locke, Proudhon, Rawls, Gauthier or Pettit would have liked to pitch in that debate, though) would argue ways to rewrite a Social Contract so that as we go from inherence and subsistence, to causality and dependence, to community, we find not only a sustainable but also “best” way to live with each other.

Of course Freud wrote extensively on how to deal with going from reality, to negation, to limitation.

Yet, the Mode Categorie debate, the essence of epistemology, and metaphysics at large, remains in the air, fluid, for everyone from poets to stoned teenagers to give us their take on it. After all, going from possibility-impossibility, to existence-nonexistence, to necessity-contingency sounds to me closer to quantum mechanics than something that pure logical categories framed within that very same category can elucidate.

The Illustration served humanity by helping us get over darkness and superstition. Their aim of pursuing structured knowledge with a method are very laudable. Unfortunately some are still stuck in that rigid understanding of… everything. Let’s evolve, and dare to look at an interdisciplinary approach that may bring us closer to understanding not just entities but relationships.