Lesson 10: Metaphysical Salience of the Modern Project: Kant on Knowledge

A. Basic Themes

Kant is the great synthesis of modern philosophy; he saves the gains of the founders, elevates and purifies them, and keeps philosophy from going over the edge with Hume and Rousseau. Professor Kennington pointed to three items that make Kant the consummate modern: 1. Supremacy of the practical life. Kant transforms early moderns, so practical goal is not just comfortable self preservation, but moral perfection. Realize an idea, e.g. kingdom of ends; 2. Autonomy of man, Kant continues the Stoic quest for self-possession and the autonomy of self, to be free from nature, custom etc.; and 3.Dualism. Man - pure inwardness, consciousness; nature - pure extension, inert. Alienation from the world, nature gives no support to morality, dualism of scientific world and human world. The first step is to limit the claims of metaphysics and skepticism: Kant has denied reason to make room for faith.

B. Outlines and Study Guides

1. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics

  1. How is synthetic, a priori knowledge possible?
  2. Hence we are not concern with things in themselves, but merely with things as the objects of possible experience. The sum total of these is what we properly called nature. How is it possible to know a priori the necessary laws regulating things as objects of experience?
  3. What I mean to show is how the a priori conditions of the possibility of experience are at the same time the sources from which all the general laws of nature must be derived.
  4. The bringing together of images in a consciousness is judgment. Thus thinking is the same as judging or referring images to judgments in general.
  5. Experience consists of synthetic linking (association) of phenomena (perceptions) in a consciousness.
  6. Judgments, considered merely as the condition for bringing together given images in a consciousness, are rules. These rules, in so far as they present the togetherness as necessary, are a priori.
  7. Therefore, I understand perfectly the concept of cause as a concept belonging necessarily to the mere form of experience, and I understand its possibility as a synthetic linking of perceptions in a consciousness in general. But I do not understand at all how a thing in itself is a possible cause, because the concept of cause does not at all mean a condition attached to things, but only attached to experience. Experience can only be objectively valid knowledge of phenomena and of their sequence in time, in so far as the antecedent can be united to the consequent according to the rule of hypothetical judgment.
  8. The use of concepts is limited to experience because their possibility is grounded solely in the relation of the mind to experience. This is true not because they are derived from experience, but because EXPERIENCE IS DERIVED FROM THEM. This completely reversed mode of thinking never occurred to Hume.
  9. When we rightly regard the objects of sense as mere phenomena we thereby admit that each such object is based upon a thing in itself of which we are not aware as it is constituted in itself, but only as known through its appearances, that is, by the manner in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.
  10. Nature in its material sense. ... is possible by means of the quality of our senses; in keeping with this quality our senses are affected in a particular manner by objects that are unknown in themselves and are entirely distinct from these phenomena.
  11. Nature in its formal sense, as the sum total of the rules to which all phenomena must be subject if they are to be considered as connected in experience. ... is possible by means of the quality of our mind. In keeping with this quality, all images resulting from sense impression are necessarily referred to a consciousness. By referring all images to a consciousness, thinking according to rules is possible.

2. Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason.

Kant's critique is divided into three areas:

  • 1. Transcendental Aesthetic, on the forms of sensibility.
  • 2. Transcendental Analytic, on the concepts and principles of understanding.
  • 3. Transcendental Dialectic, on the ideas of pure reason.

The transcendental dialectic is an account of the disposition of the human mind to think about metaphysical topics. Man has the fate of asking unanswerable questions; the questions lead him into speculative illusions.

  • 1. Reason is the faculty that urges understanding on; it is never satisfied with its present knowledge and drives the understanding forward. It aims at a complete and perfect knowledge of the world. Because of this dissatisfaction, it sometimes broods over its own concepts and passes beyond experience in order to bet a completion. Not satisfied with the conditioned and partial truths of science it seeks to find the unconditioned and absolute. It figures that if the conditioned is given, then the unconditioned must also be given. Specifically reason follows out the three types of judgment to the logical limit and crosses over to the thing in itself:
    • a. Categorical judgment, All X is Y. Is there not a complete or ultimate subject that is not a predicate. Is there not a substantial self? This is the topic of speculative or rational psychology.
    • b. Hypothetical judgment, If X, then Y. Is there not a complete series of causes and conditions ending with an unconditioned conditions ending with an unconditioned condition? The complete series is signified in the term, WORLD. This is the topic of rational cosmology.
    • c. Disjunctive judgment, Either X or Y. Is there not some complete complex of possibilities and perfections? Such completeness is signified in the term GOD. It is the topic or rational theology.
  • 2. The ideas of pure reason are without object or meaning. Concepts function only within experience, only to interpret sensibility. Concepts without sense content are empty. The pure ideas cross over the limits and go beyond experience; the ideas can never be an object of experience. Hence they are illusory. Kant proves that the ideas are illusory through a series of antinomies - proofs of contradictory assertions, e.g. the world is finite, the world is infinite.
  • 3. The ideas of reason should regulate understanding, and not go off on its own, making up its own topics.
  • 4. The critique of pure reason is a two edged sword. On the one hand it limits the mind to empirical science and mathematics. But it also "repudiates the audacious assertions of materialism, naturalism, and fatalism." Soul, God, free will are possible. Kant has denied reason to make room for faith. That restlessness of reason should be channeled into moral action; the pure ideas become postulates of practical reason.


1. Kant, Preface to the Second Edition of the Critique of Pure Reason

Reason has insight only into that which it produces after a plan of its own...it must not allow itself to be kept, as it were, in nature's leading-strings, but must itself show the way with principles of judgment based on fixed laws, constraining nature to give answer to questions of reason's own determining...Reason, holding in one had its principles, according to which alone concordant appearances can be admitted as equivalent to laws, and in the other hand the experiment which it has devised in conformity with these principles, must approach nature in order to be taught by it. It must not, however, do so in the character of a pupil who listens to everything that the teacher chooses to say, but of an appointed judge who compels the witnesses to answer questions which he has himself formulated. Even physics, therefore, owes the beneficent revolution in its point of view entirely to the happy thought, that while reason must seek in nature, not fictitiously ascribe to it, whatever as not being knowable through reason's own resources has to be learnt, if learnt, at all, only from nature, it must adopt as its guide, in so seeking that which it has itself put into nature.

2. Kant, Idea for a Universal History, III & IV

Nature does nothing in vain, and in the use of means to her goals she is not prodigal. Her giving to man reason and the freedom of the will which depends upon it is clear indication of her purpose. Man accordingly was not to be guided by instinct, not nurtured and instructed with ready-made knowledge; rather, he should bring forth everything out of his own resources...all this should be wholly his own work. In this, nature seems to have moved with the strictest parsimony...just as if she had willed that...he alone should have the credit and should have only himself to thank...Without those in themselves unamiable characteristics of unsocialbility from whence opposition springs-characteristics each man must find in his own selfish pretensions-all talents would remain hidden, unborn in an Arcadian shepherd's life, with all its concord, contentment and mutual affection. Thanks be to nature, then, for the incompatibility, for heartless competitive vanity, for the insatiable desire to posses and to rule!


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