Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Critique of 'The Critique of Pure Reason' I: Preface to the First Edition

As I study Kant's Critique of Pure Reason I am taking notes and trying to identify the points where someone sympathetic to a generally Aristotelian (particularly Thomist) view of metaphysics and knowledge would have reservations. So I will be essentially transferring my notes and other thoughts here as an ongoing commentary on Kant's great work. I will not be going line for line and explaining all his ideas. Rather, I will be picking out parts that I think are particularly pertinent to distinguishing him from, and criticizing him from the perspective of, a view which an Aristotelian is likely to take. I should note that, though I am coming from a decidedly realist picture and hence not particularly sympathetic with all aspects of Kant's thought, I certainly consider it a huge step up from Hume and a work of ingenious creativity. Kant definitely has my respect as one of the greatest thinkers to have lived, and I think he needs to be taken much more seriously than he is today.

With that said, let's look at the preface to the first edition of Kant's treatise. Though it does contain important information, since it is relatively short I will say more about the preface to the second edition. As a general remark, Kant seems to be primarily concerned here with the problem of metaphysical knowledge, whereas in the second edition preface he focuses in more on his own "Copernican revolution". Kant wants to know how it is possible for metaphysics to be justified. After all, in the very first paragraph Kant admits that metaphysics certainly deals in perennial problems which reason is always tempted to come back to.

One might wonder why we need any justification for thinking that we can have metaphysical beliefs. But Kant lays out a story as to what has happened to metaphysics up to the time of his writing:

"In the beginning, under the administration of the dogmatists, her rule was despotic. Yet because her legislation still retained traces of ancient barbarism, this rule gradually degenerated through internal wars into complete anarchy..."

Here the dogmatists represent the continental rationalists, especially people like Descartes, Leibniz, and Wolff. The anarchy was brought about by skeptical empiricists, Hume in particular. Kant considers the skeptical criticisms of rationalist philosophy to have been something of a deathblow, at least given rationalist assumptions about knowledge (such as a correspondence theory of truth or the doctrine of innate ideas). This is the background within which Kant hopes to provide a new, certain and complete theory which will solve the empiricist objections and provide a basis for metaphysics. Of course, right off the bat it is clear that no room between the rationalists and empiricists has been made for something like a more Aristotelian view of the matter, so it appears that Kant's argument will be a non-starter at least in terms of disproving the Aristotelian type of metaphysics and knowledge. This is a theme which will come up often, viz. that Kant, working within a certain philosophical movement, will fail to consider the Aristoteliean view which could solve the same problems he wants to without the seismic shift in our analyses of knowledge, objectivitiy, necessity, truth, etc.

In part II I'll examine the preface to the second edition of Kant's Critique and bring up some more specific points and objections.

9 comments:

Jon Haines said...

Alfredo, where are you studying/have you studied? We appear to have very similar views... I am currently reading Gilson's Thomist Realism which might be helpful for your posts on this topic.

awatkins69 said...

Hi Jon. I'm currently studying at CSU San Bernardino, though I will be transferring to another university come Fall (one of the UC's, though not sure which yet). I have read Gilson's book and I thought it was very good as well. I will be writing more posts as I read through Kant's Critique and I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Jon Haines said...

I will definitely stay up on it. So you are in undergraduate, correct? If you are 18, you must have been lucky to get a classical education. I just finished my Masters at Franciscan in Steubenville and it wasn't until I had become a thorough modern that in the last year, Aquinas just clicked for me. Feel free to check out my blog/subscribe as well if you like... www.battleforthecoreoftheworld.com. My audience isn't as specific as yours though (many are new to philosophy) because my goal is to provide the basics of why an Aristotelian/Thomistic point of view automatically closes the so calle "gap" between faith and reason. Silly moderns...

awatkins69 said...

Yes, I am an undergraduate. I didn't so much receive a classical education as I gave myself one! I was lucky that the community college I attended had many of the Great Books in their library along with quite a few books on Thomism.

Congratulations on your Master's. Are you considering applying for a PhD program? I will certainly subscribe to your blog.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I am jealous you are about to read one of my favorite books of all time for the first time. Probably my single favorite work of philosophy if I were forced to pick.

The big question, of course, is 'Are there synthetic propositions that can be known a priori?' And this is in some ways the same as asking if philosophy can contribute anything of substance to our knowledge.

I would assume that Kant was familiar with Thomist principles? Do you know?

awatkins69 said...

I must admit I find Kant to be probably the most impressive of the early modern thinkers, though I hold Leibniz in very high regard as well. I have only read so much of the Critique, but already upon first reading it I have found his metaphysical exposition in the transcendental aesthetic to be ingenious.

It seems Kant was certainly familiar with Aristotle judging by his high regard for Aristotle's logic and his low regard for Aristotle's ontological categories. I am not sure whether Kant was familiar with Thomism though. I am pretty much certain there are no direct references in his work to Aquinas. However, I know he had some experience with the Leibnizian rationalist school of thought, which got a lot from Suarez, who got a lot from Aquinas. So it seems to me Kant's thought can at least be indirectly applied to the Thomistic predecessors of his rationalist teachers. I will try to emphasize some of the differences in the next post either later today or tomorrow.

Blue Devil Knight said...

So this isn't your first read through the first Critique?

awatkins69 said...

This is my first read of the Critique. I know about some of the background and Kant's criticism of Aristotle from my professor though.

E.R. Bourne said...

Since this is your first foray into Kant I will not say too much, but I think you will find that his applicability to any metaphysics outside of a small list of early modern rationalists is practically non-existent. Your instincts are good, since both rationalism and empiricism are categories which, once their modern conceptions are properly understood, do not correspond to the thought of Aristotle or Aquinas, it is difficult for an Aristotelian or Thomist to see Kant's Critique as having much force.