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TRIALLECTURE:WHATISTHESIGNIFICANCEOFTHECRITIQUEOFPUREREASON?

ToniKannisto

21June2012,UniversityofOslo

INTRODUCTION

ThereisnodoubtthatKantsCritiqueofPureReasonisamongthemostinfluential,
impressive,andimportantworksinthehistoryofwesternphilosophy.Fewbookscan
boastsuchaprofoundimpactonthecourseofphilosophyandthinkingingeneral.
Amongotherthings,KantsCritiquehasbeencreditedforgivingthedeathblowto
traditionalrationalism,forofferingasynthesisofempiricismandrationalism,andfor
openingwhollynewavenuesofphilosophyintheformofGermanidealism,championed
byFichte,Schelling,andHegel.KantsthesesintheCritiquehavebeenheavilydebated
andinfluential,andmanyofthemstillcontinuetofueldiscussionsuchashis
analytic/syntheticdistinction,transcendentalargumentation,andtranscendental
idealism.Theworkhasinspiredbothfathersofmodernlogic,CharlesPeirceandGottlob
Frege,aswellasthepioneersofphenomenology,EdmundHusserlandMartin
Heidegger.Inmostdivisionsofhistoryofphilosophy,Kantmarkstheendofoneeraand
thebeginningofanothertheCritiqueofPureReasonbeingthepivotpoint.

Thesehistoricalclaimsareasestablishedasany,althoughonemightquestiontheir
details.Indeed,althoughtheCritiqueofPureReasonisnodoubttheperennialworkof
thetimeandtheharbingerofphilosophicalrevolution,itisneitheraloneinits
aspirations,norisittheproductofasuddenandwondrousenlightenmentoftheGreat
ManofKnigsberg.It,too,isthelogicalconclusionofdecadesofreflection,promptedby
bothKantsowninvestigationsandthephilosophicalatmosphereofhistime.Kantwas
notalonethinkerinavoid,butwasheavilyinfluencedbysuchphilosophersasCrucius,
Hume,andLambert.Historyisinterpretation,andinterpretationisalwaysidealisation,
andultimatelyitmaybeimpossibletodeterminewhatthehistoricalsignificanceofthis
singleifmonumentalpieceofworkexactlyis.

NorwillItodaywishtoattemptsuchafeatbydiscussingthehistoricalsignificancethat
KantsCritiqueofPureReasonmighthavehad.That,tomymind,wouldbetodownplay
thedeepermeaningofthewordsignificanceinthetitleofthistalk.Rather,Iwishto
discussthephilosophicalsignificanceoftheworknotasfarasschoolsofthoughtand
theirpopularityareconcerned,butthinkingandphilosophyingeneral.Thissignificance,
Ibelieve,transcendshistoricalcontingenciesandreachesthecoreofwhatphilosophy
andespeciallymetaphysicsis,andmoreimportantly,oughttobe.Althoughthe
historicalsignificanceofaphilosophicalworkisboundtoitsphilosophicalsignificance,
theirrelationshipisnotstraightforward.Manyaworkhashadmoreimpactthanits
contentsmightwarrant,andmanyworkshavenotreceivedtheattentiontheymight
deserve.Aphilosophicalworkbecomesinfluentialwhenotherphilosophersand
interpretersrecogniseandgivevaluetoitssignificance,andthuswhatwewouldideally
wanttoknowiswhetherabookdeservestobeinfluential,andsowewishtograspits
philosophicalratherthanhistoricalsignificance.

Whatismore,thereisnoabsolutemomentintimethatdeterminesthehistorical
significanceofawork.Indeed,howlongshouldonewaittobeabletoassesssuch
significance?Istwohundredyearsenough,orperhapsathousand?Ifthesignificanceof
Aristotlesphilosophyhadbeenevaluatedevenathousandyearsafterhisdeath,one
wouldhavenotfactoredinitstrulygloriousgoldenageasbroughtaboutbytheArabic
commentators,ThomasAquinas,andothermedievalphilosophers.Thepotentialofa
philosophymayoftenberecognisedalreadyatthetimeofitsconception,yetitstrue
historicalsignificancemightbecomeapparentonlyinthedistantfuture,andasfaras
theCritiqueofPureReasonisconcerned,Idonotbelieveitssignificancehasrunits
courseorthatitsphilosophicalinsighthasbeenthoroughlychartedandsuckeddry.

THEHISTORYANDPURPOSEOFTHECRITIQUEOFPUREREASON

Tosupportthisstartingpointofmytalktoday,andtounderstandthesignificanceofthe
CritiqueofPureReason,Iproposetofollowinthefootstepsofhewhonodoubtknewthe
bookbest:ImmanuelKant.ThusIwishtostartbyaskingwhatsignificancehehimself
attachedtohismajorwork.Asiswellknown,forKanttheCritiqueofPureReasonwasa
projectthattookalongtimetomature.BythisIdonotreferonlytothetenormore
yearsthathededicatedtowritingit,butalsotothedecadesthatprecededthebookand
inwhichtheseedsoftheCritiquearealreadysownandsprouting.Thehistoryofthe
CritiquebeginsalreadyinKantsveryfirstphilosophicalandmetaphysicalworkfrom

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1756,hisdissertation:theNewElucidationoftheFirstPrinciplesofMetaphysical
Cognition.Whatmayseemlikeanacuteyetrelativelyharmlesscritiqueofsomecentral
methodologicaltoolsofrationalismliketheprincipleofcontradictionandofsufficient
reasonbetrays,inhindsight,amoredramaticundercurrent.Bycriticisingthese
methods,Kantinfactstrikestotheverycoreofmetaphysicsandthemethoditis
supposedtofollow.Althoughhemightnothave,andperhapscouldnothaveforeseenit,
itisherethatonefindsthesourceandfirsttricklesofthestreamthatslowlythroughout
thedecadesbuildsuptoanunstoppableriver,dammedbytheconfinesoftraditional
metaphysicsandfinallysetfreebytheCritiqueofPureReason.

Namely,inthedecadethatfollowedtheNewElucidation,throughhiscontinuedcritique
ofthecentralmethodsofrationalism,Kantcomesfacetofacewithadeeperproblemof
metaphysics:itisnotonlythatthesesupposedmethodsofmetaphysicswerefaulty,but
thatinacertainsensemetaphysicsinfacthadnomethodofitsownatall.Themethods
thatwereusedandproposedatKantstime,namelythoseofmathematicsorlogic,let
alonethatofnaturalscience,hedeemsunusableandunreliableinmetaphysics.For
Kant,metaphysicsistooffernecessaryanduniversaltruthsaboutobjects.Natural
sciencewithitsempiricalmethodgroundedonexperiencecannotgiveaprioritruths,
i.e.truthsthatarenotjustifiedonthebasisofexperience.AlthoughKantgrantsthat
mathematicsisabletoproducesuchnecessaryaprioritruthsaboutitsobjects,he
claimsthatitisonlybecauseitcanconstructthem.Sincewearenotcapableof
spontaneouslycreatingtheobjectsoftheworld,metaphysicsasconcerningthese
objectscannotconstructthembutmustassumethemonthecontraryassomehowgiven
tous.Logic,inturn,nomatterhowuniversalandnecessary,concernsassuchmere
thoughtandnottheexistenceofobjects.

Thus,throughcriticismoftheapplicabilityoftheexistingmethodsproposedfor
metaphysics,Kantarrivesatthedisturbingfactthatmetaphysicsseemsadrift,arbitrary,
anddirectionless.HisworryshinesthroughperhapstheclearestinhislettertoJohann
Lambert,datedaswrittenontheNewYearsEvein1765afullfifteenyearsbeforethe
publicationoftheCritiqueofPureReasonandnearlyadecadeaftertheNewElucidation.
ThereKantclaimstohave,afterhavingcarriedonhisphilosophicalinvestigationon
everyearthlysubject,finally[1]affirmedthemethodthatonemustobserveifone
willescapethatillusionofknowledgethathasusconstantlyexpectingtoreacha
conclusion,yetjustasconstantlymakesusretraceoursteps,anillusionfromwhichthe

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destructivedisunityamongsupposedphilosophersalsoarises;forthereisnocommon
standardwhatsoevertomaketheirendeavoursconcordant(AA10,5556).Kantgoes
ontoclaimthatallhisphilosophicalstrugglesaredirectedprimarilyattheproper
methodofmetaphysicsandbyitsmeansthepropermethodforphilosophyasawhole
(ibid.,56).AndalthoughfamouslyenoughKantpromisesLamberttopublishabookon
thesubjectwithinhalfayear,itisnotuntiltheCritiqueofPureReason15yearslaterthat
hecanfollowthroughwithhispromise.(Asanaside,itisnoteworthythatKantwas
planningtodedicatetheCritiquetoLambertanddecidednottodosobecauseof
Lambertsdeathshortlybeforeitspublication.)

KantisopenandclearabouttheCritiqueofPureReasonbeingultimatelyabookon
method:Itisatreatiseonthemethod,notasystemofthescienceitself(Bxxii).Itis
thismethodthataccordingtoKantfinallypromisestometaphysicsthesecurecourseof
ascience(Bxviii).Inotherwords,theCritiqueistodevelopthescientificmethodof
metaphysicsthatKanthadforalongtimesoughtandthatalonecouldjustify
metaphysics,grounditstenetsonasystem,aswellastodeterminewhatbelongsto
metaphysicsandwhatinturnistobecastoutasmerepseudometaphysics
masqueradingasmetaphysicsproper.

ThepictureIwishtopaint,then,iswhatItaketobeKantsmainclaiminthePrefaceof
theCritiqueofPureReason:thatamongallmajorsciencesmathematics,physics,and
metaphysicsmetaphysicswasthelasttolackapropermethod.Thispredicamentof
metaphysicsKantputsbeautifully,completewithacitationfromOvidsMetamorphoses
(13:50810):

[2] Therewasatimewhenmetaphysicswascalledthequeenofallthesciences,and
ifthewillbetakenforthedeed,itdeservedthistitleofhonor,onaccountofthe
preeminentimportanceofitsobject.Now,inaccordancewiththefashionofthe
age,thequeenprovesdespisedonallsides;andthematron,outcastandforsaken,
mournslikeHecuba:Modomaximarerum,totgenerisnatisquepotensnunc
trahorexul,inops[Greatestofallbyraceandbirth,Inowamcastout,
powerless].(Aviiiix.)

ForKantwholivedinthetimeoftheunprecedentedsuccessofNewtonianphysicsthat
hadopenedthefloodgatesofscience,andwhogrewupamidstdeeplyrootedandrigid
schoolmetaphysicsthatpromisedathousandanswersyetdeliverednosolutions,

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metaphysicsseemedstaleindeed.Hemighthaveevenfeltsomehowbetrayedbythe
metaphysicalschoolsthatfosteredhimandtowhosedebateshecontributed.Somuch
doesKantsattitudetowardstraditionalmetaphysicsattimesborderonridicule,as
exemplifiedbyoneofhismetaphorsofmetaphysicsasabattlefieldofmockcombat:

[3] Inmetaphysicswehavetoretraceourpathcountlesstimes,becausewefindthat
itdoesnotleadwherewewanttogo,anditissofarfromreachingunanimityin
theassertionsofitsadherentsthatitisratherabattlefield,andindeedonethat
appearstobeespeciallydeterminedfortestingonespowersinmockcombat;on
thisbattlefieldnocombatanthasevergainedtheleastbitofground,norhasany
beenabletobaseanylastingpossessiononhisvictory.Hencethereisnodoubt
thatuptonowtheprocedureofmetaphysicshasbeenameregroping,andwhat
istheworst,agropingamongmereconcepts.(Bxivxv.)

Thusmetaphysicsappearsasameregame,anintellectualformofshadowboxing(A
743/B771)thathasutterlyfailedtoliveuptothestandardsitsloftysubjectmatter
woulddemand.Yet,althoughexposingmetaphysicsforthecomplexyetemptygame
thatitishasoftenbeentakenastheimportoftheCritiqueofPureReason,ifthatwere
thecase,itwouldarguablyfallshortofbeingoneofthegreatestphilosophicalworksof
alltime.Ratherthanattemptingtogivethecoupdegrcetometaphysics,Kantinfact
engagesinthefarmoredifficultbusinessofsavingandjustifyingmetaphysics.Itis
essentialforthispurposetolayasbareaspossiblethelackofmethodinmetaphysics,
theshortcomingsofitsarguments,andthehollownessofitstheses.Itisviasuch
trimmingoftheunhealthybranchesofmetaphysicsthatKantseekstocureitrather
thanuprootingitaltogether.

THECRITIQUEOFPUREREASONASTHECOURTOFPUREREASON

ThistakesustoanotherfavouritemetaphorofKants:hehopestoendwhatheseesasa
stateofwarinmetaphysicsbyerectingthecritiqueofpurereasonas[4]thetruecourt
ofjusticeforallcontroversiesofpurereason(A751/B779).Itstaskistodetermine
andjudgewhatislawfulinreasoningeneral(ibid.)soastograntusthepeaceofa
stateoflaw(ibid.).TheCritiqueofPureReasonis,then,atreatiseofthenormativekind:
itistodeterminetherulesaccordingtowhichpurereason,andthroughthat

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metaphysics,oughttoproceed,oughttodevelopitstheories,andoughttoassesstheir
validity,grounds,andsuccess.Throughthisdevelopmentofthescientificmethodof
metaphysicsKantseekstogivemetaphysiciansobjectiveandneutralstandardsfor
assessingtheirargumentsandtheories.

Now,thismetaphorislessflimsyasitmightsound,andinfactoffersadirectaccessto
themethodthatKantintheendproposesformetaphysics.Namely,accordingtohis
suggestedmethod,beforeprofessingtomakemetaphysicaljudgmentsabouttheworld,
oneoughttofirstexposethefundamentalfunctionsorlawsofthinkinginorderto
understandthewaywereasonandthinkabouttheworld.Kantanalysessuch
fundamentalandeverydayphenomenaofourhumanexistenceasourcapacityto
experience,think,cognise,judge,perceive,etc.,andasks:underwhatnecessaryconditions
istheuseoftheseactualcapacitiesofourspossibleinthefirstplace?Thatisnotonlyto
askwhatisrequiredofussothatwecouldexperienceandcogniseobjectsbutanditis
herethatarguablyKantsmethodformetaphysicsgainstractionwhatisrequiredof
theobjectssothattheycouldbeexperiencedandcognisedbyus.Thisisthecoreof
KantsfamousCopernicanRevolutionofphilosophy:insteadofaskingwhatconditions
wemustmeetinordertocogniseobjects,Kantrecognisesthatourcognitivecapacities
alsosetconditionstowhichthingsmustconforminordertobecomeobjectsforus.In
otherwords,hemakesasubtlemovefromthequestionhowwecancogniseobjectsto
howthingscanbecomeobjectsofourcognition.LetmeciteKanthimself:

[5] Uptonowithasbeenassumedthatallourcognitionmustconformtotheobjects,
butallattemptstofindoutsomethingaboutthemapriorithroughconceptsthat
wouldextendourcognitionhave,onthispresupposition,cometonothing.Hence
letusoncetrywhetherwedonotgetfartherwiththeproblemsofmetaphysics
byassumingthattheobjectsmustconformtoourcognition,whichwouldagree
betterwiththerequestedpossibilityofanaprioricognitionofthem,whichisto
establishsomethingaboutobjectsbeforetheyaregiventous.Thiswouldbejust
likethefirstthoughtsofCopernicus,who,whenhedidnotmakegoodprogressin
theexplanationofcelestialmotionsifheassumedthattheentirecelestialhost
revolvesaroundtheobserver,triedtoseeifhemightnothavegreatersuccessif
hemadetheobserverrevolveandleftthestarsatrest.(Bxvi.)

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Initsverybasics,Kantsdifficultandprofoundmovecomesdowntothis:neitherthe
objectsofoureverydaylifenortheobjectsofscientificinvestigationarethingsasthey
areinthemselves,butratherthosethingsastheyappearundertheconditionssetto
thembyourowncognitivecapacities.Theyareproductsoftwosources:thematerial
giventooursenses,i.e.,whatiscognised,andtheforminwhichthisdataisrepresented
byourcognitivecapacities,i.e.,howitiscognised.AccordingtothethesisthatKantcalls
transcendentalorformalidealism,althoughthematterortherawdataofobjects,asit
were,isgiventousfrommindindependentsources,itissetinaformthroughthe
activityofourcognitivecapacities.InthiswayKantisoftenthoughttohavemadea
synthesisofempiricismandrationalismontheonehandandrealismandidealismon
theother.AlthoughKantstranscendentalidealismisnotoriouslydifficulttograsp,and
althoughIwillnotfocusonitinthistalkortrytoexplicateitinanydetail,itisworth
tryingtoclarifyitingeneraltermsnonetheless.

Accordingtotraditionalidealism,orwhatKantcallsempiricalidealism,allthingsare
mentalentities,ormindinternalideas.Empiricalrealismholds,onthecontrary,that
theyaremindexternal,nonmentalobjects.InKantsviewempiricalrealismiscorrect
andregardlessofitsnameitistranscendentalidealismthatcandemonstratethis.It
isthetranscendentalrealist,ontheotherhand,thataccordingtoKantafterwardsplays
theempiricalidealist(A369),asexplicatedinquote6onthehandout.Accordingto
transcendentalidealismobjectsarepartiallyminddependent,namelyastotheirform
orhowtheyarecognised,yetmindindependentastotheirmatterorwhatisbeing
cognisedinthem.Inotherwords,forKantobjectsareminddependentyetmindexternal,
andhencehecansimultaneouslybeaformalidealistandamaterialrealist.Tomake
intuitivesenseofthis,considerawhiteballandaflashlightthatbeamsredlightonit.
Theresultingredballisbothflashlightdependentandyetflashlightexternal,asitwere.

Finally,ananaloguetocoordinatepointsmaybehelpful.Toproduceapointina
coordinateplaneweneedboththemathematicalinformationordataexpressedinan
orderednumberpair,say(2,3),andthecoordinatesystemastheforminwhichthis
informationisrepresented.Themanifestpointinthecoordinateplaneisasynthesisof
thismathematicalmatterandgeometricalform.Inprinciplethesamecoordinatesystem
mayrepresentdifferentdataandthesamedatacanberepresentedininfinitelymany
differentcoordinatesystems.Or,withreferencetoKantsowntalkaboutfunctions,one
couldsaythattheorderednumberpairistheinputmaterialgiventoageometrical

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functionthatasanoutputproducesthegeometricalpoint.Withhistranscendental
idealismKantisultimatelysayingthatinthesamewaythemanifestobjectsoftheworld
aretheoutputwhensomematerialisgivenasinputtothefunctionsofourcognitive
capacitiesthatoperateonthematerialandsorepresentit.

ThusforKant,justlikeCopernicusrealisedthatthemanifestmotionofheavenlybodies
isacombinationoftheirandourownmovement,themanifestobjectsoftheworldare
producedwhenthematerialinthemtakestheformintowhichourowncognitive
capacitiessetthem.ItisworthnotingthatjustlikeCopernicusdidnotconsiderany
contingentorarbitrarypersonalmovementoftheastronomer,butrathertheasitwere
necessarymovementweallsharesimplybyvirtueofexistingonEarth,bythenatureof
ourcognitivecapacitiesKantdoesnotmeananyarbitraryfeaturesofindividuals,such
asmypersonalabilitytoreason,judgeandperceive.Rather,althoughIcannothere
explicatethem,theseformsarenoneotherthanKantsfamouscategoriescoupledwith
spaceandtimeastheformsofoursensibility.Theyareuniversalfeaturessharedbyall
ofussimplybyvirtueofbeingsensingandthinkinghumanbeings.

ItisthisideaoftheCopernicanRevolutionthatKantbroadlyspeakingidentifieswith
themethodofmetaphysicsandofphilosophyingeneral(Bxviii).Ifheisrightin
claimingthatmanifestobjectsorappearancesareasmuchconstitutedbytheformsand
lawsofourcognitivecapacitiesastheyarebythematerialthatisgiventothese
capacities,thentrulyhiscourtofreasonisnoidletalk.Analysisofthelawsofour
reasonandothercognitivecapacitieshasdirectbearingonthefundamentalformsand
structuresoftheirobjectsandhenceonthemetaphysicalorontologicalcharacterof
reality.Thisis,then,initsbarestframework,thetranscendentalmethodthatKantsets
outtotestinthe800pluspagesoftheCritiqueofPureReason,andasanexperimental
methodologicalhypothesisitaccordingtohimsucceedsaswellaswecouldwish,and
[]promisestometaphysicsthesecurecourseofascience(ibid.).

THESIGNIFICANCEOFTHECRITIQUEOFPUREREASON

WhetherornotonesubscribestoKantsmethodandtohistranscendentalidealismisto
acertaindegreeunimportanthere.ThetruesignificanceoftheCritiqueofPureReason
lies,tomymind,asmuchintheproblemitidentifiesandthechallengeitraisesasinthe

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answersitprovides.Ifitisthedownfalloftraditionalrationalisticmetaphysics,itisthat
preciselybecauseitembarrassesitforfailingtogroundamethodandhencetojustify
theverydisciplineitself.Butfromthisembarrassmentarisesenlightenmentandan
awakening:byaskingforthegroundsofmetaphysics,andaskingwhetherandhowitis
possibleatall,Kantturnsinwardstotheinquiringselfanddiscoversthroughself
reflectionthedepthsofthehumanmind.WhattheCritiqueofPureReasonaboveall
promisesisselfunderstanding.Althoughitiseasytolosesightofthisloftygoalinthe
faceoftheonslaughtofdetailedargumentationandterminologicalbarrage,itisafterall
clearlyvisibleintheverythreemainquestionsthatKantsetsinthecoreofphilosophy.
Namely,accordingtoKant,allinterestsofmyreason(A804/B832)comedownto
thesethreequestions:WhatcanIknow,WhatoughtItodo,andWhatmayIhope(A
805/B833).Notonlyareallthesequestionsformulateddecidedlyinthefirstperson
singular,Kantevenemphasisestheirrelevancetohumanselfunderstandingbynoting
thattheyconvergeinasingle,anthropologicalquestion:Whatisman?(JL25).

Inthesimplestterms,toaskthefirstquestionWhatcanIknowintheCritiqueofPure
Reasonistoaskaboutthenecessaryconditionsofknowledgebeforeprofessingtohave
knowledge.Determiningwhatcanbeknowninthefirstplaceshould,incareful
philosophy,precedeclaimsofknowledge.Yetitis,accordingtoKant,preciselythis
questionthatthemetaphysicianshavefailedtoask,orintheveryleasttoanswer.And
whatisworsestill,themetaphysicianshavenonethelessbeencontentincontinuing
theirinvestigationsintoallthingsmetaphysical.Kantoffersapowerfulmetaphorforthe
rationalistwhofailstodeterminetheconditionsunderwhichhisreasoningcanbear
fruitatall:

[7] Thelightdove,infreeflightcuttingthroughtheairtheresistanceofwhichit
feels,couldgettheideathatitcoulddoevenbetterinairlessspace.Likewise,
Platoabandonedtheworldofthesensesbecauseitposedsomanyhindrancesfor
theunderstanding,anddaredtogobeyonditonthewingsoftheideas,inthe
emptyspaceofpureunderstanding.Hedidnotnoticethathemadenoheadway
byhisefforts,forhehadnoresistance,nosupport,asitwere,bywhichhecould
stiffenhimself,andtowhichhecouldapplyhispowersinordertogethis
understandingofftheground.Itis,however,acustomaryfateofhumanreasonin
speculationtofinishitsedificeasearlyaspossibleandonlythentoinvestigate
whetherthegroundhasbeenadequatelypreparedforit.(A5/B89.)

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ItisperhapsinhopesofemphasisingtheseriousnessofthelackofjustificationthatKant
sovehementlyandsopersistentlysetshimselfagainstwhatcouldbecalledpseudo
metaphysics.Kantisnotjustaskingforaproperjustificationforsomethingthatworks
anyway,butistryingtosaythatbecausephilosophershavefailedtoattendtosucha
justification,theyhavealsofailedtoseethattoagreatmanybranchesofmetaphysicsno
justificationcaneverbegiven.ItisnotjustcarelessnessofphilosophersthatKantwants
toexpose,butthetragicconsequenceofthatcarelessness:nosingletenetaboutthe
metaphysicalpropertiesofthesoul,oftheworldconsideredasawhole,orofGodasthe
mostperfectbeinghaseverbeencorrect,norwilleverbe,becausetherecanevenin
principlebenojustifiedknowledgeaboutthem.Theyfalloutsidejustifiedscientific
metaphysics,andlikeastrologyoralchemyaredeterminedaspseudosciencesby
scientificmethodofnaturalscience,thesaiddisciplinesofrationalpsychology,
cosmologyandtheologyareexposedasmerepseudometaphysicstryingtopass
themselvesoffasseriousscience.

Now,acriticalthinkerwillquestiontheplausibilityofKantssweepingclaimthatall
philosophersthroughouttheageshavebeendupedbythesepseudoentities.Indeed,
questioningthisisessentialforunderstandingwhatKanttrulywantstoshow.To
supporttheviewthatmaybeallphilosopherstrulywereconfusedbymerelypointing
outthefactthatscientists,too,evenuptoNewtonhimself,weretakeninbyastrology
andmagic,istogoastrayandlosesightofanimportantlessonthatcanbelearnedhere.
Rather,oneofKantsmainclaimsintheCritiqueofPureReasonisparadoxically
enoughthattheideashesoughttobanfrommetaphysics,namelythesoul,theworld
asatotality,andGod,arewhathecallsinevitableillusions.Itisnotjustanembarrassing
quirkofhumanstogeneratetheideaofourselvesasaspecialsubstantialbeingcalled
soul,oroftheworldasconstitutingatotalityoraunifiedwholeofallthings,orofGodas
theperfectcreatorandauthorofboththeworldandus.Rather,Kantclaimsthatthese
ideasarerootedintheverynatureofhumanreason,inwhatitistobeahumanthinker
atall.ToputKantspointbrieflybywayofananalogytoopticalillusion,justlikeitisan
inevitableflipsideofourlawsofvisionthatanoarappearstobendwhenimmersedin
water,themetaphysicalillusionsareinevitableproductsofthelawsofourreason.
AccordingtoKantwecannomoreavoidthethoughtofsoulaswecanavoidthesightof
oarbendinginwater.Whatwecando,however,istorecognisetheillusionassuchsoas
toavoidbeingdupedbyit.

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WhatKantistryingtotelluswiththisadmittedlycomplexanddifficultthoughtisnot
thatthereisanythingwrongintheideasofpurereason.Infact,onthecontraryhe
hopestoestablishtheirnecessity,indispensability,andimportance.Itisbysodoingthat
heseekstoexplainwhyphilosophersthroughouttheageshavebeenmesmerisedby
them.WhatKantistryingtotellus,isratherthattheseideasarenotthesubjectmatter
ofmetaphysics.Inotherwords,Kantdoesnotattackthelegitimacyoftheideas
themselvesbutrejectsthepossibilitythatmetaphysicscoulddeterminesomething
aboutthem.Andalthoughthismightseemabstract,intheenditisnot:thereseemsto
bemuchsenseinclaimingforexamplethatprovingordisprovingtheexistenceofGod,
letalonedeterminingGodsproperties,isnottheproperbusinessofnaturalscience.
WhatKantisreallyonlyaddingistheperhapssurprisingclaimthatitisnottheproper
businessofmetaphysicseither.ThisisnottosaythatGodisasillyandunsubstantiated
ideathatoughttobeeradicatedfromhumanityaltogether,butratherthatwhatever
significancetheideaofGodhas,ithasnoneeitherforscienceorformetaphysics.For
what,then,onemightask?AndonecanhardlyaccuseKantforbeingcounterintuitive
whenheanswers:forreligion.And,importantly,unlikemetaphysicsandscience,what
religiondealswithisfaith,notknowledge.

HerethesignificanceoftheCritiqueofPureReasonflowsoveritscontents,asitwere.In
afamouspassageinthePrefaceKantstatessomewhatenigmaticallythatintheCritique
hehadtocancelknowledgetomakeroomforfaith(Bxxx).Whathemeansisthatthe
restrictionsthatthescientificmethodofmetaphysicsdevelopedintheCritiquesetsfor
thescopeofmetaphysicsmakeroomforotheraspectsofhumannature.Justlikenatural
scienceisgivenresponsibilityoverallempiricalquestionsofnature,religionisgranted
ajustholdonallquestionsoffaithandthusitisgiventhetasktoanswerthethird
greatquestionofphilosophy:WhatmayIhope?Andnotonlythat,butalsoethicsthat
answersthequestionWhatoughtItodoisreleasedfromtheshacklesofnaturalscience,
metaphysics,andreligion,andsosetasascienceinitsownright.Thusratherthan
rejectinganyofthesesciences,Kantdemarcatedbetweenthem,determinedtheir
method,conditions,capacitiesandlimits,andsodeterminedtheirproperplaceinthe
wholeofrationaldiscourse.Nosmallfeat,Ishouldadd.

TheCritiqueofPureReasonheremarksaturnfromdirectphilosophythatinthenameof
metaphysicsshootsbeyondthemanifestworldtoseekaworlddetachedfromus.
Instead,Kantwishestoturnhumanreasonfirstinwardtowardsitselfandonlythrough

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thattothemanifestworldthatwefindaroundus.Metaphysicsistobeabouttheworld
weinhabit,notaboutsomeunknown,distant,anddetachedworld.Kantsphilosophy
doesnotseekaGodseyeviewoftheworld,butisconducteddecidedlyfromahumans
eyeview.ThetitleCritiqueofPureReasonisabovealltobeunderstoodinthesenseof
criticalselfreflectionofhumanreason:initreasonanalysesandassessesitsownnature
inordertounderstanditsownfundamentalfunctions,capacities,possibilities,and
limitations.Butatthesametimeitisalsomorethanmereselfreflection:itisreflection
alsoonourproperplaceintheworldweinhabit.

Theresultofthiscriticalselfassessmentisnotonlyawealthofanswerstosomeofour
mostfundamentalquestions,butalsoaprofoundlegitimationandexplanationofthe
veryquestionsthemselves.Thelatterisallthemoreimportantinthecaseswherethere
infactarenoanswerstoourfundamentalquestions.Indeed,althoughitmaynotbe
somethingaseriousscholaroughttosayoutloud,letaloneontheeveofhisdoctoral
defence,Iventuretoadmitthatformeoneofthemostimpressiveandbeautifulaspects
oftheCritiqueofPureReasonishowitcantakeseriouslyaquestionthatdrovemecrazy
asachild,namelywhethertheworldisfiniteorinfinite.Kantissomehowabletotake
thisquestionthattomostadultsmightseemsillyoratleastidlewithouttakingaway
anyofitsseriousnessevenwhenhedeclaresitessentiallyanunanswerablepseudo
question.Kantcandothisbecausehismethodleadshimtotakethisaggravating
questionthatisseeminglyabouttheworldanditslimitsandtoturnitintoaninsightful
problemaboutourownrationalnature.(Toseehowhedoesthat,Imsorrytosaythat
youwillactuallyneedtoreadthebook.)

Herethescholarsofallfields,notonlyphilosophers,wouldhavemuchtolearnfromthe
CritiqueofPureReason.Todayassomereligiousfactionsstepontheturfofscienceby
tryingtobanthetheoryofevolutionfromschoolsandsomescientistsinturntryto
rejecttheexistenceofGodandsotounderminethelegitimacyofevenpersonalfaith,
andasscientistsclaimtoanswerthequestionsofmetaphysicsanddeclarephilosophy
dead,andphilosophersreturnthefavourbysteppingoneverybodystoes,the
importanceofaphilosophythatcantellwhatbelongstoeachscienceoraspectof
humanrationalityisveryclearindeed.ToreturntoKantslegaltalk,Iwillrefertohis
aptanswertotheaccusationthathiscritiqueofspeculativemetaphysicsispurely
negativebecauseitjustcurbsthepretensionsofmetaphysics:[8]Todenythatthis
serviceofcriticismisofanypositiveutilitywouldbeasmuchastosaythatthepolice

12
areofnopositiveutilitybecausetheirchiefbusinessistoputastoptotheviolencethat
citizenshavetofearfromothercitizens,sothateachcancarryonhisownaffairsin
peaceandsafety.(Bxxv.)Inaword,thenandpleaseforgivemefortheexpression
theCritiqueofPureReasonisthepoliceofsciences.

THECRITIQUEOFPUREREASONANDCONTEMPORARYMETAPHYSICS

Finally,IwanttodefendthesignificanceoftheCritiqueofPureReasonforthe
metaphysicsoftoday.Althoughmetaphysicswaseffectivelypushedoutofanalytic
philosophybylogicalpositivismintheearly20thcentury,ithassincemadeacomeback
asarespectablebranchofanalyticphilosophy.PhilosopherslikePeterStrawson,Saul
Kripke,andDavidLewisusedthetoolsofmodernlogictoconstructintricate
metaphysicalmodelsdesignedtofirstreframeandthenresolvequestionsoftraditional
metaphysics.

Thatmetaphysicshassincewaxedratherthanwanedinimportancehasdonenothingto
dispelthequestionthatheraldedthecollapseofmetaphysics,namely:Howcan
metaphysicsbejustified?Quitethecontrary,thereisanevergrowingneedtolegitimate
metaphysics,togroundanappropriatemethodforit,andtodeterminewhatbelongsto
it.Inshort,andintermsfashionabletoday,thereisneedformetametaphysics.Although
historicalsourceshavebeenutilisedtoaddressthejustificationofmetaphysics,Kant
remainsneglected.Asanybriefsurveyservestotestify,throughoutcontemporary
literatureonmetaphysicsKantismentionedonlysporadicallyandtangentially,ifatall.
EventheextensiverecentanthologyMetametaphysics(2009)hardlymentionsKant
eventhough,asshouldbeclearbynow,itisnooverstatementtosaythattheCritiqueof
PureReasonisthemostimpressiveworkonmetametaphysicsofalltime.Similarly
TimothyWilliamsongivesKantscantamentioninhisrecentwork,ThePhilosophyof
Philosophy,andonlydeignstonotethattheKantianapproachisunbackedbyany
argumentthathaswithstoodthetestofrecenttime(Williamson2007,19).(Whatever
hemeansbythetestofrecenttime,overandabovethefactthatKantisstillnotvery
fashionable,Idonotknow.)Thusevenabriefglimpseatliteratureservestosupport
boththeviewthatKantsquestionaboutthejustificationofmetaphysicsisstillvery
muchaliveandcentralandthefactthathisanswerhasnotbeenheardorutilisedin
contemporarydebates.

13
TheCritiqueofPureReasonoffersameanstosolvebothawealthofmetaphysical
questionsposedtodayandtheallimportantmetametaphysicalquestionaboutthe
legitimacyofmetaphysicsitself.Itdoesitessentiallybyshowinghowthequestions
aboutthefundamentalstructuresoftheworldturnouttobequestionsaboutthe
fundamentalwaysinwhichtheselfcognisesandsoinpartconstitutestheworld.Yet,I
wishtoresistthecommonnotionthatKantsCritiquethereforemarksasocalled
epistemologicalturninphilosophy,ifbythatismeantthatheturnedfrom
metaphysicswhatthereistoepistemologywhatdoIknow.Thistomymindwould
ultimatelynotbeajustificationofmetaphysicsasmuchasarejectionorabandonment
ofit.Rather,IbelievethatKantcanbesaidtohavemadeanepistemologicalturnin
metaphysicsonlyifitisatthesametimerecognisedasametaphysicalturnin
epistemology.ForKant,thequestionWhatcanIknow?leadsinevitablytothequestion
HowcanIknow?andsoexposescertainstructuresofthinking,cognising,judging,
experiencing,andperceiving.Andasperhistranscendentalidealism,thesestructures
partakeinthebirthofthemanifestobjectsoftheworld,andthroughthatthebroadly
speakingepistemologicalconditionsofcognisingobjectsturnouttobemetaphysical
conditionsoftheseveryobjectsthemselves.

Transcendentalidealismis,then,ametametaphysicaltheory,or,ifyouprefer,a
hypothesis,thatgroundsmetaphysicsproper.Andsowecansaythatthroughour
knowledgeofourselvesasbeingsthatseektounderstandtheworld,wecometohave
knowledgeoftheveryworldweseektounderstand.And,asIhavelabouredtoshow,
althoughsomequestionsthattraditionallyhavebelongedtometaphysicsareexpunged
fromit,Kanttookhimselftoconfirmandjustifyahostofmetaphysicaltenetsofold.One
ofthemorepowerfultestimoniesofthisiswhenKantdiscussesthesystemof
metaphysicsthattheCritiquemakespossible:[9]SinceIamconcernedherenotwith
thecompletenessofthesystembutratheronlywiththeprinciplesforasystem,I
reservethissupplementationforanotherjob.Butonecouldreadilyreachthisaimifone
tooktheontologicaltextbooksinhand[].(A82/B108.)ThatKantwouldamidsthis
critiqueoftraditionalmetaphysicssoinvoketheworksoftheverymetaphysicianshe
criticisesmakesitveryclearthathetrulymeanttojustifymetaphysicsratherthan
destroyit.Finally,evenifthepartsofmetaphysicsthatKantrejectedparticularlysoul
andGodarenotthemostfashionabletopicsinmetaphysicstoday,itdoesnotmean
thattherecouldnotbesomecontemporaryequivalentsofsuchillusoryideas.Asa

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matteroffact,IwouldliketothinkthatforexampleLewissmodalrealism,accordingto
whichallpossibleworldsarejustasconcreteandexistentasours,showsthatsuch
extravagantmetaphysicalideasarestillverymuchalive,andso,hence,istheneedofa
critiqueofmetaphysics.

Itwouldbebeyondthescopeofthissmalllectureandcontrarytoitspurposetodefend
thecorrectnessorplausibilityofKantssolutiontothejustificationofmetaphysics,let
alonehismetaphysicsproper.Rather,whatIhopetoconveyissimplythis:theCritique
ofPureReasonisassignificantanachievementinphilosophytodayasitwastwo
hundredyearsago,andthatalthoughithasreceivedmuchrespect,itmightstillnothave
receivedenough.Itssignificanceisnotthatofapastachievementlongdeadbutofa
livingphilosophy.Apartfromthethesesitcontains,itssignificanceliesinthechallenge
itofferstoallpossiblemetaphysics,achallengethatallsystemsofmetaphysicseven
todaymustmeetinordertojustifytheirverydiscipline.IntheProlegomenaKant
emphasisestheseverityofthischallengebydeclaringthatbeforeitismet,noone
shouldbeallowedtodometaphysics:

[10] Myintentionistoconvinceallofthosewhofinditworthwhiletooccupy
themselveswithmetaphysicsthatitisunavoidablynecessarytosuspendtheir
workforthepresent,toconsiderallthathashappeneduntilnowasifithadnot
happened,andbeforeallelsetoposethequestion:whethersuchathingas
metaphysicsisevenpossibleatall.(AA4:255.)

Itis,Ibelieve,inthisquestionandchallengethatthesignificanceoftheCritiqueofPure
Reasonisencapsulated.Thischallengestandsasformidablebeforeanymetaphysics
todayasitdidatKantstime,andalthoughitmaynotbenecessarytoacceptKants
answer,itisnecessarytoprovidesomeanswer.Andnotonlythat,butwhattheCritique
givesusishopethatananswerwhetherKantsornotcanbefoundandthatthere
thereforecaninfactbemetaphysics.AndperhapsImaybepermittedtospeculatein
closingthatjustlikeforKant,forustoday,too,thequestforsuchananswerisboundto
propelusintodeepinvestigationofthemostfundamentalaspectsofourhumane
existence.Thusevenif,asitmaybe,thesignificanceoftheCritiqueofPureReasonwere
ultimatelytoconsistjustinitscontinuedroleassuchacatalystofprofound
philosophicalinquiry,itssignificancewouldalreadybegreatindeed.

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WHATISTHESIGNIFICANCEOFTHECRITIQUEOFPUREREASON?
ToniKannistoTriallecture,21June2012,UniversityofOslo

ATWOSIDEDHANDOUTWITHQUOTES
(thepartsreadoutloudareonbold)

1
For a number of years I have carried on my philosophical reflections on every earthly subject, and after many
capsizings, on which occasions I always looked for the source of my error or tried to get some insight into the
nature of my blunder, I have finally reached the point where I have affirmed the method that one must observe
if one will escape that illusion of knowledge that has us constantly expecting to reach a conclusion, yet
just as constantly makes us retrace our steps, an illusion from which the destructive disunity among
supposed philosophers also arises; for there is no common standard whatsoever to make their
endeavours concordant. [] All of my endeavours are directed chiefly at the proper method of
metaphysics and thereby also the proper method for philosophy as a whole. (AA 10: 5556.)

2
There was a time when metaphysics was called the queen of all the sciences, and if the will be taken for
the deed, it deserved this title of honor, on account of the preeminent importance of its object. Now, in
accordance with the fashion of the age, the queen proves despised on all sides; and the matron, outcast
and forsaken, mourns like Hecuba: Modo maxima rerum, tot generis natisque potens nunc trahor exul, inops
[Greatest of all by race and birth, I now am cast out, powerless]. (A viiiix.)

3
In metaphysics we have to retrace our path countless times, because we find that it does not lead where
we want to go, and it is so far from reaching unanimity in the assertions of its adherents that it is rather a
battlefield, and indeed one that appears to be especially determined for testing ones powers in mock
combat; on this battlefield no combatant has ever gained the least bit of ground, nor has any been able
to base any lasting possession on his victory. Hence there is no doubt that up to now the procedure of
metaphysics has been a mere groping, and what is the worst, a groping among mere concepts. (B xivxv.)

4
One can regard the critique of pure reason as the true court of justice for all controversies of pure reason; for
the critique is not involved in these disputes, which pertain immediately to objects, but is rather set the task of
determining and judging what is lawful in reason in general in accordance with the principles of its primary
institution.
Without this, reason is as it were in the state of nature, and it cannot make its assertions and claims valid or
secure them except through war. The critique, on the contrary, which derives all decisions from the ground-rules
of its own constitution, whose authority no one can doubt, grants us the peace of a state of law []. (A 751/B
779.)

5
Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects, but all attempts to find
out something about them a priori through concepts that would extend our cognition have, on this
presupposition, come to nothing. Hence let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems
of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition, which would agree better
with the requested possibility of an a priori cognition of them, which is to establish something about
objects before they are given to us. This would be just like the first thoughts of Copernicus, who, when
he did not make good progress in the explanation of celestial motions if he assumed that the entire
celestial host revolves around the observer, tried to see if he might not have greater success if he made
the observer revolve and left the stars at rest. (B xvi.)

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6
The transcendental realist therefore represents outer appearances (if their reality is conceded) as things in
themselves, which would exist independently of us and our sensibility and thus would also be outside us
according to pure concepts of the understanding. It is re ally this transcendental realist who afterwards plays
the empirical idealist; and after he has falsely presupposed about objects of the senses that if they are to exist
they must have their existence in themselves even apart from sense, he finds that from this point of view all our
representations of sense are insufficient to make their reality certain. (A 369.)

7
The light dove, in free flight cutting through the air the resistance of which it feels, could get the idea that
it could do even better in airless space. Likewise, Plato abandoned the world of the senses because it
posed so many hindrances for the understanding, and dared to go beyond it on the wings of the ideas, in
the empty space of pure understanding. He did not notice that he made no headway by his efforts, for he
had no resistance, no support, as it were, by which he could stiffen himself, and to which he could apply
his powers in order to get his understanding off the ground. It is, however, a customary fate of human
reason in speculation to finish its edifice as early as possible and only then to investigate whether the
ground has been adequately prepared for it. (A 5/B 89.)

8
But it will be asked: What sort of treasure is it that we intend to leave to posterity, in the form of a metaphysics
that has been purified through criticism but thereby also brought into a changeless state? On a cursory overview
of this work, one might believe that one perceives it to be only of negative utility, teaching us never to venture with
speculative reason beyond the boundaries of experience; and in fact that is its first usefulness. [] Hence a
critique that limits the speculative use of reason is, to be sure, to that extent negative, but because it
simultaneously removes an obstacle that limits or even threatens to wipe out the practical use of reason [in ethics
as well as in religion], this critique is also in fact of positive and very important utility []. To deny that this
service of criticism is of any positive utility would be as much as to say that the police are of no positive
utility because their chief business is to put a stop to the violence that citizens have to fear from other
citizens, so that each can carry on his own affairs in peace and safety. (B xxivxxv.)

9
If one has the original and primitive concepts, the derivative and subalternate ones can easily be added, and the
family tree of pure understanding fully illustrated. Since I am concerned here not with the completeness of
the system but rather only with the principles for a system, I reserve this supplementation for another
job. But one could readily reach this aim if one took the ontological textbooks in hand, and, e.g., under the
category of causality, subordinated the predicables of force, action, and passion; under that of community, those
of presence and resistance; under the predicaments of modality those of generation, corruption, alteration, and so
on. (A 82/B 108.)

10
My intention is to convince all of those who find it worthwhile to occupy themselves with metaphysics
that it is unavoidably necessary to suspend their work for the present, to consider all that has happened
until now as if it had not happened, and before all else to pose the question: whether such a thing as
metaphysics is even possible at all. (AA 4: 255.)

17