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While Immanuel Kant is certainly one of the most original and influential thinkers of the modern period, he is also among the most opaque. This opacity is grounded, in part, in the profundity of his philosophical ideas and, in part, in his less-than-clear presentation. What makes Kant’s Introduction to Logic truly unique in the context of his other works is both the breadth of the subject matter and the clarity of the discussions. This little book might just as well have been entitled An Introduction to Kant’s Thought, for in it he deals with all of the major issues that had concerned him in his more popular works. Yet his presentation here is far less technical and convoluted and thus far more accessible. For the novice it can serve as an excellent introduction to Kant’s entire philosophy, a philosophy that is generally overwhelming when approached from any of his other books. To the student and scholar of Kant’s thought, the Logic can shed new and interesting light on some enduring problems and issues.
Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia), on April 22, 1724, the fourth of nine children. His father, Johann Georg, a harness maker, provided the family a modest material existence while his mother, Anna Regina Reuter, seems to have been the source of the family’s spiritual sustenance through her commitment to Pietism, i.e., a form of Protestantism that emphasized the inner workings of faith and personal commitment over organized religion and doctrine. She was a devotee and acquaintance of F. A. Schultz (1692–1763), a professor at the University of Halle and the chief representative of the Pietist movement. Schultz was also the director of the Collegium Fridericianum, a quality high school modeled on the University of Halle. Thus, perhaps owing to his mother’s connections and persuasions, young Immanuel was admitted to this prestigious institution in 1732, at the age of eight.
In 1740 Kant entered the University of Königsberg as a theological student, but he soon became enamored of mathematics and physics, especially the work of Sir Isaac Newton. To support himself he served as a private tutor from 1746 to 1755. For the next fifteen years he held the position of Privatdocent (lecturer), during which time his popularity as a teacher increased and his research interests expanded. Although Kant had been raised a Pietist, he, like most writers of the mid-eighteenth century, had been educated and indoctrinated in the philosophy of G. W. Leibniz (1646–1716) and that of his student and expositor, Christian Wolff (1679–1754). During the 1760s, however, he became increasingly critical of the “dogmatism” that characterized the Leibniz-Wolffian approach then prevalent in German universities.
In 1770 Kant was appointed to the chair of logic and metaphysics at the University of Königsberg, and so began the most productive period of his career. His chief works of this period were the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason, 1781), a treatise that revolutionized metaphysics; Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 1785), one the most important contributions to moral philosophy ever written; the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (Critique of Practical Reason, 1788), another important source of his ethical views; and the Kritik der Urtheilskraft (Critique of Judgment, 1790), a book on teleological and aesthetic judgments. Kant died on February 12, 1804. According to the accounts of those present at his deathbed, his last words were, “Es ist gut”—“It is good.”
The present book comprises two of Kant’s works. The first is the Introduction to Logic. The second is a short essay published in 1762, entitled, Die falsche Spitzfindigkeit der vier syllogistischen Figuren erwiesen (The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures), in which Kant takes on the long and revered tradition of Aristotelian logic.
Kant’s Introduction to Logic might well be described as the best book in his corpus that he didn’t write, and the most readable book that most Kant students almost never read. That Kant didn’t write the book per se is not to deny him either authorship or ownership of the ideas contained therein. From 1755 through 1796, Kant taught logic at least once a year using Georg Friedrich Meier’s textbook, Auszug aus der Vernunftlehre (Extract from the Theory of Reason, Halle, 1752). Kant presented his textbook to his friend and student, Gottlob Benjamin Jäsche, along with its marginalia and loose-leaf notes, to forge into the present work, which was published in 1800. That the book goes largely unread by students of Kant’s philosophy is truly unfortunate. For it is in fact a treasure trove of ideas and information presented in a much less formal fashion than that of his published works.
The stylistic simplicity of Kant’s Logic has led many scholars to treat the essay with some skepticism with respect to authorship. However, since the work was put together from the “lecture notes” on Kant’s logic course, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that it lacks the tedious argumentation and tortuous syntax that typify some of his published works, and that it reflects the straightforward presentation and accessible technique that were said to be characteristics of his lectures. He did, after all, have more than forty years of teaching the material to hone and polish his presentation.
Among the many topics dealt with in this cornucopia of ideas, there are six areas of discussion that are of particular interest. These are: (1) logic; (2) metaphysics and epistemology; (3) (the nature and history of) philosophy; (4) aesthetics; (5) moral reasoning; and what we might call (6) commonsense advice.
(1) Logic. Since his essay of 1762, Kant had entertained some peculiar ideas with regard to logic, which were ultimately developed and expressed in the “doctrine of elements” presentation in the Critique of Pure Reason (and, in fact, in each of the other two Critiques). Since the present volume was largely composed during the development of Kant’s Critical philosophy, it is not surprising to find it reflecting those positions. Logic is understood to be “a canon of the understanding and of reason . . . [containing] nothing but a priori laws, which are necessary, and apply to the understanding universally” (p. 3). He then goes on to distinguish various misapplications of logic: e.g., dialectical (or “sophistical”), popular and scientific, applied, commonsense and speculative uses, which in each case add contents and thus, distort and destroy its purely formal character. The primary role of logic is “to teach the correct use of reason, that is, the use which is consistent with itself.” Its purpose is to show us how the understanding “ought to proceed in thinking” (p. 4.).
(2) Metaphysic and Epistemology. Besides general logic, Kant’s Logic also provides some interesting insights into his metaphysical and epistemic doctrines. “Transcendental Logic,” he tells us, is that “in which the object itself is conceived as an object of the understanding alone; whereas general Logic applies to all objects universally” (p. 5). In other words, general logic expresses the necessary laws in terms of which any rational being whatsoever must rationally function. Transcendental logic, on the other hand, expresses the necessary laws in terms of which human beings must experience and rationally function within the world. Section V (pp. 24–30) contains the most straightforward account of the origin of our (human) cognition to be found anywhere in Kant’s writings. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in clarity. Finally in this context is Kant’s interesting account of the seven degrees of knowledge we have of things (pp. 55–56), which moves from the lowest stage, of merely having “an idea of a thing,” to the highest stage, whereby we “comprehend a thing, that is, to cognize it by the reason, or a priori, in such a degree as is adequate to our purpose” (p. 55).
(3) Philosophy. For Kant, philosophy is both a rational knowledge and a skill. Yet, a philosopher is much more than a conceptual technician. To become a philosopher one must “exercise himself in making a free use of his reason, not a mere imitative and, so to speak, mechanical use” (p. 13). To improve one’s rational skills through, for example, the study of logic, is the scholastic conception of philosophy. To consider the so-called higher questions, such as the purpose of human existence, the nature of reality, etc., is the cosmic conception of philosophy, the one that gives the discipline its dignity. It is only through the unity of these two conceptions that true wisdom is to be obtained. To the question, “Can philosophy be learned?” Kant, interestingly, gives an emphatic no. The reason it cannot be learned is that “it does not exist” (p.16). The history of philosophy is simply “the history of the use of reason,” and the doctrines and views contained therein are nothing more than “objects for the exercise of [one’s] philosophical ability” (Ibid.). The true philosopher (i.e., “one who knows and teaches Wisdom”) must, “as an independent thinker, make a free and independent, not a slavishly imitative, use of his reason” (Ibid.). This discussion does much to dispel the caricature of Kant as a dry, withered-up old formalist (an image created in the nineteenth century by the poet Heinrich Heine).
(4) Aesthetics. In Section I, Kant distinguishes sharply between logic, as a set of a priori rules of the understanding and reason, and aesthetics, which he here describes as “the rules of the agreement of knowledge with the laws of the sensibility” (p. 5). Aesthetics is described as “criticism,” or a set of a posteriori rules culled from experience, which may serve to guide us in our evaluation of artistic beauty. Yet, as in the Critique of Judgment, Kant acknowledges the possibility of something he calls an “aesthetically perfect” cognition, i.e., Beauty (p. 27). Here, as in the third Critique, he suggests that while we may disagree about what is beautiful, we must agree that everyone, everywhere acknowledges that something is beautiful.
(5) Moral Reasoning. In considering the “horizons” of our knowledge, Kant suggests, as he had in the Critique of Practical Reason, that there is a practical determination with respect to the human will which “is of the greatest importance” (p. 31). The contrast here between “logical” (or “theoretical”) and “practical” reason is developed later on in Section IX, in his distinction between “knowledge” and “belief,” respectively. Knowledge is “assent from a reason which is both subjectively and objectively adequate” (p. 61). It can be derived either through reason (a priori knowledge) or through experience (a posteriori knowledge). Belief, however, is something very different. It is intimately related to action, to the will. The postulates of Kant’s moral system—freedom, God, and an immortal soul—cannot be known through theoretical reason. Yet, morality, he insists, requires them. And practical reason provides them, via rational belief: “Rational belief, then, can never reach to theoretical knowledge. . . . .[I]t is only a supposition of the reason in a subjective but absolutely necessary practical point of view” (p. 60).
(6) Commonsense Advice. This discussion involves the kinds of insights that one might have gotten while having coffee with Kant. The issues addressed here merely scratch the surface of this remarkable little book. What use is pure science? He tells us that, “[e]very logically perfect cognition has always some possible use which, although as yet unknown to us, may perhaps be discovered by posterity” (p.32). What is the value of speculative knowledge? To this he responds that knowledge has its own intrinsic value: “Our understanding . . . is so constituted that it finds satisfaction in mere insight, and even more than in the resulting utility. . . . Man feels in this his own excellence. . . . Men who do not feel this must envy the beasts” (p. 33). How should one’s knowledge, one’s education, generally proceed? Kant provides eight rules for enlarging and improving one’s knowledge (pp. 33–34), and goes on to delineate various errors of learning (pedantry, dilettantism, etc.). This discussion culminates in his instructions on how to be “truly popular” (hint—“read the ancients”) (p. 38). How can we avoid errors in judgments? He offers three rules to help us avoid errors: think for ourselves; be able to think from the perspectives of others; and think consistently. Just as important, rely on common sense. “Common sense . . . is also in itself a touchstone for detecting the errors of the technical use of the understanding” (p. 48). What kind of erroneous judgment presents the greatest danger to our knowledge? Judging by the extent of the discussion, Kant’s answer would appear to be prejudice (cf. pp. 65–71). “Every prejudice is to be viewed as a principle of erroneous judgment, and from prejudices arise not prejudices, but erroneous judgments” (p. 66). He contends that prejudice arises through imitation (we accept as true what is commonly regarded as true), custom (we accept as true a belief that has been accepted for a long time) and inclination (it is easier to believe what others believe than to believe otherwise). Kant’s discussion here is as fresh and enlightening as it was when it was written.
The second piece contained in the present volume is Kant’s early and very technical essay, The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures, published in 1762. Here Kant strikes out against the well-entrenched system of Aristotelian logic. To appreciate his criticisms we must first understand something about the system itself.
According to this system, a basic argument can be translated into a categorical syllogism; that is, an argument consisting of two premises and a conclusion. The premises are statements that are assumed to be true, whereas the conclusion is a statement that is inferred from these premises. Consider, for example, the following argument:
(1) All mammals are warm-blooded animals.
(2) All cats are mammals.
(3) Therefore, all cats are warm-blooded animals.
In this argument, statements (1) and (2) are the premises. We assume that they are true (which, in fact, they are). On the basis of such an assumption, it follows necessarily that (3) all cats are warm-blooded animals, is true. This “following necessarily” is the essential feature of validity. In any deductive argument, if we assume that the premises are true and the conclusion follows (or is inferred) necessarily, then the argument is said to be valid, or logically warranted.
In every categorical syllogism all of the statements are categorical propositions. Such propositions express something about classes of things. A class is simply a group or collection of items that share some characteristic in common. In the previous example, the class designated by the term “cats” includes all those individuals that share the defining features of a domestic feline, while the class denoted by the term “mammals” includes not only cats, but all other warm-blooded, milk-producing, live-bearing animals such as dogs, horses, hamsters, etc. Each such proposition asserts something about the relationship between two classes: one expressed in the subject term, the other expressed in the predicate term of the proposition. Each says that one class of things is either entirely included (“all S are P”) or excluded (“no S are P”) from another class of things; or that at least one member of a class is included (“some S are P”) or excluded (“some S are not P”) from another class of things.
The conclusion of a valid syllogistic argument asserts something about the relation of the two classes designated by the minor term (which, by definition, is the subject of the conclusion), and the major term (which is the predicate of the conclusion). What makes the argument discursively informative is that these two terms were not directly connected in the premises. They were rather mediated by the middle term, which occurs in both premises. When mediated properly a valid inference occurs and the conclusion follows necessarily.
Every categorical syllogism can be characterized in terms of its mood (i.e., which of the four kinds of categorical propositions make up the major premise, the minor premise and the conclusion, in that order) and its figure (i.e., where the middle term is placed in the premises). Ignoring, as Kant does, the issue of mood, let us consider the notion of syllogistic figure.
According to the Aristotelian tradition, there are four. In the First Figure, the middle term is the subject of the major premise and the predicate of the minor premise; in the Second Figure, the middle term is the predicate of both the major and minor premises; in the Third Figure, the middle term is the subject of both the major and minor premises; and in the Fourth Figure, the middle term is the predicate of the major premise and the subject of the minor premise. Thus, the following pattern emerges:
(P=major term; S=minor term; M=middle term.)
First Figure Second Figure Third Figure Fourth Figure
M-P P-M M-P P-M
S-M S-M M-S M-S
S-P S-P S-P S-P
According to the traditional system, each of these figures is of equal merit with respect to the validity of the inference. Thus, some arguments expressing the Fourth Figure (e.g., all dogs are mammals, no mammals are reptiles, therefore no reptiles are dogs) are every bit as valid as some arguments expressing the First Figure (e.g., all mammals are warm-blooded animals, all cats are mammals, therefore, all cats are warm-blooded animals). Validity shows no favoritism among the figures.
What Kant does in the essay, The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures, is launch a two-fold attack on the Aristotelian system. First, following the lead of Arnauld and the “Port-Royal Logic” (1662), Kant is moving the concern of logic from the sort of dead-end inference characteristic of syllogistic reasoning, to an understanding of logic as a more open-ended examination of the operations of consciousness and judgment. Instead of concerning himself with lifeless classes of things and their relationships, Kant is concerned with how the mind actively judges, compares and reasons. This emphasis upon the subjective activity of the mind in its logical functions of ordering expresses an important moment that will bear profound consequences for Kant’s later philosophy.
The other explicit concern of this little essay is Kant’s “figurative reductionism”; i.e., his suggestion that the Second, Third and Fourth Figures are ultimately reducible to the First Figure. Such a suggestion was not original to Kant and can be traced at least as far back as the Medieval Arabic logician Averroës. Kant’s attempt to vindicate this program is, in fact, less than convincing. He contends that valid arguments expressing the First Figure are what he calls “pure ratiocinations,” which represent the proper function of discursive logic. Valid arguments expressing the Second, Third and Fourth Figures are, however, “mixed ratiocinations.” These are not categorical syllogisms at all, but really arguments with more than two premises, which can, through various logical operations of conversion and/or contraposition, be made into (or “reduced to”) arguments of the First Figure. Such arguments are, therefore, hybrids, and only pretend to merit the kind of full citizenship in the domain of a priori discursive reason warranted by the First Figure valid arguments.
Although the overall purpose of this essay is negative, its positive effects upon the development of Kant’s critical philosophy will be far reaching. For it is here that we find the first indications of a logically constructive, as opposed to a mere mechanically discursive, mind at work in the context of rational knowledge. Such a notion will bear the most prodigious fruit in the “Metaphysical Deduction” of the Critique of Pure Reason, where the unity of the logical forms of judgment provides the “clue” to the discovery of the categorial concepts that actively constitute our experience.
Taken as a whole, Kant’s Introduction to Logic holds a unique place among his published writings. For the reader who has been intimidated by the technicalities of Kant’s other works, the book may serve as an excellent introduction to his philosophy. For the reader who is an initiate in the mysteries of Kantian scholarship, the book provides some new light on some old problems, while also giving us some interesting perspectives on Kant’s thought that are not to be found anywhere else. All in all, it is Kant at his most readable, most accessible manner and style.
Dennis Sweet holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Iowa. He writes frequently on Kant, Heraclitus, and Nietzsche, and teaches philosophy and history at several colleges in Pittsburgh.