Kant and the Early Moderns

Overview

For the past 200 years, Kant has acted as a lens-sometimes a distorting lens-between historians of philosophy and early modern intellectual history. Kant's writings about Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume have been so influential that it has often been difficult to see these predecessors on any terms but Kant's own. In Kant and the Early Moderns, Daniel Garber and Beatrice Longuenesse bring together some of the world's leading historians of philosophy to consider ...
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Overview

For the past 200 years, Kant has acted as a lens-sometimes a distorting lens-between historians of philosophy and early modern intellectual history. Kant's writings about Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume have been so influential that it has often been difficult to see these predecessors on any terms but Kant's own. In Kant and the Early Moderns, Daniel Garber and Beatrice Longuenesse bring together some of the world's leading historians of philosophy to consider Kant in relation to these earlier thinkers.

These original essays are grouped in pairs. A first essay discusses Kant's direct engagement with the philosophical thought of Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, or Hume, while a second essay focuses more on the original ideas of these earlier philosophers, with reflections on Kant's reading from the point of view of a more direct interest in the earlier thinker in question. What emerges is a rich and complex picture of the debates that shaped the "transcendental turn" from early modern epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind to Kant's critical philosophy.

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Editorial Reviews

Philosophy in Review
This volume is an inspired project. . . . The objections-and-replies format of this collection is very graceful and effective in allowing the authors to explore Kant's interpretation of his predecessors, and to defend these predecessors against his criticisms.
— Claudia M. Schmidt
Philosophy in Review - Claudia M. Schmidt
This volume is an inspired project. . . . The objections-and-replies format of this collection is very graceful and effective in allowing the authors to explore Kant's interpretation of his predecessors, and to defend these predecessors against his criticisms.
Choice
This small collection of essays is distinguished by the caliber of its contributors and by the exceptional promise of the discussion that it only begins . . . This is an exceptionally productive exercise that allows readers not only to see these early modern figures in their own light, but also to appreciate what is truly novel about Kant's interpretation of them.
From the Publisher
"This small collection of essays is distinguished by the caliber of its contributors and by the exceptional promise of the discussion that it only begins . . . This is an exceptionally productive exercise that allows readers not only to see these early modern figures in their own light, but also to appreciate what is truly novel about Kant's interpretation of them."—Choice

"This volume is an inspired project. . . . The objections-and-replies format of this collection is very graceful and effective in allowing the authors to explore Kant's interpretation of his predecessors, and to defend these predecessors against his criticisms."—Claudia M. Schmidt, Philosophy in Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691137018
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/21/2008
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Garber is professor of philosophy at Princeton University and the author of "Descartes Embodied" and "Descartes' Metaphysical Physics". Beatrice Longuenesse is professor of philosophy at New York University. Her books include "Kant on the Human Standpoint" and "Kant and the Capacity to Judge" (Princeton).

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Read an Excerpt

Kant and the Early Moderns
Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13701-8


Introduction Daniel Garber and Béatrice Longuenesse

KANT'S WORK is replete with references to his predecessors, in ancient as well as in modern philosophy. Whether positive or negative, these references are always part of Kant's effort to set up a picture of the history of metaphysics understood as a "history of pure reason" in which each philosophical figure of the past is called upon to play its role and occupy its proper place in the gradual-albeit conflict-ridden-discovery by reason of its own power and limits, as brought to light by Kant's critical philosophy.

Indeed, the final chapter of the Critique of Pure Reason, chapter 4 of the Transcendental Doctrine of Method, is called "The History of Pure Reason." This title, says Kant, "stands here only to designate a place that is left open in the system and must be filled in the future" (A852/B880). Kant never filled that place by actually writing a "history of pure reason." Nevertheless, the nature and goals of such a history are clearly sketched out in the few programmatic paragraphs to which the chapter in question is reduced. This sketch helps us understand what Kant means by a "history of pure reason" and thus what he is looking for in the authors he cites in the course of his own work.

A "history of pure reason," says Kant, is a history that would be written "from a transcendental point ofview" (A853/B880). As we know from the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, a transcendental investigation, for Kant, is an investigation into the possibility of synthetic a priori cognition-namely, into the possibility of a cognition that does not derive its justification from experience (and thus is a priori) but nevertheless does not rely on the mere analysis of concepts (and thus is synthetic). According to Kant, metaphysics is a prime example of such synthetic a priori cognition if it is possible at all as knowledge of actually existing objects rather than as a system of empty thoughts to which human reason is inevitably drawn. Correspondingly, in the preamble to the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant declares that all metaphysics should come to a stop until a clear answer has been given to this question: How are synthetic a priori judgments possible? Philosophies of the past have all collapsed in a heap because of their incapacity to provide an answer to that question, indeed even to formulate it (AA 4 275-78). A similarly damning appreciation of the metaphysical endeavors of the past opens the outline of a "history of pure reason" in the Critique of Pure Reason: "I will content myself with casting a cursory glance, from a merely transcendental point of view, namely, that of the nature of pure reason, on the whole of its labors hitherto, which presents to my view edifices, to be sure, but only in ruins" (A852/B880).

But what exactly does it mean to consider the edifices of the past from the point of view of "the nature of pure reason"? It means, says Kant, examining the answers that past metaphysical systems respectively gave to three fundamental questions. First, what is the object of metaphysical cognition, namely, what is truly real? Is it an object given to sensibility, or an object accessible to the intellect alone? A prime example of the former position is Epicurus; a prime example of the latter is Plato. Second, what is the origin of metaphysical cognition: does it depend on experience or is it independent of it? A prime example of the former answer would be Aristotle and for the modern times, Locke. A prime example of the latter would be Plato and for the modern times, Leibniz. Third, what is the method to be adopted in answering the previously mentioned questions? Here Kant first distinguishes between natural and scientific method. He cannot heap enough scorn on the first (it is "mere misology brought to principles," a dismissive statement probably directed at the commonsense philosophers he also denounced in the Prolegomena: see AA 4 258). Kant then distinguishes two kinds of scientific method, the dogmatic (whose prime example is Christian Wolff) and the skeptical (whose prime example is Hume). None of these methods, he claims, have been able to offer a satisfactory answer to the first two questions, those concerning the object and the origin of pure cognitions of reason. There remains only one: the critical method, which has just proved its superiority by the clear answers the Critique of Pure Reason offers to the questions of the object and the origin of metaphysical cognition.

Let us briefly recall what these answers were. The only reality metaphysical cognition can tell us anything about is that of sensible objects or appearances. These are real in the sense that their existence is independent of our representations, although their formal features depend on the a priori forms of our cognition. Things in themselves, namely, things as they are independently of our cognition, are real in the same sense: they too exist independently of our representations (cf. Bxxvi-vii). But these things are not, at least for us humans, objects of a purely intellectual cognition, indeed they are not for us objects of theoretical cognition at all. There is thus no synthetic a priori cognition except of appearances, sensible objects. The origin of such cognition is in the combined forms of pure understanding and pure sensibility. No metaphysical cognition can be obtained at all, at least from the theoretical standpoint, except by applying the principles grounded on these forms to some minimal empirical content: the empirical concept of matter expounded in the Metaphysical Principles of the Science of Nature (see AA 4 470). The objects of traditional metaphysics: the soul, the world, God, are not objects of theoretical cognition at all, but mere objects of thought, the contents of Ideas that have their origin in reason alone and have no more than a regulative role in cognition. In addition, the ideas of the soul and of God will turn out to have an important role as the objects of postulates of pure practical reason.

The standpoint of pure reason, then, or transcendental standpoint on the metaphysical ruins of the past, is a standpoint that is meant to confirm a contrario the correctness of Kant's answers to the three fundamental questions on which hangs the future of metaphysics. Kant's "history of pure reason" is a history of reason's painful introduction to the knowledge of its own limitations. In other words, Kant's approach to the metaphysical systems of the past is driven by concepts and concerns deliberately internal to his own system.

Of course, Kant is not the first philosopher for whom the demonstration of the collapse of previous systems supports the demonstration of the virtues of his own. Other notable examples include, for instance, Book 1 of Aristotle's Metaphysics or Book 1, part 4 of Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, "Of the Skeptical and Other Systems of Philosophy." More directly close to Kant, Leibniz's New Essays on Human Understanding had a direct influence on Kant's presentation of the general structure of the history of metaphysics as defined by the opposition between those who think that "everything which is inscribed [on our souls] comes solely from the senses and experience"-Leibniz's examples are Aristotle and Locke-and those who think that "the soul inherently contains the sources of various notions and doctrines"- Leibniz's examples are Plato and himself (see NE, 48-49). And tracing back the concepts of metaphysics to the very nature of human cognitive powers is an idea that Hume, before Kant, had brought to a systematic development. But what is specific to Kant is the combined statement of the illusory nature of metaphysical endeavors, at least in the domain of "special metaphysics" (where the objects of investigation are the soul, the world, and God), the inevitability of the illusion, and its fruitfulness provided its theoretical and practical roles are carefully regimented. The history of metaphysics, conceived as a history of pure reason, thus becomes one more confirmation of the truth of the critical system. Kant gives unprecedented importance to the history of metaphysics by initiating a project in which investigating the history of metaphysics is part of investigating the nature of reason, and thus part of transcendental philosophy as the necessary preliminary to the "true" metaphysics. But precisely for that reason, the history thus expounded is, in a way, ahistorical since it is part of the timeless endeavor "to bring human reason to full satisfaction in that which has always, but until now vainly, occupied its lust for knowledge" (A855/B883).

Unsurprisingly, then, even though Kant never filled out the specific chapter on the "history of pure reason," we can find elements of it dispersed throughout the system. The preface of the Critique of Pure Reason opens with a reference to the sorry state of metaphysics and to the opposite methods of dogmatism and skepticism that have been unsuccessfully used in trying either to answer metaphysical questions or to put them to rest. And each part of the Critique, as Kant gradually unfolds his own answer to the question of the origin and object of metaphysical knowledge, contains extensive references to the authors whose answer to those two questions Kant takes himself to be directly opposing: Newton, Leibniz, Wolff, Berkeley in the Transcendental Aesthetic; Aristotle in the Metaphysical Deduction of the Categories; Plato in the Introduction to the Transcendental Dialectic; Hume in the Methodology, with a retrospective view on Kant's account of causality in the Second Analogy of Experience. Locke and Leibniz in the Amphiboly of the Concepts of Reflection. Des-cartes and Mendelssohn in the Paralogisms of Pure Reason. Newton and Leibniz, related back to the ancient opposition between Epicurians ("sensualists") and Platonists ("intellectualists") in the Antinomy of Pure Reason. Descartes again in the Ideal of Pure Reason. This list is not complete, and more examples can be found in all of Kant's published works.

This raises the question of what Kant had actually read of the authors he cites and discusses. In many cases, this question has no clear-cut answer. Kant's library is not a reliable indicator, for we know that Kant sold or gave away many of his books. Kant lived above Kanter's well-furnished bookstore, from which he could get a steady supply of new publications. Among the secondary sources that could have strongly influenced his view of the history of philosophy was Johann Jakob Brucker's 1766-1767 Historia critica philosophiae a mundi incunabulis ad nostram usque aetetum deducta, a mammoth work that influenced generations of German scholars and which Kant explicitly cites in the Critique (see A316/B372). In addition, Kant's account of historical figures was influenced by the works of post-Leibnizian German rationalists, which served as textbooks for his courses. For instance, even if it is possible that Kant read not only Des-cartes' Discourse on the Method but also the Meditations and Objections and Replies, nevertheless his presentation of the Cartesian views, for instance his very imperfect characterization of the Cogito argument, is probably influenced by the cursory account available in Wolff's Psychologia Rationalis, Wolff's Psychologia Empirica, and Baumgarten's Metaphysica. The only reasonably secure method to determine how much Kant actually knew and how he knew it, is thus to look at what Kant says, compare it to the primary sources that could actually have been available to him, and in case of discrepancies, look for other possible sources.

In any event, the systematic power of Kant's thought is such that to this day, what counts as, e.g., "Descartes" or "Hume" or "Leibniz" in our history textbooks and our historical conscience might well be Descartes or Hume or Leibniz read in light of Kant's reconstruction of their thought rather than those philosophers as they would have been read and understood before Kant. As a result, what exactly is novel about Kant's own philosophy is itself somewhat obscured. Each essay in this volume is an attempt to set the record straight on both counts.

Kant deals with a number of aspects of Descartes' philosophy. His most notorious discussion is contained in the Paralogisms of Pure Reason in the Critique of Pure Reason, in which he criticizes Descartes' move from the proposition "I think" to the assertion that I exist as a thinking substance, distinct from the body. Other important discussions, by Kant, of Descartes' philosophy, concern Descartes' assertion that the existence of the mind is more immediately known than the existence of bodies outside us, and Descartes' so-called ontological proof of the existence of God. Béatrice Longuenesse focuses her essay (chapter 1) on the first and second discussions just mentioned: Kant's criticism of Descartes' move from "I think" to "I am a substance whose sole attribute is to think," and Kant's refutation of Descartes' "problematic idealism." She analyzes the role Kant and Descartes respectively assign to the proposition "I think," in the argument of the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories (Kant) and in the Second Meditation (Descartes). She then evaluates Kant's criticism of Descartes' move from "I think, I exist" to "I exist as a thinking substance, distinct from the body" and Kant's refutation of Descartes' "problematic idealism." While endorsing, on the whole, Kant's argument against Descartes' move from "I think" to "I am a thinking substance," she suggests, in contrast, that Kant's refutation of Descartes' problematic idealism is less successful. In his own essay (chapter 2), Jean-Marie Beyssade undertakes to set the record straight on Descartes' behalf. He emphasizes the differences between Descartes' views and those that Kant attributes to him. Descartes' account of mind and its relation to body, he notes, is much more complex than Kant would have us believe. Descartes' doctrines that the mind is something whose essence is thought, is distinct from the body, and is better known than the body, are not a simple consequence of the premise "I think." Rather, they are established by a long and complex argument and the result of a process that takes place over the course of six "days" of meditation.

While Descartes' presence in Kant's work is narrowly focused on a few issues, the influence of Leibniz is much more pervasive, though ironically, more difficult to track and deal with. Leibniz was an éminence grise who stands behind much of German philosophy in the eighteenth century. His thought, as absorbed and transformed by figures such as Christian Wolff, made its way into every corner of the intellectual world. Because of that, separating out his influence from that of Wolff is very difficult. According to the standard story, while Kant began as a follower of the Leibniz-Wolffian philosophy, as he developed, he drifted further and further away. By the time of the Critique of Pure Reason, the story goes, he had fully repudiated the Leibniz-Wolffian philosophy. In her essay (chapter 3), Anja Jauernig offers an alternative account of Kant's relation to Leibniz. While she does not deny that Kant departs from Leibniz's philosophy in important ways, there is also an important sense in which Kant regarded himself as providing "the true apology for Leibniz," as he puts it in one of his last works (Discovery, AA 8 250). While Kant may have seen himself as rejecting the Leibniz-Wolffian philosophy, Jauernig argues that there is a way in which Kant saw himself as a defender of the Leibnizian philosophy. Daniel Garber (chapter 4), though, emphasizes the extent to which the true Leibniz was hidden from Kant. While Kant may have thought that he was defending Leibniz, the view of Leibniz that he held was deeply influenced by the historical tradition in which Leibniz was read in the eighteenth century-a tradition that was shaped by the relatively few texts that were available to the eighteenth-century reader. Most of the Leibnizian texts that are currently taken as central were only made available long after Kant's death. While the short and concise list of theses that, for Kant, define Leibniz's philosophy are not entirely misleading, they fall far short of characterizing Leibniz's complex thought, which evolved and changed throughout his career.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Kant and the Early Moderns
Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Preface Daniel Garber Garber, Daniel Beatrice Longuenesse Longuenesse, Beatrice

Abbreviations and References for Primary Sources

Introduction Daniel Garber Garber, Daniel Beatrice Longuenesse Longuenesse, Beatrice 1

1 Kant's "I Think" versus Descartes' "I Am a Thing That Thinks" Beatrice Longuenesse Longuenesse, Beatrice 9

2 Descartes' "I Am a Thing That Thinks" versus Kant's "I Think" Jean-Marie Beyssade Beyssade, Jean-Marie 32

3 Kant's Critique of the Leibnizian Philosophy: Contra the Leibnizians, but Pro Leibniz Anja Jauernig Jauernig, Anja 41

4 What Leibniz Really Said? Daniel Garber Garber, Daniel 64

5 Kant's Transcendental Idealism and the Limits of Knowledge: Kant's Alternative to Locke's Physiology Paul Guyer Guyer, Paul 79

6 The "Sensible Object" and the "Uncertain Philosophical Cause" Lisa Downing Downing, Lisa 100

7 Kant's Critique of Berkeley's Concept of Objectivity Dina Emundts Emundts, Dina 117

8 Berkeley and Kant Kenneth P. Winkler Winkler, Kenneth P. 142

9 Kant's Humean Solution to Hume's Problem Wayne Waxman Waxman, Wayne 172

10 Should Hume Have Been a Transcendental Idealist? Don Garrett Garrett, Don 193

Notes 209

Bibliography 241

List of Contributors 249

Index 251

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