The Powers of Pure Reason: Kant and the Idea of Cosmic Philosophy

The Powers of Pure Reason: Kant and the Idea of Cosmic Philosophy

by Alfredo Ferrarin


View All Available Formats & Editions
Use Standard Shipping. For guaranteed delivery by December 24, use Express or Expedited Shipping.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226419381
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/04/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Alfredo Ferrarin is professor of theoretical philosophy at the University of Pisa. He is the author or editor of several books, including Hegel and Aristotle.

Read an Excerpt

The Powers of Pure Reason

Kant and the Idea of Cosmic Philosophy

By Alfredo Ferrarin

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-24329-0


The Architectonic and the Cosmic Concept of Philosophy

Newton saw for the first time order and regularity combined with great simplicity, where before him was found disorder and barely paired multiplicity; and since then comets run in geometrical courses. Rousseau discovered for the first time beneath the multiplicity of forms human beings have taken on their deeply buried nature and the hidden law by the observation of which providence is justified. Before that the objection of Alphonsus and Manes still held. After Newton and Rousseau, God is justified and Pope's theorem is true.

—I. Kant, Bemerkungen, Ak 20: 58–59, ENG 9

1. Reason's Needs, Interests, Dissatisfaction

In the first edition of the first Critique (1781), long before he realizes the implications of the notion of purposiveness and elaborates the critique of teleological judgment, Kant compares reason to an organism (KrV A 832–33).

Generally speaking a living body may be understood as a self-sustaining and internally organized independent being that is an end to itself. Reason has a life, and this implies it is not a neutral spectator, external and indifferent to its objects. In fact, it is inseparable from its interests and what it cares about.

For an organism, living means turning its passivity into some form of activity. Reason's passivity includes feelings and needs it finds in itself. But needs demand recognition and an activity that fulfills them. This is how passivity begins to be turned into activity. Reason's neediness is not merely its unfortunate predicament of lacking what it desires, for this very condition reveals that it has drives and aspirations it deeply cares to realize. It is involved in its world. It has interests and on that account feels discontent with what it has. It actively pursues them insofar as it sets itself ends and promotes activities that give it satisfaction. Most of all, it values the importance of applying itself to the world in maximally coherent ways.

These are indeed analogies, but not arbitrary or imaginative figures of speech that can be replaced by other metaphors that might prove more adequate or appealing to our literary taste. Kant is describing how reason proceeds, what moves it, why and how, from its needs and desires to its highest and ideal aspirations. The internal necessity of his vocabulary, which borrows its analogies first from the language of the organism and later from that of an architect planning an edifice and of a personality setting itself ends, rests on its underlying theme, namely, reason's purposiveness.

Reason is famously described as allotted a destiny ("to be burdened with questions it cannot dismiss," KrV A vii) to which it is subject. It has drives that appear as insuppressible: most notably, it is bound to trespass limits whether it wills or not. Occasionally Kant speaks of reason's instinct. When it comes specifically to reason's needs, he shows how potent they can become. Reason is moved by a fundamental need that guides it: the search for meaning. What "reason seeks and needs" (welches doch die Vernunft sucht und bedarf, KrV B xiii, my translation) is the constancy of laws: a sensible nature. In a conception we will have to discuss later, reason seeks itself in the world in the form of a necessary and stable order, for it knows it has insight only into what it has produced according to its own design. This need to find meaning in its experience is a powerful drive for reason. It sets reason into motion, puts it to work, compels it to search for unity, necessity, a tight system of laws.

A need demands satisfaction. When it comes to reason's general needs, as the need for it to orient itself in the field of the supersensible, Kant adds that reason has a "right" to see its needs satisfied. And yet if reason seeks lawfulness in its objects, still it cannot find rest or satisfaction in its empirical use. Even a perfectly sensible nature will be insufficient to satisfy reason. Neither the unity of experience in which its pure concepts have a meaningful and legitimate use, nor even mathematics with its shining examples of reason's spontaneous and synthetic advancements, can appease reason and silence its ultimate questions.

If searching for meaning is reason's fundamental need, the most pressing and highest expression of this need is the search for answers, especially to the three questions outlined in the Canon and to the question of man's final destination (What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope?). Not only does this need exert the strongest pull, it is a drive that is at once an end. To put it more sharply: the drive becomes an end, an interest, once we endorse it and take it as our motivation.

If in its empirical use reason looks for the unity of appearances under rules, in its pure use reason is the power to go beyond the understanding's manifold cognitions to the minimal number of principles underlying and guiding the use of the understanding. When the series of conditions is given, reason looks for the subordination of the whole series under its maximum unity, its unconditional principle (KrV A 302–8/B 359–65). Thus reason produces the highest unity of knowledge. Reason's demand is also reason's maxim: to bring the understanding in its several rules to a complete unity with itself.

Reason rules the cognitions of the understanding, through whose mediation alone it is in contact with appearances. Reason acts on the understanding as the faculty of the unity of its rules under principles. In all this what reason demands is to go beyond experience, to the condition and the principles that make experience possible as a coherent whole. And what it cares about and seeks is the maximum completeness for all concepts used, because only completeness can satisfy it (Prol § 57, Ak 4: 354, ENG 143; § 44, Ak 4: 332, ENG 123). The ideas are the shape in which reason can think the completeness at which it aims in a determinate way (ibid.).

The distinction between a speculative and a practical interest of reason, and between a metaphysics of pure speculative principles and a metaphysics of morals, follows from this. The complex evolution of the concept of the highest good, from its separate ideal status in another world to its becoming the historical goal of practical reason (from the Canon and the Postulates to the Critique of Judgment and Religion), must also be understood in this context. And so must, finally, the distinction between a satisfaction unattainable for us in speculative terms and a practical satisfaction we hope for. Strictly speaking, however, a speculative satisfaction does obtain, not in the form of final theoretical answers to questions concerning the supersensible that are bound to remain unanswered, but in that of a solution that finally puts metaphysics on a scientific path, which again has completeness as its key. Except that it is the completeness of a system of cognitions for which the negative determination of limits is constitutive. And this is the full satisfaction Kant refers to in the very last sentence of the Critique of Pure Reason. Reason's satisfaction is its full self-possession. The language of satisfaction is the best way to represent the inner dialectic of reason, and expresses Kant's ambition to distance himself from ancient and modern conceptions of reason.

At the end of the Architectonic, Kant speaks of what the essay on Swedenborg first introduced: a sort of unrequited love reason has for metaphysics (Dreams, Ak 2: 367, ENG 354; KrV A 850/B 878). In the prefaces to the first Critique Kant returns to the theme through different analogies, all equally concrete and seemingly naturalizing, or even personifying, an all-too-human pure reason. In the A Preface (x–xi), Kant speaks of what reason must undertake and what it expects. He describes the task, to institute a tribunal, and says it is vain to pretend indifference toward metaphysics for in it lie reason's highest interests. In the B Preface, he announces the promise of a brighter future, when metaphysics finally assumes the secure path of science. Reason's love is unrequited because we are relentlessly sent back to metaphysics as to an estranged lover, who keeps leading us astray. Reason is not Luther's "whore." If anything, it is metaphysics that proves to be as seductive as it is beyond possession. As in Aristophanes's myth in Plato's Symposium, metaphysics (here dogmatic metaphysics) is intrinsically disappointing for reason's love because what reason desires is a completion it cannot achieve, which metaphysics represents as a forever elusive mirage. This desire for completeness accounts for why lower forms of reason are directed outside reason, such as drives and impulses to trespass limits, which make sense only in light of the goal of completeness, of the totality they tend to.

Especially if we are used to a reading of the first Critique that privileges the model of the natural sciences (notably, physics and mathematics), we may be surprised by the appearance of this teleological and quasi-psychological vocabulary precisely where we have to deal with what transcends nature and is altogether other than it, i.e., reason, and with science itself, from which teleology has presumably been banned. It might seem as if the model of science were progressively receding into the background as the Architectonic embraces the models of organic nature and of personality to articulate the essence of reason. But it would be quite wrong to conclude thus, for Kant's aim is precisely to turn metaphysics into a science and to understand reason as a system. This is invariably what Kant stresses and is proud of: he has made metaphysics into a science. The organic and practical models are instrumental in this characterization.

If pure reason is compared to an organism, with drives, needs, interests, maxims, and ends, it has a distinct form of teleology we must analyze carefully. And it is in a broad sense practical before the specific distinction between knowledge and morality. "It is still one and the same reason which, whether from a theoretical or practical perspective, judges according to a priori principles" (KpV, Ak 5: 121, ENG 237). Pure reason is a free power (KrV A 738/B 766) that determines its interests (KpV, Ak 5: 119–20, ENG 236) and pursues the ends it sets itself. This power is not a power of insight or description. It is a normative power. Whether it is addressed to what is or what ought to be, reason legislates over its domains and prescribes a form of conduct as its end. It commands us to look for the unconditional unity of our experience of nature as it extends our cognitions, and commands us to carry out actions according to maxims for categorical imperatives. Its interest is not formal consistency with itself, but the promotion of ends (ibid.).

It is crucial to keep pure reason's need distinct from all need arising from inclination and to distinguish between analogical and literal or descriptive discourse. When Kant speaks about the needs and interests of pure reason, he does mean they dictate its conduct. But they do so in a way that differs from how a need based on inclination makes us pursue objects.

Pure reason needs to objectivize ideas, i.e., to find an object for its problematic concepts of complete and perfect totalities. In other words, a need responds to a problem. The problem arises because reason projects an idea for its consideration and wants to determine it. Ideas are therefore those ideal totalities in which reason becomes aware of its internal articulation and limits.

If a rational need is wholly different from a natural need, it is because reason is not a nature at all. Insisting on the interests, needs, love, and ends of reason and comparing reason to an organism do not come down to taking it as natural (if a very peculiar sort of nature). Reason is wholly unlike Hume's nature. Kant's understanding of reason as an organism is a very effective way to highlight the functional and interdependent unity of all members within a whole, but we would misunderstand Kant if we took him to explain or describe human nature the way we describe living beings. Describing nature means for Kant bringing it back to laws, the laws through which we can get an insight into its workings. Nature is given to our investigation as an object of study and a well-defined being. Kant's reason does not purport to identify human nature, and not only because it is a pure reason, i.e., it looks for the principles according to which reason must think, not what individual minds or a presumed human nature happens to think. More fundamentally, reason is not a given or natural being alongside others because it has the being of an activity. Far from being purely metaphorical, the language adopted by Kant to talk about reason is the most appropriate way to address an activity, not a given. Far from being psychological, this language denotes a pure spontaneity that produces laws.

Reason's proper activity is that of giving rules, laws, and ends to itself. If no laws or rules are given to reason, which is the only possible source and origin of all rules and laws and does not know of any authority outside itself it can pay heed to (KrV A xi–xii and n.; PhilEnz, Ak 29: 36), then hoping to bring reason back to laws is contradictory. For one thing, the comparison of reason with the organism is no more than an analogy: there is no naturalistic model or biological presupposition. For another, if we need an analogy at all, one with personality seems to fit reason better than that of organism because of reason's most vital concern, its preoccupation with our ultimate destination and final end. This form of teleology definitely has nothing natural. It is qua rational that we have ends, not qua living organisms. Ends are not comparable to bodily urges, drives, or desires we find in ourselves. Ends are such that we must take it upon ourselves to pursue them. We must make them ours for them to be at all.

In fact, reason's teleology is quite unnatural. Typically, an organism feels sorely a certain privation and works to fill the gap by measuring and adapting reality and itself to one another. It desires something and tries to obtain it, whatever struggle it takes. The organism hopes to put an end to its hunger, its poverty, its lack, its want. Here the ends are given along with the lack, and it must find the best means. Moreover, an organism is an individual among others in the same species.

This is not the case with Kant's reason. Reason cannot be declined in the plural. It does not pursue its ends in order to overcome its privation, for ends are not given to reason as necessitated. Teleology identifies the mode of reason's activity, not a natural finality we find in ourselves. In other words, that reason is entirely occupied with its ends means that it is directed only to itself. Its unity is a self-enclosed organized unity of interests and ends. Reason cares about and can apply itself only to laws and principles. It alone can establish them. In its autarchy reason will not let any restriction stand in its way. It shows its "abhorrence" of limits and of all "principles that are not its own work" (Ak 18: 272–75).

Reason's unity as a self-enclosed organized unity is compared to that of an organism because we consider reason as if in it all parts were made in view of the whole, of a design, a project: an idea. Unlike a heap, growing externally by additions and subtractions, the organism grows internally without altering its proportions. In an organism every member "exists for the sake of each other as all others exist for its sake, and no principle can be taken with certainty in one relation unless it has at the same time been investigated in its thoroughgoing relation to the entire use of pure reason" (KrV B xxiii).

In the Critique of Teleological Judgment (§ 65), Kant adds important qualifications to this description drawn from the Second Preface to the Critique of Pure Reason. An organism is unlike a machine, i.e., the product of an external cause. Not only do the parts of an organism coordinate and exist so as to work together with other parts, but an organism is cause of itself. In it parts are reciprocally cause and effect of their form and reciprocally ends and means. A watch is organized; a living body organizes itself. Parts not only exist through one another and for the sake of the whole. They are to be conceived as organs. The organism then has a formative force (bildende Kraft), not just the moving force it receives from its creator, like a watch.

As if apprehensive about the implications of this thought, in the Critique of Judgment Kant rushes to add that the idea of the whole is only a ground of our cognition of the form of the object, not its actual cause. In the Critique of Pure Reason the system we thus obtain is the system of reason's cognitions, which reason needs for its purposes. In no way can it be confused with a system of reality or reflect an order given in nature, for no order can be given that is not instituted by reason. But it is precisely because reason is directed to itself that it can complete its systematic efforts. If reason is in need of guidance and a principle that hierarchically orders all its pure concepts, it is subjectively a system. It is "a system of inquiry in accordance with principles of unity for which experience alone" will provide fulfillment (KrV A 738/B 766). Reason is so self-contained that when approaching one part we cannot help touching all others. In the Prolegomena we read:

But pure reason is such an isolated domain, within itself so thoroughly connected, that no part of it can be encroached upon without disturbing all the rest, not adjusted without having previously determined for each part its place and its influence upon the others; for, since there is nothing outside of it that could correct our judgment within it, the validity and use of each part depends on the relation in which it stands to the others within reason itself, and, as with the structure of an organized body, the purpose of any member can be derived only from the complete concept of the whole. That is why it can be said of such a critique, that it is never trustworthy unless it is entirely complete down to the least elements of pure reason, and that in the domain of this faculty one must determine and settle either all or nothing. (Ak 4: 263, ENG 59–60)


Excerpted from The Powers of Pure Reason by Alfredo Ferrarin. Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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.

Table of Contents


1. Of Kings, Carters, and Palimpsests
2. “Every division presupposes a concept that is to be divided” (KrV A 290/B 346). On Kant’s Dichotomies
3. Reason’s Finitude. Concepts and Ideas
4. Reason and Its Awakening
5. An Overview of the Book

Chapter One
The Architectonic and the Cosmic Concept of Philosophy
1. Reason’s Needs, Interests, Dissatisfaction
2. Of Edifices and Organisms
3a. Ideas. Reason’s Internal Articulation
3b. Ideas. Regulative Ideas and Empirical Cognition
3c. Ideas. The Idea of System
4. A Comprehensive Gaze: The Cyclops and the Cosmic Philosopher
5. Philosophy as an Idea. Reason’s History
6. Cosmic Philosophy
7. A Final Look at Ends and Wisdom
8. An Attempt at Interpretation

Chapter Two
A Priori Synthesis
1. A Productive Reason
2. Form, Synthesis, and Intuition. On Blindness
3a. A Priori Synthesis. The Speculative Synthesis
3b. A Priori Synthesis. The Practical Synthesis
4. Mathematics and Metaphysics
5. Mathematical, Empirical, and Pure Concepts
6. The A Priori
7a. The Relative Independence of Intuition. Judgments of Perception and Judgments of Experience
7b. The Relative Independence of Intuition. Pure Intuition
7c. The Relative Independence of Intuition. We Are All Savages

Chapter Three
Kant on Kant
1. Science and Knowledge. The Combination Thesis
2. The Synthetic Knowledge of Transcendental Philosophy
3. Metaphysics, Critical and Transcendental Philosophy
4. Kant’s Retrospective Judgments on the Critique of Pure Reason. The Interrelation of Faculties Recast
5. The A and B Prefaces to the First Critique. A Destitute Queen and the So-Called “Copernican Revolution”
6. The New Conception of Reason and the Power of Judgment

1. What Is a Faculty? The Facticity of Reason
2. In Closing

Appendix: On Schematized Categories: An Antinomy

What People are Saying About This

Richard Velkley

“Ferrarin has written a remarkable study of Kant’s philosophy as a unified whole. It is challenging, daring, complex, erudite, detailed, and carefully argued, opening up new vistas on the meaning of Kant’s critical enterprise. It is a major contribution to the scholarship.”

Eric Watkins

“Ferrarin’s stimulating book undertakes a comprehensive investigation of Kant’s conception of reason and the various roles it plays within his distinctive notion of philosophy. Drawing on the final chapters of the Doctrine of Method as well as a wide range of texts from throughout Kant’s corpus with unusual textual sensitivity, it perceptively and imaginatively draws out the complex relations between reason (as an organism and as an architect), systematicity, and a priori synthesis, noting both the consistencies and tensions that emerge.”

Rolf-Peter Horstmann

“In this highly original and thoughtful book, Ferrarin succeeds in revitalizing in a very convincing way an approach to Kant’s philosophy in all its different aspects, which he rightly takes to be practiced already by Kant’s immediate successors, the German idealists. This approach is characterized by the compelling belief in the validity of the hermeneutical maxim that before one can have an adequate understanding of the disparate parts, one has to have a clear grasp of the guiding problem the philosophical project wants to answer. Ferrarin—in an almost Hegelian spirit—identifies questions pertaining to the authority of reason as the central clue to both Kant’s metaphysical and moral views, and he gives a fascinating and extremely well-informed account of how the quest for reason’s powers organizes all of Kant’s philosophical work.”

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews