Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant

Critique of Pure Reason

This entirely new translation of Critique of Pure Reason is the most accurate and informative English translation ever produced of this epochal philosophical text. Though its simple, direct style will make it suitable for all new readers of Kant, the translation displays a philosophical and textual sophistication that will enlighten Kant scholars as well. This translation...

Title:Critique of Pure Reason
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0521657296
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:796 pages

Critique of Pure Reason Reviews

  • Jenny Park
    Apr 10, 2007

    immanuel kant is by farrrrr the world's most precise philosopher... EVER! haha.. this text, like many philosophical texts out there... was really dry.. and um.. long. but there's definitely a reason why this one's regarded as one of the greatest philosophical pieces out there. so the book's premise in a nutshell... noone can argue FOR or AGAINST an afterlife/God. he also digs into the idea that our understanding of the world and our ideas are based not only on experience, but on a priori concept

    immanuel kant is by farrrrr the world's most precise philosopher... EVER! haha.. this text, like many philosophical texts out there... was really dry.. and um.. long. but there's definitely a reason why this one's regarded as one of the greatest philosophical pieces out there. so the book's premise in a nutshell... noone can argue FOR or AGAINST an afterlife/God. he also digs into the idea that our understanding of the world and our ideas are based not only on experience, but on a priori concept... it's worth a read, esp if you are the soul searching type..

  • Charissa
    Nov 28, 2007

    I just Kant stand him.

    Seriously though... why does so much Western philosophy remind me of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? I swear, these gentlemen had their panties wrapped so tightly I don't know how they ever took a proper dump.

    The problem with Kant (aside from how much he enjoyed listening to the sound of his own voice droning on and on) is that he was irretrievably mired in a Christian world-view, separated from nature, and cursed with the precision of having b

    I just Kant stand him.

    Seriously though... why does so much Western philosophy remind me of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? I swear, these gentlemen had their panties wrapped so tightly I don't know how they ever took a proper dump.

    The problem with Kant (aside from how much he enjoyed listening to the sound of his own voice droning on and on) is that he was irretrievably mired in a Christian world-view, separated from nature, and cursed with the precision of having been brought up German. Poor fellow... he badly needed to run naked through the woods and eat a freshly killed goat around a fire, followed by a proper shag by a woman with enormous tracts of land.

  • David
    Jan 05, 2010

    Immanuel Kant is the kind of guy who not only sucks all of the joy out of life; he takes great pleasure in opening the spigot of your happiness-tank and watching it all spill out onto the burn-out lawn and sink into the earth -- seeping toward the planet's molten, pitiless core and, thereupon, toward its irrevocable dissipation.

    If he were alive today, I suggest to you that Kant's corporeal manifestation would be that of a paunchy, balding man, eternally sixty years old, who is often seen in his

    Immanuel Kant is the kind of guy who not only sucks all of the joy out of life; he takes great pleasure in opening the spigot of your happiness-tank and watching it all spill out onto the burn-out lawn and sink into the earth -- seeping toward the planet's molten, pitiless core and, thereupon, toward its irrevocable dissipation.

    If he were alive today, I suggest to you that Kant's corporeal manifestation would be that of a paunchy, balding man, eternally sixty years old, who is often seen in his yard, cleaning out his gutters or basement wells or tending his garden joylessly. He's perhaps wearing a modified pith helmet and too-tight khaki shorts which reveal the topography of his bunchy twill underpants as he crouches to slake the thirst of his prized marigolds. Of course, his plastic eyeglass frames are a mottled brown -- no, not tortoise-shell, but a harsh two-tone pattern reminiscent of the formica customarily surrounding a late 1970s basement wet bar. Additionally, the lenses are several sizes too large to conform to even the most deluded strictures of fashion. His socks (or 'stockings,' as he calls them) are a heavy, nauseous tan, ribbed but slouchy. A stubborn elastic band around the stockings' crown tries to hold them steadily around the mid-calf, but the up-again, down-again athleticism of gardening forbids this vain hold-out against gravity. Consequently, the stockings occasionally puddle around his knobby ankles. But not for long. He grunts, squats, hoists -- grunts, squats, hoists. If the ritual's speed were only increased and set to an uptempo adult contemporary favorite, we might suspect it was a dance. Or else an elaborate tic.

    Next we should discuss his legs, shouldn't we? Necessity seems to demand it... Kant's legs -- when both his safari-aspirational shorts and his stockings are performing optimally -- are visible from the mid-thigh to the mid-calf and are fantastically white and nearly hairless. It's the kind of white that shames even the newest-fallen snow, and the kind of hairlessness that visits certain men at an advancing age. It's almost as if the sproutings of those once-masculine hairs had wearied over time and just surrendered the puttering gardener to a pleasant sexual neutrality. His legs, otherwise, are surprisingly bulbous with muscle at the height of the calf: a cleft, spastic musculature, as in the shape of cloven hooves. His sandals are wide and deep brown about the straps (three straps in total, none crossed or set at provocative angles), and vaguely semitic in design -- which is to say, tough as citrus rinds, in order to deflect the cruelties of the Negev.

    This is what Immanuel Kant would look like today, probably. If he were your neighbor (a half dozen houses down the street, perhaps) and you were driving to your vinyl-sided ranch or bungalow with a sackful of perishable groceries in the trunk of your Volvo S40, and if you tapped the horn friskily and waved at Mr. Kant as he dug in his garden, he would, I assure you, remain defiantly crouched, folded in upon himself, beholden to some faithless prayer. He would seem as if to have not heard your car or your horn and neither to have suspected your hand were raised in salutation. But of course he is nothing else but an intelligent man, and so he hears and of course he knows, or at least suspects. But he simply straightens his sun-bleached helmet, sinks his fingers more deeply into his yellow suede work gloves, and digs toward an object which will bring him no joy or satisfaction, but rather a steady, textureless hum within and throughout his consciousness which passes in some muddled cultures for the noise of enlightenment.

  • Nathan
    Feb 08, 2012

    Kant’s

    marks what is more or less a beginning of philosophy. It is no longer possible to go back behind his Copernican revolution, as if one could do philosophy without taking into account the subject or consciousness. This turn toward subjectivity is only tightened with the Wittgensteinian and Heideggarian turns toward language. Both naive empiricism (Hume, Locke, etc) and strict rationalism (Leibniz, Wolff, etc) are thoroughly overcome, synthesized if you will. Of cours

    Kant’s

    marks what is more or less a beginning of philosophy. It is no longer possible to go back behind his Copernican revolution, as if one could do philosophy without taking into account the subject or consciousness. This turn toward subjectivity is only tightened with the Wittgensteinian and Heideggarian turns toward language. Both naive empiricism (Hume, Locke, etc) and strict rationalism (Leibniz, Wolff, etc) are thoroughly overcome, synthesized if you will. Of course there remain Plato and Aristotle whom we will never be without, but they belong in a sense to an earlier dispensation of thought. And despite advances in the natural sciences, the world in which we live and have our being is Kantian, which is to say, still Euclidian and Newtonian. It is only from this subjective position that we embark upon scientific investigations into nature in general.

    But of course we will always go back and read and philosophize with those greatest minds. Back to Leibniz and Spinoza (but not Wolff), Locke and Hume, Descartes and his crowd, Aquinas and Augustine along with those countless assembled together as ‘medieval’, without fail to Plato and Aristotle, to Parmenides and Heraclitus. And we will travel to China and India and discover there this same spirit of thought. But in so far as we understand philosophical progress, in so far as we understand philosophical thinking in its historical dimension, something happened with Kant’s critique which cannot be undone. Insofar as all systematic thinking endeavors to overcome a presupposed dualism (viz Descartes’ two substances), it is with Kant that we first see an opening, that “the conditions of the possibility of experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience.”

    However one fails to say it, one cannot overemphasize the determinative role of Kant in the history of philosophy, and in the very possibility of philosophy, of thinking. Yes, there is something inadequate in Kant’s methodology. Hegel clears up some of this. Another beginning is made later with Husserl. But the overcoming of alienated thought begins here; the turn toward the thinking subject, which is the heart of philosophy, begins with Kant. As does its grounding as science, as knowledge.

    But too a word about his ‘difficulty.‘ Thinking is difficult. Philosophy is difficult. Knowing is difficult. What we novice thinkers have to gain here -- and we must put aside this silly quip about how Kant can’t write -- is a mode of real thinking. As Marguerite Young said, Style

    thinking. And Kant’s tortuous syntax reflects not only teaching philosophy to speak German (which Hegel was still endeavoring to accomplish) but because also the nature of Kant’s matter, the

    , is difficult and does not give itself lightly. Alone Kant wrote and published four different versions of the transcendental deduction of the categories, not because he didn’t know how to express himself, but because the matter itself had never previously been attempted. And here too I find it advantageous, in so far as one lends oneself to learn to think, to follow a translation which most closely mirrors the mode of thought within the German language. There is at least some nugget of truth to Heidegger’s quip that Being speaks only German and Greek.

    There is no easy first avenue into Kant’s work except that one has already accomplished his Copernican revolution. And to do so on one’s own is perhaps comparable to learning the calculus or elementary particle physics on one’s own. Philosophy is available to all, but it is also so easy to miss, to misrecognize philosophy as mere wisdom or opinion. But to take philosophy as real cognition, thought, knowledge, to find one’s way behind both the methods and results of religion and the natural sciences, is a real accomplishment. To find one’s way to fundamental principles from which all experience springs is no simple task.

  • Elena
    Nov 22, 2012

    This is one of those philosophical summits that offers an incomparably comprehensive prospect, as well as revealing something about what it means to have a perspective at all. Kant does nothing less in this work than introduce a new starting point for thought. And since where we start predetermines the possibilities of where we can end up, a sound, new starting point is an ultimate instrument for thought that reshapes our use of all others. The metaperspectival stance this work outlines holds a

    This is one of those philosophical summits that offers an incomparably comprehensive prospect, as well as revealing something about what it means to have a perspective at all. Kant does nothing less in this work than introduce a new starting point for thought. And since where we start predetermines the possibilities of where we can end up, a sound, new starting point is an ultimate instrument for thought that reshapes our use of all others. The metaperspectival stance this work outlines holds a powerful key to all philosophy and intellectual endeavour in general. It also constitutes the core component of any genuinely comprehensive Theory of Everything. If human evolution is largely an “evolution by extension,” as anthropologist Edward T. Hall has argued, then a new instrument of thought that identifies the perspectival parameters from which one can proceed to critique all other instruments of thought constitutes one of the most powerful developments in the history of cultural evolution. Most importantly, it marks the first philosophical breakthrough in placing us where we are, a breakthrough that we can build upon, but never entirely set aside.

    Perhaps the endless avalanche of interpretations this work has generated is itself a proof of its immense generative power for thought. The critical-transcendental POV that Kant identified seems to constitute a nodal point for thought from which one can endlessly regenerate philosophy, either through the generation of new systems, or through the critique of historical ones through referencing them to architectonic, formal fundamentals of human cognition.

    Kant's formal analysis is the ultimate generator of methodologies. It made possible, for one, the "perspectivist" turn that lies at the heart of modern artistic practice: in the visual arts, starting at least with the Impressionists, and on to the present moment and traceable through the diverse proliferation of mediums during the last century; in literature, the self-reflexivity we cherish in the modern novel (most clearly manifest in Proust, Joyce, Woolf). It is ironic that the supposedly austere and unimaginative Kant should become the begetter of artists and of whole artistic lineages.

    In the sciences, The Critique also made possible the paradigmatic basis for a crucial methodological principle of modern physics, ie, the now necessary reference to the position of the observer in any formulation of physical law. When Heisenberg states that “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning,” he is merely summarizing Kant's first critique.

    Kant is also the conceptual architect for what would later become the human, esp cognitive, sciences. It is in his critical turn that these methodologies find their ultimate, rational justification. It is only because Kant's arguments -showed- that the understanding of our cognitive, formal biases is essential in order to secure progress towards an ultimate cosmological Theory Of Everything that these metholodogies exist. And it is only because of these pre-existing arguments and formal analyses that the data they yield can be interpreted as proof regarding the relationship between mind and reality. Despite Kant's arguments over two centuries ago, a naive, pre-critical view of science is still the norm, as is perhaps to be expected in a philosophically illiterate culture which believes that technical thinking can entirely supplant philosophical thinking in ensuring critical rigour. Thus, we still tend to think of data as free-standing, self-interpreting and self-justifying. We forget Kant's point that data only becomes proof once it's positioned within and grafted onto an overarching theory that gives its rational sense.

    His most important contribution to philosophy itself lies, perhaps, in paving the foundations for phenomenology which, to this day, IMO, constitutes the most sound starting point for philosophy. Where once there was metaphysics, we now have phenomenology, in its various forms, as the ultimate locus of all that is unique about philosophy as a mode of our being. Husserl pays his dues to Descartes' Meditations, but the real seeds are planted by the critical turn that made it possible to recast ontology in terms of both phenomenology and human cognition. Thus, ontological universals become relativized to phenomenological and cognitive universals. After Kant, perspective becomes an indispensable ontological and methodological principle. It presents a new way of answering the Delphic god's indictment to "Know Thyself": Kant makes defining and locating the inquirer himself the first step to ontological understanding. In this, he reverses the traditional Aristotelian formula of seeking understanding by locating the self in a realm of objects. Kant's genius lies in deconstructing past “cosmic orders” and showing them, to be, at bottom, merely reified, projected cognitive artifacts. Incidentally, this same Kantian deconstructive analysis can be applied towards showing that many of our most cherished cosmological and ontological notions are also reified, projected cognitive artifacts: think of the metaphors behind mechanistic ontologies or informational cosmologies. We got rid of anthropomorphic deities just to replace them with pictures that reduce the irreducible continuity of the universe to analyses that are fundamentally based on metaphors derived from the latest human artifact (nowadays, the computer, tomorrow, whatever other gadget colonizes the imagination of the day).

    It might be useful to picture Kant at one end of the continuum of phenomenological description, with Proust and Merleau-Ponty at the other. At one end one gains a perspective of formal a prioricity, at the other, of the embodiment of form in meaning in our attempts to make sense of lived experience. At one end, we have the universals of logic, mathematics, and the formal, synthetic a priori principles that ground the various disciplines of reason and unite them into a coherent map of human knowledge, and at the other, an attempt to maximize the pliancy of cognitive form to its maximum capacity through art, and thus increase its “adequacy to experience” (in James' terms).

    What is the real crux of philosophy, the fundamental problem that underlies all others? The answer stems for Kant, as it did, for every philosopher before him, from the Delphic oracle's injunction: “Know Thyself.” What is the defining essence of a philosophical anthropology? Man is reason, goes the traditional answer, since at least Socrates, but formalized by Aristotle in the definition of man as the “rational animal.” And what is reason? Reason is Logos (or its producer and/or detector), which is traditionally ambiguously conceived as situated both within the world and within the mind. Kant's critical turn flips tradition upside down by showing that the reason for this appearance is the phenomenological primacy of Logos. Only this phenomenological primacy leads to its ontological primacy, for us. And what is Logos? Logos is Form, and it is this fundamental mystery of form that, Kant points out, lies at the heart of the human condition. Our capacity and preference for certain formal arrangements defines our ultimate limit as knowers. These formal limits thus pre-define the limits of possible development for both ontology and cosmology. This fundamental problem of the nature and grounding of form, Kant shows, is the real, fundamental problem of philosophy. Kant's philosophical task thus becomes a cartography of these formal limits from within, from the POV of what David Chalmers called “the first person POV” of consciousness.

    (As an aside, you can see how this relativizing of form to perspective blends well with evolutionary pictures of the organismic nature of the knower. Every species prefers certain arrangements that are conducive to its survival, and “abstracts” its world according to these species-specific preferences. Our capacity and preference for form is our signature as a species, and not a fact about the world. There is only a step from here to Nietzsche's paradoxical absolute relativism of Will to Power, with Form as a power-imposition by the species onto the world, and not as revelation of some pre-existing cosmic order. The seeds for a more radical questioning of reason are planted by Kant).

    So the critical determination that splits all post-Kantian thought in philosophy and beyond is here, in the question of the relative stability of the grounding of our formal principles. Can you find formal universals at least here, in the mind? Or is this last vestige of universality further deconstructible? If you answer yes to the former, what you're left with is a cognitively-grounded realism. If you answer yes to the latter, you're left in the rather dark cul-de-sac of nominalism, for good. And if you ignore Kant's critique altogether, as positivism tries, you risk chasing the shadow of your cognitive biases across the cosmos, forever (Kuhn's critique is a radical proof of this point), and mistaking these for fundamental ontological principles. Only a critical realism can bypass this latter pitfall.

    The perspectival realism branch leaves us with the task of completing Kant's “formal science.” The key to this formal science is the controversial idea of the synthetic a priori principles, which I understand as Kant's way of supplementing and enriching linear, formal logic (which leads thought down the line of formal reductionism) with logical principles that tend in the opposite, constructive, unifying direction. If such formal principles can be discovered through pure phenomenological reflection, a comprehensive map of knowledge becomes possible, and within what is currently a blinkered disarray of specialism, one can once again discern a unity of thought. Disciplines can become coordinated parts of a working whole, of a culture of knowledge that can be unified only by such philosophical meta-principles. This, at least, is the insanely ambitious and enticing promise Kant's critical project opens up for us... but does not complete, despite his belief that he did.

    The nominalist crew seems to be winning, as one by one, Kant's universals have been deconstructed and relativized. Instead of “transcendental critique,” all critique starts to be construed in relativistic, contextualizing, historical terms as Kant's phenomenological starting point is placed under corrosive analysis again and again. Historicist analysis points out that Kant's candidates for the a priori structures turned out to be static projections of what were mere features of a Western-specific, culturally-determined cognitive mode, and therefore were not the universal, absolute and necessary constituents of mind that he sought. An example of this would be how Kant imports and transposes Aristotle's key categories of form/material into transcendental analysis, thereby bringing traditional bias into the whole project of identifying the a priori. A further example would be his reliance on the Newtonian paradigm for his formulation of the so-called transcendental form of space and time, which now must be grasped relativistically. Whitehead's radical reformulation of fundamental ontological form in process terms is both a better fit with modern physics, and shows there is nothing necessary in Kant's candidates for a prioricity. This brings up a serious problem with the so-called transcendental basis of the critical methodology: can we ever come to identify the a priori on more than a historical basis? We seem to rely, as Kant did, on the thought and science of the day to provide the material for transcendental analysis. Is there any way of filtering out the historical factor and boiling phenomenological analysis down to the real fundamentals?

    Perhaps the problem isn't as refractory as it seems. After all, we implicitly trust that math and logic (as we've formalized it thus far) represent formal principles that are decidedly immune from historical and cultural relativity. This trust we harbour for these formal systems is the basis for progress in the natural sciences. Could it be that Kant's project, although not completed (by him) due to a lack of theoretical and possibly empirical (I will return to this issue below) tools, can, in principle, still be completed? Why should formal logic be the final formulation of reason? It leaves out so much, and is ill-applied to much of the content that characterizes our experience of the world. It also provides a poor basis (if any) for constructive acts of reason, such as those that elaborate the internal logical framework of disciplines and situate these together into a larger conceptual framework. Perhaps, with further work on his synthetic a priori, we can hit upon the kind of enriched logic that he hoped for and that can escape the historicist critique as well as the nominalist dead-end.

    Another strand of critique of the notion of “formal science” as Kant conceives it comes from the empirical findings of embodied mind theorists. It turns out that, if you actually look at it, the mind is embodied (culturally, situationally, historically, as well as within an ecologically-situated psycho-physiological organismic whole). Critiques of the “a priori approach to philosophy” include Merleau-Ponty's embodied phenomenology, and in cognitive science, Lakoff's Philosophy in the Flesh. The latter states that the phenomenological, transcendental, and formal approach to cognitive structure of someone like Kant is fundamentally illusion-prone and limited in its capacity for self-knowledge. This is because, Lakoff argues, the a priori approach lacks the empirical tools required in order to discern the phenomenologically inaccessible yet causally efficacious structure of the cognitive unconscious mechanisms, which are the true determinants of thought. He goes on to argue that the transcendental picture of reason is refuted by the fact that higher reasoning processes of the brain import inference patterns from sensorimotor systems, making reason inherently embodied and organismic. Further salient critiques would be Lakoff's deconstruction of the philosophical misconstrual of mental categories as container-like, monolithic forms that are definable in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. Lakoff argues that categories are radial, and that abstract concepts (eg space, time, self) such as those Kant relied on, are at bottom metaphorical, cross-domain mappings. All these facts about human cognition lead theorists such as Lakoff to claim that there is a fundamental incompleteness in the philosophical method for self-understanding, and that this can only be redressed if philosophy reformulates its problems and concept-systems, from the ground up, by using empirical insights about the nature of cognition as their ultimate reference point.

    The question now is the proper relationship between philosophy and science (esp the cognitive sciences), as well as the relative priority of each. My two cents' is that cognitive science, and related disciplines, can only be a boon to philosophy. As I pointed out above, cognitive science is in fact an offspring of philosophical thought in search for richer self-understanding. Why limit our reserves for insight in advance? That being said, while cooperation and unification of pictures from the two disciplines must be aimed for, this can only happen at the far end of development along the lines of a methodological dualism based on Chalmers' distinction between description at the level of the first person POV (phenomenological, formal, “transcendental”) and the second person POV (empirical, cognitive science perspective). I would argue that, just as mathematics and logic contain principles that are not reducible to cognitive principles (consider the difference between proving a mathematical theorem and describing how mathematics is “done” in the brain), so can the picture of reason not be completed without the kind of formal critique Kant initiated. The comprehensive picture of human nature, and of the architectonic principles of cognition that can ground and unify the various special disciplines, cannot be found, IMO, by reducing either discipline to the other any more than it can by refusing their cooperation.

    Therefore I think that revisiting and updating Kant will be the key to moving beyond the postmodern condition of general intellectual disarray. The fundamental incompleteness in his method can be corrected by supplementing the quest for transcendental logic with insights from the cognitive sciences, on the one hand, and with a comparative, cross-cultural analysis of paradigmatic systems. Without the latter, we can never factor out the cultural-relativity element. Thus, we may need to add extra dimensions to Kant's particular formulations of the a priori, and even at times reduce some of the concepts he identifies as primary to more fundamental notions. Even if the a priori formal universals exist, our understanding of them is historically evolving. Perhaps, the minimum we can hope for is that the search for the a priori must function more as a guiding lodestar for inquiry than as a project we can expect to culminate in some shiny, ultimate, all-enclosing, end-historical System. This is because both our creative reserves for meaning-making in the arts and our capacity for knowledge in science outgrow our capacity to foresee in advance the form they might take. Eventually we'll hit our walls, but not before we do.

    Necessary future modifications aside, Kant was right in perceiving that the future of thought is bound up with finding a coherent (and, one could add, more globally-informed) picture of human nature, and that furthermore, such a science of human nature alone can provide the necessary foundation for the other disciplines and allow us to understand how the principles of each relate to all. Only after such a step would be satisfied could our heap of facts be said to constitute knowledge, for knowledge is a matter of structural integration, and not merely of information storage (Kant would in this respect be the soundest critic of our “information” epistemologies). Furthermore, he was right when he identified the “transcendental logic” as the key to such a science.

    The starting point for philosophy cannot be the same after Kant's critiques. Critique becomes the indispensable preparatory work for an adequate cosmology and metaphysics. After him, any TOE systematizer must pass through the anteroom of philosophical anthropology. It would behoove us to figure out what the limiting conditions for our cognitive apparatus are, as well as their range of applicability, before we presume to describe domains beyond their purview (laws of nature deemed absolute, or time-, space- and matter in-themselves), unless of course we are willing to risk chasing our anthropomorphic projections across the cosmos," only in ever more insidious, artifactual forms.

    After we have discovered the limits of rational form, who knows what direction our explorations might take? Perhaps such discovery can free us of these formal constraints, and enable us to take charge of our intellectual evolution by pressing beyond their limits to new formal domains.

    It should be clear by now why Kant's Critique, far from representing a hoary collection of sterile abstractions, constitutes, above all, an indispensable guide to self-knowledge. Perhaps, what we can take from it most of all is that we know nature most intimately not in our sensuous experiences of a landscape, say, or through our primal impulses, as psychology claims, but through the sense of form that we experience through reason, "the light of nature" within us.

  • Roy Lotz
    May 30, 2013

    It is done. I have finally scaled the sheer surface of this work. It involved continual toil, sweat, and suffering—falling down and picking myself up again. But, when you reach the end, when your eyes finally hit the bottom of that final paragraph, the feeling is momentous. You can stand and look down at the steep drop you managed to climb, and reflect with satisfaction that this mountain is one of the tallest. This is an Everest of a book.

    That was melodramatic, but only a little.

    It is done. I have finally scaled the sheer surface of this work. It involved continual toil, sweat, and suffering—falling down and picking myself up again. But, when you reach the end, when your eyes finally hit the bottom of that final paragraph, the feeling is momentous. You can stand and look down at the steep drop you managed to climb, and reflect with satisfaction that this mountain is one of the tallest. This is an Everest of a book.

    That was melodramatic, but only a little.

    is tough, and requires some serious effort to get through. Before attempting it, I would highly recommend first reading Kant’s much shorter

    , in which he summarizes the essential points that are elaborated and ‘proved’ (in his opinion) in this longer work. Additionally, I would recommend any potential readers to acquaint themselves with the philosophy of David Hume (

    ) and Rene Descartes (

    ). Thankfully, both writers are more stylish and succinct than Kant.

    Nevertheless, I think overcoming a book’s reputation for difficulty can often be as challenging as the book itself. It’s sort of like the movie

    —you hear the rumors, you see its fin surfacing in the distance, but you never get a good look at the beast until you get down in the water. Thankfully, Kant’s

    has not been known to eat people or destroy nautical vessels.

    I’m not sure how Kant got his reputation as a horrible writer. Certainly, he is far more turgid than Rousseau, Hume, Descartes, Nietzsche, or even Locke. But, unlike more modern prose disasters like Heidegger, he’s far from unreadable. Roughly on a par with Aristotle, I would say. Above all, the reader must pay close attention to his terminology. Kant is systematic—his goal is a perfect, self-contained whole that comprises every aspect of the universe. Bearing that in mind, one would expect his philosophy to be more dense and verbose than his predecessors.

    Another way that Kant is unlike some of his forerunners is that he is not a skeptic. He does not begin his investigations by doubting everything he can, but firmly believes in the possibility of human knowledge. Interestingly enough, before writing his three

    (which he started in his late fifties), Kant had done some work in the natural sciences, and was quite familiar with Newtonian physics. Being the perceptive man that he was, when Kant read David Hume (who, as Kant says in the

    , caused him to “awake from his dogmatic slumber”), he realized that Hume’s findings threw the entire scientific endeavor into severe doubt. So at least part of his goal in this work is to save the findings of science.

    One more tension Kant is trying to resolve is that between scientific explanations and free will. If the world is governed by immutable physical laws that can be described by equations (as Kant believed), how can free will exist? And, finally, what can we know about the universe? If we follow in Newton’s footsteps, can humans figure everything out? And, if so, what would be the consequences for religion?

    After reading Hume’s

    (which I would also recommend), Kant perceptively realized that, as human knowledge increases, God will seem less and less likely as an explanation for the natural world. Being a pious Christian, he reacts by attempting to set a firm limit to the reach of human knowledge. This effort, paradoxically, leads Kant to conclude that all metaphysical and logical ‘proofs’ of God’s existence are insufficient, and that humans will never be able to know for sure if there is a God. The upshot of this is that humans will also never by able to

    God’s existence, leaving room for faith.

    When I first read this book, I was very taken by his thinking, and found Kant to be a profound genius. Well, I still think he's a profound genius; but now, however, after reading more philosophy and reflecting on Kant’s system, I am somewhat less convinced, and think there are some fatal errors in his reasoning. That being said, nobody can deny that Kant is a superlative philosopher—scrupulous, methodical, fantastically ambitious—and deserves to be read, and read, and read again. After all, one doesn’t read philosophers in order to agree with them. Precisely the reverse.

  • Manny
    Nov 30, 2013

    Turgid, dogmatic, overrated and well past its sell-by.

    As Einstein exasperatedly said: if Kant had only been able to stop pontificating about the nature of time and space, he might actually have discovered something interesting about them. Einstein, with considerable justification, felt that he had refuted Kant, and was surprised to find that philosophers were reluctant to accept his claim. To me, it seems clear-cut. Kant repeatedly tells us that time and space are not things; but Eins

    Turgid, dogmatic, overrated and well past its sell-by.

    As Einstein exasperatedly said: if Kant had only been able to stop pontificating about the nature of time and space, he might actually have discovered something interesting about them. Einstein, with considerable justification, felt that he had refuted Kant, and was surprised to find that philosophers were reluctant to accept his claim. To me, it seems clear-cut. Kant repeatedly tells us that time and space are not things; but Einstein's insight is that this is wrong. Space-time is, indeed, a

    that we can roughly conceptualize as a kind of invisible fluid in which we have our physical being. Matter acts on space-time to change its shape, and space-time acts on matter to cause it to move. This interplay between space-time and matter is what we experience as gravity.

    Einstein has done far more than correct a detail. The most obvious consequence is that the greater part of the Antinomy of Pure Reason - a good hundred pages of Kant's book - is rendered invalid. Kant argues, roughly, that it is not meaningful to inquire about whether the universe is finite or infinite in space and time. The fact that time and space are things radically changes the situation. Contrary to Kant's claims, the whole of space-time is now also a thing. The question of whether it is finite or infinite turns out to be related to its curvature, which is something we can measure. Thus the finiteness of the universe is part of the world of phenomena, and astronomers during the last few decades have done a great deal of practical work investigating these questions.

    In the field of literature, Proust was as annoyed as Einstein. The following passage from

    (presented here with the Scott Moncrief translation) eloquently sums up his feelings:

    A brilliant and incalculably important book which more or less created modern thought.

    The difficulty of reconciling the world of sensations with the world of concepts is perhaps the central problem of philosophy. No one, before or since, has done it better than Kant did in the

    .

    I do not think it a coincidence that relativity and quantum mechanics, the great breakthroughs in twentieth century physics, were discovered by German-speaking scientists who were thoroughly acquainted with his work. Einstein's special theory of relativity crucially depends on the insight that different observers experience time and space differently. Lorentz had all the pieces of the jigsaw in front of him, but was unable to put them together into the realization that the "Lorentz contraction" cannot be conceptualized as an objective fact, but is rather observer-dependent. If he had been able to grasp this point, he would have gone down in history as the discoverer.

    Quantum mechanics is an even clearer case, where the Schrödinger equation is almost a direct translation of Kant's ideas into mathematical form. The unknowable wave-function represents the noumenal world; the world of phenomena is represented by the system of operators which act on it, where the operators themselves are the senses and their eigenvalues are the sense data. Though one point is oddly reversed with respect to Kant. There is the same duality between determinism and free will, but it is the world of

    that turns out to be deterministic, while the world of phenomena is not!

    The mark Kant made on literature is only slightly less telling. As I recently discovered in Gautier-Vignal's

    , Proust was fascinated by Kant, and the whole of the Recherche greatly influenced by his ideas. I must reread

    from this new perspective; I suspect that many things which puzzled me first time round will become clearer.

  • G.R. Reader
    Jan 01, 2014

    When I was about seven, my favorite movie was

    and Mom was dating this philosophy professor who was writing a book on Kant's

    . One day, I asked him what it was about, and he told me it was just like Chitty. It was a kind of magic car that - I can still remember his words - "was able to drive on the roads of sensation, float on the water of concepts, and even fly above the sea of transcendental illusion". And then he told me the whole story of Chitty

    When I was about seven, my favorite movie was

    and Mom was dating this philosophy professor who was writing a book on Kant's

    . One day, I asked him what it was about, and he told me it was just like Chitty. It was a kind of magic car that - I can still remember his words - "was able to drive on the roads of sensation, float on the water of concepts, and even fly above the sea of transcendental illusion". And then he told me the whole story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with Kant replacing Caractacus Potts and the Critique replacing Chitty. Truly Scrumptious was Modern Science, and Baron Bomburst was some philosopher I'd never heard of who didn't like metaphysics. We all sang the title song together with Mom's boyfriend's words, it started like this:

    I can't remember the rest.

    We all had a great time, and I decided that Kant was my second-favorite philosopher, after Mom's boyfriend. I was sure they were going to get married. And then a week later they had a big fight about synthetic a priori propositions and yelled at each other a lot, and he drove off and we never saw him again. I was very sad about it and told Mom not to be so serious about philosophy in future.

    I still love that song though.


Top Books is in no way intended to support illegal activity. We uses Search API to find the overview of books over the internet, but we don't host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners, please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them. Read our DMCA Policies and Disclaimer for more details.