Monday 31 January 2011

Some Pertinent Questions About Kant Scholarship

Over at the Notre Dame Philosophical Review there is a piece by Corey Dyck reviewing the recent collection edited by Paul Guyer The Cambridge Companion to the Critique of Pure Reason. One of the central points Dyck makes in the review of the volume is that it continues to perpetuate a very simple view of early modern philosophy, trading on a basic dichotomy of rationalists and empiricists. This kind of division has not been taken very easily for granted for sometime within the scholarship on early modern philosophy as is known by anyone conversant with the argument concerning what it means to be termed an "empiricist". There is also an ongoing research programme over at Otago University that focuses specifically on the retrieval of the idea that the real dichotomy in early modern philosophy was not between rationalists and empiricists but between speculative and experimental philosophers, an argument they have recently brought out as important also for the reading of the Critique of Pure Reason. 

Over at New APPS Eric Schliesser has further pointed to the educative value of Eric Watkins'  recent book Kant's Critique of Pure Reason: Background Source Materials which provides the novel service of bringing to the English-language reader portions of the works of Alexander Baumgarten, Christian Wolff, Euler, Tetens, Martin Knutzen and Crusius. In other words, authors Kant knew and read!

Schliesser's main point in drawing attention to the Watkins' collection is to emphasize the variety of the so-called "rationalist" tradition of Kant's time. It is worth more work to think through the relationship between Kant and Leibniz in view of all these intermediaries in between the two thinkers, something Watkins himself has been important in stressing.

The early modern period has even more odd elements  since many of the so-called "rationalist" thinkers stress a number of experimental elements of thinking whilst some "empiricists" are signally "dogmatic" in refusing to do so (and Kant described Locke as a "dogmatist" in some parts of the Critique). The kind of scholarship that simply repeats established conventions that have their origin in undergraduate conveniences is certainly problematic and it is right to bring out the need for much more investigation of both the diversity of early modern philosophy and the complexity that should be seen to be at issue in the variety of challenges the Critique presented to earlier metaphysics.

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