Exposition of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

216 pages,
ISBN: 0776604058

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Still Resonant Strangeness
by Susan Shell

Immanuel Kant's thought has in recent years enjoyed a considerable revival, and on disparate intellectual fronts, including analytic philosophy, critical theory, and political philosophy of a variety of sorts. James Morrison's first-time translation into English of Johann Schultz's Exposition of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is thus especially welcome, not only as a learned and relatively accessible summary of Kant's theoretical philosophy, but also as a pertinent indication of what Kant himself regarded as a suitable introduction to his work.
As Morrison's apt introduction makes clear, Schultz's Exposition, which was published in 1784, was undertaken with Kant's approval and encouragement. The first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason had come out in 1781, to a disappointing response. It had taken Kant eleven difficult years to write, and he had hoped that by the close of the century it might end philosophy's history as a war of opposing schools. But it was almost ignored when it was published. And when the first reviews did appear (Morrison includes the most important of these here), they were not only hostile but obtuse to the basic intentions of Kant's work, especially on the matter of his "idealism". It was largely with the intention of correcting this misunderstanding that he published a second edition of the Critique in 1787.
Kant's intellectual and personal friendship with Johann Schultz, a court chaplain and professor of mathematics at the University of Königsberg, began in 1770, with Schultz's favourable review of Kant's inaugural dissertation, On the Form and Principle of the Sensible and Intelligible World. Being both a mathematician and a churchman, Schultz was, it seems, especially well-suited to the dual task of presenting the argument of the Critique in outline form (after months of careful reading and re-reading) and of representing sympathetically its essentially practical, or moral, aim: Kant's famous intention to limit science in order to make room for faith.
General readers will find Schultz's work to be a serviceable and clear-but by no means breezy-summary of the first edition of the Critique. While helpful as an introduction to Kant's theoretical philosophy, it may be of even greater use as a guide to students already somewhat familiar with the Critique, who are attempting to gain greater understanding of this difficult work.
Schultz's summary faithfully follows the major divisions and subdivision of Kant's argument, but prunes it of digressions which, however important for a serious study of his thought, can get in the way of a preliminary sense of the argument as a whole. At the same time, this is not a purely neutral summary; it is especially geared to overcome a particular misreading. Kant's early readers tended to assimilate his position to the idealism of Berkeley, with which they were already acquainted. The only serious changes Kant made in the second edition were meant to distinguish what he called his own "transcendental idealism" from the "psychological idealism" of Berkeley and others. Since, however, the precise character of Kant's idealism is a long-contested issue, the special problem to which Schultz directs himself is by no means of merely historical interest.
What sort of idealist, then, was Kant, and how is that idealism related to the professedly "moral" intentions of his philosophy as a whole? He was wont to call himself, to the consternation and perplexity of subsequent generations, "a transcendental idealist" and an "empirical realist". He seems to have meant something like this: From the perspectives of ordinary common sense and pre-Kantian philosophy, idealism-or the claim that what we know is "in our minds"-and realism-or the claim that what we know is "really out there"-seem to be mutually exclusive. For Kant, on the contrary, idealism (albeit of a special kind) proves to be a necessary condition for our being able to have any "objective" knowledge of the world at all. Idealism, in other words, is the prerequisite for any realism that deserves the name. To know things "as they are in themselves"-as ordinary common sense mistakenly thinks that realism tells us we do-would mean to know things apart from their relation to ourselves, that is, in abstraction from the fact that they and we exist together in a common, interactive world.
Kant believed he had discovered that knowledge of the world presupposes a ruled, governed order, whose necessity cannot be attributed to anything other than our own minds. Hence his claim that time and space are "ideal": they shape the objects of our knowledge, but they cannot characterize things "in themselves". Kant's own "empirical realism", on the other hand, consists in his claim that our knowledge of objects in the world is no less real than are our inner thoughts and sensations-both "inner" sense and "outer" sense constitute our experience, and neither kind gives us direct access to things other than as they "appear to us."
Kant's arguments for this are, of course, complicated. Even as intelligent a précis as Schultz's does not fully convey them. Still, the following passage from the Exposition is surely helpful in indicating the underlying difficulty to which Kant meant to address himself. According to Schultz:
"All the supposed uncertainty about the existence of bodies rests on the mere delusion of hypostatizing that which exists only in our thoughts and accepting it as having the status of an actual object outside our soul. On just this delusion also rest all the famous difficulties one believes are to be found in questions about the possibility of the community of the soul with the body, the origin of the community of the soul with the body, the origin of this community, or the state of the soul at and before its birth and its end...For it seems extremely strange that a reciprocal connection can occur between things which are as dissimilar as our soul and matter...But precisely here lies the deception, that one views matter as a kind of substance completely different from and unlike our soul, and imagines that it actually exists outside us in the manner in which it appears to us, i.e., is represented in outer sense, namely as extended and in movement. On the contrary, matter exists only as it appears to us, not outside us but in us only as a thought like all other thoughts, even though this thought represents it by our outer sense as situated outside us. Consequently, the question is no longer about the community of the soul with other dissimilar substances outside it, but about the connection of the representation of our inner sense with the modifications of outer sensibility, i.e., how outer intuition, namely, the intuition of space and what fills it, is possible in a thinking subject as such. But no man can answer this question....The resolution of all the difficulties one thinks are to be found in questions about the state of the soul before our birth and after our death depends on this as well."
This gloss, while hardly transparent, does suggest the fundamental "strangeness" surrounding our existence as embodied thinking beings, to which Kant meant to respond. Despite the somewhat old-fashioned language in which Schultz expresses that concern, it is one with which modern sensibilities continue to resonate. For we are arguably no further along than Kant and his contemporaries in fathoming a central dilemma to which modern thought, and above all modern science, gives rise: how to comprehend the whole of which we are a part. This resonance, indeed, may go some way toward explaining the newly revived appeal of Kant to thinkers who see themselves on the cutting edges (however differently conceived) of modernism and beyond.
For Kant, the strangeness of our situation was best met by a self-imposed modesty about the powers of theoretical reason, a modesty that freed man for unqualified allegiance to the dictates of moral conscience and the freedom to which conscience testifies. The upshot was a vision of human dignity impregnable to the claims and discoveries of physical science. Kant anticipated science's continuing efforts to master nature-including aspects of human nature. The adequacy of his response, let alone his starting-point, is a question philosophers and scholars will continue to debate. Still, students of Kant interested in pursuing this task have reason to be grateful for Morrison's edition of an interesting and revealing clue toward that effort.
Morrison's translation of the Exposition is supplemented by translations of Schultz's review of Kant's inaugural dissertation, three historically relevant reviews by others of the Critique of Pure Reason, and the Kant-Schultz correspondence.
The volume also includes a very helpful general introduction, and a bibliography of Schultz's works of special use to readers interested in delving more deeply into the details of Kant's and Schultz's relationship or in understanding Schultz in his own right.

Susan Shell is Professor of Political Science at Boston College and the author, most recently, of The Embodiment of Reason: Kant on Spirit, Generation, and Community (University of Chicago Press, 1996).


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