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Kant's Critical Philosophy (2 Part Course)

Lecturers: Marc Hiatt, Philip Quadrio and Paul Daniels

Originally Taught: Winter School 2009

In 1784, Kant (1724 – 1804) wrote a short essay in response to a question set by the Berlinische Monatsschrift entitled, “Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?” The essay, brilliant in its brevity and directness, proposed that the catchcry of the Enlightenment should be Sapere aude! or Dare to be wise! True to his word, Kant embarked on expanding his critical philosophy, then well underway following the 1781 publication of the Critique of Pure Reason. By the end of his career Kant had also developed an extensive moral and aesthetic philosophy interwoven with his metaphysics, the depth and reach of which has had a lasting influence in philosophy and continues to register an impact in modern thought.

His epistemological position, transcendental idealism, arose out a philosophical landscape defined by the competing schools of rationalism and empiricism (thinkers such as Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley and Hume). Through a novel theory of space and time, Kant asserts that the subject can learn the limits of its reasoning powers, and that with these limits established we can also learn which questions are philosophically legitimate and which, indeed, have certain answers. Transcendental idealism’s success derives from its attempt to leap beyond the traditional ontological distinctions of his predecessors – but are such distinctions simply replaced by equally puzzling and debatable ones, such as that between the phenomena of empirical objects versus the reality of noumena?

In the realm of moral philosophy Kant is famous for his assertion that in order to act morally, the subject must freely follow his reason-determined duty with complete disregard for the empirical circumstances at hand. There is an elegant simplicity to Kant’s position, but this can distract us from the more practical problems associated with this moral philosophy. Kant is aware of these problems and offers a spirited defence, pointing to the interior features of his moral philosophy: the transcendental apparatus which underwrites his tract on moral action: the freedom of the subject, the afterlife and God.

Kantian aesthetics vaulted the beautiful and the sublime into the acme of philosophy, and centred on his claim that the beautiful and the sublime are neither empirical nor ideal, harking back to the kernel of transcendental idealism. With his contention that the aesthetics of art and nature involves the play or contest of the faculties of ordinary experience, Kant also paved the way for the third critique to posit a worldview capable of uniting our potentially conflicting conceptions of metaphysics and morality. Is this agenda of the third critique successful?  Can Kant’s system be regarded as complete – and sustainable?

This course will be taught at an intermediate level – that is, knowledge of some aspect of Kant’s philosophy, preferably of the first critique, is recommended. Our aim is to provide an overview which is as detailed as time will allow, and which will bring into focus the three main streams of the Kantian philosophy so as to elucidate their interconnectedness and interdependence.

Week One:
Monday – Thursday: Sapere aude! and the Critique of Pure Reason – Inside and outside Kant’s limits of reason (Marc)
Friday: Kant’s moral philosophy I – The deontological position, the philosophy of the categorical imperative (Philip)

Week Two:
Monday: Kant’s moral philosophy II – How is morality philosophically/critically possible? (Philip)
Tuesday – Friday: The Critique of the Power of Judgment – the beautiful, the sublime and the architectonic of Kant’s critiques (Paul)

Suggested Reading

  • Deleuze, Gilles, Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of The Faculties, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003)

Deleuze’s book provides a brief and readable 75 page introduction to the corpus comprising Kant’s critical philosophy. For more detailed introductions to each of the three critiques respectively, see:

  • Gardner, Sebastian, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason (London: Routledge, 1999)
  • Schneewind, J. B., “Autonomy, Obligation and Virtue: An Overview of Kant’s Moral Philosophy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Kant, ed. Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 309 – 341
  • Wicks, Robert, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kant on Judgment (London: Routledge, 2007)