Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysic

What was in question was whether reason could think

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Unformatted text preview: ed! Hume had never cast doubt on the proposition that the concept of cause is proper, useful, and even indispensable for our knowledge of nature; that was not in question. What was in question was whether reason could think that concept a priori. If it could, the concept of causation would be the source of an inner truth - truths coming just from itself, not from anything outside it given through experience - so that it could be applied to things other than merely the objects of experience. That was Hume’s problem. He was not challenging our indispensable need for the concept of cause, but merely asking what its origin is. If the origin was settled, questions about the conditions governing the use of the concept, and about the domain in which it can be validly used, would automatically have been answered also. To deal adequately with this problem, however, Hume’s opponents would have had to dig deeply into the nature of reason, considered as the faculty of pure thinking: not a job to their taste! They were more comfortable with a different approach, one that let them defy Hume without bringing any insight to his problem, namely by appealing to common sense. It is indeed a great gift from heaven to have plain common sense. But this common sense must be shown in practice, through judicious and reasonable thoughts and words, not by appealing to it as an oracle when one has no rational arguments to offer. Appeal to common sense when insight and science have failed you, but don’t appeal to it before then! - that ·rule of intellectual conduct· is one of the devious inventions of recent times, and it enables a shallow ranter to join battle with a solid thinker, and hold his own. But anyone with a flicker of insight left to him would be careful not to grasp at this straw. If you place this appeal to common sense in a clear light, you will see that it is nothing but an appeal to the opinion of the mob - whose applause embarrasses the philosopher but brings joy and reassurance to the popular smart alec. I should think that Hume had as much claim to sound common sense as Beattie did, and he also had something that Beattie lacked, namely a critical reason that restrains common sense so that Ÿit doesn’t speculate or, if speculations are the topic of discussion, Ÿit doesn’t crave for any decision when it isn’t satisfied that it has the arguments to support one. This is the only way someone’s common sense can remain sound. Chisels and hammers can serve very well in working wood, but for copperplate we need an engraver’s needle. Thus Ÿsound common sense and Ÿspeculative understanding are both useful, but each in its own way: Ÿthe former serves in judgments that apply immediately to experience, Ÿthe latter comes into play when universal judgments from mere concepts are to be made, as in metaphysics. In the latter environment sound common sense has absolutely no right to judge. 5 Here is an open confession about something that happened many years ago: it was my recollection of ·the thought of· David Hume that broke into my dogmatic slumber, and pointed my work in speculative philosophy in a completely new direction. I was nowhere near accepting his conclusions. He had reached them by looking at only a part of his problem - a part that by itself can give us no information. ·Still·, if we start from a wellfounded but undeveloped thought that someone else has left to us, we can hope that by continuing to think it through we shall get further than did the brilliant man to whom we owe the first spark of light. So I tried first to see whether Hume’s objection could be put into a general form, and I soon got a result: The concept of the cause-effect connection is far from being the only idea by which the understanding has a priori thoughts about the connections of things. On the contrary, metaphysics consists purely of such concepts - ·that is, concepts of the connections of things·. I tried to find out how many such concepts there are, and succeeded in this in the desirable way, namely by starting from a single principle. Then I proceeded to the deduction of these concepts, which I was now certain did not come from Ÿexperience (which is all that Hume provided for them) but rather from Ÿpure understanding. [By the phrase ‘the deduction of these concepts’ Kant refers to a theoretically grounded and justified list of the concepts in question - something that proves and explains why the metaphysical concepts of the connections of things are just exactly the ones on the list.] This deduction had seemed impossible to Hume; and apart from him nobody had even thought of it, although everyone had confidently used the ·metaphysical· concepts, without asking what their objective validity was based on. The deduction was the hardest task that anyone could tackle in the service of metaphysics; and the worst of it was that I could get no help from metaphysics as it then was, because this deduction is what’s need...
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