Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysic

You will also become sure that since the demands

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Unformatted text preview: ut satisfying the demands that I shall state here demands on which its possibility depends. You will also become sure that since the demands never have been met, there has up till now been no such thing as metaphysics. But the search for metaphysics will continue, because the interests of human reason are so closely bound up with it; so you will agree that metaphysics is unstoppably on the road to a total reform (or, better, a new birth) on a wholly new plan, even if people struggle against it for a while. David Hume’s attack on metaphysics was more decisive for its fate than any other event since the Essays of Locke and Leibniz - actually, since the earliest recorded beginnings of metaphysics. He threw no light on this kind of knowledge, but he struck a 3 spark from which a light could have been kindled, if it had fallen on something flammable and the resultant smoulder had been nursed into flames. Hume’s primary starting-point was a single, though important, concept of metaphysics, namely that of the connection of cause with effect (including such derivative concepts as those of force and action and so on). Reason purports to have given birth to this concept, but Hume put to reason this challenge: Explain to me what entitles you to think there could be a thing x such that: given that there is x, there must necessarily also be something else y for that’s what the concept of cause says. He showed beyond question that it is completely impossible for reason to have - in an a priori way and purely through concepts ·with no input from experience· - the thought of such a union ·of x with y·, because the thought of such a union includes the thought of necessity. We cannot at all see why, given that one thing exists, some other thing necessarily must exist, or how the concept of such a connection could arise a priori. From this he inferred that reason is utterly deluded regarding the concept of cause, wrongly thinking it to be among her own children when really it is a bastard child of the imagination that was got in the family way by experience. What the imagination did ·according to Hume· was to consider certain sense-impressions that were related to one another by the law of association - ·so that, for instance, after experiencing many F impressions followed by G ones, one gets into the habit of expecting a G whenever one experiences an F, the habit becoming strong enough so that any new experience of an F compels one to expect a G· and to mistake a Ÿsubjective necessity (habit) for the Ÿobjective necessity arising from intellectually seeing what must be the case. He inferred from this that reason cannot come up with a thought of the form x is necessarily and objectively connected with y, or even with the general thought of that kind of connection. If reason did produce any such thought (Hume held), the concepts it involved would be purely fictitious, and all reason’s claims to a priori knowledge would be merely the deliverances of ordinary experience, wrongly labelled. What Hume was saying, in effect, was that metaphysics does not exist, could not possibly exist.1 Hume’s inference was hasty and wrong, but at least it was based on investigation; and this investigation thoroughly deserved ·a better response than it got. It ought· to have brought together the intelligent people of the time to search for a happier solution of Hume’s problem as he had formulated it; and if that had happened, a complete reform of the science ·of metaphysics· would have quickly followed. -----------------------------------1 Yet Hume called this destructive science of his ‘metaphysics’ and put a great price on it. ‘Metaphysics and morals’, he says, ‘are the most important branches of learning. Mathematics and natural science are not half so valuable.’ But all that this brilliant man had in his view was the negative work involved in damping down the extravagant claims of speculative reason and thus settling many endless and vexatious controversies that lead mankind astray. He lost sight of the positive harm that is done when reason is robbed of its most important vistas - which it needs if it is to mark out for the will its highest goal in all its endeavours. [This dark remark reflects views of Kant’s about reason’s link with freedom, and freedom’s link with morality.] 4 But metaphysicians have always suffered the misfortune of not being understood by anyone, and this is what happened to Hume. It really hurts to see how totally Hume’s opponents - Reid, Oswald, Beattie, and finally Priestley too - missed the point of his problem. They kept taking for granted things that he had called into question, and offered furious and often arrogant demonstrations of things he had never thought of questioning; so they didn’t pick up the pointer he had given to an improvement ·that metaphysics might undergo·. In this they failed so completely that at the end of the debate the status quo was still standing: it was as though nothing had happen...
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