Julian Wuerth - Kant's Immediatism, Pre-Critique

Journal of the History of Philosophy 44 (4):489-532 (2006)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Journal of the History of Philosophy 44.4 (2006) 489-532 MuseSearchJournalsThis JournalContents[Access article in PDF]Kant's Immediatism, Pre-CritiqueJulian WuerthAs the author of a copernican revolution in philosophy, 1 Kant argues that philosophy begins with the study of the self. 2 To grasp the scope and nature of [End Page 489] knowledge in natural science, ethics, and aesthetics, we must first understand the self and its faculties of representation, pleasure, and desire, respectively. 3 While the literature acknowledges the foundational role of Kant's account of the self in his system of philosophy, it typically focuses on Kant's isolated conclusions about a priori concepts, or on the ontology of the self solely as Kant presents it in his rejection of rational psychology. The result is a gap in the commentary. The place of these conclusions in a single, broader account of the self, and the positive ontological status of this self, remains largely a mystery. These shortcomings are related: Kant's account of the ontology of the self provides the background for understanding the unity and interrelations of the many different powers of the self and their accidents, including a priori concepts. [End Page 490]A recent spate of literature on Kant's account of the self addresses important components of this account but perpetuates some traditional methodological weaknesses. The often original commentaries by Patricia Kitcher, Thomas Powell, and Wayne Waxman stick to frontline issues such as Kant's Paralogisms, his accounts of different faculties of representation, and his Transcendental Deduction, for example; they do not examine Kant's underlying positive ontology of the self, his more general ontology of substance, powers, and accidents, or the other faculties that Kant ascribes to the self. 4 This traditional orientation reflects a problematic research methodology: these accounts do not consider any of Kant's voluminous recorded thought from before the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), even though Kant published the Critique when he was already fifty-seven years old, after decades of detailed, systematic, and largely consistent studies of the self. These interpretations instead rely almost exclusively on the Critique and rarely even consult Kant's many other post-1781 sources. They accordingly focus on the faculties highlighted in the Critique, namely the various faculties of representation and not the faculties of pleasure or desire, and they take the Critique's pithy and notoriously cryptic chapter on the Paralogisms as a full statement of the soul's ontology. Unfortunately, the Paralogisms present only a negative account of the soul's ontology, not a complete one. These interpretations therefore understand Kant's rejection of [End Page 491] the intemperate rationalist arguments—which hold that the conclusions of the soul's simplicity and substantiality imply the soul's permanence, incorruptibility, and immortality—as Kant's rejection of all ontologically significant conclusions of the soul's substantiality and simplicity, even more temperate ones that do not imply the soul's permanence, incorruptibility, and immortality.Although these interpretations—united in their view that Kant rejects the substantiality of the soul in any ontologically significant sense—may at first seem viable if we consider only the Paralogisms, a closer look at the Paralogisms reveals significant problems, a look beyond the Paralogisms shows that these interpretations are repeatedly contradicted, and application of these interpretations when approaching other doctrines in Kant's philosophy repeatedly leads us down dead-ends. Thus Kant states in the Paralogisms, and in many other places after the Critique, that the soul is a substance, understood in the most basic ontological sense of the pure category of substance. 5 And Kant claims that the soul has powers and accidents, while at the same time repeatedly making clear that accidents (unlike mere logical predicates) are a form of existence and that all existence is grounded in substance, either being substance or a determination, or mode, of substance. Without Kant's concept of noumenal substance, his concepts of the soul's accidents and powers are rendered incoherent, frustrating our understanding of many other Kantian doctrines, including Kant's critique of rational psychology...

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Julian Wuerth
Vanderbilt University

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