OLIVER THORNDYKE | Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy. Concerning the Opus Postumum and Metaphysics of Morals | Bloomsbury 2018


 

By Robert Hanna

Sadly for Kantians, there are at least ten fundamental gaps in Kant’s Critical philosophy:

(i) formal vs. material in the theoretical philosophy and the practical philosophy alike,

(ii) a priori vs. a posteriori in the theoretical philosophy and the practical philosophy alike,

(iii) the non-manifest ontology of noumena vs. the manifest ontology of phenomena,

(iv) freedom vs. nature,

(v) scientific knowing (Wissen) vs. faith (Glaube),

(vi) understanding vs. sensibility (that is, concepts/conceptual content vs. intuitions/essentially non-conceptual content),

(vii) the categories vs. all the particular appearances (that are supposed to be) subsumed under them (aka the gap in the Transcendental Deduction),

(viii) pure practical reason vs. affect/desire/emotion in the metaphysics of morals,

(ix) natural mechanism vs. teleology,

and

(x) the neo-Hobbesian liberal nation-State, according to ‘the axiom of right’, and the empirical fact of human egoism vs. the (in effect, even if not by name) social anarchist cosmopolitan ethical community, according to ‘the axiom of virtue’, a good will, and the Idea of the Highest Good, aka the Idea of God.

Correspondingly, what I have called Kant’s post-Critical philosophy from 1788 through to the end of the 1790s,[1] is all about how to mind those gaps, by which I mean how to bridge them, mediate between them, negotiate them, schematise them, and/or somehow learn how to affirm them and live with them philosophically.

In Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy, Oliver Thorndyke is absolutely bang-on correct to point up the existence of gaps (i), (ii), and (viii), and also bang-on correct to insist on the philosophical integrity of ‘Kant’s late philosophy’—or in my terminology, as per the immediately preceding sentence, ‘Kant’s post-Critical philosophy’—as an extended attempt to carry out two parallel but distinct ‘transition projects’ in the face of the three gaps he identifies, or in my terminology, to mind the gaps. Nevertheless, at least in this book, Thorndyke overlooks gaps (iii) through (vii) and gaps (ix) to (x), and also focuses too narrowly on the late 1790s in his thinking about Kant’s late philosophy/post-Critical philosophy, thereby overlooking the genuinely post-Critical character of the Second and Third Critiques and Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.

Even more importantly, Thorndyke also fails to tell a convincing story about how Kant proposes to mind any of the gaps, by concentrating solely on an what I shall call an orthodox, bog standard contemporary Kant-scholarly approach to interpreting the two transition projects he identifies in terms of gaps (i), (ii), and (viii), namely an approach that it is purely regulative and epistemic. As a consequence, Thorndyke ultimately concludes (see below) that Kant’s two transition projects both fail. But Thorndyke’s ultimate conclusion, it also seems to me, not only fails to identify the (at least) seven other gaps and Kant’s ongoing struggles with them in the post-Critical period, but also overlooks any possibility of a what I shall call an unorthodox, non-standard contemporary Kantian approach to interpreting the gaps and transition projects that is robustly constitutive and metaphysical, and yet neither subjective idealist nor noumenal realist, but instead manifest realist. If this unorthodox, non-standard approach to interpreting the gaps and transition projects is correct, then Kant’s post-Critical philosophy (might have) actually succeeded and not failed as Thorndyke claims.

So this, in a nutshell, is my basic criticism of Thorndyke’s book:  Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy is certainly on the right track about the existence of fundamental gaps in the Critical philosophy and also about Kant’s transition project(s) in the post-Critical period. And therefore this book is to be applauded, and should certainly be read by anyone interested in the Critical philosophy. But at the same time, Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy does not go even remotely far enough down the track it so rightly lights up, and thus it cannot recognise how all of Kant’s ten transition projects (might have) actually succeeded.

A Synopsis of Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Here is Thorndyke’s own synopsis of his overall argument:

This study sets out by asking, “What philosophical problem does the Transition Project of the Opus postumum address?” The central insight gained by addressing  this question is that the issue of  a transition, that is, the problem of a lawful transition from the metaphysical foundations of the cognition of nature to empirical physics, originates in Kant’s very conception of the critical philosophy and its strict separation of formal from material aspects of knowledge. The issue of systematic knowledge of the empircal on a priori grounds is in fact not a new project. Rather it is at the heart of critical philosophy and had occupied for many years…. The continuity of Kant’s Transition Project is the first result of this study. (p. 237)

In the time period of 1796-8, which is the main focus of this study, Kant’s vehicle for addressing the issue of the lawful progression from the a priori to the empirical, or—what is the flip side of the same problem—the systematicity of the empirical, is a theory of schematism or mediating concepts. This is the second result of this book. (pp. 237-238)

The problem of systematic knowledge of the empirical on a priori grounds is not unique to Kant’s theoretical philosophy. There is also a Transition Project in Kant’s practical philosophy [in the Metaphysics of Morals]. This is the third result of the study. (p. 239)

Since the moral law itself is an unschematized [I]dea of reason, agents cannot be directly attentive to it. I have argued that to be attentive to the moral law means, for Kant, to be attentive to our conscience and self-respect, and so-on (i.e., the fourfold structure of moral aesthetic responsiveness) insofar as these are sensible expressions of the moral law. This is the fourth result of this book. (p. 239)

Kant cannot inject the right kind of necessity into his mediating concepts of the Transition (i.e., the categorical determinations of the different types of moving forces and obligations), because they are generated independently of the categories. The 1796-8 Transition Project thus fails. This is the fifth result. (p. 241)

Kant’s Transition Project is an expression of his key insight that a pure, formal metaphysical foundation must precede empirical lawgiving of whatever kind. Yet, if this foundation is not entirely pure, then, as the [natural] sciences and the empirical conditions of agency develop, it will be increasingly difficult to hold on to the results of Kant’s foundationalism. This does not necessarily mean that we need to discard transcendental idealism altogether. But I hope to have shown that any evaluation of the historical achievement of Kant’s critical philosophy must work with a clear view on what the Transition Project is, and why Kant thought it would bring his critical philosophy to completion. The contribution of this book can be seen in bringing to the fore that an accurate assessment of Kant’s critical philosophy requires an understanding of the Opus postumum and Kant’s parallel late writings on practical philosophy. (pp. 241-242)

So that is what Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy is all about.

As I mentioned earlier, I think that Thorndyke’s book is certainly on the right track about the existence of fundamental gaps in the Critical philosophy and also about the existence of Kant’s transition project(s) in the post-Critical period; and therefore Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy is to be applauded, and should certainly be read by anyone interested in the Critical philosophy. But at the same time, as I also mentioned, I think that Thorndyke’s book does not go even remotely far enough down the track it so rightly starts down, and thus it cannot recognise how all of Kant’s ten transition projects (might have) actually succeeded.

The road to arriving at an interpretative standpoint from which it can be seen that Kant’s post-Critical philosophy (might have) actually succeeded, is to go radically beyond the orthodox, bog standard purely regulative and epistemic Kant-scholarly approach to the gaps and transition projects, to an unorthodox, non-standard robustly constitutive and metaphysical Kantian approach to the gaps and transition projects that is neither subjective idealist nor noumenal realist but instead manifest realist. In the next section, I shall spell out that ‘crazy’ thought just a little more.

How Kant (Might Have) Actually Minded the Gaps

How might Kant’s ten ‘gap-minding’ or transition projects during the post-Critical period from the late 1780s through the 1790s have actually succeeded? Let me count the ways.

First, with respect to the (i)-gap between formal and material in the theoretical philosophy and the practical philosophy alike, and also with respect to the (ii)-gap between a priori and a posteriori in the theoretical and practical philosophy alike, Kant explicitly or at least implicitly postulates an ‘impure a priori’ dynamic æther in his post-Critical metaphysics of nature, and a structuralist hierarchy of moral principles in his post-Critical practical philosophy.[2]

Second, with respect to the (iii)-gap between the non-manifest ontology of noumena and the manifest ontology of phenomena, Kant explicitly or at least implicitly postulates a radical agnosticism about the existence or non-existence of things in themselves together with methodological eliminativism, and an empirical realism of authentic appearances, in his post-Critical epistemology and ontology.[3]

Third, with respect to the (iv)-gap between freedom vs nature, Kant explicitly or at least implicitly postulates a biologically-driven, embodied agency theory of freedom in his post-Critical metaphysics of rational agency.[4]

Fourth, with respect to the (v)-gap between scientific knowing (Wissen) and faith (Glaube), Kant explicitly or at least implicitly postulates practical foundations for the exact sciences and scientific pietism in his post-Critical epistemology and philosophy of science.[5]

Fifth, with respect to the (vi)-gap between understanding and sensibility (or between concepts/conceptual content and intuitions/essentially non-conceptual content), Kant explicitly or at least implicitly postulates strong or essentialist non-conceptualism in his post-Critical cognitive semantics.[6]

Sixth, with respect to the (vii)-gap betweeen the categories and all the particular appearances supposed be to subsumed under them (the gap in the Transcendental Deduction), Kant explicitly or at least implicitly postulates an affirmation of the gap and also a corresponding doctrine of the necessary limits of the formal and natural sciences in his post-Critical metaphysics of nature and philosophy of science.[7]

Seventh, with respect to the (viii)-gap between pure practical reason and affect/desire/emotion in the metaphysics of morals, Kant explicitly or at least implicitly postulates what I call The Affect of Reason and Kantian non-intellectualism in his post-Critical practical philosophy and theory of rational agency.[8]

Eighth, with respect to the (ix)-gap between natural mechanism and teleology, Kant explicitly or at least implicitly postulates manifest organicism in his post-Critical metaphysics of nature.[9]

Ninth and finally, with respect to the (x)-gap between the neo-Hobbesian liberal nation-State, according to ‘the axiom of right’, and the empirical fact of human egoism and the in effect, if not by name, social anarchist cosmopolitan ethical community, according to ‘the axiom of virtue’, a good will, and the Idea of the Highest Good, a.k.a the Idea of God, Kant explicitly or at least implicitly postulates what I call Radical Enlightenment and Left Kantianism in his post-Critical political philosophy and philosophical theology/philosophy of religion.[10]

Obviously I cannot even begin adequately to work out and defend these ‘crazy’ claims in this short critical review—although I have worked them out and defended them as best I can, in the articles and books cited in the notes. All I want to insist on, here, are (i) that such an unorthodox, non-standard approach to Kant’s (Critical and) post-Critical philosophy is at least really possible, and (ii) that I strongly encourage other contemporary Kantians to liberate themselves from the hegemony of the orthodox, bog standard approach and pursue this track too.

Notes:

[1] See also Hall (2014).

[2] See Hanna (2006a), ch. 8 and Hanna (2018a), ch. 2.

[3] See Hanna (2017a).

[4] See Hanna (2006a), ch. 8, Hanna (2006b), Hanna & Moore (2006), and Hanna (2009).

[5] See Hanna (2006a), pt II, Hanna (2016a), and Hanna (2018b).

[6] See Hanna (2008) and Hanna (2011a).

[7] See Hanna (2011b), Hanna (2016b), and Hanna (forthcoming).

[8] See Hanna (2018d), ch. 3.

[9] See Hanna (2014).

[10] See Hanna (2017b, c) and Hanna (2018c).

References:

Hall, B. (2014), The Post-Critical Kant: Understanding the Critical Philosophy Through the Opus Postumum (London: Routledge, 2014).

Hanna, R. (2006a), Kant, Science, and Human Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

——— (2006b), ‘Kant, Causation, and Freedom’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 36: 281–306.

——— (2008), ‘Kantian Non-Conceptualism’, Philosophical Studies 137: 41–64.

——— (2009), ‘Freedom, Teleology, and Rational Causation’, Kant Yearbook 1: 99–142.

——— (2011a), ‘Beyond the Myth of the Myth: A Kantian Theory of Non-Conceptual Content’, International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19: 321–96.

——— (2011b), ‘Kant’s Non-Conceptualism, Rogue Objects, and the Gap in the B Deduction’, reprinted in International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19: 397–413.

——— (2014), ‘Kant’s Anti-Mechanism and Kantian Anti-Mechanism’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Science 45: 112–16.

——— (2016a), ‘Kant, Scientific Pietism, and Scientific Naturalism‘, Revista Filosofia Aurora 44: 583–604.

——— (2016b), ‘Kantian Madness: Blind Intuitions, Essentially Rogue Objects, Nomological Deviance, and Categorial Anarchy‘, Contemporary Studies in Kantian Philosophy 1: 44–64.

——— (2017a), ‘Kant, Radical Agnosticism, and Methodological Eliminativism about Things-in-Themselves’Contemporary Studies in Kantian Philosophy 2.

——— (2017b), ‘Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature‘, Con-Textos Kantianos 5.

——— (2017c), ‘Why the Better Angels of Our Nature Must Hate the State‘, Con-Textos Kantianos 6.

——— (2018a), Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy—The Rational Human Condition, Part 4

——— (2018b), ‘Kant, Natural Piety, and the Limits of Science’, in P. Kauark Leite (ed.), Ensaios Sobre Kant, Sciênzia e Natureza Humana (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Via Verita/Via Verita Books).

——— (2018c), ‘Kant and Cosmopolitanism Reconsidered’Critique (February issue).

——— (2018d), Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics—The Rational Human Condition, Part 3.

——— (forthcoming), ‘Kant’s B Deduction, Cognitive Organicism, the Limits of Natural Science, and The Autonomy of Consciousness’, in G. Motta & D. Schulting (eds), Kant’s Transcendental Deduction of the Categories: New Interpretations (Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter).

Hanna, R. & A. W. Moore (2006), ‘Reason, Freedom, and Kant: An Exchange’, Kantian Review 11: 112–32.

© Robert Hanna, 2018.


Robert Hanna is the Director of the Contemporary Kantian Philosophy project. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1989, and has held research or teaching positions at the University of Cambridge, the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, the University of Luxembourg, PUC-PR Brazil, Yale, and York University, Canada. His work has a broadly Kantian orientation, and he also has strong interests in the history of modern philosophy from Bacon/Hobbes/Descartes to contemporary philosophy, in the philosophy of nature and natural science, and in critical meta-philosophy. He has authored or co-authored six books, published with Oxford University Press, MIT Press, and Palgrave Macmillan. The first four volumes of a five-book series on the nature of human rationality, entitled The Rational Human Condition, are forthcoming from Nova Science. The Mind-Body politic, co-edited with Michele Maiese, is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan.

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