Dennis Schulting on Robert Hanna’s “Cognition, Content, and the A Priori”


ROBERT HANNA | Cognition, Content, and the A Priori. A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge | Oxford University Press 2015


By Dennis Schulting

Renowned philosopher and Kant scholar Robert Hanna’s most recent book Cognition, Content, and the A Priori. A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge is probably his most ambitious to date. It’s also an exhilarating read: an exemplarily lucid, fast-paced philosophical thriller replete with pithy nuggets of philosophical substance and in addition, as the allspice added to the main ingredient, jesting but no less scathing in-house attacks on the elementary dogmas set in stone and religiously patrolled by the vanguard of analytical philosophy. In his critique published earlier last January, David Landy focussed on Hanna’s topic of nonconceptualism, a main theme of the book. I have dealt with that subject in the past and also again in my own forthcoming book (Schulting 2017), and I think I have said enough about it. I personally believe Kantian nonconceptualism is now dead and buried, and the less said about it, the better. I say this with not a little irony, only very recently having edited myself an entire volume on the topic. I firmly believe though that whatever continues to be written about it can only be a repetition of past moves: it seems to me that every conceivable worthwhile position has been made sufficiently clear in the existing literature (see e.g. the most recent here).

For this notice, I therefore set out to concentrate on Chapters 4 and 5, which consider the far more interesting more strictly logical side of the subjects dealt with in Hanna’s book (most of my comments concern Chapter 4). I came away with the strong feeling—I always suspected it—that (a) the likes of Quine and especially Kripke and their latter-day acolytes can without regret be cast out from the canon, regardless of the misleading sophistication of their and their disciples’ logico-metaphysical puzzles, and, more intriguingly even, that (b) analytic philosophy as we know it is in fact not analytic philosophy properly speaking, or at least, cannot account for itself—which is kind of odd, to say the least, for an approach to philosophy that prides itself on its rigour. Hanna’s book should be read by any philosopher, in particular, self-declared analytic philosophers, worth their salt, especially as there are some substantial things about a core aspect of philosophy, certainly analytic philosophy, at stake that Hanna discusses in this important, somewhat unorthodox book, and which I would like to highlight here in terms of the Kantian context of the book and invite Hanna to cast some more light on.

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