Kant and Skepticism

Kant and Skepticism

Michael N. Forster
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 168
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sjxs
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  • Book Info
    Kant and Skepticism
    Book Description:

    This book puts forward a much-needed reappraisal of Immanuel Kant's conception of and response to skepticism, as set forth principally in theCritique of Pure Reason. It is widely recognized that Kant's theoretical philosophy aims to answer skepticism and reform metaphysics--Michael Forster makes the controversial argument that those aims are closely linked. He distinguishes among three types of skepticism: "veil of perception" skepticism, which concerns the external world; Humean skepticism, which concerns the existence of a priori concepts and synthetic a priori knowledge; and Pyrrhonian skepticism, which concerns the equal balance of opposing arguments. Forster overturns conventional views by showing how the first of these types was of little importance for Kant, but how the second and third held very special importance for him, namely because of their bearing on the fate of metaphysics. He argues that Kant undertook his reform of metaphysics primarily in order to render it defensible against these types of skepticism. Finally, in a critical appraisal of Kant's project, Forster argues that, despite its strengths, it ultimately fails, for reasons that carry interesting broader philosophical lessons. These reasons include inadequate self-reflection and an underestimation of the resources of Pyrrhonian skepticism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2440-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. PART I: EXPOSITION
    • Chapter One Varieties of Skepticism
      (pp. 3-5)

      In the first part of this essay I shall give a general exposition of the role of skepticism in Kant’s critical philosophy. In the second part, I shall offer a critical assessment of the Kantian position that emerges.

      The critical philosophy, as first set forth by Kant in theCritique of Pure Reasonof 1781/7 (henceforth: theCritique), grew from and addresses a very complex set of philosophical concerns. But among these, two which stand out as especially central are a concern to addressskepticismand a concern to develop a reformedmetaphysics.

      That much is widely recognized. However, it...

    • Chapter Two “Veil of Perception” Skepticism
      (pp. 6-12)

      Philosophers in the Anglophone tradition tend to be in the habit of assuming that skepticism can be equated with, or at least has its paradigmatic form in, Berkeley’s problem of a “veil of perception.” Accordingly, many, if not most, Kant-interpreters in the Anglophone tradition write as though this problem were central to the critical philosophy.¹ However, such a picture of the critical philosophy seems to me fundamentally mistaken. Unlike the other two types of skepticism recently mentioned, “veil of perception” skepticism played no significant role in the origination of the critical philosophy, and no more than a secondary role in...

    • Chapter Three Skepticism and Metaphysics (a Puzzle)
      (pp. 13-15)

      TheCritiqueis primarily a book about metaphysics (as can already be seen from the thematic focus of its two prefaces, for instance). Accordingly, the types of skepticism thatdidplay a crucial role in the origination of the critical philosophy and that itismainly concerned to address are instead certain types of skepticism which threaten metaphysics specifically.

      Whatwas“metaphysics” for Kant? The discipline’s origins of course lay in Aristotle’sMetaphysics, which had contained two different conceptions of it in uneasy combination with each other: a conception of it as a science of being as such (book gamma),...

    • Chapter Four Kant’s Pyrrhonian Crisis
      (pp. 16-20)

      The letter to Garve is alluding to acrise pyrrhonienne, in the strict sense of a skeptical crisis based on the principles of the ancient Pyrrhonists, which came to dominate Kant’s attitude to the discipline of metaphysics in the mid-1760s.

      The allusion is slightly inaccurate, or at least misleading, in that it suggests that Kant’s original escape from dogmatic metaphysics was due to the impulse of precisely the four Antinomies expounded in theCritique. A more careful formulation would rather have said (1) that it was due to the impulse of a family of problems which shared the same general...

    • Chapter Five Humean Skepticism
      (pp. 21-32)

      Let us now consider the other skeptical impulse which, according to Kant, this time in theProlegomena, awoke him from his dogmatic metaphysical slumber and gave his philosophy a new direction: “David Hume’s reminder.” The general nature of this reminder is clear enough from theProlegomena: Hume’s skeptical reflections concerning causation. It is much less clear, though, exactly what it was in Hume’s rather various skeptical reflections on causation that awoke Kant, when it did so, and how it did so. Let me therefore attempt to answer those questions.

      Close examination of theProlegomena—and of a corresponding discussion of...

    • Chapter Six Kant’s Reformed Metaphysics
      (pp. 33-39)

      We have now identified the skeptical problems concerning metaphysics to which Kant in his letter to Garve and in theProlegomenaattributes his escape from dogmatic slumber in the discipline, and we have seen when and how they roused him. Let us next consider Kant’s attempt in the critical philosophy to generate a reformed metaphysics which could be defended against those problems, and his attempt there so to defend it.

      I shall begin by trying to say what the reformed metaphysics of the critical philosophy is like (this turns out to be a more difficult task than one might have...

    • Chapter Seven Defenses against Humean Skepticism
      (pp. 40-43)

      Let us, then, consider Kant’s defense of his reformed “metaphysics of nature” against the Pyrrhonian and the Humeinfluenced skeptical problems. I shall begin with the Humeinfluenced problems, those concerning the existence and reference of a priori concepts and the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge. For, as we shall see, Kant’s solution to the Pyrrhonian problem builds on his solutions to these.

      As I have already indicated, Kant’s first line of defense here is to point to apparently clear examples of a priori concepts whichdoexist and refer and to apparently clear examples of synthetic a priori principles which...

    • Chapter Eight Defenses against Pyrrhonian Skepticism
      (pp. 44-51)

      What, next, about the Pyrrhonian problem of a balance of opposing arguments in metaphysics? How does the critical philosophy undertake to save its reformed metaphysics fromthisskeptical problem?

      The first point which deserves emphasis here is that Kant evidently saw his solution to the Hume-influenced problems as the key to solving this Pyrrhonian problem as well. This can be seen from the following passage in theCritique: “The proper problem of pure reason is contained in the question: How are a priori synthetic judgments possible? [I.e., one of the Humeinfluenced problems.—M.N.F.] That metaphysics has hitherto remained in so...

  5. PART II: CRITICAL ASSESSMENT
    • Chapter Nine Some Relatively Easy Problems
      (pp. 55-57)

      I turn now from pure exposition of Kant’s project to some critical assessment of it. I shall begin in this chapter with a consideration of two apparent problems which in fact have fairly straightforward and satisfactory solutions, before proceeding in subsequent chapters to further problems which may be more troublesome. It is my hope that this exercise will shed a little further exegetical light on Kant’s project, test its strengths and weaknesses, and also suggest some philosophical morals of broader significance.

      A first apparent problem is this rather basic one: Why, given its striking differences from the “metaphysics” of the...

    • Chapter Ten A Metaphysics of Morals?
      (pp. 58-62)

      We should now turn to some potentially more serious problems. In this chapter I would like to consider Kant’s ambiguous position concerning a “metaphysics of morals.” It seems to me that he in fact adopts at least two quietly but radically different positions on this subject during the critical period—first a position which turns out to be flatly self-contradictory, then later a position which avoids such crass inconsistency but which may still be vulnerable to other objections. I shall here concentrate mainly on distinguishing these two positions and identifying the self-contradiction in the first one, merely indicating more briefly...

    • Chapter Eleven Failures of Self-Reflection
      (pp. 63-75)

      Kantʼs project also seems to face some more fundamental problems, however. As I mentioned earlier, in addition to his “metaphysics of nature,” he also recognizes a further component of his new science of metaphysics, namely a more fully developed version of the “science of the bounds of human reason” which he had first identified as metaphysics inDreams of a Spirit Seer, and which in its mature form includes all of theCritique’svarious justifications, explanations, and limitations of the sources of a priori knowledge. As I also noted, though, he only allows this further component of his new metaphysics...

    • Chapter Twelve The Pyrrhonist’s Revenge
      (pp. 76-91)

      A final, and perhaps the most fundamental, problem for Kant’s project which should be discussed might be dubbedthe Pyrrhonist’s revenge.

      As I have emphasized, Kant interprets Pyrrhonism as modest in the scope of its skeptical attack, in particular as normally exempting empirical, mathematical, moral, and logical claims—and instead focusing its attack just on the claims of metaphysics.

      Kant’s strategy for addressing Pyrrhonism presupposes this interpretation of it as a moderate form of skepticism. In particular, Kant’s strategy presupposes that Pyrrhonists do not challenge the assumptions that one has experience of certain types or that classical logical principles are...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 92-147)
  7. Index
    (pp. 148-154)