Between Transcendental and Transcendental: The Missing Link?

By Doyle, John P. | The Review of Metaphysics, June 1997 | Go to article overview

Between Transcendental and Transcendental: The Missing Link?


Doyle, John P., The Review of Metaphysics


I

In the second edition (1787) of his Kritik der reinen Vernunft, in the Transcendental Analytic, just after the Table of Categories and just before his Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) added a section (Abschnitt 12, B113-14) which marked at once the deficiency of an older Scholastic doctrine of transcendentals and yet arguably an adumbration of his own doctrine.(1) He expressed his core thought thus:

In the transcendental philosophy of the ancients there is included yet

another chapter containing pure concepts of the understanding which,

though not enumerated among the categories, must, on their view, be

ranked as a priori concepts of objects.... They are propounded in the

proposition, so famous among the Schoolmen, quodlibet ens est unum,

verum, bonum. . . . These supposedly transcendental predicates of

things are in fact, nothing but logical requirements and criteria of all

knowledge of things in general, and prescribe for such knowledge the

categories of quantity, namely, unity, plurality, and totality.(2)

Among later commentators, the setting of Kant's Abschnitt within the Kritik, as well as the wider question of a link between Kantian transcendentals and earlier teaching, have gained some attention. Thus, near the turn of this century, relying particularly on earlier work of Benno Erdmann,(3) Hans Leisegang showed both some continuity of the Scholastic doctrine with Kant's precritical teaching and a possible anticipation in that doctrine of the structure of the Kritik itself.(4) As Leisegang saw it, the Scholastic transcendentals had been taken over successively by Christian Wolff (1679-1754) in his Ontologia and then by Alexander Baumgarten (1714-1762), whose Metaphysica was at the base of Kant's precritical lectures on metaphysics.(5) It was then Baumgarten's divisions of metaphysics, themselves taken from Wolff, which were transformed into the architectonic of Kant's critical philosophy.(6)

"Transcendental," says Leisegang, was one of the those terms which Kant borrowed from the vocabulary of earlier philosophy and then changed for his own purposes.(7) The earlier vocabulary was reflected in Baumgarten's conception of ontology or metaphysics as "the science of the general predicates of being."(8) Leisegang, correctly I believe, observes that Baumgarten's understanding of such predicates itself reflected medieval doctrine, especially that of Duns Scotus (1266-1308).(9) Leisegang has further remarked Kant's initial high regard for Baumgarten's metaphysics, its influence on the architectonic of his critical writings, and yet his gradual growing away from it.(10) Thus, while the transcendentals of the Scholastics, of Wolff, and of Baumgarten may have endured in the structure of the Kritik, their doctrine itself had at last no substantive use for Kant.(11) Indeed, Abschnitt 12 appears to be Kant's final rejection of the basic ideas of the old ontology.(12) Although Leisegang afterwards revised and added to his work,(13) his principal thesis remained intact.

While Norbert Hinske disagreed with Leisegang on the role of the transcendentals in Baumgarten's philosophy,(14) he too rejected Baumgarten's influence here on the content of Kant's doctrine.(15) For Hinske it was Wolff's "transcendental cosmology"(16) (with emphasis on its a priori character) which itself broke with the earlier Scholastic tradition, and was linked especially to Kant's use of the term "transcendental."(17)

Hinske's views were challenged in a short article published in 1972 by Ignacio Angelelli, who argued that "a far more interesting `link' is to be found in Baumgarten."(18) Angelelli pointed to Baumgarten's doctrine of the transcendental unity of essences conceived as pluralities of predicates "held together" in a nonaccidental way.(19) In this he saw the Scholastic doctrine of properties flowing from an essence, which then seemed plausibly reflected in Kant's synthetic a priori and in the entire transcendental philosophy. …

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