Kant's Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion

Kant's Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion

Kant's Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion

Kant's Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion


This major study of Kant provides a detailed examination of the development and function of the doctrine of transcendental illusion in his theoretical philosophy. The author argues that we cannot understand Kant unless we take seriously his claim that the mind inevitably acts in accordance with ideas and principles that are "illusory." Taking this claim seriously, we can make much better sense of Kant's arguments and reach a deeper understanding of the role he allots human reason in science.


There exists, then, a natural and unavoidable dialectic of pure reason — not one in which a bungler might entangle himself through lack of knowledge, or one which some sophist has artificially invented to confuse thinking people, but one inseparable from human reason, and which, even after its deceptiveness [Blendwerk] has been exposed, will not cease to play tricks with reason and continually entrap it into momentary aberrations ever and again calling for correction. (A298/B355)

The foregoing passage highlights the ostensible purpose of the Transcendental Dialectic in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason — to expose the illusion that presumably generates traditional attempts in metaphysics. Kant, of course, is well known as the philosopher who undermined the disciplines of traditional, rationalist, metaphysics. Despite the undeniable influence of his arguments on subsequent philosophical traditions, however, and despite the wealth of secondary literature devoted to these arguments, there remain serious difficulties in interpreting his claims. Part of the problem is that Kant's rejection of the metaphysical arguments is linked up with a unique theory of error. Kant refers to this unique kind of error as “transcendental illusion, ” and he clearly thinks that it provides an important insight in the propensities of the human mind to engage in speculative metaphysics.

Up to now there has been no sustained and detailed study devoted entirely to examining the role of the doctrine of transcendental illusion

Much of the material in this Introduction has already appeared in “Illusion and Fallacy in Kant's First Paralogism, ” Kant-Studien 83 (1993): 257–282.

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