From Kant to Davidson: Philosophy and the Idea of the Transcendental

From Kant to Davidson: Philosophy and the Idea of the Transcendental

From Kant to Davidson: Philosophy and the Idea of the Transcendental

From Kant to Davidson: Philosophy and the Idea of the Transcendental

Synopsis

'From Kant to Davidson' explores the notion of the transcendental at work in the ideas of philosophers ranging from those cited in the title to other notable contemporary philosophers of the twentieth-century.

Excerpt

Of the ideas that make up the conceptual repertoire of philosophy, the idea of the transcendental, for all the history that attaches to it, has often been seen as having something particularly disreputable about it. Talk of the transcendental has come to be associated, in many contexts, with the speculative, the archly metaphysical and even the mystical; so-called 'transcendental argument' is viewed, in many circles, as either a fallacious mode of proof or else as inevitably dependent on verificationist or idealist premises. And suspicion of the transcendental is not restricted merely to those whose philosophical affinities are with the empiricist, anti-idealist traditions of twentieth century 'analytic' thought. For philosophers whose inclinations are towards a more pragmatist or historicist approach, the idea of the transcendental is often taken to be indicative of a universalist, ahistorical mode of philosophizing - one that strives to transcend the particularity of our factical situation.

In its original medieval usage, of course, the idea of the transcendental referred to concepts of being, unity, the good and so forth - the 'transcendentals' - that referred across the system of categories and so transcended any particular category. The way in which the idea has entered into philosophy over the last two hundred and fifty years is in a rather difference sense, however, one that, in its original form, was actually intended not to extend metaphysics, but rather properly to ground metaphysical inquiry and so also to limit it. It is this sense of the transcendental that we find elaborated in Kant. Indeed, in spite of the carelessness that is sometimes attributed to his use of the term, Kant is quite clear in distinguishing his 'transcendental' approach from that of speculative or dogmatic metaphysics, and explicitly characterizes the transcendental as referring to the structures that underpin the legitimate use of reason, and that therefore make possible 'knowledge of experience', as well as to that which concerns those structures, including the philosophical investigation of them. Thus, in the Prolegomena, Kant says of the term 'transcendental' that it 'never means a reference to our knowledge of things, but only to the cognitive faculty', while in the Critique of Pure Reason Kant famously characterizes the transcendental, in similar vein, as that which 'is occupied not so much with objects but rather with our mode of cognition of objects in so far as this is to be possible a priori'. And while Kant does sometimes appear to employ the term 'transcendental' in ways that suggest

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