Kant's Dialectic

Kant's Dialectic

Kant's Dialectic

Kant's Dialectic


Jonathan Bennett here examines the second half of the Critique of Pure Reason, the Dialectic, where Kant is concerned with problems about substance, the nature of the self, the cosmos, freedom and the existence of God. In this study of the Dialectic in English, the author aims to make accessible and intelligible to students this complex and extremely important part of Kant's great work. There are also extended comparative discussions of related work by some of the most influential of Kant's predecessors, in particular Descartes and Leibniz. As in his earlier book, Professor Bennett offers not passive exegesis but critical assessment; he approaches Kant from the standpoint of contemporary analytical philosophy, identifying those arguments and issues of most continuing interest, and engaging with Kant in discussion of them. His purpose throughout is 'not history with a special subject-matter, but philosophy with a special technique'.


This book is a sequel to my Kant's Analytic, but it does not presuppose knowledge of the earlier work. It is the only English book-length commentary on the Dialectic in Kant Critique of Pure Reason. It may be suggested that one is one too many -- that my book fills a welcome gap in the literature -- but I would dispute that. I have found that the Dialectic, together with relevant materials from earlier philosophers, especially Descartes and Leibniz, provides the basis for a satisfactory course of fifty-odd classroom hours for graduate students and able undergraduates. Such a course covers a useful amount of 'history of philosophy', guided throughout by an interest in a varied but not too scattered set of philosophical problems. Kant's Dialectic might be a help, but what I am confidently recommending is a different work -- Kant's Dialectic.

I continue to be, in the words of an unhappy reviewer of my earlier work, 'one of those commentators who are more interested in what Kant ought to have thought than in what he actually did think'. Still, I try to describe the Dialectic accurately and in some detail. This part of Kant's work is at once knottier and more interesting than is commonly supposed, but the interest is lost if the knots are left tied, and so my philosophical aims have driven me to endeavours which may count as scholarly.

The Dialectic is full of mistakes and inadequacies, or so I shall contend, and of course this is consistent with its being a valuable contribution to philosophy. Still, there are doubtless fewer mistakes than I allege: my charge-list has gradually shortened as I have gained in understanding of the work, and presumably it could be reduced further. But I have worked for as long as I am prepared to, and I now offer what now seems to me to be true. Anyway, when there is evidence of error the truth is better served by an open accusation than by a respectful averting of one's eyes, even in cases where the charge of error can eventually be refuted.

Throughout, I use existing translations of non-English works, modifying them where accuracy demands it. I follow Kemp Smith's translation of the Critique except for a few changes in the interests of clarity and a larger number of corrections of mistranslations which are philosophically significant. the most serious of the latter are noted as . . .

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