Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Critical Idealism and Transcendental Materialism: A Speculative Analysis of the Second Paralogism

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Critical Idealism and Transcendental Materialism: A Speculative Analysis of the Second Paralogism

Article excerpt

'Idealism is a kind of cancer in metaphysics which until now was deemed untreatable'. (1)

This paper begins from the commitment that the project of contemporary metaphysics, which for good reason has recently rallied around the recuperation of philosophical speculation, should not abandon Kantian critical or epistemological concerns lest we restage the metaphysical battlefield properly maligned in the Preface to the first Critique as the source of the denigration of the queen of the sciences. The purpose of speculative philosophy, as Hegel rightly saw, is not to overcome epistemological questions of the possibility of metaphysical knowledge, but to construct a metaphysical architecture that can account for the intelligibility of both objects and the philosophical comprehension of those objects. Speculative philosophy, I claim, remains internally bound to transcendental philosophy and opposed to philosophical dogmatism inasmuch as it requires a moment of metaphysical self-comprehension and epistemological self-validation. That is, in addition to grounding the intelligibility of objects it must also finally ground the intelligibility of its initial act of speculative construction and so show it to be more than capricious fantasy. What separates philosophical speculation from dogmatism, then, is this retroactive epistemological validation of its initially axiomatic assertion of the speculative identity of the subject and object. This essential connection between speculative metaphysics and transcendental philosophy indicates the necessity of a continued engagement with Kantian critical philosophy even as we attempt to move beyond the correlationism he inaugurated.

The way Kant developed his method of philosophical self-criticism, however, relies on a complex of loosely idealist metaphysical presuppositions, which are in principle incapable of internal justification, and so the Kantian articulation of transcendental philosophy must be altered if it is to be reconciled with contemporary materialist convictions and metaphysical aspirations. Specifically, Kant's critical elimination of the possibility of knowledge of things as they are in themselves, and of things that transcend first-person experiential structures more generally, relies on the claim that the unity of the categories of substance, causality, etc. cannot be applied beyond the scope of experience because the unity of conceptual knowledge (which involves at least the unification of the multiplicity of predicates contained in a concept) can only be provided by the foundational yet empty or merely logical unity of the spontaneous activity of human cognition. This empty, formal unity of cognition, which is different in kind to the external unity of composite material substances, requires that the manifold content of cognition be provided by sensibility (since the empty unity of apperception provides no content). The results of this analysis are two-fold: metaphysical research is limited to elucidating the conditions of human experience while the humble sobriety of this limitation obscures the metaphysical idealism that lies at its base.

If we accept the importance of Kant's turn from dogmatic to transcendental philosophy for maintaining the objective validity of metaphysics while at the same time rejecting rationalist means of securing this validity in a transhistoircal divine or human exceptionalism, the task of rethinking the nature of the thinking subject takes on a considerable importance. We find just such an effort in the works of leading thinkers associated with the development of a transcendental materialism: Alain Badiou has long insisted that the cornerstone of his thought is a materialist theory of the subject (2) and Adrian Johnston, often working through the work of Slavoj Zizek, has written extensively on the relation between subjectivity and transcendental materialism. (3) When considering the nature of the subject in transcendental philosophy, the natural starting point is the analysis of the limits of our knowledge of the thinking subject, or soul, (4) found in the Paralogisms of Pure Reason. …

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