Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Heidegger and Kant: The Question of Idealism

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Heidegger and Kant: The Question of Idealism

Article excerpt

There is a privileged relationship, even an acknowledged proximity, between Kant and Heidegger. Heidegger often recognized this, a fact which is all the more striking in view of his otherwise more critical treatment of the great figures of the tradition. What, exactly, are the extent and the limits of this proximity? What does it consist in? What light can it shed, not only on Heidegger's project as a fundamental ontology, but also on Kant's transcendental idealism? These are the main questions that I would like to pursue in this essay. I will proceed by focusing on the motif of idealism, and how it operates between the two thinkers: how, on the one hand, Heidegger was able to see and locate his own project of a fundamental ontology in Kant's transcendental idealism, and how, on the other hand, some of Kant's propositions could be said to anticipate fundamental ontology, thereby exceeding the constraints of his own transcendental idealism. By stressing their remarkable proximity with respect to transcendental idealism, I shall not be attempting to deny the unquestionable differences between these two thinker's projects. But I believe that these differences can be brought all the more into relief and better understood if one begins by taking into account what the two projects have in common. It is a fact that in Being and Time, Heidegger reads Kant in a highly positive light. Unlike Descartes, who is severely criticized for having conceived of the sum inappropriately (that is, by misunderstanding it as res and substance and not investigating the subject's mode of Being), Kant is said to have made progress on the "path" towards an ontology of Dasein. While Descartes is harshly judged for having remained (at best) dependent upon ancient and medieval ontology and for being unable to bring to light Dasein's phenomenal content, Kant is credited with genuine phenomenological insight. Each time that Heidegger mentions Kant in Sein und Zeit, he does so in order to bring out the latter's positive and distinctive contribution:

1 ) In (section)6, a section which explains the task of a destruction of the history of ontology, Kant is said, in "essential respects," to have "gone beyond" Descartes' position (GA 2, 24), and to be "the first and only person" (GA 2, 23) to have approached the problematic of Temporality in the philosophical elaboration of subjectivity.

2) In 43a, Heidegger sees in Kant's critique of "the problematical kind of idealism" (in "The Refutation of Idealism") a sign of Kant's rejection of "the Cartesian approach of positing a subject one can come across in isolation" and considers Kant's presupposition of the distinction (but "also the connection") between the "in me" and the "outside of me" to be "factically correct" (GA 2, 204).

3) In 64, Kant's analysis of the "I think" is judged to be positive in two respects: on the one hand, it refuses, against Descartes, to make the I into a substance; on the other hand, it defines that I essentially as an "I think," that is, as an I that does not persist or subsist "behind" its thoughts (as would a substantial, isolated subject) but rather "remains related to its representations, and would be nothing without them."2

On three occasions, then, and each time at a decisive moment in Sein und Zeit (first, when the question of the deconstruction of the tradition arises; second, when the metaphysical concept of reality is referred back to the phenomenological concept of world; and lastly, in the question of the ontological constitution of the subject), Kant is favorably presented as the site of a phenomenological breakthrough that is unique in the tradition, one that is important to follow up on and to clarify, insofar as it represents nothing less than the anticipation of the ontology of the "subject" called for by Heidegger. One of the main reasons for privileging Kant in this way comes undoubtedly from Heidegger's conviction that Kant has overcome the inadequate Cartesian framework, which treats the problem of subjectivity exclusively within the horizon of the mode of Being of "presence-at-hand" (Vorhandenheit). …

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