Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Investigating the Transcendental Tradition

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Investigating the Transcendental Tradition

Article excerpt

Even though both "analytic" and "Continental" writers have in the twentieth century moved a long way from Immanuel Kant's transcendental philosophy, it is clear that both major currents of contemporary philosophy are profoundly, though often only implicitly, post-Kantian ways of thinking and crucially indebted to Kant. These traditions must face the continuous need to re-evaluate their relation to the transcendental (or "critical") project launched in Konigsberg more than two hundred years ago.

Fortunately, novel contributions, both historical and systematic, to the debate on the nature of transcendental philosophy appear once in a while.1 Both analytic and Continental philosophers have been active in this regard. This review essay discusses David Carr's recent critical investigation of the notion of subjectivity in the transcendental tradition as well as some new work on the structure of transcendental arguments collected in an anthology edited by Robert Stern.2 I do not mean to imply that these two books simply represent the Continental and the analytic approaches to transcendental philosophy, respectively. Carr's book, for example, aims at building bridges across these movements. Generally speaking, however, Continental philosophers seeking to understand (and often criticize) their Kantian heritage have-particularly after Martin Heidegger's famous critique of "the metaphysics of the subject"- focused on the concept of subjectivity, or transcendental ego, whereas analytic philosophers, at least since the appearance of Peter Strawson's Individuals in 1959,' have attempted to analyze transcendental arguments as responses to skepticism.

After having discussed these projects at some length, I shall suggest a way of synthesizing the two approaches to transcendental philosophy. It seems to me that debates over transcendental subjectivity as well as analytic accounts of transcendental arguments leave room for a pragmatist reinterpretation of the transcendental tradition. Such a reinterpretation might yield a fruitful way of reconciling certain basic Kantian ideas (perhaps even transcendental idealism) with a (non-reductively) naturalistic conception of the world and our place in it. Needless to say, only a very preliminary suggestion toward further work on such a reconciliation can be made within a review essay like this.

Since the late 1950s and especially since the 1960s, several leading analytic philosophers have tried to understand the conceptual structure of transcendental arguments, the standard model of which is Kant's notoriously difficult "transcendental deduction" of the categories, that is, of the pure concepts of understanding. Special emphasis has been directed to the question of what, if anything, transcendental arguments can achieve in epistemology. Such arguments are typically designed to show how something (e.g., knowledge, experience, conscious thought, meaningful discourse, or some other "given" feature of human life)4 is possible. They are meant to demonstrate that certain things (e.g., Kantian categories or Wittgensteinian public, rule-governed language-games) will have to be in place as the necessary conditions of the possibility of what is assumed to be actual in the premise.

The most recent episode of the analytic debate on such arguments can be found in Robert Stern's collection, Transcendental Arguments, which is a highly useful volume, containing fifteen chapters (including the editor's introduction) and a good bibliography of books and articles on transcendental arguments up till 1998. Most of the papers in TA are based on presentations and responses that took place at a conference in Sheffield in 1997. These include Ralph Walker's discussion of Kant and the problem of induction, responded to by Graham Bird; Stern's paper, also dealing with Kant's answer to Hume, with a response by Mark Sacks; Paul Franks's historical treatment of post-Kantian idealism, with a response by Michael Rosen; Barry Stroud's analysis of the goal of transcendental arguments, with a response by Christopher Hookway; and Anthony Brueckner's evaluation of the possibility of basing transcendental arguments on content externalism, with a response by Gregory McCulloch. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.