Kant and the Demands of Self-Consciousness

By Pierre Keller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
The argument against idealism

Oficially, the Refutation of Idealism is the only novel addition to the Critique in its second edition (B XXXIXn). Given the other changes that Kant makes in the second edition, this admission may justify the amount of attention that has been devoted to such a small amount of text. He piques the interest of other philosophers by intimating that he has solved a problem that has been a “scandal” to philosophy and all reasoning persons:

Idealism may be held to be ever so innocent with respect to the essential purposes of metaphysics (which it in fact is not) it still remains a scandal of philosophy and of the universal reason of humanity that the existence of things outside of us (from which we however derive the whole stufi of cognitions even for our inner sense) must be accepted on faith, and not to be able to ofier a satisfactory proof to someone if it should occur to him to doubt it. (B XXXIX) 1

Since Kant advocates his own form of idealism, transcendental idealism, the Refutation is not directed at all forms of idealism. The Refutation is directed against a specifically modern, and post-Cartesian skeptical worry about whether beliefs about outer states have the same degree of warrant as beliefs about inner states. The Refutation responds to the provisional skeptical position outlined in the first and second of Descartes 's Meditations on First Philosophy, but Kant's more immediate target is the Humean position of his contemporary, Friedrich Jacobi. In the passage above, Kant alludes to Jacobi's claim that we need to appeal to faith or belief (Glaube) in order to support claims about the existence of the external world. 2

where Descartes worries about the possibility that my beliefs about external objects might all turn out to be false, Kant wants to show that any knowledge of inner states entails the existence of objects existing outside of me. In this way, he also hopes to show that Jacobi's claim that

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