Reason and Regulation in Kant

By Rush, Fred L. JR. | The Review of Metaphysics, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Reason and Regulation in Kant


Rush, Fred L. JR., The Review of Metaphysics


MUCH CRITICAL ATTENTION to the Dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason is devoted to two related concerns. The first is Kant's skeptical attack on the claims of pure reason to epistemic authority, where the focus is on the paralogisms and the antinomies of pure reason. The second involves Kant's refutation of idealism. These two concerns are of course intimately connected with one another and there are various ways to express that interconnection. Perhaps most generally it can be said that Kant's assessment of reason in these two contexts is negative: it argues for the limitation of reason's claim to unbridled application and views reason as a faculty whose native propensity to seek such employment must be checked. Reason, as it turns out, is the great metaphysical impostor, whose representations, the ideas, have no epistemic warrant whatsoever. For it is the essence of Kant's position in the Dialectic that metaphysical conundra cannot be solved so long as reason arrogates to itself a direct and unrestricted epistemic or cognitive role and that reason ought to forebear from assigning itself any such status. Such a self-restriction of reason is, additionally, transcendentally necessary because it is that very limitation, Kant argues, that constitutes transcendental critique.

Kant also thinks that reason has a transcendentally necessary, yet positive role in epistemic endeavors. My aim is to offer a synoptic view on these two characterizations of the epistemic role of reason, to demonstrate their structural interdependence and coherence, to consider what it means for rational principles to be transcendentally necessary, and to explore the issue of whether Kant reassigns reason a constitutive epistemological role in his development of what I will call his "positive conception of reason."(1)

Since Kant claims that some rational principles are transcendentally necessary, a natural way to begin to address these issues is to consider what a transcendental claim or argument is.(2) Very generally a transcendental argument has the following logical form: y, if x, and if y is a necessary condition upon the possibility of x.(3) It is often thought that transcendental arguments have a characteristic content as well. Even if it is allowed (as it must be) that what a transcendental argument seeks to establish need not be a truth of Kant's transcendental idealism, it is often assumed that such arguments involve the justification of claims of a very sweeping nature--that is, to take the canonical Kantian case, conditions upon the possibility of objective experience. But, put schematically, the structure of a transcendental argument leaves entirely undetermined what the argument is for. Substitutions for x and y in principle can vary tremendously and, with that variance, so can the scope of the argument.(4) Keeping this fact in mind is crucial to an investigation into the positive status of rational principles in the Dialectic, for, if there is reduction of the possible content of transcendental arguments to the classical case Kant pursues in the Analytic (that is, establishing the necessary conditions upon the possibility of experience), then it is foreordained that rational principles could never have transcendental and necessary status (transcendental arguments could not be given for them). To do so, on this overly restrictive understanding of what the possible content of a transcendental argument could be, would be to accord such principles constitutive status.

In the Appendix to the Dialectic of the first Critique, Kant argues for the transcendentally necessary status of certain rational ideas and principles in four related domains:

(1) the systematic coherence of empirical (scientific) theories,

(2) the character of empirical laws as necessary,

(3) the capacity to discover empirical laws, and

(4) the capacity to form and deploy empirical concepts.

Though not often discussed, interest naturally settles on (4). …

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