THE LIMITS OF SENSE AND REASON: A Line-By-Line Critical Commentary on Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason,” #6.
By Robert Hanna
[I] was then making plans for a work that might perhaps have the title, “The Limits of Sense and Reason.” I planned to have it consist of two parts, a theoretical and a practical. The first part would have two sections, (1) general phenomenology and (2) metaphysics, but this only with regard to its method. (Letter to Marcus Herz, 21 February 1772 [C 10: 129])
The first five installments in this series followed the 2019–2020 version of THE LIMITS OF SENSE AND REASON, aka LSR.
Starting with this installment, #6, subsequent installments follow the revised and updated 2021 version of LSR.
In any case, you can read or download a .pdf of the complete text of the 2021 version of LSR HERE.
Because LSR is an ongoing and indeed infinite task, revised and updated .pdfs of the complete text will be uploaded to that URL on a regular basis.
CPR TEXT Axi note/GW100–101 Preface to the First (A) Edition
Axi* Now and again one hears complaints about the superficiality of our age’s way of thinking, and about the decay of well-grounded science. Yet I do not see that those sciences whose grounds are well laid, such as mathematics, physics, etc., in the least deserve this charge; rather, they maintain their old reputation for well-groundedness, and in the case of natural science, even surpass it. This same spirit would also prove itself effective in other species of cognition if only care had first been taken to correct their principles.c In the absence of this, indifference, doubt, and finally strict critique are rather proofs of a well-grounded way of thinking. Our age is the genuine age of critique, to which everything must submit. Religion through its holiness and legislation through its majesty commonly seek to exempt themselves from it. But in this way they excite a just suspicion against themselves, and cannot lay claim to that unfeigned respect that reason grants only to that which has been able to withstand its free and public examination.
In this footnote, Kant is principally concerned with specifying just which sciences fall within or without the scope of the critique of pure reason, although in the last two sentences he also takes an interesting double-barrelled critical shot at religion and government.
Mathematics, physics, and the other exact sciences fall outside the scope of the critique of pure reason, Kant says.
More specifically, Kant says, strikingly unlike the contemporary 18th century Leibnizian-Wolffian Rationalist metaphysics, the contemporary exact sciences (just like ordinary, well-conducted legal practices) are well-grounded rational critical activities that correctly deploy mitigated skepticism and constructive agnosticism or indifferentism in a fully intersubjective and public context to the point at which they naturally advance to apt/wise judgment under appropriate evidential conditions.
Therefore, they are normative paradigms for metaphysics, and “our age is the age of critique (Kritik), to which everything must submit” (CPR Axi, boldfacing in the original).
Kant then boldly points out that “religion through its holiness,” and the government’s “legislation through its majesty,” alike, typically try to recuse themselves from these well-grounded fully intersubjective and public practices of rational criticism, yet religion and government cannot be rationally respected until they meet the very same first-order normative standards that the exact sciences (and ordinary well-conducted legal practices) already exemplify — not to mention meeting the higher-order normative standards to which classical metaphysics and especially classical Rationalist metaphysics must freely submit itself by means of the critique of pure reason, lest it fall forever into cognitive inauthenticity or commit cognitive suicide.
To be sure, this is not quite either Voltaire’s famous 18th century anti-religious slogan, “Écrasez l’infâme,” eradicate the infamy!, oreven the early 20th century French anarchist Miguel Almereyda’s almost equally famous early 20th century anti-authoritarian slogan, later repeated with gusto in his son Jean Vigo’s brash and brilliant 1933 film Zéro de conduite: “Je vous dis, merde!”
Nevertheless, it’s a surprisingly radical thing for Kant to say, even in a footnote, and it also fully anticipates the main themes of his brilliant and widely influential 1784 critical essay, “What is Enlightenment?,” as well as his nowadays much-neglected but equally brilliant critical study in the philosophy of religion, ethics, and political philosophy, his dangerous 1792 book Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, more charitably translated as Religion Only Within the Limits of Reason, but which he really should have called Religion Only Within the Limits of Pure Practical Reason.
I say “dangerous,” because in 1794 Kant was censored by the King of Prussia, Frederick William II, and formally prohibited from publishing anything else in the philosophy of religion.
But, even so, Kant was very lucky, because few if any contemporary readers noticed just how dangerous a book Religion really is.
If the censorious statist Frederick William II, or any of his intellectual flunkies, had actually read Religion carefully and realized that Kant’s unofficial, esoteric view directly entails philosophical and political anarchism, and therefore that it’s in direct conflict with Kant’s official, exoteric Statist political philosophy in the Doctrine of Right,[i] then almost certainly he would have been removed from his professorship and put under house-arrest, or imprisoned, or worse.
So in this regard, a Straussian esoteric doctrine (political anarchism) vs. exoteric doctrine (classical neo-Hobbesian liberalism) interpretation of Kant’s political philosophy would be bang-on-target, although ironically enough, Strauss himself doesn’t actually seem to have noticed this,[ii] and typically restricted this interpretive strategy mainly to his reading of Spinoza — although, controversially, other Straussians have applied it promiscuously to many leading figures in the history of philosophy.
I think it’s profoundly true that all philosophy, even the most abstruse, has a social-institutional and political dimension, such that all philosophical thinking is significantly shaped, often without self-conscious awareness, by the institutions to which philosophers belong — for example, the professional academy — but I also think that the esoteric doctrine vs. exoteric doctrine strategy of interpretation, in particular, truly applies in only a few special cases.
[i] See R. Hanna, “Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature,” Con-Textos Kantianos 5 (2017), available online at URL = <https://www.con-textoskantianos.net/index.php/revista/article/view/228>.
[ii] See, e.g., S.M. Shell (ed.), Leo Strauss, 1967, The Political Philosophy of Kant (Unpublished transcript of a seminar taught by Strauss, Spring 1967, University of Chicago), available online at URL = <https://wslamp70.s3.amazonaws.com/leostrauss/s3fs-public/Kant%201967_0.pdf>.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 519
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 1 February 2021
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