Familiar to philosophy students through the centuries, The Critique of Pure Reason is in many ways Kant’s magnum opus. First published in 1781, it seeks to define what can be known by reason alone without evidence from experience. Kant begins by defining a posteriori knowledge, which is gained through the senses, versus a priori knowledge, or self-evident truths understood without the benefit of experience. He then examines these two types of knowledge in the context of analytic and synthetic judgments, using the relationship between them to conclude that through reason alone, humans are capable of reaching deep universal truths. Kant then demonstrates how—even as much of the world around us can never be truly known—the laws of the universe are in fact made possible by the human capacity for reason itself.
Sparking intense and lasting discussion, The Critique of Pure Reason remains essential reading for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the ideas that, since their initial publication, have gone on to shape much of Western philosophy.
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Stephen R. Palmquist's engaging Introduction provides historical background, discusses Religion in the context of Kant's philosophical system, elucidates Kant's main arguments, and explores the implications and ongoing relevance of the work.
Introduction. Bibliography. A Note on the Text.
1. Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent (1784)
2. An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment? (1784)
3. Speculative Beginning of Human History (1786)
4. On the Proverb: That May Be True in Theory, but Is of No Practical Use (1793)
5. The End of All Things (1794)
6. To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795)
Glossary of Some German-English Translations. Index.
As in his previous critiques, Kant seeks to establish a priori principles. The first part of this work addresses aesthetic sensibility. The human response to specific natural phenomena as beautiful, he asserts, is a recognition of nature's harmonious order that corresponds to a mental need for order. The critique's second half focuses on the apparent teleology in nature's design of organisms. The philosopher declares that the mind is predisposed to find purpose and order in nature, and this predisposition forms the main principle underlying all our judgments. Although this could be interpreted as an argument in favor of a creator, Kant insists that a supernatural dimension or the existence of God cannot be proven — such considerations lie beyond the realm of reason, solely within the province of faith.
representation, and the connection between morality and the aesthetic. He also investigates the validity of our judgements concerning the degree in which nature has a purpose, with respect to the highest interests of reason and enlightenment.
The work profoundly influenced the artists, writers, and philosophers of the classical and romantic period, including Hegel, Schelling, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. In addition, it has remained a landmark work in fields such as phenomenology, hermeneutics, the Frankfurt School, analytical
aesthetics, and contemporary critical theory. Today it remains an essential work of philosophy, and required reading for all with an interest in aesthetics.
This edition comprises two parts: “Introduction to Logic” and an essay titled “The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures,” in which Kant analyzes Aristotelian logic.
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Whether the treatment of that portion of our knowledge which lies within the province of pure reason advances with that undeviating certainty which characterizes the progress of science, we shall be at no loss to determine. If we find those who are engaged in metaphysical pursuits, unable to come to an understanding as to the method which they ought to follow; if we find them, after the most elaborate preparations, invariably brought to a stand before the goal is reached, and compelled to retrace their steps and strike into fresh paths, we may then feel quite sure that they are far from having attained to the certainty of scientific progress and may rather be said to be merely groping about in the dark. In these circumstances we shall render an important service to reason if we succeed in simply indicating the path along which it must travel, in order to arrive at any results—even if it should be found necessary to abandon many of those aims which, without reflection, have been proposed for its attainment.
That logic has advanced in this sure course, even from the earliest times, is apparent from the fact that, since Aristotle, it has been unable to advance a step and, thus, to all appearance has reached its completion. For, if some of the moderns have thought to enlarge its domain by introducing psychological discussions on the mental faculties, such as imagination and wit, metaphysical, discussions on the origin of knowledge and the different kinds of certitude, according to the difference of the objects (idealism, scepticism, and so on), or anthropological discussions on prejudices, their causes and remedies: this attempt, on the part of these authors, only shows their ignorance of the peculiar nature of logical science. We do not enlarge but disfigure the sciences when we lose sight of their respective limits and allow them to run into one another. Now logic is enclosed within limits which admit of perfectly clear definition; it is a science which has for its object nothing but the exposition and proof of the formal laws of all thought, whether it be a priori or empirical, whatever be its origin or its object, and whatever the difficulties—natural or accidental—which it encounters in the human mind.
These two camps seemed deadlocked until Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason endeavored to show that the most accurate theory of reality would be one that combined relevant aspects of each position, yet transcended both to arrive at a more fundamental metaphysical theory. Kant's synthesis sought to disclose how human reason goes about constructing its experience of the world, thus intertwining objective simuli with rational processes that arrive at an orderly view of nature.
It falls into this difficulty without any fault of its own. It begins with principles, which cannot be dispensed with in the field of experience, and the truth and sufficiency of which are, at the same time, insured by experience. With these principles it rises, in obedience to the laws of its own nature, to ever higher and more remote conditions. But it quickly discovers that, in this way, its labours must remain ever incomplete, because new questions never cease to present themselves; and thus it finds itself compelled to have recourse to principles which transcend the region of experience, while they are regarded by common sense without distrust. It thus falls into confusion and contradictions, from which it conjectures the presence of latent errors, which, however, it is unable to discover, because the principles it employs, transcending the limits of experience, cannot be tested by that criterion. The arena of these endless contests is called Metaphysic.
Time was, when she was the queen of all the sciences; and, if we take the will for the deed, she certainly deserves, so far as regards the high importance of her object-matter, this title of honour. Now, it is the fashion of the time to heap contempt and scorn upon her; and the matron mourns, forlorn and forsaken, like Hecuba:
At first, her gover Modo maxima rerum,
Tot generis, natisque potens...
Nunc trahor exul, inops.
—Ovid, Metamorphoses. xiii
under the administration of the dogmatists, was an absolute despotism. But, as the legislative continued to show traces of the ancient barbaric rule, her empire gradually broke up, and intestine wars introduced the reign of anarchy; while the sceptics, like nomadic tribes, who hate a permanent habitation and settled mode of living, attacked from time to time those who had organized themselves into civil communities.
But their number was, very happily, small; and thus they could not entirely put a stop to the exertions of those who persisted in raising new edifices, although on no settled or uniform plan. In recent times the hope dawned upon us of seeing those disputes settled, and the legitimacy of her claims established by a kind of physiology of the human understanding—that of the celebrated Locke. But it was found that—although it was affirmed that this so-called queen could not refer her descent to any higher source than that of common experience, a circumstance which necessarily brought suspicion on her claims—as this genealogy was incorrect, she persisted in the advancement of her claims to sovereignty. Thus metaphysics necessarily fell back into the antiquated and rotten constitution of dogmatism, and again became obnoxious to the contempt from which efforts had been made to save it. At present, as all methods, according to the general persuasion, have been tried in vain, there reigns nought but weariness and complete indifferentism—the mother of chaos and night in the scientific world, but at the same time the source of, or at least the prelude to, the re-creation and reinstallation of a science, when it has fallen into confusion, obscurity, and disuse from ill directed effort.
I do not mean by this a criticism of books and systems, but a critical inquiry into the faculty of reason, with reference to the cognitions to which it strives to attain without the aid of experience; in other words, the solution of the question regarding the possibility or impossibility of metaphysics, and the determination of the origin, as well as of the extent and limits of this science. All this must be done on the basis of principles.
That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt. For how is it possible that the faculty of cognition should be awakened into exercise otherwise than by means of objects which affect our senses, and partly of themselves produce representations, partly rouse our powers of understanding into activity, to compare to connect, or to separate these, and so to convert the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects, which is called experience? In respect of time, therefore, no knowledge of ours is antecedent to experience, but begins with it.
But, though all our knowledge begins with experience, it by no means follows that all arises out of experience. For, on the contrary, it is quite possible that our empirical knowledge is a compound of that which we receive through impressions, and that which the faculty of cognition supplies from itself (sensuous impressions giving merely the occasion), an addition which we cannot distinguish from the original element given by sense, till long practice has made us attentive to, and skilful in separating it. It is, therefore, a question which requires close investigation, and not to be answered at first sight, whether there exists a knowledge altogether independent of experience, and even of all sensuous impressions? Knowledge of this kind is called a priori, in contradistinction to empirical knowledge, which has its sources a posteriori, that is, in experience.
But the expression, "a priori," is not as yet definite enough adequately to indicate the whole meaning of the question above started. For, in speaking of knowledge which has its sources in experience, we are wont to say, that this or that may be known a priori, because we do not derive this knowledge immediately from experience, but from a general rule, which, however, we have itself borrowed from experience. Thus, if a man undermined his house, we say, "he might know a priori that it would have fallen;" that is, he needed not to have waited for the experience that it did actually fall. But still, a priori, he could not know even this much. For, that bodies are heavy, and, consequently, that they fall when their supports are taken away, must have been known to him previously, by means of experience.