Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Kant positions the Critical philosophy as a response to the crisis of metaphysics - a crisis that is still with us. But his diagnosis of that crisis in terms of a struggle between dogmatism, skepticism, and indifferentism is given short shrift in the secondary literature, despite its promise to help us understand Kant's claim that transcendental philosophy represents a radical alternative to these philosophical modi vivendi. After a consideration of Kant's remarks on what philosophy is in general, I argue that all four of these mutually-exclusive ways of philosophizing are best understood as metaphilosophical stances: ways of conceiving of the ends or aims of philosophy, which collectively determine the legitimate moves in philosophical argumentation, thereby setting the terms of success for such inquiry.
I then make these four competing stances explicit, by drawing on Kant's scattered remarks on them and their history. This involves articulating and defending Kant's complex and surprisingly sophisticated relationship to dogmatism and skepticism, and hence a general assessment of Kant's attempts to incorporate these stances' insights, and so subvert their appeal, in the course of developing his transcendental philosophy. Readings of Kant which myopically take him to be focused on bluntly refuting the dogmatist (e.g., Allison), or the skeptic (e.g., Guyer), fall into characteristic errors as a result. Even more importantly, I show that Kant's central target is in fact the much-neglected indifferentist, whose metaphilosophical stance is defined by a denial of the distinctness and autonomy of philosophy, in a way antithetical to Kant's attempt to ground his philosophical activity on the fact of human agency. Indifferentism has numerous adherents, though naturally not under that name, both in Kant's day (e.g., the so-called Popularphilosophen) and in our own (e.g., the Wittgenstein of On Certainty). Reading Kant against these thinkers sharply clarifies his aims and methods in the Critical philosophy, in a way that the predominant anti-dogmatic and anti-skeptical readings fail to do.
Kant's assault on indifferentism centrally employs a set of arguments designed to put us in a position to rationally endorse our high-order normative principles without risk of (indifferentistically) ascribing that endorsement either to passive uptake from the wider culture, or to the oracular dictates of "common sense." Thus, it is only by means of Kant's distinctive "transcendental proofs" that can we invoke the authority of reason in philosophy without making one of two fatal errors: making reason utterly transcendent, which produces skepticism; or casting reason as wholly immanent, which yields dogmatism. Taken together, Kant's metaphilosophical views promise a revitalization of transcendental philosophy for our contemporary age.
Kelsey, Matthew Allen, "The Mother of Chaos and Night: Kant's Metaphilosophical Attack on Indifferentism" (2013). Dissertations. 672.
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Copyright © 2013 Matthew Allen Kelsey