Notes on Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason: Preface to Second Edition

The following are notes on the Preface of the second edition of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. For the month of December 2007, I'll be reading the Critique and writing notes as I go.

For all citations, I am using the edition published by Palgrave Macmillan (ISBN 1-4039-1195-9), and translated by Norman Kemp Smith. The following article covers pages 17 to 37 of this edition.

There's quite a difference from the first edition's Preface to the second's. First, we have the size difference, from nine pages to 21. We also have Kant at his wordiest, giving us a taste of what Kemp Smith calls "his manner of writing." [xxiv] Speaking of Kant, Kemp Smith sums this up rather well. "He crowds so much into each sentence, that he is constrained to make undue use of parentheses." [xxiv]

In fact, the second sentence of the second edition's Preface is such an example. In the first edition's Preface, we learned that Kant is attempting, in this Critique, to understand pure reason. In this rather long second sentence, Kant reminds us how a science, which is what he is trying to attain for reason, differs from mere 'random groping.'

Deconstructing that sentence, if we can say of the outcome that;

  • after elaborate preparations, frequently renewed, it is brought to a stop immediatley it nears its goal,
  • often it is compelled to retrace its steps and strike into some new line of approach,
  • the various participants are unable to agree in any common plan of procedure,

… "then we may rest assured that it is very far from having entered upon the secure path of a science, and is indeed a merely random groping." [17] If, however, we were able to find a path by which to understand reason, and escape all of the above situtations, then we shall have found a truely scientific path, and will be able to abandon any beliefs that do not fall on that path.

Logic, says Kant, is an example of such a system, which, other than minor changes, has stayed consistent since the time of Aristotle. Nor can the system be advanced, outside of what Kant believes are misconceptions. If such a system could be obtain for pure reason, we would reach our goal.

Kant further elaborates on logic, stating that the scope of logic is limited to giving "an exhaustive exposition and a strict proof of the formal rules of all thought." [18] Logic, too, doesn't deal with individual objects, but rather abstracts from them, whatever those objects may be.

We later have a discussion of mathematics, followed by that of the natural sciences. To learn from nature, we read, reason has principles and experiments which have been devised. Those experiments must be questions of nature, which elict an answer; we cannot merely watch and listen to nature to discover its secrets. [20]

Metaphysics, which was also discussed in the first edition's Preface, is without such a system. "[M]etaphysics has rather to be regarded as a battle-ground quite peculiarly suited for those who desire to exercise themselves in mock combats, and in which no participant has ever yet succeeded in gaining even so much s an inch of territory, not at least in such manner as to secure him in its permanent possession." [21] What makes this even more difficult is that metaphysics "soars far above the teachings of experience" and "rests on concepts alone." [21]

Since metaphysics is older than all the other sciences, and it has not yet found the path, perhaps it is impossible to find one? Or, perhaps we've been going about it the wrong way. Kant believes the latter. Like Copernicus, who switched the spectator with the heavenly bodies, Kant would have us switch for metaphysics as well.

"Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. […] We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. […] A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility." [22]

By doing this for other things, we escape from "the conclusion that we can never transcend the limits of possible experience," and so are able to work towards achieving what metaphysics would have us achieve. [24]

We have, then, what Kant is attempting to do in this Critique.

"This attempt to alter the procedure which has hitherto prevailed in metaphysics, by completely revolutionising it in accordance with the example set by the geometers and physicists, forms indeed the main purpose of this critique of pure speculative reason. It is a treatise on the method, not a system of the science itself. But at the same time it marks out the whole plan of the science, both as regards its limits and as regards its entire internal structure." [25]

"On a cursory view of the present work it may seem that its results are merely negative, warning us that we must never venture with speculative reason beyond the limits of experience. […] But such teaching at once acquires a positive value when we recognise that the principles with which speculative reason ventures out beyond its proper limits do not in effect extend the employment of reason, but, as we find on closer scrutiny, inevitably narrow it." [26] By venturing outside, we may bring about conflict within reason itself.

This brings about a distinction between "things as objects of experience and those same things as things in themselves." To provide an example, Kant uses the question of the freedom of the soul. [27-29]

After this discussion we get to what really should be of concern, which is what we may hope to gain by finding a system of science for reason.

"[N]ot only will reason be enabled to follow the secure path of a science, instead of, as hitherto, groping at random, without circumspection or self-criticism; our enquiring youth will also be in a position to spent their time more profitably than in the ordinary dogmatism by which they are so early and greatly encouraged to indulge in easy speculation about things of which they understand nothing, and into which neither they nor anyone else will ever have any insight - encouraged, indeed, to invent new ideas and opinions, while neglecting the study of the better-established sciences." [30]

By cutting out the 'injurious' influences, we are able to silence all objections by "the clearest proof" obtained by "sufficient groups of proof." [30, 31] Empty speculation will be replaced by true knowledge, which will end the needless battle of the 'ignorant objectors.'

"Criticism alone can sever the root of materialism, fatalism, atheism, free-thinking, fanaticism, and superstition […]; as well as of idealism and scepticism." [32]

As regards the remainder the Preface, it deals with changes from the first to the second editions, which need not be covered here.