Kant as a Carpenter of Reason: The Highest Good and Systematic Coherence

British Journal for the History of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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What is the highest good actually good for in Kant’s third Critique? While there are well-worked out answers to this question in the literature that focus on the highest good’s practical importance, this paper argues that there is an important function for the highest good that has to do exclusively with contemplation. This important function becomes clear once one notices that coherent [konsequent] thinking, for Kant, was synonymous with "bündiges" thinking, and that both are connected with the highest good in the third Critique’s moral proof for God’s existence. I show that the original meaning of "bündig," which is from the carpentry trade and has been forgotten, illuminates the stakes of the highest good in Kant’s system. For us, as proverbial carpenters of reason, coherence is essential for the intellectual activity of constructing a philosophical worldview in his transcendental idealism. I motivate the reading further by showing how this function can neatly reconstruct Kant’s proof for God’s existence in the third Critique. I conclude by sketching Kant’s reasons for why the project of creating a coherent worldview grounded in the highest good is worth the labor costs.

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Alexander T. Englert
Institute for Advanced Study


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