Pure and Impure Philosophy in Kant's Metaphilosophy

Kantian Journal 42 (3):17-48 (2023)
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Kant’s metaphilosophy has three main parts: (1) an essentialist project (“What is philosophy?”); (2) a methodological project (“How do we do philosophy?”); and (3) a taxonomic project (“What are the different parts of philosophy, and how are they related?”). This paper focuses on the third project. In particular, it explores one of the most intriguing yet puzzling aspects of Kant’s philosophy, viz. the relationship between what Kant calls ‘pure’ philosophy vs. ‘applied’, ‘empirical’ or what we can broadly refer to as ‘impure’ philosophy. (As we shall see, in order to be able to address this third project, we shall also need to examine the other two projects in detail.) My plan is as follows. First, I discuss four main areas of pure vs. impure philosophy: (i) ‘pure logic’ vs. ‘applied logic’; (ii) ‘rational psychology’ vs. ‘empirical psychology’; (iii) ‘pure metaphysics of nature’ vs. ‘physics’ and (iv) ‘pure morality’ or a ‘metaphysics of morals’ vs. ‘moral anthropology’, ‘practical anthropology’ or ‘applied moral philosophy’. Based on this, I identify four key differences between pure and impure philosophy. Second, I critically examine four different readings of Kant’s views about the status of ‘impure’ philosophy: (a) that it is not genuine philosophy; (b) that it is bad or inferior philosophy; (c) that it is instrumentally valuable; and (d) that it constitutes an indispensable part of Kant’s philosophy, both in a theoretical and practical sense. I argue that Kant is best interpreted as endorsing readings (c) and (d). Third, I offer some concluding remarks.

Author's Profile

Ernesto V. Garcia
University of Massachusetts, Amherst


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