Conceptual Analysis and the Analytic Method in Kant’s Prize Essay

Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 14 (1):164-184 (2024)
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Famously, in the essay Inquiry Concerning the Distinctness of the Principles of Natural Theology and Morality (Prize Essay), Kant attempts to distance himself from the Wolffian model of philosophical inquiry. In this respect, Kant scholars have pointed out Kant’s claim that philosophy should not imitate the method of mathematics and his appeal to Newton’s “analytic method.” In this article, I argue that there is an aspect of Kant’s critique of the Wolffian model that has been neglected. Kant presents a powerful attack of the idea that philosophy should proceed through the analysis of concepts and argues that we should give up the aim of arriving at “complete” concepts as one of its fundamental desiderata. Importantly, this attack of philosophy conceived as conceptual analysis is distinctive and original if one compares it with Kant’s critique of analysis in the Critique of Pure Reason, which rests on the idea that analysis is insufficient to ground substantial metaphysical truths. I also make an additional point: Scholars have debated whether the appeal to Newton’s analytic method involves a form of empiricism. I submit that this debate is ill-conceived because Kant uses a notion of “given concepts” that is indeterminate with respect to their a priori or a posteriori status.

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Gabriele Gava
University of Turin


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