Humor, Common Sense and the Future of Metaphysics in the Prolegomena

In Peter Thielke (ed.), Kant's Prolegomena: A Critical Guide. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 9-26 (2021)
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Kant’s Prolegomena is a piece of philosophical advertising: it exists to convince the open-minded “future teacher” of metaphysics that the true critical philosophy — i.e., the Critique — provides the only viable solution to the problem of metaphysics (i.e. its failure to make any genuine progress). To be effective, a piece of advertising needs to know its audience. This chapter argues that Kant takes his reader to have some default sympathies for the common-sense challenge to metaphysics originating from Thomas Reid and his followers; this fact in turn explains his rhetorical strategies in the Prolegomena, particularly regarding the presentation of the problem of metaphysics. The chapter draws attention to the importance of Shaftesbury, who, with a nod to Horace, had argued for the deployment of humour to disarm fraudulent claims to epistemic and moral authority. Kant looks to Horace himself to poke fun at the common-sense challenge to metaphysics, and from there to indicate the general shape of the particular argumentative strategies of the Critique — that project that alone, in his view, can promise some kind of future for metaphysics.

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Melissa M Merritt
University of New South Wales


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