Kant on Method

In Andrew Stephenson & Anil Gomes (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Kant. Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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In this article I offer an opinionated overview of the central elements of Kant’s philosophical methodology during the critical period. I begin with a brief characterization of how Kant conceives of the aims of human inquiry – focusing on the idea that inquiry ideally aims at not just cognition (Erkenntnis), but also the more demanding cognitive achievements that Kant labels insight (Einsehen) and comprehension (Begreifen). Then I explore the implications of this picture for philosophy — emphasizing Kant’s distinction between critical and doctrinal phases of philosophical inquiry, with the first of these playing both a negative and a positive role with respect to the second. Then, I will argue that this positive role is possible, according to Kant, only insofar as philosophy follows what I call a “capacities-first” methodology – that is, one that treats basic cognitive capacities (such as reason) and their self-conscious activities as fundamental (in both a cognitive sense and in an explanatory sense) for the sort of philosophy human beings are capable of. It is this methodology, I will argue, that allows Kant to introduce the first principles that philosophy in its doctrinal phase requires in a manner that is neither arbitrary nor (at least obviously) incompatible with Kant’s own critical restrictions on cognition. I conclude by discussing some of the implications of this methodological picture – including the methodological significance of self-consciousness and regressive or “transcendental” arguments, Kant’s distinction between analytic and synthetic methods in philosophy, and Kant’s conception of reason as autonomous.
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