The Beach of Skepticism: Kant and Hume on the Practice of Philosophy and the Proper Bounds of Skepticism

In Peter Thielke (ed.), Cambridge Critical Guide to Kant’s Prolegomena. Cambridge: Cambridge. pp. 111-132 (forthcoming)
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The focus of this chapter will be Kant’s understanding of Hume, and its impact on Kant’s critical philosophy. Contrary to the traditional reading of this relationship, which focuses on Kant’s (admittedly real) dissatisfaction with Hume’s account of causation, my discussion will focus on broader issues of philosophical methodology. Following a number of recent interpreters, I will argue that Kant sees Hume as raising, in a particularly forceful fashion, a ‘demarcation challenge’ concerning how to distinguish the legitimate use of reason in (say) natural scientific contexts from the illegitimate use of it in (say) dogmatic metaphysics. I will then go on to argue that Kant sees Hume’s tendency to slide into more radical forms of skepticism as a symptom of his failure to provide a systematic or principled account of this distinction. This failure, I argue, can be traced (according to Kant) to Hume’s impoverished, non-hylomorphic account of our faculties – which both robs Hume of the materials necessary to construct a genuinely systematic philosophy as Kant understands this, and makes it impossible for Hume to clearly conceive of what Kant calls ‘Formal Idealism.’ In this way, the failings of Hume’s account of causation are (for Kant) symptoms of more fundamental limitations within Hume’s philosophy. I close by briefly discussing the similarities between Hume and Kant’s understanding of the relationship between, first, philosophical methodology and, second, the nature of our faculties.
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