The Critique of Pure Reason – Preface and Introduction

In case you were wondering, I am currently a graduate student at a far too left for me school in NYC about to enter my final semester to earn an M.A. in philosophy.  Since this requires me to take three challenging exams this semester, I have decided to get an early start.  Now, since the easiest way for me to remember what I read is to write it out in my own notes, I figured I’d post those notes on here, since I’m sure so many people want to know the intricacies of philosophical argument.  Right now I am trudging through Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (which I always find to be a joy) so I present some of those notes here for your reading and critiquing (see what I did there?) pleasure.  For any studious folks out there, I am using Paul Guyer’s and Allen Wood’s translation.  In this post I have notes on the Preface and Introduction to both <A> and <B> versions.  Enjoy it as much as I do!

Preface <A>

There was a time when metaphysics was considered the queen of all sciences, but (with the scientific revolution) that opinion has changed and now only a select few dogmatists still hold onto the old metaphysical proofs of God, the soul, and free will.  Opposed to these dogmatists are skeptics who would do away with all metaphysics as being nothing more than sophistry; and there are those Kant calls indifferent who want to hold the metaphysical notions as being true without being burdened with the perilous pitfalls that mire those proofs.

In place of all this bickering, Kant proposes a Critique of Pure Reason; that is, a critique of the faculty of reason “in respect of all the cognitions after which reason might strive independently of all experience, and hence the decision about the possibility or impossibility of a metaphysics in general, and the determination of its sources, as well as its extent and boundaries, all, however, from principles.” (A xii)  What Kant is proposing here is a method of inquiry for reasoning that will either open up access to hither to closed metaphysical notions, or show that access can never be realized.

This is quite a different approach from traditional metaphysics, for in those instances philosophers will make their arguments by “extend(ing) human cognition beyond all bounds of possible experience (of which Kant) admit(s) that this wholly surpasses my capacity.” (A xiv)  For Kant the purpose of the critique is to exhaustively examine the capacities of pure reason and to reason far beyond himself would be to abandon that method.

Finally Kant makes two quick remarks concerning certainty and clarity.  With respect to certainty:  “I have pronounced the judgment that in this kind of inquiry it is in no way allowed to hold opinions, and that anything that even looks like a hypothesis is a forbidden commodity, which should not be put up for sale even at the lowest price but must be confiscated as soon as it is discovered.” (A xv)  By opinion Kant is referring to those sorts of metaphysical concepts and judgments that are fueled by far off reasoning that cannot ever be known to us.  This suggests that any metaphysics for Kant will have to be, in some manner, tied to human reasoning which comes through experience or through pure reasoning.  Concerning clarity, Kant has strived to show sound logical proofs for his system and has not concerned himself with proofs by way of example as is the fashion for books aimed at the popular reader.  This is a scholarly work for philosophers who can follow the complexity of the arguments.

Preface <B>

Kant starts off with some remarks about logic.  Logic is unlike the sciences in that the boundaries of logic are strictly determined by the formal rules of all thinking.  The rules of logic cannot transcend, so logic serves as a proper tool for examining the limits of reason rather it be pure or practical.  When it comes to the ways in which we reason, cognition can relate to objects either by determining the object and its concept (i.e. theoretical) or by making the object actual (practical).  Mathematics and physics are two theoretical cognitions that determine their objects a priori (i.e. pure cognition).

Kant goes on to expound a bit on the history and development of the mathematics and the natural sciences including the Greek atomist Diogenes Laertius, Thales, Galileo, and Copernicus.  He also points out how metaphysics differs from the sciences:  In metaphysics, the “cognition of reason…elevates itself entirely above all instruction from experience, and that through mere concepts, where reason thus is supposed to be its own pupil.” (B xiv)  This is the major line in the sand for Kant and why he wants to deny traditional metaphysics:  Once cognitions move past the realm of human experience there is nothing to tether the concepts or objects to humanity.  Now we can see two different ways of cognizing objects and concepts that will define his transcendental philosophy:  On the one hand, there are those cognitions that touch on the level of human experience, whether it is a priori or a posteriori.  This is the level of appearance.  On the other hand, there are those cognitions that completely transcend human experience, and those cognitions are referring to things in themselves.

Space and time are hinted at as playing an important role in Kant’s system.  He tells us that they are “only forms of sensible intuition, and therefore only conditions of the existence of the things as appearances.” (B xxv)  Also “to cognize an object, it is required that I be able to prove its possibility.  But I can think whatever I like, as long as I do not contradict myself, i.e., as long as my concept is a possible thought, even if I cannot give any assurance whether or not there is a corresponding object somewhere within the sum total of all possibilities.” (B xxvi)  Again this alludes to the twofold levels of appearance and thing-in-itself of Kant’s philosophy.

Kant goes on to talk about how God, the soul, and free will (and the morality that is attached to it) are not parts of the world of appearance; he makes the contrast between the mechanical nature of the universe (i.e. determinism) and the “free” of free will (i.e. the ability to choose to do otherwise) and how having these two views co-exist is only possible with transcendental philosophy.  In a slogan, “Thus I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” (B xxx)

Kant also thinks that transcendental philosophy can sooth the woes of skepticism by providing the proper framework for how we can speak about concepts such as God, the soul, and freedom.  Thus Kant’s aim is to eliminate the opposition between dogmatists and skeptics, and provide an answer for the indifferentists who accept the metaphysical, but cannot get on board with the spurious arguments that support it.

Introduction <A>

Kant immediately points out a couple of important points to keep in mind.  He tells us that “experience is without doubt the first product that our understanding brings forth as it works on the raw material of sensible sensations…nevertheless it is far from the only field to which our understanding can be restricted.  It tells us, to be sure, what is, but never that it necessarily be thus and not otherwise.” (A1)  Kant, in keeping in step with Locke, does not think we are born with any sort of innate knowledge of concepts; rather we are born tabula rasa and gain our first insights into knowledge through experience.  But experience can only take us so far; we can gain knowledge of some particular instance (e.g. an apple falling from a tree) through experience, but to understand that there is a law governing why those instances occur (gravity) requires our inner thought process.  This inner process, which lets us understand universal and necessary concepts, happens after initial empirical experiences, but independent of them, Kant calls a priori cognitions.  Cognitions that result from direct empirical data through the senses are called a posteriori.

Now there are certain cognitions that seem able to have all sensory experiences stripped from them and are known completely a priori.  Pushed even further passed all bounds of human experience, these concepts have no objects of thought associated with them.  This is where we find certain metaphysical concepts such as God, soul, and freedom; however we also find mathematics in this realm (along with certain natural sciences).

Kant next makes the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments.  Analytic judgments are those in which the predicate only helps further clarify the subject without adding anything to it.  Thus, “all bodies are extended” is an analytic statement for extension is understood to be part of the definition of a body.  Synthetic judgments, by contrast, are those which the predicate does add something to the subject.  “All bodies are heavy” is an example of a synthetic judgment for the predicate “heavy” adds something not already found in the definition of “body.”  Another way Kant puts it is that analytic judgments are judgments of clarification and synthetic judgments are judgments of amplification. (A7)

Now it is easy to see how analytic a priori and synthetic a posteriori judgments come about, but (in Kant’s time) no one has of yet tried to figure out how synthetic a priori judgments are possible.  This is the major goal Kant will attempt to achieve in the Critique, and this new science will be called transcendental philosophy.

 Introduction <B>

The B version of the introduction does add some background information and does clarify a couple of things, but really does not add anything to the important topics covered above.  In the interest of brevity, I am only pointing out a handful of quotes and statements that mark any real difference between the two introductions, which is to say, not much.

“No cognition in us proceeds experience, and with experience every cognition begins (Tabula Rasa).  But although all our cognition commences with experience, yet it does not on that account all rise from experience.” (B1)

Cognitions independent of experience are a priori; cognitions originating from experience are a posteriori. (B2)

Pure a priori have nothing empirical intermixed. (B3)

A priori judgments can be characterized by universality and necessity. (B4)

Philosophy needs a science to deal with the metaphysical questions the dogmatists never seem to find a fitting answer to. (B7)

“Mathematics gives us a splendid example of how far we can go with a priori cognition independently of experience.” (B8)

Analytic = Judgments of clarification, Synthetic = Judgments of amplification. (B11)

“Judgments of experience, as such, are all synthetic.” (B11)

We need to examine the root of synthetic a priori judgments. (B14)

“Mathematical judgments are all synthetic.” (B14)

“Natural science contains within itself synthetic a priori judgments as principles.” (B18)

“Metaphysics, at least as far as its end is concerned, consists of purely synthetic a priori propositions.” (B18)

“How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?” (B19)

What Transcendental philosophy is. (B25)

Onward to the Transcendental Aesthetic

  1. One of the most rewarding things about a journey like this is the simple epiphany. You’ve had several, all hard won.

    • Bill Liktor said:

      It truly is! I’ve got a lot ready for the next section too 😀

  2. spinoza1111 said:

    Great stuff, will follow.

    • Bill Liktor said:


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