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Kant and Naturalism Reconsidered

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Reconstructions of Kant are prominent in the contemporary debate over naturalism. Given that this naturalism rejects a priori principles, Kant's anti-naturalism can best be discerned in the “critical turn” as a response to David Hume. Hume did not awaken Kant to criticize but to defend rational metaphysics. But when Kant went transcendental did he not, in fact, go transcendent? The controversy in the 1990s over John McDowell's Mind and World explored just this suspicion: the questions of the normative force of reason and of the ontological “space of reasons” vis-a-vis the world. “Bald naturalism” appears to “extrude” rationality both ontologically and epistemologically from the natural world. Kant sought to discriminate a transcendental middle ground, safe from either extrusion. But was Kant's notion of the autonomy and spontaneity of reason as metaphysically innocent as McDowell's critics would have it? Situating Hume and naturalism in the eighteenth-century German context can help us understand the “critical turn” more accurately. While Hume recognized procedural proprieties for reflection, he did not believe in their a priori necessity. Initially, Kant shared that view. What assimilating Leibniz and Locke in the late 1760s garnered for Kant—the simultaneous spontaneity and self-transparency of reason—seemed to provide a means for overcoming Hume's skepticism and establishing a new foundation for metaphysics. Accordingly, all of the efforts of modern Kantianism notwithstanding, there is more than a whiff of the transcendent in Kant's transcendentalism.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Rice University, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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