Thursday, December 17, 2009

Critique of Pure Reason: Beginning of the A Edition

   The two prefaces to the Critique of Pure Reason are vastly important for guiding the reader through the text.  They provide an overview and insight into the spirit of the text, and also determine crucial limits that Kant observes through the remainder of his critical project.  The preface in the A edition of the Critique can help to give us a view of what the critical project meant to Kant before it was let loose upon the world, that is, before Kant received the massive amount of feedback that demanded him to produce a new preface in the B edition.
To begin with, I will be taking the first sentence of the A preface and examining what it reveals to us about the critical project and for the particular sort of problematic that Kant is working within.  The sentence runs as follows:
HUMAN reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.
In the B edition, after the work's tremendous reception of positive, negative, but almost universally misunderstood, commentary, the first sentence reveals a change in Kant's problematic from a concern with something essential to man, over to a concern with the reception of Kant's own work.  The B edition starts as follows:
WHETHER the treatment of such knowledge as lies within the province of reason does or does not follow the secure path of a science, is easily to be determined from the outcome.
It is possible to see a greater level of sincerity in the A edition because Kant is not concerned with commentary.  However, while the A edition may be more grounded in essential concerns for humanity, the B edition is concerned in the human activity of communication and this is of primary importance from a pragmatic standpoint: the text is essentially intended to communicate something.  Furthermore, in the B edition one can see Kant pouring over the necessity and benefits of the work, almost as if to reassure himself.  Recognizing the importance of both A and B editions, we now concern ourselves with the A edition alone.
   When one reads the first sentence in any philosophical work one can tell that the author has put a great deal of effort into it.  Kant, recognizing, but it seems not fully understanding, the great importance of his work certainly would have put a great deal of effort in to his first impression on an audience, and he shows great sagacity in how he proceeds - from an orientation in his problematic dealing in essential concerns for all humanity.
   The discussion in the first sentence is about reason, and not just reason but human reason.  This reason we are in possession of is fated to pose unsolvable problems for itself.  This being fated is constituted by both the problems, and the inability to solve them, flowing directly from the nature, or essence, of our reason. 
   These unresolvable questions have seen attempted solutions, and through the Critique Kant intends to show that while the questions are unassailable, if we are careful [readable as critical] we can understand the questions such that what is truly important in them can be understood, though never in a resolved or unproblematic way.  It is true that the Critique is not intended to provide any positive knowledge, but merely a restricting, but through coming to terms with the limitations on our knowledge we acquire clarity in their exposition - we discover what it means for us to have these questions and these limitations regarding them.

   The opening sentence of the A edition preface reveals the orientation of the problematic of the Critique as guided by limits of human knowledge, but not concerned with overcoming these limits - our being finite takes a central role here. 

   It is interesting that Kant uses the word fate in the first line - later he will refer to words such as fate and luck as usurpatory concepts.  Here Kant may just be allowing for a little bit of the poetical, but it is also interesting to consider what this addition may mean.
   Reason here is used in a rather vague way and this term will take some time to form itself in a definitive way to any who are unfamiliar with Kant.  Here, however, he does seem to be referring to our faculty of reason, which is called elsewhere the faculty of desire.  This would make sense since the being compelled to answer these unanswerable questions is a desire.  The inability to answer them is from limitations in our faculty of cognition, however, which is the understanding.
   That finitude is a concern for Kant isn't something that is necessarily new, even that our being limited is positive is nothing new - one has to look to Socrates in the ancient world or Descartes in the start of the modern period.  Now we can see the continued importance of our finite existence in the works of thinkers such as Heidegger.
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