Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Does Kant Mean by Dogmatism?

In a certain post (here) a number of objections to “Kant’s critique of metaphysics” were raised.I am not interested in the objections but due to how severe and poorly informed they were I became curious what the author means by ‘critique of metaphysics’ that would foster such aggressive lashing out.In light of the objections, the phrase 'critique of metaphysics' suggests something like an assault and total rejection of metaphysics.This led me to consider how best to express what Kant criticizes (not Critiques, since we know that answer - reason). Does Kant means to put a stop to metaphysics? It seems fairly clear that Kant means to preserve metaphysics.
Metaphysics (and science generally) is dogmatic, but Kant's criticism is not of metaphysics, but rather of an assumption that metaphysical procedure had allowed that Kant calls dogmatism.Dogmatism is understood today in a rather vague way which carries some sense of it being offensive; dogmatism means something today like an authoritarianism of assertions that are imposed and not allowed to be questioned.But how does Kant understand dogmatism?In the B edition preface of the Critique of Pure Reason Kant says:
This critique is not opposed to the dogmatic procedure of reason in its pure knowledge, as science, for that must always be dogmatic, that is, yield strict proof from sure principles a priori. It is opposed only to dogmatism, that is, to the presumption that it is possible to make progress with pure knowledge, according to principles, from concepts alone (those that are philosophical), as reason has long been in the habit of doing; and that it is possible to do this without having first investigated in what way and by what right reason has come into possession of these concepts. Dogmatism is thus the dogmatic procedure of reason, without previous criticism of its own powers. In withstanding dogmatism we must not allow ourselves to give free rein to that loquacious shallowness, which assumes for itself the name of popularity, nor yet to skepticism, which makes short work with all metaphysics. On the contrary, such criticism is the necessary preparation for a thoroughly grounded metaphysics, which, as science, must necessarily be developed dogmatically, according to the strictest demands of system, in such a manner as to satisfy not the general public but the requirements of the Schools. (Bxxxv - xxxvi)
Some important insights we gain about dogmatism from this are:
  • Dogmatism is considered a procedure that is directed at acquiring knowledge from a priori principles.
  • We are to criticize dogmatism’s attempts to make progress in pure knowledge with concepts alone.
  • Our reason has long been in the habit of attempting to extend pure knowledge with only concepts.
  • Metaphysics can proceed dogmatically once we ask how we come into possession of our (philosophical) concepts.
We find here that Kant does not reject metaphysics, but in fact the opposite: he means to ground it, and this grounding of metaphysics is involved (at least historically) in addressing practices in a procedure called 'dogmatism' that Kant sees as having been prevalent.
Most centrally related to the broader theme of Kant’s Critique of pure Reason is the third characteristic we found: Kant’s remark of dogmatism that “reason has long been in the habit of doing” it.Kant has a profound concern for this Habit, yet this fact seems usually passed over.This is possibly overlooked because it does not immediately suggest the typical philosophical content associated with the Critique, even though this concern is at the very core of transcendental philosophy.
The first sentence of A edition preface to the Critique of Pure Reason emphasizes the Habit in similar manner to Kant asking, “How is metaphysics, as a natural disposition, possible? That is, how from the nature of universal human reason do those questions arise which pure reason propounds to itself, and which it is impelled by its own need to answer as best it can?” (B22)It is also telling that Kant’s first realization which led to his critical project was the antinomies, where the Habit of reason presents itself in a radical form.
The fourth characteristic we noted of dogmatism relates to the third in that we risk dogmatism until we have carried out an inquiry into our faculty of reason in order to lay the ground for metaphysics – this inquiry is the science called Critique of Pure Reason.We can see in this that dogmatism is not something essential to metaphysics, but a procedure that can lead to problems if one does not take precautions.That dogmatism is a procedure we pointed out in the first characteristic.
Concerning the second characteristic of dogmatism, “pure knowledge” means something known completely a priori (necessarily), and “from concepts alone” emphasizes that the other source of cognition (i.e., intuition) are excluded from the content metaphysics deals with.To understand the concepts that are ‘philosophical’ we can consider what concepts do not incorporate intuition and are employed in attempts to add to our purely a priori knowledge. The ideas – soul, world, God – fit this description.The first character of dogmatism refers to the ideas which are immediately bound up with the Habit of pure reason.
Taking Kant’s rejection of dogmatism as a rejection of metaphysics is a misreading which requires that Kant find the risk of dogmatism as necessary for metaphysics - this is not the case, (though dogmatic procedure is still required).Kant is interested in continuing metaphysical inquiry after the threat of dogmatism is evaluated and avoided.


Unknown said...

Nice summary. It might be helpful to link this up with Kant's short 'histories' of reason's development from dogmatism through skepticism to criticism in the Antinomy and in the Doctrine of Method. As you note, dogmatic procedure and dogmatic claims are distinct from dogmatism as a kind of predisposition to "run riot in the transcendent" when we go looking for knowledge from a priori principles. These little stories about reason --wherein dogmatism is less than reflective, skepticism is reflective only enough to observe endless battles -but not see their roots- , and criticism goes beyond skepticism and reflects upon the deep roots of human dogmatism -- provide a handy way (esp. in the classroom) to show in what sense Kant wants to move beyond dogmatism and skepticism, and in what sense he thinks dogmatic procedure and skeptical method valuable, worth incorporating into the critical philosophy... if not important, un-abandonable parts of what it means to be human.

Erik Christianson said...

Thanks for your comment.

I agree that it is helpful to get a view of the relationship and use of Dogmatism, Skepticism, and Critique. The dogmatist is held in check by the skeptic, but only able to start advancing once the critic has performed their work clarifying the object.

In fact, the exact problem I was addressing here was that it seems that many take Kant's work to be a rejection of any kind of dogmatic thought; but for Kant that just means thought that reasons from grounds it has taken up to conclusions. The article I linked to at the start of this post was an example of the sort of fearful reaction many have to Kant, which would be justified if Kant actually did want to reject all advancing in Metaphysics.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this. This is very helpful in my exam.

Erik Christianson said...

Glad I could be of some help.