Friday, January 7, 2022

A vii-viii, ¶ 1-2

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[¶1] Human reason has the peculiar fate in one species of its cognitions that it is burdened with questions which it cannot dismiss, since they are given to it as problems by the nature of reason itself, but which it also cannot answer, since they transcend every capacity" of human reason.
[¶2] Reason falls into this perplexity through no fault of its own. It begins from principles whose use is unavoidable in the course of experience and at the same time sufficiently warranted by it. With these principles it rises (as its nature also requires) ever higher, to more remote condi­tions. But since it becomes aware in this way that its business must al­ways remain incomplete because the questions never cease, reason sees itself necessitated to take refuge in principles that overstep all possible use in experience, and yet seem so unsuspicious that even ordinary common sense agrees with them. But it thereby falls into obscurity and contradictions, from which it can indeed surmise that it must some­ where be proceeding on the ground of hidden errors; but it cannot dis­cover them, for the principles on which it is proceeding, since they surpass the bounds of all experience, no longer recognize any touch­ stone of experience. The battlefield of these endless controversies is called metaphysics.

Summary

Our power of reason calls out for answers that we cannot avoid seeking, but which cannot be discovered. The situation with reason produces a standing and endless conflict called metaphysics.

Commentary

These first two paragraphs provide an overview of a problem the community of philosophers faces, as well as a hint at how this problem originates.
To begin with, the first sentence already gestures at a major conclusion of the book: reason leads us to overextend ourselves. This thought is developed in the second paragraph which tells us about how every time we answer a question, reason is ready with another, sending us searching for proofs always more removed from immediate experience and finally beyond the scope of experience generally. Not being aware that the principles we are employing are limited to experience, the conclusions we draw beyond experience seem plausible enough, but also because they have transcended experience the conclusions can't be checked and deciding between alternate conclusions seems impossible. From this, an interminable struggle begins.
It is valuable to point out, then, that Kant's overall goal is not to solve some material problem in philosophy (e.g., does God exist?), but instead involves a crisis in the community of metaphysicians who, having lost touch with their object, have lost touch with each other. Kant wants to avoid the confusions and conflicts reproduce themselves and plans to do this by taking up the task of exposing the limits of the principles that we attempt to employ beyond their use in experience. With these limits established clearly the community of metaphysicians will once more - or for the first time - have a common touchstone for truth.
Up to his writing of the critique, Kant was already working to broaden the horizons of the rationalist tradition, but not in a manner that challenged the very foundations of this tradition. With the writing of the critique he upends these very foundations.

Questions

What questions can reason not answer?

Reason will struggle with questions regarding objects which stand outside of all possible experience. These are most particularly the objects of the ideas soul, world, and God. Some example questions would be: is the soul immortal? Is the World infinite or finite? Does God exist?

What other species of cognition are there?

The two major branches of cognition in Kant are theoretical and practical. The theoretical is any thought (of objects) which concerns the existence of something, while the practical is any thought (of objects) which concerns something so far as it ought to exist.

Are there alternatives to human reason?

Humans are sensible beings that also possess reason. Kant finds no contradiction in the notion of a non-sensible rational being, but the concept of such beings is problematic (i.e., we are unable to determine if it is possible or impossible). In the second critique, the topic introduces concerns about rational beings more generally but ultimately is restricted to analyzing the human side of moral cognitions.

Terminology

human reason (menschliche Vernunft), experience (erfahrung), metaphysics (Metaphysik)

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