Monday, January 10, 2022

A xiii-x, ¶ 3-4

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[¶3] There was a time when metaphysics was called the queen of all the sciences, and if the will be taken for the deed, it deserved this title of honor, on account of the preeminent importance of its object. Now, in accordance with the fashion of the age, the queen proves despised on all sides; and the matron, outcast and forsaken, mourns like Hecuba: Modo maxima rerum, tot generis natisque potens - nunc trahor exul, inops ["Greatest of all by race and birth, I now am cast out, powerless"]- Ovid, Metamorphoses.
[¶4] In the beginning, under the administration of the dogmatists, her rule was despotic. Yet because her legislation still retained traces of an­cient barbarism, this rule gradually degenerated through internal wars into complete anarchy; and the skeptics, a kind of nomads who abhor all permanent cultivation of the soil, shattered civil unity from time to time. But since there were fortunately only a few of them, they could not prevent the dogmatists from continually attempting to rebuild, though never according to a plan unanimously accepted among them­selves. Once in recent times it even seemed as though an end would be put to all these controversies, and the lawfulness of all the competing claims would be completely decided, through a certain physiology of the human understanding (by the famous Locke); but it turned out that although the birth of the purported queen was traced to the rabble of common experience and her pretensions would therefore have been rightly rendered suspicious, nevertheless she still asserted her claims, because in fact this genealogy was attributed to her falsely; thus metaphysics fell back into the same old worm-eaten dogmatism, and thus into the same position of contempt out of which the science was to have been extricated. Now after all paths (as we persuade ourselves) have been tried in vain, what rules is tedium and complete indifferentism, the mother of chaos and night in the sciences, but at the same time also the origin, or at least the prelude, of their incipient transformation and enlightenment, when through ill-applied effort they have become ob­scure, confused, and useless.

Summary

In its history, metaphysics has waxed and waned (from queen to outcast) and has fallen into a pattern of building up (dogmatism) followed by destruction (skepticism) and then rebuilding.

Commentary

Kant sees a pattern reproducing itself in the history of metaphysics, and the frustration of the lack of progress has set the stage for critique. The dogmatists that are mentioned are any philosophers that attempt to advance our knowledge beyond experience with concepts alone, and without having first determined their own limits. These figures are said to maintain a despotic rule, which likely signifies how dogmatism places all authority in reason alone, and so there is no representation of the senses. A historical figure that would typically be thought of as dogmatic by Kant would be Leibniz, but any figure that gives a positive conclusion about a metaphysical topic would likely be considered a dogmatism.
The skeptics are philosophers who undermine principles, but do not replace them. Because of this they are likened to anarchists since in their wake there are no laws to rely on. Since, reason pushes us ever onward new dogmatists eventually arise and the cycle begins again.
Kant recognizes that others have attempted to settle the matter positively, such as Locke who argued that all concepts are derived from the senses. However, Kant considers Locke's attempt a failure as there are concepts which could not be derived from experience since experience itself would be impossible without them.
After two millennia of philosophy, there has been no real progress in metaphysics, and in this time Kant thinks all dogmatic paths of metaphysics have been tried. That there are a finite number of options is itself an interesting point that Kant maintains. The reason for this is that, in metaphysics, reason has only to do with itself and so has limited options for the various configurations it can make. This limitation also makes reason open to critique since an analysis of these principles is possible, and so a critique of pure reason can itself be completed.
Even today there are dogmatists and skeptics, and this pattern may be expected to continue as long as humans are doing philosophy. However, there are not various traditions, such as phenomenology, that can be seen as offering up critique.

Questions

Who called metaphysics the queen of the sciences?

It isn't clear if Kant has any particular individuals in mind. There is a tradition going back to Aristotle that sees the situation this way, but also metaphysics has been referred to as a handmaiden to theology, which was itself seen as the queen. This may also have roots in Aristotle, as the book we call Metaphysics contains what Aristotle calls theology - though this theology is obviously not tied to a major world religion such as Christianity.

Terminology

dogmatists (Dogmatiker), skeptics (Skeptiker)

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