KANT’S VINDICATION OF HIS PHILOSOPHICAL STYLE.
[IN THE PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION, 1796-97.]
The reproach of obscurity, and even of a studied indefiniteness affecting the appearance of profound insight, has been frequently raised against my philosophical style of exposition. I do not know how I could better meet or remove this objection than by readily accepting the condition which Garve, a philosopher in the genuine sense of the term, has laid down as a duty incumbent upon every writer, and especially on philosophical authors. And for my part, I would only restrict his injunction by the condition, that it is to be followed only so far as the nature of the science which is to be improved or enlarged will allow.
Garve wisely and rightly demands, that every philosophical doctrine must be capable of being presented in a popular form, if the expounder of it is to escape the suspicion of obscurity in his ideas; that is, it must be capable of being conveyed in expressions that are universally intelligible. I readily admit this, with the exception only of the systematic Critique of the Faculty of Reason, and all that can only be determined and unfolded by it; for all this relates to the distinction of the sensible in our knowledge from the supersensible, which is attainable by Reason. This can never be made popular, nor can any formal Metaphysic as such be popular; although their results may be made quite intelligible to the common reason, which is metaphysical without its being known to be so. In this sphere, popularity in expression is not to be thought of. We are here forced to use scholastic accuracy, even if it should have to bear the reproach of troublesomeness; because it is only by such technical language that the precipitancy of reason can be arrested, and brought to understand itself in face of its dogmatic assertions.
But if pedants presume to address the public in technical phraseology from pulpits or in popular books, and in expressions that are only fitted for the Schools, the fault of this must not be laid as a burden upon the critical philosophers, any more than the folly of the mere wordmonger (logodædalus) is to be imputed to the grammarian. The laugh should here only turn against the man and not against the science.
It may sound arrogant, egotistical, and, to those who have not yet renounced their old system, even derogatory, to assert ‘that before the rise of the Critical Philosophy, there was not yet a philosophy at all.’ Now, in order to be able to pronounce upon this seeming presumption, it is necessary to resolve the question as to whether there can really be more than one philosophy. There have, in fact, not only been various modes of philosophizing and of going back to the first principles of Reason in order to found a system upon them, with more or less success; but there must be many attempts of this kind of which every one has its own merit at least for the present. However, as objectively considered there can only be one human Reason, so there cannot be many Philosophies; in other words, there is only one true System of Philosophy founded upon principles, however variously and however contradictorily men may have philosophized over one and the same proposition. Thus the Moralist rightly says, there is only one virtue, and only one doctrine regarding it; that is, one single system connects all the duties of virtue by one principle. The Chemist, in like manner, says there is only one chemistry, that which is expounded by Lavoisier. The Physician, in like manner, says there is only one principle, according to Brown, in the system of classifying Diseases. But because it is held that the new systems exclude all the others, it is not thereby meant to detract from the merit of the older Moralists, Chemists, and Physicians; for without their discoveries, and even their failures, we would not have attained to the unity of the true principle of a complete philosophy in a system. Accordingly, when any one announces a system of philosophy as a production of his own, this is equivalent to saying that ‘before this Philosophy there was properly no philosophy.’ For should he admit that there had been another and a true philosophy, it would follow that there may be two true systems of philosophy regarding its proper objects; which is a contradiction. If, therefore, the Critical Philosophy gives itself forth as that System before which there had been properly no true philosophy at all, it does no more than has been done, will be done, and even must be done, by all who construct a Philosophy on a plan of their own.
Another objection has been made to my System which is of less general significance, and yet is not entirely without importance. It has been alleged that one of the essentially distinguishing elements of this Critical Philosophy is not a growth of its own, but has been borrowed from some other philosophy, or even from an exposition of Mathematics. Such is the supposed discovery, which a Tübingen Reviewer thinks he has made, in regard to the Definition of Philosophy which the author of the Critique of the Pure Reason gives out as his own, and as a not insignificant product of his system, but which it is alleged had been given many years before by another writer, and almost in the same words. I leave it to any one to judge whether the words: ‘intellectualis quædam constructio,’ could have originated the thought of the presentation of a given conception in an intuitive perception à priori, by which Philosophy is at once entirely and definitely distinguished from Mathematics. I am certain that Hausen himself would have refused to recognise this as an explanation of his expression; for the possibility of an intuitive perception à priori, and the recognition of Space as such an intuition and not the mere outward coexistence of the manifold objects of empirical perception (as Wolf defines it), would have at once repelled him, on the ground that he would have felt himself thus entangled in wide philosophical investigations. The presentation, constructed, as it were, by the Understanding, referred to by the acute Mathematician, meant nothing more than the (empirical) representation of a Line corresponding to a conception, in making which representation attention is to be given merely to the Rule, and abstraction is to be made from the deviations from it that inevitably occur in actual execution, as may be easily perceived in the geometrical construction of Equalities.
And least of all is there any importance to be laid upon the objection made regarding the spirit of this Philosophy, on the ground of the improper use of some of its terms by those who merely ape the system in words. The technical expressions employed in the Critique of the Pure Reason cannot well be replaced by others in current use, but it is another thing to employ them outside of the sphere of Philosophy in the public interchange of ideas. Such a usage of them deserves to be well castigated, as Nicolai has shown; but he even shrinks from adopting the view that such technical terms are entirely dispensable in their own sphere, as if they were adopted merely to disguise a poverty of thought. However, the laugh may be much more easily turned upon the unpopular pedant than upon the uncritical ignoramus; for in truth the Metaphysician who sticks rigidly to his system without any concern about Criticism, may be reckoned as belonging to the latter class, although his ignorance is voluntary, because he will only not accept what does not belong to his own older school. But if, according to Shaftesbury’s saying, it is no contemptible test of the truth of a predominantly practical doctrine, that it can endure Ridicule, then the Critical Philosophy must, in the course of time, also have its turn; and it may yet laugh best when it will be able to laugh last. This will be when the mere paper systems of those who for a long time have had the lead in words, crumble to pieces one after the other; and it sees all their adherents scattering away,—a fate which inevitably awaits them.
MORRISON AND GIBB, EDINBURGH, PRINTERS TO HER MAJESTY’S STATIONERY OFFICE.
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