Caryl Emerson, George Pattison, Randall A. Poole (Eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought, Oxford University Press, 2020

The Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought Book Cover The Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought
Caryl Emerson, George Pattison, Randall A. Poole (Eds.)
Oxford University Press
2020
Hardback £110.00
736

Alison Laywine: Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: A Cosmology of Experience

Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: A Cosmology of Experience Book Cover Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: A Cosmology of Experience
Alison Laywine
Oxford University Press
2020
Hardback £60.00
336

Reviewed by: Thomas Nemeth (USA)

Every student of Kant’s thought is familiar with his reflective assertion that the Transcendental Deduction in the first Critique cost him more labor than any other part. The centrality of that presentation for his entire argument coupled with its sheer conceptual difficulty lay behind Kant’s efforts and the attention he afforded to elaborate it correctly. Countless students from his time to our own have themselves spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to follow the train of thought Kant pursued in it. Not just have disagreements surfaced on the actual steps Kant took in the Deduction, but differing opinions arose on how he could best achieve his intended end. We know that even in his own day Kant’s contemporaries were puzzled by the Transcendental Deduction as it appeared in the Critique’s first edition. Kant took the criticism to heart, and in a second edition of the work he gave a completely new version of the argument. Regrettably, what many thought should be the clearest of all presentations in the Critique – owing to its centrality – has been viewed by able scholars over the ensuing decades, nay centuries, as puzzling and obscure, but above all as inconclusive. Whereas many have ventured opinions on the success of Kant’s endeavor, few, if any, have concluded that he succeeded in achieving whatever it is that he had set out to do.

Numerous attempts have been made even in recent years to do what Kant himself seemingly was unable to accomplish, namely to give a clear account of Kant’s argument in the Deduction, quite apart from whether it succeeds or not. Even if we lay aside the presentations in the form of journal articles, the number of book-length studies alone is surprising, even astonishing – and this just in the English language. Fortunately, we have two eminently lucid expositions of Kant’s Transcendental Deduction, namely Guyer’s Kant and the Claims of Knowledge and Allison’s Kant’s Transcendental Deduction, though as the titles suggest the latter is more pointedly directed at explaining Kant’s text than the former. Both, however, are works that no serious student of Kant can afford to ignore. Certainly, there are considerable differences between the two books in their conclusions and their manner of executing their respective projects. Nevertheless, regardless of one’s familiarity with Kant’s text, whether a graduate student trying to understand Kant’s problem for the first time or an accomplished Kant-scholar, both books offer much clarification and many insights. Moreover, both books make ample use of Kant’s writings from his so-called “Silent Decade” and thus attempt to trace the evolution of Kant’s problem in the Deduction from his early “pre-Critical” writings. Now, we have Laywine’s dense contribution to the literature.

Alison Laywine is one of the few scholars who already in 1995 undertook an examination of Kant’s pre-Critical works in considerable depth with the hope of shedding light on the basic tenets of his Critical writings and positions. In that previous work, Kant’s Early Metaphysics and the Origins of the Critical Philosophy, Laywine told us that an understanding of the first Critique’s dichotomy between the faculties of sensibility and the understanding requires an understanding of his earlier position, why Kant adopted it at the time, and what led him to alter it, assuming, of course, that he did. Implicit in Laywine’s train of thought here is that such knowledge of Kant’s development is necessary in order to arrive at Laywine’s understanding of Kant. She and so many others who make similar claims take no account of the fact that others with a different understanding of Kant may not feel the need to turn to Kant’s pre-Critical writings. Given her position regarding just what the Deduction seeks to achieve, her argument for an examination of Kant’s early writings surely would include that he retained the kernel of his early metaphysics but reinterpreted and adapted it to fit those aspects of his philosophy that changed over the intervening years.

In any case, Laywine claims – and not without good reason – that Kant came to realize the inadequacies of his 1770 Inaugural Dissertation and tried during the subsequent decade or so to investigate and establish the limits of human cognition and the role of the respective faculties he delineated within those limits. He argued that what could be known under the conditions of one faculty could not be known under the conditions of the other. Yet unlike in 1781, the year of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant held earlier in 1770 that the understanding through its concepts can cognize things in themselves, whereas things conceived through the senses are representations of things merely as they appear to us. He drew this conclusion from his contention that space and time are formal conditions of our sensibility. The strict separation of the faculties would go on to pose significant issues for him, and the attempt to resolve them led him to his mature system.

Laywine’s newest book essentially takes up where she left off previously, namely with a discussion of a set of Kant’s papers now known collectively as the Duisburg Nachlaβ, written most likely in 1775, and thus just about half-way between the Inaugural Dissertation and the first Critique. Short of paper, Kant often wrote notes on whatever paper was at hand including in the blank areas on letters he received. The so-called Duisburg Nachlaβ is such a set of jottings written in the blank areas of a letter bearing a date. Based on that fact, we know approximately when the note was scribbled. For those interested in the development of Kant’s mature positions, these notes are of great importance, since we have little else by which we can see the evolution of his thought. Although Laywine acknowledges Guyer’s treatment of the Nachlaβ in his own book, she charges him with neglecting Kant’s early metaphysics and with resisting the idealism that she sees present in the Nachlaβ. She, on the other hand, recognizes “some kind of idealism” (19) in them, but in doing so she in effect begs us to ask of her what kind of idealism is it that she sees. We get an answer or, rather, to use her own words, “some kind of” answer, further on in her detailed exposition of the Nachlaβ, where she says that the idealism is not transcendental idealism, but an idealism based on the idea that the cognizing subject intuits oneself directly through an intellectual insight and “bodies” – presumably meaning all else besides the subject – only insofar as they affect me. In this she explicitly sees herself as diverging from Guyer’s reading of the Nachlaβ, according to which Kant’s writing hopes to provide a theory of the a priori conditions of empirical knowledge but without thereby establishing an unbridgeable chasm between the world as cognized and the world as it is apart from our human cognition, i.e., as it is “in itself.” Even if one were to agree with Guyer in his reading of the Nachlaβ, one must wonder along with Laywine what Guyer meant by realism, particularly if he had Kant’s own definition in mind. Kant claimed, after all, to be an empirical realist even while espousing his transcendental idealism. Thus, the onus falls here on Guyer to clarify his position and interpretation – or at least it does on Laywine’s reading of Guyer.

However, even if we agree that Guyer failed to provide such a clarification, this does not absolve Laywine from providing her own account of Kant’s idealism. She writes that based on her reading of the A-Deduction, i.e., the Deduction as found in the 1781 Critique, Kant was an idealist about objects taken as objects of knowledge, but this need not mean that he was a skeptic concerning the external world (137). Clearly in 1781 Kant did not offer, and presumably therefore saw no need to offer, a special refutation of idealism. To Laywine’s thinking, Kant must have been as surprised as anyone that his sheer confidence concerning externality could be questioned. That critics charged him with Berkeleyan idealism forced Kant to add a distinct “Refutation of Idealism” in the 1787 second edition of the Critique. The question, then, is whether Laywine’s understanding of Kant’s idealism as presented in 1781 stands scrutiny given her premise that Kant took for granted the existence of the external world at the time. To be sure, Laywine finds nothing in Kant’s idealism that would disturb his confidence in externality. However, for us the question is whether Laywine’s confidence is itself misplaced. Are there not ample grounds in the 1781 Critique to think that Kant must have recognized the significance of the problem? And since he did not offer a refutation in the first Critique, is it not possible that he was still searching for one? Much, then, depends on the nature of Kant’s 1781 position, to which Laywine writes she will return in §3d (147-150) of the second chapter of her book. Indeed, Laywine there does somewhat return to the issue, albeit only in a footnote, in which she stresses her disagreement again with Guyer’s treatment of Kant’s idealism in the Nachlaβ. Unfortunately, determining Laywine’s own position requires an understanding of Guyer’s in order then to set Laywine’s against it. Certainly, this can be done, but the procedure requires the reader to make the necessary inference. The burden Laywine thrusts upon her readership is not aided by her assertion that Kant’s idealism in 1775 is “something like” (149f) the idealism that Guyer attributes to Kant in 1781. If the two positions are merely “like” each other, then in what way are they different?

Regrettably, Laywine, by her own admission, states that although she will take into account both versions of the Deduction – the A-Deduction and the substantially revised version in the second edition, or B-Deduction – her focus throughout her treatment is on the latter. This may be understandable given the argument she develops, but it does significantly narrow her potential audience, who may want an understanding of the Deduction on the whole, and not just her particular argument. In this respect, Henry Allison’s earlier work, in patiently dealing with both versions of the Deduction, succeeds far better and is far more accessible to a general reader. True, the B-Deduction may be, as Laywine writes, “more perspicuous” (14), but it is for that very reason, then, that one might well expect her to devote more attention to the first version. To be sure, she does not wholly dispense with the first edition tout court. She does draw instructive parallels between passages in the two versions of the Deduction, but she often finds the A-Deduction more convoluted and the argument more ambiguous than in the B-Deduction. An understanding of Laywine’s discussion here is again helped by the juxtaposition of her understanding with that of Allison’s.   Laywine states (14) that a second reason for concentrating on the B-Deduction is to show that certain “infelicities” some have seen in the A-Deduction concerning metaphysics are not mistakes that are “ironed out” in the B-Deduction. On the contrary, Laywine believes that they are essential to the Deduction as such.

Laywine’s devotion to the Nachlaβ in the context of the present work concludes with the assertion that it more or less shows that Kant recognized already in the middle of his “Silent Decade” the need for a deduction of the categories, regardless of their number, of the understanding, i.e., for an, in effect, legal argument substantiating the claim that pure concepts in the understanding apply to appearances and do so a priori. Even stronger, Laywine holds that Kant did provide such a deduction already in the Nachlaβ at least in outline. This can hardly come as a surprise to readers familiar with the vast secondary literature. For example, Wolfgang Carl in a paper “Kant’s First Drafts of the Deduction of the Categories” originally read in 1987 to an audience at Stanford University, but published in 1989, noted that Kant had already drafted several versions of the deduction before the 1781 Critique.

In turning to the Deduction itself in the B-Deduction, one of Laywine’s first concerns is understanding what Kant meant by such terms and expressions as “manifold” and “synthetic unity of apperception.” She turns again to Kant’s pre-Critical writings for clarification as to how he employed the word “manifold” previously, hopefully, thereby, throwing light on his use of the word in the Critique. Laywine writes that for Kant every intuition has a manifold, including a priori intuitions. This would seem incontestable, particularly since Kant himself clearly makes that assertion, for example at B160. Whatever the case, Laywine suggests that not everyone recognized this, Dieter Henrich being one.

Particularly since Henrich’s 1969 article on the proof-structure of the B-Deduction, virtually every commentator on Kant’s first Critique has had something to say on whether the B-Deduction presents two distinct steps or two distinct arguments for a single conclusion. The Deduction, in Laywine’s words, is to show that the categories or pure concepts of the understanding “are the formal conditions of thought in the same way that the pure intuitions of space and time are the formal conditions of sensibility” (13). The problem, so to speak, is that the argument of the B-Deduction extends through §26 of the Critique, but the conclusion offered there does not appear to be substantially different from that already presented in §20, where Kant writes that “the manifold in a given intuition also necessarily stands under categories,” the categories being nothing other than the functions for judging (B143). Only by standing under categories is the unity of the sensible manifold possible. Thus, does the first step of the B-Deduction end with the quite brief §20 (B143) and then resume with a second step at §22 or does §22 advance another distinct argument? If what we have here are two arguments for one conclusion, it looks as though Kant was saying you should pick the one that you like best (209). On the other hand, if the B-Deduction consists of two steps, how do the two steps differ?

Laywine writes that she “prefers” to think that the B-Deduction consists of two steps rather than two arguments (209). Stating that one of the two options is preferred is hardly a ringing endorsement of a choice. We can only hope that now having completed her inquiry Laywine is firmly convinced that she made the correct decision. She does realize, though, that having made her choice she must now say what the second step offers to the argument beyond what the first affirmed. Kant provides the answer, or as Laywine herself calls it “an important clue” to the answer, at the beginning of §26. She then quotes one sentence from that section – in her own translation – after which she remarks that its significance lies in its announcement that the “final step” of the Deduction will be an attempt to account for how nature is possible (210). Are we, therefore, to conclude that what sets the “second step” apart from the first is that it finally answers how nature is possible? But, then, the first step, contrary to its appearance, cannot have reached the same conclusion as the second step. Laywine’s answer lies in understanding that Kant uses the word “nature” in two different senses, a material and a formal sense. Laywine finds the material sense given explicitly in Prolegomena §36, where Kant writes that nature is the totality of all appearances, and the formal sense concerns appearances governed by laws so that they form a unified whole. Stated in such terms what is at issue appears simple enough. But interpreting the intricate and puzzling B-Deduction through the lens of the Prolegomena asks us to assume that the twofold sense given in the Prolegomena accurately reflected Kant’s thinking at the time of the Prolegomena – and not one offered for the sake of simplicity alone – but also that Kant continued to maintain the same stance in 1787. That the B-Deduction does indeed hold to the twofold sense of nature is a major task of Laywine’s treatise.

Laywine sees her proposal for understanding the B-Deduction as unique. Henrich, for one, wrote that what Laywine sees as the respective sections of the B-Deduction constituting the two steps in fact do not actually come to the same conclusion. For Henrich, Kant presents two different arguments with two different conclusions. Others have proposed variations. In Laywine’s estimation, Hans Wagner came close to her own by recognizing that the second step focuses on empirical intuition and perception, whereas the first step deals only with intuition as such. While this train of thought leads him to recognize the importance of the question how nature is possible, he failed to exploit this insight. In focusing on how perception is possible, Wagner, in Laywine’s estimation, overlooked accounting for how perceptions can be connected. Certainly, she correctly remarks that without such an explanation of connected perceptions there can be no explanation of how nature is possible. But we may ask of Laywine what more needs to be added to Wagner’s argument to produce her own. The answer is both easy and hard. That is, it can easily be stated as that we must notice the cosmological aspect of the second step, the contribution of a cosmology of experience makes to the completion of the B-Deduction argument.

We know that Laywine puts much weight on this conception of a “cosmology of experience.” After all, it features prominently in her book’s subtitle, and she mentions the expression many times in her text. She tells us on page 87 that such a cosmology – she also calls it a “metaphysics” (3f) – treats experience “as a unified whole of appearances … and tries to establish its conditions of possibility by showing that its unity comes from laws legislated to appearances by the understanding through its categories.” This treatment of experience, allegedly, is conspicuously absent from the first step of the B-Deduction. The emphasis here is on the word “unity,” for it allows us to characterize the world as a whole. Laywine claims that the germ of this conception of a cosmology of experience “informs” Kant’s account of human sensibility already in the Inaugural Dissertation and again is revealed in the Nachlaβ and even in the A-Deduction. Of course, if it is as easy as Laywine says, it is hard to see why the answer to Henrich’s challenge appears explicitly only on page 214, but in her defense she did prepare much of the needed groundwork up to this point. In her own estimation, the hard part of her argument is to make an understandable presentation of what a cosmology of experience will contribute to the Deduction.

Even by her own reckoning, having reached §26 of the B-Deduction, the final section of the argument, Laywine, by her own opinion, has still not been able to clinch the required proof. According to her, to say, as Kant does, that the categories are valid for all objects of experience in B161 is not the same as invoking universal laws to make the unity of appearances possible. But is it? Laywine continues, holding that if we are to speak of universal laws of nature, they must either stem from God, which Kant has dismissed for his purposes here, or from the categories. Kant at B163 wrote that the “categories are concepts that prescribe laws a priori to appearances, thus to nature as the sum total of all appearances. … Here is the solution to this riddle.” Can we say that with this Laywine’s task is complete?

Hermann Cohen, in his own all-too-brief commentary from 1907, found, like Laywine, that these words contained the transcendental question. He found the answer – or so he says – in the distinction between objects and things in themselves, a distinction that Laywine fortunately does not invoke. But she does, like Cohen, find that the solution she seeks lies in the understanding’s self-activity and the imagination. Cohen writes, “Here we see, however, how the imagination and the connection that it creates between sensibility and the understanding make the resolution more plausible. … Thus by means of the imagination nature, as the sum total of appearances, becomes nature, ‘as the original ground of its necessary lawfulness’” (63, B165). Certainly, while there are many nuances that distinguish Cohen’s endeavor from that of Laywine, there is a distinct similarity that Laywine does not so much as mention.

There are certainly many positive points to Laywine’s treatment of the B-Deduction. Not one of them, however, is that her investigation is largely ahistorical. In this too, though, she is not unique. Despite all the scholarship over the more than two centuries that preceded her work, she makes little reference to it. Does she think that her formulation of and solution to the central problem of the Deduction is original as compared to all that has gone before? If it is unique, that would be a stunning claim in light of all of the nineteenth century German scholarship alone, not counting those from the twentieth, some of which she does briefly mentions. But if it is not, in what way does her treatment contribute to what has gone before? Or is she, in effect, saying that each of us should attempt for ourselves unaided by the past to square the circle? Frederick Beiser has remarked with regard to contemporary Anglophone scholarship on German idealism that many of the champions of a normative interpretation of it do not realize that their reading was worked out with greater sophistication and subtlety long ago (10). Can we not draw a parallel comparison to the core message in Laywine’s reading of the B-Deduction – apart from the many details she provides – but referring instead to Cohen’s interpretation?

Undoubtedly, Laywine’s treatment of the Duisburg Nachlaβ in relation to the B-Deduction is a valuable addition to contemporary English-language Kant scholarship. It is this rather than her actual treatment of the Deduction that sets her book apart. It is not an easy read for the casual or beginning student of the first Critique, who might come upon it looking for guidance. But those already quite familiar with the B-Deduction will find a number of observations they will have likely overlooked previously.

References:

Beiser, Frederick C. 2009. “Normativity in Neo-Kantianism: Its Rise and Fall.” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, vol. 17 (1): 9-27.

Cohen, Hermann. 1907. Kommentar zu Immanuel Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Leipzig: Verlag der Dürr’schen Buchhandlung  .

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