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Kant's Analytic by Jonathan Francis Bennett
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Sep 29, 11

bookshelves: philosophy
Recommended for: Anyone Who Reads Philosophy
Read in August, 2011

This Kant scholar approaches the Critique of Pure Reason like a housekeeper walking into a room wrecked by last night’s party. It’s going to take effort to put this mess in order, but the tart-tongued Bennett knows how. “Here, even more than usual,” he says, “respect for Kant’s genius requires an irreverent approach to his text.”

The author finds much of the Critique a “botch.” Some lines of reasoning are just wrong. Bennet deplores Kant’s “dreadful” appeals to geometry in trying to subordinate time to space. Parts of Kant’s work stand in dire need of clarity. The schema of necessity he finds indistinguishable from that of substance. Substance itself has two meanings. The concept of an object is likewise ambiguous. Representation, too, could refer to intuitions or concepts. And the entire Refutation of Idealism is, quite simply, a “wretched piece of exposition.”

There’s more. Kant shifts his “preposterous” terminology indifferently. He uses sense, imagination and apperception in one place, then shifts a few pages later to apprehension, reproduction and recognition, then later still to perception/association/apperception. Finally, Kant appears to subsume all three concepts under imagination. Thus, a statement such as “The unity of apperception in relation to the synthesis of imagination is the understanding” seems to say anything and nothing.

You'd think Bennett doesn’t much like Kant, but the author finds a lot to admire. The Critique was the first to distinguish between sensory states and concepts. Kant’s discussion of objects marks an historic advance in philosophy. Kant’s linkage of concepts to their instances is described as revolutionary. The stress the Critique puts on necessity brings that concept to its modern form. Kant convincingly shows that self-consciousness, far from being a mystery, requires judgments about the past. Bennett calls a 30-page stretch of the Critique concerning the analogies one of the great passages in philosophy.

This book helped me understand Kant better. I saw that Kant’s rebuttal of Hume is flawed not by Kant’s notion of necessity, but by the way he extrudes his argument through layers of categories, schema and problem-laden terminology. It also made me think more about the Critique: How does Kant’s treatment of concepts play out at the propositional level? If we understand the concepts of a proposition, do we then understand the proposition itself?

Bennett's book deals with the part of the Critique called the Analytic, and a companion book deals with the Dialectic. Nevertheless, the first of three chapters includes the Aesthetic as well. Bennett divides his analysis into 54 sections, and at the front of the book is a seven page summary that recaps the main points of each section, making this an easy reference. For anyone who has read Kant, Bennett’s book is an immensely helpful bit of housecleaning.
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