Riku Sayuj's Reviews > Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics with Selections from the Critique of Pure Reason

Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics with Selections from th... by Immanuel Kant
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Hieroglyphics: A Reluctant Translation

The Prolegomena is valuable as a summarization that is intended to be less obscure and suited for popular consumption. It tries to compress Kant’s criticism of (all) previous work in metaphysics and the theory of knowledge -- first propounded in the Critique of Pure Reason, which provided a comprehensive response to early modern philosophy and a starting point for most subsequent work in philosophy.

A note on the Edition: This is a wonderful edition to approach the Prolegomena with -- meticulous introductory essay and copious notes. Plus it comes with a summary outline of all the sections! A summary of a summary. What more could you want?

Summing up the Beast

As is well known The Critique of Pure Reason is a notoriously difficult work. When first published, the early readers were not very different from modern readers — they found it incomprehensible!

Kant was a poor popularizer of his own work and when it was finally published in the spring of 1781 (with Kant nearing 57), after almost ten years of preparation and work, Kant had expected that the evident originality of the thoughts would attract immediate attention, at least among philosophers. He was… well… to be disappointed — for the first year or two he received from those whom he most expected to give his book a sympathetic hearing only a cool and uncomprehending, if not bewildered, silence.

What else would you expect for such wild intentions:

My intention is to convince all of those who find it worthwhile to occupy themselves with metaphysics that it is unavoidably necessary to suspend their work for the present, to consider all that has happened until now as if it had not happened, and before all else to pose the question: “whether such a thing as metaphysics is even possible at all.”


He had proposed a “Copernican Revolution” in thinking. He should have known that such stuff cannot come without a user manual.

Soon Kant caught on to this, and started having some misgivings about the fact that he was clearly not getting the reception he had expected for his masterpiece:

Kant is known to have written to Herz expressing his discomfort in learning that the eminent philosopher Moses Mendelssohn had “laid my book aside,” since he felt that Mendelssohn was “the most important of all the people who could explain this theory to the world.”

Mendelssohn later wrote to a friend confessing that he did not understand the work, and professing pleasure at learning that, in the opinion of her brother, he would not be “missing much” if he continued not to understand it!

Kant’s colleague in Konigsberg, Johann Schultz, in the preface to his 1784 Exposition of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, mentioned the “nearly universal complaint about the unconquerable obscurity and unintelligibility” of the work, saying that for the largest part of the learned public it was “as if it consisted in nothing but hieroglyphics.”


As a reaction to this lack of public appreciation for such a vital work that was to have "brought about a complete change of thinking," a great deal of Kant's effort during the decade of the 1780s had diverted away from further development of his system and towards the unforeseen task of clarifying the critical foun­dations of his system of philosophy that he thought he had completed in May 1781. This work took a number of different forms: the publica­tion of a brief defense and attempted popularization of the Critique in 1783 until, finally, Kant came to think that an overview would be of great value to aid the reading public in comprehending the implications of the Critique. The Prolegomena was the result. We can only guess what more productive use could have been made of this period!

It is sometimes obvious in this work that Kant was pained by the need to summarize his great work (and with the necessity of expending valuable time on it). Only someone who has written an elaborate masterpiece would know how difficult it must be to write a summary of it. And Kant lets it slip often enough (one might even think deliberately) that he is not too amused by having to do so:

But although a mere plan that might precede the Critique of Pure Reason would be unintelligible, undependable, and useless, it is by contrast all the more useful if it comes after. For one will thereby be put in the position to survey the whole, to test one by one the main points at issue in this science, and to arrange many things in the exposition better than could be done in the first execution of the work.

Whosoever finds this plan itself, which I send ahead as prolegomena for any future metaphysics, still obscure, may consider that it simply is not necessary for everyone to study metaphysics; and that in such a case one should apply one’s mental gifts to another object.

That whosoever undertakes to judge or indeed to construct a metaphysics must, however, thoroughly satisfy the challenge made here, whether it happens that they accept my solution, or fundamentally reject it and replace it with another – for they cannot dismiss it; and finally, that the much decried obscurity (a familiar cloaking for one’s own indolence or dimwittedness) has its use as well, since everybody, who with respect to all other sciences observes a wary silence, speaks master- fully, and boldly passes judgment in questions of metaphysics, because here to be sure their ignorance does not stand out clearly in relation to the science of others, but in relation to genuine critical principles, which therefore can be praised.


Kant hoped to hit more than one bird with the Prolegomena:

It was meant to offer “preparatory exercises” to the Critique of Pure Reason — not meant to replace the Critique, but as “preparatory exercises” they were intended to be read prior to the longer work. It was also meant to give an overview of that work, in which the structure and plan of the whole work could be more starkly put across — offered “as a general synopsis, with which the work itself could then be compared on occasion”. The Prolegomena are to be taken as a plan, synopsis, and guide for the Critique of Pure Reason.

He also wanted to walk his readers through the major arguments following the “analytic” method of exposition (as opposed to the “synthetic” method of the Critique): a method that starts from some given proposition or body of cognition and seeks principles from which it might be derived, as opposed to a method that first seeks to prove the principles and then to derive other propositions from them (pp. 13, 25–6).

What this means is that Kant realized that most of the readers were dazed by his daring to start the Critique from a scary emptiness of knowledge from which he set out to construct the very foundations on which any possible structure of knowledge can stand, and also the possibility of such a foundation i.e metaphysics. There he proceeds from these first (newly derived) principles of the theory of knowledge to examine the propositions that might be derived from it that are adaptable to a useful metaphysics.

In the Prolegomena, Kant reverses this and takes the propositions (i.e structure) as a given and then seeks to expose the required foundations that are needed to support such a construction. This he feels is less scary for the uninitiated reader.

It is true. The abyss is not so stark when viewed through this approach, and we can ease into our fall!

Kant’s work is easy to summarize (well, not really — but enough work has been put into it that at there least it is easy to get good summaries) but is infinitely rich with potential for the inquisitive reader. This reviewer has no intention of summarizing and thus reducing a method/system to its mere conclusions. And to summarize the method would be to recreate it in full detail! Instead the only advice tendered would be to explore Kant’s work in depth and not rest content with a superficial understanding of only the conclusions. That is precisely what Kant criticizes (in the appendix to the Prolegomena) his reviewers of doing back in the day. We should know better by now.
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Reading Progress

February 18, 2015 – Started Reading
February 18, 2015 – Shelved
February 18, 2015 –
page 51
18.89% "“A rustic waits for the river to flow away, but it flows on, and will so flow for all eternity.” \n Horace, Epistles, i. ii. 42–3."
February 19, 2015 –
page 59
21.85% ":)\n \n Whosoever finds this plan itself, which I send ahead as prolegomena for any future metaphysics, still obscure, may consider that it simply is not necessary for everyone to study metaphysics; and that in such a case one should apply one’s mental gifts to another object."
February 19, 2015 –
page 160
59.26% "This much is certain: whosoever has once tasted of critique forever loathes all the dogmatic chatter which he previously had to put up with out of necessity, since his reason was in need of something and could not find anything better for its sustenance."
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: kant
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: favorites
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: philosophy
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: direct-phil
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: great-books-quest
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: great-philosophers
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: books-about-books
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: companions
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: guides
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: favorite-writers
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: translated
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: logic
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: often-cited
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: r-r-rs
February 20, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by Sookie (new)

Sookie Irony is, his own philosophy gets superficial treatment and revamped under "neo religion" or whatever they call it. Once you remove passive aggressive lingo, the brochures for such a "group" can be reduced to basic Kant.
Once I walked into a seminar in Michigan suburbia and came out with a fifteen page manifesto. Turns out the guy read bunch of books by and related to Kant and used it for his purpose. *shrugs*


Riku Sayuj Sookie wrote: "Irony is, his own philosophy gets superficial treatment and revamped under "neo religion" or whatever they call it. Once you remove passive aggressive lingo, the brochures for such a "group" can be..."

Not too distant from what most philosophers have done/ :) I condone such behavior. It doesn't touch me:
https://www.goodreads.com/user_status...


message 3: by Sookie (new)

Sookie Pretty much sums it :)


message 4: by Ted (new)

Ted A wonderful introduction, description and summary of "A summary of a summary". What more could (one) want? Indeed! Thanks! B>)


Riku Sayuj Ted wrote: "A wonderful introduction, description and summary of "A summary of a summary". What more could (one) want? Indeed! Thanks! B>)"

Heh. Thanks, Ted. Glad you liked it. Kant is heady stuff, I am not able to bring myself to stop fooling around.


message 6: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Incredibly clear description of Kant's warnings about the complexities facing the reader of his work, Riku - I understood everything! - but then neither of you actually revealed a lot about the work itself so I think I'll take Kant's advice and apply any mental gifts I possess to another object!


Riku Sayuj Fionnuala wrote: "Incredibly clear description of Kant's warnings about the complexities facing the reader of his work, Riku - I understood everything! - but then neither of you actually revealed a lot about the wor..."

haha! describing the work itself has to wait... I am still nibbling at the edges. maybe i will convince you to come back :)


message 8: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Riku wrote: "haha! describing the work itself has to wait... I am still nibbling at the edges. maybe i will convince you to come back :)"

If anyone can succeed in explaining Kant to me, I'd bet on you, Riku!


Riku Sayuj Fionnuala wrote: "Riku wrote: "haha! describing the work itself has to wait... I am still nibbling at the edges. maybe i will convince you to come back :)"

If anyone can succeed in explaining Kant to me, I'd bet on..."


*bows graciously* :)


message 10: by Forrest (new)

Forrest Riku, excellent overview of Kant's overview. So for us laymen, would you recommend reading this first, then reading Critique, or should one just jump into the text itself? Or does it matter? Or does someone else provide an even better segue into Kant's Critique?


message 11: by Riku (last edited Feb 21, 2015 06:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Forrest wrote: "Riku, excellent overview of Kant's overview. So for us laymen, would you recommend reading this first, then reading Critique, or should one just jump into the text itself? Or does it matter? Or doe..."

Thanks!

Oh, you should definitely read the Prolegomena first! There are plenty of other introductions (of which I have read a few), but having read this, I feel Kant does as a good a job as any of them.

One benefit of third-party segues would be that they will look ahead and link the rest of Kant's work to Pure Reason, whereas Kant himself is (as yet) blind to the later developments yet to unfold and might not be as helpful in that regard!


message 12: by Ted (new)

Ted Riku wrote: "Forrest wrote: "Riku, excellent overview of Kant's overview. So for us laymen, would you recommend reading this first, then reading Critique, or should one just jump into the text itself? Or does i..."

Well-reasoned advice. (Shakes head in gratitude.)


message 13: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Ted wrote: "Riku wrote: "Forrest wrote: "Riku, excellent overview of Kant's overview. So for us laymen, would you recommend reading this first, then reading Critique, or should one just jump into the text itse..."

Just acting wise. Very easy. :)


message 14: by Rakhi (last edited Feb 21, 2015 09:26AM) (new) - added it

Rakhi Dalal And as I was wondering about the reviewer's conclusion, this came :

This reviewer has no intention of summarizing and thus reducing a method/system to its mere conclusions.

Which is fair enough considering the work in question :) I will take up Kant this year and will be looking forward to reading this too as well as waiting for your response to Critiques. Thanks for this review!


message 15: by Riku (last edited Feb 24, 2015 11:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Rakhi wrote: "And as I was wondering about the reviewer's conclusion, this came :

This reviewer has no intention of summarizing and thus reducing a method/system to its mere conclusions.

Which is fair enough ..."


That was the best I could do. :) As I was reading I was more concerned about the time being expended on this additional work. Ideally the work of summarization should have been left to lesser minds. A decade could have added vital stuff to the overall system, esp since Kant was at his intellectual prime at that point.


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