Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Present Itself as a Science

Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Present Itself as a Science

:"Prolegomenon (plural "prolegomena") refers to any critical introduction or essay at the start of a book."

"Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics" is one of the shorter works by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. It was published in 1783, two years after the first edition of his "Critique of Pure Reason".

"Prolegomena" contains an overview and defense of the "Critique"‘s main conclusions, sometimes by arguments Kant had not used in the "Critique". Kant characterizes his more accessible approach here as an "analytic" one, as opposed to the "Critique"‘s "synthetic" examination of successive faculties of the mind and their principles. [Analytic and synthetic methods are not the same as analytic and synthetic judgments. The analytic method proceeds from the known to the unknown. The synthetic method proceeds from the unknown to the known. In §§ 4 and 5, Kant asserted that the analytic method assumes that cognitions from pure reason are known to actually exist. We start from this trusted knowledge and proceed to its sources which are unknown. Conversely, the synthetic method starts from the unknown and penetrates by degrees until it reaches a system of knowledge that is based on reason.]

The book is also intended as a polemic. Kant was disappointed by the poor reception of the "Critique of Pure Reason", and here he repeatedly emphasizes the importance of its critical project for the very existence of metaphysics as a science. The final appendix contains a detailed rebuttal to an unfavorable review of the "Critique".

In the standard "Akademie" edition of Kant's works, the "Prolegomena" takes up part of Volume V.



For Kant, metaphysics is the branch of knowledge that is related to such things as God and the Soul. Metaphysics uses pure reason to investigate these matters. Unlike other sciences, metaphysics has not attained universal and permanent knowledge. There are no standards to distinguish truth from error. Kant asked, "Whether metaphysics can even be possible?" David Hume investigated the origin of the concept of causality. Is it thought separately from our actual experiences? Kant claimed to have discovered how causality and other pure concepts originate from human understanding itself, not from experiencing the external world.

Peculiarities of metaphysical cognition

Metaphysical principles are "a priori" in that they are not derived from external experience (physics) or internal experience (psychology). Metaphysical knowledge is philosophical cognition that comes from pure understanding and pure reason.

Metaphysical judgments are synthetic. The predicate of a metaphysical judgment is not actually thought in the concept of the subject. An example of a synthetic "a priori" metaphysical judgment is, "All of the substance in things is permanent."

Is metaphysics possible? Yes, because we have synthetic "a priori" knowledge in pure mathematics and pure physics. How do we derive knowledge from pure reason? In other words, how are purely rational synthetic "a priori" propositions possible? By using the analytical method, we will assume that purely rational knowledge is actual and then ask how pure mathematics, pure physics, general metaphysics, and scientific metaphysics is possible.

How is pure mathematics possible?

Pure mathematics is based on pure intuition of space and time. These are the mere forms of our sensations. These forms originate from within ourselves, "a priori", not from external or internal experiences. Mathematics presents all of its concepts in intuition. Pure mathematics constructs all of its concepts in pure intuition. Arithmetic's concepts of numbers are based on the pure intuition of the successive addition of units in time. Geometry is based on the pure intuition of space.

How is pure natural science possible?

Pure, transcendental natural science exists. It consists of "a priori", necessary, universal laws of nature. Examples of such laws are: "substance is permanent" and "every event is the effect of a cause." The "a priori" conditions of the possibility of experience are the sources from which all universal laws of nature are derived. Such conditions are special concepts that are originally generated in our understanding. These concepts are categories or all of the predicates of an object in general. When a sensual perception is understood in terms of these "a priori" concepts, an object is experienced. Kant's categories are the formal conditions of experience which are the universal, necessary laws of nature. If an attempt is made to refer these categories to things that are not experienced by an observer, or things in themselves, they have no meaning. In this way, the laws of nature are derived from the constitution of our understanding just as space and time are derived from the constitution of our sensibility. "The understanding does not derive its laws ("a priori") from nature. It prescribes them to nature." ["Prolegomena", § 36]

How is metaphysics in general possible?

Metaphysics is actual as a subjective human condition. It is concerned with transcendental Ideas. We need to know how it is objectively possible. Transcendental Ideas, or pure concepts of reason, are distinctly different from categories, or pure concepts of understanding. Their form originates from reason's use of categorical, hypothetical, and disjunctive syllogisms. Reason cannot stop asking the question "Why?" until it completely understands. It imagines an object that embodies the absolute completeness of its series of questions.

The psychological Idea is the complete substantial subject. The cosmological Idea is the complete series of conditions. The theological Idea is the totality of all reality. The psychological Idea, or simple, permanent soul or thinking self cannot be experienced and therefore cannot be known to exist. Only its experienced representations can be known. The cosmological Idea can be divided into four Ideas and their antinomies or contradictory assertions. They refer to the absolute completeness of the series for the given, conditioned world. ["Ibid.", § 51. Kant believed that an understanding of this antinomy of pure reason is the best way to realize the depth and importance of his researches. The antinomy is as follows: (1) Thesis: The world has, as to time and space, a beginning. Antithesis: The world is, as to time and space, infinite. (2) Thesis: Everything in the world is constituted out of simple parts. Antithesis: There is nothing simple, but everything is composite. (3) Thesis: There are in the world causes through freedom. Antithesis: There is no freedom, but all is nature. (4) Thesis: In the series of causes in the world, there is some necessary being. Antithesis: There is nothing necessary in the world, but in this series all is contingent.] [In the first and second antinomies, both thesis and antithesis are false because they consider mere representational appearances as though they were things–in–themselves. In the third and fourth antinomies, the theses are true of the world of things–in–themselves, or the intelligible world. The antitheses are true of the world of appearances, or the phenomenal world.] The antinomies, in general, result from confusing things that exist as mere appearances with things that exist other than as appearances. The theological Idea imagines the most perfect being from whom all things exist. Such a being is thought in order to conceive the connection, order, and unity of experience. But, it is an illusion that results from thinking that the subjective conditions of our thinking are the objective conditions of external objects.

Metaphysics is possible in general because it is concerned with transcendental Ideas which are the product of our own reason. They can not be experienced in the natural world. Because they are creations of reason, they can be fully explained by reason. This explanation consists in showing that they serve to bring our use of the understanding into thorough agreement, completeness, and synthetical unity by conceiving experience as a whole.

The bounds of pure reason

We should understand the bounds of reason so that we don't assume that reason's limits are the limits of things–in–themselves. The transcendental Ideas are at the boundary between phenomenal experience and things–in–themselves or that which is not phenomenal experience. They partake of both areas because they are mere beings of thought that are understood as beings of the sensible world. The transcendental Ideas are understood as if they were actual objects.

Why is reason predisposed to metaphysical, dialectical inferences? In order to strengthen morality, reason has a tendency to be unsatisfied with physical explanations that relate only to nature and the sensible world. Reason uses Ideas that are beyond the sensible world as analogies of sensible objects. The psychological Idea of the Soul is a deterrent from materialism. The cosmological Ideas of freedom and natural necessity, as well as the magnitude and duration of the world, serve to oppose naturalism, which asserts that mere physical explanations are sufficient. The theological Idea of God frees reason from fatalism.

How is metaphysics possible as a science?

Metaphysics, as a natural disposition of reason, is actual. But metaphysics itself leads to illusion and dialectical argument. In order for metaphysics to become a science, a critique of pure reason must systematically investigate the role of "a priori" concepts in understanding. The mere analysis of these concepts does nothing to advance metaphysics as a science. A critique is needed that will show how these concepts relate to sensibility, understanding, and reason. A complete table must be provided, as well as an explanation of how they result in synthetic "a priori" knowledge. This critique must strictly demarcate the bounds of reason. Reliance on common sense or statements about probability will not lead to a scientific metaphysics. Only a critique of pure reason can show how reason investigates itself and can be the foundation of metaphysics as a complete, universal, and certain science.


How to make metaphysics as a science actual

An accurate and careful examination of the one existing critique of pure reason is needed. Otherwise, all pretensions to metaphysics must be abandoned. The existing critique of pure reason can be evaluated only after it has been investigated. The reader must ignore for a while the consequences of the critical researches. The critique's researches may be opposed to the reader's metaphysics, but the grounds from which the consequences derive can be examined. Several metaphysical propositions mutually conflict with each other. There is no certain criterion of the truth of these metaphysical propositions. This results in a situation that requires that the present critique of pure reason must be investigated before it can be judged as to its value in making metaphysics an actual science.

Pre–judging the Critique of Pure Reason

Kant was motivated to write this "Prolegomena" after reading a shallow and ignorant review of his "Critique of Pure Reason". The review was published anonymously in a journal and was written by Garve with many edits and deletions by Feder. Kant's "Critique" was dismissed as "a system of transcendental or higher idealism." This made it seem as though it was an account of things that exist beyond all experience. Kant, however, insisted that his intent was to restrict his investigation to experience and the knowledge that makes it possible. Among other mistakes, the review claimed that Kant's table and deduction of the categories were "common well–known axioms of logic and ontology, expressed in an idealistic manner." Kant believed that his "Critique" was a major statement regarding the possibility of metaphysics. He tried to show in the "Prolegomena" that all writing about metaphysics must stop until his "Critique" was studied and accepted or else replaced by a better critique. Any future metaphysics that claims to be a science must account for the existence of synthetic "a priori" propositions and the dialectical antinomies of pure reason.

Investigating the Critique of Pure Reason

Kant proposed that his work be tested in small increments, beginning with the basic assertions. The "Prolegomena" can be used as a general outline to be compared to the "Critique". He was not satisfied with certain parts of the "Critique" and suggested that the discussions in the "Prolegomena" be used to clarify those sections. The unsatisfactory parts were the deduction of the categories and the paralogisms of pure reason in the "Critique". If the "Critique" and the "Prolegomena" are studied and revised by a united effort by thinking people, then metaphysics may finally become scientific. In this way, metaphysical knowledge can be distinguished from false knowledge. Theology will also be benefited because it will become independent of mysticism and dogmatic speculation.


Lewis White Beck claimed that the chief interest of the "Prolegomena" to the student of philosophy is "the way in which it goes beyond and against the views of contemporary positivism." ["Prolegomena to any future metaphysics", "Introduction," The Library of Liberal Arts, 1950] He wrote: "The "Prolegomena" is, moreover, the best of all introductions to that vast and obscure masterpiece, the "Critique of Pure Reason". … It has an exemplary lucidity and wit, making it unique among Kant's greater works and uniquely suitable as a textbook of the Kantian philosophy." ["Ibid."] Ernst Cassirer asserted that "the "Prolegomena" inaugurates a new form of truly philosophical popularity, unrivaled for clarity and keenness." ["Kant's life and thought", Chapter IV, Yale University Press, 1981, ISBN 0-300-02982-9] Schopenhauer, in 1819, declared that the "Prolegomena" was "the finest and most comprehensible of Kant's principal works, which is far too little read, for it immensely facilitates the study of his philosophy." ["The World as Will and Representation", Volume I, Appendix, Dover Publications, 1969, ISBN 0-486-21761-2]


External links

* [ Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics] , English translation by James Fieser, based on Paul Carus's 1902 translation

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