Kant's First Critique, Videos 1-12

Kant’s First Critique, Videos 1-12

This section will cover comments and notes on a series of videos on the critique by Victor Gijsberts.


The critique of pure reason is one of the most influential works in western philosophy. There are two versions named A and B, differing both in content and length.

The aims of the Critique

There are a multitude of stories about the exact aim of the critique, all of which hold a certain amount of truth.

Kant found that metaphysics was making little to no progress, especially when compared to the exact sciences. To remedy this problem, Kant set out to create a method for metaphysics.

Story number two starts out the same as story one, but claims that Kant’s aim was never to save metaphysics, but to destroy it.

Yet another theory concerning metaphysics is that Kant’s aim was to prove that metaphysics is even possible. This is related to the question of the possibility of synthetics a-priori judgements.

However, not all theories concern themselves with metaphysics. It could also be said that Kant’s aim to make a place for freedom within a deterministic world. Freedom, after all, is required for ethics, while metaphysics denies free will. By making a critique of theoretical reason, Kant tries to prove that reason cannot disprove free-will.

Story five concerns itself with scepticism. According to this reading, Kant was fed-up with scepticism and our inability to counter sceptic arguments.

Story six is about natural science and David Hume. Primarily it states that Kant aims to defeat Humean scepticism about laws and causation.

In story seven philosophy is reworked by bring together empiricism and rationalism. The critique explains how thoughts can be about an objective word.

The last theory about the aim of the critique is to rearrange philosophy in our own finite way of thinking. In other words to stop attempting to look at the world from a non-human perspective.

The title

The critique of pure reason could also have been called “The critique of pure theoretical reason”, making it fit more to the name of the second critique “The critique of practical reason”

Table of contents

Preface A

The nature of reason is to ask questions which reason itself cannot answer. To understand reason, we must first find out why it is that reason asks these questions and why it cannot answer them.

Reason, merely trough reasoning, realizes that the questions will never stop as it runs into, for instance, circular arguments, or causation loops. Reason finds these unanswerable questions unsatisfying and therefore attempts to take these questions to a more fundamental level. For instance, in a causation loop, reason ends up (almost inevitably) asking the question of a “first cause”. These fundamental questions however, lie outside the capacity of reason to answer. This causes the infinite (and unsatisfactory) debate of metaphysics.

In other words, as reason realizes its own finitude, our thinking goes in the wrong direction. It is this finitude that should define the course of philosophy.

Through (the) critique, reason tries to understand itself. This attempt at self-knowledge is “pure” (in the Kantian sense) and thus unempirical.

Preface B

Preface B differs slightly from is earlier counterpart, though a lot of the same points are made. One key difference is that Kant starts Preface B with a list of successful sciences and how they compare against metaphysics. Though Kant states in the preface that metaphysics might learn something from the other sciences, he never again speaks of his inquiry as a hypothetical or experiment.

Mathematics didn’t start out as successful in the days of ancient geometry. Back then mathematics was an empirical (and thereby inaccurate) science. Mathematics did not become successful until we started seeing it as a human construction.

A similar thing happened to Physics. It started out as an observational science and did not become successful until we added something human to it, in this case controlled experimentation.

These two fields became “science” after we added a human element. Metaphysics on the other hand is not a science it is just people disagreeing with one another. Then why is it that reason keeps asking us these metaphysical questions (similarly to the A preface).

The need for metaphysics to gain a human element is referred to as Kant’s Copernican turn or revolution. This revolution is that we must not see our cognition as conforming to the objects of cognition. Instead we must see the objects as conforming to our cognition. This human element should (in Kant’s eyes safeguard metaphysics as a science). This change is called the Copernican revolution because Kant states that his thoughts must have been similar to the first thoughts of Copernicus, when he ran into the limitations of a geocentric model.

Gardner on the Copernican turn

In the critique, Kant writes

objects need to conform to our cognition

It is very natural to read this as: “thinking makes it so”. However, with this reading, we cannot get to the bottom of the critical project.

Sebastian Gardner explains the Copernican turn with “the problem of reality”. This problem asks how we can know that our thinking relates to reality. Usually, it is presupposed that the world is independent of the subject. If so, how do we know that our minds have the right “shape” to understand the world. The transcendental realist (opposite of Kant’s transcendental idealism) answer boils down to:

The world affects us, and we just are the right thing to understand it.

In other words, they don’t really try to answer the question of the problem of reality at all. Kant attempts to answer to the problem of reality by making it so we are not separate from reality. Instead, according to Gardner, he makes an absolute distinction between reality and objects. In this way, objects are not “real”, instead they are simply objects-for-us. In other words, objects are the “knowable”.

Reality and the Copernican turn

(this section is a continuation from Gardner on the Copernican turn)
However, reading Kant this way leads to some problems. Especially surrounding the absolute distinction between the real and the knowable. Transcendental realism claims reality to be independent of us, in such a system, there are two ways of explaining how subject and object interact, realism and empiricism. The former needs God to explain this relation, which Kant famously rejects because he claims we cannot know anything about the existence of God. Empiricism on the other hand claims that we only know our ideas, but nothing about reality.

Transcendental idealism does not see object and subject as separate, allowing us to be so-called empirical realists. In other words, Kant does not make an absolute distinction between object and subject, between the real and the knowable. To understand Kant properly, we must look at other asymmetries in the Copernican turn. In other words, the reversal of the Copernican turn is only relevant if it influences other things in the system. This is similar to Copernicus himself who claimed a heliocentric model as opposed to a geocentric model, the biggest effect of this paradigm shift was not that the earth revolved around the sun, but that all other planets did too.

Kant’s primary interest in the critique is a priori knowledge, which cannot come from objects. Therefore, by first learning the mind, we can know that objects will conform to our (a priori) conceptions. This reading however, does not solve the problem of reality. Specifically, the question remains of how we know that the objects will conform to our conceptions. Thus, a priori knowledge of how this works is necessary first and to obtain this, we must make a critical investigation of reason itself. Specifically, we need a self-understanding of reason as being a harmonious relationship between objects and reason.

The Copernican turn and knowledge as activity

What is objective knowledge?

Some would say that to have objective knowledge about something is to have the object reflected in one’s mind, as if the mind is a mirror. This leaves the question whether the mind is a good mirror. Kant (among others) rejects this mirror view on knowledge. After all, a perfect reflector, being an actual mirror, does not have knowledge at all.

Kant claims that sense perception is knowledge when it is fit into a larger whole. Understanding this conception is a stepping stone for understanding Kant as a whole Kant calls cognition spontaneity in the critique, meaning that it is an activity rather than passive sense perception. Spontaneity is not a process, which happens naturally, rather it is an activity of unification in which the subject is completely pointed towards fitting in new perceptions into a larger picture of reality.

Introduction B

Not all of our knowledge comes from experience, but all knowledge starts there. Experience is made up from sense perception and active cognition. Cognitions can be separated in a priori and a posteriori (or empirical) cognitions. Being respectively independent of- and dependent on- experience. Cognitions can further be pure or impure, dependent on- whether there was any experience involved.

Kant’s focus in the first critique lies on pure a priori cognitions which can be either universal or necessary. These two have a subtle but distinct difference, mainly being that universal truths can change.

∀n∈ℕ, P(n)

Meaning that: for all n in the set of natrual numbers, n is P. Where being P is not having decimals. This relation is necessary. While

∀x∈A, P(x)

Meaning for all x in the set of A, x is P. Where the set of A is cars in my street and P is red.

is not. In other words all cars in my street are red, but a new blue car can come in, all cars in my street being red is not necessary.

Analytic judgements are contained in the identity of the objects while synthetic judgements are found outside the identity. For instance:

The circle is round

Roundness is contained in the circle.

The cup is hot

The cup happens to be hot because it is filled with a delicious Lady Grey, not because the hotness is part of the cup.

A way to understand this is to use Venn diagrams. If one of the circles of the diagram is completely contained in the other, then knowledge about the smaller circle is analytic to the larger one.

All of our experience is synthetic, for it extends our cognition. Meanwhile, all clarification of concepts is analytic and never requires experience. Analytic judgements are therefore always a priori. Synthetic judgements are usually a posteriori, but are synthetic a priori judgements possible?

Kant argues that mathematical principles are synthetic a priori. He gives the example of “5 + 7 = 12”, in this example, the concept of “12” is not contained in the concept of “% + 7”. Intuition is required to make the cognition of “5 + 7 = 12” possible. For mathematics specifically, we use pure intuition. Another example Kant gives is that of the shortest distance between two points, that being a straight line. However, “straightness” contains no concept of length, or rather of “shortness”.

Kant’s second example is that of Natural science where Kant argues that laws of nature as synthetic a priori. Kant gives specific example which relate to later analogies to metaphysics.

Lastly Kant comes to metaphysics, in a certain sense the rest of the book is concerned with proving that metaphysical synthetic a priori judgements are possible.