The Radical Unknowability of the Thing in Itself

Few commentators (if any) would question Schrader's poignant obser­vation that 'the doctrine of the thing in itself presents the single greatest stumbling block in the Kantian philosophy' [S5:49]. Understanding what Kant meant by the doctrine i.e., the role it plays both in his overall System and in his transcendental idealism can help prevent it from being discarded 'as a per­versity' [49], inasmuch as it can be interpreted in such a way that it makes quite good sense [see VI.2]. Yet even the most coherent interpretation could not prevent the philosopher who demands knowledge from 'stumbling' over it; for, accord­ing to Kant, the thing in itself is by definition unknow­able. In V.3 we saw, however, that there is one alternative to faith as the ultimate jus­tification for its employment which, if successful, would satisfy even the most persistent skeptic: viz., to justify the thing in itself by constructing a valid transcendental argument for the necessity of its existence. Since any ap­peal to faith would thereby be rendered superflu­ous, we must now examine more carefully the possibility of realizing this goal. For, although Kant him­self did not believe he required such a transcendental argu­ment, it may be pos­sible to reconstruct his System on the basis of a slightly different presup­posi­tion, such as that the thing in itself can, in fact, be proved to exist and to have certain knowable characteristics. Hence, in this Appendix I shall analyze the logical consistency of an affirmative answer to the meta­critical question: Is the thing in itself knowable? Our answer to this question will inevitably determine to a large extent how we should approach the task of interpreting the elements of Kant's Critical philosophy (as in Part Three), so it is important to deal with it seriously
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