Epistemic reflection and cognitive reference in Kant's transcendental response to skepticism

Kant Studien 94 (2):135-171 (2003)
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Kant’s ‘Refutation of Idealism’ plainly has an anti-Cartesian conclusion: ‘inner experience in general is only possible through outer experience in general’ (B278). Due to wide-spread preoccupation with Cartesian skepticism, and to the anti-naturalism of early analytic philosophy, most of Kant’s recent commentators have sought to find a purely conceptual, ‘analytic’ argument in Kant’s Refutation of Idealism – and then have dismissed Kant when no such plausible argument can be reconstructed from his text. Kant’s argument supposedly cannot eliminate all relevant alternatives, and so cannot justify its strong modal claims. Kant based his arguments on an inventory of our basic cognitive capacities to employ our forms of intuition and our forms of judgment. Kant provides a variety of considerations and arguments to determine what our cognitive capacities are. This involves ‘transcendental reflection’, which Kant held is absolutely crucial for judging matters a priori (A263/B319). I argue that there is a level of philosophical reflection on our own cognitive capabilities and their preconditions that is significantly richer than has been noticed by recent commentators, and that is a precondition of Kant’s transcendental reflection proper. I explicate certain thought experiments Kant proposes in order for us to recognize some our basic, characteristic cognitive capabilities, and the limits and requirements they entail for the nature and objects of human knowledge. These thought experiments involve a kind of reflection on who we as cognizant subjects are, on what our basic cognitive capabilities are. Engaging in this kind of reflection reveals that Kant’s transcendental arguments are significantly stronger and more persuasive than has been recognized in recent commentary.



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Kenneth R. Westphal
Bogazici University

References found in this work

Symposium: Other Minds.J. Wisdom, J. L. Austen, J. L. Austin & A. J. Ayer - 1946 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 20:122-197.

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