Kantianism: Schools and Directions

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The study offers an overview of philosophical currents formed under the influence of Kant’s critical philosophy. Such directions of Kantianism as German Idealism represented by F. Jacobi, Neo-Kantianism represented by E. Cassirer and A. Riehl, ontological interpretation of Kant’s theory by M. Heidegger and analytical tradition of Neo-Kantianism represented by J. McDowell are considered in detail. These examples demonstrate different approaches to understanding Kant which have been developed throughout history. Among them, one can identify the epistemological approach that views Kant’s theoretical philosophy as a theory of knowledge and, above all, as a theory of experience. It can be contrasted with various metaphysical approaches developed against the background of an idealistic reading of the Critique of Pure Reason . From time to time, realistic interpretations of Kant’s theory of experience that try to avoid ontological dualism concerning the relation between “appearance” and “thing in itself” have arisen, which seem adequate to its spirit and letter. Within the analytic Kantian paradigm, a whole spectrum of interpretations of Kant’s concept of experience has emerged, for which the stumbling blocks are, above all, Kant’s theory on the cognitive faculties - sensibility and understanding, the deduction of categories and the transcendental unity of apperception. In the first case, the main issue is the question of the cooperation of cognitive faculties in the process of experience formation, which still causes difficulties for researchers; in the second case, the question of the role of non-discursive and discursive concepts in this process; in the third case, the question of the relationship of apperception, consciousness and self-consciousness and their functions in cognition. The study shows that all these questions still await their final resolution. The study is in fact an introduction to the block devoted to the reception of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in connection with the approaching anniversary of the philosopher.

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The Topology of Kantianism

In anticipation of the 300th anniversary of Immanuel Kant’s birth in 2024, we have decided to release a special issue devoted to the history of reception of Kant’s theoretical philosophy. The Critique of Pure Reason enormously influenced the development of subsequent philosophy and the modern theory of knowledge can largely be regarded as having arisen from a discussion of this hitherto not fully understood work.

If we sketch out schematically a map of those philosophical currents, which were formed under the influence of Kant’s critical philosophy, we get roughly the following picture: German Idealism emerged, in general, as a critical reaction to Kantian rationalism; philosophy of life, represented by Schopenhauer, developed as a negation of Kantian logicism; neo-Kantianism, by contrast, is an attempt to rehabilitate the Kantian approach; phenomenology as a consequence of attempts to overcome the Kantian dualism of appearance and thing in itself and to give an alternative, hermeneutic, explanation of the formation of the concept of the object; Heidegger’s fundamental ontology can be seen as a development of Kant’s subjective notion of time; constructivism as a naive interpretation of Kant’s “Copernican turn”; and, finally, the analytic theory of knowledge and the analytic philosophy of consciousness received a significant impetus for their development by dealing with the concepts of intuition, category, and the pure unity of apperception.[1] In order not to be unfounded, let us illustrate the said above with a few examples, which, in addition, will allow us to identify the key problematic nodes of Kant’s theoretical philosophy.

a) German Idealism. The reading of Friedrich Jacobi’s works shows that the turn from Kant’s critical philosophy to objective idealism was prompted by dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the former. In his own words, Jacobi had been studying Kant’s philosophy for eighteen years [3. P. 289]. The works devoted to it, such as Epistel (Epistle on Kantian Philosophy) (1791), Über das Unternehmen des Kritizismus, die Vernunft zu Verstande zu bringen, und der Philosophie überhaupt eine neue Absicht zu geben (On the Attempt of Criticism to bring Reason to Understanding, and to Give Philosophy in General a New Purpose) (1802), Von den göttlichen Dingen und ihrer Offenbarung (On Divine Things and Their Revelation) (1811) and Einleitung zu den philosophischen Schriften (Introduction to the Philosophical Works) (1815) reveal, however, not so much its analysis as a criticism caused by misunderstanding of Kant’s systematic argumentation. The focus lies on the concept of idea, which Jacobi perceives as an extension of the category, violating Kant’s fundamental distinction between these two modes of thinking. For the latter, the category is a function of understanding, which, from the point of view of the conditions for the possibility of cognition, makes sense only when applied to intuitions. An idea, by contrast, belongs to the principles of reason and can be transcendent, i.e., it can go beyond experience. Correctly noting that Kant’s category and idea are constructed similarly to judgements, Jacobi concludes that Kant’s idea loses the metaphysical and ontological completeness of its being, being used only as a logical instrument of knowledge. One of the consequences of such a narrow understanding of the idea, from his standpoint, is the impossibility to believe in the idea of God because, being a simple inference of reason, it turns out to be “the emptiest of all ideas, an ideal of emptiness” [4. P. 156]. Since Kant’s idea of God has only a regulative status, “one can neither believe in it, nor not believe in it” [4. P. 156], and, hence, it loses any practical sense for a human being. Practical reason can only “order” one to believe in God [4. P. 156], what is insufficient for religious consciousness.

Taking Kant’s transcendental ideas only as constructions of pure reason, Jacobi considers Kant an overthrower of the postulates on which Western European culture rests, “all the proofs of the simplicity and immortality of the soul, as well as of the rational creator of the world hitherto developed by speculative philosophy”  [4. P. 155]. Convinced that the history of humanity is intimately linked to Christianity, Jacobi tries to develop a philosophy compatible with this religion. To do this, he needs a different concept of reason and, thus, of ideas. Therefore, he subjects Kant’s basic epistemological terms, such as “intuition,” “concept,” and “reason,” to a radical revision. Whereas Kant’s intuition is sensuous, Jacobi introduces the notion of intellectual intuition, capable of directly discerning certain truths bypassing reason. In Jacobi’s theory, the concept ceases to be, in contrast to Kant, a function of understanding and becomes a function of reason. He argues that understanding is merely linking of the elements to one another, an activity, which is peculiar not only to humans but also to many other animals. The differencia specifica of the human species is not understanding but the human mind’s capacity for pure and objective rational feeling, which is capable of directly comprehending a higher, supersensible reality. Accordingly, it is not reason, but spiritual feeling (Geistes-Gefühle), which becomes the central organ of cognition, delivering knowledge based on belief (Wissen im Glauben) [5. P. 402—403]. Jacobi introduces a peculiar law of dependence between understanding and reason (in Kant, on the contrary, reason is superimposed over understanding): “Where reason is present, understanding necessarily exists. The opposite, i.e., [to think that] where there is understanding, there is reason, is wrong”. [5. P. 426]. According to Jacobi, reason is nothing more than “a corporeal organ for the perception of the supersensible” [5. P. 403]. It “does not create notions, does not build systems, does not judge, but, like the external sense organs, merely lets [things] appear, positively proclaims [them]” [5. P. 403]. In other words, reason for Jacobi is an organ of revelation. Accordingly, the idea is “the representation of the given exclusively in a sense” [5. P. 403]. Jacobi considers as ideas such concepts as freedom, God, immortality, providence, virtue, etc.

Despite some positive aspects of criticism of Kant’s conception of theoretical reason, for example, the indication that reason is generally a capacity for judgement and inference, what certainly narrows the concept of reason, Jacobi’s philosophy in terms of rigor of argumentation and analyticity is rather a step backward compared to Kant’s theory. Jacobi’s interest is easy to understand — he seeks to substantiate a philosophy of revelation, and for this, he needs a more complete and multifaceted concept of reason than in Kant’s theory. As he puts it, if for Kant “the scandal for philosophy and human common sense” consists of the impossibility of proving the existence of things outside us, from Jacobi’s standpoint, “the scandal of philosophy lies in its inability to scientifically demonstrate truth and prove the reality of objects corresponding to the concepts of reason, i.e. to prove the objective significance of ideas: the existence of God, freedom, substantiality and immortality of our soul”  [5. P. 394]. However, Jacobi seems to set an impossible task for philosophy by simply mixing the notions of reason and belief, earlier separated by Kant.

We have lingered so long on the analysis of Jacobi’s critique of Kant to demonstrate the fact that philosophers inclined to develop their own doctrines inevitably perceive the theories of other authors in the light of their approaches, either by fishing out from them as additional arguments in their favor what fits their assumptions, or, on the contrary, what does not fit them completely, without bothering to understand these theories in their entirety according to the goals that their authors tried to achieve. Kant’s system, by virtue of its complexity and versatility, is a fertile field for harvesting in one’s basket. However, having chosen it as a starting point, some scholars often stray so far from it at the end of the journey that their critique of Kant fails to reach its goal.

One can suggest that Fichte’s, Schelling’s, and Hegel’s theories also arise from a productive misunderstanding of Kant’s philosophy. The genre of introduction does not allow us to develop this topic in detail. Let us only note that already the aphorism attributed to Schelling, “in Fichte, Ego is everything, whereas, in my philosophy, everything is Ego,” shows how far these two theories are from the Kantian one. For Kant, the pure unity of apperception is merely a necessary condition of the possibility of our knowledge of the world. Like any transcendental notion, it is a formal, not a substantial, condition of cognition. Its only function is that the things of the world acquire for us the form of an object; the properties of these objects can be established in the course of empirical study of them, not by the self-revealing of the Self.

In his lectures on the history of philosophy, Hegel unjustly reproached Kant for “remaining confined within the limits of psychological outlook and empirical manner” [6. P. 421]. He claims that “dualism being the last word of Kant’s philosophy” [6. P. 439]. Asserting that Kant “holds the view of the separation of concept and being” [ibid] and seeing this state of affairs as unsatisfactory, Hegel seeks to create a philosophy in which idea represents the unity of concept and reality and thus acquires ontological status and can serve as a means of explaining the historical, i.e., dynamic, character of being. Developing his science of logic, he, like Kant, maintains an orientation toward three key concepts of formal logic, namely “concept”, “judgement”, and “conclusion”, while altogether redefining their order and reconceptualizing them. The idea corresponding to the conclusion represents the starting point of the movement of both thinking and being. It gains its articulation through the judgement, and acquires its identity in the concept. Thus, while Kant’s logic moves upward, Hegel’s logic moves downward. At the same time, Hegel’s logic turns into a kind of dynamic ontology and acquires the features of a specific metaphysical mythology compared to the Kantian logic. It is not without reason that Marxists have repeatedly strived to put Hegel’s dialectics from head to foot.

b) Neo-Kantianism gives, in general, a positive, affirmative reading of Kant’s theory in the spirit of its time, i.e., oriented toward the rapidly developing natural sciences. Kantian philosophy is regarded first of all as a theory of knowledge, for which the very fact of science and its possibility constitute both the premise and the goal. A typical position in this respect is represented by Hermann Cohen, who, in his paper on Kant’s theory of experience, claims: “When we say that Kant proceeded from the fact of Newtonian science, we thereby point to the most important feature of his philosophizing. It concentrates on the concept of cognition” [7. P. 55]. The core thesis, namely, that the concept of cognition is the central problem of Kant’s first Critique, is indisputable. However, Cohen’s starting point, the consequence of which is the interpretation of Kant’s theory of cognition, in which the main question appears to be “not cognition in general,” but the “mathematical-natural-scientific cognition” [7. P. 56] and in particular Newtonian mechanics, is controversial.

Cohen is convinced that “the transcendental method is a reflection on Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica” [7. P. 67]. Accordingly, he considers the notion of experience to be the central concept of Kant’s theory of knowledge. He argues that “experience is a promising name for both method and object, and in both senses perfectly suitable for natural history. But it was already used in mechanics by Newton and his followers. Thus, Kant formulates the problem of philosophy primarily in terms of experience, linking all theoretical relations of the philosophical question with the legitimization of experience” [7. P. 58—59]. Cohen conceives Kant’s experience by analogy with scientific experience, the preconditions of which, however, are to be sought in “the depth of the spirit, in the roots of thinking” [7. P. 69]. Moreover, it is not psychologism when one connects elements of a theory with a priori science, for instance, mathematics, on the one hand, and observation, on the other. Cohen interprets Kant’s notions of Apriori as “such elements of cognitive consciousness that are sufficient and necessary to justify and reinforce the fact of science” [7. P. 77]. In fact, he introduces the notion of a transcendental argument here. He explains that if, e.g., the concept of a system is necessary for a science because it constitutes it, then it is necessary to find such an element of consciousness that corresponds to this feature of science. It is in this way, he argues, that metaphysical justification of science becomes transcendental. Cohen concludes that “the elements of consciousness should be effective as the basis for science, and the preconditions of science should be made significant as basic features of cognitive consciousness. The metaphysical a priori must become the transcendental a priori” [7. P. 78]. This principle can be seen as a key to Cohen’s interpretation of Kant’s theoretical philosophy. Even if this approach is fundamentally correct, it significantly narrows the scope of Kant’s theory of cognition, which sets the task of clarifying the possibilities of cognition as such and not only within some historical, scientific theory.

Wilhelm Windelband, the founder of another, Southwestern branch of  Neo-Kantianism, despite his critical attitude to Cohen’s ideas, also represents the view that modern metaphysics “is conceivable only as a theory of knowledge, i.e., as a critical study of logical forms of reality” [8. P. 239]. At the same time, by the logical form, he understood not an empty place in the space of pure reason, which should be filled with some content, but a rule of thinking of an object. He proceeded from the fact that the concept of the world cannot be obtained due to purely formal concepts, what, in his opinion, Kant tried to do. On the contrary, according to him, success in studying the world is only possible because of the cooperation between formal theories and empirical scientific disciplines. For him, philosophy is a critical reflection on the available types of knowledge, a logic of scientific cognition of the world, which considers, among other factors, the cognitive interests of a subject. With Windelband, the understanding of logic took the form of an axiology, which classified the sciences into nomothetic and ideographic according to the principle of expediency.

The spectrum of interpretations of Kant’s theory of cognition within Neo-Kantianism is so vast that it is impossible to reduce it to a common denominator despite the common tendency to present Kant’s first Critique as the theory of cognition. Nor is it possible to characterize them all in detail. Let us single out Ernst Cassirer’s Kant’s Life and Thought and, for the sake of contrast, Alois Riehl’s Philosophical Criticism, History and System.

Cassirer’s interpretation is based on Kant’s statement that the proud name of ontology, claiming to know things in themselves, must give way to the humble analytics of pure reason. Here, being ceases to be the starting point of reasoning and becomes a problem whose objective solution depends on whether our judgements about it possess a necessary and generally valid form [9. P. 135]. This new formulation of the problem demands to explain how the correspondence of our cognition to the cognizable object is achieved and how an “order of objects” arises [9. P. 137]. Analyzing for this purpose the Kantian synthesis a priori, Cassirer suggests that “here the starting point is a certain constructive relation in which and through which the fullness of particular elements simultaneously emerges for us depending on the general form of connection” [9. P. 146]. He believes that “all a priori syntheses are connected with the form of pure intuition, that is, synthesis is either a pure intuition itself, or indirectly refers to it and relies on it” [9. P. 147].  In principle, one deals herewith a functional description of processes where empirical arguments correspond to a logical function. According to such a constructivist interpretation, it turns out that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is a prototype of Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms, the core of which is a symbolic notion that transforms the sensually perceived into meaning according to a certain functional rule.

Alois Riehl offers an entirely different, realist, reading of Kantian theory. He called his realism “critical,” which, in contrast to the uncritical, naïve realism, distinguishes between judgements about the existence of things and judgements about things themselves, about their qualities. His basic principle, which I call Riehl’s axiom [10. P. 127—146], is formulated as follows: being of an object (Sein des Objekts) must be distinguished from being by an object (Objektsein). To justify his view, Riehl argues that universal statements about the existence of a thing are made based on sense perception. In contrast, statements about what this thing is, depend on the nature of the subject’s cognitive abilities. Thus, judgements of existence and judgements about things are categorically distinct. A philosophy built on these assumptions can be therefore both realist and phenomenological. In Riehl’s view, Kant’s theory of cognition is of this very kind. It also has the advantage of combining apriorism with empiricism and even naturalism. For Riehl, Kant’s Apriori is not a “representation supposedly or obviously innate but a concept which in its relation to other concepts must be used as a ground and not as a consequence” [11. P. 76]. A priori concepts are inherent in the “logical Self” contained in the mind of every normal human being capable of discursive thinking, and this determines the specific nature of human cognition in contrast to the cognition of other species of living beings. Under these conditions, Kant’s “appearance” can be interpreted not as an ontological double but merely as a specific form of a thing in itself. The distinction between phenomena and things in themselves has, hence, a strictly methodological meaning, which consists of the prohibition to think that the human images of things in particular and human cognition in general are universal. To summarize, we can say that Riehl’s interpretation, based on his axiom, is closest in spirit to what Kant said and deserves special attention.

c) Heidegger considers the interpretation of Kant’s conception as a theory of experience or a theory of positive sciences deeply wrong. “The Critique of Pure Reason” is, he believes, first of all, ontology, which he understands as an analytics of finite human existence. The fundamental ontology should prepare the ground for metaphysics that takes into account the nature of human being. Heidegger writes: “The question as to the essence of metaphysics is the question of the unity of the fundamental faculties of the human ‘mind.’ The Kantian laying of the foundation yields this conclusion: The establishment of metaphysics is an interrogation of man, i.e., it is anthropology” [12. P. 204]. Heidegger establishes the necessary connection between anthropology and metaphysics as follows: Kant’s three questions — “What can I know?” “What should I do?” and “What may I hope?” — correspond to the three fields of metaphysica specialis, which include cosmology, psychology, and theology. Since the human being is considered to be the being that is necessary to ground reliable cognition, human subjectivity must take a central place in philosophy.

According to Heidegger, Kant was able to pose the question of the essence of human subjectivity but failed to answer it. He failed to see that his three questions, summarized in the fourth, “What is man?”, testify to the radical finitude of human existence, and it is the development of this topic that should continue the program of philosophical anthropology outlined by Kant but not realized by him.

“The Kantian laying of the foundation of metaphysics begins with a justification of metaphysica generalis as that which is at the basis of true metaphysics, i.e., metaphysica specialis” [12. P. 220]. Metaphysica generalis — under the name “ontology” — is the fixed form of that which was established as the question of essent as such. However, as Heidegger argues, such a program is incomplete and must be endorsed. Thus, the question of the first philosophy, “What is the essent as such?” must force us back beyond the question “What is being as such?” to the still more fundamental question: “Whence are we to comprehend a notion such as that of Being, with the many articulations and relations it includes? [12. P. 224]. In his opinion, the proposed formulation of the question of being is essentially connected with the problem of finitude of the cognizing subject. The latter is developed in terms of existence, understood as openness to the world, in the metaphysics of Dasein.

Referring to Kant's theoretical philosophy, Heidegger seeks to substantiate his project of fundamental ontology. This raises the question of whether his interpretation contributes to understanding of Kant’s theory or switches from the analysis of cognitive faculties of the subject to the existential problem of human Dasein. In this connection, let us note that among the cognitive abilities, that Kant singled out, Heidegger attached particular importance to the faculty of imagination, considering it the foundation on which “the intrinsic possibility of ontological knowledge, and hence of metaphysica generalis as well, is constructed”  [12. P. 127]. The transcendental capacity of imagination, which is the common root of both fundamental sources of cognition — sensibility and understanding — makes possible the initial unity of ontological synthesis. However, as Heidegger concludes, transcendental imagination is rooted in primordial temporality. Thus, the primordial root that grounds metaphysics in Kant’s theory is time.

It is not easy to agree with this conclusion, given that time in Kant’s aesthetics is only one of the a priori forms of sensibility. The temporal transcendental schema as the basis of objective synthesis is an operation that also necessarily includes space as another a priori form of sensibility, understanding, and imagination, i.e., it is not reducible to a single factor. As Kant suggests, temporal schemas in synthesis of the productive imagination are restricted through spatial perceptions, i.e., in some way, time depends on space. Moreover, Heidegger’s notion of “Dasein’s finitude” is not deductible from Kant’s notion of “finite human understanding” since the latter indicates only a particular way of thinking, not a way of human existence.

d) In recent years, the renaissance of Kant’s theory of cognition has taken place primarily due to analytic philosophy. Discussions have centered on such questions as the nature of our experience in general and our sense perceptions in particular, the epistemological status of self-knowledge, personal identity, and the so-called new realism. Interpreters debate whether Kant should be considered a conceptualist or non-conceptualist concerning the nature of our sensory experience, an internalist or externalist regarding the nature of our self-knowledge, a constructivist or a realist concerning the status of the external world.

In striving to find answers to these questions, researchers are irreconcilably arguing over what is given to us in intuition — the flow of sensory data or the objects themselves; whether the thing in itself should be understood ontologically or epistemologically — in other words, should it be interpreted in terms of the  so-called two-worlds theory, which differentiates symbolic reality, created by us and thus knowable, from the unknowable world of things in themselves, or in terms of the epistemological two-aspects theory, for which there is only one single world?

Opinions are divided as to whether Kant’s intuition is subject to categorical synthesis or this synthesis is not necessary to have intuitions. Many scholars are confused with the fact that Kant’s transcendental theory of experience, aiming to determine the conditions for the possibility of cognition, does not include an analysis of language. After all, according to the widespread view, language is necessary for conceptual thinking. It is also unclear which status the concept of “unity of apperception” has — can it be seen as a synonym of consciousness or self-consciousness, or does it only set the precondition for the latter, laying the foundation for personal identity? There is no agreement as to what function the doctrine of schematism has, whether schematism in fact causes a radical break between the world and consciousness and, hence, Kant to be considered a skeptic or even an agnostic regarding the question on the existence of the external world.

Let us note that all these questions go beyond purely textual hermeneutics, the purpose of which is solely to understand the text as a historical phenomenon adequately. They acquire relevance in the context of contemporary epistemological and ontological discussions and polemics in the philosophy of consciousness. During these debates, Kant’s critical philosophy has been rediscovered as a source that helps to address many important problems concerning our way of cognition of the world and our self-knowledge.

The flow of research literature on the above problems and the range of opinions are so great — from Peter Strawson’s descriptive metaphysics to Lucy Allais’ manifest reality — that it is impossible to systematize the positions more or less adequately. As an example, let us briefly consider a solution to the problem of cognition of the external world proposed by John McDowell in Mind and World (1994). This approach is based on Kant’s theory of cognition and, with its help, seeks to avoid the two extremes developed within analytic philosophy. One is naïve empiricism, based on Wilfrid Sellars’ famous “Myth of the Given.” The key message of this myth is that neutral, self-evident sensory data serve as the final authority for our cognition of the world, that is why the justification of judgements ends with a simple reference to the given in experience. The other extreme, “sophisticated empiricism,” has its origin in Willard Quine’s “third dogma of empiricism,” which affirms the dualism of conceptual form and sensory content. It is based on the conviction that nothing can justify an opinion without itself being an opinion (as Donald Davidson formulated it) and therefore do not accept the reference to an experience as a possible argument in explaining our knowledge of the world. McDowell’s “third way” strives, on the one hand, to avoid the “naturalistic error,” that is, the casual inference of judgements from sense data as it is characteristically for the “Myth of the Given.” On the other hand, it has to prevent, in McDowell’s words, a smooth rotation in an airless space [13. P. 35] inherent in the theory of coherence, which takes reality “out of brackets” and justifies a judgement by some further judgement. Its purpose is to preserve experience as a “tribunal of cognition”, i.e. as the basis for judgements about the world, as it is in Kant’s theory of knowledge. This strategy exhausts, in principle, McDowell’s program of “minimal empiricism.”

The realization of this program implies a revision of “experience” so that, while it remains an element of the “space of nature” based on causality, it is, at the same time, not excluded from the rational “space of reasons.” On this path, McDowell turns to Kant’s theory. Kant’s “experience,” as we know, arises from the joint activity of intuition and thought, for, according to him, “thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” In other words, Kant’s concept of the object arises due to application of the categories to sensory information. The epistemological consequence of this process is that we have an “appearance” and a “thing in itself.” McDowell is deeply unsatisfied with this state of affairs, where experience, he believes, says nothing about the world itself, and seeks to improve it by reinterpreting the Kant’s concept of intuition.

His main correction to Kant states that any sensual intuition always has a conceptual character. McDowell distinguishes between “passive” and “active” concepts. By “active,” he means judgement, that is, predicative synthesis or thinking that employs concepts. “Passive” concepts produce “meaning,” that is, they provide objective synthesis by establishing relations; they also enable distinction and reproduction of objects. By asserting that sensibility is active, McDowell has in mind the synthesis of meanings through the “passive” concepts. In this case, the last element in the chain of justifying cognition would be, if not the “content of thinking,” then at least the “thought content,” rather than the bare, logically unformed sense data. Here, experience preserves, as he believes, its receptive character and, hence, it appears as a natural phenomenon. At the same time, it can be included in the “space of reasons” since even direct experimental judgements (for example, about the color of objects) appear to be included in the system of meanings. Thus, according to McDowell, the adequacy between empirical judgement and the object of judgement can be attained due to the fact that conceptual thinking participates in experience only passively by organizing sensibility in a certain way. The object given in passive synthesis can then serve for grounding our cognitive beliefs and actions. One can highlight that since even passive synthesis always takes place in the semantic field of meaning, in order to give it a “natural character,” McDowell expands the concept of nature. He understands nature as “a naturalism that leaves room for meaning,” that is, a naturalism for which natural reality turns out to be to some extent part of cultural reality. He explains this modification with the fact that the capacity to produce meaning is a natural quality of humans as living beings.

It is remarkable that McDowell’s return to Kantian rationalism was motivated by the aim to save empiricism which Davidson and Sellars had abandoned. It is doubtful, however, that he is able to do this by his modernizing Kant’s theory, which, according to the latter, already perfectly combines transcendental idealism with empirical realism. For if one interprets the “it” given in experience as representational content, as McDowell does, then this comes into conflict with Kant’s understanding of experience as a kind of “tribunal” for our beliefs about the world, i.e., an instance that allows them to be verified, and which itself therefore should not have a propositional content.

McDowell’s approach to interpreting Kant seems typical of philosophers who have undergone socialization within the framework of so-called analytic philosophy. It is characterized both by a specific set of premises (generally characteristic of empiricism) that frames the discussion and by a general line of argumentation that involves a critique of rationalism. It is to stress that recent analytic Neo-Kantianism ignores twentieth-century continental Neo-Kantianism, so this Neo-Neo-Kantianism does not mean convergence with continental philosophy in the form of “adhering to” or “developing” the corresponding direction. On the contrary, it forms an independent current within the broad framework of Kantian philosophy.

Perspectives of Kantianism

Surely, this overview of Kantian philosophy is only schematic and can be continued indefinitely, taking into account, for instance, the national traditions of Neo-Kantianism — Russian, Italian, Brazilian and Japanese. We can also talk about the attempts of the Neo-Kantians to organize an international community — an example of this is the journal Logos, which was published jointly by German and Russian Neo-Kantians from 1911 to 1914. We can also speak of Continental and Anglo-American Neo-Kantianism as two different interpretative paradigms. Ultimately, each author, whatever school or direction he or she belongs to, has his or her own Kant[2]. The explanation for this surprising phenomenon is simple. On the one hand, Kant’s theory of cognition is still not fully understood, and there is a real “conflict of interpretations.” Here, one may recall a historical anecdote that supposedly Marx once said he was not a Marxist. It is likely that Kant, too, would have said he is not a Kantian, even though he favored some interpretations of his conception. On the other hand, Kant’s theory of cognition touches on problems that have not yet been resolved — the mechanisms by which we know the world remain still undiscovered. Furthermore, the psycho-physical dualism, the common denominator for all epistemological problems, remains a stumbling block for us. There is, as Kant put it, “a scandal for philosophy and universal human reason,” that the existence of things outside us “should have to be assumed merely on faith and that if it occurs to anyone to doubt it, we should be unable to answer him with a satisfactory proof” [16. P. 101]. In such a situation, it is understandable why one turns to a theory whose author worked on the same problems that preoccupy us today.

The articles in this issue demonstrate the diversity of approaches to understanding Kant’s works and help reveal still unexhausted potential of his theoretical philosophy. They also eloquently testify that the most crucial part of the work—an adequate interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason—has not yet been given and is yet to come.


1 There are, of course, other classifications of Kantianism. See, for instance, the work of Norbert Hinske [1] or the collection of papers edited by Sebastian Gardner and Matthew Grist [2].

2 Cf., e.g., the view of Karl Ameriks, who believed that there is no consensus on the interpretation of Kant’s theoretical philosophy [14. P. 329], also ref. [5].


About the authors

Maja Evgen'evna Soboleva

Philipps University of Marburg

Author for correspondence.
Email: sobolme63@gmail.com
ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5904-8701

PhD in Philosophy, Professor

6 B Wilhelm-Roepker-Strasse, 35032, Marburg, Germany


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