Looking at the Kantext: An Overlooked Context To Kant’s Three Critiques?

Looking at the KantextA

When Kant gave the world his infamous three critiques (Pure, Practical, & Judgement), surely he was aiming to create a transcendent philosophy not peculiar to his specific time and place but something pure and universalize-able; he was hoping to conjure a philosophy to match the vast scope of “the starry skies above”. He would have been diligent to bracket any of the contexts in which he was afloat from his deep textual escapades. However, contexts—plus his own peculiar dispositions—have a way of seeping in to keep any of us from “being pure subjects”, and as contexts evolve so too will most or all things that may consider themselves separate from any context. That being said, I have constructed my conjectures and questions to be responses to a particular question, a question that you of course can ask also and come up with your own thoughts:

Would Kant’s critiques have been different had he written them in a different order?

The timing of the first critique—Critique of Pure Reason—both relative to the other two critiques and related to the European Zeitgeist more generally is what got this whole investigation going on up in my head. Is it any wonder that the Enlightenment’s search for laws and pure knowledge was trending at the same time Kant wrote a book (and several essays previously) about how to know if something was knowable or not? Of course he was influenced to write something relevant to his intellectual and scientific peers, but were his writings themselves influenced? He did privilege writing about epistemology before writing about ethics or aesthetics, and perhaps he left less for those books to chew on because his epistemology got their first; a certain fatalism might have ensued following the first Critique. As far as the Critique of Judgement—his work on aesthetics—coming last, writing it at that particular time may have led to the backlash in later years by aestheticians like Schiller who wanted to say he didn’t give aesthetics (the realm of purposeless purpose) the philosophical attention it deserved. I hope to show why and how this may have been the case.

Looking beyond the mere ordering of any books written by a particular author and how a preceding book in a series of publications will influence the next book, Kant’s critiques were also linked to one another (which he would admit), and to his geographical mind (which he may not have admitted). Kant had a very spatial mind which attracted him to many geographical questions and concerns, and it is with this mind I’d argue that he cordoned off the three critiques from one another (i.e. “what I can know” has nothing to say to “what I should do”). I imagine Kant thought of the three separate regions as comprising together the island of the human experience of reality. The ocean that formed the outer perimeter around these three regions would be where the noumenal, unknowable questions of ontology would linger forever beyond man’s reach. Perhaps he even drew a table and brainstormed the whole project and placed little paper cut outs in their proper categories. As far as the island of human experience, did Kant draw his “lines in the sand” correctlyB? Was what was to be found and answered by ethics not really also under the umbrella of aesthetics? Was he right to even draw any boundaries at all, and create three distinct realms for humans to interact with? Or did he impose them at the behest of the very questions he chose to ask his reasoning mind?

I leave these question up to history to answer, whatever that is…


A – An alternate title could be “Kant’s Texts in Context”

B – “Drawing a line in the sand” is a metaphor I’ve never quite found compelling, and hopefully I’ve muddied it in this usage! I’ve heard it used in two diametrically opposed ways, and I think this has to do with common notions that anything put into sand being very ephemeral, unless it’s crystallized into glass. Anyways, I am open to be awed by a different interpretation of the phrase.


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