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Themes in Kant's Metaphysics and Ethics.

THEMES IN KANT'S METAPHYSICS AND ETHICS. By Arthur Melnick. Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy. Washington: Catholic University of America, 2004. Pp. ix + 275. $64.95.

Arthur Melnick offers a collection of essays that he suggests may serve as an introduction to the fundamentals of Kant's thought, or be read as separate essays in their own right. The former might be open to debate as most of the essays presuppose familiarity with the Kantian corpus. The repetition of which M. forewarns might further detract from the collection's suitability for introductory purposes. None of this is to suggest, however, that students and faculty will not find much of interest here.

The volume's five parts cover the transcendental esthetic, the transcendental deduction, Kant's principles, the notion of "things-in-themselves" and, finally, freedom and morality. In general, the essays are meticulous in style and address contested areas of Kantian interpretation. M. is not afraid to adopt controversial interpretations and even to reject or seek to improve upon Kant's own ideas.

Thus, in the early chapters, M. proposes that we can best interpret Kant's epistemological theories as being constructivistic theories (i.e., analogous to theories pertaining to mathematical constructions). In short, for M., Kant's theories entail that space and time (chaps. 1, 2) and indeed cognition in general (chap. 3) are simply explanations of the rules by which we give life to such things through our actions of construction. (More diversity would have been welcome regarding illustrative examples M. employed). Indeed, the constructivist account is extended to Kant's transcendental deduction in general--as it is, eventually, to the majority of Kant's major ideas. Cognition is thus understood as "rules for the propriety of reacting" (54; chap. 4, passim), when engaged in our "spatial and temporal constructing," aided by the incorporation of the Metaphysical Deduction into the Transcendental Deduction in the "B edition" of the Critique of Pure Reason.

Chapter 5 offers a somewhat modified version of Kant's theory of cognition. Here M. suggests that Kant's claim that space and time are "given" to us ha the form of pure intuition is simply equivalent to M.'s belief that space and time are brought about in our formation of (flowing) constructions. M. thus puts a mechanistic "spin" on Kant's theory.

Part 3 on "The Principles" is essentially an application of the constructivist interpretation to Kant's theories of substance and causality (Kant has a "partial causal theory of time," chap. 6), as well as to Kant's rejection of idealism in the B edition (chap. 7). One might have suspected that Kant's notion of "things-in-themselves" would present a constructivist account with serious challenges, but chapter 8 asserts that it does not, arguing that Kant's thinking went through a series of changes until combining aspects in the "double-affection" view. Chapter 9 discusses the proof of Transcendental Idealism in the First Antinomy (and hence the proof of the essence of his "Copernican revolution in epistemology").

Of course, M. believes we should understand the essence of such idealism in procedural terms--which can best be interpreted, once again, via a constructivist account: the constructivist view of space and time unpacks transcendental idealism--both are "nothing apart from the activity of the subject" (169).

Chapter 10 offers an interesting excursus in defence of "macroscopic facts" in the broader schema of metaphysical reason, as exemplified by quantum mechanics. Hence M. rejects the view of Peter Strawson, Hilary Puttnam, and Donald Davidson that sees facts as having reality only in relation to semantic theorizing. Science can thus point to reality beyond our conceptualizations.

Part 5 on "Freedom and Morality" is the most interesting and perhaps controversial part. M. believes quantum mechanics offers a better defence of the "open-endedness" (i.e., undetermined nature) of practical reasoning (and hence of freedom) than Kant's rational theologizing here (chap. 11). The concept of "natural indeterminism" from quantum mechanics proves vital to M.'s case, and he believes that this concept poses a fundamental challenge to any compatibilist account of freedom and determinism.

In chapter 12 on the various formulations of the categorical imperative, M. wishes to affirm continuity among them. He contends that Kant's notion of the categorical imperative is a (social-) contractualist (pace Rousseau) "conception of rationality as universal agreement, or what is acceptable as a universal law" (230). Here one might ask for consideration of Kant's frequent reference to our "reverence" (translated all too often as "respect" for the moral law). Allen W. Wood's recent work (Kant's Ethical Thought, 1999) which also notes the influence of Rousseau on Kant here but moves towards a communitarian emphasis seems nearer the mark. The final chapter challenges Kant and, instead, asserts that "the reasonable pursuit of [personal] happiness" (250) is not contrary to true morality but entails it.

Throughout, M. challenges fundamentals of hitherto (for some) "hallowed" interpretations of Kant, such as those of Strawson, Michael Dummet, A. O. Quine, and Christine Korsgaard, hence this collection will stimulate much debate among those engaged in various aspects of Kantian studies. Some essays prove a little elliptical, often just at the point where the reader is most engaged with M.'s line of thought, though this perhaps suggests more to come from the author.


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Author:Mannion, Gerard
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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