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Dogmatism, Scepticism, Criticism: The Dialectic of Kant's "Silent Decade" MICHAEL C. WASHBURN THE DECADEbetween the Inaugural Dissertation of 1770 and the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781 is perhaps the most important period of Kant's intellectual development. Proceedingfrom the position he had taken in the Dissertation, Kant was in the process of "settling accounts with his erstwhile philosophical conscience," and, in so doing, he was arriving at the fundamental principles of the critical philosophy. It is not too difficult to explain what, in general, took place during this time, since we have the beginning and the end of the process at our disposal in the form of the Dissertation and the Critique, respectively. But it is another matter altogether when it comes to explaining the how and the why of the important changes that took place. Forced to rely entirely upon the Nachlass and the letters, we have only a meager understanding of the internal dynamics of Kant's thought during the period in question. In fact, we are left with tittle more than the well-known (and hopelessly inaccurate) caricature of the period as the silent decade during which Kant finally awoke from his dogmatic slumber and patched together the Critique in twelve furious weeks. This essay will attempt to render coherent the development of Kant's thought from 1770 to 1781. The path by which he arrived at the position of the Critique will be reconstructed by tracing the origin of (1) the problems he was forced to grapple with durhag the decade before 1781 and (2) the solutions to these problems that his own earlier position compelled him to adopt. The guiding idea throughout is that Kant's thought underwent a dialectical development during the period in question. This, of course, was not a mechanical dialectic of thesis (the so-called dogmatic position of the Dissertation), antithesis (Hume's sceptical awakening of Kant) and synthesis (the critical position of 1781). To proceed by dialectical rote explains nothing. A rigorous dialectical account of intellectual development has certain specific and simple requirements. In particular, it must demonstrate (for the case at hand): (1) that the position of the Dissertation contained within itself the seeds of its own negation, in the form of implicit contradictions; (Z) that the inevitable surfacing of these contradictions forced Kant to recognize, and to question sceptically, some of his basic assumptions; and (3) that he arrived at a new (critical) position by answering these questions in a way dictated by the Dissertation itself, i.e. in a way that could retain the substance, but not the contradictions, of the Dissertation position. One important and rather surprising result of a dialectical reconstruction is the emphasis it places upon the continuity of Kant's thought from 1770 to 1781. The dialectic, of course, is famous (perhaps infamous) for its appreciation of discontinuities, reversals and qualitative leaps; but it also pays due respect to continuity by requiting that future [1671 168 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY possibilities be a function of past actualities. A dialectical reconstruction accentuates the Critique's indebtedness to the Dissertation. It shows that contradictions implicit in the Dissertation forced Kant to ask the very questions that set him on the critical path, and that it was again the Dissertation that dictated the type of answer that he was to give to these questions. The Critique does mark a real break with the arguments and assumptions of the Dissertation, but not so great a break as to constitute a wholesale rejection. A dialectical reconstruction sees the Critique as attempting to save the Dissertation from its own contradictions, as re-establishing its substance in a critical form that takes coEnizance of the scope and limitations of our intellectual faculties. The Dissertation is aufgehoben in the Critique: cancelled to be sure, but also preserved in higher form. The analysis that follows will be divided into three parts. The first will treat the Dissertation in order to unmask a very important, though merely implicit, contradiction contained in it. The second will examine Kant's encounter with this contradiction in 1772. In particular it will discuss the fundamental question it forced upon him and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 167-176
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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