- Das Medusenhaupt der Kritik, Kantstudien Ergänzungshefte by Manfred Gawlina
This work is the first full scale study of the controversy between Kant and the Wolffian philosopher Johann August Eberhard. The controversy was launched by Eberhard’s publication in 1788 of the first part of the first volume of the Philosophisches Magazin, a journal which he and a handful of associates created specifically as an organ for attacking the Kantian philosophy from the standpoint of Leibniz and Wolff. The central claim was that whatever is true in the Kantian philosophy is already contained in Leibniz, and where Kant differs from Leibniz (such as in the denial of knowledge of things in themselves or “true things”) he goes astray. Kant reacted strongly to this [End Page 632] critique, first in a pair of letters to Reinhold (May 12 and 19, 1789) and then in his own published response, with the sarcastic title: Über eine Entdeckung. nach der alle neue Kritik der reinen Vernunft durch eine ältere entbehrlich gemacht werden soll1 From Eberhard’s side the controversy continued through three more volumes of the Philosophisches Magazin (1790–92), and two volumes of its successor, Philosophisches Archiv (1792–95). Although Kant himself did not respond directly to these subsequent attacks, he contributed material to Johann Schulz for his review of the second volume of the Philosophisches Magazin.
Gawlina analyzes the controversy at both the pragmatic and philosophical levels. The former includes a consideration of the motivations of the protagonists and the various strategies and tactics adopted in an attempt to convince the philosophical public of the correctness of their respective positions. Eberhard, for his part, was particularly concerned with the threat which the Critique, which Kant himself describes as the “Medusa head” (hence the title), posed to the survival of Leibnizian-style metaphysics, while Kant’s primary concern was with the misrepresentation of his own philosophy that he saw in Eberhard’s attack. At the philosophical level, the controversy is presented as a clash between two conflicting and ultimately irreconcilable philosophical paradigms: the first being the ontological orientation of Leibniz (defended by Eberhard) according to which pure (contradiction-free) thought mirrors being (this entails that logic has ontological significance), and the epistemological-transcendental orientation of Kant, according to which the fundamental questions concern the conditions of human knowledge and the justification of its claims. The author is well aware that there are epistemological elements in Leibniz and ontological ones in Kant (most notably the claims about space and time in the Transcendental Aesthetic), but he argues persuasively that these are grounded in the philosopher’s respective ontological and epistemological standpoints.
This general thesis serves to illuminate virtually all of the main points of the controversy, including the question of why Eberhard refuses to admit either the significance or novelty of the analytic-synthetic distinction, while Kant insists on both. Of particular interest in this regard is the author’s discussion of the distinction between Schranken (limits) and Grenzen (boundaries), which Kant himself draws in the Prolegomena (§58). This distinction becomes relevant to the controversy because of Eberhard’s frequent appeal to the fact that Leibniz recognizes the Schranken of human knowledge as part of his attempt to show that Leibniz anticipated Kant in providing a “critique of pure reason.” As Gawlina notes, however, the limits of knowledge, as understood by Leibniz, are merely de facto constraints on the extent to which finite minds are capable of grasping things from the eternalistic perspective of God, whereas the boundaries insisted on by Kant are principled restrictions, grounded in the positive conditions of the possibility of cognition for finite knowers. [End Page 633]
Although Gawlina thus clearly indicates the ways in which Eberhard misunderstood and misrepresented Kant’s position, he refuses to declare Kant the victor in the controversy. This is partly on historical and partly on philosophical grounds. Historically, the reason is that in spite of all of its limitations, Eberhard’s critique of Kant did succeed in raising questions among Kant’s followers regarding the coherence of the...