- Kant and the Scandal of Philosophy: The Kantian Critique of Cartesian Scepticism
Luigi Caranti presents his readers three carefully articulated arguments in this estimable book. The first is that Kant's career-long engagement with Cartesian skepticism culminates in the first Critique's A-edition version of the Fourth Paralogism, rather than in the later Refutation of Idealism, as is more traditionally thought. The second argues that scholars must take Kant seriously when he asserts that transcendental idealism is the only possible refutation of skepticism, since it denies the possibility of the skeptical doubt arising in the first place. Third, on the merit of its solution to this skeptical "scandal of philosophy," transcendental idealism remains today a first-rate epistemological viewpoint. [End Page 317]
What Caranti means by skepticism is restricted to Descartes's infamous "Evil Genius" hypothesis, the doubt whether any logical inference can establish a causal connection between external objects and the immediately-known affects of the mind (15). Caranti shows that Kant failed to adequately answer this charge throughout the pre-critical period since he then identified phenomena with mind-dependent representations and noumena with the cause of those representations. That causal argument would never satisfy since it presumed the very inference denied by the skeptic in the first place.
The failure of his former dogmatic position led Kant to sever phenomena from their dependence on the mind (36). Caranti argues that phenomena in the critical period are considered mind-independent objects only experienced by us through the pure intuitions necessary for the possibility of experience itself (37). In this way, he aligns himself with his teacher Henry Allison in an old battle against Paul Guyer. That counter-interpretation of the Fourth Paralogism takes Kant to have resorted to an unsavory Berkelian "phenomenalism" in order to refute Cartesian skepticism—to have identified phenomena with mere mental projections as a way of avoiding that skeptically-susceptible causal inference (37). On Caranti's non-phenomenalist reading, however, Kant hardly needed this dogmatic idealism since he already had perfectly satisfactory grounds for repudiating skepticism. The fact that the mind "shapes" the phenomenal external object obviates the problematic inference itself. "For Kant, the object is 'construed' as spatial and thus the very question as to whether the representation is adequate to the object cannot arise" (79).
If this is what Transcendental Idealism really amounts to, then wondering about the external cause of our representations is futile since the mind itself constitutes the phenomenal object to be such. There is no skeptical worry of an illicit inference since there is no inference in the first place, only an immediate apprehension of the object constituted as such by the activity of understanding (92). The later "Refutation of Idealism" should then be interpreted as an anti-Berkelian overreaction to the Garve/Feder Review on Kant's part, rather than as his substantial revision of a once hopeless argument. Beyond superfluity, however, Caranti attempts to reveal a "fatal flaw" in the "Refutation" that cannot withstand the skeptical charge (126–51)—a fascinating argument that we cannot exposit here.
Whether Kant held these "mind-independent phenomena" and "immediate apprehension" theses is not beyond debate. My greater worry, though, is how two historical points affect the viability of Caranti's second main contention. First, Kant seldom discussed Descartes in conjunction with skepticism at length anywhere other than the Fourth Paralogism. Even there, Kant never identified "skeptical idealism" with the Evil Genius hypothesis—in fact, there he actually labeled the skeptic "a benefactor to human reason" (A377 ). This overemphasis of Descartes, moreover, effectively depreciates Kant's more focused responses to the skeptical challenges posed by Hume and the Pyrrhonian Revivalists. Second, Caranti's argument that transcendental idealism is the only possible response to skepticism briefly addresses Carnap, Dennett, and Putnam (105–13). And while important, by doing so Caranti ignores Kant's own immediate successors, for many of whom skepticism was a consuming theme. Schulze, Jacobi, Fichte, and Hegel each posed their own solutions. None of...