- Kant and the Subject of Critique: On the Regulative Role of the Psychological Idea by Avery Goldman
The general concern of Avery Goldman’s thought-provoking study is to investigate whether Kant’s epistemology rests on metaphysical claims regarding the subject and the object. More specifically, the question is: Kant presumes a “seemingly uncritical” (27) conception of experience in order to articulate the subjective conditions that make such a notion of experience possible; but does he ever justify his initial assumption? Contra Hamann and Hegel, who deny that Kant provides such a justification, Goldman claims to “unlock the presuppositions of [Kant’s] celebrated analysis of the cognitive faculties” (3) by showing that such an analysis presupposes the metaphysical idea of the subject taken as a regulative principle.
In tandem with Kant interpretations that take the Critique of Judgment as completing the project of the Critique of Pure Reason, Goldman argues that the boundary between the noumena and the phenomena, which limits finite cognition to the sensible and enables the critique of illusory metaphysics, is given not in an a priori necessary way by determinate judgment, but by “reflective judgment … directed by a regulative principle” (185). According to Goldman, Kant says in §76 of the third Critique that possibility differs from actuality only in finite cognition and “implies” (50) that our finite cognition may be dependent upon a regulative idea of reason. Pursuing this implication further, Goldman finds somewhat indirect evidence in the first Critique (A683/B711, A771–72/B799–800) to suggest that the psychological idea—the hypothetical but non-contradictory concept of the self as a “simple substance that can distinguish spatial appearances from the merely temporal activity of its thinking” (171)—serves as the regulative basis for the analysis of finite cognition. It performs this task by providing the act of transcendental reflection with the distinction between spatial objects and non-spatial thought, which then allows the speculative philosopher to explicate her faculties of cognition by “orienting” herself “in relation to her varied powers” (163–64).
Goldman views this regulatively employed psychological idea that emerges from the “speculative inquiry into the soul” (171) as a response to what, in his judgment, is a circular relationship between Kant’s pursuit of metaphysics and his epistemology. The circularity lies in the fact that the psychological idea, or the unified subject as opposed to the object, forms the basis for the analysis of the faculties, even though this psychological idea itself arises out of a critique of metaphysics that follows from the analysis of the faculties (174). Goldman views this circularity as representing the “overarching methodology of Kant’s transcendental inquiry” (20), and opines that Kant himself embraces rather than denies it (179). This leads Goldman to conclude that while Kant’s theoretical system does not allow for an objective justification of its own starting point (180), it can nevertheless offer a “reflective systematization of the totality of our thought” including both empirical objects and metaphysical ideas that indeterminately guide the “unified account of the faculties of finite cognition” (184).
Although Goldman’s argument is undoubtedly ingenious, his construal of circularity as the “key to understanding Kant’s elusive transcendental method” (2) could be considered problematic. As Heidegger points out, Kant is certainly open to the charge of circularity—the category of possibility is supposed to demarcate the realm of experience even when it is experience that enables the derivation of this category. Goldman, however, focuses on the circular relationship between understanding and reason (121–23, 132), and makes this relationship the occasion for arguing that the hypothetical use of the psychological idea of reason “directs the analysis of the understanding” (168).
The problem with this argumentative trajectory is that no such circularity may exist between reason and understanding. One could argue that, in the first Critique, Kant starts by asking about the viability of metaphysics (Axii), and subsequently resolves this question through a critique of pure reason based on a new Copernican strategy in which we must “assume...