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Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.1 (2002) 128-130
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Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy
Robert Hanna. Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 2001. Pp. xv + 312. Cloth, $65.00.
Robert Hanna's book has an ambitious two-fold agenda. Its historical agenda is to prompt a reassessment of the role Kant played in the foundations of analytic philosophy. The ideological agenda is to reassess the status of the relevant Kantian doctrines--in particular, his views regarding the nature of necessity, the analytic-synthetic distinction, and the nature and scope of the a priori--in the face of what Hanna takes to be the "crisis" (11) facing analytic philosophy today. Hanna views the elements of this two-fold agenda as inextricably [End Page 128] linked: when we see how the analysts failed to appreciate much of the subtlety and power of Kant's arguments, we will be in a position both to appreciate why the early analysts were not able to bring their official projects to completion, and to reassess the plausibility of various Kantian doctrines that have been considered untouchable during the dominance of analytic philosophy.
Hanna's Kant, the Kant of the first Critique, is bent on answering two fundamental problems regarding the nature of cognition. Hanna characterizes the first problem as the "modal" problem, that of saying how the same judgment "can . . . be at once necessarily true, refer to the real or natural world in a substantive way, yet cognizable to creatures minded like us apart from all sense experience" (1). The second problem is the "semantic" problem, that of stating "how meanings are possible" (3). Hanna's book is organized around his characterization of Kant's answers to these questions and his defense of the resulting position in the face of the analytic tradition's reaction.
In assessing Kant's role in the analytic tradition, Hanna borrows much from previous historically sensitive philosophers interested in this period. Three such authors figure prominently: Coffa and his seminal book The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap; Friedman (with special attention to his Reconsidering Logical Positivism); and Dummett (whose work on Frege is cited throughout). From Coffa and Friedman, Hanna endorses the thesis that at its core the analytic tradition is a reaction to the Kantian conception of the a priori. Hanna accepts as well that the early analysts were united by the aim of exploiting technical developments in logic and semantics as part of a case against Kant's conception of the a priori. Where Hanna disagrees with, e.g., Coffa is over the status of the analysts' anti-Kantian arguments: where Coffa appears to endorse the cogency of those arguments, Hanna suggests that Kant's position is much more defensible, and the analysts' positions and arguments much more vulnerable, than has previously been thought.
It is worth noting some of the many virtues of Foundations. Hanna makes an interesting case for the idea that at a certain level of description there is an important agreement between Kant and Frege regarding the evils of psychologism about logic. This will come as news to those who have treated Kant as among the targets in Frege's critique of psychologism. In addition, Hanna develops Kant's conception of analyticity and presents a robust defense of that conception against some prevalent criticisms; proffers an intriguing comparison between Kant's pure intuition and Wittgenstein's view of the transcendental nature of logic (221-3); and makes a plausible case for the provocative conclusion that the conceptualism of early analytic philosophy is in contrast with Frege's own philosophical attitude (233).
At the same time, some complaints are worth registering. To those (like me) who do not encounter Kantian vocabulary on a regular basis, Hanna's reliance on that vocabulary has the effect of rendering many passages heavy-going and difficult to unpack. (While Hanna does attempt to provide explications of the vocabulary, I sometimes found these explications themselves to be difficult to understand.) Secondly, Hanna is sometimes...