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  • The Poverty of Conceptual Truth: Kant's Analytic/Synthetic Distinction and the Limits of Metaphysics by R. Lanier Anderson
  • Huaping Lu-Adler
R. Lanier Anderson. The Poverty of Conceptual Truth: Kant's Analytic/Synthetic Distinction and the Limits of Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. pp. viii + 408 Cloth, $82.00.

This book is a masterpiece on Kant's theory of analyticity. It culminates in a new story of how Kant arrived at his mature view. Here is the chief lesson of this story: "the logical conception of the analytic/synthetic distinction is the fundamental idea of analyticity involved in Kant's distinctive, critical project. [H]is critique of metaphysics crucially depends on the logical conception and cannot be supported by its merely methodological and epistemological [End Page 761] ancestors" (204). This passage consolidates two leading theses of the book: (I) Kant has three versions of the analytic/synthetic distinction: a methodological distinction between two ways of knowing, an epistemological one between two kinds of concept formation, and a logical one between two kinds of judgment. These distinctions, in that order, mark the stages of Kant's long journey to the discovery of a notion of analyticity that would allow him to articulate the real problem of traditional metaphysics; (II) the logical account of analyticity is central to Kant's critical project as a whole.

The logical account at issue rests on "a logical theory of concept containment," for which reason it marks a distinction between analyticity and syntheticity as two essentially opposed objective properties of judgments (31). For the first half of the book, Anderson promotes this account in two steps. First, to fend off worries about the very notion of containment analyticity, he identifies a technical sense of concept containment that can underwrite a genuine dichotomy between two classes of judgments (chapter 2). Second, he examines Kant's dialectical target, the then-prevalent "Wolffian paradigm" of rationalist metaphysics (chapters 3–4), and argues that only the logical notion of analyticity, not its methodological or epistemological precursor, can anchor a decisive refutation thereof (chapters 5–7).

To make a philosophically compelling case for the logical account, Anderson carries out a meticulous investigation of (i) the Wolffian paradigm as found in Leibniz and Wolff, who share a fundamental commitment to the predicate-in-subject containment theory of truth; (ii) Kant's metaphysical writings from the 1760s through 1770; and (iii) some of his notes and letters during the silent decade. Rejecting Erich Adickes's proposal that the analytic/synthetic distinction should be dated to the late 1760s, Anderson shows that Kant discovered the genuinely critical account of analyticity only after 1772. Pivotal to this narrative is the "Beck objection," which "reduces the analytic/synthetic distinction to a mere difference among more perfect and less perfect cognitions and thereby undermines the very notion of ineliminable synthetic judgments" (142). Along these lines, the LeibnizianWolffian rationalist can treat synthetic judgments as merely provisional cognitions from "inadequately articulated concepts" and, once a "more adequate conceptual repertoire" becomes available, "recuperate" them by reformulating them in analytic terms (30–31). The methodological and epistemological versions of the analytic/synthetic distinction found in Kant's works up to 1770, Anderson argues, are incurably vulnerable to this recuperation strategy (149–95). Only the logical distinction could capture the expressive limitation of conceptual truth that Kant, during the silent decade, came to recognize as the Achilles heel of the Wolffian paradigm. The same distinction would then allow him to reframe the task of metaphysics as that of explaining the possibility of synthetic a priori judgments (195–202).

In the second half of the book, Anderson explains how the logical-containment analyticity in fact plays a central role in Kant's critical project as a whole. Mathematics takes center stage here—fittingly so, for "Wolff took the mathematical sciences as the model for … the purely conceptual, deductively logical structure of a proper philosophical system," so that, by establishing mathematical judgments as irreducibly synthetic (chapters 8–9), Kant could "reveal deep flaws in Wolff's particular conception of the grounds and structure of a priori knowledge" (211). This syntheticity thesis about mathematics simultaneously affords Kant "a principled charting of...


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