Kant's 'Copernican Revolution'

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  • Topic: Immanuel Kant, A priori and a posteriori, Concepts in epistemology
  • Pages : 5 (2022 words )
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  • Published : November 27, 2012
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Describe Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’ and explain (and outline) how he hopes it will give rise to synthetic apriori knowledge. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason [1781] was birthed out of the Leibnizian-Wolff tradition. He rejected this tradition due to a dislike of the principles of Sufficient Reason and Non-Contradiction. Although much of the Critique can be read as a spirited attack on this tradition, Kant’s real catalyst for the writing the Critique was the empiricist David Hume, and the way one reads the Critique is informed by the awareness of the Critique as a duel attack. The creation of the ‘synthetic a priori’ and the ‘Copernican Revolution’ that gave rise to it are both conversant of this attack. This essay aims to outline and defend how the ‘Copernican Revolution’ evolved and how this ‘metaphysical revolution’ formed the concept of the ‘synthetic a priori’. In the Preface to the Critique Kant describes metaphysics as once being the ‘queen of all sciences’ (A ix). Yet, despite this, he argues that reason in metaphysics fails to have the stability of mathematics or natural science. The conflict of Newtonian science with Leibnizian metaphysics, rationalism with empiricism, and natural science with morality and religion, are all instances of metaphysics as a ‘battle ground’ (Gardner 1999: 20). Kant argues that: “If the various participants are unable to agree in any common plan of procedure, then we may rest assured that it is very far from having entered upon the secure path of a science, and is indeed a merely random groping” (B vii). For Kant, the natural sciences and mathematics are in contrast to metaphysics because the former have undergone a peculiar process of stability. Kant adheres to a ‘Maker’s Knowledge Thesis’, which argues that a subject has supreme (a priori) knowledge of an object, if they are the maker of that object or able to reproduce it. Thus, maths has a priori status because we can construct mathematical objects ourselves. He affects to reproduce an analogous revolution in metaphysics. At…Kant gives his ‘Copernican Revolution’ of metaphysics: “Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given” (B xvi). The ‘Copernican Revolution’ attempts a compromise between the optimistic Leibnizian realists, who argue that we can have objective (a priori) knowledge of the external world through the Principle of Sufficient Reason and the Humean sceptics, who argue that we can have no knowledge beyond immediate experience. By a ‘Copernican Revolution’, Kant intends a complete overhaul of what has previously been taken as objective fact: like Copernicus explained the ‘objective’ movement of the sun by the subjective movement of the observer on earth, Kant explains our knowledge of ‘objective’ external objects in terms of our subjective modes of cognition (Gardener 1999: 42). On the ‘Maker’s Knowledge Thesis’, for an agent to have a priori metaphysical knowledge, they must have at least partially formed a sum of that knowledge. Kant claims that this is achieved by the input of our cognitive faculties on what we observe. Some critics question how Kant’s ‘revolution’ does not merely collapse into an account of Berkeley’s mind-dependence, that we ‘create’ the external objects in our own minds (Gardener 1999: 43). But Kant is not idealist in the way that Berkeley is, to say that the subject ‘forms’ the object by the modes of their cognition, is not to say that objects are the creation...
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