Kant Lexicon

Metaphysics: Metaphysik (German), Metaphysica (Latin)

From Baumgarten’s 1739 Metaphysics, which was the text used in Kant’s metaphysics lectures (links are to Latin text):

§1. METAPHYSICS is the science of the first principles in human cognition.
§2. Ontology, cosmology, psychology, and natural theology belong to metaphysics. (Prolegomena Metaphysicorum)
Ontology contains first principles for of the general predicates of things such as possibility (§§7-18), parthood (§155-164), substantiality (§§191-204), and causality (§§307-318), among others. Cosmology, psychology and natural theology contain first principles for the more specialized predicates that apply to the world, the soul and God, respectively.

Kant defined metaphysics in his Inaugural Dissertation. “Now, the philosophy which contains the first principles of the use of the pure understanding is METAPHYSICS” (§8). In Kant’s 1782-1783 lectures on metaphysics (Metaphysik Mrongovius), given approximately one year after the publication of the Critique of Pure Reason, there is the following definition: “Now we say that metaphysics is the science of the a priori principles of human cognition” (Ak 29:749).

In the lectures just cited, Kant distinguished between “metaphysics proper” or ”applied metaphysics” or “metaphysics in the strict sense” on the one hand and “transcendental philosophy” on the other. The former “contains the a priori cognition of objects, [and] constitutes a system of pure cognition of reason” (Ak 29:752). We use the faculty of reason to generate such a system, and transcendental philosophy addresses the legitimacy of this use of the faculty of reason. Thus transcendental philosophy is “propaedeutic” to metaphysics proper. The Critique of Pure Reason was what Kant took to be historically the first conscious attempt at transcendental philosophy. As is recorded in the lectures, Kant claimed that, “No one has had a true transcendental philosophy” (Ak 29:752).

In the Preface to the first edition of the Critique, Kant described metaphysics as the “combat arena” in which “human reason plunges into darkness and contradiction,” despite its pretensions to being “the queen of all the sciences” (A vii). To bring an end to this sorry state, Kant proposed that reason examine itself to determine what it may and may not legitimately claim in metaphysics.

And it is a call to reason to take on once again the most difficult of all tasks—viz., that of self-cognition—and to set up a tribunal that will make reason secure in its rightful claims and will dismiss all baseless pretensions, not by fiat but in accordance with reason’s eternal and immutable laws. This tribunal is none other than the critique of reason itself: the critique of pure reason. (A xi-xii)

In the Preface to the second edition of the Critique, Kant describes metaphysics as having failed to take “the secure path of a science” unlike mathematics and physics. His account of the nature of metaphysics is this:

Metaphysics is a speculative cognition by reason that is wholly isolated and rises entirely above being instructed by experience. It is cognition through mere concepts (not, like mathematics, cognition through the application of concepts to intuition), so that here reason is to be its own pupil. (B xvi)

The transcendental philosophy of the Critique has both a positive and a negative outcome with respect to metaphysics proper. The positive outcome is the establishment of a set of concepts and principles that universally apply to objects of experience. This outcome is found in the Transcendental Analytic. The negative outcome is the failure of those concepts and principles to extend beyond experience. Cosmology is deflated in the Antinomy of Pure Reason, psychology in the Paralogisms of Pure Reason, and theology in the Ideal of Pure Reason./p>

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