The naturalistic method is a way of pursuing metaphysics. It eschews “speculation” in favor of “common reason.”
The naturalist of pure reason adopts as his principle the veiw that, as regards the most august questions making up the problem of metaphysics, more can be accomplished therough common reason without science (he calls this sound reason) than through speculation. (“History of Pure Reason” A855/B883)Kant regarded the naturalistic method as absurd “misology” (hatred of knowledge) that is embodied in principles. As an example, he cited the claim that the size of the moon can be determined “more reliably through the naked eye than through mathematical detours” (A855/B883). Naturalists who merely lack insight cannot be blamed, but others “boast of their ignorance as a method for reaching the truth” are blameworthy.
In the Prolegomena (§31), Kant attacks the naturalist in more detail. He begins by defining the naturalist as ”the man who believes he can decide in matters of metaphysics without any science” (Ak 4:314). He repeats the conclusion of his own investigations, “that with all our reason we can never reach beyond the field of experience” (Ak 4:314) and notes that the naturalist might claim that “by the prophetic spirit of his sound sense, [he] not only suspected but knew and comprehended what is here propounded with so much ado, or, if he likes, with prolix and pedantic pomp” (Ak 4:314). The problem is that if pressed, the naturalist will find that he employs a priori principles. But such principles might reach beyond the field of experience, contrary to his own assertion. In this way he is on the same ground as dogmatists of pure reason and is in danger of “wandering inadvertently beyond objects of experience into the field of chimeras” (Ak 4:314).
In the Preface to the Prolegomena, Kant discussed the “common sense” critics of Hume, specifically Reid, Oswald, Beattie and Priestly. Hume had questioned the credentials of reason as a basis for metaphysics. But rather than investigating more deeply reason itself (as did Kant), they “found a more convenient method of being defiant without any insight, viz., the appeal to common sense” (Ak 4:259). Kant mocked the “discovery” of common sense as a means whereby the most shallow thinker could hold his own ground against the deepest thinker. However, in the end the appeal to common sense is simply an appeal to the multitude. Common sense has its use in the world of experience, but it has no right to judge in metaphysical matters.
The naturalistic method is contrasted the scientific method, which includes Kant’s critical method.
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