Kant Lexicon

Skeptical: skeptisch (German)

The skeptical method is a way of pursuing metaphysics. It is a version of the scientific method. In “The History of Pure Reason,” Kant mentions only Hume as a practitioner of the skeptical method (A856/B884).

Kant described the skeptical method in his discussion of the “antithetic of pure reason,” at the beginning of “The Antinomy of Pure Reason.” In the Antinomy, competing dogmatic principles are pitted against each other in a kind of dialectical combat. (For example, one principle is that the world has a beginning in time and the other that the world has no beginning in time.) The combat is peculiar, in that the side making the argument for its principle is always (temporarily) victorious, so that victory switches back and forth without end. (Compare a football game with no time-limit, and in which each team scores a touchdown on every possession; Kant chose an analogy with jousting knights.) The skeptical method observes this antithetic and tries to discover the underlying source of the dispute.

This method of watching—or, rather, of occassioning on one’s own—a contest of assertions, not in order finally to decide in favor of one or the other party, but in order to inquire whether the contest’s object is not perhaps a mere deception for which each party grasps in vain and from which it cannot gain anything even if not resisted at all—this procedure, I say, may be called the skeptical method. (A423-4/B452)
Use of the skeptical method does not result in skepticism, but rather in certainty about the source of the dispute.

Kant held that the skeptical method belongs essentially to transcendental philosophy (A424/B452) due to its complete abstraction from experience. It would be absurd to use it in mathematics, where there is no conflict. Disputes in “experiential philosophy” may be settled by experience, and morality is not at such a high level of abstraction that it falls into antithetic.

The skeptical method is contrasted the dogmatic and critical methods. (A424/B451).

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