October 18-19, 2008


“Skepticism and the Development of the Transcendental Dialectic”

Winner of our Graduate Student Travel Stipend and Nominee for the NAKS-Markus Herz Award

Brian Chance (University of Pennsylvania)

Saturday, October 18, 3:00PM (EDT)


Paul Guyer and Michael Forster have recently argued that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason can be thought of as an attempt to provide critical responses to two distinct skeptical threats. The first, a Humean skepticism about the existence of a priori principles of cognition, is Kant’s principle target in the Aesthetic and Analytic. The second, a Pyrrhonian skepticism that arises from the seeming intractability of disputes within traditional metaphysics, is his principle target in the Dialectic.  

There is a lot to recommend both of these readings. But I argue that there are two important aspects of Kant’s response to skepticism in the Critique that they obscure. The first is that Kant’s response to Pyrrhonian skepticism is also a response to Hume. The second is that an aspect of this response is decidedly positive. Appreciating these points is important because they show that two common assumptions about Kant’s response to skepticism are mistaken. The first is that Kant’s response to Hume is not limited to his account of possible experience; the second is that this response, as well as his response to skepticism more generally, is not entirely adversarial but in certain respects quite sympathetic.

The first two sections of the paper attempt to establish a connection between Hume and Pyrrhonian skepticism. Drawing on material from Kant’s logic lectures, I begin by describing Kant’s own conception of Pyrrhonian skepticism. I then argue that portions of Hume’s views in the first Enquiry and Dialogue fit two key aspects of this conception and provide evidence that Kant thought of Hume as a modern-day Pyrrhonian. The next two sections of the paper then examine the positive role that Pyrrhonian skepticism plays in the published version of the Dialectic and in the early versions of the Dialectic from the 1770’s. I first identify the positive aspect of Kant’s response to Pyrrhonian skepticism in the “Antinomy of Pure Reason” by describing his use of the Pyrrhonian skeptical method. Although Kant only assigns this method a supporting role in the published version of the Dialectic, I then show that it played a much more important role in the 1770’s. In particular, I argue that Kant initially believed that this method was powerful enough to identify and resolve all of the illicit claims of metaphysics. In the final section of the paper, I then reflect on the implications of these considerations on our understanding of the Critique’s response to skepticism in general and its response to Hume in particular.