The first time I read Henry Allison was over the summer. I read the Prolegomena for a course in the last semester and read the Critique of Pure Reason not too long after. The first secondary text I read after I finished the first Critique was then Allison’s Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, the updated version obviously. I thought that this was one of the best works of philosophy I have read and still seems to me now an example of great scholarship. Allison took a difficult and dense text, narrowed the scope somewhat so that it was not just about the first Critique as a whole, and gave a clear interpretation and defense of his interpretation while situating it between other philosophical positions and interpretations.
Allison’s new book would be along the same level of scholarship. Staying true to the title, Allison examines the body of writings that Kant left us in a chronological order, for the most part. I say for the most part because Allison is trying to develop an intellectual biography and not a direct biography of Kant’s writings. Kant was working on theoretical and practical philosophy at the same time and so Allison may have been slightly out of order in certain parts. This was necessary so that we could examine Kant’s thought as it developed without losing track of scope for each chapter.
The chapters are as follows
The first half of the book largely then deals with Kant working within non-critical philosophy, but still having issues with how one should even do philosophy and metaphysics and moral philosophy in particular. We see the influence of people such as Newton, Leibniz, Wolff, Hutcheson, Crusius, Baumgarten, and Rousseau throughout the first half. There is a surprising lack of Hume, but I believe Allison might have thought that Hume was more related to Kant’s revolution of critical philosophy than with Kant’s specific thoughts on freedom, but Hume is not entirely left out and is mentioned a little bit. One could rightly point out that the two are heavily related, if not inseparable, but Allison at the end of the day chose to leave it out and I can only guess the reason why.
I am not nearly as well read or confident in my interpretation and understanding of Kant as Allen Wood and so I will approach this review as not so much “here is what I think was good and here is where I disagree”. I think that type of review is better for scholarship and belongs in a journal or something. Instead, I am just going to give a commentary on it of what was. I have read a couple dozen books, taken a few courses, and read many papers on Kant on top of reading a good portion of the primary texts with some being read multiple times, so I am not as well read as any professor or PhD student, but am a bit more well read than the average BA on Kant (I am guessing, seems like my university was a bit more Kant heavy and I have done a bit more Kant on my own). What I thought was most fruitful for me while reading was
This seems like all one would want to know, but I leave out making a claim on whether or not Allison is correct, has engaged with all the literature, or other ways I could be “critical” of his work. Instead, I am just going to try and put down things I learned about Kant or things that have helped me better understand things about Kant’s philosophy than prior. I am also going to leave out chapters 5-10. I really am more interested in what parts of Kant existed before the first Critique, understanding it for myself and possibly for those who find this post to be educational. Chapter 5 is prior to the publication of Kant’s first Critique, but it seems that the silent decade Kant was more so wrestling with writing the first Critique and figuring out some of the more particulars.
The first chapter is broken up into three parts, Kant’s thoughts on the universe in relation to Newton, metaphysical cognition, and optimism. For ease, I am just going to cite the title as (Allison XX) for this work, and will leave it to you to look up the page number and if it was Allison or some other text I am referencing since the texts Allison cites all have their own abbreviations defined in his book.
Kant seems to have been “high off Newton” in that the idea of a completely mechanistic explanation of the universe was appealing. I do not think that Kant abandoned this line of thought ever, to some degree. For Kant, when viewed through the empirical realm and experience, everything has a cause found in nature. Now the nature of this causality and how it works gets fleshed out later on in first Critique, we can see Kant’s commitment to laws of nature early on.
When examining the orbits of the solar system, Allison describes Kant as thinking that
this uniformity is not perfect, since the orbits rotating these bodies are elliptical rather than circular, and there are deviations from it; but he insists that there is regularity in these deviations, since they are a function of their distance from the Sun. (Allison 2)
The important thing here to me was “regularity in these deviations”. This highlights Kant’s commitment that the way nature works is that it is always in theory explainable and knowable, but human reason in its finitude might not be able to grasp the causes currently. But for these deviations to truly be irregular is something Kant would not think to be possible.
On this finitude of human understanding, Kant says
There is no end here but rather an abyss of a true immeasurability into which all capacity of human concepts sinks even if it is raised with the help of mathematics. (Allison 4)
This sounds a bit like critical Kant. Kant not only thought no argument for God’s existence could be given in the first Critique, but he thought that no argument could even do the concept of God justice, to accurately describe the concept of God. Similarly is that of nature itself. When we look at the way science has advanced, it seems quite unlikely we will find an end to experience itself, that we will have the exact mathematical formulas for all laws of nature and their forces, and to be able to causally explain things such as the big bang. The more we search, the more causes we are going to find. This “immeasurability” right now seems to be Kant at least understanding in a rough sense that there is no true end or first cause to things to be found, but an abyss we can go down for infinity.
Allison notes that Kant regards creation in the Biblical sense in this way as well. He states
Moreover, since it is not regarded as the direct product of the “hand of God”, creation, understood as the genesis of this ordered cosmos, is considered as a process rather than an event … (Allison 5)
Kant insists that “it will never stop” and that
It is always occupied with bringing forth more phenomena of nature, new things and new worlds. The work it brings about is proportionate to the time spent on it. It requires nothing less than eternity to fill the whole limitless expanse of the infinite spaces with worlds without number and without end. (Allison 5)
Already, we see Kant’s awe with the starry heavens. This is quite radical in that Kant is breaking with rationalists to some degree it seems. To deny an end and a first cause in nature seems to be something an empiricist might do.
But in sharp opposition to these views Kant denies that an ordered universe can be conceived as the product of blind chance and claims instead that “matter is tied to certain necessary laws” and that this indicates the existence of an “all sufficient highest mind in which the natures of things were designed in accordance with unified purposes”. Or as he succinctly puts it “a God exists precisely because nature cannot behave in any way other than in a regular and orderly manner, even in chaos”. (Allison 6-7)
So instead of giving an argument, Kant just mysteriously posits that God exists as the first ground and ultimate explanation. This is exactly what critical period Kant himself thought the dogmatic rationalist route of philosophy would end up in, just positing these necessary things to salvage their broken theories. Kant sums up this “transcendental realist” way of looking at things when he says
Either the design of the arrangement of the universe had already been placed in the essential determinations of the eternal natures and planted into the universal laws of motion by the highest understanding so that it developed out of them naturally in manner proper to the most perfect order, or … the general properties of the constituent parts of the world have a complete incapacity for harmony and the not the slightest reference to any combination and definitely required an external hand to acquire that limitation and coordination that shows perfection and beauty in it. (Allison 7)
The young Kant definitely came from the dogmatic rationalist side and not the skeptic empiricist side of transcendental realism, and so he opts for the latter viewpoint. Kant and the rationalists are committed to the unity of reason and finding necessary grounds for the explanation of things, but the best Kant can muster is sort of a “justified positing of a first ground”.
This section is dedicated to understanding young Kant’s grappling with the principle of sufficient reason through Wolff and Leibniz. Seeing as how this principle is paramount to Kant’s theoretical philosophy and the antinomies, but more importantly in this context for freedom, I am glad Allison dedicated a lot of time to this.
Kant rejected the position that Wolffians assigned to the principle of contradiction.
Appealing to the fact that the realm of truth contains both positive and negative propositions, Kant first denies that there can be any unique and absolutely first principle that is sufficient to ground both. (Allison 13).
This because Kant thinks there are two principles for truth, they are “whatever is, is” and “whatever is not, is not”. This is because Kant thinks that a singular first principle
must itself be either affirmative or negative; but if it is affirmative it cannot be the direct ground of the truth of negative propositions and vice versa. (Allison 14).
Now the reason that this is interesting to me is that this is Kant furthering his understanding of analytic a priori judgements. The two principles of truth are just analytic judgements. That is the classic “in every true proposition the the predicate is contained in the concept of the subject” (Allison 14), cue the unmarried men! Kant’s role at this point in his thought for the principle of contradiction was that “it is impossible that the same thing should simultaneously be and not be” (Allison 15). This principle relies on the principle of identity (the two principles of truth above) in that “Everything of which the opposite is false is true” (Allison 15). But these are not the only tools of logic Kant is dealing with, the last is the principle of sufficient reason (PRD when abbreviated).
To determine something, Kant defines this as “the positing of a predicate while excluding its opposite” (Allison 15). Allison further says
The key factor here is the connection between positing a predicate, i.e., affirming it of a subject, and excluding its opposite, and the point is that these are two sides of the same coin, since to predicate S of P is also to deny non-S. … But as purely logical, this principle does not specify which of the two contradictory predicates is to be posited. This is the task of PRD, which Kant introduces by means of an analysis of the concept of a ground (ratio), defined as “that which determines a subject in respect of any of its predicates”. (Allison 15)
This short dive into logic is important because it ties into Kant’s transition from logic to metaphysics. The boundary between logic and metaphysics is hard to find under transcendental realism. As Allison argues in his other book, due to Michelle Grier, that transcendental illusion occurs when we mistake the regulative or logical use of reason for constitutive or metaphysical usage. We can see young Kant dealing with something along these lines as well.
Kant’s second distinction, which likewise indicates the influence of Crusius, is between a determining ground of truth and of existence. In fact, the latter kind of determining ground is Kant’s main concern, since it underlies the transition from logic to metaphysics. (Allison 17)
In relation to God, Kant seems to have been just worried that for the possibility of possibility, there needs to be something which its existence is necessary in itself, which is more or less a similar flavor of the necessary existence argument. More interesting is Kant grappling with different conceptions of freedom of the will from Wolff and Crusius. Wolff’s view is similar to Leibniz, so to me the most interesting discussion was of Crusius. Kant seemed particular concerned with finding a satisfactory conception of freedom to which Crusius’ view was something he constantly wanted to escape from.
Wolff had a sort of intellectual extreme view on freedom. Wolff “regarded the problem of freedom as requiring the reconciliation of the possibility of free actions with the principle of sufficient ground” (Allison 20). Since my brain is poisoned by Kant, other accounts of freedom and action that are not Kant’s seem to just be assuming in some sense transcendental freedom. I say this because I do not get how Wolff reconciles the intellect with the will, or action at all from a first person point of view. Wolff thinks that “a free action is not one that is exempt from the principle of sufficient ground, since there are no such actions, but one that is determined by what an agent perceives (perhaps erroneously) as the best option in a given situation, all things considered, as contrasted with one that an agent is compelled to perform by external actors” (Allison 21). The reason I am confused is I do not get how this gets us freedom, it seems to assume action. The intellect perceives what is best apparently that is it, I do not get how this is something we can call freedom and I am sure the naturalist or skeptic could easily tear down this. This mostly has to do with what seems to be the fact that Wolff thinks that there is only the intellect and not another faculty of the mind and so he thinks that cognition, desire, and feeling are not distinct, but instead on a gradient of most clear to least clear cognitions.
Crusius interestingly does give the will its own distinct power. He defines the will as “the power of a spirit to act according to its representations” (Allison 22). Furthemore
… it is the power to choose between alternative courses of action recognized by the intellect in the case of rational agents and between competing desires in the case of non-rational animals. (Allison 22-23)
So we see that Crusius denies Wolff’s theory of there only being one power of the mind. Even more interesting I found in Crusius was that
Crusius defines a free willing as on which “in the same circumstances could omit a possible course of action or direct itself to something else,” and its capacity to do this as freedom. In other words, freedom of the will is defined as the capacity to choose otherwise in identical circumstances. As such, it is an explicitly indeterminist conception and presupposes a capacity on the part of an agent to stand apart from its desires in order to either endorse or reject the course of action that they dictate. (Allison 23)
Now to me this is fascinating because it not only breaks with Wolff on the faculties of the mind or spirit, but he rejects the principle of sufficient ground too. He does this by arguing that not every action needs to be completely determined and that this type of freedom presupposes our concept of moral responsibility. Presupposes that, if people are to be held morally responsible, we must be able to impute the structure of their actions and thus their deeds in a manner in which they could have done otherwise. Without arguing for the “uncaused cause”, this gets at something Kant found important for grounding morality as an uncaused cause.
Kant rejects Wolff on some similar grounds as Crusius. However, Kant thinks that the indeterminist position is not flawless either. Crusius appealed to God for freedom as a way to explain how humans are free and morally responsible, which runs into the same problem that then these actions have their ultimate ground in God and not the will of human beings. Kant says quite more and articulates the rest of his view at the time that is still Wolffian, but is not Wolff’s and is inspired to find some sort of middle ground between Crusius and Wolff. What is interesting is that Kant’s thoughts on freedom in the sense of the third Antinomy are already brewing here. The most important thing here to me is that Kant is still committed to the principle of sufficient reason and its role in freedom which he never gives up and seems vital to understanding freedom.
Kant is already thinking that metaphysics is something distinct from mathematics, at least the way it is conducted. He credits this idea to Newton. The important point being that metaphysics is rooted in experience. An interesting quote was
Even if one does not discover the fundamental principle of these occurrences in the bodies themselves, it is nonetheless certain that they operate in accordance with them. (Allison 46)
So truth in experience is related to science in some way. We can find a priori laws of nature, not construct them like mathematics. Allison says
According to Kant, definitions, that is, real and not merely nominal definitions, constitute both the starting point of demonstration and the ground of certainty in mathematics, because they are genetic, i.e., they generate the concept of the object defined from which the properties of this object can be derived by logical means. (Allison 46)
Kant instead thinks metaphysics “must proceed analytically for the business of metaphysics is actually the analysis of confused cognitions” (Allison 48). And finally
Since this analysis cannot proceed indefinitely, Kant acknowledges that the process must eventually culminate in unanalyzable concepts and that the propositions based on such concepts are indemonstrable. (Allison 48)
So to me, this sounds like the most the dogmatic rationalist could offer. Dogmatic rationalists would proceed to analyze confused concepts until they are no longer confused and arise at indemonstrable grounds for their theories. Some of these concepts they would analyze are things that Kant discusses in the first Critique and otherwhere such as representations being next to and after another, space, time, the sublime, the beautiful, and disgust. This list Allison notes was not exhaustive, but just some examples.
Two things stuck out to me in this essay. The essay was on negative magnitudes as “the mathematical expression of a real opposition”, as opposed to a logical opposition. Allison points out though that this is misleading since there are negative magnitudes that have no mathematical quantity.
The most interesting part to me was the discussion of morality and negative magnitudes.
As Kant here put it, “Vice can occur only insofar as a being has within him an inner law (either simply conscience or consciousness of a positive law as well)”
By contrast, vice, or positive moral evil, occurs when an agent deliberately acts contrary to the dictates of this law. Evidently anticipating a possible misunderstanding, Kant points out that this distinction between vice (or negative virtue) and a mere lack of virtue cannot be equated with the familiar contrast between sins of omission and sins of commission. Appealing to the example of a person who sees someone in need, is in a position to help, but fails to do so, i.e., a “bad Samaritan,” Kant notes that, though merely an omission , since no action is taken actually to harm the person needing help, this failure nevertheless constitutes a case of genuine moral evil, because the agent was conscious of the obligation to help, since loving one’s neighbor is a positive law “found in the heart of every human being”. (Allison 52)
To me, this is a perfect way of understanding that failing to the what is moral is just as evil as doing something that is moral. This goes back to some of the discussions on negative and positive freedom. Someone may think that they have not done any evil by never restricting anyone’s negative freedom, but if it so happens that virtue requires a positive freedom, something for us to act on, we are no less morally evil for going against the positive dictates of morality.
The Beweisgrund has a few interesting tidbits from young Kant.
First was Kant’s position on divine will or holiness was pretty much constant throughout his entire career. Allison writes
At the heart of this conception is a rejection of the view that the presence of alternative possibilities is an appropriate criterion for the divine freedom, because the “capacity” to choose anything other than the most perfect real possibility would constitute a defect in the divine nature. Moreover, this goes together with the view that what is essential to the concept of choice is not the presence of alternatives between which to choose, but, rather, some achievable end that is deemed good and adopted because of its goodness. (Allison 69)
We can see how this is a stern rejection of the libertarian freedom since choice needs something good to which our actions can be normative or guiding. The holy will is just that which does the good, while in humans this, later on in Kant, is the virtuous will that does what is good in spite of the competing incentives from our sensuous nature.
Lastly, young Kant at least argues at some point that God is self-conscious? He says
The self-sufficiency of God, connected to his understanding is all-sufficiency. For in cognizing himself, he cognizes everything possible which is contained in him as a ground. (Allison 71).
The main text taught in Kant’s metaphysics lectures was Baumgarten’s textbook, Kant’s crazy version pictured here.
I do not want to go into details about this, but one important note is that Baumgarten definitely influenced Kant on freedom. Here Allison sums it up
The main point is that Kant, as for Baumgarten and, indeed, virtually all early modern compatibilists, save perhaps Hume, the defining feature of a free choice or act is not its lack of a cause or determining ground, since that is ruled out in advance as a violation of PRD or some facsimile thereof, but the kind of ground that it has. (Allison 80)
Furthermore, Kant and Baumgarten both do not think animals are free.
Expressed in motivational terms, to which both Baumgarten and Kant subscribe, this means that free choices are determined by motives, of which only rational beings are capable, and unfree ones by stimuli. (Allison 81)
This point is made important by young Kant here
Animals (by hypothesis) have a capacity to act arbitrarily [make choices], but they cannot represent to themselves their motives: they are not conscious of themselves as acting according to their preference. … I could not distinguish the soul from other necessitating grounds in nature. … A human can prefer self-consciously in accordance with reason. (Allison 80-81)
This seems to be relatively in line with old Kant’s views as well to me, although Korsgaard (popularly, not the only one I am sure) has challenged this notion as of late. Or at least, has said that this is not the end to the Kantian picture in regards to animals and morality.
Kant attempts to examine obligation this essay, which he praises Crusius and Baumgarten for taking attention to while stating those such as Wolff and Hutcheson not taking seriously enough since for Kant obligation is central to morality.
The young Kant notes that obligation entails an ought or practical necessity of our action. He notices that this ought is ambiguous and early on addresses the ambiguity.
Thus, anticipating his later distinction between a hypothetical and categorical imperative, Kant distinguishes between two kinds of ought or practical necessity: a necessitatem problematicam and a necessitatem legalem, which concerns the necessity of adopting and endeavoring to realize an end. As in his later writings, Kant insists that only the latter can yield a genuine obligation, and he adds that his presupposes that there is something that is necessarily an end in itself. (Allison 86)
Kant thought that neither Wolff’s perfection or Crusius’ will of God amount to a first principle “because neither presents itself as immediately necessary rather than as conditional upon some further end” (Allison 87). In this, we can already see that Kant was not satisfied with the ground of obligation as this is still young Kant. But what is fascinating is Kant setting up the problem in a way that makes it such that the only thing that could satisfy obligation in the way Kant seeks is his own later moral theory.
Another fascinating strand of thought that we find in young Kant and Hutcheson is their agreement on the use of reason in action.
… both not only deny that reason is capable of determining such ends, but they do so for essentially the same reason, namely, the view that the proper business of reason is analysis, which effectively reduces the practical use of reason to the determination of the suitability of means to certain ends, which, on pain of infinite regress, cannot themselves be determined through reason. (Allison 93)
And so this is reminiscent of Korsgaard’s defense of Kant in her paper “The Normativity of Instrumental Reason”.
This is brief, but Kant already was thinking of a distinction between a doctrine of virtue and a doctrine of right, with the former dealing with inner obligation free of external coercion.
This fourth chapter is primarily concerned with Kant’s influence from Rousseau. Given that this book is about freedom, it is apt to give Rousseau a whole chapter on top of the brief discussion in the previous one since Rousseau was one of the largest influences. I will refrain from commenting too much because for one Kant and Rousseau’s connection is pretty apparent and also there would be too much to highlight.
Allison points out that
In short, rather than Newton or Rousseau, it was Newton and Rousseau that constitute what might be considered the first expression of Kant’s career-long effort to unify nature and freedom. (Allison 127)
This comes from the passage while I will quote in full where Kant says
Newton saw for the very first time order and regularity combined with great simplicity, where before him disorder and a poorly matched manifold was found; and since then comets in geometrical courses.
Rousseau discovered for the very first time beneath the manifold of forms adopted by the human being the deeply hidden nature of the same and the hidden law, according with which providence is justified by his observations. Before that the objection of Alfonso and Manes still held. After Newton and Rousseau, God is justified and henceforth Pope’s theorem is true. (Allison 126)
In this quote, we can see where Kant was given his direct inspiration in the more popularized “starry heavens” quote.
Kant did not subscribe to Rousseau’s political notion of the general will. However, this greatly inspired him. One important note was how to understand the possible contradiction of the will. For Rousseau this came about in the contradiction between the private will and the political general will. Kant’s contradiction comes about in a more well known way.
Accordingly, an attempt to appropriate another’s property or its fruits would be deemed an instance of self-cancelling, because one would be both insisting upon a universal right to ownership (under the appropriate conditions) in order to justify one’s claim and denying that there is such a right in attempting to appropriate the property of someone else, which against might be described as simultaneously willing a and ~a. (Allison 161)
So already at this time, we are seeing Kant flesh out some of his later thoughts of willing and action that we find in the Groundwork.
First in this essay, Kant makes note of comparing Newton’s focus imaginarius to visual illusion. This is in the context of some review Kant was giving of some mystic, but it is interesting as Allison notes that illusion plays another central role in transcendental illusion in the first critique. This use case was however in “illusions of imagination”.
Another interesting point made was that Kant defines metaphysics as “the science of the limits of human reason” (Allison 167). This definition of metaphysics was found in two other letters, dated 1765 and 1766, where Kant has seem to have made great strides in transitioning from pre-critical to critical Kant. I will quote the two relevant passages in full.
It is dated December 31, 1765, and though Kant does not there mention Dreams, which was then “in press”, he expresses optimism regarding his newly obtained views regarding metaphysical method, which were presumably contained in his work, and he informs Lambert that he has finally reached the point where he feels confident about the method that must be followed if one is to arrive at secure results. The essential point, he informs Lambert, is that “I always look to see what it is I have to know in order to solve a particular problem, and what degree of knowledge is possible for a given question.” (Allison 168)
This passage is fascinating to me in that Kant must have discovered transcendental idealism already. Young Kant was quite sure of himself that metaphysics will never have a secure foundation, at most it will be insecure foundations without confused concepts. However, he hints at the transcendental deduction already and how to proceed in metaphysical thinking, which to me signals that he has discovered transcendental idealism already. Maybe he has not recognized or developed the antinomies or paralogisms, but that is a matter of time.
The other passage is on transcendental illusion and it is interesting to see this letter in light of the other mention of illusion since illusion and thinking in metaphysics were on his mind around this time.
He also insists, however upon the seriousness of his intent, which he characterizes as rescuing metaphysics ; and he makes it clear that the rescue is not from visionaries like Swedenborg but from the inflated arrogance and pseudo-insights of would-be metaphysicians, who from metaphysical hypotheses without reflecting on the capacity of human reason to ground them. Enunciating a central theme of Dreams, Kant suggests that the means for this rescue might well lie in the recognition that there are “boundaries imposed upon us by the limitations of our reason, or rather the limitations of experience that contains the data for our reason”. Moreover, Kant points out to Mendelssohn that he had applied this lesson to a specific problem, namely, explaining “how the soul is present in the world, both in material and in non-material things”, which he deemed insoluble because the data required for solving it were unavailable. (Allison 168)
Once again, we see transcendental idealism and the failure of transcendental realism to account for the limits of human reason.
Lastly, I find it interesting that Kant was already priming himself for the postulates of God and immortality of the soul as an assent from the moral law.
There has never existed … an upright soul which was capable of supporting the thought that with death everything was at an end, and whose noble disposition has not aspired to the hope that there would be a future. For this reason it seems more consonant with human nature and with moral purity to base the expectation of a future world on the sentiments of a nobly constituted soul than, conversely, to base its noble conduct on the hope of another world. Such is the character of the moral faith [moralisch Glaube]: its simplicity is able to dismiss with many of the subtleties of sophistry; it alone and uniquely is fitting to man in whatever situation he finds himself, for it leads him directly to his true purposes. (Allison 174)
The point here being rather than “on the hope of another world”. That is, it is not some epistemological claim from the understanding, but it finds its ground in the moral law, which is in the same ballpark of Kant’s argument in the second Critique.
Before I get to the chapters and the beefiness of it, I would like to briefly mention something I have been thinking about lately and was made clear while reading this book. There seems to be a notion that is implicit in academia, implicit in that it is only because it is so far away from what undergraduates might think about what professors do. We see professors at a later stage in their career. We read philosophers who have obviously been handpicked for certain reason throughout the centuries to read. It gives off a vibe of these philosophers coming to some almost “revelation of God”-like arrival at their theories. Or that our professors might be similar people who just come out with great “ideas” from the idea factory.
But really Kant was not like this. Kant was just a great scholar. There is no guarantee anyone will have a “Copernican revolution” in their thought or be remembered at all. However, I do not think this is how scholarship should be done or thought about. Scholarship is a collective endeavor, even if you try and throw some Marx quote or politically driven sentiment at me I will hold onto this thought for now.
Kant was just another one of the Wolffians, people engaged with rationalism. Kant’s precritical work was scholarship internal to this type of philosophy. Rawls points this out in his Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy that Leibniz was a great impact on Kant. Even if all Kant held on from Leibniz was the principle of sufficient reason, that singular philosophical concept was important to the entirety of his thought. Had Kant never had his Copernican revolution, he would have just been another “run of the mill scholar”. Granted, he may have been a great one, but most definitely not someone we dedicate the amount of time as we do today to studying.
Kant was not just a rationalist too. He was fairly well read on much of the canon at the time. He read empiricists and sentimentalists and thought they had great things to say too. He grappled with the thought of Crusius which was pivotal in nailing down what freedom and obligation are for Kant. He had an immense revolution in thought after reading Rousseau. The other great revolution in thought was reading Hume. We cannot forget the first revolution Kant had, which was the work of Newton which young Kant could have been said to have been trying to “out-Newton Newton”.
Even without the Copernican revolution, Kant took these other theories quite seriously in their own right which could show any modern philosopher a lesson. There is worth in having someone well read and who understands what makes these different theories different, what they do well and what the do poorly, even if it is just in doing scholarly work. Kant could have just written papers on trying to defend and interpret these theories and to teach them to students and he would have still be a great scholar.
The reason why I think this is what amounts to being a great scholar is that you have to do this before you can advance scholarship or even try and do something new with your philosophy. If we think of what it means to be a philosophy scholar, we should be well read in some specialized and more specialized areas of philosophy. With so much out there, we have to make a decision on what things to become scholars in if we are to be scholars at all. Someone needs to read all the relevant literature on Kant’s first Critique if we are to advance our understanding of the first Critique.
Now this is what someone like Allison might be said to have done amazingly well throughout his career. There are few people who have changed the world of Kant scholarship so much besides Allison. There are many great new Kant scholars and each one seems to recommend Allison as a starting point in the secondary literature and they must read Allison if they hope to be taken seriously as a Kant scholar.
As far as I am aware, I am not sure if people like Wood or Allison or Korsgaard ever have tried to “come up with a new philosophy”. Maybe this is because that really is not how we should look at scholarship and philosophy in general. Kant did not go into philosophy thinking he was going to create some radical theory. Instead, he took each of the existing theories on their own, and realized that philosophy being done the current way ends up either in polemics, skepticism, or dogmatism. This was only made possible by good scholarship.
Whether or not we are going to see a new radical theory of philosophy like Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, or Hegel, only time will tell. But people like Allison set up the path for scholars to come. Even understanding Kant’s work in its entirety and making plausible claims that Kant was wrong or right in certain areas is an achievement in itself. Navigating philosophy with the work of scholars like Allison makes the work of all scholars for the future easier and more fruitful.
So to bring it back to the beginning, Allison’s work here demystifies something that I sort of thought was true this entire time, but was unsure. Even Kant’s radical revolution was not as radical as it seems, when we see that certain areas of thought continued throughout his life. The Copernican revolution was indeed radical, but it can blind us from seeing the work Kant did and how his thought developed gradually prior to this revolution and after the revolution. Likewise, I think this is a great book by a Kant scholar that exemplifies what I think scholarship of any philosopher or academic should look towards doing.