Course level: Undergraduate
In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant says that one of the aims of his critical philosophy is to draw a map of what he calls “the island of truth,” and to clearly mark the boundaries between this island of truth and the broad and stormy ocean of what he calls “transcendental illusion” (KrV A236/B295). What Kant conveys with this image is his view that there are clear limits to what we can know, and that being aware of these limits will help us discover the philosophical methods that are available to answer many of the different sorts of questions that arise in philosophy and in life. For example, Kant believes that we cannot know whether God exists or whether we are free; but he believes that he can show what entitles us to believe in God’s existence or our own freedom, and he doesn’t believe that belief is a form of holding something to be true that is inferior to knowledge. In this course, we will see that the trajectory of 19th century philosophy can be read as an extended commentary on these Kantian views. We will see that a fork opens up in the road, with one side leading to thinkers such as Hegel, who rejects Kant’s views on the boundaries of human knowledge, and another leading to thinkers such as Fichte, Schelling, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, who accept, but also transform, Kant’s views on the finitude of human knowledge. Some of the topics that we will discuss include the doctrine of transcendental idealism, the nature and possibility of knowledge, the relationship between thinking and acting or knowing and willing, the ground of moral obligation, human freedom, and religious belief.