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Rethinking rational cosmology: Research on the pre -critical origins of Kant's arguments in the antinomies

Purdue University
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  • Philosophy|History
  • Modern|History Of Science
  • Astronomy
  • Design
  • Earth Science
  • Philosophy


Anglo-American commentators of Kant are largely skeptical that the Antinomies of the first Critique accomplish their intended objective. Against Kant's claim that there are “natural and unavoidable” questions about the structure of the universe, the nature of causality, and the existence of God, which inevitably lead human reason to paradox and contradiction, critics deny that the Antinomies are inevitable problems of reason. Typical objections levied against Kant are that the Antinomies are artificially generated from Kant's (own) architectonic view of human reason and that the individual antinomy-proofs are philosophically indefensible. ^ In this dissertation I present reasons for why the standard interpretations of the Antinomies should be called into question and I delineate a modest interpretation of Kant's antinomy-doctrine that leads to a more charitable account of what Kant's project is in the “Antinomy Chapter.” I argue, in broad outline, that past interpreters have misidentified the aim (or objective) of the Antinomies and they have radically misinterpreted the theoretical context in which the claims and terminology of the individual antinomy proofs are situated. It is my contention that much of the skepticism currently surrounding Kant's Antinomies is principally due to textual misunderstanding and the fact that Kant's commentators have not properly understood the meaning of “rational cosmology” that Kant identifies as the intended target of his arguments. ^ Rational cosmology, as I attempt to define it, represents an actual (historically instantiated) philosophical tradition of the mid-eighteenth century. It is best regarded as a form of Newtonian metaphysics that emerged as a response to the challenges presented by scientific naturalism. Its list of practitioners include Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophers, such as the early Kant and Alexander Baumgarten, as well as Continental Newtonians, such as Leonard Euler and Pierre Maupertuis. After tracing the types of arguments and positions advanced by rational cosmologists during Kant's pre-critical period, I suggest how the Antinomies of the first Critique are a set of arguments that are specifically designed to refute rational cosmology as an approach to metaphysical inquiry. ^

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