Sunday, November 3, 2013

Kant's Prolegomena (in Plain American English)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Brief Biography

Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg, in 1724. For eight years he attended the Collegium Fridiricianum at the age of eight, a Latin school that taught primarily classicism. Later he went to the University Of Königsberg, where he majored in philosophy, mathematics and physics.
After his father’s death, he left the university and earned a living as a private tutor. With the financial help of a good friend, he resumed his studies, earning his doctorate in 1756.
At the University of Königsbergh he became a tenured professor in logic and metaphysics. There he lectured and wrote for the rest of his life. He died in 1804.

About the Prolegomena

Much like Rene Decartes, Kant devised a model, an individual epistemology, by examining the basis of human knowledge and its limits.
He brought together the ideas of rationalism, influential thinkers such as Descartes, Leibniz, and Wolff. But what really woke him from “dogmatic slumbers,” was David Hume’s brand of empiricism.  
Kant's critical philosophy is presented in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781); the idea of the Critique is to establish and investigate the legitimate limits of human knowledge. Knowledge of sensible objects shape up in advance through the structures of the human mind’s ability to reason, and therefore all objects conform themselves a priori in such a relation. Since the mind’s structures filter the objects, human knowledge then is limited to how these objects appear to us. Such approach condemned man not to ever have direct knowledge of the things themselves.
Kant felt that his Critique of Pure Reason by its depth and span of treatment was inaccessible to many of his readers, and therefore misunderstood. Therefore, he wrote his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, a kind of introductory primer.
Both the Critique and the Prolegomena assert that we cannot know the things in themselves, but only the things as they appear to us.
Did Kant achieve his goal of writing a primer? To some extent, yes. For serious students of epistemology, however, one must go beyond the primer and actually read the Critique. Although Kant attempted—with the Prolegomena— to simplify and popularize the ideas he had expressed in the Critique, it appears that he just wrote a shorter version of it, which isn’t simple or easy to grasp because Kant’s style is dry and turgid, and he didn’t change his style for the Prolegomena.
Our translation uses a much accessible language so that even young readers and the general public may grasp Kant’s basic ideas. To this extent, our translation is quite different from others, while remaining true to the ideas.
How then has this simplicity been accomplished?
The accessibility comes from different sources: by providing shorter paragraphs, using sentence variation (as opposed to literal translations), and marginal clues or notations throughout the text. Older translations used the term “cognition,” which with the advent of psychology has devalued its philosophical import. I have used instead of cognition: knowledge.
General readers, high school students, philosophy-student majors, and all lovers of philosophy will find this accessibility refreshing.

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