Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 379
Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” employs a single narrative voice, that of the author, which continues throughout the text in introducing and elucidating the often complex ideas with which the work is concerned. Kant starts out with ambitious aims in this text, namely to order the debate around metaphysics and to provide a satisfactory middle ground between the rationalist and empiricist positions of his day, on which all future metaphysics was to be founded. The narrative tone therefore is one of confidence, though not of arrogance, as Kant admits that there are some questions he cannot answer and at times makes reference to his own limitations as human, as in his comparing of the sublime to the beautiful:
Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt.
This work has often been criticized for its inaccessibility, how Kant’s narrator makes use of highly academic language, language which for some is unnecessarily opaque. While Kant makes no apologies for this during the text, his publication of “Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics” as a precursor to the main critique, a text wherein the language is far more accessible indicates that he was conscious of this fact.
The narrative voice speaks as if it were addressing an audience directly, often challenging that audience to perform thought experiments by which Kant’s ideas can be validated. One example of this comes in Kant’s discussion of geometry and space, where he requests that his audience imagine a straight line and the number two, so as to prove to them that such a priori predicates alone were insufficient for making any meaningful statements of geometry.
Kant also refers to the ideas of a number of philosophers, against whose ideas he compares and contrasts his own. The rationalism of philosophers such as Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz Kant critiques as affording too much power to “Pure Reason,” while the skeptical empiricism of David Hume he sites as an important “resting place” for the human mind, yet as being an insufficient place to stop in one’s quest for knowledge.
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