Kant’s Critical Philosophy

Instructor: Michael Stevenson
Goethe-Institut New York
30 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003

Kant’s “Critical philosophy,” which begins with the appearance of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, is an attempt to understand no less than the scope and limits of human reason, science, and morality.  He wrote that the purpose of philosophy is to answer the following fundamental questions: “What can we know? What should we do? What can we hope for?”  In other words: can we really know what reality is like, independent of our individual perspectives and ways of conceiving it?  Is scientific inquiry a legitimate, or the only legitimate, way to know reality?  Do we have genuine moral obligations to others and to ourselves, and what reasons do we have for fulfilling those obligations?  What does it mean to say that a work of art or a landscape is beautiful, and what does it say about the type of creatures we are that these things can evoke such aesthetic experiences in us?

Kant says that answers to all these questions presuppose an answer to another, even more fundamental question: “what is a human being?”  In this class, we will survey Kant’s theoretical, ethical, and aesthetic views with particular concern to understand how they fit together into a unified picture of human subjectivity and purpose.  Kant’s account of human beings, orpersons, grants them “a rank and dignity infinitely above all other things, including all other living beings, on earth.”  This view seems profoundly at odds with a common modern conception in which, as Nietzsche describes it, “man has become an animal, literally and without reservation or qualification.”  Accordingly, we can only understand human nature, behavior and potential through evolutionary theory and the neurophysiology of the brain.  We will ask if Kant’s picture, in contrast, is still viable today, and whether it offers a compelling or attractive alternative account of human beings and their place in nature.

Course Schedule

Friday, 6:30-8:30pm
September 09 — October 14, 2016
6 weeks

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