Critique of Pure Reason

Kant's rejection of Hume's empiricism

Before Kant (1724–1804), David Hume (1711–1776) accepted the general view of rationalism about a priori knowledge. However, upon closer examination of the subject, Hume discovered that some judgments thought to be analytic, especially those related to cause and effect, were actually synthetic (i.e., no analysis of the subject will reveal the predicate). They thus depend exclusively upon experience and are therefore a posteriori. Before Hume, rationalists had held that effect could be deduced from cause; Hume argued that it could not and from this inferred that nothing at all could be known a priori in relation to cause and effect. Kant, who was brought up under the auspices of rationalism, was deeply disturbed by Hume's skepticism. "Kant tells us that David Hume awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers."[6] Kant decided to find an answer and spent at least twelve years thinking about the subject.[7] Although the Critique of Pure Reason was set down in written form in just four to five months, while Kant was also lecturing and teaching, the work is a summation of the development of Kant's philosophy throughout that twelve-year period.[8]

Kant's work was stimulated by his decision to take seriously Hume's skeptical conclusions about such basic principles as cause and effect, which had implications for Kant's grounding in rationalism. In Kant's view, Hume's skepticism rested on the premise that all ideas are presentations of sensory experience. The problem that Hume identified was that basic principles such as causality cannot be derived from sense experience only: experience shows only that one event regularly succeeds another, not that it is caused by it. In section VI (The General Problem of Pure Reason) of the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explains that Hume stopped short of considering that a synthetic judgment could be made 'a priori'. Kant's goal was to find some way to derive cause and effect without relying on empirical knowledge. Kant rejects analytical methods for this, arguing that analytic reasoning cannot tell us anything that is not already self-evident (Bxvii). Instead, Kant argued that it would be necessary to to use synthetic reasoning. However, this posed a new problem — how is it possible to have synthetic knowledge that is not based on empirical observation — that is, how are synthetic a priori truths possible?

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