Sunday, 20 May 2018

Reinhold’s Letters on The Kantian Philosophy

Karl Leonhard Reinhold
Karl Leonhard Reinhold’s letters on Kantian philosophy were published in the journal Teutscher Merkur from August 1786 to September 1787. A much larger version of the letters were compiled together and published in a book Letters on The Kantian Philosophy in 1790. An updated version of the Letters containing several new topics was published in 1792.

With his Letters, Reinhold became Kant's first major interpreter. An interpretation was critical because when the Critique of Pure Reason appeared in 1781, several scholars, including Mendelssohn and Goethe, found the work impenetrable. Kant was criticized by reviewers for the idealistic content of his work. In 1783, Kant offered a shorter version of his critical philosophy in the Prolegomena, but this work too failed to make his philosophy accessible to scholars.

Reinhold’s Letters achieved what Kant's Prolegomena could not achieve—it offered a much simpler presentation of the philosophy of the Critique, and this brought great amount of attention to Kant and Kantian philosophy. Kant was pleased with the way his ideas were presented in Reinhold’s Letters. Here’s an excerpt from Kant’s letter to Reinhold (December 28, 1787):
I have read the lovely Letters, excellent and kind sir, with which you have honored my philosophy. Their combination of thoroughness and charm are matchless and they have not failed to make a great impression in this region. I was therefore all the more eager somehow to express my thanks in writing, most likely in the Deutscher Merkur, and at least to indicate briefly that your ideas agree precisely with mine, and that I am grateful for your success in simplifying them. 
The remarkable thing is that in his Letters, Reinhold does not cite the full name of Kant’s work—he speaks of “the critique of reason.” In Kant and the Historical Turn: Philosophy as Critical Interpretation, Karl Ameriks offers the following explanation for Reinhold’s dropping of the word “pure” from the title of the Kant’s book:
Reinhold never makes explicit his rationale for omitting the word ‘pure’, but this tactic can be understood as presumably his way of indicating from the start that his concern—like Kant’s as well—is not merely with a book but rather with the very notion and whole movement of a critique of reason. By also not citing pages of the Critique directly, and often not naming Kant at all, Reinhold’s procedure reinforces the thought that the critique of reason is a general project, one that might be carried out in a number of places—perhaps in ancillary works by Kant, or perhaps in efforts by supporters, such as the Letters itself.  ~ (Chapter 7, “Reinhold’s First Letters on Kant”) 
A paragraph later Karl Ameriks notes:
Whatever its source, there is a very significant philosophical complication arising from Reinhold’s omission of the word ‘pure’ in his constant use of the short phrase ‘critique of reason’. The advantage of his phrase is that it calls attention, all the more easily, to critique as a general process, and hence as a process that can, and does, involve two kinds of double meanings. It concerns reason in the double meaning of something that is carried out by and applied to reason; and it concerns critique in the double meaning of something negative, in the sense of an attack, and something positive, in the sense of a knowledgeable assessment and vindication (as in the English term ‘literary criticism’). The disadvantage of Reinhold’s short phrase is that it is misleading about exactly what Kant means to attack and what he means to vindicate.  
It is important for Kant to use the term ‘pure’ in his title because his book’s intent is to criticize—in the sense of ‘attack’—not reason in general but only those theoretical uses of reason that try to proceed too ‘purely’, that is, without recognition of our need to refer to sensory, spatiotemporal contexts in order to make warranted determinate claims. Reinhold’s main point is that Kant means to vindicate reason in its practical use, and thereby to silence those who are totally negative about reason. Thus, an initial way one might try to express Kant’s project is to say that the Critique is written to limit theoretical reason, especially in the face of dogmatic rationalism or supernaturalism, and to liberate practical reason, especially in the face of dogmatic empiricism or skepticism. To be accurate, however, some important qualifications must be added, qualifications that Reinhold generally fails to provide. 
Reinhold was committed to the Enlightenment before he had even heard of Immanuel Kant. He wanted to discover a philosophy that would support social and political reform so that all members of society can lead a completely free life. He thought that the philosophy that he was looking for was available in Kant’s Critique. In his Letters, he has organized the discussion around the insight that the aim of the Critique is to attack the metaphysical doctrines of materialism and spiritualism. Reinhold does not directly talk about the metaphysical basis and the implications of the Kantian attack on these doctrines but he manages to bring out many of the special virtues of Critical philosophy.

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