Can we all just admit that the Prolegomena sucks?

I love Kant, but I think we all need to just need to admit that the Prolegomena failed to achieve its intention. It claims to be an introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, but it is borderline incomprehensible if you don’t already broadly know what the Critique is all about. It works as a supplement and at times as a clarification, but certainly not as an introduction or exposition.

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9 Responses to “Can we all just admit that the Prolegomena sucks?”

  1. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    I don’t even like it as a supplement. Consistently, any argument or formulation Kant only uses in the prolegomena is misleading and/or problematic. I think it’s just a bad book, even beyond its radical failure as an introduction to KRV and a tool for instruction.

  2. Mark William Westmoreland Says:

    Yeh, I’m not fan of the Prolegomena. I will say, though, it does provide a good account of Kant’s response to Hume’s notion of causality, which doesn’t play much of role in the first edition of the CofPR. But once Kant wrote the second edition of the CofPR, the Prolegomena became obsolete. In other words, the Prolegomena would be helpful if Kant had only written the first edition of the CofPR. Since, he did indeed write a second edition, which incorporates the Hume/causality stuff, we don’t really need to the Prolegomena anymore (with the exception of caring about the historical trajectory of Kant’s thinking.)

  3. Mikhail Emelianov Says:

    Wrong. It’s a great little book. I think you are confusing “I don’t like it” with “It is objectively bad” – that happens at lot with Kant. A “bad book” (that’s for Daniel)? Please. Sure, maybe it’s not as clear as we would want it to be (and our idea of clear is probably super dumbed down “Kant in 90 Minutes” anyway) but “bad”? Have you no shame? Next thing you will tell me Hegel is hard to understand…

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I just taught it to two classes full of smart, motivated students who are used to reading difficult texts, and I can tell you — it doesn’t work.

  5. bzfgt Says:

    I taught it in Intro last Fall. It probably was too hard for that but I made it work, with a lot of exposition. A lot of students wound up digging Kant, although maybe more as a result of what was said in class…I guess ultimately I agree with you but in a less emphatic way, because I’m attached to doing Kant’s epistemology/metaphysics in Intro and don’t know what else could be substituted.

  6. Adam Kotsko Says:

    There’s the rub — it seems like there’s no alternative. Could you really do selections from the Critique that would be comprehensive and comprehensible, and doable within a reasonable number of class sessions? Maybe?

  7. reidkane Says:

    In the introduction, Kant seems to suggest that the work is not intended for students as an introductory text, but for teachers as a clarificatory supplement:

    “These Prolegomena are destined for the use, not of pupils, but of future teachers, and even the latter should not expect that they will be serviceable for the systematic exposition of a ready-made science, but merely for the discovery of the science itself. [...] But although a mere sketch, preceding the Critique of Pure Reason, would be unintelligible, unreliable, and useless, it is all the more useful as a sequel. For so we are able to grasp the whole, to examine in detail the chief points of importance in the science, and to improve in many respects our exposition, as compared with the first execution of the work.”

  8. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    I want to try teaching the B-introduction in Intro to Philosophy. Almost tried it this semester, but I ended up with an eight-weeks course, so playing it safer and only doing things I know are teachable at this level. I feel like setting up the basic problems and sketching Kant’s solutions can be done by just going through that introduction and adding details in lecture. Especially if the rest of the course leads up to it (by looking at Hume/Locke and Descartes to set up contrasts that Kant assumes his readers have as background, etc.). I figure if I can get “Intro to Philosophy” to end with “Intro to Kant” then I have a 100-level class doing everything I want it to do.

  9. Jon Cogburn Says:

    Ha!

    In his “The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy” Eckart Forster has a pretty good explanation of why it sucks. Kant’s original plan to write a clear introduction got completely waylaid by his furor over the first published review of the A version of the first critique.The review was incompetent, through no fault of the author (Garver). The editor of the journal had cut it radically and rewritten sections. Garver and Kant reconciled after Garver sent him the original version, but Kant now had to not only introduce the A version but try to correct the impressions caused by the bad review.

    Forster argues that this resulted in the changing of the main question from the A to B version. Whereas the A version concerns itself with the possibility of referring to anything at all (even non-sensible objects) the Prolegomena subtly changes the subject to the problem of synethetic a priori knowledge. This change motivates much of the B rewrite and (according to Forster) actually allows Kant to see the necessity of the two later critiques.

    If Forster is right, the Prolegomena is not really an introduction to the first critique but rather the slightly half-baked first version of some ideas that wouldn’t really be worked out until the B version and next two critiques, I don’t know how plausible this is, but it would explain why it fails so badly to do what it’s supposed to do.


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