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on March 13, 2004
Let me start by addressing some misconceptions you'll see as you roam around these reviews.
First of all, there are a couple of low reviews that refer to Kant as being "anti-reason," "anti-truth," a socialist, a collectivist, etc. These are written by Objectivists - followers of Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand has about the same relationship to serious philosophy as McDonalds does to good cooking. She hated Kant, but never quite seemed to understand him. No surprise - he's hard.
Which is the second point. This is not an easy book at all. That's why it's most often assigned to graduate students. Even undergrads can easily get a philosophy degree without ever touching this book. It's bloody hard. This is because, well, its ideas are radical and difficult, and because Kant is a careful philosopher.
It is not, and this is my third point, because Kant is a bad writer. Quite the opposite. He's a great writer. The fact of the matter is, though, that his subject matter is not exactly a page-turner. But, I mean, what do you expect. You're reading academic philosophy. There's a handful of academic books that are both worthwhile and fun to read, and that's just a fact of life. Kant, however, is quite clear - indeed, he does the service of going over his points more than once - a luxury you won't get when you advance to Hegel. Furthermore, believe it or not, there are jokes in Kant. The best of them is a footnote, in which he notes that "Deficiancy in judgment is that which is ordinarily referred to as stupidity, and for such a failing their is no remedy."
Unfortunately, it's all too common on Amazon to bash academic books because they're hard, obscure, or poorly written. The fact of the matter is that these books are not for everyone. They're for specialists and scholars, and are written in a language that is appropriately technical to that task. You don't go and bash medical and scientific books for being too hard for you. Give philosophy a break, and recognize this book as what it is - one of the most important contributions to a scholarly field ever.
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on March 2, 2006
Note: this is the edition I'm familiar with, but it's out of print. There are new editions (both with this translation and newer ones) that would be worth checking out. This one has no real guide or preface, but I kind of like that.

Norman Kemp Smith's translation seems to be one of the standard English translations of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Is it the best? I don't speak German, but it's certainly serviceable.

This is a daunting work. It's also a necessary work, inasmuch as any understand of contemporary thought and intellectual history must encounter it. Kant has influenced nearly every major school of thought and cultural trend for the last 200 years. Below, I'll try to sketch his thought in this Critique.

This is the story of Immanuel Kant, who found philosophy a mess and sought to fix it. Specifically, he was a former Rationalist who was disconcerted by the critique of British Empiricism (specifically the skeptical philosophy of David Hume). He sought to provide a grounding for the truths of empirical science and mathematics, establish the possibility of religious faith and practice, while at the same time avoid dogmatism in metaphysical reasoning.

How did he seek to do this? By establishing a critique of reason whereby he understands the validity of all mental constructs. Kant distinguish between judgments which are a priori (prior to experience) and a posteriori (arising out of experience), and judgments which are "analytic" (trivial, tautological) and "synthetic" (where the predicate adds something that is not contained within the subject). Are synthetic a priori judgments possible? Kant answers yes, and much of this book deals with what follows from that.

First Kant deals with how we have sense experience. He claims that space and time are necessary a priori conditions for sense experience -- not physical things in the world. The content of our experience is sense-data: raw sensation that arises outside ourselves or inside ourselves and is "given" in experience. The forms in which we construct that experience are space and time.

Sensations, organized within us spatially and temporally yields sense experience (perceptions).

Kant then proceeds to our abstract thought. What he terms "Understanding" has pure, a priori concepts according to logical form. He calls these "Categories." These do NOT arise as a mere empirical habit/convention -- they are prior to experience and are necessary forms that allow rational beings to experience the world intelligibly. Thus, we take the raw givens of our Understanding, which are perceptions (which we dealt with under "Transcendental Aesthetic"), and we impose the categories upon these perceptions -- we "schematize" our experience.

Perceptions, given intelligible form according to schemata, yield intelligible concepts. We are justified in doing this because the perceptions are not things-in-themselves, but mere appearances (phenomena), and in order for these phenomena to exist in an experience that is coherent and consistent for us, they must have these forms. We are NOT justified in applying these categories to things-in-themselves (noumena).

This is where Reason eats itself. It tries to do the same thing the understanding did, but now it does this with respect to the big metaphysical questions. It starts with concepts and attempts to unify all phenomenal experience according to concepts and yield the Ideas of Pure Reason. When it does this, it gets all confuzelled. It tries to deal with 3 Big Problems (Kant uses the term "dialectic"):

* Soul - Reason wants to insist that the thinking soul exists, that it is subject (pure substance), that it is simple, and that it is unchangeable through all its activities. These are the Paralogisms of Pure Reason. We need these ideas -- their contraries are unthinkable for us(?), but these are not demonstrable.

* The World - Reason wants to answer questions about the series of appearances that constitute the world: Is the World limited or unlimited in space and time? Is the world made up of simples or composites? Does freedom exist in the world? Is there a necessary being connected with the world? These are the Antinomies of Pure Reason. Unlike the Paralogisms, these questions admit of contradictory answers. They, too, cannot be adjudicated by pure reason.

* God - Reason wants to demonstrate the existence of God. Kant refers to this as the Ideal of Pure Reason. He claims that all arguments demonstating God's existence in fact, despite outward appearances, depend upon one method, the "ontological" proof of God's existence, which Kant disallows as transempirical.

Kant tries to tell us how to employ reason. First, stop arguing speculatively about God, etc.! But he urges us to apply those metaphysical ideas must be employed in practical (moral) contexts. In this, he anticipates the Victorians, who were somewhat skeptical on matters of faith, but stressed the necessity of continuing to act according to traditional morality. The dialectic problems deals with ideas are not verifiable speculatively. They are not constitutive of experience. Rather, they serve a regulative function, specifically in the practical realm of morality.

Kant claims that reason is architectonic: it naturally wants to assume the greatest generality. Kant says this is fine for moral thinking, but bad for speculative thinking.

Kant says that philosophy answers these questions: "What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope for?" The bulk of Critique of Pure Reason answers the first question. The Critique of Practical Reason, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Metaphysic of Morals, etc., answer the second question. The third question ties the two together -- this is what Kant deals with at the end of the first Critique.

Kant sees the great transendental ideas as being God, Immortality, and Freedom. They are the starting points of theistic religion (e.g. Christianity and Judaism). These can neither be verified nor disproved by speculative reason (since speculative reason must by its nature deal with givens (Latin, data) either from sense-experience or pure intuition (as in mathematics). These ideas, however, are necessary "regulative" ideas for the guidance of practical (moral reason) and are valid in that connection. Thus, the second Critique answers the question "What ought I to do?" by recourse to the transcendal idea of Freedom. The question, "what may I hope for?", is given response through the transcendental ideas of God and immortality, for if God does not exist, nothing can grant us happiness for moral behavior and unhappiness for immoral behavior, and if we're not immortal, God won't have anyone to reward.

I probably have made errors and inaccuracies in the above, but I hope I give a flavor for his thought. Kant is sober, earnest, and disciplined. Again, he's not easy, but I think he's worth the effort.
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on March 1, 2004
Pluhar's translation is wonderful. The extensive annotation makes the whole work perfectly clear, offering alternative translations and pointing out the technical German vocabulary (so essential to understanding Kant). The work flows beautifully, and though the material was dense, I could hardly put it down at times. If you're just starting Kant, do not start here. I'd suggest the excellent series by W.T. Jones called A History of Western Philosophy (specifically volume four). Read and reread it. Understand the basics about Kant, then, when you have the proper grounding, go on to the Critique. It will reward careful study.
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on October 13, 2006
Mr Werner S. Pluhar has done us all non-German readers a great favor:

A clear, complete (with a German-English Glossary followed by the English-German Index), fluent translation of Kant's major work.

It's the one I feel to be the most enjoyable and closer to the original.

Patricia Kitcher's Introduction is very helpful to any new Kant's reader.

The editing and format of this edition is well designed and inviting to

the eye.
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Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is considered one of the giants of philosophy, of his age or any other. It is largely this book that provides the foundation of this assessment. Whether one loves Kant or hates him (philosophically, that is), one cannot really ignore him; even when one isn't directly dealing with Kantian ideas, chances are great that Kant is made an impact.

Kant was a professor of philosophy in the German city of Konigsberg, where he spent his entire life and career. Kant had a very organised and clockwork life - his habits were so regular that it was considered that the people of Konigsberg could set their clocks by his walks. The same regularity was part of his publication history, until 1770, when Kant had a ten-year hiatus in publishing. This was largely because he was working on this book, the 'Critique of Pure Reason'.

Kant as a professor of philosophy was familiar with the Rationalists, such as Descartes, who founded the Enlightenment and in many ways started the phenomenon of modern philosophy. He was also familiar with the Empiricist school (John Locke and David Hume are perhaps the best known names in this), which challenged the rationalist framework. Between Leibniz' monads and Hume's development of Empiricism to its logical (and self-destructive) conclusion, coupled with the Romantic ideals typified by Rousseau, the philosophical edifice of the Enlightenment seemed about to topple.

Kant rode to the rescue, so to speak. He developed an idea that was a synthesis of Empirical and Rationalist ideas. He developed the idea of a priori knowledge (that coming from pure reasoning) and a posterior knowledge (that coming from experience) and put them together into synthetic a priori statements as being possible. Knowledge, for Kant, comes from a synthesis of pure reason concepts and experience. Pure thought and sense experience were intertwined. However, there were definite limits to knowledge. Appearance/phenomenon was different from Reality/noumena - Kant held that the unknowable was the 'ding-an-sich', roughly translated as the 'thing-in-itself', for we can only know the appearance and categorial aspects of things.

Kant was involved heavily in scientific method, including logic and mathematical methods, to try to describe the various aspects of his development. This is part of what makes Kant difficult reading for even the most dedicated of philosophy students and readers. He spends a lot of pages on logical reasoning, including what makes for fallacious and faulty reasoning. He also does a good deal of development on the ideas of God, the soul, and the universe as a whole as being essentially beyond the realm of this new science of metaphysics - these are not things that can be known in terms of the spatiotemporal realm, and thus proofs and constructs about them in reason are bound to fail.

Kant does go on to attempt to prove the existence of God and the soul (and other things) from moral grounds, but that these cannot be proved in the scientific methodology of his metaphysics and logic. This book presents Kant's epistemology and a new concept of metaphysics that involves transcendental knowledge, a new category of concepts that aims to prove one proposition as the necessary presupposition of another. This becomes the difficulty for later philosophers, but it does become a matter that needs to be addressed by them.

As Kant writes at the end of the text, 'The critical path alone is still open. If the reader has had the courtesy and patience to accompany me along this path, he may now judge for himself whether, if he cares to lend his aid in making this path into a high-road, it may not be possible to achieve before the end of the present century what many centuries have not been able to accomplish; namely, to secure for human reason complete satisfacton in regard to that with which it has all along so eagerly occupied itself, though hitherto in vain.' This is heavy reading, but worthwhile for those who will make the journey with Kant.
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on June 23, 2004
Those who are, or who are planning to be, students of Kant should know that professionals regard the Meiklejohn translation of the Critique of Pure Reason as substandard. Translations must compromise, but this one compromises too much. In places it shows serious misunderstandings of Kant's intent. The "classic" standard is Norman Kemp Smith's translation, and the new standard is the Cambridge Edition translation by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Even undergraduates should be given excerpts from these latter texts.
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Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is considered one of the giants of philosophy, of his age or any other. It is largely this book that provides the foundation of this assessment. Whether one loves Kant or hates him (philosophically, that is), one cannot really ignore him; even when one isn't directly dealing with Kantian ideas, chances are great that Kant is made an impact.

Kant was a professor of philosophy in the German city of Konigsberg, where he spent his entire life and career. Kant had a very organised and clockwork life - his habits were so regular that it was considered that the people of Konigsberg could set their clocks by his walks. The same regularity was part of his publication history, until 1770, when Kant had a ten-year hiatus in publishing. This was largely because he was working on this book, the 'Critique of Pure Reason'.

Kant as a professor of philosophy was familiar with the Rationalists, such as Descartes, who founded the Enlightenment and in many ways started the phenomenon of modern philosophy. He was also familiar with the Empiricist school (John Locke and David Hume are perhaps the best known names in this), which challenged the rationalist framework. Between Leibniz' monads and Hume's development of Empiricism to its logical (and self-destructive) conclusion, coupled with the Romantic ideals typified by Rousseau, the philosophical edifice of the Enlightenment seemed about to topple.

Kant rode to the rescue, so to speak. He developed an idea that was a synthesis of Empirical and Rationalist ideas. He developed the idea of a priori knowledge (that coming from pure reasoning) and a posterior knowledge (that coming from experience) and put them together into synthetic a priori statements as being possible. Knowledge, for Kant, comes from a synthesis of pure reason concepts and experience. Pure thought and sense experience were intertwined. However, there were definite limits to knowledge. Appearance/phenomenon was different from Reality/noumena - Kant held that the unknowable was the 'ding-an-sich', roughly translated as the 'thing-in-itself', for we can only know the appearance and categorial aspects of things.

Kant was involved heavily in scientific method, including logic and mathematical methods, to try to describe the various aspects of his development. This is part of what makes Kant difficult reading for even the most dedicated of philosophy students and readers. He spends a lot of pages on logical reasoning, including what makes for fallacious and faulty reasoning. He also does a good deal of development on the ideas of God, the soul, and the universe as a whole as being essentially beyond the realm of this new science of metaphysics - these are not things that can be known in terms of the spatiotemporal realm, and thus proofs and constructs about them in reason are bound to fail.

Kant does go on to attempt to prove the existence of God and the soul (and other things) from moral grounds, but that these cannot be proved in the scientific methodology of his metaphysics and logic. This book presents Kant's epistemology and a new concept of metaphysics that involves transcendental knowledge, a new category of concepts that aims to prove one proposition as the necessary presupposition of another. This becomes the difficulty for later philosophers, but it does become a matter that needs to be addressed by them.

As Kant writes at the end of the text, 'The critical path alone is still open. If the reader has had the courtesy and patience to accompany me along this path, he may now judge for himself whether, if he cares to lend his aid in making this path into a high-road, it may not be possible to achieve before the end of the present century what many centuries have not been able to accomplish; namely, to secure for human reason complete satisfacton in regard to that with which it has all along so eagerly occupied itself, though hitherto in vain.' This is heavy reading, but worthwhile for those who will make the journey with Kant.
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on December 21, 2009
This book is both long and dense, and that is putting it lightly. As usual, the mobi version of this book for Kindle has a fully linked table of contents, but each and every footnote throughout the book is a link as well. In most cases I wouldn't make a deal of this, but for this book in particular the feature is indispensable. You can quickly jump to the footnote, then press back and jump right back to the page you were reading. In regard to the table of contents being linked to each and every little section of this book, one might call it excessive, but I prefer to call it "thorough."

In short, this version is perfect to have for referencing specific sections or even for a full reading of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.
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on April 30, 2005
It amazes me how many of the previous reviewers failed to review the quality of the book (translation, print, etc), but rather insisted on offering sophomoric critiques of Kant's arguments. No one cares what YOU think about Kant. If one day YOU make even a fraction of a contribution to the field of philosophy as Kant has, then and ONLY then, may your opinion be considered important to the discussion. Any idiot can have an opinion. It is the task of scholars to first UNDERSTAND. Save the opinions of Kant's arguments for your dissertation.

Now for my review:

I gave 4 Stars mainly for what I felt were a few discrepancies or at least ambiguities when compared to the German text. As for English translations, I personally prefer the translation by James Creed Meredith. Nevertheless, it is always helpful to have several translations for comparison.
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on October 20, 2006
There is a common saying in Philosophy; before Kant and after Kant.

Roger Scruton justifiably said Kant was the most brilliant philosopher after Aristotle. While I would not say Kant was the only brilliant philosopher, he does deserve a central place in modern Philosophy alongside Hume, Berkeley, Liebnitz, and Spinoza.

The Critique of Pure Reason is Kant's central work and essential to comprehending Kant's overall goal of reconciling philosophical idealism and empiricism while at the same time retaining adequate grounds for the three great questions which confront all rational beings:

1) What should I do?
2) What can I know?
3) What can I hope for?

Kant gives the answers to these questions as freedom, immortality, and knowledge, however in Kant's view all the metaphysical systems of philosophy and their pretentions to provide 'certain' knowledge about these things had all failed, and failed decisively. Kant's central insight, and perhaps his most important one, was of the importance of Hume's critical skepticism towards any attempt by reason to provide sure and certain foundations to knowledge, be it scientific knowledge, philosophical knowledge, or theological systems which try to catalogue the furniture of all worlds from God down to the smallest atom. Hume's scathing and brilliant attacks on all dogmatic systems of belief shattered Kant's faith in the ability of reason to know anything with certainty.

Kant set himself on the task to finding out in the light of empiricism and skepticism, what we can truely know and hope for. The Critique is essentially a long and complex analysis of all the forms of philosophical knowledge and logic of the time and also a comprehensive review of Western philosophy itself, immense in its scope, covering everything from proofs for God's existence to the cogito of Descartes to aesthetics. Kant's key insights in the critique are as follows:

1) Reason cannot know the unconditioned, that is, any reality above the world of possible experience.
2) Reason cannot prove God's existence or non-existence.
3) Our knowledge of things depends essentially on the constitution of the world, as conditioned by our senses, our embodied existence, and the processes of our concious mind.

The third point is especially key for Kant. Kant introduces a system called transcendental idealism. For Kant, it is not sufficient to simply say reality is a creation of Mind or minds (Berkeley) or that our knowledge of reality simply consists in appearances received by a passive mind (empiricism). While each philosophical perspective contains part of the Truth, it is not a complete picture of the truth adequate from the viewpoint of Philosophy. For Kant, the world is certainly empirically real (scientific laws are true laws and will always be so in any possible world of experience) however the world is transcendentally ideal, in the sense our conciousness and how our mind orders appearances is absolutely fundamental in how reality appears to us as a coherent whole, governed by immutable physical law. The existence of time, space, causation, and of the basic categories through which we understand reality is not from things in themselves, but through the way our mind constitutes appearances. Hence the world is given, in a unity because we are 'thinking' animals for whom experience of this world is possible. For Kant, Berkeley and Descartes are right, but so are Hume, Galileo and Newton. The world is possible because of the subject, but the world is also independent of the subject in the sense appearances must and always will appear to us in the ordered way they do because it could not be otherwise, given our sense apparatus and our conciousness and the possibilities of experience it enables.

For Kant there is no 'a priori' insight which allows us to break out of our limited situation in the world of appearance into Reality or the 'thing in itself' (which Kant calls the noumenon) itself, and in fact we can never rationally talk about anything beyond our possible experience, because what is transempirical is beyond any of our categories or faculties of understanding (time, space, perception, substance, etc) and trying to do so only results in nonsense or vain metaphysical exercises which pertain to prove everything but which are really 'sophistry and illusion' which fall apart under the weight of skepticism and paradox. Reason tries to know what cannot be known, and in doing so runs into an abyss which leads to nowhere.

Kant does however, say it is possible to be a rational being, have hope in free will and morality, and in God. Despite his destruction of metaphysics, Kant proceeds to rebuild as he sees it a new foundation for ethics, religion, and knowledge on rational grounds, taking into account that any arguments for these things are grounded on the insight of the limits of our knowledge as finite beings. Kant summarises these arguments in simpler and clearer form in other works, such as 'A groundwork for the metaphysics of morals.'

Kant is not a brilliant writer in the same sense that Plato or Schopenhauer or Nietzsche are. However, Kant, like Aristotle, is not impossible to read and is not even terribly difficult (unlike Hegel) because he takes pains to set out his thought using logical argument. Anyone reasonably familiar with Descartes, Hume, Locke, or Spinoza can grasp the less obscure points of Kant. However, Kant is a philosopher of exceeding brilliance, and his influence is central to Western philosophy in all its forms. If ancient philosophy is a set of footnotes to Plato, then it can be said modern philosophy is a set of footnotes to Kant.

Both the analytical and the continental forms of Philosophy have essentially continued Kant's project, attempting to explore what we can know in light of our limitations as finite beings, and in the light of scientific knowledge.

Understanding Kant is absolutely essential to understanding Western philosophy in its present form, just as Shakespeare is absolutely indispensible to English literature.

Kant stands admirably as one of the most brilliant and original minds of all time, and is rightly praised by Schopenhauer as 'astounding.'

However, I do feel Kant's philosophical system has some flaws, and it is not perfect. I also disagree with Kant's claim we can never know the unconditioned and we can only ever know phenomena. However, Kant does provide an important corrective to any attempts to dogmatize beyond proper limits.
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