Visiting Speakers

Prof. Brian Chance, University of Oklahoma

Friday, Feb. 12, 2010, 4:00 p.m., 607 Dale Hall Tower. Everyone is welcome!

Sensibilism, Psychologism, and Kant's Debt to Hume

Kant’s relationship to Hume is typically thought to be primarily if not entirely adversarial. Hume denied the a priori origin of the concept of cause and so the a priori justification of all causal judgments. And Kant responded to a generalized version of these denials in the Metaphysical and Transcendental Deductions of the first Critique by determining the number and establishing the objective validity of the pure concepts of the understanding.  This reading of the Kant-Hume relationship is familiar to many. Aspects of it are as old as the Critique itself. And in the roughly two-hundred years of scholarship on the Critique, it has never wanted for advocates among historians of philosophy.

There is also a second reading, not nearly as familiar but equally old and equally important. According to it, Kant and Hume have much more in common than their well-known disagreement over the status of causal judgments would suggest.  Each is critical of rationalist attempts to cognize supersensible objects such as God and the soul, and each develops his account of cognition, in part, to demonstrate the futility of these attempts. In this paper, I develop a version of the second reading that attempts to spell out more clearly the extent to which Kant regarded his project in the Critique as indebted to Hume. In the process, I also criticize the most recent and radical version of this second reading, the one developed by Wayne Waxman in his Kant and Empiricists. In my view, Kant credited Hume with being the first to argue that an analysis of the mind and the sources of its representations can yield strong arguments against rationalist claims to cognition of supersensible objects and regarded this analysis as an important (albeit a fundamentally flawed) forerunner of his arguments in the Critique. Moreover, I argue that Hume’s arguments against these claims and Waxman’s reading of Kant’s debt to Hume share a fundamental flaw. Both are unable to make room for the possibility of practical arguments for the existence of God, freedom, and immortality that are central to Kant’s moral philosophy and, in my view, to his aims in the Critique.