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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
How Is Metaphysics Possible as Science
By Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
 
From the ‘Prolegomena’: Translation of Ernest Belford Bax

METAPHYSICS as a natural disposition of the reason is real; but it is also in itself dialectical and deceptive, as was proved in the analytical solution of the third main problem. Hence to attempt to draw our principles from it, and in their employment to follow this natural but none the less fallacious illusion, can never produce science, but only an empty dialectical art; in which one school may indeed outdo the other, but none can ever attain a justifiable and lasting success. In order that as science it may lay claim not merely to deceptive persuasion, but to insight and conviction, a critique of the reason must exhibit in a complete system the whole stock of conceptions a priori, arranged according to their different sources,—the sensibility, the understanding, and the reason; it must present a complete table of these conceptions, together with their analysis and all that can be deduced from them, but more especially the possibility of synthetic knowledge a priori by means of their deduction, the principles of its use, and finally their boundaries. Thus criticism contains, and it alone contains, the whole plan well tested and approved—indeed, all the means—whereby metaphysics may be perfected as a science; by other ways and means this is impossible. The question now is not, however, how this business is possible, but only how we are to set about it; how good heads are to be turned from their previous mistaken and fruitless path to a non-deceptive treatment; and how such a combination may be best directed towards the common end.  1
  This much is certain: he who has once tried criticism will be sickened forever of all the dogmatic trash he was compelled to content himself with before because his reason, requiring something, could find nothing better for its occupation. Criticism stands to the ordinary school metaphysics exactly in the same relation as chemistry to alchemy, or as astronomy to fortune-telling astrology. I guarantee that no one who has comprehended and thought out the conclusions of criticism, even in these ‘Prolegomena,’ will ever return to the old sophistical pseudo-science. He will rather look forward with a kind of pleasure to a metaphysics, certainly now within his power, which requires no more preparatory discoveries, and which alone can procure for the reason permanent satisfaction. For this is an advantage upon which metaphysics alone can reckon with confidence, among all possible sciences; namely, that it can be brought to completion and to a durable position, as it cannot change any further, nor is it susceptible of any increase through new discoveries: since the reason does not here find the sources of its knowledge in objects and in their intuition, which cannot teach it anything, but in itself; so that when the principles of its possibility are presented completely, and without any misunderstanding, nothing remains for pure reason to know a priori, or even with justice to ask. The certain prospect of so definite and perfect a knowledge has a special attraction about it, even if all its uses (of which I shall hereafter speak) be set aside.  2
  All false art, all empty wisdom, lasts its time; but it destroys itself in the end, and its highest cultivation is at the same time the moment of its decline. That as regards metaphysics this time has now come, is proved by the state to which it has declined among all cultivated nations, notwithstanding the zeal with which every other kind of science is being worked out. The old arrangement of the university studies preserves its outlines still; a single academy of sciences bestirs itself now and then, by holding out prizes, to induce another attempt to be made therein: but it is no longer counted among fundamental sciences; and any one may judge for himself how an intellectually gifted man to whom the term “great metaphysician” were applied, would take this well-meant, but scarcely by any one coveted, compliment.  3
  But although the period of the decline of all dogmatic metaphysics is undoubtedly come, there are many things wanting to enable us to say that the time of its re-birth by means of a thorough and complete critique of the reason has already appeared. All transitional phases from one tendency to its opposite pass through the state of indifference; and this moment is the most dangerous for an author, but as it seems to me the most favorable for the science. For when, through the complete dissolution of previous combinations, party spirit is extinguished, men’s minds are in the best mood for listening gradually to proposals for a combination on another plan. If I say that I hope that these ‘Prolegomena’ will perhaps make research in the field of criticism more active, and will offer to the general spirit of philosophy, which seems to be wanting in nourishment on its speculative side, a new and very promising field for its occupation, I can already foresee that every one who has trodden unwillingly and with vexation the thorny way I have led him in the ‘Critique’ will ask me on what I ground this hope. I answer, On the irresistible law of necessity.  4
  That the spirit of man will ever wholly give up metaphysical investigations, is just as little to be expected as that in order not always to be breathing bad air we should stop breathing altogether. Metaphysics will always exist in the world, then; and what is more, exist with every one, but more especially with reflecting men, who in default of a public standard will each fashion it in his own way. Now, what has hitherto been termed metaphysics can satisfy no acute mind; but to renounce it entirely is impossible: hence a critique of the pure reason itself must be at last attempted, and when obtained must be investigated and subjected to a universal test; because otherwise there are no means of relieving this pressing requirement, which means something more than mere thirst for knowledge.  5
 
 
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