The Post-Modern Self   /   Spring 2017   /    Book Reviews

The Invention of Philosophy

Chad Wellmon

Sketch of Immanuel Kant, c. 1801, Friedrich Hagemann; Chronicle/Alamy.

Philosophical truth needs philological help.

In the preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth-century German philosopher who published his magnum opus at the age of fifty after ten years of publishing silence, solicited help from his readers. The initial reviewers of what would become one of modern philosophy’s canonical texts couldn’t understand it. Kant’s critics highlighted his “terse writing style,” disregard for the “greatest part of the reading public,” and irredeemable abstractions that hovered “too much in the clouds.”

For Kant, these criticisms were about style, not content. So he implored a small, unnamed cadre of scholars to “refine” the text but to leave alone the underlying philosophical system, which he equated with reason itself. Philosophical truth, he as much as acknowledged, needed philological help.

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