Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Philosophy of Kant as contained in extracts from his own writing by John Watson


As I was reading John Watson’s extracts from the Philosophy of Kant in his own translation I had the uncanny experience of being able to understand it inasmuch as this was new to me. Is this a true translation or a paraphrase I asked myself. I checked his extracts from the Third Critique (of Judgement) comparing and contrasting them to the translation by James Creed Meredith revised, edited and introduced by Nicholas Walker (Oxford World’s Classics). Right enough there are differences but it is as though Watson had wrested intelligibility from the wearying anfractuousities of Kant. It’s that sense that one has of Kant constantly doubling back in mid sentence as a new thought,which he imagines clarifies, occurs to him .

Watson’s introduction to his Extracts contains in brief his philosophy of education and is worth quoting:

My reason for presenting to the public these translations from the philosophical writings of Kant will be best understood if I state how they came to be made. The teacher of philosophy soon finds that a very powerful irritant is needed to awaken his pupils from their " dogmatic slumber." I do not doubt that it is possible to secure the desired end by a systematic criticism of the preconceptions that stand in the way of genuine philosophical comprehension. But my experience is that it is almost impossible, by this method, to prevent the average student from accepting what he is told without mastering it and making it his own. Thus he passes from one form of dogmatism to another, and with the new dogmatism comes the great enemy of all education, a conceit of knowledge without its reality. The study of philosophy is of little value if it does not teach a man to think for himself. The process of self-education is necessarily a severe one, and, therefore, distasteful to the natural man. Yet any attempt to evade it by some " short and easy method " defeats the end. What is required is a process by which the student who is really in earnest may pass, gradually and surely, from a lower to a higher plane of thought. The philosophical writings
of Kant, which exhibit in brief the transition from the old to the new, I believe to be a potent instrument for this end. 

Watson’s Translation of Introduction to the Critique of Judgement:
THE object of philosophy is to search for the principles by which reason may obtain a true knowledge of things. Now, we may conceive of objects either from the theoretical or from the practical point of view, and hence the ordinary division of philosophy into theoretical and practical is perfectly correct. But, in making this division, we must be sure that the conceptions upon which the distinction of principles rests are themselves distinct.
There are two, and only two, classes of conception by reference to which a distinction may be made in the principles of philosophy. These are conceptions of nature and the conception of freedom. The former are the condition of theoretical knowledge in conformity with a priori principles; the latter in itself supplies merely a negative principle of theoretical knowledge, but it is the source of principles which enlarge the sphere of the will, and which are therefore called practical Philosophy has thus two main divisions, theoretical philosophy or the philosophy of nature and practical or moral philosophy. But these terms have hitherto been grossly misapplied, both in the division of the principles of philosophy and in the division of philosophy itself. For it has been assumed that there is no distinction between what is called "practical" in the sphere of nature, and what is " practical" relatively to the idea of freedom. Now, this confusion between two perfectly distinct conceptions has made the division of philosophy into theoretical and practical unmeaning, inasmuch as the same principle is assumed to apply to both spheres.

Meredith’s Trans:

Philosophy may be said to contain the principles of the rational cognition that concepts afford us of things (not merely, as with logic, the principles of the form of thought in general irrespective of the objects), and, thus interpreted, the course, usually adopted, of dividing it into theoretical and practical is perfectly sound. But this makes imperative a specific distinction on the part of the concepts by which the principles of this rational cognition get their object assigned to them, for if the concepts are not distinct they fail to justify a division, which always presupposes that the principles belonging to the rational cognition of the several parts of the science in question are themselves mutually exclusive.
Now there are but two kinds of concepts, and these yield a corresponding number of distinct principles of the possibility of their objects. The concepts referred to are those of nature and that of freedom. By the first of these, a theoretical cognition from a priori principles becomes possible. In respect of such cognition, however, the second, by its very concept, imports no more than a negative principle (that of simple antithesis), while for the determination of the will, on the other hand, it establishes fundamental principles which enlarge the scope of its activity, and which on that account are called practical. Hence the division of philosophy falls properly into two parts, quite distinct in their principles-a theoretical, as philosophy of nature, and a practical, as philosophy of morals (for this is what the practical legislation of reason by the concept of freedom is called). Hitherto, however, in the application of these expressions to the division of the different principles, and with them to the division of philosophy, a gross misuse of the terms has prevailed; for what is practical according to concepts of nature has been taken as identical with what is practical according to the concept of freedom, with the result that a division has been made under these heads of theoretical and practical, by which, in effect, there has been no division at all (seeing that both parts might have similar principles).

I rest my case. Those baffling bracketed parentheses.



Watson’s work is at
watson's critique

Meredith’s:
Meredith's Critique




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