Philosophy and Rhetoric in Kant’s Third Antinomy


Kant’s discussion of the Third Antinomy in The Critique of Pure Reason is one of the central philosophical events of the modern age. It is the consideration of the compatibility of two core assumptions of modern thought: that the motion of all natural beings is causally determined, and that human beings are free and self-moving. The first is essential to modern science, the second to modern morality. On the face of it, these two assumptions seem to contradict one another. Kant, however, attempts to show that this contradiction only arises when reason transgresses its own limits and seeks to grasp the infinite. Reason thereby becomes dialectical and is lost in a realm of illusion where it is misguided by imagination and rhetoric. The solution to this problem, in Kant’s view, is a critique of reason that makes its limits clear. This is the goal of The Critique of Pure Reason. On the basis of this critique, Kant believes it will be possible to distinguish the legitimate philosophical use of reason from its dialectical or rhetorical use, and thus to guarantee the rational foundations of science while leaving room for morality and religion.
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