I continue my slow, careful re-reading of the Critique. Today, I begin the Deduction in A, the heart of the book. As I have been reading, I have once again been bugged by something in Norman Kemp-Smith’s translation that first caught my attention fifty-six years ago. Indeed, although I shall be using the Kemp-Smith translation, I sent off yesterday to Amazon for Paul Guyer’s translation to see whether he gets this right.
Many of you will be familiar with the phrase “synthetic a priori judgment," which we might call Kant’s signature phrase. Almost any philosophy student who has studied Kant will know that in the Critique Kant claims that the fundamental principles of math and science are synthetic a priori.
Except that Kant never says that! What on earth do I mean?
Well, “synthetic” and “analytic” are adjectives. They modify the noun “judgment” and related nouns, such as “[modes of] knowledge” [erkenntnisse]. “a priori” and a posteriori” are adverbs. They modify verbs such as “to know,” “to assert,” “to possess” and the like. There is no such thing as a synthetic a priori judgment. There are, however, Kant argues, synthetic judgments that are known a priori to be true. Showing that, and explaining how it can be, is one of the central tasks of the Critique.
Ascertaining whether a judgment is synthetic or analytic requires no philosophical heavy lifting, although sometimes it takes an ear finely tuned to the nuances of language. But determining whether there are any synthetic judgments that can be know [to be true] a priori requires a deep investigation of what Kant calls Transcendental Philosophy, which is what we today call Epistemology or Theory of Knowledge.
Let me give you just one example, this concerning not “a priori judgments” but “a priori sensibility.” At A76-77 = B102 Kant writes: “Dagegen hat die transzendentale Logik ein Mannigfaltiges der Sinnlichkeit a priori vor sich liegen, welches die transzendentale Ӓsthetik ihr darbietet …” Kemp-Smith translates this as “Transcendental logic, on the other hand, has lying before it a manifold of a priori sensibility, presented by transcendental aesthetic …” This is clearly wrong. Kant does not say that Transcendental logic has a manifold of a priori sensibility lying before it or presented to it by Transcendental aesthetic. He says that it has a manifold of sensibility lying before it a priori or presented to it a priori by Transcendental aesthetic.
The entire translation is filled with instances of this mistake. I will be very curious to see the Guyer translation when it arrives tomorrow.