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Transcendental Philosophy

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Transcendental Philosophy

One needs specific initiation into the classics of transcendental philosophy (Kant’s "Criticism," Descartes’s "Metaphysics," and Fichte’s "Doctrine of Science") because all say farewell to the common sense view of things. The three types of transcendental thinking converge in conceiving rational autonomy as the ultimate ground for justification. Correspondingly, the philosophical pedagogy of all three thinkers is focused on how to seize and make that very autonomy (or active self-determination) intellectually and existentially available. In the concrete way of proceeding, however, the three models diverge. Descartes expects one to become master of oneself and "the world" by methodologically suspending his judgement on what cannot qualify itself to be undoubtable. Kant leads us to the point where we can triangulate universal conditions of the possibility of knowledge through individually acquiring the competence to judge the legitimacy of encountered propositional claims. Finally, Fichte confronts us with the idea of the identity of self-consciousness and objectivity. (1)

Transcending ordinary life and experience to a somewhat higher being is surely not the scope of transcendental philosophy. What the revolutionary achievements of Descartes, Kant, and Fichte have generically in common is to account for the legitimacy of our knowledge claims or, in other words, for the possibility of autonomy. The business of that kind of philosophy is to rationally reconstruct the rightness of judging. For that design the architecture of those authors' theorizing is necessarily opposed to normal experience. (First of all, the common notion of "things affecting us" has to be abandoned.) Transcendental arguments are therefore all but common sense. They are in no respect "realistic" or ontologically dependent. (2) Whoever wants to get familiar with transcendentalism — perhaps just in order to criticize one or several of its representatives — must overcome the threshold of open or covert realism and ordinary experience. One also has to avoid the common misunderstanding that transcendental reconstruction represents a form of idealism. So this kind of philosophy seems to be a fortiori charged to give a good deal of pedagogical help for its own sake. The respective philosophical educations (paideiai) have to fight against the realist as well as the idealist tendencies of interpretation. Positively it is not enough for them to represent what is essential to transcendentalism as a genus; they must particularly transmit what is specific to Kant's "Criticism", to Descartes' "Metaphysics" or to Fichte's "Doctrine of Science".

I. Rene Descartes was the first one to fully realize that reliable orientation could never passively be found in "things" or "institutions".
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