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Conference Paper

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Proceedings of the 2nd Hawaii International Conference on the Arts and Humanities


In the Preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant offers his best-known—indeed, notorious—remark about Aristotle's logic:

  • Since Aristotle . . . logic has not been able to advance a single step, and is thus to all appearance a closed and completed doctrine (Bviii).1

I wish to explore here the following question: is Kant in fact saying that since Aristotle, there need be no more concern about logic as a discipline or a field of study, that Aristotle (with some minor embellishments, in terms of presentation) is the last word in logic? Certainly that is how Kant has almost invariably been understood. Thus Hegel relies on such a view when he writes,

  • Now if logic has not undergone any change since Aristotle—and in fact, judging by modern compendiums of logic the changes frequently consist mainly in omissions—then surely the conclusion which should be drawn is that it is all the more in need of a total reconstruction.

C.S. Peirce similarly observes that "we are to remember that, according to Kant, nothing worth mention had been contributed to logic since Aristotle"; P. F. Strawson notes that Kant believed "without question" in the "finality" of Aristotelian logic; E.W. Beth clearly has this standard interpretation in mind when he writes that "Aristotle's logical work, far from being a closed system, already contained the germs of future development." Such comments are commonplace in the literature, both on Kant and on the history of logic; as Kneale and Kneale sum up what must be called the "received" view, Kant was:

  • apparently unaware of the value of any contributions made to logic after the time of Aristotle, and that the doctrine which he regarded as the complete and perfect discovery of Aristotle was in fact a peculiarly confused version of the traditional mixture of Aristotelian and Stoic elements.2

Kant himself, of course, is largely responsible for this interpretation. However, I believe that it is at best historically naive and, at worst, gives a very misleading picture, both of Kant's understanding of the history of logic as well as his conception of general logic and its role in philosophical inquiry. The alternative interpretation I outline below will reveal that Kant's conception of general logic is considerably more sophisticated and historically informed than he has traditionally been given credit for; more important, on this reading Kant's strategy in the First Critique, grounded as it is in logic, becomes more plausible, more defensible, and, consequently, more attractive.

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Hawaii International Conference on the Arts and Humanities



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