Philosophy Faculty Publications


Comments on Robinson, 'Langton and Traditionalism on Things in Themselves'

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Source

Southwest Philosophy Review


In her Kantian Humility , Rae Langton has worked very hard to steer us back toward a traditional reading of the Critique of Pure Reason, one that would make it safe to maintain a number of metaphysical commitments in interpreting this text. In his remarks on her work, Professor Robinson points out a number of things that suggest problems with her hermeneutical recommendations, among them the ambiguity of a very crucial word at stake here, “metaphysical.” I have very few disagreements with what Robinson has to say here about Langton but want to utilize his account, as well as that of Graham Bird’s review of Langton’s text, to broaden the discussion. For we are now at a point in the history of the interpretation of the thing-in-itself to ask a rather general, but, I think, worthwhile question, namely, why does Kant even raise the topic in the Critique?

Rudiger Grimm, for one, has claimed that it could be "persuasively argued" that "the concept of the thing-in-itself is really quite dispensable to Kant's project in the Kritik.” I rather doubt that this is the case, if one includes as fundamental to Kant's project some function of grounding the moral philosophy. On the other hand, it offers a provocative response to the legions who adopt Jacobi's famous remark, allowing one to enter—and stay—within the Critical philosophy without an on-principle reliance on the thing-in-itself. Pursuing this issue from this perspective leaves us with the suggestion that the results of the Critique of Pure Reasonconstructive and destructive—can all be satisfactorily pursued without paying much attention to the thing-in-itself. Is such an interpretive line possible, while staying (relatively) faithful to the Critique? If so, why does Kant insist on making things so hard on himself in the theoretical philosophy, by persistently referring to the thing-in-itself, but going so far as to rewrite large sections of the chapter on Phenomena and Noumena for the second edition?

In Kant's theoretical philosophy, cognitive claims are made about objects of possible experience: certain conditions must hold for those cognitive judgments to be possible, and by rigorous reflection on experience, we can identify, articulate, and justify those conditions, namely the schematized categories and the forms of intuition. With this apparatus in place, we can then go on to evaluate cognitive judgments as true or false.

Inclusive pages





Permission documentation is on file.


Philosophy Documentation Center





Peer Reviewed