Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 July 2010
When Kant surveyed what the history of metaphysics had left behind, he saw a “stage of conflict” - a disconsolate landscape of edifices fallen into ruins (A 852-3/B 880-1). Most of the wreckage, when new, had been the proud work of the philosophers Kant called “dogmatists.” Kant never wavered in his admiration for their highest standards of construction: “the regular ascertainment of . . . principles, the clear determination of . . . concepts, the attempt at strictness in . . . proofs, and the prevention of audacious leaps in inference” (B xxxvi). The failure of the dogmatists lay not in their manner of building, he thought, but in their decision to begin construction on what turned out to be uncertain ground. They had neglected, he explained, to “prepare the field” (B xxxvi) - to conduct a “critique” or assessment of their own capacities. The failure of the dogmatists was, in Kant's view, a failure of self-examination. Socrates had long before insisted that the unexamined life is not worth living, but philosophical projects commencing with self-examination were especially characteristic of modernity. Descartes's Meditations is probably the best-known example.