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From the Library of Clayre and Jay Michael Haft

Kant, Immanuel | Kant's Copernican revolution in philosophy

Lot Closed

December 16, 07:31 PM GMT


12,000 - 18,000 USD

Lot Details


From the Library of Clayre and Jay Michael Haft

Kant, Immanuel

Critik der reinen Vernunft. Riga: Johann Friedrich Hartknoch, 1781

8vo (184 x 112 mm). Title-page with engraved vignette, engraved head- and tail-pieces, section titles, p.734 and p.735 misnumbered 834 and 835 (here corrected in ink); early annotations in pencil and ink, moderate foxing, trimmed but still with nice outer and lower margins, p.93/94 chipped at upper corner, open marginal tear to p.581/582, small hole at outer margin of p.625/626 and at lower margin of the "Transcendental Method" title affecting signature, abrasions to just a few leaves occasionally costing a letter. In contemporary half tan calf over marbled boards, spine gilt lettered, edges stained blue; joints weak, rubbed.

First edition of one of the most important works in the history of philosophy.

A work with few rivals, the Critique of Pure Reason was Kant's first major treatise and established his reputation. It is no overestimation to state that Kant is the major figure of modern philosophy; the first Critique synthesized early modern rationalism and empiricism, dictated the terms for nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy, and his oeuvre continues to influence nearly every sub-field of contemporary philosophy. Though Kant was 57 years old by the time of its publication and was already an influential scholar, the work represented a dramatic departure from his earlier thought. Kant had encountered David Hume's work nine years prior, which he described as awakening him from his "dogmatic slumber." As a result, he went into isolation, seeking to solve the skeptical problem Hume's work had posed, and he emerged from his seclusion with the Critique of Pure Reason. Indeed, in the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant describes his conclusion as a solution to the "Humean problem in its greatest possible amplification.”

The primary subject of the first Critique is the possibility and source of scientific knowledge. Such knowledge relies, Kant suggests, on a priori knowledge—knowledge whose justification does not depend on experience. The Critique seeks to examine whether and to what extent reason is capable of such knowledge; Kant writes that his goal is to reach a “decision about the possibility or impossibility of a metaphysics in general, and the determination of its sources, as well as its extent and boundaries, all, however, from principles.”

The work puts forth Kant's controversial "transcendental idealism." In contrast to a straightforward idealism, which holds that the world is entirely mind-dependent, Kant's transcendental idealism posits that there are, in fact, things-in-themselves—but human beings can only ever know their mind-dependent "appearances." The sensible world, or the world of "appearances," is constructed by the human mind from a combination of sensory data, which is received through experience, and a priori forms (such as space and time) that are supplied by our cognitive faculties. According to the Critique, a priori knowledge is possible only if the sensible world itself depends on the way in which the human mind structures its experience.

Kant demonstrates his view in what is known as the "transcendental deduction"—the central argument of the Critique, taking place in the "Analytic of Concepts" section—which is famously one of the most complex texts in the history of philosophy. Interpretations of his argument, and its implications for epistemology and metaphysics, are still fervently debated today.

Kant describes the revolutionary nature of his view of experience through analogy to Copernicus' revolution in astronomy:

"Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but all attempts to find out something about them a priori through concepts that would extend our cognition have, on this presupposition, come to nothing. Hence let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition, which would agree better with the requested possibility of an a priori cognition of them, which is to establish something about objects before they are given to us. This would be just like the first thoughts of Copernicus, who, when he did not make good progress in the explanation of the celestial motions if he assumed that the entire celestial host revolves around the observer, tried to see if he might not have greater success if he made the observer revolve and left the stars at rest. Now in metaphysics we can try in a similar way regarding the intuition of objects."

A native of Königsberg, Kant became professor of logic and metaphysics there in 1770. His major works were printed in Riga by Hartknoch, who by this time had the largest publishing and bookselling business of the Baltic states, and also published the works of Kant's student Johann Gottfried von Herder. Hartknoch had begun his printing career in Königsberg at the shop of Johann Jacob Kanter, with whom Kant had lived from 1766 to 1777, though Kanter had stopped printing by 1781.

Undoubtedly the definitive work of modern philosophy.


Norman 1197; PMM 226