Metaphysics Dethroned: Hume, Kant, and the “Self-Limitation of Reason”
One of the most radical features of modern intellectual history has been the dethronement of metaphysics. In the Greek and medieval world, metaphysics was the Master or Queen of all the sciences and the principal occupation of Aristotle’s theoretic life. While this project of a universal science which would provide the ground or foundation of all the others continued to inspire early modern thinkers like Descartes, by the eighteenth century the very possibility of metaphysics came under sustained attack from the leaving philosophical luminaries of the era. David Hume with his radical empiricism rejected the science of super-sensible reality. The problem was that his critique of traditional metaphysics was so radical it threatened the modern foundations of science itself by questioning causality. The modern critique of metaphysics culminates in Kant’s critical philosophy which saved causality while carrying forward the modern turn of restricting science to the empirical realm. For all its brilliance, the Kantian system is problematic. This is both due to internal philosophical inconsistencies and to the fact that this system canonized as a priori and necessary aspects of the Newtonian world system which were superseded by subsequent developments in physics. Nonetheless, the import of the perceived victory of the empirical over the metaphysical have been formative of the modern intellectual climate.
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