The Question of Legitimacy: Skepticism, Law and Transcendental Idealism

  • Philip Walsh
Part of the Renewing Philosophy book series (REP)


If the concept of certainty forms the axis around which Descartes’ thought revolves, the notion of law lies at the center of Kant’s conception of critique. As Descartes’ chosen form of philosophical presentation in the Meditations is intimately connected with his conclusions, so the inquisitorial form of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, in which reason is subjected to a legal examination of its titles, is not simply a contingency of style or method — one technique among others equally well suited to Kant’s purposes. Kant considers the form of his own work to be the activity of reason criticizing itself, or of reason bringing its claims before its own tribunal in order to be assured of their legality1 This legal metaphor registers that the standpoint of reason — the subject that is examining its own claims — is a public persona. That is to say that we are no longer presented with the resolutions of the ‘I’ as a special subject that characterized Descartes’ investigations, but with a type of collective rationality which draws its example from the law practiced within the modern state and civil society. This law is universally binding on all rational individuals and treats of the characteristics that are common to all rational individuals. This relocation of the rational subject within the field of law is central to Kant’s reformation of philosophical method in accordance with the ‘Copernican revolution’.


Critical Theory Objective Validity Transcendental Idealism Philosophical Method Copernican Revolution 
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© Philip Walsh 2005

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