Fall 2018 - PHIL 451W E100

Advanced Topics in the History of Philosophy (4)

Kant's First Critique

Class Number: 6342

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 4:30 PM – 8:20 PM
    AQ 5030, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    two 300 level PHIL courses.



May be repeated for credit. Writing.


Selected Topics: Kant's First Critique (Kant's Metaphysics)

Students who have completed the Fall 2012, 2014 or 2016 offering of PHIL 451W (Kant's First Critique) may not take this specific offering (Fall 2018) of PHIL 451W for additional credit. 

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 854.]

It is customary to divide Immanuel Kant’s philosophical work into the “pre-critical” period and the “critical” period, and the division is marked by the appearance of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. Kant’s pre-critical works are characterized by a set of metaphysical views about traditional topics (e.g., modality, substance, causality, God) underwritten by a rationalism that guarantees the intelligibility of the cosmos. But in the critical period, Kant counts among his signature achievements a non-dogmatic epistemology that appears to severely limit the reach and content of metaphysics. Famously, Kant claims in 1781 that human cognition reaches only the “appearances” of things and leaves untouched “things in themselves.” Most interpreters have taken the Critique of Pure Reason and its “epistemological turn” to constitute a decisive break with Kant’s pre-critical rationalist metaphysics and have taken Kant to deny that any “transcendent metaphysics” is possible. However, a good deal of recent work has shown that the true story is not so simple. Many pre-critical doctrines survive in modified form in the Critique of Pure Reason, and there is significant evidence that Kant remained committed to significant systematic claims about the nature of things in themselves. Our general aim shall be to understand the entire scope of Kant’s metaphysics, from 1755 to 1787. In particular, we shall aim to understand the relation between these two periods in Kant’s thought, and to understand what role, if any, there is for metaphysics in Kant’s critical period.

We shall spend roughly the first third of the course tracing the development of Kant’s metaphysical views in the early part of his career. We will begin with Kant’s New Elucdation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Cognition (1755), in which he aims to undermine Leibniz’s basic cosmological views and defend an interactive cosmology. We shall then turn to The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God (1763), in which Kant aims to reject the traditional ontological argument and offer instead an argument for God’s existence based on an actualist account of modality and a distinction, novel in his own time, between logical and metaphysical modality. Finally, we shall read Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation (1770), a key transitional text that combines intellectual cognition of the intelligible world with the mind-dependence of space and time and the phenomenality of the empirical world. In the second half of the course, we shall be occupied primarily with selections from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781 and 1787), and we will focus on Kant’s account of space and time, his mature accounts of modality and cognition, and his accounts of causality, freedom, and God. We shall supplement our study of the Critique of Pure Reason with unpublished writings from Kant’s lectures and his fragments.


This course may be applied towards the Writing Requirement (and the upper division Writing Requirement for Philosophy majors).


  • 6 short response papers (300 – 600 words) 15%
  • One of the following options:
  • - Option A: One final paper (3600 words minimum) with required draft, due at the end of the semester 70%
  • - Option B: One medium-length paper (1500 words minimum) due roughly halfway through the semester: 20% AND: One final paper (2500 words minimum) with required draft, due at the end of the semester: 50% 70%
  • A presentation, given during the final two weeks of the course 15%



Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. Guyer and Wood (eds.). Cambridge UP. ISBN: 978-0521657297

Kant, Theoretical Philosophy 1755 – 1770. Walford and Meerbote (eds.). Cambridge UP. ISBN: 978-0521531702

We will also read various scholarly articles and selections from some of Kant’s other works. These will be available on Canvas or from the instructor.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at philmgr@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html