PHIL 451W Advanced Topics in the History of Philosophy

Fall Semester 2012 | Day | Burnaby




Perhaps no philosopher has been as difficult to interpret as has Kant. Commentators not only disagree about the proper interpretation of particular arguments and the role of those arguments’ conclusions in Kant’s overall system – this much is common to the interpretation of any historical philosophical figure – but they also disagree over the very meaning of Kant’s central metaphysical and epistemological doctrines. Accordingly, few philosophers have been subject to the charge of inconsistency among key positions as frequently as has Kant. The aim of this course is to read Kant’s major work in metaphysics – the Critique of Pure Reason – with an eye toward understanding and interpreting Kant’s main metaphysical and epistemological doctrines in a coherent and systematic fashion.

 Our focus shall be on Kant’s doctrine of the transcendental ideality of space and time, which is (roughly) the claim that space and time are merely subjective forms of intuition. A consequence of this is that material bodies and the empirical self are mere appearances (or phenomena) and not things in themselves (or noumena). Moreover, Kant advocates a doctrine of epistemic humility with respect to things in themselves: he claims that they are utterly beyond or cognitive ken. Our specific aim, then, shall be to attempt to understand these central positions in light of Kant’s other commitments and doctrines – and in particular Kant’s underappreciated attempt to give a positive metaphysics of noumena, including his mature commitment to noumenal freedom. We shall have occasion to wonder frequently, then, whether Kant’s central doctrines are compatible both with one another and with his other systematic commitments.

Our main text will be the Critique of Pure Reason, but we will also read portions of the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, the Critique of Practical Reason, and some earlier works. We will supplement these primary texts with a number of contemporary scholarly articles; which articles we read will be determined partly by student preference.


  • Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. Guyer and Wood (eds.) Cambridge UP.
  • Students will also be required to read selections of the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, the Critique of Practical Reason and a range of secondary literature. These items will be made available online or on reserve through the library.


  • Six response papers (300 – 600 words) over the course of the semester. 40%
  • And either option A or option B:
    • A.  One term paper (3300 words minimum), including a complete draft with revisions. 60%
    • B.  One paper (1400 words minimum) due roughly halfway through the term (20%) AND One paper (2400 words minimum) due at the end of the term, including a complete draft with revisions (40%)

 Prerequisite: one of PHIL 352, 356, 357. W credit.