Common Objections to Architectonic Reasoning


by Stephen Palmquist (



        I would like to respond here to several common objections to the use of architectonic reasoning in philosophy, objections which might be looming large in the minds of many readers of Chapter III. First, in the light of the monumental developments in the field of logic in the past century, the assumption that the architectonic patterns we have been examining have anything to do with formal logic (even in its traditional sense) might seem to be nothing other than pedantic speculation, especi­ally since I have made ample use of various geometrical figures which supposedly reflect the same patterns.


      For anyone who is satisfied to interpret a philosopher without first adopting the presuppositions which were indispensable to that philosopher's way of thinking, this first objection would be decisive. But for anyone who thinks it is necessary to engross oneself in a philosopher's own presuppositions before regaining balance in order to form an accurate interpretation, my approach should seem less audacious. It is, after all, generally agreed that Kant believed all architectonic patterns to be based on the structure of formal logic. All I have done is to specify more explicitly than Kant himself ever did just what structure is exhibited by some of the simplest patterns implied by the most basic laws of formal logic. I have defended my use of models in sufficient detail in I.2-3; and the similarity of structure between such geometrical figures and various logical patterns is discussed in much greater detail in Pq18. On its own, of course, a figurative representation of a theory (or of any theoretical pattern) is of little value to the serious philosopher; but as an aid to clarifying and giving con­ceptual unity to the nonfigurative theory which it represents, and to comparing the relationships between different theories, it can prove to be of great value indeed. One reason for going into such detail to establish and clarify the formal, architectonic patterns implied by Kant's Copernican Perspective is to make it easier for philosophers accustomed to thinking of logic entirely in propositional or analytic terms to put themselves in Kant's shoes before they attempt to interpret what he says.


      Another objection is that formal (especially architectonic) systems are, in any case, illegitimate tools for philosophical inquiry, so any prolonged attention to their structure can only obscure the accuracy of one's interpretation. I have already replied to this objection in general terms in I.1 and at several points in Chapter III, so I shall limit my rebuttal at this point to three specific criticisms.


      Wolff thinks that Kant must regard it as 'merely a happy accident' that the many artificial divisions which constitute 'the distortions of the architectonic' turn out to follow a common form [W21:209]. 'The whole business', he chides, 'smacks of that pre-established harmony which Kant elsewhere rejects as the very denial of philosophical explanation.' But to accuse Kant of inconsistency because he proposes and defends a theory of the architectonic unity of reason and yet rejects the rationalist doctrine of pre-established harmony is grossly unfair. The latter doctrine is a denial of philosophical explanation because it is a mere assumption, used specifically to fill in the gaps which the philosopher would otherwise be unable to account for. Kant rejects it because it presupposes the uncritical Perspective of transcendental realism [Kt1:331,A391]. Kant's Copernican Perspective, by contrast, is not an excuse for covering up philosophical ignorance. On the contrary, the architectonic plan it assumes from the outset is intended to help philosophers determine the proper philosophical answers to their various problems by providing a pattern according to which they can structure their ideas in the face of their ignorance of ultimate reality. Moreover, the plan is no arbitrary invention: it derives its validity from the simplest laws of formal logic; and it derives its explanatory power from the Copernican Perspective which, as we noted in III.1, interpreters of Kant generally agree was his fundamental assumption (viz., that the subject imposes a certain formal structure on all the objects it comes to know).


      Unfortunately, Kant was unable to fulfill the important task of explicitly stating the precise logical basis of the patterns exhibited by reason's architectonic structure and used to organize his System of Perspectives. In Chapter III I have attempted to bring to light these formal patterns, which remain hidden in Kant's own exposition, by spelling out just what his architectonic plan entails. In the synthetic process of coming to understand this analytic structure, my own way of explaining the architectonic has undergone numerous changes, as can be seen, for example, by comparing Chapter III with Pq4. Although I do not anticipate any need for further changes in my account of Kant's architectonic, some further improvements may well present themselves in the future, without jeopardizing the validity of the overall approach I have adopted.


      Kant himself experienced a very similar (and quite natural) process of gradually discovering how best to organize his System. The meticulous excavations of the 'patchwork' interpreters have brought to light the fact that Kant made innumerable changes in his conception of both the form and the content of his architectonic, especially during his 'silent decade' (roughly 1770-1780). On the basis of this discovery, it has become quite common to appeal to Kant's own indecision as evidence of the fraudulence of his claims to have discovered reason's 'fixed' form. Paulsen, for example, while admitting that 'Kant is inclined to see in this arduous labor the chief significance of his work' [P4:132-3], regards the entire architectonic as superfluous for two reasons [130; s.a. 170-1]. The first is that a thorough study of Kant's notes reveals that he worked out his architectonic plan only after arriving at all the essential doctrines of his Critical philosophy. And the second is that these notes also reveal Kant's uncertainty as to the details of his architectonic, thus proving 'how accidental, arbitrary, and variable the structure of the system really is, although it is apparently so fixed' [130n].


      This common means of disposing of Kant's architectonic is invalid for the following reasons. Paulsen's first criticism actually carries no weight, since Kant never intended to use the architectonic to defend any of his other essential theories. It is only natural that an overall plan should come to light after the discovery of the elements that require ordering. Indeed, how could anyone be expected to discover the best way of organizing a set of ideas before knowing their content? As for the second and more common complaint, this too rests on a totally unreasonable expectation. The discovery of any complex truth, not excepting the logical structure of reason's architectonic form, can hardly be expected to fall from the sky in toto! On the contrary, the long process of struggling to understand such an idea (which seems to have been the primary reason for Kant's long delay in writing Kt1) should be taken as evidence of its true significance. The many variations explored in Kant's notes reveal nothing whatsoever about the existence or non-existence of a fixed rational form, but only that his own struggle to understand that form was long and arduous. Kant's mistake, then, was not to proclaim that such a fixed form is there to be discovered, but rather, to pretend he had fully revealed its ultimate structure.


      Finally, Ryle argues in a more general way that 'the suggestion that [the philosopher's] problems, his results, or his procedures should or could be formalized is ... wildly astray' [R14:124]; he says it would be like a general asking his troops to rehearse their training exercises in the middle of a battle on the front line. For 'the hope that philosophical problems can be, by some stereotyped operations, reduced to standard problems in Formal Logic is a baseless dream' [126]. The latter point is certainly true: it would be a grave mistake to think philosophical problems-including the problems of interpreting another philosopher-can be reduced to problems in formal logic. My purpose in Chapter III, how­ever, has not been to reduce Kant's System to a twelvefold logical pat­tern, but rather to elucidate those patterns (i.e., to perfect the training exercises) which guided Kant as he constructed his arguments (i.e., his wartime tactics). The legitimacy of such a task is implied by a more recent logician, who maintains that 'if the truth-value of a sentence in a situation is determined in a describable way by the intensions [i.e., relations] of its constituents [i.e., components], then a system of logic is there to be discovered' [H19:246]. Kant's logical system on its own means nothing until the content of his System of Perspectives is structured around it. But it is nevertheless just as important to clarify these patterns beforehand as it is to practise training exercises before the battle. Otherwise Kant's step-by-step account of the conditions imposed by the subject on the object is bound to appear to be nothing but a Critical 'sausage factory', as it has sometimes been called.


      Replying to other objections at this point would not bring us any closer to a conclusive justification of the legitimacy of Chapter III's interpretation of the architectonic form of Kant's System. For its validity can ultimately be defended only by testing the compatibility of each system with the detailed textual content which can be put into it from Kant's own works. Fulfilling this task is the main purpose of Part Three.


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