Dissertation Outline

A Standpoint for Critique: The Metaphorical Status of Critique in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason*


I argue that critique is an epistemologically significant Kantian metaphor for transcendental self-consciousness. This claim is complex — (1) there is a Kantian theory of metaphor; (2) critique is such a metaphor; (3) critique is a Kantian metaphor for transcendental self-consciousness; and (3) critique as a Kantian metaphor for transcendental self-consciousness has epistemological significance. As such, the claim determines the structure of the dissertation.


In Chapter 1, I argue that theorizing about metaphor is too diverse to allow for anything but the arbitrary adoption of a single theory that can be applied to critique. Were I to make such a move, I could then arguably misrepresent Kant. So, in Chapter 2, I turn directly to Kant’s third Critique, specifically §49, and argue that Kant’s theory of aesthetic ideas is a plausible theory of metaphor — more plausible than is his theory of symbolically exhibited ideas, which I take to be analogies. I call this a Kantian theory of metaphor. The two central features of a Kantian metaphor are that it adopts a variety of standpoints from which to contemplate or think rational ideas, and that built into the capacity to adopt standpoints for this purpose is the ability to think from both particular and universal points of view — e.g., to make subjective claims that have universal validity.

In this chapter I also analyze two contemporary theories of metaphor that comport in various respects with Kant’s theory of aesthetic ideas. I do this in order to bolster the claim that aesthetic ideas can be considered Kantian metaphors. After all, if these two contemporary theories are widely accepted as theories of metaphor, then, if they share essential features with Kant’s theory of aesthetic ideas, we can safely conclude that aesthetic ideas are Kantian metaphors. Lastly, in Chapter 2, I evaluate several commentators’ views on metaphors in Kant’s first Critique on the basis of my argument for a Kantian theory of metaphor. This evaluation also involves analysis relevant to the other parts of my central claim.

Chapter 3 is devoted to the argument that critique is a Kantian metaphor. This argument relies on the success of the argument that aesthetic ideas can be understood as Kantian metaphors, along with the etymological and socio-historical analyses of critique as adopting standpoints. The success of this argument serves as evidence for the claim that critique is a metaphor for transcendental self-consciousness. The argument runs as follows: Since critique as a Kantian metaphor reflects the capacity not only to adopt a variety of standpoints for contemplating the nature and scope of knowledge, but also for attempting to press past epistemological boundaries, we have to find a feature of the mind that is the source of that capacity. On the interpretation of transcendental self-consciousness as the only such feature of the mind — it is this self-consciousness alone that can adopt both particular and neutral (or universal) ‘I’ standpoints — I conclude it to be the source of critique as a Kantian metaphor. From this it follows that critique as a Kantian metaphor has epistemological significance. That is because transcendental self-consciousness must be presupposed in all judgments.


Introduction: A Story of the Claims

In the introduction, I provide an overview of the dissertation by way of a narrative about my own ‘groping’ toward a thesis about the nature of critique and the peculiar capacity of the human mind to think and judge not just in terms of particulars, but also universals.

Chapter 1: How to Discuss Metaphor — Or Not

  • 1.1 Theorizing About Metaphor in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: Preliminary Considerations

The basic problem is posed, namely that Kant’s first Critique involves figurative language, yet the work is aimed at describing the nature and scope of human knowledge, and finding a legitimate ‘place’ for those ideas that fall outside that scope. Such a descriptive approach would seem to preclude the very language that Kant uses, i.e., language that ascribes feelings, attitudes, and dispositions to reason; language that presents arguments structured and permeated by juridical figures. Compounding the problem is that Kant does not offer any theory of such language in the first Critique, nor is there any explicit such theory in the other two critical works. My proposed solution to this problem is to claim that critique is an epistemologically significant Kantian metaphor for transcendental self-consciousness. Here I offer a sketch of the overarching argument, including how I arrived at a Kantian theory of metaphor, rather than seeking to adopt an existing theory through which critique is interpreted.

  • 1.2 What is it? Metaphor and the Literal/Figurative Distinction: From ‘Mere’ Rhetorical Flourish to Dangerous Trickster

In this section, I categorically survey the vast history of metaphor theorizing. My aim is not only to offer a variety of ways of thinking about metaphor, but also to conclude from the survey that it would be arbitrary (and as such, irresponsible) to adopt any one theory through which to interpret critique as a metaphor.

  • 1.3 Metaphor, Grammar, and Etymology

In this section, I offer a more narrow, but still generalized discussion of metaphor in grammatical and etymological terms. The reason for this is that the main bone of contention among theorists of metaphor boils down to the distinction between literal and figurative language, and whether or not the latter has epistemological significance.

  • 1.4 Summary

This section does what it says, namely summarizes the chapter.

Chapter 2: A Modest Proposal for a Kantian Theory of Metaphor**

Prior to diving into the arguments involving the claim that there is a plausible theory of metaphor to be gleaned from Kant’s theory of aesthetic ideas, I offer a brief recap of what has been accomplished in Chapter 1, and I look ahead to the work remaining in this and the last chapter.

  • 2.1 Judgments of Taste: The Beautiful and The Sublime

As conceptual foundation for my claim that there is a plausible theory of metaphor to be gleaned from Kant’s theory of aesthetic ideas, I analyze the relevant elements from Kant’s discussions of aesthetic judgments, that is, judgments of the beautiful and the sublime. These relevant elements are the notions of purposefulness and the intersubjective validity of subjective judgments as they relate to cognition and the sensus communis.

  • 2.2 Aesthetic Ideas and a Kantian theory of Metaphor

Using the results of §2.1, an analysis of Kant’s theory of aesthetic ideas is undertaken. I argue that, insofar as aesthetic ideas allow us to think rational ideas from a variety of (‘concrete’) standpoints, and insofar as aesthetic ideas allow us to adopt for ourselves the (universal) standpoint of certain rational ideas in our moral and aesthetic judgments, aesthetic ideas are metaphors.

  • 2.2.1 Aesthetic Ideas and Meaning

Here I argue that Kant’s metaphors are meaningful in some sense of the word — or, if you prefer, valuable or significant — because they provide us with ways of contemplating non-cognizable ‘objects.’ Without metaphor, thinking rational ideas beyond mere analogy would not occur. Kant’s metaphors reflect purposiveness and universality — both of which are cognitively, morally, and aesthetically significant. Moreover, Kant’s metaphors reflect the peculiar capacity of the mind to adopt standpoints or points of view from which to think about cognition, morality, the beautiful, and the sublime.

In support of my claim about the meaningfulness of Kantian metaphor, I introduce two theories of metaphor — one from Max Black, the other from Donald Davidson — that share certain essential features with Kant’s theory of aesthetic ideas. In doing so, I also aim to reinforce the claim that Kant’s aesthetic ideas are plausibly interpreted as metaphors.

Though there are striking differences between the two, and though neither one maps perfectly with Kant’s theory of metaphor, in certain respects each gives us ways to think successfully about aesthetic ideas as metaphors. Moreover, despite the fact that Davidson and Kant share the view that metaphors do not have verifiable meaning — there is no empirical content that would realize a metaphorical claim — they do agree that metaphors are significant in that they allow one to ‘see the world as,’ and Kant is specific in his assertion that aesthetic ideas allow one adopt a thinkable standpoint that yields ideas of considerable worth.

  • 2.2.2 Summary: Aesthetic Ideas as Meaningful Kantian Metaphors

In this section, I pull together the argument thus far, reviewing what has been accomplished in the previous sections of Ch. 2, and anticipating the applications of a Kantian theory of metaphor, both to commentaries on metaphors in the first Critique, and to my own claims in Ch. 3 (that critique is an epistemologically significant Kantian metaphor for transcendental self-consciousness.)

  • 2.3 Kant’s Schematism and Symbolic Exhibition

If I have gotten the argument right in the previous sections of Chapter 2, then it follows that several commentators have either overtly or inadvertently conflated analogy (symbolic exhibition) with metaphor, and so I take some time to analyze symbolic exhibition and contrast it with aesthetic ideas. In so doing, I aim to distinguish analogy from metaphor.

  • 2.4 Summary of §2.1-§2.3

In this section, I briefly summarize the chapter in anticipation of analyzing commentaries on metaphor in the first critique.

  • 2.4 Disentangling Symbolic Exhibition from Metaphor in Recent Theorizing on Metaphor in the first Critique

This section, and its subsections, is devoted to commentaries that have identified and analyzed important metaphors in the first Critique — critique as it adopts a variety of standpoints. My aim in this section is to show that the commentators have misunderstood what a metaphor is (for Kant, anyway), such that they sometimes vacillate between analogy and a theory of metaphor that may not be applicable to Kant.

Nevertheless, there is a benefit to be gained from this collective analysis. Specifically, we see from some commentators just how epistemologically important is metaphor. If my view of critique is plausible, it is rather simple to re-interpret the metaphors identified by these commentators in light of the proposed Kantian theory of metaphor.

  • 2.4.1: Tarbet’s Categories of Metaphor

David Tarbet provides us with a wonderful overview and neat classification of Kantian metaphors. Again, although I disagree with some of his analysis, my interpretation of his view allows us to come away with a good understanding of how critique as a Kantian metaphor enables the adoption of myriad standpoints.

  • 2.4.2: Henrich and Proops on the Legal Metaphors

Central to Kant’s transcendental deduction is the juridical figure and its variants. Moreover, these figures are identified with or related to critique at various points in the first Critique in ways that make clear just how important they are to Kant’s aims. In addition, since it is my contention that critique is a Kantian metaphor for transcendental self-consciousness, and since transcendental self-consciousness is arguably at the heart of the deduction, commentaries that focus on the legal metaphors are quite useful.

Dieter Henrich proposes a novel way of reading Kant’s transcendental deduction. Henrich looks to the historical context in which deduktionsschriften (deduction writings) were commonplace ways for, say, monarchical governments to make territorial claims in advance of some dispute with another government. Such a legal brief was a narrative about how a particular piece of evidence supporting the claim came about. On the supposition that the evidence was validated and authenticated, the next proof was whether or not the monarch in question now had a legal claim — an acquired right — to the title in question. According to Henrich, Kant adopts the method of the deduktionsschriften in the first Critique vis-à-vis the transcendental deduction. The justification of the categories proceeds firstly by ‘reporting’ how they are acquired. Once this report is complete, the legitimacy of the categories’ status can be proven. On Henrich’s view, Kant cannot answer the question of how the categories are acquired, but can provide the fact on which the categories rely, namely the transcendental unity of apperception.

Proops’ thinks that Henrich erroneously grounds Kant’s deduktionsschriften in transcendental apperceptive unity. Instead, he argues that the a priori nature of the categories, which is identified in the metaphysical deduction, is the fact upon which the deduction is based. Thus, once that is accomplished, the right we have to employ them in experience (not the how of the application, which is the schematism) requires another argument.

  • 2.4.3 Kleingeld’s Defense of ‘The Conative Character of Reason’

Lastly, Pauline Kleingeld provides us with an overarching metaphor, the conative character of reason. Like Tarbet, Henrich, and Proops, the import of her analysis for this dissertation cannot be underestimated, even if, like Tarbet, she is unclear about the nature of metaphor in Kant.

According to Kleingeld, Kant’s metaphorical language is irreducible — it cannot be paraphrased to the literal without serious loss. If she is correct, and if critique is a Kantian metaphor, then it is philosophically forceful in ways that detractors of metaphoric value cannot rebut. In Chapter 3, I attempt to connect the notion of the ‘birth certificate’ underlying Kleingeld’s discussion of reason’s conative character with further analysis of Proops and Henrich, as part of my argument in favor of the claim that critique is a metaphor for transcendental self-consciousness.

  • 3 Summary

I recapitulate the major claims and argument sequences in this chapter, and briefly outline what remains to be done in Chapter 3.

Chapter 3

  • 3.1 Recapitulation of the Story So Far

I spend several pages summarizing the important argument sequences in Chs. 1 and 2.

  • 3.2 Critique as a Kantian Metaphor

I introduce the broad strokes of the argument, some of which has already been set down in Ch. 2. The focus in this section is on relevant etymological and socio-historical theorizing on critique.

  • 3.2.1 Proposals for Etymological and Historical Developments of “Critique” and Critique: Tonelli and Koselleck
  • Tonelli’s Etymology of “Critique”

Giorgio Tonelli’s paper on the etymology of “critique” from Ancient Greek thought to Kant provides more evidence that the term acts as the sort of representation Kant calls an aesthetic idea, and what I have argued is a Kantian metaphor. Though Tonelli draws a different conclusion than do I about the meaning of “critique” in the first Critique, his scholarship proves to be a valuable resource.

  • Koselleck’s Critique and Crisis

The first ¾ of Reinhard Koselleck’s text provides an interpretation of the development of critique that methodologically comports both with the deduktionsschriften program of tracing a claim to its origin (in this case, the origin of critique), and with the claim that I wish to make about the peculiar human capacity to think alternately the particular and universal standpoints.

  • 3.2.2 Pulling the Thread Through: Concluding Remarks on the Argument that Critique is a Kantian Metaphor

In this concluding summary, I pull together all of the elements that constitute the evidence of the claim that critique is a Kantian metaphor. Some earlier threads of the larger argument are summarized and knitted together with more recent ones, along with a recapitulation of those elements directly relevant to the claims I make about transcendental self-consciousness.

  • 3.3 Kant’s Metaphor-Making Self-Consciousness***

In this section, I argue for the claim that transcendental self-consciousness, while notoriously difficult to interpret, is what makes critique as a Kantian metaphor possible. It is transcendental self-consciousness alone that has the peculiar capacity to represent particular and universal standpoints — or individual and neutral standpoints — and be aware of them or reflect on them as such. In order to support this claim, I connect Kant’s notion of reason with transcendental self-consciousness. In brief, after arguing for a specific reading of transcendental self-consciousness, I move to focus on the afore-analyzed “conative character of reason,” as that aspect of self-consciousness that actively seeks to ‘complete’ knowledge. Reason would not do this, I argue, were it not for the peculiar capacity to adopt standpoints reflected in transcendental self-consciousness’ capacity for representation, universal judgments, and the implicit normative nature of knowledge claims that go on to inform our moral and aesthetic judgments.

  • 3.4 Recapitulation and Conclusion

Here I summarize the dissertation, with an emphasis on connecting the major moments of Chapter 2 with §3.3.


Please see dissertation.

* The dissertation runs approximately 250 pages, not including the bibliography.

** The fact that the first Critique precedes the second does not suggest to me that the latter can be an aid to comprehending the former. After all, it is not apparent in Kant’s critical works that he underwent any sort of radical rethinking of the works’ content in the span of time it took him to revise and publish the second edition of the first Critique, and then publish the second and third.

*** I attempt to avoid the major disagreements among some Kant scholars about the nature of transcendental self-consciousness, but nevertheless aim at an interpretation that is broad enough to absorb those disagreements. I also do not worry overly about differences between the A and B editions, but treat them as a largely coherent whole. After all, most of the elements of self-consciousness with which I am concerned appear in both editions, albeit in different locations.