Wittgenstein, Kant and Husserl on the dialectical temptations of reason

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Abstract

There is an interesting sense in which philosophical reflection in the transcendental tradition is thought to be unnatural. Kant claims that metaphysical speculation is as natural as breathing and that transcendental critique is necessary to prevent reason from lapsing into a natural dialectic of dogmatism and skepticism. Husserl argues that the critique of theoretical reason is grounded upon a transcending of the natural attitude in which we are at first unjustifiably and naïvely directed toward objects as separate from consciousness. A perfectly sensible question arises: Why do we need to effect a change in our natural cognitive orientation to both ourselves and the world in order to know each respectively? Why does a sort of dialectical self-deception come so naturally to us, and why is an effort so great as to seem unnatural necessary for philosophical self-knowledge? The aim of this paper is threefold: first, to argue that seemingly compulsory philosophical assumptions are inevitably generated from within reason itself and thus remain resistant to a complete therapy; second, to show how Kant diagnoses reason's dialectical tendencies as inevitable and ever-recurring without transcendental vigilance; finally, to argue that the early Husserl's appropriation of a transcendental epistemology is influenced decisively by Kant's transcendental reflection in order to combat the reigning naturalism of his day. My overall claim is that by thematizing the natural dialectic of reason best articulated in the first Critique, we can disclose the Kantian way in which Husserl conceives of the natural temptation to naturalize consciousness. We first turn, however, to an influential contemporary account of a decidedly non-transcendental philosophy, what has come to be known as “therapeutic Wittgensteinianism.”

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