Most of the recent scholarly accounts of Kant’s early writings depict the precritical Kant as a committed adherent of the Leibnizian-Wolffian predicate-in-subject theory of truth and its attendant method of conceptual analysis. Such accounts make their case on the basis of Kant’s philosophical output from the 1760s, in particular the “Inquiry Concerning the Distinctness of the Principles of Natural Theology and Morality”, which is regarded as a treatise on the correct use of the rationalist method of conceptual analysis, and the “The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God”, which is seen as an application of that method onto the field of rational theology. These accounts are usually (though not always) motivated by an attempt either a) to put the more important critical works into historical context, or else b) to find the historical antecedents to one of Kant’s critical doctrines in order to lend support to a particular interpretation of that doctrine. Usually, though again not always, these approaches to Kant’s precritical work fail to take into account Kant’s philosophical works during the 1740s and 1750s. In my dissertation, I argue against the dominant interpretation of the precritical Kant as a member of the Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophy, and present an alternative story of Kant’s early philosophical development emphasising the ways in which he pushed back against the school philosophy of his upbringing.
In his first strictly philosophical work, “A New Elucidation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Cognition” (1755), Kant effectively repudiated the rationalist method of conceptual analysis through his account of the traditional principle of sufficient reason. Logical analysis has its place, thought Kant, but to cognise the inherence of a predicate-concept in a subject-concept we must apprehend some certain extra- logical conditions which make that relation determinate for us. Later, in his “Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy” (1764), Kant extends his critique of conceptual analysis to the predicate-in-subject theory of truth. Where before he was content merely to assert that cognition of metaphysical truths cannot rely solely on conceptual analysis, he now argues that truth itself is not merely a logical affair. Although he later reinstated his acceptance of the predicate-in-subject theory of truth in “Dissertation on the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World” (1770), Kant’s temporary rejection of logical truth in “Negative Magnitudes” foreshadows the complete break from the Leibnizian- Wolffian school that would later come in the critical period.
Putting the above movement of thought into the context of Kant’s broader precritical development will be the primary aim of my thesis. The precritical Kant, as I hope to show, was far more critical than he is usually portrayed to be. To motivate the proposed investigation, I begin with the simple question: in what way was Kant’s precritical philosophy precritical?