Kant is the philosophical focus and historical pivot of my work. I am drawn to the rigour demanded by his critique of reason’s metaphysical claims and the humility demanded by his pursuit of the limits of human cognition. I am fascinated by how Kant adopts skeptical doubts raised by empiricism to redeem the metaphysical hopes of rationalism and how his earliest readers redefine critique to avoid certain results of his idealism, especially his restriction of cognition to appearances.
My work positions Kant in relation to the systematic ambitions he provokes in Fichte and Hegel and to the philosophers of finitude he inspires in the wake of German idealism, principally Schelling. I have published articles and chapters that draw out Kant’s sensitivity to skepticism and tolerance for contingency in transcendental logic, and the responses this inspires. Papers in History of Philosophy Quarterly, Dialogue, Idealistic Studies, Continental Realism and its Discontents, and Skepticism: Historical and Contemporary Inquiries (which I co-edited for Routledge) portray Kant as committed to a humanist realism for which reason’s deductive powers have brute limitations. This commitment spurs the German idealists to transform the idea of deduction and to systematize logic, as I show in The Significance of Indeterminacy, which then incites Schelling’s investigation into the limits of logic and deduction by brute facts about time, the will, and existence, as I show in Analecta Hermeneutica, Idealistic Studies, and Schelling’s Philosophy (which I am editing for Oxford UP). My Humboldt and SSHRC postdoctoral research makes explicit the Kantian roots of Schelling’s critique of Fichte and Hegel (Rethinking Kant, Critique in German Philosophy, Palgrave Schelling Handbook) and explicates his adoption of aspects of Spinoza’s monism (Northern European Journal of Philosophy, Comparative and Continental Philosophy). I will soon unite strands of this research for a monograph on Kant’s thing-in-itself, German idealism, and mortality.
Thematizing reason’s limitations by brute facts is often associated with 19th-century thinkers like Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Marx. Such a picture neglects their debt in this regard to Schelling, still largely unread by post-Kantian scholars. This picture thereby fails to trace Schelling’s philosophy of finitude to some of its sources in Kant. My work fills these lacunae by exploring the relation between the facticity or bruteness of the conditions of experience and reason’s anti-skeptical need to deduce their necessity. To register this need, we must first wake from the uncritical slumber of ordinary practices and pervasive dogmas—a process of enlightenment of whose contingency and fragility Kant is explicit, hence his plea for the continual scrutiny of reason’s public use and his arguments for reason’s guidance by regulative ideas. Similarly for Schelling and for the philosophers of finitude who cut branching paths after Kant, a Copernican turn is not a finished fact: a truly critical philosophy must subject itself to endless critique.
My current project is a book-length study entitled Facticity and the Fate of Reason. It begins with a question concerning Kant’s critical turn. What is the relation between the restriction of reason to possible experience and the fact that the conditions of experience, while necessary according to the peculiar constraints of transcendental logic, are contingent according to the weaker constraints of general logic? How does Kant’s diagnosis of the misuses of reason relate to his admission that the conditions of experience are anthropically necessary yet ultimately radically contingent features of our standpoint, brute facts with no further ground in an absolute principle of reason? What, in other words, is the connection between a critique of reason and facticity? I will answer this question by (1) explicating Kantian facticity with an analysis of Kant’s subordination of the principles of general logic to ‘the principle of synthetic judgment’ and (2) investigating Fichte and Hegel’s project of removing facticity from critical philosophy through the systematic derivation of the necessity of experiential conditions from absolute reason alone. Here, I will account for Schelling’s role as internal critic of German idealism, focusing on his argument for the contingency of reason’s inescapable presuppositions: an absolute notion of reason displaces rather than settles the question of the necessity of experiential conditions, for any notion of reason depends on the value we contingently place on it. Schelling’s insight has the advantage of emphasizing what originally motivates Kant’s deduction: critique. Only by interrogating reason’s presuppositions is deduction fully self-critical.
Clarifying Kantian facticity will provide the conceptual and historical background for my next project, a book-length study of the genesis, development, and connection of two terms coined at the close of the 18th century: nihilism and facticity. These terms denote problems that impact the course of 19th-century thought and strikingly bear out the significance of Kantian facticity. After tracing these terms to their origins in Jacobi and Fichte, I will explore the threat that nihilism poses to Dilthey’s influential attempt to provide a historical foundation for the human sciences (using Nietzsche as an important contrast case) and the threat that facticity poses to Lotze’s equally formative project of grounding human and natural sciences in logic (which will facilitate the rise of classical phenomenology).