My research is aimed at understanding and rehabilitating post-Kantian philosophy in order to develop it today as a viable mode of philosophical inquiry. On the one hand, this involves scholarship in the history of philosophy focusing on traditions that take their lead from Kant, including German Idealism and Romanticism, Neo-Kantianism, phenomenology, and existentialism; on the other hand, it involves the ongoing development of the insights contained in these post-Kantian traditions in the form of systematic philosophical methods and positions that can sustain contemporary scrutiny in the face of a number of challenges.
Several of my papers take up the challenge to post-Kantian philosophy from various forms of philosophical naturalism. I argue that post-Kantian philosophy (and in particular, phenomenology) provides a principled basis for rejecting a reductive and exclusive scientific naturalism, while nevertheless offering us a way of understanding nature. Nature, on my view, is the ontological ground of both the phenomena and our understanding of them. Naturalistic explanation becomes the attempt to explicate how natural being manifests itself in phenomenology, as well as it does in physics. In drawing out connections between phenomena, empirically and phenomenologically, we explicate natural being, and this, I argue, is all the naturalism one should need—a phenomenological naturalism.
The second set of challenges concerns the rigor and methodological respectability of post-Kantian philosophy. Here, the concerns can largely be attributed to a lack of understanding of the methods and motivations of work in the traditions that constitute post-Kantian philosophy, a lack owing to systematic neglect or longstanding misreading. More sympathetic and careful historical scholarship, along with original research which builds on those foundations, can help to correct this lack, and, can foreground the extent to which contemporary scholars can learn from what they have overlooked in Kant and his descendants.
Finally, I am engaged in research that aims to address what is probably the most widely held objection to post-Kantian philosophy, namely that it is objectionably idealist in regards to its ontology. My current work aims to show that post-Kantian idealisms are far less objectionable than is generally supposed, and this because they are far less committed to subjectivism about reality than is generally supposed. The working out of these issues lies at the heart of the historical development of post-Kantian philosophy, and especially in phenomenological ontology’s treatment of time and temporality.
Turning now to specific works-in-progress, I am currently developing several research projects, and a proposal for an edited volume.
“Death and Apperception” begins from the thought that only two things are certain in life: death and apperception. For Heidegger, and for Kant, respectively, death and transcendental apperception are necessary to our finite mode of being. Like Kant, Heidegger is motivated by a concern for systematic understanding of our finite mode of being; like Kant, he aims to map out the space of meaning in which we live through an understanding of its limits. Kant limits and defines the totality of our possible cognitions through the form given by the unity of transcendental apperception. Heidegger limits and defines the totality of Dasein’s possibilities-to-be through its ‘ownmost’ possibility, which makes it a whole: its death. I offer a novel reading of the concept of death in Heidegger which draws out these parallels with Kant, and foregrounds the systematic, validating role of authentic being-towards-death in enabling our self-determination.
“Time Will Tell” examines the role of temporality in constituting both the subjectivity of subjects and the objectivity of objects. Kant and the phenomenologists tie subjectivity very closely to temporality, with Merleau-Ponty saying, at one point in Phénoménologie de la perception, “I myself am time.” Drawing on works by Merleau-Ponty and de Beauvoir, I argue that rather than expressing a strongly subjectivist ontology, understanding temporality as a constitutive ontological principle tells us what objectivity amounts to: with respect to the reality of subjects just as much as objects, only time will tell.
In “Architectonic Drift” I compare Ernst Cassirer’s conception of system with Kant’s and with Hegel’s. For Cassirer, the symbolic forms that make up human culture constitute a system because our diverse ways of meaning-making are all ultimately oriented towards a single end: the realization of human freedom. Breaking with his predecessors, however, Cassirer does not think that this end-directedness implies that the system of symbolic forms follows a fixed course of development along a fixed set of branches. I explain why, according to Cassirer, human culture remains in a perpetual state of ‘architectonic drift’—a dynamism in which the unity of the system is maintained through the spontaneous mutation and mutual accommodation of basic meaning-making functions, giving rise to a plurality of concrete symbolic forms in historically contingent configurations.
“Teaching Writing in the Age of Mechanical Content Production” is a pedagogical reflection on how we teach writing in an age when artificial neural networks can produce coherent, grammatical content on demand. Large Language Models such as GPT-3, trained on vast quantities of text written by human beings, are widely available, cheap, and have been packaged for use by the general public. While these tools might not produce the best essays, they can produce text that stands a chance of passing high school, and perhaps even university-level, classes. This has implications for the writing tasks we assign our students. Alexandra Gustafson (Toronto) and I explore those implications, in both practical and theoretical dimensions, with an emphasis on pedagogical issues, using these issues to think through the very point of writing assignments, and what we hope to teach using them.
I am also in the process of developing a proposal for an edited volume titled From Jena to Freiburg: Bridging Post-Kantian Philosophical Traditions, that will trace the trajectory of post-Kantian thought, focusing on underexplored historical and conceptual connections between German Idealism, German Romanticism, Neo-Kantianism, and phenomenology. English-speaking scholarship has most often approached these post-Kantian traditions separately (with the occasional exception of studies examining them in pairs). My co-editors for this project are Nicholas F. Stang (Toronto) and G. Anthony Bruno (Royal Holloway). Our hope is that bringing together distinguished scholars of these narrower post-Kantian traditions with an invitation to view things through a wider historical lens will produce new insights and new readings of the philosophical issues and problematics facing post-Kantian philosophy.