XI KANT KONGRESS, XI Congresso Kantiano Internazionale

Kant and the Problem of Modern Ontology

Costantino Esposito

Edificio: Palazzo dei Congressi
Sala: sala B
Data: 26 maggio 2010 - 14:30
Ultima modifica: 13 aprile 2010


There is no doubt that critical philosophy has been presented by Kant as an overcome of the 18th century Schulmetaphysik’s schemes; yet, it is also true that the metaphysics of the «School» has provided Kant with the essential framework of transcendental philosophy. In these perspectives the Kantian change can be seen as a profound rethinking of the meaning and function of some basic notion in modern ontology: «ens» and «essentia», «possibilis» and «realis», «objectum» and «causa», «efficiens» and «transcendens». Such notions are reinterpreted by Kant in order to become new structures of critical metaphysics, but at the same time they maintain the essential core of the original meaning: in fact they explicitly realize their meaning within the Kantian system.
This is one of the strange paradoxes that sometimes happen in the history of philosophy: just when the departure from the «dogmatic thought» occurs, «dogmatism» seems to find its fulfilment in the «critical thought». Kant is neither the last of the Scholastics nor totally foreign to them; rather he is the chance to reconsider carefully the turn from dogmatic to critical thought – i.e. continuities and ruptures or ruptures within continuities – in respect to the problem of modern ontology as the framework of Kantian metaphysics. However, in order to do this it is necessary to widen the search and to consider the strict link between Kant and rationalist post-Cartesian and post-Leibnizian Scholastic in the light of the less direct, but equally significant relation between him and modern ontology in the «Second» Scholastic of the late 16th and the early 17th century.
In this paper I shall consider the «chiasm» between Kantian thought and Scholastic origin of modern ontology through a paradigmatic case study: the idea of «esse» or «existentia» as pure position, shared by Francisco Suárez and Kant himself, in respect to the idea of «essentia objectiva» as pure possibility. Indeed, for both existence only “says” the fact that a thing – as it is, in itself – is or is not. Hence, the difference between existence and essence (the fact that the former is not a thing, while the latter is) leads back almost inevitably to identity; that is, to essence (even though, for Suárez, the term essence indicates the ontological determination of a being, while for Kant it is only the empirical and categorical determination of a phenomenon). Precisely because being is not one res amongst others, we can never think of it in “real” terms, except by starting from what exists. In other words, the datum of existence tends to be identified with what exists; more precisely, with the fact that something is produced by a cause (Suárez) or in the fact that something is part of our category of causality (Kant).