Copernican

Rather than seeking thought’s conformity with objects, we should instead seek objects’ conformity with thought. Such, more or less, was Kant’s famous “Copernican revolution”, announced in the preface to the second (1787) edition of the Critique of Pure Reason. I used to take this as a direct endorsement of subject-centeredness that could only lead to some sort of subjectivism. As such, it made me cringe. Neo-Kantian and other interpretations that made Kant’s persistence in talking about things in themselves an inconsistent absurdity did not help. Neither did Kant’s occasional voluntarist rhetoric.

Fortunately, this can be read very differently. Thought has more to do with discourse than it does with consciousness. Taken seriously, thought is anything but arbitrary. It is not at all just what we might wish it to be. It is concerned with “said of” relations. Thought has its own drives or ethical imperatives — to seek coherence, resolution of conflict, universality, and justification. The honesty of this search is itself the best source and standard of truth we can find, the ground of our commitments.

Kant tried to avoid what would in his sense be “dogmatic” presuppositions as to what an object is, or any kind of naive realism that things are just as they appear to us. He did this not by reducing real objects to objects of consciousness, but by considering objects insofar as they are objects of discourse. (See also Aristotle and Kant.)

My version of the Copernican revolution would be that rather than claiming certainty, we should take responsibility for our claims.