KANT AND LEIBNIZ ON NEGATIVE MAGNITUDES
The essay entitled An Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy has often (although not always) been interpreted as the sudden eruption of Humeinspired doubts in the middle of Kant’s otherwise rationalist projects, and as heralding the view of metaphysics later expressed in Dreams of a Spirit-seer.1 For this reason nearly all the attention given to this work is focused on Kant’s final and quite brief General Remark, which constitutes less than one-tenth of the essay. The real heart of the text, however, lies elsewhere, and once this becomes clear it also becomes evident that Hume is really irrelevant to the entire issue. Indeed, what strikes many readers as reminiscent of Hume in the General Remark is nearly a paraphrase of a few passages from Crusius’s famous Dissertatio philosophica de usu et limitibus principii rationis determinantis (1743), and the general tendency of the whole is not essentially different from what is seen in Kant’s earlier New Elucidation. The truth of the matter – or so I will argue in this paper – is that in this essay Kant actually approaches closer to the original ideas of Leibniz than at any other moment in his career, even closer than did Wolff or his followers. Moreover, I argue that in doing so Kant raises precisely the kinds of difficulties with the Wolffian position on the principle of sufficient reason that, I suspect, Leibniz himself would have raised.