Volume X Number 1

Ottawa, Canada

Spring 1998

Message from the President

Francis Peddle

In Hegel’s Dialectic , Hans-Georg Gadamer, one of the foremost philosophers of the twentieth cen-tury, states:

It seems to be a fundamental trait of philo­sophical consciousness in the nineteenth century that it is no longer conceivable apart from historical consciousness.

The inherent antinomial nature of reason awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumber. The post-Kant­ian development of philosophy is primarily an odyssey of the increasing historicity of truth. While this development diminished faith in the universal validity of philosophy it did not eradicate the conviction that thought could somehow dwell outside of time. The result was the formation of a fifth underlying antinomy of reason in which the thesis asserted the possibility of scientific and philosophical truth, while the antithesis presented an unbounded historical relativism based on the radical historicity of subjectivity and objectivity. Hence the source of most contemporary dogma­tisms and scepticisms.

Kant’s four antinomies originated in inferential and syllogistic reasoning. They are circumscribed by reason’s higher powers and are not in any sense destructive of the rational faculty itself. Recognition of the mutual validity of thesis and antithesis renders nugatory a constitutive employ­ment of the transcendental cosmological ideas. Reason is protected from the darker onslaught of its own possible self-annihilation as long as it is delimited to a regulatory function.

The fifth antinomy of post-Kantian modernity juxtaposes reason and anti-reason, universal valid-ity and historical relativism. However, in this antinomy thesis and antithesis are not innocent and mutually plausible adversaries. The assertion of one necessarily undermines the foundation of the other. This total incompatibility is rooted in the fact that if truth is irretrievably historicized, then universal transhis­torical validity is not ration-ally enter­tainable as a possibility, unlike the inferences reason makes in the antheses of Kant’s original four antinomies.

The antithesis in the primary antinomy of post-Kantian thought declares that a human being can never stand outside of time and history. A trans-historical absolute is unattainable. Does such an affirmation of the historicity of consciousness necessarily entail a thoroughgoing denial of rationality and lead to nihilism? And is such an antithesis inextricably dependent upon and sur-reptitiously assumptive of the universal reason which it denounces? Denying the possibility of positing something outside of time and history may very well necessarily presuppose certain logical and formal structures of thinking that are indeed unrevisable and atemporal. The proofs of the antinomy of modernity would therefore seem to involve the same assumptions of their opposites as are found in the Kantian cosmologi­cal proofs.

Speculative metaphysics must not simply confront the crisis of historical relativism, radical historicism and the question of whether or not historical existence per se has any meaning. It is conclusion­ary as much as it is heuristic, critical and reflec­tive. This is a perennial mandate even though historicity as such often disguises and sidetracks our metaphysical endeavours.