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Don't read Kant without this.
While the writings of Immanuel Kant stand at the zenith of philosophical greatness, nobody believes they set the standard for clarity. The unwary reader of Kant finds himself drowning under a tsunami of undefined terms. Survivors often find the same word used differently in a confusing conglomeration of contexts. Untangling the mess takes weeks.
Howard Caygill's _A Kant Dictionary_ greatly diminishes the dimensions of these challenges. The clearly written entries (sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a few pages) explicate many different contexts and meanings. The discussion within the entries frequently situate key ideas within the entire output of Kant, adding considerable value to the dictionary -- one can learn how an idea evolved or get a feel for why its introduction was warranted. Some entries go beyond this and contain historical relationships of an idea with those who came before and after Kant.
What a miracle! Documentation pervades this dictionary, making cross-referencing with Kant's writings extremely easy. The book also includes an essay on Kant by Caygill, a list of works referenced, books recommended for further reading, an index of philosophers, and bringing even more unity to the book -- an index of concepts.
Cliff notes for Kant this book is not. It consolidates Kant's output in a serious and professional way. If one studies or plans to study Kant at *any* level, one will find this book worth every penny.
A learning tool, or intellectual underwear ?
In the area of pure intellectual thought, Kant occupies a unique place near the beginning of modern philosophy that shows to an amazing extent how much we have discarded his immediate predecessors, Leibniz (1646-1716, mentioned in 35 topics in this book) and Christian Wolff (1679-1754, mentioned in 44 topics). For comparison, consider my favorite expert on Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860, who is mentioned only in nine topics, some of them quite small words, like: "drive, duty, force, will" per page 443) who studied Kant intensely and produced an "Appendix: Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy" on pages 413-534 of THE WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION, Translated from the German by E. F. J. Payne in Two Volumes, Volume I.
Those who have no need to learn Kant for the college credit to be gained by passing courses in philosophy might still consider how useful A KANT DICTIONARY by Howard Caygill will be for them as intellectual underwear. Our modern world looks askance at anything that claims to be more absolute than underwear, but still allows revolutionary claims to be made for Kant by philosophers. The scope of thought included in A KANT DICTIONARY might be cited as support for the idea that Kant was great. However, he mainly placed himself on the political sidelines, far from ruthless political currents of the modern world, and staying close to home, much as Kris Kristofferson parodied the 20th century mainstream political mentality in his version of "Okie from Muskogee" with its humor about those patriotic heroes who don't shoot deadly marijuana, "and all we ever drop's our B.V.D.s." The comedy version of what goes around, comes around might seem more out of place applied to Kant than to anyone else, but this says as much about Kant as about our prime comedians, few of whom have the time to attempt to be as serious as those who teach Kant seem to be whenever they write a book.
As a serious work, A KANT DICTIONARY does offer information about the Copernican revolution in philosophy. This book is clearer than Kant on the importance of key words in this explanation, `revolution,' `Revolutions,' `revolved around the spectator,' " `tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest'. Yet while Copernicus's revolution" (p. 135) was found to conform to scientific laws, "Kant maintains that his CPR will go further than Copernicus by proving . . . that objects conform to knowledge, not knowledge to objects." (p. 136). This is a nice bit of knowledge to have, also available in the Preface to Second Edition of Kant's CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON, pages B vii to B xliv as the pages of the standard edition are designated, running from Kant's discussion of the intuition of the spectator in metaphysics on page B xvi through a footnote on page B xxii, which made the claim, "The change in point of view, analogous to this hypothesis, which is expounded in the CRITIQUE, I put forward in this preface as an hypothesis only, in order to draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such a change, which are always hypothetical. But in the CRITIQUE itself it will be proved . . ."
The "List of abbreviations of Kant's published writings" on pages 5-6 is a key to understanding why letters like CPR and CPrR keep showing up, as well as "and the `Analytic of the Sublime' in CJ." (p. 348). What sustains interest in this book is the idea that these are all great works, as basic for philosophy as the medical kind of CPR is the immediate response necessary to revive patients who need to be brought back to life when vital signs cease. In the main section of A KANT DICTIONARY, the entry for death merely says "see Fear, Finitude, Immortality, Punishment, Time," (p. 151) but there is also an interesting comment in the account of Kant's life, "after the death of Frederick the Great in 1786. Frederick's successor, Frederick William II, initiated a counter-Enlightenment which sought, by means of censorship, to curb the freedom of the press and to extend obedience to precisely those arguments concerning Church and State permitted by his predecessor." (p. 10). Kant was not in trouble until he published RELIGION WITHIN THE LIMITS OF REASON ALONE in 1793. There was a time when Kant promised not to publish what he thought, but he was sensitive to who was likely to read his work. "Kant considered himself released from his promise with the death of Frederick William II in 1797" (p. 11). A KANT DICTIONARY is not afraid to devote a page to "church [Kirche] see also God, State, Theodicy, Theology." (p. 110). But "Kant's ecclesiology has had relatively little impact upon modern theology." (p. 111). That might be true, unless you think he dropped its B.V.D.s.
Solid and Quite helpful Dictionary on Kant's Philosophy
From A to Z, here is a dictionary on Kant's philosophy which, surprisingly enough, is quite helpful. For someone who is trying to gain a better understanding of Kant's philosophy this text is an invaluable tool to have handy. It is easy to use (since it is an A to Z topical dictionary) and contains a few extra features such as an Introduction on Kant and the Language of Philosophy, an article on Kant and the 'Age of Criticism,' a very handy chronology of Kant's published writings, a section called "Works Referred to in the Text" which sites all the works used to put this dictionary together, a recommended reading list (quite nice feature), and an index of philosophers and philosophical concepts.
Thus, for a text dealing with Kant, the reader gets not only great information on Kant's philosophy, but on his actual works, his concepts, his time period, and information on those philosophers who preceded and followed him.
What is more, a student can use this text to branch out into deeper study on Kant's philosophy due to the recommended reading, but also by way of the text itself. What I mean is, the entries include cross references, text abbreviations where the information (or concept) can be found in Kant's work, and the German origin of the entry/word/concept itself.
Overall, this is a very nice edition to anyone's philosophical library. Moreover, it is one of the better reference works I have seen or used in my research of Immanuel Kant. I highly recommend this text.