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Abstract

Famously, Kant is a transcendental idealist. Yet he also endorses empirical realism, and even boasts that only the transcendental idealist can be an empirical realist. The difficulty of making sense of those commitments together leads many interpreters to begin by attributing to Kant some variant of conventional, subjective idealism. That in turn requires that Kant’s empirical realism be at best a merely ersatz or quasi-realism. But that drains Kant's boast of its significance. For any idealist can be a realist if the ‘realism’ in question is defined in terms of a prior commitment to idealism. Thus I argue, on the contrary, that we must begin the interpretation of Kant’s Critical philosophy by taking his empirical realism to be a genuine, common-sense realism about empirical things. That approach yields a consistent, satisfying, and novel reading of the Critical enterprise, including transcendental idealism, as explaining how empirical realism is possible. Along the way I show, among other things, (1) how to make systematic sense of Kant’s controversial theory of meaning, which is standardly either downplayed or regarded as grossly inconsistent with his other core commitments; (2) how to dispense with the centuries-old Neglected Alternative objection; and (3) how to account for the syntheticity of the moral law and its role in conferring experience-immanent meaning on the practical postulates (e.g., of the existence of God).

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