The Critique of Practical Reason,5:14, seems to damn Hume with faint praise, acknowledging his service for initiating a critique of pure reason but being otherwise uninstructive. Was it in the Prolegomena that he said that Hume had awoken him from his dogmatic slumber? Why the change of tone vis-à-vis Hume in the later work?

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    Kant explicitly excepts Hume from "otherwise uninstructive" in the preceding paragraph:"Thus universal empiricism is revealed to be genuine skepticism, which has been falsely ascribed to Hume... Since in this philosophical and critical age no one can be very much in earnest about such an empiricism, and since it is presumably put forward only as an exercise for judgment... we can only be grateful to those who trouble themselves with this otherwise uninstructive work." Beck's translation, p. 14
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 30 at 0:22
  • So if Hume's is not the "otherwise uninstructive work," what is "this otherwise uninstructive work" that Kant is referring to? Maybe Kant means that it WOULD be relatively uninstructive if one assumed Hume had been promoting radical skepticism, but taken properly, it is otherwise instructive. Also wondering if there's maybe some German translation issue.
    – Gerry
    Commented Mar 31 at 1:06
  • Who knows. There were many empiricists in Kant's time whose names only historians remember. He might have had somebody in particular in mind, or it could have been a hypothetical strawman. Your proposal does not seem to fit the text. Kant excepts Hume for accepting mathematics before the paragraph with "otherwise uninstructive" even begins. It is disjoint from Hume even if put into the subjunctive mood.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 31 at 4:02
  • Yes, like much of Kant, it is ambiguous, opening the door for multiple interpretations.
    – Gerry
    Commented Mar 31 at 19:55

1 Answer 1


Kant is not talking about work, Arbeit, in the sense of a work of writing, but of work in the sense of labor or effort. If he were talking about the former, then we would understandably assume he must be talking about Hume's work or opus, but in the general sense, it can be unclear whose work or labor or efforts he is talking about. Hume's? Or those who misread him?

Doch, da es in diesem philosophischen und kritischen Zeitalter schwerlich mit jenem Empirism Ernst sein kann, und er vermutlich nur zur Übung der Urteilskraft, und, um durch den Kontrast die Notwendigkeit rationaler Prinzipien a priori in ein helleres Licht zu setzen, aufgestellet wird: so kann man es denen doch Dank wissen, die sich mit dieser sonst eben nicht belehrenden Arbeit bemühen wollen.

Of course, since it is difficult to be serious about this kind of empiricism, and it is probably only used for logical exercise and, through contrast, to shine a light on the necessity of a priori rational principles, we need learn nothing more from [those skeptics] who wish to trouble themselves with these [their] otherwise rather uninformed efforts.

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