The Transcendental: Past, Present & Future The Transcendental: Past, Present & Future

The Transcendental: Past, Present & Future

December 12 – 13, 2015

This conference will concern transcendental claims and arguments. A transcendental argument is any argument of the form that x is a necessary condition for the possibility of y, that is, x is an enabling condition of y. Transcendental arguments come in different versions: ontological, epistemological, phenomenological, etc. Recent years have seen a revival of interest in the nature, problems, and prospects of transcendental claims in relation to a variety of philosophical discussions (e.g., Smith & Sullivan 2011, Heinämaa, Hartimo & Miettinen 2014; Gardner & Grist 2015). The central aim of this conference is to reassess the place of the transcendental in current philosophical discussions by exploring three focal points: (1) examining the origin of transcendental arguments in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. (2) Are there satisfactory responses available against the criticisms that have been raised against transcendental arguments in epistemology? (3) What other applications of the transcendental are possible, outside of epistemological contexts, i.e., phenomenology?

Even at the early stage in the history of transcendental arguments, it is unclear exactly what status transcendental claims and arguments have in Kant’s project. For example, despite it being a key principle of Kant’s philosophy, the status of the claim that the conditions of the possibility of experience are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience remains a matter of substantial debate, specifically a question of whether these transcendental conditions are purely epistemological, ontological, or a curious mixture of both (Gardner 2015, 9-11; Cassirer 1923; Melnick 1973; 2006; Guyer 1987; Watkins 2005; 2010). This is particularly obvious when these conditions are examined vis-a-vis Kant’s transcendental idealism, that is, Kant’s thesis that we know only appearances and not things in themselves. However, whether Kant’s positive transcendental contribution is inseparable from his idealism is a topic of disagreement among commentators (e.g., Strawson 1966; Guyer 1987; Allison 1983; 2004; 2012; 2015). It is clear, however, that an understanding of the latter is required for an adequate understanding of the former, and it may be the case that the fate of transcendental arguments is inseparable from that of transcendental idealism (Cassam 2007; Moore 2010).

In more contemporary discussions, the most prominent use of transcendental arguments on the so-called analytic side has focused on ambitious rejoinders to strong versions of scepticism. It has been argued, however, that such transcendental arguments are indefensible, because they are committed to problematic notions of universality and necessity, and, relatedly, because they involve unwarranted inferences (Koerner 1967; Stroud 1968). Subsequently, as a reaction to these and similar criticisms, attempts have been made to rescue transcendental arguments by advancing weaker or modest versions (Stern 1999; 2000). However, it is not entirely clear whether such transcendental arguments can overcome the initial objections: can they advance notions of necessity and universality that are defensible (Cassam 2007a; Kuusela 2008)? This conference aims to lend impulse to the discussion of transcendental arguments, which has been sporadic in the epistemological context.

Bringing together insights of analytic and continental thinkers with respect to the transcendental can be mutually enlightening  (e.g., Sacks 2005). Are the accounts of transcendental phenomenologists open to the same criticisms faced by analytic accounts? Reassessing the place of the transcendental in phenomenology will also illuminate current discussions on the relation between transcendental phenomenology and naturalism (e.g., Varela 1997; Petitot, Varela, Pachoud, & Roy 1999; Thompson & Varela 2001; Gallagher 2005; 2012). From a phenomenological perspective, this enterprise faces a central problem: it is hard to see how the anti-naturalistic, transcendental thrust of phenomenology can be reconciled with naturalism (e.g., Zahavi 2004, 2013; Moran 2013). Clarity on this question will shed light on the relation between varieties of transcendental philosophy and naturalism.


Aristotelian Society

British Society for the History of Philosophy

Mind Association

Society for Women in Philosophy

University of East Anglia (HUM Graduate School)


Sidra Shahid (UEA), Lewis Clarke (UEA), Oskari Kuusela (UEA)


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Registration deadline: Sunday 15 November 2015. Please note, refunds cannot be guaranteed after this date.


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