In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Transcendental Arguments

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Philosophy Transcendental Arguments
Gabriele Gava
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 March 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0357


As generally understood, transcendental arguments are deductive arguments that aim to establish a certain claim A by arguing that A is a necessary condition for another claim B. Customarily, they are used to refute various forms of skepticism. Accordingly, B is usually a claim that is noncontroversial and would plausibly be accepted by a skeptic: for example, the claim that we have self-consciousness, or that we have representations of objects. Alternatively, B could also be a claim that a skeptic must assume to coherently formulate her doubt. Transcendental arguments then proceed from this noncontroversial claim to a more substantial claim that states that A is a necessary condition for the possibility of B. The skeptic who doubts that A applies but accepts B is thus refuted because, if B applies, it logically follows that A must apply as well. Debates about transcendental arguments have touched on a multiplicity of issues. One first question concerns the nature of the claims they make. In this respect, there have been different ways to account for the necessity that is attributed to the claims that are identified as conditions of other claims. While it is excluded that this necessity can be physical or causal, it is not clear what kind of necessity it is. Some have claimed that this necessity expresses analytical relationship between concepts, whereas others have understood this necessity to be of a metaphysical nature and to involve some sort of synthetic a priori judgment. Another problem concerns what kind of results transcendental arguments can achieve. Some have claimed that transcendental arguments can achieve ambitious conclusions that tell how the world must be. Others have presented a more modest interpretation of transcendental arguments, claiming that they can establish only how we must believe the world to be. A further issue regards the historical antecedents of contemporary transcendental arguments. While Kant is normally considered to be the originator of transcendental arguments, it has been questioned that central arguments of his Critique of Pure Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) have a structure fundamentally similar to present-day transcendental arguments. On the other hand, arguments with a form comparable to transcendental arguments have been attributed to other philosophers and traditions.

General Overviews

Grayling 2010 can be useful for undergraduates who want a concise characterization of transcendental arguments. Bardon 2004– is also best suited for undergraduates, but it delves in more detail into the problems involved in the use of transcendental arguments. Stern 2020, a very exhaustive and detailed introduction to the subject, is an exceptional starting point for people who want to have a clear grasp of the different issues involved in discussions concerning transcendental arguments. Gava 2017 analyzes how transcendental arguments are used in metaphysics, whereas Grundmann 2004 highlights similarities and differences between Kant’s own transcendental arguments and more recent proposals.

  • Bardon, Adrian. “Transcendental Arguments” In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden, 2004–.

    Brief presentation of the problem of transcendental arguments that starts from examples in Kant and Putnam and discusses some objections to them with related counterproposals.

  • Gava, G. “Transzendentale Argumente.” In Handbuch Metaphysik. Edited by Markus Schrenk, 410–415. Stuttgart and Weimar, Germany: J. B. Metzler, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-476-05365-7_58

    Discusses the use of transcendental arguments in the context of Strawson’s project of a descriptive metaphysics (see Strawson 1959, cited under Transcendental Arguments for the Existence and Persistence of Outer Objects). It analyses two sets of criticisms that have been brought against this use and examines the consequences of these criticisms for metaphysical investigations.

  • Grayling, A. C. “Transcendental Arguments.” In A Companion to Epistemology. 2d ed. Edited by Jonathan Dancy, Ernest Sosa, and Matthias Steup, 768–771. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    Brief encyclopedic article on transcendental arguments. Provides an initial grasp of what is distinctive about these arguments.

  • Grundmann, Thomas. “Was ist eigentlich ein transzendentales Argument?” In Warum Kant heute? Sistematysche Bedeutung un Rezeption seiner Philosophie in der Gegenwart. Edited by D. Heidemann and K. Engelhard, 44–75. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004.

    Discussion of transcendental arguments that critically examines whether Kant’s own transcendental arguments can be read as substantially similar in structure to more recent proposals.

  • Stern, Robert. “Transcendental Arguments.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2020.

    Probably the best introduction to the problem of transcendental arguments available in terms of thoroughness and breadth. It discusses the history and characteristic features of transcendental arguments, classical objections to them, and related responses, as well as the project of making transcendental arguments more modest. Besides transcendental arguments against external world skeptics, it also considers arguments against skepticism concerning the existence of other minds and moral skepticism.

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