Critique of Archaeological Reason
7. Themes

The notion of “critique”

Giorgio Buccellati – July 2013

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Kant: critique as bracing

The concept of “Kritik” emerges, in Kant, with a specificity all its own, one that is closely tied to the notion of “transcendentality.” As such, the notion of “critique” goes beyond the original etymological value of the word, namely “judgement.” It is more than just the evaluation of reason and its limits. It rather proposes a bracing of two different dimensions, intuitions and concepts.

Bracing” implies two fundamental moments:

  1. the identification of elements that are in correlation with each other
  2. the recognition that this correlation is structurally univocal

In this sense, bracing means that the correlation is structuraland therefore necessary. “Critique” is thus the process whereby one identifies the elements and the nature of this bracketing.

There is a touch of personal involvement in this issue when Kant writes: “Und hier mache ich eine Anmerkung, die ihren Einfluß auf alle nachfolgende Betrachtungen erstreckt, und die man wohl vor Augen haben muß.” This “far-reaching observation” runs as follows:

“daß nicht jede Erkenntnis a priori,
     sondern nur die, dadurch wir erkennen,
               daß und wie
                    gewisse Vorstellungen (Anschauungen oder Begriffe)
                    lediglich a priori angewandt werden, oder möglich sein,
     transzendental (d. i. die Möglichkeit der Erkenntnis oder der Gebrauch derselben a priori)
          heißen müsse” (KrV p. B80).

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A position outside

Thus the Critique takes its place outside of the object that is being studied. It is upstream of the flow of the argument that bears on that object, and reflects on the efficiency of the argument itself.

In this sense, a critique is both epistemology and methodology: epistemology as a set of reflections on the how of knowing, and methodology as a set of reflections on the procedure that affects such knowledge.

Thus, a critique goes to the roots of an argument, or even, we may say, it goes behind it in order to look at the entire argument as a self-contained entity.

It is in line with this understanding of critique that we do, in this website, look at various dimensions of archaeological therory. For instance, in dealing with agency we are not pursuing the goal of contributing to that particular theory and to the pertinent body of examples. We are rather looking at it from the outside, in an effort to determine its proper range of applicability.

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The -emic factor

The concept of an -emic dimension was introduced in linguistics, and has become current in the social sciences, but the full impact of the concept does not seem to have been sufficiently realized. In my view, it is rooted precisely in the notion of bracing, and thus of a critique understood in the Kantian sense.

Thus the phonemic inventory of a language reflects the univocal (i.e., reciprocally exclusive) relationship of the phonic and the meaning dimensions. The phonemic inventory is a closed system, that does not admit changes without a structural revision of the whole. And this is because of the bracing function, that makes the overlap of the two spheres tightly and irreversibly bound.

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