Rafed English

What Is Wrong With Kant's Philosophy?


David Hume (1711-1776), native of Edinburgh and a product of its university, denied the existence of all substantial reality, material or spiritual. In his Treatise on Human Nature he declares that man's mind is only a collection of perceptions. These perceptions are either impressions or ideas. Impressions are sensations of pleasure, pain, awareness of qualities and relations. Ideas are but the faintly remembered images of impressions formerly experienced. This vague philosophy has a very modern sound: a collection of impressions collected nowhere; contents of a mind which is not a container. Here we have the smug unintelligibility of the modern neo-realist's definition of mind as "a cross-section of the environment." Hume holds that the only thing that can be said, with full certainty, to exist is our perceptions (impressions and ideas). In and among these perceptions there is no causal connection; indeed, there is no knowable causality anywhere. If things outside us really do exist, there is no proof of their existence available to us.

Kant Comes Out of His "Dogmatic Slumber"

Over in Germany, in his native city of Koenigsberg, a professor named Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) read Hume's argument with dismay, and finally tossed them aside as "dogmatic dreams." Hume takes away all grounds of certitude; the best a man might have of him is a thin probability, and this, as Kant noticed, is not usable knowledge at all. What a man needs, said Kant, and what he can have is truly scientific knowledge, that is, knowledge that is universally and necessarily true and reliable.

The experiences of the senses is individual, and, no matter how consistently and for how long a time the senses find a fact solid, there is always the possibility that the next experience will show it to vary. So far Kant agrees with Hume: sense-experience cannot give the mind more than probability. But, said Kant, there is another element in knowledge, an a priori and subjective element which is anterior to sense-experience and in no wise dependent on it. This is the element which enables us to have true and certain knowledge and to add item to item with complete security in building up the edifice of science.

We pause here to settle the meaning of important terms. Knowledge that we obtain through experience is a posteriori knowledge, that is, it comes after experience and is dependent upon it. Now, it is the Aristotelian, Thomistic, Scholastic, and Contextual Realist doctrine that all human knowledge is of this type; no knowledge is born in us; no item of knowledge exists in man except such as has been acquired.

Kant, however, insisted on the existence of certain "forms" or items of knowledge (space and time, certain regulative judgments, and certain master-ideas) as inborn and a priori. Of course, there is a legitimate use of the terms a priori and a posteriori (literally "from beforehand" and "from afterwards") in describing types of argument. But there is no legitimate use of a priori as a term descriptive of knowledge itself. Kant uses the term so, and he follows the despised Hume so far as to make the knowledge described by this term a very part of the mind of man, an element of its being and not merely an element of its equipment.

To answer the basic question, "What can I know with scientific certitude?" Kant wrote his book The Critique of Pure Reason. In this work, Kant assigns to man a threefold knowing-power: sensibility, intellect, reason. Knowable things, on the other hand, are of two classes: appearances of things or phenomena, and essences of things or noumena. Man, by sensibility (that is, by his senses) takes in the phenomena of the world about him. Somehow, we know not how, the phenomena set his sense-power to work; we dare not say that the senses perceive even the phenomena as these exist in nature; we may only say that somehow phenomena stir the senses to act.

Now the formal constituent, the essential element, of the sensing-power or sensibility (that is, its character or "shape") is the twofold determination of space-and-time. Man has sense-experiences "here" and "now," and he recalls them as "there" and "then." But this conditioning of phenomena by space and time is man's own contribution to the knowledge-act. Space and time in no wise represent things, nor are they things; they are the inborn a priori element of the sensing-power. Just as a curiously shaped bottle will take in liquid or powder and conform the mass of the substance taken in to its own shape, so the sensing-power, which has the shape of space-and-time, takes in the action of phenomena on the senses and shapes these phenomena accordingly. The result (that is, phenomena-conditioned-by-space-and-time) is called empirical intuition.

Now, just as phenomena stir the sensibility to act, so the finished products of sensation (that is, empirical intuitions) stir the next knowing power, the intellect, to act. The intellect takes in the empirical intuitions and conforms them to its shape, its own inborn a priori forms. These forms are four sets of triple judgments, called the twelve categories. These are like grooves or molds into which the molten metal of empirical intuitions is poured, and the resultant piece of knowledge is, in each case, a judgment.

The four master categories (each of which has three branches) are: quantity, quality, relation, and modality. Thus the judgment "A comes from B as effect from cause" is not the objective knowing by the mind of a state of fact; it is merely the result of the action of intellect turning the sense-findings (or empirical intuitions) of A and B through the groove (or category) of relation, and through that branch of relation called cause-effect.

Once more, just as the finished products of sensibility (that is, empirical intuitions) stir the intellect to the act of judging, so the judgments of the intellect stir the reason to its action. The innate a priori shape of reason is determined by three master-ideas: the idea of the self, the idea of the no-self, the idea of the super-self. In other words, the three regulative ideas of reason are the ideas of self, the world, and God. The judgments of intellect are poured through the threefold mold of reason, and the result is reasoned knowledge.

Now, the essential thing about knowledge, when we attempt to fix its value on the score of truth and certitude, centers in judgments. After all, reason merely handles judgments and learns from them. Upon judgments we must fix our attention. There are two types of judgment, a priori and a posteriori. Looked at in another way, there are two other types: synthetic and analytic. We already know the meaning of a priori and a posteriori, and indeed, according to Kant, all judgments are a priori. We must look at the other terms.

A judgment is rightly called synthetic when it is "put together," for that is precisely what the word synthetic means. If I make the judgment, "John is sick," I have a synthetic judgment; the predicate does not necessarily belong to the subject, but I put it with the subject because I have learned from John or from his doctor that it happens to belong there. But if I make the judgment, "A circle is round," I have an analytic judgment; for by analyzing the subject, by studying it and knowing just what it is, I learn that the predicate used belongs there, since a circle to be a circle must be round.

Kant held that the only judgment which can give absolute certitude must be a priori, since, indeed, he admits no other type. But, he maintains, an a priori judgment that is analytic marks no advance in knowledge. To build up science, there must be growth, development, advancement. Hence there must be synthetic judgments which are also a prior.

The synthetic a priori judgment may be called the heart of Kant's philosophy. And we may say now in passing that the synthetic a priori judgment is a contradiction in terms and in thought; it is an impossibility.

The examples offered by Kant are either (in our terminology) a posteriori judgments, or they are analytic judgments. For instance, Kant says that the judgment "five plus seven equals twelve" is a synthetic a priori judgment. It is nothing of the kind. It is a simple analytic judgment. Replace the words or the figures for five and seven and twelve by an equivalent number of dots or strokes; you will have exactly the same thing on either side of the equals-mark. The judgment is as plainly analytic as "A is A."

Let us cast back a moment, and make a summing up of the Kantian theory of human knowing:

Phenomena of bodily things somehow stir man's sensibility to action, and sense takes in phenomena in its own way, shaping and conditioning them by its innate forms of space-and-time, thus producing empirical intuitions.

The empirical intuitions somehow stir man's intellect to take them in and run them through its forms or categories, thus producing judgments, the truly certain and valuable judgment always being synthetic a priori.

Finally, the judgments of intellect somehow stir the reason to take them in and view them in the light of its regulative ideas of self, the world, and God.

Notice that the sole point of connection of man's knowledge with reality outside the mind is the vague influence of phenomena on the sensing-power. From that point on, the whole process of knowing, and its products, are man's own. Here is idealism, here is subjectivism with a vengeance. And Kant plainly asserts that the noumena or essences of things cannot be known by man. The phenomenon is not strictly knowable, but it moves the sense to act; the noumenon is not knowable at all. The noumenon (Das Ding an sich) lies outside the reach of mortal man.

So Kant is as subjectivistic as Hume ever dared be. And yet this is the man who threw Hume's book aside with the sneer, "Dogmatic dreams!" What singular smugness could have made Kant suppose that he was dealing with the problem of knowledge critically and not dogmatically? Yet he calls his system "transcendental criticism."

Metaphysics Becomes Impossible

Since we cannot know noumena, the science of metaphysics, the very heart of philosophy as the Greeks and Scholastics and other followers of the Perennial Philosophy understand it, becomes illusory and impossible.

Is it not strange that a man of Kant's undoubted intellectual gifts did not notice here an absurd contradiction? Why, he has just finished explaining to us, in great detail, the whole nature of the human mind; and now he concludes that we cannot know the nature of anything!

And his reasoning about the character of the mind, and about the nature of phenomena and noumena, is actually interwoven with terms and thoughts metaphysical; yet he says that metaphysics is illusory and impossible!

So much for Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. It will be noticed that the doctrine contained in this work opens the way to complete skepticism, and therewith it opens the way to a denial of moral obligation and of purpose in human existence. For if nothing can be known with certitude, as skepticism maintains, then there are no certainties in the realm of morals, religion, or social duties; then there is no certainty that man is made for a purpose at all, or even that man exists.

Whether Kant noticed this fact, and, as a Lutheran, deplored it, or whether (as has been said) his Emperor summoned him and demanded that he furnish a philosophical basis for morals and religion, cannot be said. But Kant wrote a second book, The Critique of Practical Reason, to supply the defect mentioned.

The Critique of Practical Reason

Kant said that pure reason is not enough for man; he must live by practical reason as well. In his first book, Kant sought the answer to the question, "What can man know with certitude?" The answer was, "He can have true certitude by his synthetic a priori judgments." But this is mere statement. The real answer to which Kant's work inclines the thinking mind is, "Man can know nothing with certitude."

Kant's second book, The Critique of Practical Reason, answered the question, "Are there certitudes, outside the reach of pure reason, that I must recognize and act upon?" Kant answers with an emphatic, There are." These truths are known with certitude by practical reason. First, a man is aware of duty. He knows with clear certitude that murder and stealing are wrong, and that he has the indispensable duty of avoiding such things. He knows that there are certain loyalties which indicate things that he is in duty bound to observe and do. By his practical reason, man is aware of the inner command, "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not." This command is categorical, that is, it is unconditional; it is not, "Do this, if you please," "Avoid that when convenient"; it is a matter of simple "Do" and "Avoid." Kant calls this inner voice The Categorical Imperative.

A Christian would call it conscience, and would explain that it is the voice of reason (the same reason with which we work out a theorem in geometry) pronouncing on the agreement or disagreement of a situation (here and now to be decided) with the norm or law of morality. Kant's Categorical Imperative is like conscience in its clear decision and unequivocal command; it is entirely unlike conscience in its blindly unreasoning assumption of authority.

First, then, man's awareness of duty is a certitude; it is a certitude because of The Categorical Imperative. Now, this Categorical Imperative is a law. But a law must come from a lawmaker. Neither I myself have set up my Categorical Imperative (for it often orders me to do what I should like to avoid, and to shun what I would willingly do) nor has it come from any earthly king, court, or senate, for it speaks with an authority that is absolute and not one supported by temporal sanctions of fine or imprisonment. It is a supreme law; it is an absolute law. It must come then from the Supreme and Absolute Being. That is, it must come from God. Therefore, God exists.

Further, the Categorical Imperative makes a man aware, not only of duty, but of the fact that he must freely embrace the performance of duty. He is aware that he can disregard, although he cannot be ignorant of, this law of conduct. In a word, he is aware, and with true certitude, that he is a free and responsible being.

Again, man, a free and responsible being, is aware that by freely acting in accordance with the commands of the Categorical Imperative he perfects himself. And he is aware that this self-perfecting may go on through the longest life without reaching the limits of its capability. Therefore, he concludes, he can go on becoming more and more perfect forever. In other words, man is aware of endless existence before him; he knows he has an immortal soul. Thus out of the cunning device of The Categorical Imperative Kant draws the doctrines that satisfy his Lutheranism (or his Emperor), although his basic philosophy of "transcendental criticism" knows nothing of these doctrines. He sets forth, in orthodox fashion, the practical truths of the existence of God, the fact of moral duty, the immortality of the soul, the freedom of the human will.

Note: Kant wrote a third book, The Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, in which he brings out the attractiveness of moral goodness in a manner more striking than that of The Critique of Practical Reason.

Despite errors, absurdities, and contradictions, Kant's philosophy -- notably that of The Critique of Pure Reason -- has exercised a tremendous influence upon human thinking for almost two centuries.

It exhibits the roots of those weaknesses we have come to regard as characteristic of what is loosely called "the German philosophy." It refuses to face reality (witness the wholly subjectivistic character of knowledge); It unduly stresses the ego (witness the inner and autonomous character of knowledge and morality); It proclaims the perfectibility of the will, upon which the followers of Kant were soon to harp most strongly -- and from Nietzsche to Hitler we are to hear of "the will to power," the will which makes "the superman" and "the master race."

A Final Word on Kant

In offering and defending his low estimate of pure reason as incapable of achieving certitude (apart from the mysterious judgments which are synthetic a priori) Kant appeals to his so-called "antinomies" or "contradictions." He holds that when pure reason tries to apply the categories in the abstract realm of logical inference (whereas its business is to pour findings through fixed molds) it gets beyond itself and comes a cropper. It finds that it can prove, with equal facility, things directly opposed. Thus, he says, it can prove that space is finite, and also infinite; it can prove matter divisible and indivisible; it can prove human freedom existent and nonexistent; it can prove that God is necessary and also non-necessary.

In all this, and in the examples offered in proof of it, Kant is entirely gratuitous and sophistical. Besides, he stands self-condemned in using logical reasoning to establish the fact that logical reasoning is useless.

We merely mention the "antinomies" because we discern in them an element of materialism in the heart of an idealistic theory. This materialism was to appear in full form in later philosophies which took inspiration, at least in part, from the doctrines of Immanuel Kant.

Kant's philosophy is fundamentally wrong and is one of the major contributors to the intellectual insanity which we see today.


The three "Critiques" of Kant pointed to the organizing activity of the "thinking-ego." After Kant, thinkers logically developed the function of the thinking-ego, and came to the conclusion that its activity is not limited to the organization of phenomena, but implies the production of phenomena. Thus the ego is conceived of as a creative power. This concept of the creativity of the spirit gave origin in Germany to two movements -- the first, a cultural movement called Romanticism; the second, a philosophical one called Idealism.


Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814)

An expanded version of the philosophy of Fichte is presented HERE.

Johann G. Fichte ( picture) was born at Rammenau in Upper Lusatia in 1762. He studied theology at the University of Jena, where, some years later, he occupied the chair of philosophy. Dismissed from Jena as a result of a violent controversy, he lectured at Berlin, where he became identified with the Romantic Movement. In 1807 and 1808 he delivered in Berlin his famous "Addresses to the German Nation," which were aimed at stirring up the patriotic spirit of his countrymen and enlightening them on the foundations for national prosperity. Fichte died of typhus in 1814. His masterpiece is Foundation of General Science.


Fichte abolished the distinction between the thinking-ego and the "thing in itself." Primordial reality is one, Pure Ego, which is the root of all realities. The moments of the Pure Ego are two: (1) production; (2) reflection. First, by an unconscious obligation, the Universal Spirit (Pure Ego) is impelled to produce, that is, to put forth limited objects. This is the world of nature. By reflecting upon these limited objects, the Spirit becomes conscious of itself as a limited object. The consciousness of the spirit in the limited object gives origin to the empirical-ego (the individual ego), in which sensitive and intellective knowledge are possible. But the task of the Spirit cannot be fulfilled in limited objects; hence it is forever impelled to produce new objects. According to Fichte's theory, Germany, conscious of its superiority, was to become the leaders of all nations by fulfilling the destiny of the Universal Spirit.

Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling (1775-1854)

F.W. von Schelling ( picture) was born at Leonberg, a small town of Wurttemberg. At the age of sixteen he entered the theological seminary at Tubingen, where he studied theology, philosophy and philology. A schoolmate, disciple and friend of Hegel, he later broke with him and became one of his most severe opponents. Called to lecture at Jena in 1798, Schelling had Fichte and Hegel as colleagues there, and came into close contact with the Romanticists. From 1803 to 1806 Schelling lectured at Wurzburg. Between 1806 and 1820 he was a member of the Academy of Sciences, with residence in Munich. Next he went to Erlangen and lectured there for about six years before returning to Munich to teach philosophy. Finally he accepted an invitation to lecture in Berlin, where he succeeded to the chair Hegel had held. Schelling's most systematic philosophical works are: System of Transcendental Idealism and Exposition of My System.


The primordial reality is the Absolute, which is conceived of by Schelling as "perfect identity of Spirit and nature"; this is a Romantic concept. This perfect identity consists in the fact that neither one can be separated from the other, but one can prevail over the other. Thus the prevalence of nature over the Spirit makes possible the manifestation of the world of nature.

The Spirit, wandering unconsciously in the world of nature, becomes conscious and appears as an empirical ago. Then it is able to reflect on what was unconsciously produced by itself. Art in its two moments of inspiration and production gives us the "model of activity" of the Absolute.

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834)

Friedrich Schleiermacher ( picture), a German Protestant theologian and philosopher, was born at Breslau. He was a lecturer and professor at Halle and Berlin. His most representative works are Sermons on Religion and The Christian Faith.


The Absolute is actual reality, the source of the life of our spirit. In the act of sentiment we feel ourselves submerged in the Infinite Being and rooted in Him. Thus we understand the dependence of the finite upon the infinite; this dependence is the source of religion. Only religion leads us to the notion of the infinite as the origin of the life of the finite.

Schleiermacher fuses Spinozism and idealism in an attempt to combine pantheism with dualism. God and the world are one; things and the world have a relative independence. Yet God and the world are inseparable. God has never been without a world nor the world without a God. God is a spaceless and timeless unity; the world is a spatial-temporal plurality. The religious feeling illuminates one's entire life and brings unity into it.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

Georg W.F. Hegel ( picture) was born in Stuttgart. He studied theology and philosophy, and at first gave his sympathies to the philosophy of the Enlightenment and to Kantian Criticism, only to turn to Romantic historicism and become attached to Fichte and Schelling. He lectured in various German universities, and ultimately at the University of Berlin, where he exercised great influence.

Hegel's most representative philosophical works are Phenomenology of Spirit, Logic, and Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences. German Idealism and modern thought, generally speaking, reach the greatest heights of immanentism in the compact dialectic system of Hegel.


The primordial reality is conceived by Hegel as the "pure indetermined," as "non-being." However, its perennial activity consists in developing explicitly what it contains implicitly. The characteristic principle of this primordial reality in its development is the "coincidence of opposites," in the sense that any passage is a result of some already acquired determination as related to its opposite. Hence the triad which is fundamental to Hegel's philosophy:




Another characteristic of Hegel's idealism is rationality: primordial being is essentially thought, idea. Hence the process of development is essentially rational.

Logic of the Concrete: The principle of the coincidence of opposites carries within itself the negation of Aristotelian logic. For Hegel, the logic of Aristotle takes into consideration abstract ideas, which as such are immutable. Hence Aristotle could establish his logic on the principle of contradiction. But this logic misinterprets reality; reality is never immutable; it is always new, and what makes the new reality is the coincidence of opposites. By means of this principle, reality nullifies in itself both extremes of contradiction, being and non-being. Hegel calls this new logic "The logic of the concrete." That of Aristotle he calls formal logic.

Dialectical Process of Being: The Universal Spirit objectivates itself with the intention of gaining consciousness of self. At the basis of this process is rationality, i.e., a system of pure concepts according to which the development will be made. The Spirit objectivates itself first in "nature," whose pinnacle is the human organism and individual consciousness. But the spirit is not satisfied with the limits of individual consciousness, and is impelled to other super-individual forms:

The family, which is the union of souls;

The civil society, which is a larger communion of souls;

The state, which is the highest revelation of the spirit, and in which the Spirit finds the fullness of its freedom -- the state is the "living God."

As the whole process is supposed to be rational, in the state all opposites are reconciled. Although the state is the supreme manifestation of the spirit, there is another triad regarding the Absolute Spirit: art, religion and philosophy.


For a decade after Hegel's death, Hegelianism was the outstanding philosophy of Germany. It enjoyed patronage of the Prussian State and the universities. Its logical method was popular.

Hegelianism divides into two groups:

Conservatives favored the interpretation of Hegelianism in an orthodox supernatural theism;

Liberalism (Young Hegelians) held to a spiritualistic pantheism; God is the universal substance which becomes conscious in mankind. Left wing Hegelians were: Richter, Ruge, Bauer, Strauss. Some liberals went over to naturalism. Karl Marx and Lassale (early socialists) based their economic interpretation of history on Hegelian premises -- What was once rational becomes irrational in the evolutionary process and thus private property, once rational, will be superseded and overcome in socialism, because this is the dialectic-logical process of history.

Hegel's genius in the history of philosophy and in the history of religion produced a school of great historians of philosophy including Trendelenburg, Erdman, Zeller, Kuno Fischer, Windelband, and Pfleiderer. Hegel's work influenced the study of history, jurisprudence, politics, and all the mental sciences.


The Hegelian identification of reality with rationality influenced the entire German culture of the first half of the nineteenth century, with the result that facts were distorted so as to fit into the system. A critical revision was necessary, and it was undertaken in the name of Kant. The most important representatives of this critical movement were Herbert and Schopenhauer.

Every phase of Hegelian philosophy was subjected to attack: its idealism, its pantheism, its rationalism, and its a priori methods attracted criticism. Some thinkers insisted on the refinement of scientific methods; their approaches resulted in realism and pluralism. Others insisted that the irrational elements in reality would have to be taken into account. Devotees of mysticism, religion, and intuition sought to expand the functions of the mind. Reason was not enough.

Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841)

Herbart was born in Oldenburg. He studied at the University of Jena and was a disciple of Fichte. He then went to Berne as a private tutor. From 1802 to 1809 he lectured at Gottingen, and then went to Konigsberg, where he occupied the chair formerly held by Kant. In 1833 he returned to Gottingen as professor of philosophy, dying there in 1841. The most representative works of Herbart are: Introduction to Philosophy, Manual of Psychology, and General Metaphysics.


Herbart started with experience and tried to restore the Kantian concept of the thing in itself. For him, experience shows an irreducible contradiction between the one and the many. Indeed,

While reality is one, experiences shows it under a multiplicity of opposite qualities;

While reality is one, change makes it many;

The "ego" summarizes the multiplicity of qualities and change.

To overcome these contradictions, we must suppose that reality is not uniform, but broken up into a multitude of parts. These parts have a relationship to one another, and these relationships make a plurality of realities. The human soul is one of many simple and immutable realities. Its relationship to the others is called representation. These relationships or representations obey mechanical laws. The ego as a person is a solidified group of perceptions. The moral value of human operations is due to the existence in man of some "model ideas," such as: interior freedom; perfection; benevolence; right and equity.

Influence on Education: Herbart had his greatest influence on education. Pedagogy is applied psychology and its ends are determined by ethics. Herbart's mechanical conception of the mental life places emphasis on

Instruction -- to make ideas influence or determine conduct;

Interest -- showing instruction can be made educative;

The Value of Apperception -- the restatement of a new content by previously existing content.

Herbart's aim in education is found in the five great elements which enter into character: proper instruction, full knowledge, clear ideas, right action, personal character

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Arthur Schopenhauer (picture) was born in Danzig, the son of a wealthy merchant. He had been educated for the business world by his father, but as soon as his father died Schopenhauer turned to the study of philosophy. He traveled extensively in Holland, England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. He obtained his doctor's degree at Jena in 1813. A few years later he began to lecture at Berlin, but his attempts to stem the tide of Hegel's popularity there were unsuccessful. He left the University and traveled again in Italy. In 1833 he retired to Frankfort on the Main, where he spent the remainder of his life writing his books in learned retirement. Always hostile to Idealism and particularly toward Hegelianism, he died in 1860, when Hegel's philosophy was already in its decline. Schopenhauer's masterpiece of philosophical writing is The World as Will and Idea. He also published Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics.


The World as Will and Idea. The primordial reality is blind will, whose unconscious desire is self-preservation. Hence the primordial reality is a blind will to live. This desire accounts for the fact that the will unconsciously manifests itself in a multiplicity of natural beings. When the brain of man is constructed, the will becomes conscious and knowledge is possible.

Pessimism. The "desire to live" on the part of the primordial reality is present everywhere: love, egoism, the progress of civilization are means for perpetuating the desire to live. But this desire is caused by blind will; hence the whole universe is miserable.

Applications of Schopenhauer's Doctrine to Man. The only remedy against evil is to suppress the will to live. This can be done by:

Aesthetics, because the contemplation of beauty suspends all desires;

Ethics, whose fundamental characteristic, for Schopenhauer, is benevolence;

Asceticism, which nullifies any desire for life.

Schopenhauer is of the later German school in his doctrine of all embracing will, but he is alone among German philosophers in ascribing to the efforts of universal will no goal, no good, no improvement.

The positive contributions of Herbart and Schopenhauer to the Perennial Philosophy

In a word, none.

The New Idealism in German Philosophy

With the decline of Hegelianism, natural science progressed. Philosophy seems to be threatened with permanent silence. From the natural sciences some great thinkers appeared who restored philosophic prestige. Prominent among this group were Lotze, Fechner, Hartmann, Wundt, and Paulsen. They generally regarded it futile to construct a metraphysics by means of rationalistic methods slone, independent of natural science. They all hold, with Kant, that there can be no knowledge without experience. The most outstanding of this group to do justice to idealism was Lotze (1817-1881).



During the first half of the nineteenth century the countries of Europe, with the exception of Germany, paid little attention to Kantian Criticism and Romantic Idealism. Indeed, in England the current of thought was developed almost entirely apart from the influence of German philosophy. English philosophers invariably followed the empiricist tradition of the past.


In France Kant, Fichte and Schelling had some influence on philosophical thought. However, the main currents of thought followed the general trends of French philosophy. Worthy of mention are:

The psychologism of Maine de Biran (1776-1824);

The traditionalism and fideism of Felicite de Lamennais (1782-1854);

The eclecticism of Victor Cousin (1792-1867), who is considered the official philosopher of the Restoration.

All these, however, shed little light upon the problems of speculative philosophy and made no real contribution to the Perennial Philosophy.


In Italy, Pasquale Galluppi (1770-1846) was the first to bring Italian philosophy into contact with German thought through his translations of the principal works of the German thinkers. Italian philosophers were opposed not only to Kantian Criticism and Idealism, but also to Empiricism and Sensism. They endeavored to develop their thought in accordance with Italian Catholic tradition and to overcome Idealism through the affirmation of the transcendence of God. The most representative thinkers of this movement are Rosmini-Serbati and Gioberti.

Antonio Rosmini-Serbati (1797-1855)

The concern of Rosmini was the restoration of morality and religion in opposition to the atheism of the sensists and Idealists. Sensism and Idealism were connected with the problem of knowledge. Thus Rosmini believed that to defeat them he must find a starting point in the problem of knowledge. For him, this starting point was the idea of being, Platonically conceived and similar to a Kantian category. The degrees of the process of knowledge are:

Fundamental sentiment;


Sensorial perception; and


The first three are subjective types of knowledge; judgment, on the contrary, is objective, because it applies to empirical data the idea of being, which is universal and absolute.

Rosmini stands as one of the first to undertake the restoration of Scholastic philosophy. Although his thought is influenced by St. Augustine's philosophy rather than the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, his entire philosophy is a constant affirmation of the transcendence of God.

Vincenzo Gioberti (1801-1852)

According to Gioberti, the essential condition for objective knowledge must be found in the Absolute Being (God); thus the fundamental act of human knowledge must be connected with Him, not in the sense that we see God intuitively -- which would be pure ontologism -- but that we see some operation of God -- that is, His creative act.

The second half of the nineteenth century is marked by a broad new movement of thought called Positivism. This movement arose in opposition to the abstractionism and formalism of the transcendental Idealists, who had made nature a "representation" of the ego. The purpose of the new school of thought was to lay greater stress upon immediate experience, upon the positive data obtained through the senses.

The Philosophy of Freidrich Wilhelm von Schelling & Friedrich Schleiermacher

I. Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling

Life and Works

Friedrich Schelling ( picture) was born in 1775 at Leonberg, a small town of Wurttemberg. At the age of sixteen he entered the theological seminary at Tubingen, where he studied theology, philosophy and philology.

A schoolmate, disciple and friend of Hegel, he later broke with him and became one of his most severe opponents. Called to lecture at Jena in 1798, Schelling had Fichte and Hegel as colleagues there, and came into close contact with the Romanticists. From 1803 to 1806 Schelling lectured at Wurzburg. Between 1806 and 1820 he was a member of the Academy of Sciences, with residence in Munich.

Next he went to Erlangen and lectured there for about six years before returning to Munich to teach philosophy. Finally he accepted an invitation to lecture in Berlin, where he succeeded to the chair Hegel had held. Schelling died in 1854.

Schelling's most systematic philosophical works are: System des Transcendentalen Idealismus (System of Transcendental Idealism, and Darstellung meines Systems (Exposition of My System).


, differing fromKant, had given to the thinking ego a metaphysical reality, making it the unique creative principle of the world of nature. According to Fichte, the ego produces nature by means of unconscious activity, and the reality of nature is nothing other than a conscious "representation" of the empirical ego.

Schelling accepts Fichte's concept of Pure Ego as the unique metaphysical principle, but he differs from Fichte in his concept of nature. Nature, according to Schelling, has its own metaphysical reality, independent of the rising consciousness of the empirical ego. The Absolute (the Pure Ego of Fichte) must be conceived of as the complete identity of the Universal Spirit and nature.

Making use of new concepts in the field of electricity and transferring them to philosophy, Schelling maintains that the Spirit and nature must be conceived as two poles, positive and negative, of the reality of the Absolute, completely identical and inseparable from one another. The production of nature is due to the fact that the pole of nature prevails over the pole of the spirit through the unconscious action of the Absolute. This prevalence, however, can never reach the point of nullifying the presence of the Universal Spirit, for both the Spirit and nature are insuppressible.

Hence nature is internally spiritualized, endowed with life, organic functions and finality. Mechanical causality is a secondary means for the actuation of finality. The finalistic and organic tendency of nature becomes visible in the living being, in which the various parts act for the good of the whole.

The Universal Spirit, always present in nature, makes it possible for empirical consciousness (individual egos) to arise; that is to say, the Spirit, after long wandering unconsciously in nature, becomes conscious in empirical egos -- or rather, the presence of the Spirit in nature is an essential condition for the emergence of empirical egos.

The consciousness of the Universal Spirit first appears in sensation. The odyssey of the Spirit has ended, and an inverse process has begun. The Spirit, by reflection, reconquers that which it had produced in the shadows of the unconscious. This process is the work of philosophy, which goes back and considers the stages or moments through which the Absolute became nature and consciousness.

For Schelling, neither practical nor theoretical activity gives us the model of the primitive identity of the Absolute as Spirit-nature. The creative activity of art alone is capable of giving us such a model. Indeed, a work of artistic genius is the result of two distinct activities, that is, the unconscious activity of inspiration and the conscious activity of the artist. Art, therefore, is the organ of philosophy, because art alone brings to philosophy a concrete representation of the unconscious process by which action is identified with consciousness. Thus art is the representation of the unbroken unity of the Absolute Principle.

II. Friedrich Schleiermacher

Friedrich Schleiermacher ( picture), a German Protestant theologian and philosopher, was born at Breslau in 1768. He was a lecturer and professor at Halle and Berlin. He died in 1834. His most representative works are Reden uber die Religion (Sermons on Religion) and Der christliche Glaube (The Christian Faith).

With Schleiermacher, the Romantic idealism of Schelling takes the form of manifestations of interiority, religiosity, and sentiment. The perfect identity of the Absolute, and, at the same time, our absolute dependence upon the Absolute can be grasped only in these interior activities.

According to Schleiermacher, the Absolute is an actual reality, the immanent content of our consciousness, and the perennial source of the life of our spirit. Neither thought nor will can arrive at the Absolute and comprehend it as perfect unity. Theoretical thought is possible only in so far as a limited perceptible world is presupposed; and likewise, will is possible only in so far as there is presupposed a limited end to be attained. In both cases the ego must have a relationship to something which is different from itself. Some kind of communication between the finite and the infinite must be established.

If we are recollected and place our ego in relation to itself, this self-consciousness or sentiment makes it possible for us to comprehend the absolute unity of Being, God. During such a period of recollection, we feel, on the one hand, that we are submerged in the infinite Being and, on the other, that the infinite Being seems to be concentrated in one point of our consciousness.

In this sentiment man does not lose consciousness of himself but is aware that he and his being are rooted in God. Thus man comprehends the absolute dependence of his being upon God, of the finite upon the infinite. The sentiment of the Divine in ourselves is religion, in which the entire series of particular and determined acts of our lives find their motive.

Adapted from the book: "Modern Philosophy"

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