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German idealism was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant in the 1780s and 1790s,[1] and was closely linked both with Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment. The best-known thinkers in the movement, besides Kant, were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the proponents of Jena Romanticism (Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel).[2] August Ludwig Hülsen, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Salomon Maimon, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Arthur Schopenhauer also made major contributions.

The period of German idealism after Kant is also known as post-Kantian idealism, post-Kantian philosophy, or simply post-Kantianism.[3]

Fichte's philosophical work has controversially been interpreted as a stepping stone in the emergence of German speculative idealism, the thesis that we only ever have access to the correlation between thought and being.[4] Another scheme divides German idealists into transcendental idealists, associated with Kant and Fichte, and absolute idealists, associated with Schelling and Hegel.[5]

Meaning of idealism

The word "idealism" has multiple meanings. The philosophical meaning of idealism are those properties we discover in objects dependent on the way that those objects appear to us, as perceived subjects. These properties only belong to the perceived appearance of the objects, and not something they possess "in themselves". The term "idea-ism" is closer to this intended meaning than the common notion of idealism. The question of what properties a thing might have "independently of the mind" is thus unknowable and a moot point, within the idealist tradition.

History

Immanuel Kant's work purported to bridge the two dominant philosophical schools in the 18th century: 1) [3]

Fichte's philosophical work has controversially been interpreted as a stepping stone in the emergence of German speculative idealism, the thesis that we only ever have access to the correlation between thought and being.[4] Another scheme divides German idealists into transcendental idealists, associated with Kant and Fichte, and absolute idealists, associated with Schelling and Hegel.[5]

The word "idealism" has multiple meanings. The philosophical meaning of idealism are those properties we discover in objects dependent on the way that those objects appear to us, as perceived subjects. These properties only belong to the perceived appearance of the objects, and not something they possess "in themselves". The term "idea-ism" is closer to this intended meaning than the common notion of idealism. The question of what properties a thing might have "independently of the mind" is thus unknowable and a moot point, within the idealist tradition.

History

Immanuel Kant's work purported to bridge the two dominant philosophical schools in the 18th century: 1) rationalism, which held that knowledge could be attained by reason alone a priori (prior to experience), and 2) empiricism, which held that knowledge could be arrived at only through the senses a posteriori (after experience), as expressed by philosopher David Hume, whom Kant sought to rebut.[6] Kant's solution was to propose that, while we depend on objects of experience to know anything about the world, we can investigate a priori the form that our thoughts can take, determining the boundaries of possible experience. Kant called his mode of philosophising "critical philosophy", in that it was supposedly less concerned with setting out positive doctrine than with critiquing the limits to the theories we can set out.[7] The conclusion he presented, as above, he called "transcendental idealism". This distinguished it from classical idealism and subjective idealism such as George Berkeley's, which held that external objects have actual being or real existence only when they are perceived by an observer. Kant said that there are things-in-themselves (noumena, that is), things that exist other than being merely sensations and ideas in our minds. Kant held in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) that the world of appearances (phenomena) is empirically real and transcendentally ideal. The mind plays a central role in influencing the way that the world is experienced: we perceive phenomena through time, space and the categories of the understanding. It is this notion that was taken to heart by Kant's philosophical successors.

Arthur Schopenhauer considered himself to be a transcendental idealist.[8] In his major work The World as Will and Representation (1818/1819) he discusses his indebtedness to Kant, and the work includes Schopenhauer's extensive analysis of the Critique.

The best-known German idealist thinkers, besides Kant, were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The Young Hegelians, a number of philosophers who developed Hegel's work in various directions, were in some cases idealists. On the other hand, Karl Marx, who was numbered among them, had professed himself to be a materialist, in opposit

Immanuel Kant's work purported to bridge the two dominant philosophical schools in the 18th century: 1) rationalism, which held that knowledge could be attained by reason alone a priori (prior to experience), and 2) empiricism, which held that knowledge could be arrived at only through the senses a posteriori (after experience), as expressed by philosopher David Hume, whom Kant sought to rebut.[6] Kant's solution was to propose that, while we depend on objects of experience to know anything about the world, we can investigate a priori the form that our thoughts can take, determining the boundaries of possible experience. Kant called his mode of philosophising "critical philosophy", in that it was supposedly less concerned with setting out positive doctrine than with critiquing the limits to the theories we can set out.[7] The conclusion he presented, as above, he called "transcendental idealism". This distinguished it from classical idealism and subjective idealism such as George Berkeley's, which held that external objects have actual being or real existence only when they are perceived by an observer. Kant said that there are things-in-themselves (noumena, that is), things that exist other than being merely sensations and ideas in our minds. Kant held in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) that the world of appearances (phenomena) is empirically real and transcendentally ideal. The mind plays a central role in influencing the way that the world is experienced: we perceive phenomena through time, space and the categories of the understanding. It is this notion that was taken to heart by Kant's philosophical successors.

Arthur Schopenhauer considered himself to be a transcendental idealist.[8] In his major work The World as Will and Representation (1818/1819) he discusses his

Arthur Schopenhauer considered himself to be a transcendental idealist.[8] In his major work The World as Will and Representation (1818/1819) he discusses his indebtedness to Kant, and the work includes Schopenhauer's extensive analysis of the Critique.

The best-known German idealist thinkers, besides Kant, were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The Young Hegelians, a number of philosophers who developed Hegel's work in various directions, were in some cases idealists. On the other hand, Karl Marx, who was numbered among them, had professed himself to be a materialist, in opposition to idealism. Another member of the Young Hegelians, Ludwig Feuerbach, advocated for materialism, and his thought was influential in the development of historical materialism,[9] where he is often recognized as a bridge between Hegel and Marx.[10]

Immanuel Kant's transcendental idealism consisted of taking a point of view outside and above oneself (transcendentally) and understanding that the mind directly knows only phenomena or ideas. Whatever exists other than mental phenomena, or ideas that appear to the mind, is a thing-in-itself and cannot be directly and immediately known.

Kant criticized pure reason. He wanted to restrict reasoning, judging, and speaking only to objects of possible experience. The main German Idealists, who had been theology students,[11] reacted against Kant's stringent limits.[12] "It was Kant’s criticism of all attempts to prove the existence of God which led to the romantic reaction of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel."[13] "Kant sets out to smash not only the proofs of God but the very foundations of Christian metaphysics, then turns around and 'postulates' God and the immortality of the soul, preparing the way for Fichte and idealism."[14]

Jacobi

In 1787, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi addressed, in his book On Faith, or Idealism and Realism, Kant's concept of "thing-in-itself". Jacobi agreed that the objective thing-in-itself cannot be directly known. However, he stated, it must be taken on belief. A subject must believe that there is a real object in the external world that is related to the representation or mental idea that is directly known. This belief is a result of revelation or immediately known, but logically unproved, truth. The real existence of a thing-in-itself is revealed or disclosed to the observing subject. In this way, the subject directly knows the ideal, subjective representations that appear in the mind, and strongly believes in the real, objective thing-in-itself that exists outside the mind. By presenting the external world as an object of belief, Jacobi legitimized belief. "…[B]y reducing the external world to a matter of faith, he wanted merely to open a little door for faith in general..."[15]

Reinhold

Karl Leonhard Reinhold published two volumes of Letters Concerning the Kantian Philosophy in 1790 and 1792. They provided a clear explication of Kant's thoughts, which were previously inaccessible due to Kant's use of complex or technical language.

Reinhold also tried to prove Kant's assertion that humans and other animals can know only images that appear in their minds, never "things-in-themselves" (things that are not mere appearances in a mind). In order to establish his proof, Reinhold stated an axiom that could not possibly be doubted. From this axiom, all knowledge of consciousness could be deduced. His axiom was: "Representation is distinguished in consciousness by the subject from the subject and object, and is referred to both."

He thereby started, not from definitions, but, from a principle that referred to mental images or representations in a conscious mind. In this way, he analyzed knowledge into (1) the knowing subject, or observer, (2) the known object, and (3) the image or representation in the subject's mind. In order to understand transcendental idealism, it is necessary to reflect deeply enough to distinguish experience as consisting of these three components: subject, subject's representation of object, and object.

Schulze

Kant noted that a mental idea or representation must be a representation of something, and deduced that it is of something external to the mind. He gave the name of Ding an sich, or thing-in-itself to that which is represented. However, Gottlob Ernst Schulze wrote, anonymously, that the law of cause and effect only applies to the phenomena within the mind, not between those phenomena and any things-in-themselves outside the mind. That is, a thing-in-itself cannot be the cause of an idea or image of a thing in the mind. In this way, he discredited Kant's philosophy by using Kant's own reasoning to disprove the existence of a thing-in-itself.

Fichte

After Schulze had seriously criticized the notion of a thing-in-itself, Johann Gottlieb Fichte produced a philosophy similar to Kant's, but without a thing-in-itself. Fichte asserted that our representations, ideas, or mental images are merely the productions of our ego, or knowing subject. For him, there is no external thing-in-itself that produces the ideas. On the contrary, the knowing subject, or ego, is the cause of the external thing, object, or non-ego.

Fichte's style was a challenging exaggeration of Kant's already difficult writing. Also, Fichte claimed that his truths were apparent to intellectual, non-perceptual, intuition. That is, the truth can be immediately seen by the use of reason.

Schopenhauer, a student of Fichte's, wrote of him:

...Fichte who, because the thing-in-itself had just been discredited, at once prepared a system without any thing-in-itself. Consequently, he rejected the assumption of anything that was not through and through merely our representation, and therefore let the knowing subject be all in all or at any rate produce everything from its own resources. For this purpose, he at once did away with the essential and most meritorious part of the Kantian doctrine, the distinction between a priori and a posteriori and thus that between the phenomenon and the thing-in-itself. For he declared everything to be a priori, naturally without any proofs for such a monstrous assertion; instead of these, he gave sophisms and even crazy sham demonstrations whose absurdity was concealed under the mask of profundity and of the incomprehensibility ostensibly arising therefrom. Moreover, he appealed boldly and openly to intellectual intuition, that is, really to inspiration.

— Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, §13

Schelling[11] reacted against Kant's stringent limits.[12] "It was Kant’s criticism of all attempts to prove the existence of God which led to the romantic reaction of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel."[13] "Kant sets out to smash not only the proofs of God but the very foundations of Christian metaphysics, then turns around and 'postulates' God and the immortality of the soul, preparing the way for Fichte and idealism."[14]

In 1787, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi addressed, in his book On Faith, or Idealism and Realism, Kant's concept of "thing-in-itself". Jacobi agreed that the objective thing-in-itself cannot be directly known. However, he stated, it must be taken on belief. A subject must believe that there is a real object in the external world that is related to the representation or mental idea that is directly known. This belief is a result of revelation or immediately known, but logically unproved, truth. The real existence of a thing-in-itself is revealed or disclosed to the observing subject. In this way, the subject directly knows the ideal, subjective representations that appear in the mind, and strongly believes in the real, objective thing-in-itself that exists outside the mind. By presenting the external world as an object of belief, Jacobi legitimized belief. "…[B]y reducing the external world to a matter of faith, he wanted merely to open a little door for faith in general..."[15]

Reinhold

Karl Leonhard Reinhold published two volumes of Letters Con

Karl Leonhard Reinhold published two volumes of Letters Concerning the Kantian Philosophy in 1790 and 1792. They provided a clear explication of Kant's thoughts, which were previously inaccessible due to Kant's use of complex or technical language.

Reinhold also tried to prove Kant's assertion that humans and other animals can know only images that appear in their minds, never "things-in-themselves" (things that are not mere appearances in a mind). In order to establish his proof, Reinhold stated an axiom t

Reinhold also tried to prove Kant's assertion that humans and other animals can know only images that appear in their minds, never "things-in-themselves" (things that are not mere appearances in a mind). In order to establish his proof, Reinhold stated an axiom that could not possibly be doubted. From this axiom, all knowledge of consciousness could be deduced. His axiom was: "Representation is distinguished in consciousness by the subject from the subject and object, and is referred to both."

He thereby started, not from definitions, but, from a principle that referred to mental images or representations in a conscious mind. In this way, he analyzed knowledge into (1) the knowing subject, or observer, (2) the known object, and (3) the image or representation in the subject's mind. In order to understand transcendental idealism, it is necessary to reflect deeply enough to distinguish experience as consisting of these three components: subject, subject's representation of object, and object.

Kant noted that a mental idea or representation must be a representation of something, and deduced that it is of something external to the mind. He gave the name of Ding an sich, or thing-in-itself to that which is represented. However, Gottlob Ernst Schulze wrote, anonymously, that the law of cause and effect only applies to the phenomena within the mind, not between those phenomena and any things-in-themselves outside the mind. That is, a thing-in-itself cannot be the cause of an idea or image of a thing in the mind. In this way, he discredited Kant's philosophy by using Kant's own reasoning to disprove the existence of a thing-in-itself.

Fichte

After Schulze had seriously criticized the notion of a thing-in-itself, Johann Gottlieb Fichte produced a philosophy similar to Kant's, but without a thing-in-itself. Fichte asserted that our representations, ideas, or mental images are merely the productions of our ego, or knowing subject. For him, there is no external thing-in-itself that produces the ideas. On the contrary, the knowing subject, or ego, is the cause of the external thing, object, or non-ego.

Fichte's style was a challenging exaggeration of Kant's already difficult writing. Also, Fichte claimed that his truths were apparent to intellectual, non-perceptual, intuition. That is, the truth can be immediately seen by the use of reason.

Schopenhauer, a student of Fichte's, wrote of him: