• 18th Century philosophy was dominated by British empiricists (the theory that knowledge is gained through experience), with the key philosophers of this movement including Locke, Berkeley and Hume.
• Kant, Hegel and Fichte went on to develop a new kind of philosophy which shaped German Idealism.
• The subjectivist tendency which had begun with Descartes was continued to new extremes (knowledge and value are limited by subjective experience, or in more extreme form, the existence of every object depends on a person’s subjective awareness of it).
• Common characteristics in German idealism include critique of knowledge (this was strongly emphasized by Kant).
• There was an emphasis on mind over matter, which leads to the assumption that only mind exists.
• There was a rejection of utilitarian ethics.
• German idealism adopted a more scholastic tone which was not seen in early French and English philosophy.
• Similarities to the romantic movement.
Immanuel Kant (1724- 1804)
• Kant was born in the East Prussian city of Konigsberg, where he also studied at University.
• He worked at the University as a professor and a tutor for more than 40 years.
• Considered one of the greatest modern philosophers, his importance is easily recognisable.
• Kant is seen as the founder of German Idealism.
• He was influenced by Rousseau and Hume.
• Rousseau made more of an impact on Kant. Kant is said to have read ‘Emile’ several times in order to understand its matter because he claimed the beauty of Rousseau’s style to be distracting.
• Although he was brought up as a pietist (emphasis on piety, devotion and good Christian life), he was a Liberal in both politics and theology.
• He believed in democracy and had a love of freedom, exemplified in his saying; ‘There can be nothing more dreadful than that the actions of a man should be subject to the will of another.’
• Kant’s early works are much more scientific than philosophical. He wrote a theory on earthquakes and a treatise on wind. He had an interest in physical geography.
• The most important of his scientific writings was ‘General Natural History and the Theory of the Heavens,’ which was first published in 1755. Sets out the origin of the solar system, although some of it appears to be fantasy based with claims of life forms on every planet. It was not well supported scientifically.
• Following what seemed to be a current trend at the time, Kant also wrote a treatise on the sublime and the beautiful. Night is sublime, day is beautiful, the sea is sublime, the sky is beautiful and so on.
The Critique of Pure Reason
• Kant’s most important work was ‘The Critique of Pure Reason,’ first published in 1781.
• The purpose of this work is to attempt to explain that although our knowledge cannot excel our experience, it is in part a priori (an understanding derived by logic without facts).
• Kant goes onto explain that the part of our knowledge which is a priori, is not only defined by logic but also what cannot be included in logic or assumed from it.
• Kant highlights the differences between an analytic proposition and a synthetic proposition. The differences between a priori and empirical proposition were also outlined. An empirical proposition is knowledge gained from a sense of self perception, either our own or that of someone we trust. History, geography and the laws of science are of this sort.
• A priori proposition, though it is extracted from experience, it is usually drawn on from another experience.
Kant’s Theory of Space and Time
• Kant explained that objects of perception- things that we actually see- are due to both our own perception of them and external things.
• What appears to us in our perception (phenomenon) consists of two parts. The sensation- due to the object and the form of the phenomenon, that due to our perceptive apparatus. The latter part refers to a constant knowledge which we carry with us, and it is much like a priori in that it is not dependent on experience.
• In order to prove that space and time are a form of priori, Kant puts forward two types of argument; metaphysical (philosophical study of being and knowing), Kant looks at the nature of time and space) and epistemological/ transcendental (branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope, Kant looks at the possibility of pure mathematics).
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)
• Hegel was born in Stuttgart 1770
• Much of his work would never have existed if it were not for Kant, although he was often critical of Kant’s work.
• His influence has been great and not only in Germany. His philosophy of history deeply affected political theory.
• He taught philosophy at Jena and Nuremburg and went on to be a professor at Heidelberg, finally taught at Berlin.
• In his later life Hegel was a patriotic Prussian but in his youth he despised Prussia and strongly admired Napoleon.
• Hegel had an early interest in mysticism, which continued to inspire his belief in ‘the unreality of separateness.’ Looking at all the units which make up the world as a whole, Hegel ventured to say that each unit has a greater or lesser degree of reality. Its reality can only truly be viewed when looked at as a whole.
• This view leads to a disbelief in the reality of time and space, as they involve separateness and multiplicity.
• Hegel stated that real is rational and rational is real. However Hegel’s ‘real’ differs from that of an empiricist. He says that what an empiricist perceives to be fact must be irrational, facts can only become rational once viewed as a whole.
• ‘The whole’ which to me appears extremely complex, is described by Hegel as ‘the absolute.’ The absolute is spiritual.
• There are two things which distinguish Hegel from other men with a metaphysical outlook:
1. He places emphasis on logic
2. Dialectic (system of reasoning)- consisting of thesis, antithesis and synthesis
• Hegel sees logic to be the same thing as metaphysics (philosophical study of being and knowing), believes it to be self contradictory. For example the theory of Parmenides. Nothing can be spherical unless it has a boundary and it cannot have a boundary unless there is something outside of it, even if it empty space. So if one were to assume that the universe is spherical is would be self contradictory.
• The underlying assumption that nothing is true unless it is about reality as a whole still shows a basis in traditional logic. (see uncle example in Bertrand Russell)
• Everything except the Whole has a connection to outside things; this implies nothing true can be said about separate things. The Whole, which Hegel considered to be a unity, is the only thing which is real.
• The above is not directly specified in Hegel’s system but more so implied.
• ‘Reason is the conscious certainty of being all reality.’ A singular person on their own is not quite real, however their participation in reality as a whole is what defines them as real.
• The essence of the Absolute Idea is basically pure thought thinking about pure thought.