German idealism

German idealism (also known as post-Kantian idealism, post-Kantian philosophy, or simply post-Kantianism)[1] was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It began as a reaction to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. German idealism was closely linked with both Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment.

The most notable thinkers in the movement 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] Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Salomon Maimon and Friedrich Schleiermacher also made major contributions.

Meaning of idealism

The word "idealism" has multiple meanings. The philosophical meaning of idealism is that the properties we discover in objects depend on the way that those objects appear to us, as perceiving subjects. These properties only belong to the perceived appearance of the objects, and not something they possess "in themselves". The notion of a "thing in itself" should be understood here as an option of a set of functions for an operating mind, such that we consider something that appears without respect to the specific manner in which it appears. 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.


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[3]. 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.[4] 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 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. In his major work The World as Will and Representation he discusses his indebtedness to Kant, and the work includes Schopenhauer's extensive analysis of the Critique. 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,[5] where he is often recognized as a bridge between Hegel and Marx.[6]

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 had 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,[7] reacted against Kant's stringent limits.[8] "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."[9] "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." [10]



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..."[11]


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.


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.


After Schulze had seriously criticized the notion of a thing-in-itself, Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) 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 attempted to rescue theism from Kant's refutation of the proofs for God's existence. "Now the philosophy of Schelling from the first admitted the possibility of a knowledge of God, although it likewise started from the philosophy of Kant, which denies such knowledge." [12]

With regard to the experience of objects, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854) claimed that the Fichte's "I" needs the Not-I, because there is no subject without object, and vice versa. So the ideas or mental images in the mind are identical to the extended objects which are external to the mind. According to Schelling's "absolute identity" or "indifferentism", there is no difference between the subjective and the objective, that is, the ideal and the real.

In 1851, Arthur Schopenhauer criticized Schelling's absolute identity of the subjective and the objective, or of the ideal and the real. "...[E]verything that rare minds like Locke and Kant had separated after an incredible amount of reflection and judgment, was to be again poured into the pap of that absolute identity. For the teaching of those two thinkers [Locke and Kant] may be very appropriately described as the doctrine of the absolute diversity of the ideal and the real, or of the subjective and the objective."[13]


Friedrich Schleiermacher was a theologian who asserted that the ideal and the real are united in God. He understood the ideal as the subjective mental activities of thought, intellect, and reason. The real was, for him, the objective area of nature and physical being. Schleiermacher declared that the unity of the ideal and the real is manifested in God. The two divisions do not have a productive or causal effect on each other. Rather, they are both equally existent in the absolute transcendental entity which is God.


Salomon Maimon influenced German idealism by criticizing Kant's dichotomies, claiming that Kant did not explain how opposites such as sensibility and understanding could relate to each other.

Maimon claimed that the dualism between these faculties was analogous to the old Cartesian dualism between the mind and body, and that all the problems of the older dualism should hold mutatis mutandis for the new one. Such was the heterogeneity between understanding and sensibility, Maimon further argued, that there could be no criterion to determine how the concepts of the understanding apply to the intuitions of sensibility. By thus pointing out these problematic dualisms, Maimon and the neo-Humean critics left a foothold open for skepticism within the framework of Kant’s own philosophy. For now the question arose how two such heterogeneous realms as the intellectual and the sensible could be known to correspond with one another. The problem was no longer how we know that our representations correspond with things in themselves but how we know that a priori concepts apply to a posteriori intuitions.[14]

Schelling and Hegel, however, tried to solve this problem by claiming that opposites are absolutely identical. Maimon's concept of an infinite mind as the basis of all opposites was similar to the German idealistic attempt to rescue theism by positing an Absolute Mind or Spirit.

Maimon's metaphysical concept of "infinite mind" was similar to Fichte's "Ich" and Hegel's "Geist." Maimon ignored the results of Kant's criticism and returned to pre-Kantian transcendent speculation.

What characterizes Fichte’s, Schelling’s, and Hegel’s speculative idealism in contrast to Kant's critical idealism is the recurrence of metaphysical ideas from the rationalist tradition. What Kant forbade as a violation of the limits of human knowledge, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel saw as a necessity of the critical philosophy itself. Now Maimon was the crucial figure behind this transformation. By reviving metaphysical ideas from within the problematic of the critical philosophy, he gave them a new legitimacy and opened up the possibility for a critical resurrection of metaphysics.[15]

Maimon is said to have Influenced Hegel's writing on Spinoza. "[T]here seems to be a striking similarity between Maimon’s discussion of Spinoza in the Lebensgeschichte (Maimon's autobiography) and Hegel’s discussion of Spinoza in the Lectures in the History of Philosophy."[16]


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) was a German philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. Hegel responded to Kant's philosophy by suggesting that the unsolvable contradictions given by Kant in his Antinomies of Pure Reason applied not only to the four areas Kant gave (world as infinite vs. finite, material as composite vs. atomic, etc.) but in all objects and conceptions, notions and ideas. To know this he suggested makes a "vital part in a philosophical theory."[17] Given that abstract thought is thus limited, he went on to consider how historical formations give rise to different philosophies and ways of thinking. For Hegel, thought fails when it is only given as an abstraction and is not united with considerations of historical reality. In his major work The Phenomenology of Spirit he went on to trace the formation of self-consciousness through history and the importance of other people in the awakening of self-consciousness (see master-slave dialectic). Thus Hegel introduces two important ideas to metaphysics and philosophy: the integral importance of history and of the Other person. His work is theological in that it replaces the traditional concept of God with that of an Absolute Spirit.[18][19] Spinoza, who changed the anthropomorphic concept of God into that of an abstract, vague, underlying Substance, was praised by Hegel whose concept of Absolute fulfilled a similar function. Hegel claimed that "You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all".[20] Reality results from God's thinking, according to Hegel. Objects that appear to a spectator originate in God's mind.[21]



Neo-Kantianism refers broadly to a revived type of philosophy along the lines of that laid down by Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, or more specifically by Schopenhauer's criticism of the Kantian philosophy in his work The World as Will and Representation (1818), as well as by other post-Kantian philosophers such as Jakob Friedrich Fries and Johann Friedrich Herbart. It has some more specific reference in later German philosophy.


Hegel was hugely influential throughout the nineteenth century; by its end, according to Bertrand Russell, "the leading academic philosophers, both in America and Britain, were largely Hegelian".[22] His influence has continued in contemporary philosophy but mainly in Continental philosophy.


Arthur Schopenhauer contended that Spinoza had a great influence on post-Kantian German idealists.[23] Schopenhauer wrote: "In consequence of Kant's criticism of all speculative theology, almost all the philosophizers in Germany cast themselves back on to Spinoza, so that the whole series of unsuccessful attempts known by the name of post-Kantian philosophy is simply Spinozism tastelessly got up, veiled in all kinds of unintelligible language, and otherwise twisted and distorted."[24]

According to Schopenhauer, Kant's original philosophy, with its refutation of all speculative theology, had been transformed by the German Idealists. Through the use of his technical terms, such as "transcendental," "transcendent," "reason," "intelligibility," and "thing-in-itself" they attempted to speak of what exists beyond experience and, in this way, to revive the notions of God, free will, and immortality of soul. Kant had effectively relegated these ineffable notions to faith and belief.[25]

British idealism

In England, during the nineteenth century, philosopher Thomas Hill Green embraced German Idealism in order to salvage Christian monotheism as a basis for morality. His philosophy attempted to account for an eternal consciousness or mind that was similar to Berkeley's concept of God and Hegel's Absolute. John Rodman, in the introduction to his book on Thomas Hill Green's political theory, wrote: "Green is best seen as an exponent of German idealism as an answer to the dilemma posed by the discrediting of Christianity…."[26]

United States

"German idealism was initially introduced to the broader community of American literati through a Vermont intellectual, James Marsh. Studying theology with Moses Stuart at Andover Seminary in the early 1820s, Marsh sought a Christian theology that would 'keep alive the heart in the head.' "[27] Some American theologians and churchmen found value in German Idealism's theological concept of the infinite Absolute Ideal or Geist [Spirit]. It provided a religious alternative to the traditional Christian concept of the Deity.[28] "…[P]ost–Kantian idealism can certainly be viewed as a religious school of thought…."[29] The Absolute Ideal Weltgeist [World Spirit] was invoked by American ministers as they "turned to German idealism in the hope of finding comfort against English positivism and empiricism."[30] German idealism was a substitute for religion after the Civil War when "Americans were drawn to German idealism because of a 'loss of faith in traditional cosmic explanations.' "[31] "By the early 1870s, the infiltration of German idealism was so pronounced that Walt Whitman declared in his personal notes that 'Only Hegel is fit for America — is large enough and free enough.' "[32]

Ortega y Gasset

According to José Ortega y Gasset,[33] with Post-Kantian German Idealism, "…never before has a lack of truthfulness played such a large and important role in philosophy." "They did whatever they felt like doing with concepts. As if by magic they changed anything into any other thing." According to Ortega y Gasset, "…the basic force behind their work was not strictly and exclusively the desire for truth…." Ortega y Gasset quoted Schopenhauer's Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume II, in which Schopenhauer wrote that Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel forgot "the fact that one can feel an authentic and bitter seriousness" for philosophy. Schopenhauer, in Ortega y Gasset's quote, hoped that philosophers like those three men could learn "true and fruitful seriousness, such that the problem of existence would capture the thinker and bestir his innermost being."

George Santayana

George Santayana had strongly-held opinions regarding this attempt to overcome the effects of Kant's transcendental idealism.

German Idealism, when we study it as a product of its own age and country, is a most engaging phenomenon; it is full of afflatus, sweep, and deep searchings of the heart; but it is essentially romantic and egoistical, and all in it that is not soliloquy is mere system-making and sophistry. Therefore when it is taught by unromantic people ex cathedra, in stentorian tones, and represented as the rational foundation of science and religion, with neither of which it has any honest sympathy, it becomes positively odious – one of the worst impostures and blights to which a youthful imagination could be subjected.

— George Santayana, Winds of Doctrine, IV, i.

G. E. Moore

In the first sentence of his The Refutation of Idealism, G. E. Moore wrote: "Modern Idealism, if it asserts any general conclusion about the universe at all, asserts that it is spiritual," by which he means "that the whole universe possesses all the qualities the possession of which is held to make us so superior to things which seem to be inanimate." He does not directly confront this conclusion, and instead focuses on what he considers the distinctively Idealist premise that "esse is percipere" or that to be is to be perceived. He analyzes this idea and considers it to conflate ideas or be contradictory.

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek sees German Idealism as the pinnacle of modern philosophy, and as a tradition that contemporary philosophy must recapture: "[T]here is a unique philosophical moment in which philosophy appears 'as such' and which serves as a key—as the only key—to reading the entire preceding and following tradition as philosophy... This moment is the moment of German Idealism..."[34]:7–8

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt stated that Immanuel Kant distinguished between Vernunft ("reason") and Verstand ("intellect"): these two categories are equivalents of "the urgent need of" reason, and the "mere quest and desire for knowledge". Differentiating between reason and intellect, or the need to reason and the quest for knowledge, as Kant has done, according to Arendt "coincides with a distinction between two altogether different mental activities, thinking and knowing, and two altogether different concerns, meaning, in the first category, and cognition, in the second".[35] These ideas were also developed by Kantian philosopher, Wilhelm Windelband, in his discussion of the approaches to knowledge named "nomothetic" and "idiographic".

Kant's insight to start differentiating between approaches to knowledge that attempt to understand meaning (derived from reason), on the one hand, and to derive laws (on which knowledge is based), on the other, started to make room for "speculative thought" (which in this case, is not seen as a negative aspect, but rather an indication that knowledge and the effort to derive laws to explain objective phenomena has been separated from thinking). This new-found room for "speculative thought" (reason, or thinking) touched-off the rise of German idealism.[36] However, the new-found "speculative thought", reason or thinking of German idealism "again became a field for a new brand of specialists committed to the notion that philosophy's 'subject proper' is 'the actual knowledge of what truly is'. Liberated by Kant from the old school of dogmatism and its sterile exercises, they erected not only new systems but a new 'science' - the original title of the greatest of their works, Hegel's Phenomenology of the mind, was Science of the experience of consciousness - eagerly blurring Kant's distinction between reason's concern with the unknowable and the intellect's concern with cognition. Pursuing the Cartesian ideal of certainty as though Kant had never existed, they believed in all earnest that the results of their speculations possessed the same kind of validity as the results of cognitive processes".[36]

See also

People associated with the movement


  1. ^ Terry Pinkard, German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 217.
  2. ^ Frederick C. Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781-1801, Harvard University Press, 2002, p. viii: "the young romantics—Hölderlin, Schlegel, Novalis—[were] crucial figures in the development of German idealism."
  3. ^ Dudley, Will. Understanding German Idealism. pp. 3–6. ISBN 9781844653935.
  4. ^ The German Idealists did not take "…Kant’s advice that we should not engage with concepts of which we can have no experience (instances of this are Fichte’s Absolute I, Schelling’s Absolute, and Hegel’s Geist)…." ("Fichte: Kantian or Spinozian? Three Interpretations of the Absolute I," Alexandre Guilherme, South African Journal of Philosophy, 2010, vol. 29 number 1, p. 14)
  5. ^ Nicholas Churchich, Marxism and Alienation, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990, p. 57: "Although Marx has rejected Feuerbach's abstract materialism," Lenin says that Feuerbach's views "are consistently materialist," implying that Feuerbach's conception of causality is entirely in line with dialectical materialism."
  6. ^ Harvey, Van A., "Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
  7. ^ "[Fichte], like both Schelling and Hegel, the other leading Idealist philosophers,...began as a student of theology…." Green, Garrett. "Introduction," Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation, by J.G. Fichte, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978, p. i, Note.
  8. ^ "Fichte (and the other absolute Idealists) have disregarded Kant’s advice that we should not engage with concepts of which we can have no experience (instances of this are Fichte’s Absolute I, Schelling’s Absolute, and Hegel’s Geist)…." "Fichte: Kantian or Spinozian? Three Interpretations of the Absolute I" by Alexandre Guilherme, Durham University, South African Journal of Philosophy, (2010), Volume 29, Number 1, p. 14.
  9. ^ Karl Popper (1945), The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume 2, Chapter 11, II, p. 21.
  10. ^ The Portable Nietzsche, translated with an introduction by Walter Kaufmann, "Introduction," V, p. 17, Penguin Books, New York, (1982).
  11. ^ Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 2, Ch. I
  12. ^ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Section Three: "Recent German Philosophy," D. "Schelling"
  13. ^ Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, "Fragments for the History of Philosophy," § 13
  14. ^ The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, Edited by Karl Ameriks (2000), Chapter I, Frederick C. Beiser, "The Enlightenment and idealism," , Section V, "The meta-critical campaign," page 28
  15. ^ Frederick C. Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte, Chapter 10, "Maimon’s Critical Philosophy," page 287, Harvard University Press, 1987.
  16. ^ "Salomon Maimon and the Rise of Spinozism in German Idealism," Yitzhaky Melamed, Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 42, no. 1 (2004) 67–96
  17. ^ Hegel, "The Science of Logic" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences (1817-1830)
  18. ^ "[T]he task that touches the interest of philosophy most nearly at the present moment: to put God back at the peak of philosophy, absolutely prior to all else as the one and only ground of everything." (Hegel, "How the Ordinary Human Understanding Takes Philosophy as displayed in the works of Mr. Krug," Kritisches Journal der Philosophie, I, no. 1, 1802, pages 91-115)
  19. ^ "The Hegelian philosophy is the last grand attempt to restore a lost and defunct Christianity through philosophy…. [Die Hegelsche Philosophie ist der letzte großartige Versuch, das verlorene, untergegangene Christentum durch die Philosophie wieder herzustellen]" (Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future [Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft (1843)], § 21)
  20. ^ Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Section 2, Chapter 1, A2. Spinoza. General Criticism of Spinoza's Philosophy, Second Point of View (cf. paragraph beginning with "The second point to be considered…")
  21. ^ "…the deepest fact about the nature of reality is that it is a product of God’s thought.… Hegel even goes so far as to claim that the fact that objects appear to human beings in a particular way, as phenomena, is a reflection of the essential nature of those objects and of their origin in a divine intelligence rather than in our own." (The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, edited by Karl Ameriks: Chapter 2, "Absolute idealism and the rejection of Kantian dualism" by Paul Guyer, Section I, "Hegel on the sources of Kantian dualism")
  22. ^ Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy.
  23. ^ "Spinoza’s influence on German Idealism was remarkable. He was both a challenge and inspiration for the three major figures of this movement (footnote: A very detailed examination of Spinoza’s influence on German Idealism is given in Jean-Marie Vaysse’s Totalité et Subjectivité: Spinoza dans l’Idéalisme Allemand. ). Hegel, Schelling and Fichte all sought to define their own philosophical positions in relation to his." (Bela Egyed, "Spinoza, Schopenhauer and the Standpoint of Affirmation," PhaenEx 2, no. 1 (spring/summer 2007): 110-131)
  24. ^ Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 2, Ch. 50
  25. ^ "In order to have insight into the existence of God, freedom, and immortality, speculative reason must use principles that are intended merely for objects of possible experience. If the principles are applied to God, freedom, and immortality, which cannot be objects of experience, the principles would always treat these three notions as though they were mere phenomena [appearances]. This would render the practicality of pure reason impossible. Therefore, I had to abandon knowledge in order to make room for faith." Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B xxx.
  26. ^ John Rodman, The Political Theory of T. H. Green, New York: Appleton Century–Crofts, 1964, "Introduction"
  27. ^ James Marsh, as quoted by James A. Good (2002) in volume 2 of his The early American reception of German idealism, p. 43.
  28. ^ “The Absolute or World Spirit was easily identified with the God of Christianity….”, (Morton White (Ed.) The Mentor Philosophers: The Age of Analysis: twentieth century philosophers, Houghton Mifflin, 1955, Chapter 1, “The Decline and Fall of the Absolute”)
  29. ^ James Allan Good, A search for unity in diversity, in James Allan Good (editor), The Early American Reception of German Idealism (Volume 2 of 5), Bristol: Thoemmes Press 2002, ISBN 1-85506-992-X, p. 83
  30. ^ Herbert Schneider, History of American philosophy (2nd edition), New York: Columbia University Press, 1963, p. 376.
  31. ^ Lawrence Dowler, The New Idealism, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, 1974, p. 13, as quoted in James Allan Good, A search for unity in diversity, p. 83.
  32. ^ Walt Whitman, The complete writings, vol. 9, p. 170, as quoted in James A. Good (2005), A search for unity in diversity, ch. 2, p. 57
  33. ^ José Ortega y Gasset, Phenomenology and Art, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1975, ISBN 0-393-08714-X, "Preface for Germans," p. 48 ff.
  34. ^ Žižek, Slavoj (2012). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. Verso. ISBN 9781844678976.
  35. ^ Arendt, Hannah (1978). The life of the mind. One / thinking. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 14.
  36. ^ a b Arendt, Hannah (1978). The life of the mind. One / thinking. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 15 to 16.


  • Karl Ameriks (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-521-65695-5.
  • Frederick C. Beiser, German Idealism. The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781-1801. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.
  • James Allan Good, A search for unity in diversity: The "permanent Hegelian deposit" in the philosophy of John Dewey. Lanham: Lexington Books 2006. ISBN 0-7391-1360-7.
  • Pinkard, Terry (2002). German Philosophy 1760–1860: The Legacy of Idealism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521663816.
  • Josiah Royce, Lectures on Modern Idealism. New Haven: Yale University Press 1967.
  • Solomon, R., and K. Higgins, (eds). 1993. Routledge History of Philosophy, Vol. VI: The Age of German Idealism. New York: Routledge.
  • Tommaso Valentini, I fondamenti della libertà in J.G. Fichte. Studi sul primato del pratico, Presentazione di Armando Rigobello, Editori Riuniti University Press, Roma 2012. ISBN 978-88-6473-072-1.

External links

Absolute idealism

Absolute idealism is an ontologically monistic philosophy "chiefly associated with Friedrich Schelling and G. W. F. Hegel, both German idealist philosophers of the 19th century, Josiah Royce, an American philosopher, and others, but, in its essentials, the product of Hegel". It is Hegel's account of how being is ultimately comprehensible as an all-inclusive whole (das Absolute). Hegel asserted that in order for the thinking subject (human reason or consciousness) to be able to know its object (the world) at all, there must be in some sense an identity of thought and being. Otherwise, the subject would never have access to the object and we would have no certainty about any of our knowledge of the world. To account for the differences between thought and being, however, as well as the richness and diversity of each, the unity of thought and being cannot be expressed as the abstract identity "A=A". Absolute idealism is the attempt to demonstrate this unity using a new "speculative" philosophical method, which requires new concepts and rules of logic. According to Hegel, the absolute ground of being is essentially a dynamic, historical process of necessity that unfolds by itself in the form of increasingly complex forms of being and of consciousness, ultimately giving rise to all the diversity in the world and in the concepts with which we think and make sense of the world.The absolute idealist position dominated philosophy in nineteenth-century England and Germany, while exerting significantly less influence in the United States. The absolute idealist position should be distinguished from the subjective idealism of Berkeley, the transcendental idealism of Kant, or the post-Kantian transcendental idealism (also known as critical idealism) of Fichte and of the early Schelling.

Continental philosophy

Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism (and its antecedents, such as the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, French feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism.It is difficult to identify non-trivial claims that would be common to all the preceding philosophical movements. The term continental philosophy, like analytic philosophy, lacks clear definition and may mark merely a family resemblance across disparate philosophical views. Simon Glendinning has suggested that the term was originally more pejorative than descriptive, functioning as a label for types of western philosophy rejected or disliked by analytic philosophers. Nonetheless, Michael E. Rosen has ventured to identify common themes that typically characterize continental philosophy.

First, continental philosophers generally reject the view that the natural sciences are the only or most accurate way of understanding natural phenomena. This contrasts with many analytic philosophers who consider their inquiries as continuous with, or subordinate to, those of the natural sciences. Continental philosophers often argue that science depends upon a "pre-theoretical substrate of experience" (a version of Kantian conditions of possible experience or the phenomenological "lifeworld") and that scientific methods are inadequate to fully understand such conditions of intelligibility.

Second, continental philosophy usually considers these conditions of possible experience as variable: determined at least partly by factors such as context, space and time, language, culture, or history. Thus continental philosophy tends toward historicism (or historicity). Where analytic philosophy tends to treat philosophy in terms of discrete problems, capable of being analyzed apart from their historical origins (much as scientists consider the history of science inessential to scientific inquiry), continental philosophy typically suggests that "philosophical argument cannot be divorced from the textual and contextual conditions of its historical emergence".

Third, continental philosophy typically holds that human agency can change these conditions of possible experience: "if human experience is a contingent creation, then it can be recreated in other ways". Thus continental philosophers tend to take a strong interest in the unity of theory and practice, and often see their philosophical inquiries as closely related to personal, moral, or political transformation. This tendency is very clear in the Marxist tradition ("philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it"), but is also central in existentialism and post-structuralism.

A final characteristic trait of continental philosophy is an emphasis on metaphilosophy. In the wake of the development and success of the natural sciences, continental philosophers have often sought to redefine the method and nature of philosophy. In some cases (such as German idealism or phenomenology), this manifests as a renovation of the traditional view that philosophy is the first, foundational, a priori science. In other cases (such as hermeneutics, critical theory, or structuralism), it is held that philosophy investigates a domain that is irreducibly cultural or practical. And some continental philosophers (such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, the later Heidegger, or Derrida) doubt whether any conception of philosophy can coherently achieve its stated goals.Ultimately, the foregoing themes derive from a broadly Kantian thesis that knowledge, experience, and reality are bound and shaped by conditions best understood through philosophical reflection rather than exclusively empirical inquiry.

David Farrell Krell

David Farrell Krell (born 1944), is an American philosopher. He is Professor Emeritus of philosophy at DePaul University. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy at Duquesne University, where he wrote his dissertation on Heidegger and Nietzsche. He has taught at many universities in Germany, France, and England. Specializing in Continental Philosophy, he has written many books on Heidegger and Nietzsche, including Daimon Life: Heidegger and Life Philosophy (1992), Intimations of Mortality: Time, Truth, and Finitude in Heidegger's Thinking of Being (1986), The Good European: Nietzsche's Work Sites in Word and Image (1997), and Infectious Nietzsche (1996). Additionally, Krell has written extensively about German Idealism, his books in this area include The Tragic Absolute: German Idealism and the Languishing of God (2005), and Contagion: Sexuality, Disease, and Death in German Idealism and Romanticism (Indiana, 1998). Krell has also translated Heidegger's lectures on Nietzsche, and was the editor of Heidegger's Basic Writings (1977). In a 2005 interview, Krell cited Jacques Derrida as a major influence on his work on Nietzsche.

Frederick C. Beiser

Frederick Charles Beiser (; born November 27, 1949) is an American author and professor of philosophy at Syracuse University. He is one of the leading English language scholars of German Idealism. In addition to his writings on German Idealism, Beiser has also written on the German Romantics and 19th-century British philosophy. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his research in 1994, and was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2015.

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (German: [ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈjoːzɛf ˈʃɛlɪŋ]; 27 January 1775 – 20 August 1854), later (after 1812) von Schelling, was a German philosopher. Standard histories of philosophy make him the midpoint in the development of German idealism, situating him between Johann Gottlieb Fichte, his mentor in his early years, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, his former university roommate, early friend, and later rival. Interpreting Schelling's philosophy is regarded as difficult because of its evolving nature.

Schelling's thought in the large has been neglected, especially in the English-speaking world. An important factor was the ascendancy of Hegel, whose mature works portray Schelling as a mere footnote in the development of idealism. Schelling's Naturphilosophie also has been attacked by scientists for its analogizing tendency and lack of empirical orientation. However, some later philosophers have shown interest in re-examining Schelling's body of work.

German Romanticism

German Romanticism was the dominant intellectual movement of German-speaking countries in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, influencing philosophy, aesthetics, literature and criticism. Compared to English Romanticism, the German variety developed relatively late, and, in the early years, coincided with Weimar Classicism (1772–1805). In contrast to the seriousness of English Romanticism, the German variety of Romanticism notably valued wit, humour, and beauty.

The early period, roughly 1797 to 1802, is referred to as Frühromantik or Jena Romanticism. The philosophers and writers central to the movement were Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder (1773–1798), Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854), Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829), August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767–1845), Ludwig Tieck (1773–1853), and Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis) (1772–1801).The early German romantics strove to create a new synthesis of art, philosophy, and science, by viewing the Middle Ages as a simpler period of integrated culture; however, the German romantics became aware of the tenuousness of the cultural unity they sought. Late-stage German Romanticism emphasized the tension between the daily world and the irrational and supernatural projections of creative genius. In particular, the critic Heinrich Heine criticized the tendency of the early German romantics to look to the medieval past for a model of unity in art and society.

German philosophy

German philosophy, here taken to mean either (1) philosophy in the German language or (2) philosophy by Germans, has been extremely diverse, and central to both the analytic and continental traditions in philosophy for centuries, from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz through Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein to contemporary philosophers. Søren Kierkegaard (a Danish philosopher) is frequently included in surveys of German (or Germanic) philosophy due to his extensive engagement with German thinkers.

Intersubjective psychoanalysis

The term "intersubjectivity" was introduced to psychoanalysis by George Atwood and Robert Stolorow (1984), who consider it a "meta-theory" of psychoanalysis. Intersubjective psychoanalysis suggests that all interactions must be considered contextually; interactions between the patient/analyst or child/parent cannot be seen as separate from each other, but rather must be considered always as mutually influencing each other. This philosophical concept dates back to "German Idealism" and phenomenology.

James F. Conant

James Ferguson Conant (born June 10, 1958) is an American philosopher who has written extensively on topics in philosophy of language, ethics, and metaphilosophy. He is perhaps best known for his writings on Wittgenstein, and his association with the New Wittgenstein school of Wittgenstein interpretation initiated by Cora Diamond. He is currently Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor in the College at the University of Chicago, he is Humboldt Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Analytic German Idealism (FAGI) at the University of Leipzig. He is also Director of the Center for German Philosophy at the University of Chicago. Under his leadership, these two research centers form the main axis of an international philosophical network, spanning Germany, Israel and the United States.

Jena Romanticism

Jena Romanticism (German: Jenaer Romantik; also the Jena Romantics or Early Romanticism (Frühromantik)) is the first phase of Romanticism in German literature represented by the work of a group centred in Jena from about 1798 to 1804. The movement is considered to have contributed to the development of German idealism in late modern philosophy.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (; German: [ˈjoːhan ˈɡɔtliːp ˈfɪçtə]; 19 May 1762 – 27 January 1814) was a German philosopher who became a founding figure of the philosophical movement known as German idealism, which developed from the theoretical and ethical writings of Immanuel Kant. Recently, philosophers and scholars have begun to appreciate Fichte as an important philosopher in his own right due to his original insights into the nature of self-consciousness or self-awareness. Fichte was also the originator of thesis–antithesis–synthesis, an idea that is often erroneously attributed to Hegel. Like Descartes and Kant before him, Fichte was motivated by the problem of subjectivity and consciousness. Fichte also wrote works of political philosophy; he has a reputation as one of the fathers of German nationalism.


Naturphilosophie (German for "nature-philosophy") is a term used in English-language philosophy to identify a current in the philosophical tradition of German idealism, as applied to the study of nature in the earlier 19th century. German speakers use the clearer term Romantische Naturphilosophie, the philosophy of nature developed at the time of the founding of German Romanticism. It is particularly associated with the philosophical work of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel—though it has some clear precursors also. More particularly it is identified with some of the initial works of Schelling during the period 1797–9, in reaction to the views of Fichte, and subsequent developments from Schelling's position. Always controversial, some of Schelling's ideas in this direction are still considered of philosophical interest, even if the subsequent development of experimental natural science had a destructive impact on the credibility of the theories of his followers in Naturphilosophie.Naturphilosophie attempted to comprehend nature in its totality and to outline its general theoretical structure, thus attempting to lay the foundations for the natural sciences. In developing their theories, the German Naturphilosophen found their inspiration in the natural philosophy of the Ancient Greek Ionian philosophers.

As an approach to philosophy and science, Naturphilosophie has had a difficult reception. In Germany, neo-Kantians came to distrust its developments as speculative and overly metaphysical. For most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was poorly understood in Anglophone countries. Over the years, it has been subjected to continuing criticism. Since the 1960s, improved translations have appeared, and scholars have developed a better appreciation of the objectives of Naturphilosophie.

Objective idealism

Objective idealism is an idealistic metaphysics that postulates that there is in an important sense only one perceiver, and that this perceiver is one with that which is perceived. One important advocate of such a metaphysics, Josiah Royce (the founder of American idealism), wrote that he was indifferent "whether anybody calls all this Theism or Pantheism". It is distinct from the subjective idealism of George Berkeley, and it abandons the thing-in-itself of Kant's dualism.

Pantheism controversy

The pantheism controversy (German: Pantheismusstreit) was an event in German cultural history that lasted between 1785–1789 which had an effect throughout Europe.

At the dawn of the first remarkable Spinoza revival in history, the break of the Pantheismusstreit marked the moment in which Baruch Spinoza's radical thinking moved from the clandestine underground to the center of the public debate and Spinoza's impact on Western thinking became public.

Philosophical Inquiries into the Essence of Human Freedom

Philosophical Inquiries into the Essence of Human Freedom (German: Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit und die damit zusammenhängenden Gegenstände) is an 1809 work by Friedrich Schelling. It was the last book he finished in his lifetime, running to some 90 pages of a single long essay. It is commonly referred to as his "Freiheitsschrift" (freedom text) or "freedom essay".

Described by Hans Urs von Balthasar as "the most titanic work of German idealism", it is also seen as anticipating much of the collection of basic existentialist motifs. Its ambitions were high: to tackle the problem of radical evil, and to innovate at a metaphysical level, in particular to correct dualism. As its title suggests, it intends to give an account of human freedom, and the requirements on the philosophical side to protect this idea from particular formulations, at issue during the period, of determinism.

The Oldest Systematic Program of German Idealism

"The Oldest Systematic Program of German Idealism" (German: Das älteste Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus) is a 1796/97 essay of unknown authorship. The document was first published (in German) by Franz Rosenzweig in 1917.

Timeline of German idealism

The following is a list of the major events in the history of German idealism, along with related historical events.

Transcendental idealism

Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant's doctrine maintains that human experience of things is similar to the way they appear to us—implying a fundamentally subject-based component, rather than being an activity that directly (and therefore without any obvious causal link) comprehends the things as they are in themselves. The doctrine is most commonly presented as the idea that time and space are just human perceptions; they are not necessarily real concepts, just a medium through which humans internalize the universe.

Young Marx

Some theorists consider Karl Marx's thought to be divided into a "young" period and a "mature" one. There is disagreement to when Marx's thought began to mature and the problem of the idea of a "Young Marx" is the problem of tracking the development of Marx's works and of its possible unity. The problem thus centres on Marx's transition from philosophy to economics, which has been considered by orthodox Marxism as a progressive change towards scientific socialism. However, this positivist reading has been challenged by Marxist theorists as well as members of the New Left. They pointed out the humanist side in Marx's work and how he in his early writings focused on liberation from wage slavery and freedom from alienation, that they claimed was a forgotten element of Marx's writings and central to understanding his later work.Étienne Balibar argues that Marx's works cannot be divided into "economic works" (Das Kapital), "philosophical works" and "historical works" (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon or the 1871 The Civil War in France). Marx's philosophy is inextricably linked to his critique of political economy and to his historical interventions in the workers' movement, such as the 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program: the problematic is also related to Marx's rupture with university and its teachings concerning German idealism and his encounter with the proletariat, leading him to write along with Friedrich Engels The Communist Manifesto a year before the Revolutions of 1848. Marxism's philosophical roots were commonly explained (for example by Vladimir Lenin) as derived from three sources: English political economy; French utopian socialism, republicanism and radicalism; and German idealist philosophy. Although this "three sources" model is an oversimplification, it still has some measure of truth.

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