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  • understanding german idealism

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  • Understanding Movements in Modern ThoughtSeries Editor: Jack Reynolds

    This series provides short, accessible and lively introductions to themajor schools, movements and traditions in philosophy and the his-tory of ideas since the beginning of the Enlightenment. All books in the series are written for undergraduates meeting the subject for thefirst time.


    Understanding EmpiricismRobert G. Meyers

    Understanding ExistentialismJack Reynolds

    Understanding German IdealismWill Dudley

    Understanding HegelianismRobert Sinnerbrink

    Understanding HermeneuticsLawrence K. Schmidt

    Understanding PhenomenologyDavid R. Cerbone

    Understanding PoststructuralismJames Williams

    Understanding UtilitarianismTim Mulgan

    Understanding Virtue EthicsStan van Hooft

    Forthcoming titles include

    Understanding EthicsTim Chappell

    Understanding FeminismPeta Bowden and Jane Mummery

    Understanding NaturalismJack Ritchie

    Understanding PragmatismAxel Mueller

    Understanding PsychoanalysisJoanne Faulkner and Matthew Sharpe

    Understanding RationalismCharlie Huenemann

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  • understanding german idealism

    Will Dudley


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  • Will Dudley, 2007

    This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.No reproduction without permission.All rights reserved.

    First published in 2007 by AcumenReprinted in 2008

    Acumen Publishing LimitedStocksfield HallStocksfieldNE43

    ISBN 978-1-84465-095-8 (hardcover)ISBN 978-1-84465-096-5 (paperback)

    British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

    Typeset by Graphicraft Limited, Hong Kong.Printed and bound by Antony Rowe Limited, Chippenham, Wiltshire

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  • For Janette, who wanted to know, before she agreed to marryme, why German Idealism matters

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  • contents vii


    Acknowledgements viiiAbbreviations ix

    1 Introduction: modernity, rationality and freedom 1

    2 Kant: transcendental idealism 11

    3 Sceptical challenges and the development of transcendental idealism 46

    4 Fichte: towards a scientific and systematic idealism 70

    5 Schelling: idealism and the absolute 106

    6 Hegel: systematic philosophy without foundations 140

    7 Conclusion: rationality, freedom and modernity? 183

    Questions for discussion and revision 196Further reading 198References 201Chronology 204Index 206

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  • viii understanding german idealism


    I am indebted and grateful to many people for their help with myefforts to write an accurate and accessible introduction to GermanIdealism. The students who took my course on this material in 2005generously alerted me whenever my explanations were insufficientlyclear, and raised excellent questions that indicated where more workneeded to be done. The Oakley Center for the Humanities and SocialSciences at Williams College provided funding that supported areduced teaching load for one semester and hosted a seminar in whicha complete draft of my manuscript was read and discussed. The parti-cipants in that seminar Melissa Barry, Stuart Crampton, Joe Cruz,Blake Emerson and Alan White made innumerable suggestions thatled to significant improvements in the text. Earl and Louise Dudley(my parents) and Isaac Dietzel (my former student) also read the entirework and offered many valuable comments. Blake Emerson and BenEchols served as research assistants during the final push to revise andcomplete the manuscript.

    I also owe a general debt to those who have taught me the most aboutGerman Idealism: Alan White, John McCumber, Stephen Houlgateand Robert Pippin. And, finally, I want to thank my family Janette,Cole, and Ella Dudley for sustaining me in this project and all else.

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  • abbreviations ix


    Note: Full details of these works are given in the References.

    FichteCC Concerning the Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre (1988)FNR Foundations of Natural Right (2000)R Review of Aenesidemus (2000)SE The System of Ethics (2005)SK The Science of Knowledge (1982)

    HegelD The Difference Between Fichtes and Schellings System of

    Philosophy (1977)E The Encyclopedia Logic (1991)FK Faith and Knowledge (1977)ILPR Introduction to the Lectures on the History of Philosophy

    (1985)IPH Introduction to the Philosophy of History (1988)LPR Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, I (1974); one-volume

    edition(1988); III (1985)PhenS Phenomenology of Spirit (1977)PhilS Philosophy of Spirit. See: Philosophy of Mind (1971)PN Philosophy of Nature (1970)PR Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1991)

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  • x understanding german idealism

    S On the Relationship of Skepticism to Philosophy: Expositionof its Different Modifications and Comparison of the LatestForm with the Ancient One (2000)

    SL Science of Logic (1989)

    HumeTHN A Treatise of Human Nature (2000)

    JacobiCDS Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza in Letters to Herr

    Mendelssohn (1984)DHF David Hume on Faith (1994)OTI On Transcendental Idealism (1994)

    KantCPJ Critique of the Power of Judgment (2000)CPR Critique of Pure Reason (1998)CPrR Critique of Practical Reason (1996)G Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1996)P Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will be Able to

    Come Forward As Science (2002)

    ReinholdFPK The Foundation of Philosophical Knowledge (2000)

    SchellingINHF Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom

    (1936)IPN Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1988)OSPN First Outline of a System of Philosophy of Nature (2004)PL Philosophical Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism (1980)STI System of Transcendental Idealism (1978)UHK Of the I as the Principle of Philosophy, or, On the Uncon-

    ditional in Human Knowledge (1980)

    SchulzeA Aenesidemus (2000)

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  • introduction: modernity, rationality and freedom 1


    Introduction: modernity, rationality and freedom

    German Idealism emerged in 1781, with the publication of KantsCritique of Pure Reason, and ended fifty years later, with Hegels death.The intervening half-century was without question one of the mostimportant and influential in the history of philosophy. The thinkers of this period, and the themes they developed, revolutionized everyarea of philosophy, and had an impact that continues to be felt acrossthe humanities and social sciences. Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel the four most important German Idealists paved the way for Marxand Kierkegaard, phenomenology and existentialism, critical theoryand poststructuralism, and in doing so left a mark that remains highly visible in contemporary social and political theory, religious studiesand aesthetics. Reactions to German Idealism, especially those of theneo-Kantians, logical positivists and Bertrand Russell, were also instru-mental in the founding of analytic philosophy, which today reveals and benefits from an increasingly sophisticated appreciation of theEuropean philosophical tradition. German Idealism thus lies at theroot of both continental and Anglo-American philosophy, and withoutit there could have been neither the sharp schism between the two thatdefined the discipline for much of the twentieth century, nor theresources that sustain current hopes of understanding and overcomingthis unproductive intellectual sectarianism.

    The significance of German Idealism is, unfortunately, matched byits notorious complexity. Its central texts have confounded the mostcapable and patient interpreters for more than 200 years. Much of thisdifficulty can be attributed to the challenge the German Idealists faced

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  • 2 understanding german idealism

    in trying to find appropriate means of expression for genuinely newideas. But some of it seems unnecessary, the result of writing that couldhave been improved, and that deters even intelligent readers with thebest of intentions.

    Understanding German Idealism is an attempt to convey the signific-ance of this philosophical movement while avoiding its obscurity. Suchan effort must be selective in its treatment of thinkers and themes,restricted in scope to only the most important aspects of the mostimportant works of the most important authors. But it is my aim toachieve clarity regarding these essential developments without resort-ing to oversimplification. If this book is successful, its readers will comeaway with a sound understanding of the problems that motivated Kant,Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, and of the solutions that they proposed. I hope such readers will be persuaded that the profundity and value of these ideas more than repay the intellectual struggle they require,and that they will be inspired to spend more time working through thedetails of the original texts on their own.

    Modernity, rationality and freedom

    The proximate philosophical cause of German Idealism was the scep-ticism of David Hume (171176), which Kant famously described inthe Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to ComeForward as Science as the very thing that . . . first interrupted my dogm