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± ·  °--±   °
The Legacy of Idealism

In the second half of the eighteenth century, German philosophy
came for a while to dominate European philosophy. It changed the
way in which not only Europeans, but people all over the world,
conceived of themselves and thought about nature, religion, human
history, politics, and the structure of the human mind. In this rich
and wide-ranging book, Terry Pinkard interweaves the story of
“Germany” “ changing during this period from a loose collection of
principalities to a newly emerged nation with a distinctive culture “
with an examination of the currents and complexities of its devel-
oping philosophical thought. He examines the dominant in¬‚uence
of Kant, with his revolutionary emphasis on “self-determination,”
and traces this in¬‚uence through the development of Romanticism
and idealism to the critiques of post-Kantian thinkers such as
Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard. His book will interest a range of
readers in the history of philosophy, cultural history, and the history
of ideas.

     ° © ® «   ¤ is Professor of Philosophy and German at
Northwestern University. His publications include Hegel™s Dialectic:
The Explanation of Possibility (±), Hegel™s Phenomenology: The Sociality
of Reason (±), and Hegel (°°°), as well as many journal articles.
The Legacy of Idealism

Northwestern University
©¤§ µ®©© °
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge  µ, United Kingdom
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521663267

© Terry Pinkard 2002

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published in print format 2002

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©®-±° °-µ±±-°···- eBook (NetLibrary)

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©®-±° °-µ±-±- paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of
µ¬s for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
To Susan

Acknowledgements page ix
List of abbreviations x

Introduction: “Germany” and German philosophy

° © «® ®¤  ¬µ©® ©® °©¬°
± The revolution in philosophy (I): human spontaneity and
the natural order
 The revolution in philosophy (II): autonomy and the
moral order
 The revolution in philosophy (III): aesthetic taste,
teleology, and the world order

° ©©  ¬µ©® ®©®µ¤: °-«®©®
Introduction: idealism and the reality of the
French Revolution
 The ±·°s: the immediate post-Kantian reaction:
Jacobi and Reinhold
µ The ±·°s: Fichte ±°µ
 The ±·°s after Fichte: the Romantic appropriation
of Kant (I): H¨ lderlin, Novalis, Schleiermacher,
· ±·µ“±°: the Romantic appropriation of Kant (II):

viii Contents
 ±°±“±°·: the other post-Kantian: Jacob Friedrich Fries
and non-Romantic sentimentalism

° ©©©  ¬µ©® °¬¤ §¬
Introduction: post-revolutionary Germany
 Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit: post-Kantianism
in a new vein
±° Hegel™s analysis of mind and world: the Science of Logic 
±± 
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system

° ©  ¬µ©® ©® ±µ©®
Introduction: exhaustion and resignation, ±°“±µµ °
± Schelling™s attempt at restoration: idealism under review ±·
± Kantian paradoxes and modern despair: Schopenhauer
and Kierkegaard
Conclusion: the legacy of idealism


Hilary Gaskin of Cambridge University Press ¬rst gave me the idea for
this book. Without her encouragement both at ¬rst and all along the
way, the book would never have been written. That she also contributed
many helpful suggestions on rewriting the manuscript as it was under
way all the more puts me in her debt.
I have cited several of Robert Pippin™s pieces in the manuscript, but
his in¬‚uence runs far deeper than any of the footnotes could indicate.
In all of the conversations we have had about these topics over the years
and in the class we taught together, I have learned much from his sug-
gestions, his arguments, and his ideas for how this line of thought might
be improved. I have incorporated many more of the ideas taken from
mutual conversations and a class taught together than could possibly be
indicated by even an in¬nite set of footnotes to his published work.
Fred Rush also read the manuscript; his comments were invaluable.
Susan Pinkard offered not only support but the help of a historian™s
gaze when I was trying to ¬gure out how to make my way along this
path. Without her, this book would not have been written.


Briefe G. W. F. Hegel, Briefe von und an Hegel, ed. Johannes
Hoffmeister, Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, ±,
vols. ±“.
HeW G. W. F. Hegel, Werke in zwanzig B¨ nden, eds. Eva
Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel, Frankfurt
am Main: Suhrkamp, ±·±.
KW Immanuel Kant, Werke, ed. Wilhelm Weischedel,
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, ±··, vol. ±.
Schellings Werke F. W. J. Schelling, Schellings Werke, ed. Manfred
Schr¨ ter, Munich: C. H. Beck und Oldenburg, ±·.
SW J. G. Fichte, S¨ mtliche Werke, ed. Immanuel
Hermann Fichte, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, ±·±.
WTB Friedrich von Hardenberg, Werke, Tageb¨ cher und
Briefe, eds. Hans-Joachim M¨ hl and Richard
Samuel, Munich: Carl Hanser, ±·.

Introduction: “Germany” and German philosophy

In ±·, one of the many contenders for the title “the ¬rst world war” “ in
this case, the “Seven Years War” “ was concluded. Its worldwide effects
were obvious “ France, besides being saddled with enormous ¬nancial
losses as a result of the war, was in effect driven out of North America and
India by Britain, never to recover its territories there “ but, curiously, the
war had started and mostly been fought on “German” soil, and one of its
major results was to transform (or perhaps just to con¬rm) the German
Land of Prussia into a major European power. It is hard to say, though,
what it meant for “Germany,” since, at that point, “Germany,” as so many
historians have pointed out, did not exist except as a kind of shorthand
for the German-speaking parts of the gradually expiring “Holy Roman
Empire of the German Nation.” Once a center of commerce and trade
in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, “Germany,” in that shorthand
sense, had by the eighteenth century become only a bit player on the
European scene, long since having lost much of its economic vitality as
trade shifted to the North Atlantic following the voyages of discovery
and the intensive colonization efforts in what Europeans described as
the “New World.” After suffering huge population losses in the Thirty
Years War (±±“±), “Germany” found itself divided by the terms of
the Treaty of Westphalia in ± into a series of principalities “ some
relatively large, some as small as a village “ that were held together only
by the more-or-less ¬ction of belonging to and being protected by the
laws and powers of the Holy Roman Empire (which as the old joke had
it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire, and which was for that
matter neither a state, a confederation, or a treaty organization but a
wholly sui generis political entity dif¬cult to describe in any political terms
familiar to us now). For a good bit of its early modern history, “Germany”
did not even denote a cultural entity; if anything, its major feature was its
intense religious division into Protestant and Catholic areas, with all the
wars and rivalries that followed from that division. Neither Protestant
 German philosophy ±·°“±°
nor Catholic “Germany” thought of themselves as sharing any kind of
joint culture; at most they shared a language (of sorts) and a certain
accidental geographical proximity.
“Germany” during that period must thus be put into quotation
marks, since for all practical purposes there simply was no such thing as
“Germany” at the time. “Germany” became Germany only in hindsight.
Yet, starting in ±·±, “German” philosophy came for a while to dom-
inate European philosophy and to change the shape of how not only
Europeans but practically the whole world conceived of itself, of nature,
of religion, of human history, of the nature of knowledge, of politics, and
of the structure of the human mind in general. From its inception, it was
controversial, always hard to understand, and almost always described
as German “ one thinks of William Hazlitt™s opening line in his ±± re-
view of a book by Friedrich Schlegel: “The book is German” “ and it is
clear that the word, “German,” sometimes was used to connote depth,
sometimes to connote simply obscurity, and sometimes to accuse the au-
thor of attempting speciously to give “depth” to his works by burying it
in obscurantist language.± Yet the fact that there was no “Germany” at
the time indicates how little can be explained by appealing to its being
“German,” as if being “German” might independently explain the de-
velopment of “German” philosophy during this period. If nothing else,
what counted as “German” was itself up for grabs and was being devel-
oped and argued about by writers, politicians, publicists, and, of course,
philosophers, during this period.
Nonetheless, the questions those “German” philosophers asked them-
selves during this period remain our own questions. We have in the in-
terim become perhaps a bit more sophisticated as to how we pose them,
and we have in the interim learned a good bit about what kinds of it-
erations or what kinds of answers to their problems carry what types of
extra problems with them. Their questions, though, remain our ques-
tions, and thus “German” philosophy remains an essential part of modern
philosophy. What, then, was the relation of “German” philosophy to

It is tempting to think of “Germany” becoming Germany because of
the explosion in philosophical, literary, and scienti¬c work that occurred
at the end of the eighteenth century in that part of the world, such
that “Germany” became a culturally uni¬ed Germany (or came to

± The line from Hazlitt is cited in Peter Gay, The Naked Heart (New York: W. W. Norton, ±µ), p. °.

acknowledge itself as a cultural unity) because of and through its literary
and philosophical achievements. In ±±°, Madame de Stael, in her book
“On Germany,” coined the idea of Germany as a land of poets and
philosophers, living out in thought what they could not achieve in po-
litical reality. Thus the picture of the “apolitical” German ¬‚eeing into
the ethereal world of poetry and philosophy became a staple of foreign
perceptions of Germany, so much so that since that time even many
Germans themselves have adopted that account of their culture.
That view is, however, seriously misleading, if not downright false.
The Germans were by no means “apolitical” during this period, nor were
they practically or politically apathetic. In fact, they were experiencing a
wrenching transition into modern life, and it affected how they conceived
of everything. To understand German philosophy, we must remember,
as Hegel said, that the truth is the whole, that ideas and social structure
do not neatly separate into different compartments, and that they both
belong together, sometimes ¬tting one another comfortably, sometimes
grating against each other and instigating change “ and change was
indeed in the air in “Germany” at the time. To understand German
philosophy is to understand, at least partially, this “whole” and why the
contingent forms it took ended up having a universal signi¬cance for us.
To see this, it is useful to canvas, even if only brie¬‚y, some of the problems
facing “Germany” during this period, and the obvious tensions they were
At the middle of the eighteenth century, “Germany” was undergoing
a sharp population increase, it was experiencing a changeover to com-
mercialized agriculture, and its economy was beginning to feel the ¬rst
faint tugs of the expansionist forces already at work in other parts of
Europe. Its political and social reality was, however, something differ-
ent and quite unstable at its core. The effects of the Thirty Years War
had in some areas been devastating; for example, W¨ rttemberg (Hegel™s
birthplace) had declined from a population of µ,°°° in ± to only
·,°°° in ±. The effects on the economy of the region were even
worse; already battered by the shift in trade to the North Atlantic, the
German economy had simply withered under the effects of the war. The
war had also shifted antagonisms away from purely Protestant/Catholic
 For accounts heavily critical of the myth of the “apolitical German,” see Frederick Beiser, Enlight-
enment, Revolution, and Romanticism: The Genesis of German Political Thought ±·°“±°° (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, ±); David Blackbourn, The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of
Germany, ±·°“±± (Oxford University Press, ±·).
 That ¬gure is taken from Mary Fulbrook, A Concise History of Germany (Cambridge University
Press, ±°), p. .
 German philosophy ±·°“±°
issues into more territorial concerns as various princes had allied against
the emperor (thus throwing the ef¬cacy and even the eventual existence
of the Holy Roman Empire into question), with the result being a loss of
authority for the Empire and an increase in the authority of local rulers.
During that period, local princes came to require more money to
maintain the kinds of courtly life for which the French had set the model
(in addition to taking on the military expenses they believed themselves
required to do); many German princes tried their best to emulate the
royal court at Versailles, demanding the right to sponsor balls, build
lavish palaces, maintain a set of courtiers, subsidize courtly arts, and so
forth. Courtly life came with a price, and those princes were thus led
to look for more ef¬cient ways to govern their domains, raise taxes, and
promote economic growth. This resulted in the growing demand (at
least at ¬rst) for a relatively ef¬cient bureaucracy trained in the latest
management techniques to administer princely affairs effectively. To that
end, the rulers looked to their universities “ of which Germany had many
because of the number of different princes who each wished to be sure
that his university was turning out the right clerics in the right orthodoxy
and the right administrators to manage his domain.
Those pressures, in turn, helped to pave the way for the gradual in-
troduction of Enlightenment thought into Germany, as princes became
more and more convinced by their of¬cials that only with the most mod-
ern, up-to-date ideas about society and government was it possible for
them to pursue their new ends of absolutist, courtly rule. However, the
same pressures also helped both to underwrite and intensify the ten-
dencies for these rulers to govern without any regard to a rule of law,
and to become increasingly hostile to all those elements of tradition and
inherited right that their enlightened advisors were telling them inhib-
ited their raising the ever-larger amounts of money required to run their
many mini-courts of their many mini-Versailles. They were not, how-
ever, particularly interested in fostering economic growth that might set
up independent centers of authority, nor were their of¬cials particularly
interested in other groups acquiring more social status or powers than
themselves. That set of circumstances severely restricted the possibili-
ties for economic growth and for the creation of an independent, en-
trepreneurial middle class. At the same time, therefore, that the new
Enlightenment ideas were blowing in from Britain and France, the pop-
ulation was on the rise (for example, by ±·°, W¨ rttemberg had risen
back to a population of ·,°°°), and the economy, although steadily
improving, was unable to cope with the rapidly expanding numbers.
Thus, the economy simply could not offer suf¬cient employment oppor-
tunities to all the young men who were going to university or seminary to
train in those Enlightenment ideas, with the hopes of ¬nding a suitable
career afterwards for themselves.
This was made all the worse by the fact that, after the Thirty Years
War, employment in any of the learned professions had in effect be-
come state employment, which meant that all such employment came
to depend virtually completely on patronage from above. (There was
only a handful of non-aristocratic young men who could count on a
family fortune or an independent career to sustain them outside of state
employment.) However, since the Enlightenment doctrines themselves
that these young men were taught and trained to implement, inherently
favored bringing unity, order, and rationalization into the administration
of things, the bureaucracy staffed by them found itself more and more
inherently in tension with the arbitrariness of princely power, which, of
course, remained the sole source of the patronage that employed the
bureaucrats in the ¬rst place. The administrators were, in effect, being
trained to bite the hand that fed them, and, no surprise, they generally
preferred the food offered to whatever pleasures biting and subsequent
unemployment might bring them. That did not remove the tension, but
it made the choice fairly clear.
All of this was taking place within the completely fragmented series of
political and cultural units of “Germany” at the time. To go from one area
of “Germany” to another was to travel in all senses to a foreign place; as
one traveled, the laws changed, the dialect changed, the clothes changed,
and the mores changed; the roads were terrible, and communication
between the various areas was dif¬cult (and consequently infrequent);
and one usually required a passport to make the journey. A “liberty” was
still a liberty within the context of the ancien r´gime, that is, not a general
“right” but a “privilege” to do something really quite particular “ such
as the privilege to use iron nails, or to collect wood from a particular
preserve “ and depended on the locality in which it was exercised. To be
outside of a particular locale was thus to be without “rights” perhaps at
all. That sense of “particularism,” of belonging to a particular locale and
being enclosed within it, clashed with the emerging Enlightenment sense

 For the W¨ rttemberg ¬gure, see James Sheehan, German History: ±··°“± (Oxford University
Press, ±), p. ·µ.
 German philosophy ±·°“±°
of rationalization and “universalism” being taught as the only means to
provide the “particularist” princes with the funds needed to continue
their patronage of the learned professions.
This was coupled with an equally strong sense of fragility that was
underwritten on all sides of the life surrounding Germans at the time. At
this time, men typically married at the age of twenty-eight and women at
twenty-¬ve, but only about half the population ever reached that age at
all, and only  percent of the population was over sixty-¬ve. Increasing
poverty and the threat of real (and not just metaphorical) homelessness
hung over a great many “Germans,” especially the poor. In this context,
local communities and families offered the only real protection from the
dangers of the surrounding world, and the price was a social conformity
that by the end of the eighteenth century had become sti¬‚ing. The only
way out seemed to be to get out, and emigration to the “New World”
and to other areas of Europe (particularly, Eastern Europe or Turkey)
grew during that century. In addition to all those who left for the “New
World,” many others migrated from one area of Germany or Europe to
another, all during a time when being outside of one™s locality made one
especially vulnerable to all the various kinds of dangers that followed on
being disenfranchised.

The period of the middle to the end of the eighteenth century in
“Germany” was thus beset with some very fundamental tensions, if not
outright contradictions, within itself. On the one hand, it was a frag-
mented social landscape, full of dangers, in which mortality rates were
high, and which demanded a sharply delineated sense of conformity,
which for many remained the only soothing presence in an otherwise
precarious life, but which for others had gradually become suffocating
rather than reassuring. For the aspiring bureaucrats and their children,
new winds were blowing in, but little seemed to be changing in front of
them. Not unsurprisingly, the old mores were breaking down even at the
moment when they still seemed so ¬rmly cemented in place; for example,
both in Europe during this period and in North America, illegitimate
births sharply rose as young people, frustrated with having to postpone
marriage, often forced the issue by premarital pregnancy (and, as always,
women ended up bearing the costs of all those pregnancies that did not
effectively lead to the desired marriage). In America, the prospect of
seemingly limitless new land often gave young people in that largely
agrarian society a way out; a pregnancy requiring a marriage often set-
tled the issue for reluctant parents, and the new couple could set out on
their own land to make their own future together. In Germany, however,
this simply was not possible, a fact that only heightened the social tensions
already at work. For many, it meant dependence on family for long peri-
ods of young adulthood; for others, it gave presumed ¬anc´ s the excuse
they were seeking to sidestep the responsibilities expected of them.
For the burgeoning class of administrators and those who hoped to
join their ranks, “reading clubs” sprang up everywhere, even provoking
some conservative observers to bemoan what they saw as a new illness,
the “reading addiction,” Lesesucht, to which certain types of people were
supposedly especially vulnerable (typically, servants lacking the proper
awe of their masters, women whose mores did not ¬t the morals of the
time, and, of course, impressionable young students). Novels especially
gave young people the means to imagine a life different from the one
they were leading or were seemingly destined to lead, and gave older
people a means to discuss in their lodges and reading societies material
that attacked arbitrary princely authority and extolled the virtues of the
learned professions in general. Travel literature “ with its capacity to
exercise the imagination about different ways of life “ became a cult of
its own. During that period, book publishing increased at a faster rate in
the German-speaking areas of Europe than anywhere else “ an indication
not only that literacy was on the rise, but also that people were seeking
more from their books. Book publishing had fallen drastically after the
devastations of the Thirty Years War; however, as Robert Darnton has
pointed out, by ±·, the Leipzig catalog of new books had reached its
prewar ¬gure of about ±,°° titles, by ±··° (the year, for example, of
Hegel™s and H¨ lderlin™s births) it had grown to ±,°° titles, and by ±°°
to µ,°°° titles.
The emerging culture of the reading clubs was not “court” culture,
but it was also not “popular” culture. It was the culture of an emerging
group that did not conceive of itself as bourgeois so much as it thought of
itself as cultivated, learned, and, most importantly, self-directing. Its ideal
was crystallized in the German term Bildung, denoting a kind of edu-
cated, cultivated, cultured grasp of things; a man or woman of Bildung
was not merely learned, but was also a person of good taste, who had an
overall educated grasp of the world around him or her and was thus ca-
pable of a “self-direction” that was at odds with the prevailing pressures
for conformity. To acquire Bildung was also to be more than educated;
one might become merely “educated,” as it were, passively, by learning
µ Robert Darnton, “History of Reading,” in Peter Burke (ed.), New Perspectives on Historical Writing
(University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, ±), p. ±.
 German philosophy ±·°“±°
things by rote or by acquiring the ability to mimic the accepted opinions
of the time. To be a person of Bildung, however, required that one make
oneself into a cultivated man or woman of good taste and intelligence.
The man or woman of Bildung was the ideal member of a reading club,
and together they came to conceive of themselves as forming a “public,”
an Offentlichkeit, a group of people collectively and freely arriving at judg-
ments of goodness and badness about cultural, political, and social mat-
ters. In his prize-winning essay of ±·, Moses Mendelssohn (a key ¬gure
in the German Enlightenment) even identi¬ed Enlightenment itself with
In that context, the ideal of Bildung easily meshed with other strains
of emotionalist religion emerging in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
The Reformation had called for a questioning of ecclesiastical authority,
but, by the time the dust had settled on the wars of religion and the Thirty
Years War, it had in effect ended up only substituting one doctrinaire
authority in favor of itself and several others. The resulting settlement in
Germany after the wars, which allowed local princes to determine what
would count as the established church in their domain, had then itself
paradoxically both further undermined the kind of claim to absolute au-
thority that the church had previously assumed for itself, and written that
kind of authority even more ¬rmly into the social fabric. The settlement
that made a particular orthodoxy mandatory for each locality thereby
only underlined the fragmentation of Christianity, making it abundantly
clear that “Christianity” did not necessarily speak any longer with one
voice. The obvious conclusion was that determining what Christianity
really “meant” required further re¬‚ection, and, in light of that, many
Christians took Augustine™s advice and turned inward to ¬nd the “true”
voice of Christianity that had been overlaid, if not silenced, by the frag-
mentation of the church. Many Protestant thinkers advised people that
they would better ¬nd God™s presence and his will by looking into their
hearts, not into their theology books. (There was a corresponding move-
ment in Catholic areas as well.) In many areas of Protestant Germany, this
took the form of what came to be known as Pietism, which extolled group
readings of the Bible, personal and group re¬‚ection on the deliverances of
one™s “heart” as a means of self-transformation, and a focus on reforming
society now that the Reformation had been (partially) carried out within
the church itself. Pietism also taught people to perform a kind of self-
re¬‚ection that focused on keeping diaries, discussing one™s experiences of
faith with others, holding oneself to a principle, and, in short, learning to
see whether one was directing one™s life in accordance with God™s wishes.

In the previous century, Leibniz had argued that, because of God™s
perfection, this had to be the “best of all possible worlds,” and the notion
of perfection that was embedded in Leibniz™s doctrine had itself become
a bit of orthodoxy in its development and codi¬cation in Germany by
Christian Wolff. The “perfections” of the world and its corresponding
“harmonies” even led to the coinage of a new word “ “optimism” “
and, in ±·µµ, the Berlin Academy of Sciences awarded a prize to an
essay on the theme, “All is right.” The great Lisbon earthquake that
occurred shortly thereafter spurred Voltaire into lampooning the whole
matter in his novel, Candide, and it became more and more dif¬cult after
that point to maintain that everything in the world was in the order it
was supposed to be.
There was, however, more to that line of thought than mere smug
assertions that the world was as it should be. Seeking God™s perfection
in the world meant re¬‚ecting on God™s love for the world, which, in turn,
gradually began to undermine the gloomy picture of human nature pre-
sented by some Christian thinkers (particularly, the Calvinists) in favor
of a view that held that the world™s imperfections were capable of a sort
of redemption in the here and now, not in some afterlife. It was, on that
line of emerging thought, therefore the duty of Christians to reform that
world in light of God™s love, and in order to do that, Christians had to
turn away from orthodoxy, even from overly intellectualistic theological
treatments of Christianity, and focus on the truth “within” their “hearts”
in order to realize God™s kingdom on earth. The secular Enlightenment
emphases on sympathy and empathy thus fused well with the religious
sense of enacting on our own God™s love for the world by Pietist re-
¬‚ection, and both ¬t, although uncomfortably, into the notion that one
should be directing one™s life by becoming cultivated and by holding one-
self to a moral principle. The educated young men and women of the
“reading clubs” and the universities thus married the ideas of Bildung as
self-direction and subjectivity as self-re¬‚ection into religious feeling as self-
direction. The mixture resulted in a slightly confused but still assertive
mode of self-understanding that ¬t at best only precariously with the frag-
mented, authoritarian, conformist world in which they were seemingly
destined to live.
This was not simply a matter of rising expectations failing to be con-
¬rmed by social conditions, nor was it simply a matter of economic
forces or class pressures compelling people to alter their ways to ¬t the
new modes of production. Rather, young men and women in Germany
in this period found themselves living in a practical, existential dilemma:
±° German philosophy ±·°“±°
many of them simply could no longer be the people that ¬t comfortably
into that kind of social milieu, and thus for them the issue of what it
meant for them to be any kind of person at all came more obviously to
the fore. As the normative force of the old order slowly eroded away
beneath them, those younger generations (roughly those coming of age
in the ±··°s and those born in the early ±··°s) came to believe that they
were leading unprecedented lives, and they went in search of a new set
of meanings that would anchor their lives in that not yet so brave new

For completely contingent reasons, the Germans of this period thus
squarely faced what we can now call “modern” problems. The force
of tradition, of scripture, even of nature and religion in general, had
been shaken for them, and whatever orientation such things had offered
them in the past seemed either non-existent or at least up for grabs.
They were, of course, by no means willing simply to abandon appeals to
scripture or tradition; instead, they found that holding on to those things
required some other evidence than those things themselves, that the au-
thority of tradition and established religion was no longer self-evident
or self-certifying. This was not simply a matter of the world becoming
more complex for new generations so that they were being called to be
more discriminating than their parents; it was that their social world
itself had changed, and that they had changed, such that appeals to mat-
ters that in the past had settled things for the ancestors “ the very old
“German” particularistic, “hometown” notion of “a place for everyone
and everyone in their place” “ were no longer viable. What had seemed
¬xed had come to seem either a matter of changeable convention or
at best something that humans had “placed” in the world, not part of
the eternal structure of things. What they were left with was their “own
lives,” and what they found themselves “called” to do was lead their own
lives. This, however, only raised the further issue for them: what kind of
life counted as “one™s own”?
Trying to interpret their world, they found that the institutions and
practices surrounding them gave them little help, since they could not
“¬nd” themselves or “see” themselves re¬‚ected in those practices. They
became thereby metaphorically “homeless”; the consolations of locality,
which had structured life for so many of their ancestors, were not
immediately there for them. Yet they also did not ¬nd themselves without
direction or guidance; they still lived in an orderly, determined society
that had carved out speci¬c roles for them to play. They thus took on a
kind of duality in their own lives, an awareness (sometimes suffocating) of
what they were supposed to do, a sense that their life™s path had already
been laid out for them, and an equally compelling awareness that they
were not “determined” by these pre-determined social paths, that it was
“their own” lives they had to lead, all of which presented them with what
can be properly called a pressing moral as well as a political question: how
to live, how to keep faith with their families, their friends, their social
context, sometimes even their religion, while maintaining this alienated,
“dual” stance toward their own selves.
“Germany” thus found itself in a revolutionary situation, even though
virtually nobody was calling for revolution. There was a palpable sense
that things had to change, but nobody was sure what form the change
should take or where the change should lead. Feeling that the past was
no longer an independently adequate guide, they had to make up the
answers to their unprecedented questions as they went along.
It is small wonder that Rousseau was so attractive for those gener-
ations. His notions resonated with everything they were experiencing:
¬rst, that we are “corrupted” by civilization (with its courtly culture and
its fawning courtiers, each keeping his eye on what the others were do-
ing to decide whom to imitate, each looking to the metaphorical social
rule-book to guide his action); and, second, that we should instead seek a
kind of independence from such social entanglements, be “natural,” ¬nd
some kind of authenticity in our lives, be self-directing, and attend to our
emotions as more “natural” guides to life. In Germany, the cult of feeling
and sensibility in particular took root with a vehemence. The one avenue
of expression for people with that kind of dual and divided conscious-
ness of themselves and their social world “ what the German idealists
would later call a “splitting in two,” an Entzweiung “ was the cultivation
of an authentic sensibility, an attending to what was their “own” that was
independent of the conformist, arti¬cial world of the courts and the bureau-
cracy that either already surrounded them or inevitably awaited them.
Their own “self-relation” “ their sense of how their life was to go, their
awareness of how they ¬t into the plan for them and the larger scheme
of things “ was seemingly given to them from the “outside,” by a social
system that laid out their life-plan and gave them a highly prescribed set
of roles to play. They were burdened with the crushing thought that they
simply could not look forward to living their “own” lives in their allotted
social realm, but only to taking over “inherited” lives of sorts; what was
their own had to be “natural” and to be within the realm of the “feelings”
they alone could cultivate and to which they could authentically respond.
± German philosophy ±·°“±°
In that context, the cult of feeling and sensibility seemed to give
them the power to carve out (or, seen from their own point of view,
to “discover”) a space within their lives in which each took himself to
have a direct relation to himself and others “ each was related to self
and other as they “really, independently were” and not merely as society
or family had planned for them; each in this mode of emotional self-
relation likewise related to nature through a medium of something that
was their “own” and not something that society could command from
them or had imposed on them. To be “natural” and be in touch with
their “sensibility” was thus to be independent of the social expectations
from which they felt so alienated. This way of taking a stance toward
oneself, others, and nature seemed (to many at least) to be a way of con-
soling or even reconciling themselves with what otherwise seemed to be
an immutable order.
Could that world be changed? The dominant philosophy of the time,
Wolf¬anism as a codi¬ed and almost legalistically organized form of
Leibnizian thought, drove the message home that the current order was
not simply the way the ruling powers had decreed things, but was it-
self the way the world in-itself necessarily had to be. It also declared that
the state was best conceived as a “machine” that ideally was to run
on principles made ef¬cient and transparent through the application of
enlightened cameralistic doctrines as applied by well-trained adminis-
trators. “Enlightened” theology likewise told its readers to dispense with
folksy superstition, to see everything from the point of view of the world
viewed as impartial reason saw it had to be; enlightened theology thus
came to see itself as being in the service of God by being in service of
the rulers. In that early German mode of “Enlightenment,” the world as
run by absolutist princes instructed and advised by “enlightened” the-
ologians and administrators would be as close to a perfect world as sinful
man might aspire to produce. Everything would indeed be in its place,
exactly as it had to be.

That world was shaken by the great incendiary jolt that marked the pub-
lication of the twenty-three year old Johann Wolfgang Goethe™s episto-
lary novel in ±··, The Passions of Young Werther (rendered misleadingly
in English ever since as the “Sorrows” of Young Werther). It took
Germany, indeed all of Europe, by storm, making its young author
 The “Leiden” of which the German title speaks are not merely “sorrows”; they are also the
“sufferings” and the term for Christ™s passion. In the theological context that the title of the book
evokes, Christ™s “passions” would rarely if ever be rendered as his “sorrows.”
into an instant celebrity, perhaps even the ¬rst great literary celebrity
(as a man whom all wanted to meet and to question about the relation
between his experience and the events portrayed in the book). It is said to
have inspired a rash of suicides in Europe for generations to come. The
frame of the story is rather simple: a young man, Werther, falls in love
with a young woman, Charlotte (Lotte) who is betrothed to another man,
a friend of Werther™s; his love, although requited by Lotte, is doomed,
and the unresponsiveness of the world (both social and natural) to the
sufferings of his own and Lotte™s hearts eats away at him, such that he in-
exorably ¬nds he has no other way out than to shoot himself with Lotte™s
husband™s pistols; an “editor” gathers his letters and publishes them with
a sparse commentary on them. (That the book quite obviously involved
a mixture of autobiographical element, references to real people, and
sheer invention helped to add to its appeal “ people wanted to know
how much of the story “really” happened.)
What genuinely electri¬ed the audience at the time (and can still gal-
vanize a young audience open-minded enough to appreciate it despite
its now quaint feel) was the way it perfectly expressed the mood of the
time while at the same time commenting on it, as it were, from within.
Werther is presented as a person living out the cult of feeling and sen-
sibility, experiencing the alienation from the social world around him,
and drawing the conclusion that, without satisfaction for that sensibility,
life was simply not worth living (or, rather, drawing the conclusion that
either he or Lotte™s husband had to go). Werther, that is, actually was
his (reading) audience, mirroring back to them what they themselves
(however inchoately) were claiming to be. Like them, Werther was fully
absorbed in the “convention” or the “fashion” of sensibility and feeling;
unlike them (or, rather, unlike some of them), Werther was so fully ab-
sorbed in it that he could only draw the one logical conclusion from it:
suicide in the face of its irrevocable failure.
The audience (the readers) were equally absorbed in that “fashion”
(otherwise the book could not have called out to them so much), but in
reading the book (while being assisted ever so subtly by the alleged ob-
jectivity of the “editor”), they were at the same time becoming distanced
from it, and thus, as they were reading it, coming to be not fully absorbed
in it. Werther thus played the almost unprecedented role of actually induc-
ing or at least bringing to a full awareness a duality of consciousness on
the part of its readership, an awareness that they were this character and
yet, by virtue of reading about him, were also not this character. The cult
of feeling and sensibility, which was supposed to free them or at least give
± German philosophy ±·°“±°
them a point of independence from the alienating social circumstances
in which they found themselves, was revealed to be just as alienating, as
heavily laden with a dual consciousness, as was the state of affairs from
which it was supposed to liberate people. The cult of feeling itself put
people in the position of believing that, although destined for the life of
bureaucratic numbness and conformity, each could ¬nd an “inner” point
of feeling and subjective sensibility that was independent of and which
freed them from that numbing “external” reality even if they had to go
through the motions of complying with its reality; Werther showed them
that the fashion for feeling (and its accompanying hypocrisy as people
feigned emotionalism to keep with the times) was itself self-destructive,
and, in making that explicit for them, distanced them from it without at
the same time abolishing it in their experience. Werther was not a didactic
novel; it did not preach a moral at the end, nor did it outline what might
be the proper way to live, or what the alternative to living a disjointed,
entzweites life might be. It simply brought home to its audience who they
were and what that meant. (To the author™s horror, some of the audience
apparently drew exactly Werther™s conclusion and drowned themselves,
jumped off bridges, or shot themselves, carrying copies of Werther with
them as they went.)
It would be fatuous to claim that Werther fully caused or precipitated
on its own a change of consciousness (or, to put it the terms of the
idealists, a change in self-relation) among the reading public. It did,
however, capture and solidify a sense, a mood, already at large and gave
it a concrete shape. For its readers, however, it raised in a shocking and
thoroughly gripping way the central issue of the time for them: what was
it to live one™s “own” life? What was it to be a “modern” person, or, even
more pointedly, a modern German?
The giddiness following Werther™s popularity, however, was only fol-
lowed by a disappointing series of years. After the success of Werther,
nothing so dramatic followed; Goethe (at least at ¬rst) did not follow his
success up with an equally thrilling and gripping sequel, and, although
he continued to write and enjoy literary celebrity, no other work moved
in to take the place (or to develop the implications) of Werther.· The great
explosion that had been Werther seemed to be all there was to it; nothing
else seemed to be emerging on the horizon that could claim the same
· The only other candidate might have been Schiller™s play, The Robbers, with its themes of personal
virtue, resistance to oppression, and dawning awareness of one™s proper duties; but Schiller™s play,
although fairly popular, did not capture the public imagination as well as Goethe™s since it did
not capture the public mood as well.
kind of authority or revelation in German life. The dissatisfaction and
existential sense of dislocation that Werther helped not only to bring to
light but also to stir up did not disappear; but the crucial questions it
raised remained unanswered, and nothing seemed to be on the horizon
that would offer people the means to even begin constructing what an
answer might look like.
A revolution was clearly brewing, but it was not, and certainly could
not have seemed to be, a political revolution (at least at ¬rst). After
all, the oppressiveness of life in “Germany” seemed to have no discrim-
inable source against which people could focus a rebellion. In fragmented
“Germany,” there was not a single court, a single church, nor even a
single economy to which responsibility could be ascribed. There was no
Bastille in which dissidents to “German” life were imprisoned. There
simply was no “German” life “ there was only Saxon life, Prussian life,
Frankfurt life, Swabian life, and so forth. Werther, however, suggested that
there was nonetheless a sense brewing in all of “Germany,” maybe even
in all of Europe, that things, in the broadest sense of the term, had to
change. The of¬cial Wolf¬an philosophy of the day, however, apparently
proved that “things” were the way they had to be according to the na-
ture of things-in-themselves. A split consciousness, a duality lived in one™s
own life, seemed to be the necessary consequence, not of any contingent
setup, but of the way things necessarily were in themselves.
In ±·±, things did change. In K¨ nigsberg, a far outpost of Prussia,
outside even the domains of the Holy Roman Empire, a center of Scottish
and English Enlightenment had established itself as an offshoot of the
great merchant trade going on there. The British navy™s concerns about
where it would procure the necessary timber with just the right balance
of rigidity and ¬‚exibility for its masts had led to an extensive British
engagement with the Baltic timber trade coming out of K¨ nigsberg.o
The large British settlement in K¨ nigsberg provided the impetus by
which Scottish Enlightenment thought gradually mixed with German
thought at a point just beyond the established edges of the old Holy
Roman Empire. Out of that mixture came the next lightning bolt, which
in one blow effectively demolished the entire grand metaphysical system
supposedly holding the whole “German” scheme in place. Overthrowing
the old metaphysics, it inserted a new idea into the vocabulary in terms
of which modern Germans and Europeans spoke about their lives: self-
determination. After Kant, nothing would be the same again.
° ©

Kant and the revolution in philosophy
° ±

The revolution in philosophy (I):
human spontaneity and the natural order

¦¤ ®¤ ©©©
Kant™s ¬rst major book, The Critique of Pure Reason, rapidly became a key
text in virtually all areas of German intellectual life in the last part of the
eighteenth century. One key to understanding the enthusiasm surround-
ing the reception of this work is to be found in an essay by Kant pub-
lished in ±·: “An Answer to the Question: ˜What is Enlightenment?™ ”
In that essay Kant identi¬ed enlightenment with “man™s release from
his self-incurred immaturity (Unm¨ ndigkeit) . . . the inability to use one™s un-
derstanding without the guidance of another.”± Coming as it did in the
wake of a growing sense of social, political, and cultural progress and
improvement in Germany “ indeed, in European life as a whole “ and
accompanied by a growing dissatisfaction (especially among educated
young people) with the way things were and a sense that change was
both required and imminent, Kant™s words fell upon an audience al-
ready prepared to receive them. The age of “tutelage,” “immaturity”
was over, like growing out of childhood: the illusions of the past were to
be put aside, they could not be resurrected, and it was time to assume
adult responsibilities. Moreover, this “immaturity” had not, in fact, been
a natural state of mankind, but a “self-incurred” state, something “we”
had brought on ourselves. On the question of what was needed to ac-
complish this, Kant made his views perfectly clear: “For enlightenment
of this kind, all that is needed is freedom.” Kant™s words captured a
deep, almost subterranean shift in what his audience was coming to ex-
perience as necessary for themselves: from now on, we were called to
lead our own lives, to think for ourselves, and, as if to inspire his readers,
± Kant, “An Answer to the Question: ˜What is Enlightenment?,™ ” Kant™s Political Writings (ed. Hans
Reiss; trans. H. B. Nisbet) (Cambridge University Press, ±±), p. µ (italics added by me.) Kant™s
essay was written for a prize competition which it failed to win; Moses Mendelssohn™s essay on
the same topic instead garnered the ¬rst prize.
 Kant, “An Answer to the Question: ˜What is Enlightenment?,™ ” Kant™s Political Writings, p. µµ.

° Part I Kant and the revolution in philosophy
Kant claimed that all that was required for this to come about was to
have the “courage” to do so.
Dominating the Critique is the sense that, from now on, “we” moderns
had to depend on ourselves and our own critical powers to ¬gure things
out. The opposite of such a “critical” (or, more accurately, self-critical)
stance is “dogmatism,” the procedure of simply taking some set of prin-
ciples for granted without having ¬rst subjected them to that kind of rad-
ical criticism. In the Critique, Kant in fact characterizes “dogmatism” as
marking, as he puts it, the “infancy of reason” just as skepticism marks its
growth (although not its full maturity). The point is not to remain in the
“self-incurred tutelage” of our cultural infancy, nor to be content simply
with the “resting place” that skepticism offers us. It is instead to ¬nd a
home for our self-critical endeavors, a “dwelling point,” a Wohnplatz, as he
put it, for ourselves.µ Such a radical, thoroughgoing self-critical project
demands nothing less than that reason must, as Kant put it, “in all its
undertakings subject itself to criticism . . . [and that] reason depends on
this freedom for its very existence” ; and, as such, “reason” must claim
“insight only into that which it produces after a plan of its own, and that

 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (trans. N. K. Smith) (London: Macmillan and Co., ±),
xxxv, p. . Dogmatism is de¬ned early in the Critique by Kant as “the presumption that
it is possible to make progress with pure knowledge, according to principles, from concepts
alone . . . without having ¬rst investigated in what way and by what right reason has come into
possession of these concepts.”
 Critique of Pure Reason, ·± = ·; p. °·: “The ¬rst step in matters of pure reason, marking
its infancy, is dogmatic. The second step is sceptical; and indicates that experience has rendered
our judgment wiser and more circumspect. But a third step, such as can be taken only by fully
matured judgment, based on assured principles of proved universality, is now necessary, namely, to
subject to examination, not the facts of reason, but reason itself, in the whole extent of its powers,
and as regards its aptitude for pure a priori modes of knowledge. This is not the censorship but
the criticism of reason, whereby not its present bounds but its determinate [and necessary] limits,
not its ignorance on this or that point but its ignorance in regard to all possible questions of a
certain kind, are demonstrated from principles, and not merely arrived at by way of conjecture.”
Kant published two editions of the Critique of Pure Reason in ±·± and ±··. There were substantial
changes in the second edition, and scholars continue to argue about the ways some very crucial
issues seem to be treated differently in the two editions, which in turn leads to arguments about
the alleged superiority of one edition over another, their mutual consistency or lack of consistency,
and so forth. In the notes, I follow the long and well-established practice of citing both editions:
the ±·± edition as the A edition, and the ±·· edition as the B edition.
µ Critique of Pure Reason, ·± = ·: “Scepticism is thus a resting-place for human reason, where it
can re¬‚ect upon its dogmatic wanderings and make survey of the region in which it ¬nds itself, so
that for the future it may be able to choose its path with more certainty. But it is no dwelling-place
for permanent settlement.”
 Critique of Pure Reason: · = ·. “Die Vernunft muß sich in allen ihren Unternehmungen der
Kritik unterwerfen . . . Auf diese Freiheit beruht sogar die Existenz der Vernunft” (italics added
by me). This conception of the role of reason in Kant™s work has been particularly highlighted and
defended by Onora O™Neill in a variety of places. See for example the essays in Onora O™Neill,
Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant™s Practical Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, ±).
My discussion, of course, is highly indebted to her own.
(I): Human spontaneity and the natural order
it must not allow itself to be kept, as it were, in nature™s leading-strings,
but must itself show the way with principles of judgment based upon
¬xed laws, constraining nature to give answer to questions of reason™s
own determining.”·
If however, the themes of “freedom” and the “thinking for oneself ”
were indeed motivating the Critique, one could nonetheless excuse any
reader who found them somewhat hard to ¬nd in its opening parts. In
those initial chapters, Kant set forth what might look like some rather
arcane arguments about the logical nature of the kinds of judgments
we made and their relation to the concerns of traditional metaphysics.
Traditional metaphysics studied those things that were “transcendent”
to our experience in the sense that we were said to be “aware” of them
without being able in any pedestrian way to experience them. Thus,
so it was said, while we might empirically study stones, grass, the seas,
and even our own bodies and psyches in a directly experiential way,
traditional metaphysics claimed to study with necessity and certainty a
realm of objects that were not available to such ordinary experiential
encounters, such as God and the eternal soul, and thus, metaphysics was
said to be a discipline employing only “pure reason” unfettered by any
connection or dependence on experience. The judgments of metaphysics
were therefore dependent on what “pure” reason turned up and could
not be falsi¬ed by any ordinary use of experience.

Kant was treading on some fairly controversial territory, and he very
deftly raised the issue of the authority possessed by such “metaphysics”
(as the non-empirical study by pure reason of such transcendent objects)
by laying out and examining a typology of the judgments that we make.
There are two ways, Kant suggested, that we can look at judgments: on
the one hand, we can regard the form of the judgment (how the subject
is related to the predicate); and, on the other hand, we can regard the
judgment in terms of how we go about justifying it.
With regard to form, judgments can be said to be, in Kant™s technical
language, either “analytic” or “synthetic.” An analytic judgment is one
in which the predicate is said to be “contained” in the subject (as a smaller
circle might be drawn inside a larger circle). “Triangles have three sides”
· Critique of Pure Reason, xiii: “Sie begriffen, daß die Vernunft nur das einsieht, was sie selbst nach
ihrem Entw¨ rfe hervorbringt, daß sie mit Prinzipien ihrer Urteile nach best¨ ndigen Gesetzen
u a
vorangehen und die Natur n¨ tigen m¨ sse, auf ihre Fragen zu antworten, nicht aber sich von ihr
o u
allein gleichsam am Leitbande g¨ ngeln lassen m¨ sse.”
a u
 Part I Kant and the revolution in philosophy
would be an analytic judgment, since the predicate (“three sides”) is
already “contained” in the subject (“triangles”). Thus, one of the marks
of an analytic judgment is that it would always be a self-contradiction to
deny it. (“A triangle does not have three sides” would be an example of
such a self-contradiction.) Synthetic judgments, by contrast, do not have
the predicate “contained” in the subject, and thus it would never be a
self-contradiction to deny them. (“Kant™s hat was black” would be an
example of such a synthetic judgment.)
With regard to justi¬cation, we establish the warrant of judgments, so
it seems, either by appeal to experience (what Kant called a posteriori
justi¬cation) or by an appeal to something independent of experience
(what he called a priori justi¬cation). If all judgments are either analytic
or synthetic and either a priori or a posteriori, then we get something
like the following table as exhausting the possibilities for all types of

Form of judgment Mode of justi¬cation

A priori A posteriori

Analytic Yes None
Synthetic ? Yes

There are clearly analytic a priori judgments “ such as, “all triangles
have three sides,” something we know without having to do experiments
on triangles “ and there are equally clearly no analytic a posteriori judg-
ments. However, although there are clearly synthetic a posteriori judg-
ments (“Kant™s hat is black”), it is not at all clear whether there are or
even could be synthetic a priori judgments, which would be judgments
that are not trivially true or false like analytic judgments but would be
justi¬ed independently of experience, unlike synthetic a posteriori judg-
ments. Traditional metaphysics is committed to asserting such synthetic
a priori judgments, since a judgment such as “the soul is immortal”
cannot be proved by experience (since, as an immaterial thing, the soul
cannot be experienced by the material senses), but the metaphysicians
have claimed that the judgment is both true and necessary. The ¬rst
question that had to be asked therefore, as Kant slyly put it, was whether
there are any such synthetic a priori judgments at all.
(I): Human spontaneity and the natural order
He quickly concluded in the af¬rmative. First of all, the judgments of
mathematics are not analytic, yet they are both necessary and proven
independently of experience. “· + µ = ±” is such a synthetic a priori
judgment. Kant™s line of reasoning, very roughly characterized, was
something like this. To make that judgment, we need to perform a series
of operations: ¬rst, we must construct the number seven by an operation
performed on some arbitrarily chosen magnitude (roughly, by an itera-
tive procedure that generates seven units of that magnitude), and then
we must construct the number ¬ve by the same kind of operation, except
that the latter operation is carried out as a succession to the construction
of the ¬rst operation that constructed the number seven, and then we
must examine what the results are of performing these two operations
successively. Although ± is the necessary result of these two operations
being carried out in that order, it is not “contained” in the subject of
the judgment (“· + µ”). Nor can this be interpreted as a matter of just
following out the meanings of the words (“seven” and “¬ve” and “plus”
and “equals”), since arithmetic, indeed, all mathematics, cannot be un-
derstood as being simply a kind of formalism, a kind of “game” with
rules that can be manipulated independently of whether one thinks the
game has any relation to the real world. If it were, then mathematics
would have no objective meaning, instead having only the same kind of
meaning as “pick up sticks,” a mere game played according to arbitrary
rules. Nor can mathematical judgments simply be derived by drawing
some logical conclusions from the meanings of the terms involved (“·,”
“µ,” “+”). Mathematics, for example, draws conclusions about the in-
¬nite (such as an in¬nite series like the series of all even numbers, and
which, so some scholars have argued, the logic of Kant™s own day was
incapable of grasping ). Very similar kinds of considerations, Kant also
argued, could be brought to bear on geometry, even though there were
crucial and subtle differences between the two.
Thus, we are presented with two types of functioning examples of syn-
thetic a priori judgments from arithmetic and geometry. That obviously
raised the next issue: how was it possible to justify these judgments? And
could metaphysics be justi¬ed in the same way?
 See Michael Friedman, Kant and the Exact Sciences (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
±), who sees this lack in traditional logic as one of the key motivations in Kant™s construction
of his theory of mathematics.
 My discussion necessarily takes a number of shortcuts around the subtlety of the issues Kant
addresses; it is, however, heavily informed by the discussion in Michael Friedman, Kant and the
Exact Sciences, who has one of the most detailed and informative discussions of the issues.
 Part I Kant and the revolution in philosophy
°µ ©®µ©©®
Kant™s answer to his last question proved shocking and puzzling to many
of his early readers (and continues to do so). The very possibility of mak-
ing true judgments in mathematics and geometry, Kant asserted, would
prove to be dependent not on the structure of any objects in the universe
that we could be said to encounter in ordinary experience, but rather on
the necessary general structure of the mind. To show that, Kant argued
that we must acknowledge a radical distinction between two very differ-
ent faculties in our own minds. Our experience is a combination, he argued,
of two different types of “ideas” or “representations” in our experience “
concepts and intuitions “ and the way in which we combine them makes
up the structure of our experience.±° Neither concepts nor intuitions
are ultimately reducible to the other; each is an independent type of
representation. Re¬‚ection on that structure, Kant rather surprisingly
proposed, should tell us everything we can know about metaphysics.
In encountering something as humdrum as a stone, Kant pointed
out, we are conscious of it in two ways: as an individual thing and as
possessing certain general properties. The stone is this stone, but we can
also note that it shares, for example, a color with another stone. We
are intuitively, sensuously aware of the individual stone, and we make
conceptual judgments about it when we characterize it in terms of its
general features. In fact, this might suggest that we are directly aware
of the individual thing and only indirectly (conceptually) aware of the
general properties it has. After all, intuitions, as Kant himself put it,
put us in an “immediate relation” to an object, whereas concepts only
put us in a mediated relation to them; indeed Kant even says that a
judgment is a “representation of a representation” of an object “ that is,
a combination of an intuitive representation of an object and conceptual
representation of that intuitive representation, or what Kant (following
the logical vocabulary of his time) calls a synthesis of representations.±±
Our experience, therefore, seems to consist of two types of “ideas” or
“representations”: There are the intuitive representations of things as
±° The term for “representation” is Vorstellung, and the term for intuition is Anschauung. Famously,
these terms have been disputed as the best way of rendering Kant™s own distinctions. I happen
to think that they are about as good as one gets. Vorstellung, obviously, has closer af¬nities with
the English term, “idea,” than it does with “representation,” which, although an ordinary word,
tends to be used in its Kantian sense in English more often for more-or-less technical discussions
in philosophy. Anschauung, while meaning “intuition” in English, carries a more common usage of
“viewing” in German. In any event, “representation” and “intuition” have become the standard
way of translating Kant™s terms, so I shall stick with that here.
±± Critique of Pure Reason, ± =  and  = .
(I): Human spontaneity and the natural order
individuals and the conceptual representations of them in terms of their
general features. Nothing about that view seems, of course, very far-
fetched; but Kant was to draw some startling and profound conclusions
from it.
In light of these distinctions, Kant asked his readers to consider the
judgments about in¬nities found in geometry and mathematics. No
purely sensory intuition could supply a representation of such an in¬nity,
since sensory intuition is always of individual things. Neither could we
construct a purely conceptual understanding of those in¬nities, since it
was impossible in the formal logic of Kant™s time to represent such in¬ni-
ties. Therefore, if the synthetic a priori judgments found in mathematics
and geometry are to be possible, it must be because we are both intu-
itively aware of such in¬nities and are capable of constructing the objects
of both disciplines by basing our constructions on that intuitive aware-
ness. Since we require a representation of space to construct the objects
of pure geometry, and space, being in¬nite, cannot be an object of pure
logic (concepts) or sensory intuition, we must therefore have a pure intuition
of space, a kind of intuitive awareness of the in¬nite “whole” of space for
us to be able to make those geometrical judgments and constructions.
We know, for example, that between any two points on a line, we can
always construct a point in between them; that, however, requires us to
be able to represent space as having an in¬nite number of such parts.
(We just have to be able to “see” that for any line segment, no matter
how small, we can always make another cut in it.) A similar argument
can be made about the allegedly pure intuition of time: for us to be able
to reiterate the operations of arithmetic (so that we can add µ to · and
then  to that, and so on, to in¬nity), we must have a “pure intuition”
of temporality, a representation of what it would mean to carry on such
an iterative procedure to in¬nity “ which is again something we must be
able to “see” (that is, intuit) if we are to be able to perform the operation.
Time and space, Kant therefore concluded, were “ideal” since they
could not be objects of direct sensory experience and therefore had to
be available to us only in our “pure” representations of them. Stones and
branches were “real” and available to us in ordinary experience; but
space and time as treated in the sciences of geometry and arithmetic
were only available in our “ideal” representations of them. From that,
Kant concluded, we could not say that space and time were “objects” out
there in the world. Or, to put it another way, we could not say, apart from
the conditions under which objects are experienceable by us, whether
those objects are spatial or temporal.
 Part I Kant and the revolution in philosophy
All this was immensely puzzling to Kant™s readers, as if Kant were
outrageously asserting that space and time were only subjective human
“ideas” and not real features of the universe. Kant then astounded them
even more by asking: could we therefore know anything about the objects
of experience simply by having direct intuitive encounters with them,
unmediated and uncolored by conceptual activity, even with pure intu-
ition? The answer to that proved to be the core of Kant™s philosophy and
even more far reaching.

®° ®¤ ©®µ©©®:  ®®¤®¬ ¤¤µ©®
Kant drew some rather startling conclusions that at ¬rst seemed to go
against what he had argued about the nature of geometry and mathe-
matics. There could be no direct intuitive knowledge of anything, even
in mathematics and geometry; all knowledge required the mediation
and use of concepts deployed in judgments. In fact, our most elemen-
tary acts of consciousness of the world involved a combination of both
intuitions and concepts (each making their own, separate contribution
to the whole), and, prior to that combination, there is no consciousness at
all. From what had looked like a fairly arcane discussion of the structure
of judgments and geometry, Kant had quickly moved into speculation
about the very nature of consciousness and mentality in general.
In some ways, the overall picture that Kant ended up with looks de-
ceptively simple. Our consciousness of the world is the result of the
combination of two very different types of “representation,” Vorstellung:
There are the passively received representations of objects in space and
time given by sensible intuitions; and there are the discursive represen-
tations (concepts) that we combine with the intuitive representations to
produce judgments. Concepts, in turn, should be thought of as rules for
the combination of representations, as when we “combine” a representa-
tion such as “that thing over there” with another representation, “green,”
into the simple judgment: that thing over there is green. In all of this, we
are aware of ourselves as having a viewpoint on the world and making
judgments about it that may be true or false.
However, as Kant showed, that deceptively simple picture included
much in it that was not only controversial but also hard to state exactly
right, and following out the implications of that picture (and arguing for
it) required one of the most dif¬cult set of chapters in all of his works, the
“Transcendental Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding.”
The guiding question behind the “Transcendental Deduction” was itself
(I): Human spontaneity and the natural order
deceptively simple: what is the relation of representations to the ob-
ject they represent?± Following out that line of thought led him to the
conclusion that the conditions under which an agent can come to be self-
conscious are the conditions for the possibility of objects of experience “
that is, all the relevant questions in metaphysics can be given rigorous
answers if we look to the conditions under which we can be self-conscious
agents, and among those conditions is that we spontaneously (that is, not
as a causal effect of anything else) bring certain features of our conscious
experience to experience rather than deriving them from experience. A
crucial feature of our experience of ourselves and the world therefore is
not a “mirror” or a “re¬‚ection” of any feature of a pre-existing part of
the universe, but is spontaneously “supplied” by us.
Kant took the key to answering his basic question (“What is the rela-
tion of representations to the object they represent?”) to hinge on how
we understood the respective roles played by both intuition and con-
cepts in judgments and experience. Abstracted out of the role they play
in consciousness as a whole, sensory intuitions “ even a multiplicity of
distinct sensory intuitions “ could only provide us with an indeterminate
experience, even though as an experience it implicitly contains a multi-
plicity of items and objects. However, for an agent to see the multiplicity
of items in experience as a multiplicity, those items must, as it were, be set
alongside each other; we are aware, after all, not of an indeterminate
world but of a unity of our experience of the items in that world. We are
aware, that is, of a single, complex experience of the world, not of a series of
unconnected experiences nor a completely indeterminate experience;
and, moreover, our experience also seems to be composed of various
representations of objects that are themselves represented as going beyond,
as transcending, the representations themselves.
An intuitive awareness would not be able to discriminate between an
appearance of an object and the object that is appearing “ that is, that kind of
unity of experience cannot in principle come from sensibility itself, since
sensibility is a passive faculty, a faculty of receptivity, which would pro-
vide us only with an indeterminate ¬eld of experience and therefore not a
representation of any objects of experience. That distinction (between the
± I am here treating both the  (±·±) and  (±··) versions of the deductions as part of the same
enterprise. This is, of course, controversial. Since Kant™s own time, there has been a virtual
industry in sorting out the distinctions, differences, and similarities in the two, and almost any
Kant scholar has an opinion on the issue. In seeing them as two versions of the same deduction,
I am following Beatrice Longuenesse, Kant and the Capacity to Judge: Sensibility and Discursivity in the
Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason (trans. Charles T. Wolfe) (Princeton University
Press, ±).
 Part I Kant and the revolution in philosophy
representation of the object and the object represented) thereby requires
¬rst of all that the intuitive multiplicity be combined in such a way that
the distinction between the experience (the appearance) and the object
represented is able to be made. This combination must therefore come
from some active faculty that performs the combination. What then is that
active faculty, and must it combine the various intuitive representations
in any particular way? Or are its combinations arbitrary in some meta-
physical or logical sense, a mere feature of our own contingent make-up
and acquired habits?
We cannot, after all, somehow jump outside our own experience to
examine the objects of the world in order to see if they match up to
our representations of them; we must instead evaluate those judgments
about the truth and falsity of our judgmental representations from within
experience itself. The distinction between the object represented and
the representation of the object must itself therefore be established within
experience itself. The original question “ what is the relation of repre-
sentations to the object they represent? “ thus turns out to require us
to consider that relation not causally (as existing between an “internal”
experience and an external thing) but normatively within experience itself,
as a distinction concerning how it is appropriate for us to take that experi-
ence “ whether we take it as mere appearance (as mere representation) or
as the object itself.± That we might associate some representations with
others would only be a fact about us; on the other hand, that we might
truly or falsely make judgments about what is appearance and what is
an object would be a normative matter. The terms in question “ “true,”
“false” “ are normative terms, matters of how we ought to be “taking”
things, not how we do in fact take them. Taking an experience to be truly
of objects therefore requires us to distinguish the factual, habitual order
of experience from our own legislation about what we ought to believe.
That way of taking our experience involves three steps: ¬rst, we must
apprehend the objects of intuition in a uni¬ed way such that the multiplicity
of experience is there “for us” as distinct items in a spatio-temporal frame-
work to make judgments about it. However, that mode of synthesis would
never be enough on its own to give us any distinction between the object of
representation and the representation of the object; it would only give us
an indeterminate intuition of a multiplicity of “items” in space and time.
Second, we must therefore unify that intuitive, experiential multiplicity
± In her pathbreaking work, Beatrice Longuenesse calls this the “internalization of the object
within the representation.” Longuenesse, Kant and the Capacity to Judge, p. µ.
(I): Human spontaneity and the natural order
of items according to some set of rules so that our experience will exhibit
the sort of regularity that will make it susceptible to judgment. (Such
uni¬cation, so Kant later argues, must be carried out in terms of how it
¬ts into some view of a “whole,” which requires an act of what Kant calls
the “transcendental imagination,” that is, the activity that combines the
various representations according to a necessary, conceptual rule and
is thus different from the ordinary, empirical imagination, which com-
bines things, at best, in terms of contingent rules of association.) Third
and ¬nally, we must make judgments about that sensory multiplicity which,
by bringing these intuitions under concepts, makes possible the full dis-
tinction between the object represented and the representation of the
object.± The decisive issue, so Kant saw, involved getting to the third
step and asking how it could be possible at the third step that we would be
assured that the conditions for our bringing intuitions under concepts in
a judgment would be possible “ which, again, is a version of his original
question: what is the relation between judgments, as representations, to
that which they represent?
The key to answering that question involved understanding the way
in which the most basic of our unifying activities (of apprehension and
reproduction by the “transcendental imagination”) take place against
the requirements of what is necessary to have a uni¬ed point of view
on the world. Such a point of view requires there to be an activity that
establishes that point of view as a point of view, and this has to do with the
conditions under which we can make judgments about that experience.
“It must be possible,” as Kant put it in a key paragraph, “for the
˜I think™ to accompany all my representations; for otherwise something
would be represented in me which could not be thought at all, and that
is equivalent to saying that the representation would be impossible, or at
least would be nothing to me.” (In one of the grander understatements
± There is an issue here about the ¬rst step involving apprehension of items in a spatio-temporal
context, since it seems to suggest that Kant is endorsing the idea of there being some kind of
perceptual or experiential grasp of contents unmediated by concepts. To be sure, even though
there are texts that support one view and texts that support the other, the overall direction of
the Kantian theory is to deny any non-conceptual experiential grasp of contents (a direction
Kant only made all the more explicit in the ±··, “B” edition of the Critique). The synthesis
of apprehension must therefore involve a kind of pre-formation of content that prepares it for
judgment under a concept; it does not put it in fully discursive conceptual form, nor bring it
under a category “ that can only happen in judgment “ but it does not grasp it without any
kind of conceptual mediation present. This is at least suggested by Beatrice Longuenesse in her
interpretation, which I ¬nd most persuasive on this point. Defending that would, however, take
up far more room than I have space for here, and the issues are, as any Kant scholar knows,
quite complex.
° Part I Kant and the revolution in philosophy
of his whole oeuvre, Kant concludes that paragraph by simply noting:
“From this original combination, many consequences follow.”±µ ) Kant™s
point about the way in which the “I think” must be able, in his words,
to “accompany” any representation was that unless it were possible for
me to become aware of a representation as a representation “ to become
aware of my experience of the stone as an experience of the stone “ then that
representation would be as nothing for me; and that any representation
must therefore meet the conditions under which it could become an
object of such re¬‚ective awareness. That particular move, of course,
meant that the condition for any representation™s being a representation
(having some cognitive content, being experienced as a representation
of something) had to do with the conditions of self-consciousness itself.
Kant™s term for the kind of self-consciousness involved in such a
thought is apperception, the awareness of something as an awareness (which
itself is a condition of being able to separate the object from the represen-
tation of the object). The question then was: what is the nature of this
Any representation of a multiplicity as a multiplicity involves not
merely the receptivity of experience; experiencing it as one experiential mul-
tiplicity requires the possibility of there being a single complex thought of
the experience.± The unity of the multiplicity of experience is therefore
in Kant™s words a “synthetic unity of representations.” A single complex
thought, however, requires a single complex subject to think it since a
single complex thought could not be distributed among different think-
ing subjects. (A single complex thought might be something like, “The
large black stone is lying on the ground” “ different subjects could think
different elements of the complex, such as “large,” “black,” etc., but that
would not add up to a single thought; it would only be a series of different
thoughts.) Thus, we need one complex thinking subject to have a single
complex thought.
On Kant™s picture therefore, we have on the one hand the identity of
the thinking subject, and on the other hand the multiplicity of the repre-
sentations which it has. The same complex thinking subject “ as the same
subject of different experiences “ is correlated therefore to the “synthetic”
unity of the multiplicity of experience. On the basis of this, Kant drew
his most basic conclusion: a condition of both the synthetic unity of the
multiplicity of representations (and what he called the analytic unity of
±µ Critique of Pure Reason, ±.
± See Henry E. Allison, Kant™s Transcendental Idealism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press,
±), p. ±.
(I): Human spontaneity and the natural order
apperception) is the synthetic unity of apperception.±· That the “I that experi-
ences or thinks about X” is the same “I that experiences or thinks about
Y” is, after all, not an analytic truth. (From “somebody thought of Kant”
and “somebody thought of Hume,” it does not follow that it was the same
person who thought of both Kant and Hume.) On the other hand, it is
absolutely necessary that all the different experiences be ascribed to the
same thinking subject, that they be capable of being “accompanied” by
the same “I think.” Since it is both necessary (and therefore only know-
able a priori), and also synthetic (not a self-contradiction to deny), the
judgment that I have a unity of self-consciousness is, odd as it sounds, a
synthetic a priori judgment.
What follows from that? Whatever is necessary for my being able to
comprehend myself as the same thinking subject over a series of tempo-
rally extended experiences is also necessary for representations in general
to be representations, that is, to have cognitive content, to be not merely
internal, subjective occurrences within one™s mental life but to be about
something “ which brings Kant around to another version of his original
question: how can a representation be about anything at all?
If there is any way in which the intuitive representations in our con-
sciousness must be combined, then that “must” embodies the conditions
under which anything can be a “representation” at all; and the key to
understanding what might be further implied by that move, Kant noted,
lay in the very idea of judgment itself, the topic with which he had begun
the Critique. To make a judgment “ to assert something that can be true or
false “ is different in kind from merely associating some idea with some
other idea. To make a judgment is to submit oneself to the norms that
govern such judgments. It is, however, simply a matter of fact and not of
norms whether I associate, for example, “Kant” with Prussia or Germany
or long walks in the afternoon, or, for that matter, with disquisitions
on the proper way to throw dinner parties. To make a judgment is to do
something that is subject to standards of correctness, whereas to associate
something with something else is neither to be correct nor incorrect “ it
is simply a fact about one™s psychic life.
Judgments themselves, as normative matters, are combinations there-
fore of two different types of representations into a unity according to the
±· I am here following Beatrice Longuenesse in taking the analytic unity of apperception to be that
consciousness in which the synthetic unity is “re¬‚ected,” that is, “thought” or judged by means
of concepts. See Longuenesse, Kant and the Capacity to Judge, p. ·. On her account, synthesizing
“by means of analytic unity” is bringing several intuitive representations under one concept or
bringing several concepts under a concept of greater universality. See Kant and the Capacity to
Judge, p. ±.
 Part I Kant and the revolution in philosophy
rules of right judgment. This, in turn, showed that concepts could not
simply be abstractions from intuitions: a concept is a rule for synthesis in
judgments; in Kant™s words, a concept is a “unity of the act of bringing
various representations under one common representation.”± Since in-
tuitions cannot produce the unity of such combination themselves, they
cannot combine themselves into judgments; only concepts can combine
(that is, “synthesize”) such experiential items. To have a concept, Kant
argued, is be in possession of a norm, a rule of “synthesis” for a judgment.
Having a concept is more like having an ability “ an ability to combine
representations according to certain norms “ than it is like having any
kind of internal mental state.
All this ¬nally comes together, Kant argued, when we think about the
conditions under which we could become apperceptively self-conscious
as thinking subjects. For me to be aware of myself as a thinking being is
to be aware of myself as a unity of experience “ as a kind of uni¬ed view-
point on the world “ and that unity must be brought about by myself in
the activity of combining representations into judgmental form. In com-
bining the multiplicity of sensuous intuitions into a “synthetic unity” (in
seeing my experience as more than a series of subjective, psychic events,
but instead as a connected series of representations of things), I combine
the elements of that experience (intuitions) according to the rules that are
necessary for such combinations. Establishing the necessity of these rules
thus must consist in looking at how sensuous intuitions must be combined
if we are to make judgments about them “ if we are to be able to say

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