Transcendental Idealism and the German Counter-Enlighenment

Kant’s critical philosophy towers over eighteenth century German thought, casting a long and impenetrable shadow in which many lesser philosophical figures reside unknown save to scholars of classical German philosophy, their influence and thought ignored in most discussions of Kant’s system. Kant, however, is not an exception to the rule that a thinker and his thought must be placed in their historical and cultural context in order to be appreciated. Such placement would leave Kant comfortably in the German Enlightenment, an exponent and defender of its ideals, especially the supremacy of reason. Frederick Beiser, a scholar of classical German philosophy, acknowledges that while Kant severely criticized the Enlightenment, he came to rescue it and give a firm foundation to its primary tenet: “the authority of reason." It was precisely this tenet, however, which was being seriously questioned by the time Kant began publishing his main works of critical philosophy.

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