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Sunday, January 02, 2005


german idealism

british empiricism was embodied in locke, berkeley and hume -- temperate, tolerant men. but the philosophy of empiricism tended to subjectivism. locke had said, "since the mind, in all its thoughts and reasonings, hath no other immediate object but its own ideas, which it alone does or can contemplate, it is evident that our knowledge is only conversant about them." locke had been inconsistent and therefore tolerant of both knowledge as only "the agreement or disagreement of two ideas" and also simple ideas as "the product of things operating on the mind in a natural way". but berkeley and then hume took empiricism to its fully evolved consistency: berkeley abolished matter for god's ideas, and then hume refuted even that, as well as the self and causation. if even hume's impressions could have no certain cause, nothing outside the mind could be said to exist. and science -- where observation led to nothing certain -- was made nothing better than credulous belief. what was left but solipsism?

these conclusions, which no one could accept, forced a reaction. rousseau accepted the bankruptcy of reason, and put his faith in the heart -- romanticism was born.

in germany, however, a more subtle reaction came with kant, who was followed by fichte and hegel, intending to safeguard knowledge from the subversion of hume. it took subjectivism to an even greater extreme (until hegel). kant was not politically important; fichte and hegel were.

the german idealists emphasized the mind over matter, criticizing knowledge as a means of addressing philosophical questions. it rejects utilitarian ethics. the movement was very academic, the main progenitors being university professors. they were concerned with defending the orthodoxy of theology and politics from hume, despite the eventual revolutionary effect of german idealism.

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