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Chapter 8 - Kant and the Genesis of Empiricism

from Part III - From Experimental Philosophy to Empiricism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2023

Peter R. Anstey
Affiliation:
University of Sydney
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Summary

According to a widespread narrative of early modern philosophy, the early modern period was characterised by the development of Descartes’, Spinoza’s, and Leibniz’s rationalism and Locke’s, Berkeley’s, and Hume’s empiricism. The early modern period came to a close once Immanuel Kant, who was neither an empiricist nor a rationalist, combined the insights of both movements in his new Critical philosophy and inaugurated the new eras of German idealism and late modern philosophy. Several scholars have criticised this narrative for overestimating the importance of epistemological issues for early modern philosophers, portraying Kant’s Critical philosophy as a superior alternative to empiricism and rationalism and forcing most early modern thinkers prior to Kant into the empiricist or rationalist camps. Kant’s three Critiques are the first published works that explicitly contrast the terms ‘empiricism’ and ‘rationalism’. This chapter sets out Kant’s contributions to the genesis of the historiographical narrative based on the dichotomy of empiricism/rationalism and argues that Kant is not directly responsible for the biases of that narrative. Kant did not regard the empiricism/rationalism distinction as purely epistemological, did not portray most of his early modern predecessors as empiricists or rationalists, and did not place himself over and above empiricism and rationalism.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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