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There can be little doubt that without Spinoza, German Idealism would have been just as impossible as it would have been without Kant. Yet the precise nature of Spinoza's influence on the German Idealists has hardly been studied in detail. This volume of essays by leading scholars sheds light on how the appropriation of Spinoza by Fichte, Schelling and Hegel grew out of the reception of his philosophy by, among others, Lessing, Mendelssohn, Jacobi, Herder, Goethe, Schleiermacher, Maimon and, of course, Kant. The volume thus not only illuminates the history of Spinoza's thought, but also initiates a genuine philosophical dialogue between the ideas of Spinoza and those of the German Idealists. The issues at stake - the value of humanity; the possibility and importance of self-negation; the nature and value of reason and imagination; human freedom; teleology; intuitive knowledge; the nature of God - remain of the highest philosophical importance today.
The philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) covers a wide range of topics, yet questions concerning God and religion were of central importance to his thought throughout his life. His mother was a pietist, and from early on instilled in Kant a sense for the beauty and harmony in nature, in which she encouraged her son to see the traces of God's wisdom. Kant never lost his affinity for this way of looking at the world in general, and for the physico-theological argument for God's existence in particular, although his philosophical convictions imposed serious limitations on what could be known about God.
In one of his earliest publications, a Latin dissertation titled Principiorum primorum cognitionis metaphysicae nova dilucidatio (A new elucidation of the first principles of metaphysical cognition; 1755), Kant attempted to prove God's existence. His argument there proceeds from the concept of possibility and can be summarized as follows. To judge that something is possible is to say that the concepts or representations related in the judgement do not contradict each other but are compatible. This may be called the formal condition of possibility. But there is also a material condition. For in all comparisons, what is to be compared must be given beforehand. If there is nothing to be compared, there can be no comparison and hence no possibility. This means that, for Kant, nothing can be conceived as possible unless whatever is real in every possible representation or concept exists. And, he maintains, it must exist with absolute necessity, because in its absence nothing at all would be possible. Thus possibility itself would be impossible, which cannot be thought without self-contradiction.
Kant's discussion of the Eighth Proposition of the Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim marks an all-important turning point of his entire argument. Let us first take note of the proposition itself.
Eighth Proposition: One can regard the history of the human species in the large as the completion of a hidden plan of nature to bring about an inwardly and, to this end, also an externally perfect state constitution, as the only condition in which it can fully develop (entwickeln) all its predispositions (Anlagen) in humanity.
This Proposition, Kant states, is a consequence of the previous one. Indeed, lawful external relations between states such as to make wars between them unnecessary are a prerequisite for a stable civil society in which reason can flourish. For reason, Kant had stated in the Second Proposition, can develop fully only in the species, but not in the individual. Its development requires favorable conditions in society, which can only be fulfilled if a certain amount of international stability prevails.
As a human capacity reason is still a product of nature. It is what distinguishes us from all the other natural creatures. Most animals are endowed by nature with species-specific instincts (or organs) that guide their struggle for survival. Humans, by contrast, were initially endowed by nature only with those instincts that belong to animals in general – sexual instincts, instinct for food, etc. – but with none that were specific to their species.
In the Critique of Practical Reason, Immanuel Kant identifies the relevant dialectic as the consequence of reason's attempt to discover the absolute totality of conditions governing a given condition, and not, as he had in the Groundwork, as a conflict between the law of reason and the maxims based on wishes and inclinations. In order to assess Kant's arguments, one should first remind us of the particular error of the ancients to which Kant refers in the second chapter of the 'Analytic' of pure practical reason. According to Kant, the Greek thinkers made the mistake of identifying the concept of the morally good with the concept of the highest good and therefore with an object which they intended afterwards to make the determining ground of the will in the moral law. Transcendental idealism appeared to be the only way of resolving the problem of the antinomies.