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1 - Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2014

Henk de Berg
Affiliation:
Professor of German at the University of Sheffield
Duncan Large
Affiliation:
Professor of German at Swansea University
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Summary

Life and Work

The title “father of modern philosophy” (modern in the sense of “not ancient”) is usually ascribed to the Frenchman René Descartes (1596–1650). By introducing mathematical methods into philosophy, Descartes founded the rationalist tradition in epistemology (the theory of knowledge and its objects), which holds that all knowledge of reality is ultimately derived from the exercise of human reason according to foundational principles independent of the senses. The rationalist position, which in Germany was taken up by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), Christian Wolff (1679–1754), and Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714–62), gave philosophical underpinnings to the European intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, which accorded pride of place to the “light of reason” in human affairs. Rationalism came into conflict with the empiricism of the British tradition — a position that was developed by John Locke (1632–1704), George Berkeley (1685–1753), and David Hume (1711–76), and that likewise played a central role in Enlightenment thinking. In contrast to the rationalists, the empiricists maintained that all knowledge is derived by inference from sense experience. By the second half of the eighteenth century, the two camps were separated by a seemingly unbridgeable divide. The first thinker to offer a resolution to this conflict was Immanuel Kant, and already in his own lifetime his philosophy was recognized as a breakthrough despite its near impenetrability. Kant, too, has therefore been hailed as the father of modern philosophy (modern in the sense of “not superseded”), which is why it is appropriate that we begin our series of excerpts with him. Moreover, Kant can be seen as the father of modern German philosophy, since he was the first major German-language philosopher to write his main works in the vernacular language.

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Modern German Thought from Kant to Habermas
An Annotated German-Language Reader
, pp. 21 - 56
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2012

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