Immanuel Kant Criticism

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Friedrich Paulsen (essay date 1902)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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SOURCE: An introduction, and "The Practical Philosophy," in Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine, translated by J. E. Creighton and Albert LeFevre, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902, pp. 1-21, 294-342.

[In the following excerpt from his Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine (1902), Paulsen discusses the sources and historical importance of Kant's philosophy and outlines the central tenets of his practical philosophy.]


I. Kant's Significance in the General History of Thought

There are three attitudes of the mind towards reality which lay claim to truth,—Religion, Philosophy, and Science. Although sprung from a single root, they become differentiated in the higher stages of mental life, reunite, and again stand opposed to one another in a variety of ways, receiving their characteristic stamp through the manner in which this process takes place. Especially is it true that every philosophy is essentially determined through the attitude which it adopts towards religion and science.

In general, philosophy occupies an intermediate place between science and religion. If one adopts the figure of Bacon which represents the mental world as a ball (globus intellectualis), similar to the globus materialis by means of which the mediaeval cosmology pictured the external world, then one might divide the world into three concentric spheres, corresponding to the three spheres of the cosmos. The outermost sphere of this ball, corresponding to the region of the fixed stars, would represent science; the inner kernel, corresponding to the earth, would represent religion; while philosophy finally would occupy the middle or planetary sphere.

Science holds the peripheral position in the mental life. In this field the thinking and calculating understanding gives rise to a system of concepts and formulas by means of which it externally comprehends and rules over nature. Religion forms the inner kernel of our view of the world; its goal is the interpretation of the meaning of things. Science makes the world conceivable, but does not render it intelligible. Conformity to law is not its meaning. All religion claims certainly to possess the meaning of life and of the world, and to reveal this in concrete examples of the good and the perfect. Philosophy occupies an intermediate position between the two,—relating itself on the one hand to science, and on the other to religion. It seeks not only to conceive the world, but also to understand it. The history of philosophy shows that its task consists simply in mediating between science and religion. It seeks to unite knowledge and faith, and in this way to restore the unity of the mental life. It performs this task both for the individual and for society. As in the case of the individual, it mediates between the head and the heart, so in society it prevents science and religion from becoming entirely strange and indifferent to each other, and hinders also the mental life of the people from being split up into a faith-hating science and a science-hating faith or superstition.

It follows from what has been said that the character of a philosophy is essentially determined through the manner in which it performs this historical task. From this standpoint we may distinguish two fundamental forms of philosophy: I shall name them with Kant the dogmatic and the critical. The essence of dogmatic philosophy consists in the fact that it undertakes to found faith upon knowledge; it seeks to demonstrate what is to be believed. It produces as a variation of itself its own contradictory, that is, the sceptical philosophy. For when the latter tests the demonstrations and perceives their inadequacy, it comes at last to discard faith itself as a delusion, and to maintain that knowledge through scientific concepts constitutes the only form of truth. The critical philosophy comes forward in opposition to this. Its real nature is seen in the fact that it makes clear the essential difference between the functions of knowing and of...

(The entire section is 87,544 words.)