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German idealism

German idealism was a philosophical movement in Germany in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant in the 1780s and 1790s, and was closely linked both with romanticism and revolutionary politics. The predominant philosophers in the movement were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Lesser lights include Jacobi[?] and Schleiermacher[?]. It is generally taken to have culminated with Hegel, who is now not infrequently numbered among the greatest philosophers in history, alongside Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein.

Kant's work purported to bridge the two dominant philosophical schools in the eighteenth century: rationalism, which held that knowledge could be attained by reason alone --a priori, or prior to experience -- and empiricism, which held that knowledge could be arrived at only through the senses. Kant's solution was to propose that while we could know particular facts about the world only via sensory experience, we could know the form they must take prior to any experience. That is, we cannot know what objects we will encounter, but we can know that they will be located in space, obey Euclidean geometry, and so forth. Kant called his mode of philosophising "critical philosophy," in that it was supposedly less concerned with setting out positive doctrine than with critiquing the limits to the theories we can set out. The conclusion he presented, as above, he called "transcendental idealism." This distinguished it from earlier "idealism", such as Berkeley's, which held that the world is nothing but sense impressions and ideas. Kant held that the world was real, but that the mind played a central role in determining its shape. It is this notion that was taken to heart by his philosophical successors.




Kant (1724 - 1804) is sometimes included among the German idealists, as the first of them, sometimes not. At the other end of the movement, Arthur Schopenhauer is not normally classed among them, although he considered himself a German idealist and his work reflects similar themes. The Young Hegelians, a number of philosophers who developed Hegel's work in various directions, were in some cases idealists. On the other hand, Karl Marx numbered among them, and he was as sternly anti-idealist as a philosopher could be.

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