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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Lockean Campaign Against Kant

The German Empiricists, who were loyal to the tradition of John Locke, were alarmed by the appearance of Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. They saw the Critique as an attack on Lockean empiricism. Among the leading members of the empiricist camp were J. G. Feder, C. Garve, J. F. Lossius, C. Meiners, F. Nicolai, H. A. Pistorius, C. G. Selle, D. Tiedemann, G. Tittel, and A. Weishaupt. They were the first German scholars to recognize the importance of Kant’s Critique and the challenge that it posed.

During the Pantheism controversy they supported Kant, believing that his intentions were noble, but they remained opposed to his critical philosophy. They recognized that Kant was trying to develop a synthesis between empiricism and rationalism, but they felt that he was biased towards rationalism. They were convinced that his critical philosophy was dangerous, because, in their view, while intending to defend the authority of reason, it undermined reason. During the 1780s and 1790s, they leveled against Kant the charge of Humean solipsism or nihilism and accused him of being a dangerous skeptic and a dogmatic metaphysician.

The Lockean campaign against the Critique began with Christian Garve’s January 1782 review, which elicited from Kant an angry response in the form of the Prolegomena. In 1784 there was a review by Dietrich Tiedemann and an essay by C. G. Selle. In the same year, there was a review of the Prolegomena by H. A. Pistorius. But despite these efforts, by 1786, the Critique had become immensely popular and that caused even more nervousness in the Lockean circles, inspiring them to launch a new offensive. Kant was attacked in several reviews, essays and books.

In his 1987 book The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte, Frederick C. Beiser, offers an account of the Lockean campaign against Kant in chapter 6, “The Attack of the Lockeans.”

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