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Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Skepticism of Gottlob Ernst Schulze

Gottlob Ernst Schulze, a professor at Helmstedt, anonymously published his book in 1792 under the long title Aenesidemus or Concerning the Foundations of the Philosophy of the Elements Issued by Professor Reinhold in Jena Together with a Defense of Skepticism against the Pretensions of the Critique of Reason. The book created great controversy and eventually it became known that Schulze was the author. The Aenesidemus was aimed at examining Karl Leonhard Reinhold’s book Philosophy of the Elements, but Schulze’s real target was Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy. He wanted to prove that Kant had not refuted David Hume’s skepticism.

Schulze’s choice of the title Aenesidemus is appropriate because Aenesidemus (1st century BC) was a Greek Pyrrhonist (skeptic) philosopher. He was a member of Plato’s Academy but he rejected Platonism and adopted Pyrrhonism. His life and ideas have been described Sextus Empiricus, the ancient historian of skepticism. Schulze’s plan was to renew Pyrrhonism to combat the enemies of skepticism, the foremost of which was Kant’s critical philosophy.

In his essay, “Schulze's Skepticism,” ( Chapter 9; The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte), Frederick C. Beiser notes that “Schulze's meta-critical skepticism gives a new twist to modern skepticism since its inception in Descartes's and Hume's writings. While Descartes and Hume use epistemology as an instrument of their skepticism, examining the conditions of knowledge in order to expose unfounded claims to it, Schulze brings this very instrument into question. The skeptic is now forced to be self-reflective, self-critical of the tools of his trade.”

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