Study Guide

Immanuel Kant - All-Natural Synthesizers

All-Natural Synthesizers

Kant liked him some synthesis, that's for certain: he talked about synthetic a priori claims, synthetic a posteriori claims, and even the synthetic unity of the manifold (say what?). But one of his greatest achievements was to pull off a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism.

Prior to Kant, rationalism and empiricism were the two main philosophical traditions. Rationalists claimed that pure reason was the route to truth and generally treated mathematics as the paradigm of knowledge. Empiricists, by contrast, claimed that all knowledge was based on sense experience, emphasizing the importance of observation and experiment. And so the two traditions remained at loggerheads, differing on just about everything—but especially on the origin of knowledge.

Kant, being the great philosophical uniter that he was, saw that there was something right about each tradition. Empiricists were right to claim that all knowledge is based on experience. But the rationalists were right in insisting that experience was not capable of organizing and explaining itself. The proper task of philosophy, then, was to describe the a priori structures that make experience possible in the first place.

So, the traditions were merged in Kant's mighty hands (those hands were kind of puny actually, but somehow they accomplished a lot). And a number of seemingly distinct philosophers were synthesized, even against their wills, into a single group. And thus All-Natural Synthesizers was born.

Immanuel Kant
Synthesizer-in-chief

You can't have a synthesis without a synthesizer. Kant alone can lead this group.

Of course, there were the naysayers, those who said the group could never be formed. ("No, you Kant! No, you Kant!") But Kant did it.

John Locke
Chief Empiricist Synthesizee

Locke founded the school of British Empiricism. Without him, there would be no experience-based philosophy to synthesize. You might even say Locke is the key to the whole group (and no, no one has ever made that joke before).

David Hume
Deputy Empiricist Synthesizee

Locke may have started the Empiricist tradition, but Hume was more important to Kant's thinking. Don't tell Locke though—he feels unappreciated enough as it is. After all, it was Hume who famously awoke Kant from his "dogmatic slumber."

Hume, of course, probably wished Kant would have stayed asleep.

Gottfried Leibniz
Chief Rationalist Synthesizee

You can't be much more of a rationalist than this guy. Leibniz tried to show that the ultimate nature of all reality could be logically derived from the simple fact that a=a. (We're not kidding.) Pretty... convincing?

Baruch Spinoza
Deputy Rationalist Synthesizee

Perhaps you can't be more of a rationalist than Leibniz, but Spinoza made a valiant effort. His claim to fame was the attempt, in his Ethics, to demonstrate the nature of God, nature, man, ethics, and politics. And we mean actually demonstrate—in the manner of geometry.

Together, Spinoza and Leibniz defined what is meant by "speculative metaphysics"—or, as some might call it, "highly intelligent utter nonsense." Synthesize these guys with some empiricists, please!

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