Study Guide

Immanuel Kant - Transcendental Idealists United

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Transcendental Idealists United

Okay, everyone knows that philosophers can't agree on anything. But, come on, in a world where everyone and their brothers identify as some species or other of "physicalist," you would think that the very few remaining transcendental idealists would be happy to band together.

Guess again. The thought of being lumped together with him or with him—or even just to be seen as following in the footsteps of Kant, the creator of transcendental idealism—was just too much for these folks to bear.

Finally, Schopenhauer put his fist down. "Guys," he said, "we're out-numbered, way out-numbered. If we don't have each other's backs, no one else will, and each one of us is going to die out there on his own—slowly and painfully."

Schopenhauer promised that no one would have to abandon their precious unique identities, and no one would have to pretend to agree on much. Reluctantly, everyone signed on to the program, and Transcendental Idealists United (TIU) was formed (the name being shortened from the original "Transcendental Idealists United Despite Their Many Important Differences").

TIU's charter states: "We hold that humans have knowledge only of phenomena, and things-in-themselves are forever inaccessible to our minds. We also hold that none of us is completely satisfied with that description of our view."

Arthur Schopenhauer
President and Founder

Schopenhauer is the only member of the group willing to admit that he might have been just a teensy-weensy bit influenced by Kant. He famously claims: "The world is my representation." That's a view very reminiscent of Kant's basic idea that empirical reality is fundamentally structured by the mind.

Like Kant, Schopenhauer also allows for the "thing-in-itself," which Schopenhauer himself calls "the will." But Schopenhauer is not talking about some inaccessible object somehow behind phenomena; he's talking about the same world in a different light, under a different aspect.

For Schopenhauer, the will is the irrational, unknowable core of the world, the world as a manifestation of endless desire. As such, the will is the source of suffering, and our aim is to negate it. Here, Schopenhauer sounds a lot more like a Buddhist than a Kantian.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Some claim that Fichte's prose style shows that he is Kant's true successor. Sure, in terms of unintelligibility, he definitely gives the Master a run for his money—Fichte's first published work was, in fact, thought to have been written by Kant. But his work turns on the very un-Kantian move of entirely abandoning the notion of the "thing-in-itself." Instead, Fichte claims that world of phenomena arises entirely from self-consciousness.

What does that mean? Who knows? Fichte admitted that even he didn't always fully understand what he was talking about.

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling

Schelling started out as a student of Fichte and later became a friend of Hegel (and, still later, Hegel's enemy). Those facts alone should be enough to suggest that reading him is going to be a challenge. It is. Plus, he is constantly changing his mind, so even if you manage to understand him at one point in his career, he is sure to confuse you at the next stage.

Like a good transcendental idealist, Schelling begins by emphasizing the centrality of the subject. But he eventually shows, or claims to show, that the difference between subject and object has been overcome. Dare we say that he transcended transcendental idealism itself? Maybe, and maybe that's why he was the most reluctant member of this group.

Edmund Husserl
Resident Phenomenologist

Husserl joined TIU only under the condition that he be recognized primarily as a phenomenologist. Let that fact be duly noted. But, for him, phenomenology is a supposed non-metaphysical investigation of the a priori structures of phenomena, structures that are constituted by the subject. We know you are unique and original, Eddie, but you have to admit that your basic project sounds a lot like Kant's.

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