German Idealism and the Problem of Knowledge: Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel


The problem of knowledge in German Idealism has drawn increasing attention in recent years. This is the first attempt at a systematic critique that covers all four major figures, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. In examining the evolution of the German idealist discussion with respect to a broad array of concepts (epistemology, metaphysics, logic, dialectic, contradiction, totality, and several others), the author draws from a wide variety of sources in several languages, employs lucid and engaging language, and offers a fresh, incisive and challenging critique.

Limnatis contrasts Kant’s epistemological assertiveness with his ontological scepticism as a critical issue in the development of the discourse in German Idealism, and argues that Fichte’s phenomenological demarche only amplifies the Kantian impasse, but allows him to launch a path-breaking critique of formal logic, and to press forward the dialectic. Schelling’s later restoration of metaphysics aims exactly at overcoming the Fichtean conflict between epistemological monism and ontological dualism. And it is Hegel who synthesizes the preceding discussion and unambiguously addresses the need for a new philosophical logic, the dialectical logic. Limnatis scrutinizes Hegel’s deduction in the Phenomenology, invokes modern genetic epistemology, and advances a non-metaphysical reading of the Science of Logic as a genetic theory of systematic knowledge and as circular epistemology. Emphasizing the unity between the logical and the historical, the distinction between intellectual (verständlich) and rational (vernünftig) explanation, and the cognitive importance of contradiction, the author argues for the prospect of an evolving totality of reflective reason.


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