cover of book

German Idealism: The Struggle against Subjectivism, 1781–1801
by Frederick C. BEISER
Harvard University Press, 2002
Paper: 978-0-674-02717-6 | Cloth: 978-0-674-00769-7 | eISBN: 978-0-674-02070-2
Library of Congress Classification B2745.B47 2002
Dewey Decimal Classification 141.094309033

One of the very few accounts in English of German idealism, this ambitious work advances and revises our understanding of both the history and the thought of the classical period of German philosophy. As he traces the structure and evolution of idealism as a doctrine, Frederick Beiser exposes a strong objective, or realist, strain running from Kant to Hegel and identifies the crucial role of the early romantics--Hölderlin, Schlegel, and Novalis--as the founders of absolute idealism.

Traditionally, German idealism is understood as a radical form of subjectivism that expands the powers of the self to encompass the entire world. But Beiser reveals a different--in fact, opposite--impulse: an attempt to limit the powers of the subject. Between Kant and Hegel he finds a movement away from cosmic subjectivity and toward greater realism and naturalism, with one form of idealism succeeding another as each proved an inadequate basis for explaining the reality of the external world and the place of the self in nature. Thus German idealism emerges here not as a radical development of the Cartesian tradition of philosophy, but as the first important break with that tradition.

Table of Contents:

1. Realism in German Idealism
2. Exorcising the Spirit
3. The Critique of Foundationalism
4. The Troublesome Hegelian Legacy
5. The Taxonomy of German Idealism


Introduction: Kant and the Problem of Subjectivism
1. The Clash of Interpretations
2. Method and Results
3. Contemporary Kant Scholarship

1. Idealism in the Precritical Years
1. The Idealist Challenge
2. The First Refutation of Idealism
3. Idealist Dreams and Visions
4. The Critique of Idealism in the Inaugural Dissertation
5. Skeptical Ambivalence
6. David Hume, Transcendental Realist

2. Transcendental Idealism and Empirical Realism
1. The Case for Subjectivism
2. The First Edition Definitions of Transcendental Idealism
3. Transcendental versus Empirical Idealism
4. Empirical Realism in the Aesthetic
5. Empirical Realism and Empirical Dualism

3. The First Edition Refutation of Skeptical Idealism
1. The Priority of Skeptical Idealism
2. The Critique of the Fourth Paralogism
3. The Proof of the External World
4. A Cartesian Reply
5. Appearances and Spatiality
6. The Ambiguity of Transcendental Idealism
7. The Coherence of Transcendental Idealism

4. The First Edition Refutation of Dogmatic Idealism
1. The Missing Refutation
2. Kant's Interpretation of Leibniz
3. The Dispute in the Aesthetic
4. Dogmatic Idealism in the Antinomies

5. Kant and Berkeley
1. The Göttingen Review
2. Kant's Reaction
3. Berkeleyianism in the First Edition of the Kritik
4. The Argument of the Prolegomena
5. Kant's Interpretation of Berkeley
6. The Small but Real Differences?

6. The Second Edition Refutation of Problematic Idealism
1. The Problem of Interpretation
2. Kant's Motives
3. The Question of Kant's Realism
4. Realism in the Refutation
5. The New Strategy
6. The Argument of the Refutation
7. Outer vis-à-vis Inner Sense
8. Kant's Refutations in the Reflexionen, 1788-93

7. Kant and the Way of Ideas
1. The Theory of Ideas
2. Loyalty and Apostasy
3. The Transcendental versus the Subjective
4. The Question of Consistency
5. The Doctrine of Inner Sense
6. Kantian Self-Knowledge and the Cartesian Tradition

8. The Transcendental Subject
1. Persistent Subjectivism
2. Eliminating the Transcendental Subject
3. The Criteria of Subjectivity
4. The Subjectivity of the Transcendental
5. Restoring the Transcendental Subject

9. The Status of the Transcendental
1. The Problematic Status of the Categories
2. The Metaphysial Interpretation
3. The Psychological Interpretation
4. The Logical Interpretation
5. The Ineliminable Psychological Dimension
6. Problems of Transcendental Psychology
7. Transcendental Psychology and Transcendental Idealism

10. Kant's Idealism in the Opus postumum
1. Kant's Peruke
2. The Gap in the Critical System
3. The Transition Program and Its Implications
4. The Transition and Refutation
5. The Selbstsetzungslehre
6. Appearance of Appearance: Continuity with Critical Doctrines
7. Appearance of Appearance: Its Novelty
8. The Thing-in-Itself


Introduction: The Interpretation of Fichte's Idealism

1. Fichte and the Subjectivist Tradition
1. The Challenge of Subjectivism
2. Early Critique of Reinhold
3. The Discovery of Desire
4. The Primacy of Practical Reason
5. Fichte's Foundationalism?

2. The Battle against Skepticism
1. First Doubts
2. The Aenesidemus Review
3. Maimon's Skepticism
4. The Official Response
5. The Final Line of Defense

3. Criticism versus Dogmatism
1. The Transformation of the Kantian Problematic
2. The Two Systems
3. The Refutation of Dogmatism
4. Fichte and the Thing-in-Itself

4. Freedom and Subjectivity
1. The Meaning of Freedom
2. The Theory of Subjectivity
3. Woes of the Absolute Ego
4. The Two Egos

5. Knowledge of Freedom
1. The Break with Kant
2. A Philosophy of Striving
3. The Origins of Intellectual Intuition
4. The Meaning of Intellectual Intuition
5. Fichte versus Kant on Intellectual Intuition
6. Self-Knowledge and Freedom
7. Faith in Freedom

6. Critical Idealism
1. Problems of Idealism
2. The Role of Striving
3. The Synthesis of Idealism and Realism
4. Reintroducing and Reinterpreting the Thing-in-Itself

7. The Refutation of Idealism
1. Later Arguments against Idealism
2. The Fichtean versus Kantian Refutation
3. Problems of Exposition
4. The Deduction of the External World

8. The Structure of Intersubjectivity
1. Kant versus Fichte on the Problem of Other Minds
2. First Reflections
3. The Argument for Intersubjectivity
4. The Normative Structure of Intersubjectivity


1. Absolute Idealism: General Introduction
1. The Dramatis Personae
2. The Meaning of Absolute Idealism
3. Absolute versus Critical Idealism
4. The Break with Critical Idealism
5. Intellectual Sources
6. The Rehabilitation of Metaphysics
7. The Aesthetics of Absolute Idealism

2. Hölderlin and Absolute Idealism
1. Philosophy versus Poetry
2. Sources of Absolute Idealism
3. The Critique of Fichte
4. Aesthetic Sense
5. The Concept of Nature
6. Philosophy in Literature

3. Novalis' Magical Idealism
1. Novalis and the Idealist Tradition
2. Fichte Studies
3. Fichte in Novalis' Idealism
4. The Elements of Magical Idealism
5. Syncriticism
6. Models of Knowledge

4. Friedrich Schlegel's Absolute Idealism
1. Philosophy, History, and Poetry
2. The Break with Fichte
3. An Antifoundationalist Epistemology
4. Romanticism and Absolute Idealism
5. The Mystical
6. Lectures on Transcendental Idealism


Introduction: The Troublesome Schellingian Legacy

1. The Path toward Absolute Idealism
1. The Fichte-Schelling Alliance
2. Early Fault Lines
3. An Independent Standpoint
4. The First Quarrel

2. The Development of Naturphilosophie
1. The Claims of Naturphilosophie
2. The Early Fichtean Phase
3. The First Decisive Step
4. The Priority of Naturphilosophie

3. Schelling's Break with Fichte
1. Background
2. The Dispute Begins
3. Schelling States His Case
4. A Botched Reconciliation
5. Persistent Hopes
6. The Irresolvable Differences

4. Problems, Methods, and Concepts of Naturphilosophie
1. Absolute Idealism and Naturphilosophie
2. The Problematic of Naturphilosophie
3. Rethinking Matter
4. Nature as Organism
5. Regulative or Constitutive?
6. The Methodology of Naturphilosophie

5. Theory of Life and Matter
1. The Spinozism of Physics
2. The Dynamic Construction of Matter
3. The Theory of Life
4. Irritability, Sensibility, and World Soul
5. The Mental and Physical as Potencies

6. Schelling's Absolute Idealism
1. The Blinding Light of 1801
2. Objective Idealism
3. The Kantian-Fichtean Interpretation
4. The Interpretation of Subject-Object Identity

7. The Dark Night of the Absolute
1. The Dark Parmenidian Vision
2. The Dilemma of Absolute Knowledge
3. Rethinking the Absolute
4. The Fall

8. Absolute Knowledge
1. In Defense of Speculation
2. The Strategy for the Defense
3. Intellectual Intuition
4. Fichte versus Schelling on Intellectual Intuition
5. Art versus Philosophy
6. The Method of Construction
7. Head over Heels into the Absolute?
8. The Paradox of Absolute Knowledge


Reviews of this book:
[A] magnificent new book...That Beiser manages to keep the reader afloat as he steers through such deep and turbulent waters deserves the highest praise. Expository writing of unfailing lucidity is supported by reference to an unrivalled range of sources...I learned something from this book on almost every page...For anyone at all seriously interested in the topic this is now the place to start.
--Michael Rosen, Times Literary Supplement
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