Beck, Jakob Sigismund (1761–1840)

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Jakob Sigismund Beck, the German Kantian philosopher, was born in Marienburg. He studied mathematics and philosophy in Königsberg with P. Krause and Immanuel Kant, completing his studies in 1783. In 1791 he became a teacher at the gymnasium in Halle and, in 1796, extraordinary professor of philosophy at Halle University. He was called to Rostock as professor of metaphysics in 1799 and remained there until his death.

Purporting to defend the "true" Kantian position against "dogmatic" misinterpretations, Beck called attention to problems concerning the role of the thing-in-itself in Kant's theory of perception. Beck rejected any positive role for the thing-in-itself and argued that the object affecting our senses must be phenomenal. Kant's theory of affection is to be understood not in the transcendent sense, as the working of an unknowable thing-in-itself on an unobservable "I"-in-itself, but only in the empirical sense: A phenomenal body in phenomenal space affects the "I" of inner sense.

But this "I" and this body, according to Beck, are themselves the products of an original activity of the understanding. The synthetic activity of "representing" (vorstellen ) is presupposed by our viewing sense data as given by something objectively outside ourselves. Beck therefore objected to Kant's definition of sensibility as an immediate relation to an affecting object. The intuitions of sense say nothing about their own objectivity or source. Not until they are subjected to the categories of the understanding do they become objective, for only then can we invoke the notion of external objects and speak of intuitions as given to our senses by such objects. The order of exposition of the Critique of Pure Reason is therefore misleading. One ought not to begin with sensibility, but with the synthetic unity or "original activity" (ursprüngliche Beilegung ) of the understanding, the unique a priori act of combination (Zusammensetzung ).

In philosophy of religion, Beck held that God is a symbol created by man, a symbol of man's ethical conscience. Piety consists simply in obedience to the commands of conscience.

In letters to Beck (1792) Kant complimented him for investigating "what is just the hardest thing in the Critique," approved Beck's reorganization of the Critical Philosophy, and said that he himself planned to write a work on metaphysics that would utilize the order of exposition that Beck had suggested. Kant's Opus Postumum shows the extent of Beck's influence, particularly in Kant's manuscript on the progress of metaphysics since Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Christian Wolff.

Some of Kant's followers classed Beck with Johann Gottlieb Fichte and accused Beck of making the understanding the creator of objects. Beck did write: "Reality is itself the original act of representing, from which the concept of objects subsequently derives." But although he spoke     of the original act as object-generating, he told Kant that he did not mean that the understanding creates objects. Beck granted the existence and importance of the given in knowledge while he attempted to bridge the dualism of sense and intellect and to insist that neither the given nor the notion of "things" could be taken as epistemologically primary.

See also Kant, Immanuel.


works by beck

Erlaüternder Auszug aus den kritischen Schriften des Herrn Prof. Kant, auf Anrathen desselben. Riga, 17931796. Volume III of this work, Einzig möglicher Standpunkt aus welchem die kritische Philosophie beurteilt werden muss (Only possible standpoint from which the critical philosophy must be judged), contains Beck's most important ideas.

Grundriss der kritischen Philosophie. Halle, 1796.

Kommentar über Kants Metaphysik der Sitten. Halle, 1798.

Lehrbuch der Logik. Rostock, 1820.

Lehrbuch des Naturrechts. Jena, Germany, 1820.

works on beck

Dilthey, Wilhelm. "Die Rostocker Kanthandschriften." Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie II (1889): 592650. Discusses Beck's place among Kant's disciples and critics.

Durante, G. Gli epigoni di Kant. Florence: Sansoni, 1943.

Meyer, Thomas L. "Das Problems Eines Höchsten Grundsatzes der Philosophie bei Jacob Sigismund Beck." Analogia Filosofica 5 (2) (1991): 205208.

Potschel, W. J. S. Beck und Kant. Breslau, 1910.

Vleeschauwer, H. J. de. L'evolution de la pensée kantienne. Paris, 1939. Translated by A. R. C. Duncan as The Development of Kantian Thought. London: Nelson, 1962. Discusses Beck's influence on Kant's last reworking of the Critique of Pure Reason.

Arnulf Zweig (1967)
Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)

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Beck, Jakob Sigismund (1761–1840)

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