Reinhold, Karl Leonhard (1758–1823)

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Karl Leonhard Reinhold, the Austrian philosopher, was educated by Jesuits until the dissolution of their order in 1773, when he entered the Catholic college of the Barnabites, where he also taught, from 1778 to 1783. In 1783 Reinhold left Vienna for Leipzig and in the same year abandoned Catholicism in favor of Protestantism. A year later he moved to Weimar, where he was invited by Christoph Martin Wieland to contribute to his Teutscher Merkur. Soon he was not only Wieland's closest friend but also his son-in-law. Reinhold's first article, "Gedanken über Aufklärung," in which he traced the emergence of Enlightenment thought, appeared in July 1784, just a few months before the publication of Immanuel Kant's famous essay "What Is Enlightenment?" In his article Reinhold pleaded for the fuller realization of such. Enlightenment aims as greater tolerance toward religious minorities, more widespread secularization of knowledge and its greater accessibility to all sections of the population, and, above all, for the right of the individual to seek and assert truth free from fear, according to his critical reason and moral convictions.

Although two years later (1786) he was to publish a series of articles in support of Kant's critical philosophy, his second article in the Merkur (1785) was directed against Kant's unfavorable review of Johann Gottfried Herder's Ideen. The article appeared anonymously, but Reinhold later admitted his authorship to Kant. The articles dealing with Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, published under the title "Briefe über die Kantische Philosophie" from 1786 to 1787, established Reinhold's reputation as the most skillful exponent of Kant's philosophy and resulted in his being offered the chair of philosophy at the University of Jena in 1787. Reinhold was no less successful as a university teacher, and soon after his arrival Jena became one of the chief centers of Kantian studies. He attracted many students to Jena, and so great was his popularity that he was repeatedly urged to refuse the appointment offered him at the University of Kiel. Reinhold hesitated at first but eventually decided to move to Kiel in 1794, where he remained until his death.

One of the reasons for his departure, perhaps the most decisive, is revealed in a letter to Wieland that Reinhold later published in a selection of essays (Auswahl vermischter Schriften, Jena, 1796), under the title "Ueber die teutschen Beurtheilungen der französischen Revolution." Reinhold became increasingly worried over his countrymen's reactions to the excesses of the French revolutionary tribunals. In Kiel, which was then under Danish rule, he hoped to find a calmer political climate. Without condoning the terror of the revolutionaries, he nevertheless deplored the inferences that were drawn from it by leading public figures in Germany. In particular he viewed with anxiety the introduction of repressive measures and the tendency to regard the French Revolution as a conspiracy of the philosophers. The French revolutionaries, he argued, may have been mistaken in attempting to deduce political rules from abstract principles that were often inadequately understood, but they were correct in their assessment of the desperate plight of their compatriots. If inferences were to be drawn, these would not suggest that philosophy presented a danger to orderly government but rather that disorderly government encouraged men to invoke philosophy in a manner unwarranted by its inherent limitations. Practical considerations such as these, no less than more strictly theoretical ones, prompted Reinhold to inquire more closely into the nature and scope of philosophical speculation.

Most of the works that he wrote at Kiel advanced a "fundamental philosophy" concerned with the basic presuppositions of scientifically valid thought. As the basic axiom of his "fundamental philosophy" Reinhold postulated the principle of consciousness, which he formulated in this way: By virtue of consciousness the perceiving (erkennende ) subject is capable of distinguishing himself as something distinct from, while at the same time related to, the object of his consciousness, which, however, is not the object itself but rather the idea or notion (Vorstellung ) of it. The consciousness itself constitutes a basic and irreducible fact, capable of neither proof nor further definition. It can only verify itself by reflecting upon itself. Reinhold was anxious to demonstrate that every thought process involves both a priori and a posteriori elements. The relation of the Vorstellung to the external object embodies its a posteriori material content (Stoff ), whereas the subjective activity involved (Vorstellungsvermögen ) in shaping the material content into a clear Vorstellung constitutes its a priori form (Form ).

Reinhold stipulated three interconnected stages in the operation of consciousness: sense perception (Anschauung ), which he classified as a receptive activity, and cognitive understanding (Verstand ) and reflective reasoning (Vernunft ), both of which he described as spontaneous activities. The product of these combined activities is the Vorstellung, which, Reinhold warned, must not be confused with an "image" or an "impression," for both terms suggest mere receptivity. Nor must it be identified with a "representation" of the object, since there is no way of either proving the identity of the Vorstellung with the object or even of comparing its similarity to the object. It follows that the object as such, no less than the subject as such, remains not only unknowable (as Kant realized) but also inconceivable. Both subject and object, therefore, as things-in-themselves are pure abstractions. They are the residue of a Vorstellung, the thing minus the notion or conception of it.

Without denying the existence of things-in-themselves, Reinhold refused to commit himself as to the nature of their existence. He explicitly stated that he was merely anxious to determine the possibility and the limitations of cognition, not to inquire into its psychological origins or into the ontological nature of the objects of cognition. His declared aim was to provide a descriptive account, a phenomenology, rather than a theory of cognition, together with an analysis of the terminology commonly employed in this field. In spite of, or perhaps because of, Reinhold's deliberate delimitation of his theoretical undertaking, his works provided suggestively fertile starting points for subsequent Kantian research from Johann Gottlieb Fichte to Arthur Schopenhauer.

See also A Priori and A Posteriori; Consciousness; Enlightenment; Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Herder, Johann Gottfried; Kant, Immanuel; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Toleration.


additional works by reinhold

Versuch einer neuen Theorie des menschlichen Vorstellungsvermögens. Prague and Jena, Germany, 1789.

Beyträge zur Berichtigung bisheriger Missverständnisse der Philosophen. 2 vols. Jena, Germany, 1790 and 1794.

Ueber das Fundament des philosophischen Wissens. Jena, Germany, 1791.

Versuch einer Kritik der Logik aus dem Gesichtspunkt der Sprache. Kiel, 1806.

Grundlegung einer Synonymik für den allgemeinen Sprachgebrauch in den philosophischen Wissenschaften. Kiel, 1812.

Das menschliche Erkenntnisvermögen aus dem Gesichtspunkt der durch die Wortsprache vermittelten Zusammenhänge zwischen Sinnlichkeit und dem Denkvermögen. Kiel, 1816.

works on reinhold

Adam, Herbert. Carl Leonhard Reinholds philosophischer Systemwechsel. Heidelberg: Winter, 1930.

Bondeli, Martin, and Wolfgang H. Schrader, eds. Die Philosophie Karl Leonhard Reinholds. New York: Rodopi, 2003. In English and German.

Cassirer, Ernst. Das Erkenntnisproblem. Vol. III, 3357. Berlin: Cassirer, 1923.

Klemmt, Alfred. Karl Leonhard Reinholds Elementarphilosophie. Hamburg: Meiner, 1958.

Kroner, Richard. Von Kant bis Hegel. Vol. I, 315326. Tübingen, 1921.

Reinhold, Ernst. Karl Leonhard Reinholds Leben und literarisches Wirken. Jena, Germany: Frommann, 1825.

Roehr, Sabine. "Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller." Journal of the History of Ideas 64 (1) (2003): 119134.

Selling, Magnus. Karl Leonhard Reinholds Elementarphilosophie in ihrem philosophischen Zusammenhang. Lund, 1938.

Solomon, Robert C. Introducing the German Idealists: Mock Interviews with Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, Reinhold, Jacobi, Schlegel, and a Letter from Schopenhauer. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981.

Von Schonborn, Alexander. "Karl Leonhard Reinhold: Endeavoring to Keep up the Pace Mit Unserem Zeitalter." In The Emergence of German Idealism: Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy. Vol. 34, edited by Michael Baur. Washington, DC: Catholic University American Press, 1999.

Frederick M. Barnard (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)

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Reinhold, Karl Leonhard (1758–1823)

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