Schulze, Gottlob Ernst (1761–1833)

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Gottlob Ernst Schulze, the skeptic and critic of Kantian philosophy, was born in Heldrungen, Thuringia. He was professor at Wittenberg and Helmstedt and later at Göttingen, where one of his students was Arthur Schopenhauer. His influence is due chiefly to his writings, in which he developed his critical-skeptical position. Schulze's main work, and the one that made him famous, was Aenesidemus. In this work, which first appeared anonymously and without the place of publication, Schulze presents objections to the Kantian critique and to K. L. Reinhold's intended vindication of the critical philosophy. Schulze's arguments against the critical philosophy led him to share David Hume's skepticism, of which he gave a concise presentation.

The Aenesidemus tries to show that Hume's skepticism has not been refuted by the critical philosophy. However, Schulze's position is not that of absolute skepticism: The validity of formal logic and the principles of identity and contradiction are not subject to doubt. He defined skepticism as the doctrine "that philosophy can establish neither the existence nor the non-existence of things-in-themselves and their qualities. Also the limits of our cognitive capacity cannot be fixed and ascertained on the basis of generally valid principles. But the reality of presentations and the certitude of mental events immediately given through consciousness no skeptic has ever doubted" (Aenesidemus, p. 24). On the other hand, "skepticism does not declare the metaphysical questions to be eternally unanswerable and in principle not liable to a solution" (p. 24). Through progressive development it is possible to approach a solution of the problems concerning the existence or nonexistence of things-in-themselves and the limits of our cognitive capacities.

Thus the possibility of perfecting human cognition so as to attain clarity and certitude in particular metaphysical questions was not denied by Schulze. However, his objection to the critical philosophy was not limited to the question concerning the possibility of progress in metaphysics; he also attempted to show the self-contradictory nature of Immanuel Kant's critical philosophy. The critical philosophy argues that since general and necessary knowledge is possible only through synthetic a priori judgments, such judgments must represent reality. Furthermore, such judgments are possible only on the assumption of a pure capacity of understanding; hence, such a capacity must exist. In interpreting Kant, Reinhold generalized this mode of argumentation, formulating the fundamental principle that the presentation of any object implies the distinction between consciousness of the subject, of the object, and of the relation obtaining between them. From these indispensable components of the presentation Reinhold concluded the reality of corresponding objects.

However, from the fact that presentations always contain the notions of subject, of object, and of their relation to each other it is illegitimate, according to Schulze, to conclude the objective reality of corresponding objects. The transition from thought to being is grounded in ontological thinking, which Kant himself showed to be defective in his criticism of the classic proofs for the existence of God and of dogmatic metaphysics. Since one cannot argue from the conditions of thought to the reality of objects, the problem of philosophy is, according to the critical philosophy, to search for the competence and the legitimacy of our thought to determine objects of reality. The task of the Kantian critique is to show the objective validity of our judgments. However, the indispensable conditions of thought constitute subjective necessity, from which objective validity cannot be derived.

Furthermore, "it is presupposed that each part of human cognition must be grounded in reality as its cause. Without such an assumption the doctrine of the Critique concerning the origin of the necessary judgments has no meaning whatsoever" (ibid., pp. 137f.). The conclusion from the necessary judgments in our consciousness as to the reality of objects is based on the principle of causality. Existing objects constitute the causes of our cognition. The category of causality is thus employed with reference to noumena. Also, in the conception of sensibility as a faculty of receptivity, the existence of things-in-themselves that have the capacity to affect our sensibility is presupposed. Here again the concept of causality is applied to noumena, while, according to the critical philosophy, causality as a category of understanding is confined to the realm of phenomena. Reinhold's doctrine that things-in-themselves, although not cognizable, are nonetheless thinkable, is untenable. Since the things-in-themselves are thought to be the cause of cognition, they are cognized as having the capacity to affect the knowing and thinking capacity. The thing-in-itself must be cognizable, or it cannot be considered as a cause of cognition.

Likewise, the concept of causality cannot be employed for proving the reality of the subject as a thing-in-itself. Schulze understood the Kantian solution of the question "How are synthetic a priori propositions possible?" as consisting in the derivation of these propositions from the subject as their cause: "The Critique derives the necessary synthetic propositions from the subjective mind (Gemüth ) and its a priori determined cognitive processes by the application of the principle of causality, which does not harmonize with its own principles delimiting the area of application of the categories" (ibid., pp. 153f.). Moreover, the conclusion from the propositions to the reality of a capacity in the mind does not explain the process of cognition. Nothing is gained by proposing that the perception of the material given is due to a receptive capacity, for a problem is not explained by reducing it to something unknown. The problem of cognition of experience is not solved by a reduction of cognition to a receptive capacity that is no less problematical.

Schulze considered the a priori concepts as existing in time "prior" to the cognition of objects. This account of the a priori concepts as innate ideas and as inherent qualities of the subjective mind is a misunderstanding of the Kantian position that has been common to numerous interpreters of Kant until the present. Schulze thus failed to understand the essence of the critical philosophy, which does not aim at deriving the synthetic propositions from the subject as a thing-in-itself. Kant was not concerned with the psychological process of cognition but with objective cognition, as manifested in the scientific process. The problem is how synthetic a priori propositions are possible in mathematics and science, and not how the human mind as a subject conceives such propositions. The objectivity of the judgments is vouchsafed by the scientific laws determining objects that arise through these laws. This is implied in the Kantian principle of the "possibility of experience." Scientific experience is possible only through synthetic propositions. Since without synthetic propositions there would be no scientific experience at all, their legitimacy is vouchsafed by the function they fulfill for experience. Furthermore, Schulze held the difference between synthetic and analytic propositions was not an objective distinction, and, psychologically considered, it depends on subjective circumstances whether a proposition is synthetic or analytic for a particular individual at a certain moment.

Schulze's criticism of Kant implied the notion of the subject and predicate of the proposition as individually given and fixed entities, so that the synthetic proposition connects elements that can be thought of in themselves. Hence, the concepts of the subject and the predicate must be thought of as separately given, and the question is how their connection can be of a necessary nature. Schulze did not realize that for Kant the concept of the subject arises by its determination through the synthetic proposition. In the proposition "S is P," S is an unknown before its determination through P. The investigation of S is a "doubt-inquiry process" (John Dewey's expression); S acquires determination only through the predicate. Schulze's criticism is thus predicated upon an understanding of the critical philosophy as subjective idealism with the notion of a priori concepts as innate ideas, which leads to dogmatic assumptions concerning the application of the concept of causality to things-in-themselves. The a priori concepts in the critical philosophy are not to be understood as constituent features of the subjective human mind but as creative functions of thought in the process of ordering experience.

Schulze was also critical of Kant's conception of moral theology. He raised objections to the Kantian doctrine of the postulates (God, freedom, immortality) as formulated in the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. From the sense of the moral command in us, the categorical imperative, there can be no conclusion as to the reality of a most perfect being. As ideas of reason, God, freedom, and immortality are endless tasks for human activity, but by the conception of these ideas as postulates their real existence as objects is posited. "The Kantian moral theology postulates more than what practical reason demands for the satisfaction of its requirements" (ibid., pp. 440ff.). In his criticism of the postulates Schulze has partly anticipated the neo-Kantianism of the Marburg school. Hermann Cohen, for example, although motivated by different considerations, has pointed out that the regulative ideas of reason do not require the support of the doctrine of postulates.

Schulze's contribution to the development of Kantian idealism consists in his exposing the contradictions and inconsistencies involved in both dogmatic-realistic and subjective-idealistic interpretations of the critical philosophy, but his attempt at a vindication of Hume's skepticism proved ineffective for further development of Kantian idealism. Philosophical thought took the course not back to Hume but to a more consistent critical idealism eliminating the concept of a thing-in-itself (as in Salomon Maimon) and to speculative idealism as it developed in the post-Kantian metaphysical systems. However, by his valuable criticism of the doctrine of the faculties of the soul Schulze anticipated Johann Friedrich Herbart and influenced Friedrich Eduard Beneke (17981854).

According to Schulze, a phenomenon of the life of the soul is not explained by attributing it to a "faculty." Such an attribution does not explain, but merely gives another name to the same thing. The task of psychology as a science is, rather, a detailed description of actual mental occurrences and their systematic classification. By such a method, general concepts of psychological phenomena can be attained; but they should not be attributed to "faculties" of the soul, which is a metaphysical concept.

See also A Priori and A Posteriori; Beneke, Friedrich Eduard; Cohen, Hermann; Dewey, John; Herbart, Johann Friedrich; Hume, David; Innate Ideas; Kant, Immanuel; Maimon, Salomon; Neo-Kantianism; Reinhold, Karl Leonhard; Skepticism.


works by schulze

Grundriss der philosophischen Wissenschaften. 2 vols. Wittenberg, 17881790.

Aenesidemus, oder über die Fundamente der von dem Herrn Professor Reinhold in Jena gelieferten Elementarphilosophie. Nebst einer Vertheidigung des Skepticismus gegen die Anmassungen der Vernunftkritik. 1792. Reedited by the Kantgesellschaft, in the series of rare philosophical works edited by Arthur Liebert. Berlin: Reuther and Reichard, 1911.

Kritik der theoretischen Philosophie. 2 vols. Hamburg, 1801.

Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften. Göttingen, 1814.

Über die menschliche Erkenntnis. Göttingen, 1832.

works on schulze

Cassirer, Ernst. Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit. Vol. III. Berlin: Cassirer, 1920.

DiGiovanni, George. "The First Twenty Years of Critique: The Spinoza Connection" In The Cambridge Companion to Kant, edited by Paul Guyer. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Erdmann, Johann Edward. Versuch einer wissenschaftlichen Darstellung der Geschichte der neueren Philosophie. Vol. III. Riga and Dorpat, 18481853.

Fischer, Kuno. Geschichte der neueren Philosophie. 3rd ed., vol. VI. Heidelberg, 1900.

Kroner, Richard. Von Kant bis Hegel. 2 vols. Tübingen: Mohr, 19211924.

Rosen, Michael. "From Kant to Fichte: A Reply to Franks" In Transcendental Arguments: Problems and Prospects, edited by Robert Stern. Oxford: Clarendon Oxford Press: 1999.

Wiegershausen, Heinrich. Aenesidem-Schulze, der Gegner Kants und seine Bedeutung im Neukantianismus. Berlin, 1910. This is Kantstudien, Supp. No. 17.

Samuel Atlas (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)

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Schulze, Gottlob Ernst (1761–1833)

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