A term used primarily to designate the philosophy of Immanuel kant; in a more general sense, it applies to any philosophical doctrine that adopts a critical attitude, i.e., that systematically questions whatever appears to be true and yet is capable of being doubted. In epistemolo gy, criticism is opposed to dogmatism; its aim there is to make evident the postulational character of knowl edge or its decisive presuppositions and fundamental premises. This article is concerned with criticism in the Kantian sense, treating of its basic notion and its development into the critical idealism of J. G. fichte.
Kantian criticism. Criticism, according to kant, is an investigation of the nature and the limits of reason and knowledge pursued in such a manner that both skepti cism and dogmatism are avoided. Kantian criticism arose out of a dissatisfaction with the rationalism of the 17th century and the empiricism of the 18th century, both of which had failed, in Kant's eyes, to deal adequately with the problem of knowledge. Whereas rationalism, for him, sought first to preserve necessity and universality in knowledge, and, second, to bring that knowledge into contact with the existential real, empiricism reversed the epistemological process; it started with sensations of things and attempted to raise these, through experience, to a knowledge that was necessary and universal. Yet Kant's work was more than a critical investigation of these epistemological theories. It consisted surely in this, but Kant's principal undertaking was to offer a critique of the faculty for acquiring knowledge itself. To criticize such a faculty, for Kant, is not only to expose sources of error, but also to discover and examine elements in knowledge and stipulate conditions that are necessary for its acquisition.
Transcendental Philosophy. Kantian philosophy of criticism is also called transcendental philosophy, an expression that has a proper meaning for Kant. The transcendental method of argument is opposed to classical ontology, which seeks to explain in some rational way the existence of particular objects given in knowledge; the transcendental method, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with the very possibility of knowledge. Philosophies that consider concepts and principles relating to the existence of objects were regarded by Kant as metaphysical and, as such, opposed to his transcendental philosophy. The latter considers concepts and principles as conditions for the very possibility of knowledge and shows these conditions to be sufficient and necessary. see transcendental (kantian).
Analysis and Deduction. Kant's critical reflection upon the functioning of knowledge and the validity of its affirmations may be considered under the two aspects of critical analysis and critical deduction. The purpose of the first is to examine the elements and laws that operate in the formation of a true judgment. This aspect of criticism is concerned with the parts of judgment and the conditions under which judgment is true. It attempts to determine the constitutive elements of judgment by examining the conditions for its validity. This first aspect of critical analysis, or "transcendental analysis," as Kant called it, is complemented by the aspect of critical deduction. Here the philosopher shows the absolute necessity of those conditions in the act of knowledge on which truth and thought are grounded.
Critical idealism. Out of Kantian critical philosophy came other philosophical currents, some leading to developments within Kantianism and neo-kantianism, others more significantly prompting the growth of German speculative idealism. Thus J. G. Fichte (1762–1814), who had deeply immersed himself in the works of Kant, set into operation a series of philosophical movements that owe much to the critical attitude of Kant. Fichte called his own position a critical idealism, which he distinguished from Kant's philosophy and from the dogmatism of some forms of realism.
Whereas Kant had taken a variety of objects for critical study, Fichte made man the sole object of study and made man's ego the source of the being of the world. Fichte's main departure from Kant, however, was on the notion of the thing-in-itself. Fichte criticized this notion because on Kantian premises there was no reason to assert the existence of any entity that is unknowable. This led him to transform critical philosophy into a consistent critical idealism, which taught that things had to be considered in their totality as products of thought.
Fichte further converted Kant's transcendental ego into a metaphysical or ontological principle. The ego of Fichte became, not the individual finite ego, but the Absolute Ego. Hegel later made the ultimate principle Infinite Reason or Infinite Spirit. Critical idealism thereupon became a metaphysical idealism in which reality is the process of the self-expression or the self-manifestation of Infinite Reason.
See Also: idealism; kantianism; knowledge, theories of.
Bibliography: f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster, Md. 1946—) v. 6, 7. v. sainati, Enciclopedia filosofica (Venice-Rome 1957) 1:1352–55. r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe (4th ed. Berlin 1927–30) 1:877–880. h. w. cassirer, Kant's First Critique (New York 1954); A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Judgment (London 1938). a. c. ewing, A Short Commentary on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Chicago, Ill.1950).
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