Kantian Journal

2017 Vol. 36. No. 2

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‘Back to Kant’ or ‘Back to Leibnitz’? A critical view from the history of Russian metaphysical personalism



This article provides a comparative analysis of the influence of the two great German thinkers — Immanuel Kant and Gottfried Leibnitz — on the Russian philosophy of the 19th/20th centuries. The ideas of metaphysical personalists and neo-Leibnizians (E. A. Bobrov, A. A. Kozlov, S. A. Alekseev (Askoldov), N. O. Lossky, and V. Salagova) are invoked to demonstrate the main arguments of the critique of Kantianism and neo-Kantianism in Russian philosophy. It is shown that the ideas of Russian neo-Leibnizians are closely connected with those of the thinkers of the ‘late and mature phase’ of German idealism (A. Trendelenburg, R. G. Lotze, and G. Teichmüller). A historical and theoretical analysis of the neo-Kantian and neo-Leibnizian ideas helps to identify the similarities (criticism and the belief in ‘pure experience’ as the basis of science) and differences between the two concepts (the interpretation of ‘pure experience’ as personal and individual vs the propensity to ‘formalise’ and ‘objectify’ it). It is shown that neo-Leibnizian epistemology seeks ‘pure experience’. However, such experience is not interpreted as ‘bare’ cognition or its mere possibility but rather it is perceived as a combination of consciousness (Bewusstsein), knowledge (Erkenntnis), the consciousness of God (Gottesbewusstsein), faith, and free will. Thus, Russian neo-Leibnizians represented their epistemology as a complete sphere and viewed the Kantian and neo-Kantian teaching of ‘pure experience’ as a section of that sphere. However, Russian metaphysical personalists were not Leibniz’s epigones, since they denied one of the key postulates of his Monadology — the principle of pre-established harmony. It is concluded that neo-Leibnizianism or metaphysical personalism has spiritual kinship with Russian religious philosophy (the case of A. S. Khomyakov and V. S. Soloviev is used as proof). On the contrary, neo-Kantianism and Kant’s ideas were in the state of terminal confrontation within this school of thought.


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