Kantian Journal

2020 Vol. 39. No. 2

Back to the list Download an article

The Paradox of Kant’s Transcendental Subject in German Philosophy in the Late Eighteenth Century



The study of the “first wave” of reactions to the Critique of Pure Reason in Germany from the second half of the 1780s until the beginning of the nineteenth century reveals the paradoxical status of the Kantian transcendental subject. While the existence of the transcendental subject, whatever the term means, is not open to question since it arises from the very essence of critical philosophy, the fundamental status of the subject is sometimes questioned in this period. Although the meaning of the concept of transcendental subject seems obvious today (the subject of cognition, bearer of transcendental conditions of experience) it lends itself to various interpretations in the late eighteenth century. To achieve my goal I have undertaken a textological analysis of the works of the earliest opponents and followers of the Kantian critique and a reconstruction of the conceptual field in the midst of which the transcendental subject has been planted. Among others I draw on the works of J. S. Beck, J. A. Eberhard, J. G. Hamann, F. H. Jacobi, S. Maimon, K. L. Reinhold, G. E. Schulze and A. Weishaupt. The authors of the period are grouped depending on the common themes and questions that prompted them to turn to the concept of the transcendental subject, even though the results of their reflections did not always coincide. These authors think of the transcendental subject in its relationship to the transcendental object, or as “something = х”, and in terms of the relationship of representation to the object. It is characterised sometimes as something absolutely hollow, and sometimes as the fullness of true reality. The status ascribed to the transcendental subject is sometimes that of a thing-in-itself and sometimes that of a “mere” idea. Finally, Kant’s transcendental subject was sometimes seen as something to be overcome and sometimes as an infinite challenge to understanding.


Azeri, S., 2010. Transcendental Subject vs. Empirical Self: on Kant’s Account of Subjectivity. Filozofia, 65(3), pp. 269-283.

Baumann, Ch., 2017. Kant, Neo-Kantians, and Transcendental Subjectivity. European Journal of Philosophy, 25(3), pp. 595-616.

Beck, J. S., 1793. Erläuternder Auszug aus den critischen Schriften des Herrn Prof. Kant: erster Band. Riga: J. F. Hartknoch.

Beck, J. S., 1796. Einzig-möglicher Standpunct, aus welchem die critische Philosophie beurtheilt werden muß. Riga: J. F. Hartknoch.

Cohen, H., 1885. Kants Theorie der Erfahrung. Berlin: Dümmler.

Eberhard, J. A., 1789. Ueber das Gebiet des reinen Verstandes. Philosophisches Magazin (Hg. von J. A. Eberhard). Part 3. Volume 1. Halle: J. J. Gebauer, pp. 263-289.

Glasersfeld, E., 1981. Einführung in den Radikalen Konstruktivismus. In: P. Watzlawick, ed. 1981. Die Erfundene Wirklichkeit. München: Piper, pp. 16-38.

Hamann, J. G., 2007. Metacritique on the Purism of Reason. In: K. Haynes, ed. 2007. Hamann: Writings on Philosophy and Language. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 205-218.

Jacobi, F. H., 1815. Beylage. Ueber den transscendentalen Idealismus. In: F. H. Jacobi, 1815. Werke. In 6 volumes. Volume 2. Leipzig: Gerhard Fleischer, pp. 289-310.

Jacobi, F. H., 1816. Ueber das Unternehmen des Kriticismus, die Vernunft zu Verstande zu bringen. In: F. H. Jacobi, 1816. Werke. In 6 volumes. Volume 3. Leipzig: Gerhard Fleischer, pp. 58-195.

Kant, I., 1998. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and edited by P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kant, I., 2002. On a Discovery Whereby Any New Critique of Pure Reason Is to Be Made Superfluous by an Older One. Translated by H. Allison. In: I. Kant, 2002. Theoretical Philosophy after 1781. Edited by H. Allison and P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 281-336.

Karmin, A. S., 1983. Problem of Subject and Object in Kant’s Theory of Knowledge. Kantian Journal, 8(1), pp. 33-54. (In Rus.)

Krouglov, A. N., 2005. Did Kant Have a Transcendental Subject? History of Philosophy Yearbook 2004, pp. 279-295. (In Rus.)

Lektorskij, V. A., 1980. Sub’ekt, ob’ekt, poznanie [Subject, Object, Cognition]. Moscow: Nauka. (In Rus.)

Lyubutin, K. N., 1980. Kant’s Philosophy and the Problem of Transcendental Subject. Issues of Kant’s Theoretical Heritage, 5(1), pp. 3-18. (In Rus.)

Maimon, S., 1912. Versuch einer neuen Logik oder Theorie des Denkens; nebst angehängten Briefen des Philaletes an Aenesidemus. In: S. Maimon, 1912. Neudrucke seltener philosophischer Werke. Volume 3. Berlin: Reuther & Reichard.

Maimon, S., 2010. Essay on Transcendental Philosophy. Translated by N. Midgley, H. Somers-Hall, A. Welchman and M. M. Reglitz. London: Continuum.

Nitzan, L., 2014. Jacob Sigismund Beck’s Standpunctslehre and the Kantian Thing-in-itself Debate. Cham: Springer.

Reinhold, K. L., 2011. Essay on a New Theory of the Human Capacity for Representation. Translated by T. Mehigan and B. Empson. Berlin & New York: De Gruyter.

Rouba, M. V., 2019. The Problem of the Transcendental Subject and Its Justification in Kant’s Critical Philosophy. Journal of the Belarusian State University. Philosophy and Psychology, 2, pp. 9-14. (In Rus.)

Schopenhauer, A., 1969. Appendix: Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy. In: A. Schopenhauer, 1969. The World as Will and Representation. In 2 volumes. Volume 1. Translated by E. F. J. Payne. New York: Dover Publications, pp. 413-534.

Schulze, G. E., 1801. Kritik der theoretischen Philosophie: in 2 Bänden. Volume 1. Hamburg: C. E. Bohn.

Schulze, G. E., 1824. Encyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften zum Gebrauche für seine Vorlesungen. Dritte, sehr verbesserte und vermehrte Ausgabe. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Schulze, G. E., 2000. Aenesidemus or Concerning the Foundations of the Philosophy of the Elements Issued by Professor Reinhold in Jena Together with a Defense of Skepticism against the Pretensions of the Critique of Reason. In: G. E. Schulze, 2000. Between Kant and Hegel: Texts in the Development of Post-Kantian Idealism. Translated by G. di Giovanni, H. S. Harris. Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, pp. 104-135.

Soboleva, M. E., 2018. How Do We Read Kant, or Kant in the Context of Contemporary Epistemological Discussions in Western Analytic Kant-Studies. Voprosy Filosofii, 3, pp. 129-140. (In Rus.)

Watzlawick, P., 1992. Wirklichkeitsanpassung oder angepasste “Wirklichkeit”? Konstruktivismus und Psychotherapie. In: H. von Foerster, E. von Glasersfeld, P. M. Hejl, S. J. Schmidt, P. Watzlawick, 1992. Einführung in den Konstruktivismus. München: Piper, pp. 89-107.

Weishaupt, A., 1788а. Ueber die Gründe und Gewisheit der menschlichen Erkenntniß. Zur Prüfung der Kantischen Critik der reinen Vernunft. Nürnberg: Grattenauer.

Weishaupt, A., 1788b. Ueber die Kantischen Anschauungen und Erscheinungen. Nürnberg: Grattenauer.

Zöller, G., 2015. Selbstbewusstsein, reines. In: M. Willaschek, J. Stolzenberg, G. Mohr, S. Bacin, eds. 2015. Kant-Lexikon. Volume 3. Berlin & Boston: De Gruyter, pp. 2070-2071.