Kantian Journal

2020 Vol. 39. No. 2

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

DOI
10.5922/0207-6918-2020-2-1
Pages
7-25

Abstract

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.

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