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Abstract

Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’, which began in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787), had, by the early 1790s, fundamentally altered the terrain of German philosophy – but not entirely in the way that Kant had foreseen. Skeptical challenges to Kant’s discursive account of cognition, in which experience arises from the separate faculties of sensibility and understanding, had led thinkers such as K.L. Reinhold and J.G. Fichte to attempt to provide a first, foundational principle for the critical philosophy. These efforts were enormously influential, but by the middle of the 1790s, they too were facing a great deal of critical scrutiny. The central challenge to the Fichtean project came from an unlikely quarter: a group of young thinkers and poets who are collectively known as the early Romantics. For the Romantics, Fichte’s project remains too ‘subjectivist’, for it tries to provide an account of the world by beginning with the conditions that govern subjectivity alone. Rather, the Romantics argue that the world must be understood in terms of a monistic Absolute, akin to Spinoza’s substance, in which all dualisms are overcome. It is with this step that Absolute Idealism comes on the scene, and sets the stage for the development of Hegel’s system in the early 1800s. This essay, which continues the story of ‘Who’s Who from Kant to Hegel I’, examines the ways in which early Romanticism reacted to the Fichtean project, looks at a variety of anti-foundationalist idealisms that the Romantics – in particular Hölderlin, Novalis, Schlegel, and Schleiermacher – developed, and traces the role that Friedrich Schelling plays in offering the first systematic account of Absolute Idealism.