Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Kant and Hegel

Immanuel Kant

Kant is the founder of German idealism. All German idealists have set characteristics; they believe in mind over matter, which supports previous empiricist philosophers such as Descartes (‘I think, therefore I am’). They reject the utilitarian way of life: the greatest good for the greatest number.

Throughout the majority of his life Kant lived in East Prussia, living through some historical events such as the Seven Years’ War (Russians occupied East Prussia), the French Revolution and part of Napoleon’s career. He was an extreme liberal who supported the French Revolution; there can be nothing more dreadful than that the actions of a man should be subject to the will of another’ – here he is saying that there is nothing worse than one mans actions being influenced by a force of another man and not being allowed to act out of own free will.

He began writing scientific works, such as a theory of earthquakes, but his most important scientific writings were his ‘General Natural History and Theory of the Heavens. It is not supported by any scientific proof but it sets an interesting hypothesis to the origins of the solar system, and suggests that each planet is in fact inhabited.

‘The Critique of Pure Reason’ is Kant’s most important book. The main purpose of the book is to prove that none of our knowledge can not be traced back to earlier memories, but is in fact a priori, so it rejects the ideas of people like Locke and other liberalists such as Mary Wollstonecraft, in that we are born with a blank slate, and all knowledge gained is purely gained from experience and knowledge. Kant does not agree that different types of knowledge are gained differently, where others believe that some knowledge gained, is via experience but this is in a synthetic proposition and analytical propositions are gained a priori. The examples that Russell gives in his book for analytical proposition is that ‘a tall man, is a man’, or ‘and equilateral triangle is a triangle’. On the other hand, a synthesised proposition is something like, a human plus a bird equals an angel. It was believed by some philosophers that the human and the bird are both a priori ideas that we are given, but the idea of the angel is a something we gain from experience and knowledge. Kant would have rejected this idea, and believed that all of our experiences are gained through an a priori proposition.

Immanuel Kant was the last influential philosopher in the theory of knowledge, following on from people we have covered such as Locke, Berkeley and Hume. Kant was a liberal thinker and his ideas on noumenal objects were supportive of those same ideas that Hume and Berkeley had. Kant believed that when you looked away from an object, or stopped perceiving it, it stayed there, but was not the same; when you begin perceiving the object it becomes phenomena. So if you were in a room with no windows and no doors, then Kant would have believed that anything outside of that room was different to what it would be if it were being perceived through a window. Berkeley had a similar notion in that he believed when you do not perceive something it does not exist, or that it flashes in and out of existence, Berkeley believed that God was to blame for this. This would have been because at the times of his philosophy, anything un-explainable was considered an act of God. Hume, however believed that there is no causation in nature, only in our minds the objects are there; anything that you can see is in one’s eyes only. In Kant’s morality something is only good if it can be legislated as a universal law. This was in opposition to utilitarianism, which is the greatest good for the greatest number. Kant would believe that making all the money would bring all the pleasure. However, utilitarianism would reject this notion, as not everyone can be rich. The morality by which Kant lived by also included the theory that any kind of lie is bad, and that the whole World ending would be better than someone telling a lie. So telling an axe murderer where your friends are so he can kill them would be better than lying to save them. Regardless of the outcome, the intent one has is most important. Kant believed that if you were doing something morally right in order to gain respect than it was wrong, but if you were doing something morally right, just because you know it is morally right than it is a good thing.


Russell portrays Hegel as an extremely important figure when it comes to the movement of German philosophy. Although this is true, he also makes it extremely apparent that his success is a lot due to previous works of Kant. He states that Hegel had an extreme influence in Germany, and also producing ‘Hegelians’ throughout the world. Hegel is definitely a romantic, and is against the ideas of previous empiricists. ‘What to the empiricist appear to be facts are, and must be, irrational’.

He believed in the unreality of separateness, so the world was not a collection of ‘hard unit’ but more a real as a whole. He believed the whole, or the world, to be a more complex system or organism, as oppose to a simple substance, which previous philosophers such as Spinoza had argued. He believes that each component that the world is made up of is not an illusion but each holds its own value of importance. These were some of his earlier views, and this could have something to do with the fact that he had an early interest in mysticism.

The whole – ‘The absolute’ – Hegel

Logic and metaphysics to Hegel is the same thing, but the word ‘logic’ means something different to him, then it commonly means to anyone else. Russell uses a quite confusing example to explain Hegel’s philosophy of reality: ‘Mr A is an uncle; but if you were to say that the universe is an uncle, you would land yourself in difficulties. An uncle is a man who has a nephew, and the nephew is a separate person from the uncle; therefore an uncle cannot be the whole of reality.’ This again links back to his idea of the unreality of separateness.

Knowledge is a triadic movement (three fold):
1) Sense perception – awareness of the object
2) Sceptical criticism – becomes purely subjective
3) Self knowledge – subject and object are no longer distinct

Hegel believes that ‘falsehoods’ and ‘truths’ are not as clear-cut opposite as we are led to believe. Nothing we know is either wholly true or false, ‘we can know in a way that it is false’. This is done when we attach truth to a piece of information, which is true in a sense but not in a philosophical sense, for ‘truth is a whole’ and nothing partial is therefore true.

Hegel’s philosophy is extremely unique in that it is quite contradictory: He argues that communal living is a good thing, or the communist lifestyle, however, he also argues that free will can only be granted if you own your own property. He, like Kant, is against the utilitarian approach supported by philosophers such as J.S.Mill (grandson of Jeremy Bentham, creator of utilitarianism). They instead promote this more independent type of freedom. Hegel does however criticise some aspects of liberal freedom in that he believes the needs of one person can harm another, so therefore certain freedoms should not be granted.

There are differences between Kant and Hegel. Kant supports previous ideas put forward such as that of Descartes, in that the human minds are not able to understand certain subjects, similarly to that of an ant not being able to understand a human, whereas Hegel believes that although this is the case now, there may be a time when the human brain has complete understanding.