The Library of Original Sources, Vol 8


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Kant, as we have seen in an earlier volume, left a deep-cut contrast between phenomena and noumena, that is, between nature or things in themselves and our world of experience. Space, time, cause and effect, and all the categories, said he, are only mental forms; all experience, it is true, must come under and be subject to them in order to enter our experience at all: but things in themselves we do not experience, and nature itself, God, and our own souls are not subject to these laws and are thus free.

The great characteristic of the philosophy that succeeded Kant was its effort to find a principle higher than these contrasted worlds, one that would reconcile them and reduce Kant’s absolute distinction between them to the relative distinction between merely two aspects of the same truth.

First, however, came a period of criticism:

If cause and effect is merely a mental form to be applied only to experience, what right have we so to use it as to presuppose things-in-themselves at all, since they are outside of experience? This was in effect the question asked by Jacobi (1743-1819) and Fichte.

Salmon Maimon (1756-1800) made the point that since Kant’s mental forms were discovered by experience, we can never be sure that the list is complete.

The first attempt to reduce Kant’s dualism between nature and phenomena, and between the subject and object to a unity was made by Fichte (1762-1814). Fichte practically sweeps nature existing as a thing-in-itself, and the object existing as distinct from the subject, outof existence. His principle above all is the "Ego," the self. Subject and object, knowledge and will, are all activities of the self. The Ego exists only in its activities (cf. Aristotle’s "Idea"), but all things are but phases of its own activity (cf. Brahmanism), even the part of consciousness it distinguishes from itself is so distinguished by its own activity. His "Ground of the Whole Theory of Science" is an attempt to conceive of our world of consciousness as the development of such an Ego.

Schelling was a disciple of Fichte, but he began at an early age to apply Fichte’s point of view to the world of nature. Fichte had tried to account for the facts of consciousness as the development of the Ego. Schelling tried to account for all nature as the development of unconscious nature toward spirit. When Schelling began to think of subject and object—all things, in fact—as developed from an indeterminate, neutral nature, as the poles from the indifferent point of a magnet, Hegel (1770-1831), who had worked with him thus far, broke away and traced a conception of the world as the development of spirit. Hegel forced modern times to rewrite the history of philosophy, aesthetics, and civilization. Curiously enough, his ideas led to conservatism in politics and social science, because if the universe is the development of spirit, is not each stage a necessary one?

Schopenhauer (1788-1860) fought with a pen dipped in the scorn of pessimism against the extravagances of the idealistic philosophy and argued to substitute in place of Kant’s thing-in-itself, the idea of the Will in nature.

The philosophy of Comte (1798-1857) was a still further reaction against the idealistic philosophy, and in fact against the philosophical state of mind altogether. Comte believed that the first stage in thought is theological, the second philosophical, and the last scientific, or "positive." He believed in the reign of positive law, not only in the natural sciences, but in the field of civilization, and began the development of a new science of society.

The stream of philosophy at the beginning of the second third of the century had turned toward materialism and was soon to be well-nigh absorbed in the question of evolution.


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Chicago: "Philosophy," The Library of Original Sources, Vol 8 in The Library of Original Sources, ed. Oliver J. Thatcher (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: University Research Extension Co., 1907), 317–318. Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024,

MLA: . "Philosophy." The Library of Original Sources, Vol 8, in The Library of Original Sources, edited by Oliver J. Thatcher, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, University Research Extension Co., 1907, pp. 317–318. Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: , 'Philosophy' in The Library of Original Sources, Vol 8. cited in 1907, The Library of Original Sources, ed. , University Research Extension Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, pp.317–318. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from